Thursday, March 27, 2014

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Tony Benn dies aged 88

Tony Benn was one of the most charismatic and influential politicians in post-war Britain.

He renounced his peerage to remain an MP, he was described as one of the few politicians to move to the Left after serving as a minister, and there was the no small matter that he represented the former constituency of Bristol South East for a total of 30 years.

Despite all his achievements, Benn never forgot that his first duty as an MP was to serve those who had elected him and to prove the point, it’s worth noting that although he understandably had a deep mistrust of reporters and newspapers, he always responded to calls from this newspaper when it involved local issues and constituency casework.

Benn, a pilot during the Second World War who worked briefly as a radio producer with the BBC, first became an MP in 1950 after he was selected as the Labour candidate for Bristol South East. He succeeded Sir Stafford Cripps who stood down due to ill-health.

In those early days in Parliament, Benn held middle-of-the-road views. He did not shift to the Left until the end of the 1970s after his experience as a cabinet minister.

In 1964, Benn became Postmaster General in Harold Wilson’s first Government, overseeing the opening of the Post Office Tower in London and proposing without success that stamps should be issued without the Queen’s head.

Two years later, he became Minister of Technology and therefore responsible for the development of Concorde in Filton and only a stone’s throw from his own constituency where many aircraft workers lived.

He also dealt with the merger of several car companies to create British Leyland and the Government’s programme of industrial reorganisation.

In Wilson’s second Government, Benn was made Industry Secretary and in 1975, he was appointed Energy Secretary after an unsuccessful campaign for a No vote in a referendum to join Europe. Benn hated the EEC (European Economic Community) with avengeance because he believed it was bureaucratic and centralised and dominated by the Germans.

It was during this tenure that Benn showed his first signs of shifting to the Left. He opposed a move to seek a loan from the International Monetary Fund to ward off an economic crisis, suggesting instead an “alternative economic strategy” which would have relied much less on outside borrowing.

Benn’s idea was rejected by the Cabinet and by the end of the 1970s, he had moved to the left wing of the party. His opponents insisted that a Bennite Government would lead to an Eastern European style of communism yet he was adored by Labour activists who wanted to see him become the party’s leader.

In 1980, two years after Margaret Thatcher had become Prime Minister, Benn made an important speech at the Labour Party’s annual conference in which he outlined that he wanted to see a Labour Government that would nationalise industries, control capital and implement industrial democracy “within weeks” of taking power. He would also return all powers from Brussels back to Westminster and abolish the House of Lords.

Benn supported Sinn Fein and a unified Ireland and in 1982 during the Falklands War, he said the dispute should be settled by the United Nations instead of the British Government sending a task force to the islands.

Benn was notorious by now among most Fleet Street editors who pilloried the doyen of the Left at every opportunity.

After Labour’s third successive defeat in a general election in 1987, Benn had a third attempt at the party leadership but lost heavily to Neil Kinnock.

One of his last parliamentary campaigns before he retired in 2001 was to put forward a Bill to abolish the monarchy in favour of a republic but it never achieved a second reading.

After he retired, he became president of the Stop the War Coalition which saw him oppose the Iraq War and which led to a visit to Baghdad in 2003 to meet with Saddam Hussein that was shown on television.

He was also a prolific diarist, publishing the ninth and last volume in 2012. By this time, Benn was an outsider looking in and grieving for a party which he believed had died.

He was disgusted by Blair, disappointed by Brown and convinced by May 2008 that he would not see another Labour Government in his lifetime.

He wrote: “I feel bereaved that the Labour party has gone that wrong. It has died. It's been assassinated by Blair and Brown."

Read more from the Bristol Post

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Fukushima - Japan Protests

Three years after the Fukushima disaster, thousands of anti-nuclear demonstrators have filled the streets of Tokyo. They called on the government to pull the plug on nuclear power for good. This was one of many protests which were planned across Japan on Sunday.

“I am here today because I want to rid the planet of nuclear power as quickly as possible,” said Fumiko Ichikawa, one of the Tokyo demonstrators.

The Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is setting his sights on restarting some of the country’s 48 mothballed reactors. But, in the wake of the meltdown at Fukushima in March 2011, people in Japan are worried about safety and the impact on their health. Abe has announced he wants 30,000 residents to return to their homes and the reactors to be switched back on within two years.

A Fukushima insider and two former prime ministers have told the ABC's 7.30 program that such a move would be irresponsible. At the risk of losing his job if his identity is revealed, a senior TEPCO staffer, who has worked at the Fukushima plant for more than 20 years, says the situation at the reactor is not under control and no-one knows how to fix the problem.

"There are too many systems and they all have problems," he said. "For example, too many water tanks with too many lines - it's very difficult to operate. It's made worse because all the experienced workers have reached their radiation limits, so TEPCO has to rely on staff that don't know the site and who aren't trained."

The whistleblower says mistakes are made weekly, and contaminated water leaks into the Pacific Ocean every day.

"The other day when contaminated water overflowed from a tank, an alarm was ringing but they didn't go and check. I couldn't believe it. It was ringing for nine hours and they thought the alarm was out of order."

The insider says the damaged reactors can never be decontaminated and that people should not be moved back into the no-go zone, a 20-kilometre exclusion area around Fukushima.

"I feel it is impossible to fix before my death," he said. "We just don't have the technology to fix it. It currently doesn't exist. We just can't deal with the melted fuel."

Sunday, March 09, 2014

saving randwick literary institute

the century old community run place under threat from a government / developer "initiative"
the ukelele band
the community meeting
Friends of the Randwick Literary Institute held an afternoon of entertainment and family fun in the hope of saving this 100 year old community-built and run institution which is threatened with an uncertain future. Bring a picnic lunch and enjoy the secret garden.

Sunday March 9th, 2pm - 60 Clovelly Road, Randwick

Friday, March 07, 2014

stanmore to newtown

the early morning crane
in the noon-day sun
shadows in the park