Wat Tyler Park

Today I walked to Wat Tyler Park in Pitsea; here’s what I saw:










I came across this abandoned building, what looked like a small house. It had two rooms, one completely uncovered. There was a box with what looked hay or straw inside, and droppings possibly from a mouse. I’m aware that around this area – close to Pitsea Marshes, there was an explosives factory, conveniently placed near pillboxes. Unfortunately during the war that factory caught fire. Near the train line there were houses, which believe it or not Londoners used as holiday homes. When the line to Fenchurch Street was first built, landowners would indulge visitors with champagne auctions – clearly the logic was to get the silver spoons pissed enough to invest in little homes in the marsh. Perhaps this house was one such example.




















There was a site specifically for the production of nitroglycerin – a nitrating house – work in which was described as very boring. So much so, in fact, that the workers were made to sit one one legged stools to avoid falling asleep. The vat of mixture would go to a flushing tank. This tank was, presumably, situated near this tunnel.























A note of closure for readers of this blog

As it may be known by some readers of this blog I cross post most entries from here on to the Though Cowards Flinch blog (http://thoughcowardsflinch.com/author/raincoatoptimism/). The blogosphere (especially on the left) seems to be moving further and further into collaborative efforts rather than individuals trying to compete with the big shots – and I will take heed. Therefore I’ve decided I will reserve this particular blog space for pieces of work that may be unsuitable for TCF (such as walk write-ups or other non-political issues I choose to pen words on).

TCF will soon be undergoing some sort of design/operation change to catch up with the other collaborative left blogs (that really should be in our shadow, not us theirs! Fact!) and I will want to put all my blogospheric time and energy into promoting that rather than living the blogospheric life of a cross-poster – a lonesome existence I can tell you.

It does mean that raincoat optimism will almost cease to exist.

But for those of you who may be interested my political output will be at TCF – to repeat the address: (http://thoughcowardsflinch.com/author/raincoatoptimism/).


Roger Helmer: A special type of stupid

Roger Helmer MEP for the East Midlands region asked on his twitter feed today:

Why is it OK for a surgeon to perform a sex-change operation, but not OK for a psychiatrist to try to “turn” a consenting homosexual?

At first the question seems stupid – what’s the connection between homosexuality and gender reassignment? Isn’t this blatant homophobia? As David Allen Green has put it, has Helmer not confused “the distinct issues of gender identity and sexual preference”?

Then you read it again.

It’s still stupid.

For a longer discussion on the issue read Heresy Corner, I’m going to keep this brief. Gender reassignment is, as it is well known, the process of altering the sexual characteristics of an individual. That means a therapeutic measure of hormone replacement, replacement of organs, and other secondary sexual characteristics that aren’t reproductive organs (such as facial hair or breasts). As far as is physically possible an individual reflects the gender they have been reassinged to – nowhere in the surgery is there any attempt to mentally reassign a person, to make him/her feel like a man/woman (perhaps because there is no such feeling at all).

The notion that Helmer is comparing this with is the attempt to change, not a set of physical characteristics, but the complex psychosexual structure of an individual, which is far trickier in many ways to reassign, some would say impossible.

I’m of this latter opinion; you can’t try and “turn” a consenting homosexual, you can only try and make a person forget he or she is homosexual, or do things contrary to his or her sexuality (like be attracted to, or enjoy sexual practices with, a person from the opposite sex). And it ought not to be available by national health services like gender reassignment is. However if you want a homophobe to rub you with salts and tell you that you’re really attracted to people of the opposite sex, and that homosexuality is a myth or a lie one tells themselves, then what people get up to in their spare time is up to them – like with homeopathy it will be incumbent upon sane people to promote the truth of such ridiculous practices.,

Once again therefore, Helmer is way off the mark.We can add this to the list of other gaffes and witless opinions such as:

A reply to Jim Jepps

Jim Jepps has made a very strong, and convincing reply to my last blog post (which can be found here). I have responded in turn to his reply. It goes as follows:


First of all I love the title – it made me smile reading it, before the inevitable heartbreak of being disagree with (I know, I know, should be used to it by now).


Secondly a quick clarification, I wasn’t referring to the ILP when I called to book a “small, inadequate left wing part[y] shout[ing] in the wind, by the sidelines”. I had specifically in my mind then the SWP, apologies for not making that clearer.


In helping the POUM the ILPs history, in this sense, is unquestionably noble. Despite having notable Stalinists inside it, the heroes were obviously the anti-Stalinist, anti-fascist volunteers who went to Spain, consulted with Andres Nin, and helped the Republican fight.


Back at home, under the rule of James Maxton, the ILP failed to concede to Bevan’s point about purity, and failed to maintain Hardie’s political principles of entering a broad church predicated on trade unionism, parliamentary road to socialism and working class struggle. Instead it gave in to the politics of factionalism, when the broad church needed a left-wing direction more than ever (doing a lousy job at governance, and losing MPs all over the show).


As per the received wisdom on the ILP, their first 25 years (or thereabouts) were so effective as to be almost magical, and their history home and abroad I can safely assert will influence my own politics no end, but I regard their democratically chosen decision to leave the Labour Party a bad move, not just for the Labour Party itself, but for them as well – the years after were their worst, before finally disappearing into the ethereal, and finally disbanding in the 1970s.


As you may have guessed my politics are different to the so-called Labour politics that you state – the way in which the deficit will be dealt with (which by the way, if you know what the official Labour response to is then you’re doing one better than our silent Milibrother I can tell you), war and ecological matters – but two things arise here:


  1. that’s not Labour politics, that’s PLP politics, and if we all submitted to that half the time then there’d hardly be a councillor left, and many of the MPs would be lost too. Part of the efforts of the left and the centre in the party is to loosen up party democracy – something also spoken about by not so Red Ed earlier in the year; one commenter on this article (where it is posted on TCF) had this to say: “I suggest that the massive disconnect between the party’s leaders (& ministers) and the rank & file is the fundamental weakness.” To which I replied, and it’s relevant here, “The disconnect is a massive weakness, and if the party democratised a bit – as per Ed Miliband’s promise – the party will change as it starts to reflect the rank and file, who in turn are better placed to reflect the real concerns of the governed.” The push for this is quite strong already within the party, but it could be stronger, and when the party starts to reflect the rank and file, and not just the Westminster politics of the day, it will be a site worthy of more left-wingers for sure. But it will take significantly more time if left wing activists find it more appropriate to have fewer disagreements with fewer people, than taking this fight to a place which, up and down the country, has significantly more political punch.
  2. Parties tend not have homogeneous politics anyway, which is politically realistic, but the Labour Party, with its rich history – as I have defended – is one of the finest examples of a political organisation with diversity of opinion. However I make no bones about wanting to drive to the fringes those right wingers who have lusted over privatisation and war; disagreements with the PLP (or more specifically the Blair-Brown era PLP) opinion is not enough, it can’t see it any other way that socialists of the country unite behind trying to win the argument against the Labour right wing entryists from within the largest democratic socialist party in the country. It disturbs me beyond belief how much the New Labour machine grew under the weight of a McCarthyite attack against the left, but it disturbs me even more that this remains a voluntary act by worthy leftwingers today.


With regards to your point that this is not a purity issue, this may be the case with you, in which case it is incumbent upon you to explain why voting green is more effective than voting a green Labourite (which I imagine they all are in some noble, try-hard way) on the whole I see the factionalism problem as precisely that. No doubt the Greens will have their own versions (I hear that there is still a small contingent of eco-fascists in there somewhere) of course – but I despair at having very similar politics to someone like yourself, but being in a party where your absence is far more severe.

The Independent Labour Party and the scourge of left wing politics

On this day in 1893 Keir Hardie, the Liberal-Labour MP for West Ham, formed the Independent Labour Party during a conference held in Bradford with other delegates from various labour and socialist organisations. Growing increasingly tired of partnering with the liberals it was his contention that the working classes of Britain would need their own independent political party. This party, socialist in its outlook, was to be rooted in the trade unions, despite being at the time still politically liberal.

Seven years later in 1900 the Labour Representation Committee was formed, which consisted of socialist organisations like the ILP, the Social Democratic Federation (Britain’s first socialist political party), whose aim was to gain independent Labour representation in parliament.

In its early years one didn’t join a body called the Labour Party, it was only possible to join one of its affiliate groups – the ILP being the biggest one. In 1910 42 Labour MPs were elected to the House of Commons, thanks in no small part by Hardie, the Fabian Society and other trade unionists (which given that one year before they could no longer fund political parties owing to the Osborne judgment – passed by the House of Lords – was a major victory; one which was to be short lived however).

As time wet on relations between the ILP and the Parlaimentary Labour Party (PLP) grew rather fractious. The independents, now led by James Maxton, felt they should have a seperate system of discipline than the PLP who did not agree. At this stage, in the 1930s, the ILP started to become very radicalised, heavily influenced in part by Stalinism.

Labour from its outset was a broad church of left wing and working class politics, and so had been used to difference, but with the ILP strategies were very much in conflict. The policy of Clydeside ILP MPs, for example, had been to harass and confront Conservative and Liberals MPs in parliament, especially on the issues of poverty and unemployment. The PLP viewed this as cheapening their standing which led to confrontation, while the ILP accused the PLP of deviating from its socialist principles.

In 1932 the ILP left the Labour Party, along with four of its MPs, evoking a scathing response from Labour leftwinger Aneurin Bevan who described the ILP’s disaffiliation as a decision to remain “pure, but impotent”.

Such, in fact, is the reality for lots of political organisations who supposedly work in the interest of left wing or working class politics – seeing difference and factionalism as a duty rather than a political reality of which to overcome in organised politics.

Take for example Duncan Hallas’ notorious 1985 (published 1987) article, simply called Sectarianism. After disputing the Militant definition of sectarianism (to work towards socialism and the workers’ struggle from outside the Labour Party) and supporting the motion that the Socialist Workers’ Party should support the left inside the Labour Party where need be, he notes that this is by no means the same thing as saying “the SWP ought to dissolve itself into the Labour Party (or to appear to do so whilst secretly maintaining its own organisation)”.

He takes this opinion for three reasons which I shall sum up in brief:

  • The struggle takes place first and foremost in workplaces then unions. Links between unions and the Labour Party ought not to oblige one to join that party, and like Lenin – who advocated joining reactionary unions, and partaking in the bourgeois parliaments – did not argue this should take place from within the Social Democratic Party
  • Withdrawing presence from workplace, even at low times of struggle, is sectarian; Labour Party cannot claim to be so in-keeping with this attitude
  • Revolutionary socialists are better placed outside of the party anyway as they can avoid conflicts over positions, candidate selections etc.

I’m not a revolutionary socialist, so this poses for me no problem. However on a matter of principles, Hallas’ first reason disregards the common knowledge that the world’s problems do not begin and end in a political party – no sane Labour Party member on the left would suggest that advancing socialism can only take place within the party, disregarding the work that takes place in the workplace and by unions. This line seems to produce only a straw man argument, when in fact – and as Bevan was wise enough to take note of – by not working from within the largest socialist party in Britain, the dutybound factionalist only makes his “purity” impotent.

The second reason, more revealing in some ways, can serve as a commentary on the reality of a Labour Party being tilted further and further to the right (or in the case of Ed Miliband, being tilted further and further to total silence). While rejecting Hallas’ straw man argument in his first reason, we can accept that it would counter received wisdom to do anything other than maintain presence of workplace representatives, even if “struggle in the workplaces is at a very low ebb”.

This, for me, still doesn’t explain why a socialist, of whatever variety, is better placed outside, rather than within the Labour Party. Which brings me to Hallas’ last point. First thing to ask is how do the SWP avoid friction over positions? It seems obvious to me that this is a reality of any political organisation, and is no good reason to seperate off from a broad church party.

Clearly the more a broadly socialist body of politics is split, the more staurated it becomes, and the weaker it is placed to join in the struggle of the working class. This is not the opinion of many on the left, for whom splits and splinters are an obligation, stipulated by the word of zealous, power hungry Russian dictators safeguarding their own corners. But at what price?

Small, inadequate left wing parties shout in the wind, by the sidelines, while the Labour Party, currently in oppositon to a government demanding ideological cuts over jobs and growth, struggles to tell its arse from its elbow. Refusal to work in the Labour Party, from the ILP back in the thirties to the Greens and the SWP now, is the scourge of left wing politics.

Brian Coleman wants to sack all London’s Firefighters

Brian Coleman, or Mr Toad, is now trending on twitter – the reason being is that he has “run out of patience with the FBU” and as the Evening Standard are reporting “will press ahead with [the London Fire Authority’s] “fallback option” of re-employing staff under new terms and conditions.”

It’s hard to believe, but since the union does not want to be pressured into signing new contracts, and because Coleman wants it his way, 5,500 London firefighters could face the sack.

This is the kind of austere democracy we’ve come to expect from Coleman.

Though he wouldn’t like it up himself.

Coleman is Britain’s highest paid councillor (a different side to the EasyCouncil of Barnet). He’s been repeatedly caught out over his expense claims, which tallied up largely reveal expensive taxi fares.

For 2010-2011 this is no different, as his London Fire Brigade expenses will reveal. At a time when we’re all in this together, some notable claims made are:

  • 21/11/2010 – Taxi (invoiced) – Taxi journey for Chairman and Chairman’s Lady – from the Cenotaph, Whitehall SW1 for Annual Service of Remembrance (£66.09)
  • 12/11/2010 – Taxi (invoiced) – Taxi journeys: Chairman and Chairman’s Lady – to GLA Annual Remembrance Service at City Hall, SE1; Chairman only – from GLA City Hall to CLG Eland House, SW1 for Fire Futures Steering Group; from CLG Eland House to Bevis Marks Synagogue, Heneage Lane EC3 for Service of Thanksgiving; from Bevis Marks Synagogue to home (£145.93)
  • 27/10/2010 – Taxi (invoiced) – Taxi journey from Houses of Parliament SW1 to Union St. (£19.20)
  • 12/09/2010 – Taxi (invoiced) – Taxi journeys with Mrs Coleman – drop off at Church of St Bartholomew the Great, EC1; pick up from St Pauls Cathedral, EC4 – Firefighters Memorial Trust Annual Service of Remembrance (held in two different locations) (drop off at Church of St Bartholomew the Great, EC1; pick up from St Pauls Cathedral, EC4 – Firefighters Memorial Trust Annual Service of Remembrance (held in two different locations) (£140.55)

Anyone would think he didn’t get free travel around London worth £1,700.

But for all his misgivings about firefighters having two jobs, Mr Coleman in fact has four. And he’s not short of a few bob either (something to be considered when you think how much he costs the taxpayer for car mileage and the congestion charge – when we’re all in this together).

Investigative journalist David Hencke did some number crunching to reveal his income:

Brian Coleman holds down four jobs all funded by the taxpayer. They are:

Member of the London Assembly                                                      allowance: £53,439

Cabinet member Barnet Council                                                         allowance: £38,177

Chair London Fire Brigade                                                                   allowance: £26,883

Chair LGA* fire services management committee                    allowance: £10,365

Grand Total from the taxpayer                                                                                £128,864

*Local Government Association, a voluntary body funded by councils from council taxpayers.

And of course his expenses:

Brian is a great expense claimer never knowingly underclaimed. He can claim for expenses for three of his four jobs – the LGA don’t allow him.

He is a big patron of London cabbies claiming once over £10,000 a year  from the London Assembly on trips (2006-07). He is now more modest – claims have varied between £8000 -plus a £1700 travel card (2007-08) and £345 for 2009-10. All from the taxpayer.

His fire brigade expense claims are not much different.These include a £119 taxi fare to the Fire Service Awards Ceremony in  May 2009 and £143 to attend Westminster’s Lord Mayor’s reception for the Lord Mayor of London. He also spent £402 on a  rail ticket to go a LGA conference in Manchester. Little difference in 2011 -with a £145 taxi fare for him and his mum to go to a  firefighters service of remembrance  and meetings in London.

His red letter claims day is May 12 this year – where he managed to claim car mileage, congestion charge and over £67 in taxis  for a dinner -all on the same day.

His gifts include four dinners (three of them before the company won the contract) and a £350  Harvey Nichols hamper from the head of AssetCo, John Shannon, the company which has a £9m PFI deal with his authority and provided strike cover.

There’s also some interesting details on his home life, and his landlords the Methodist Church in Finchley.

Colman justifies all this by saying he works 100-hour weeks with few days off, but this hasn’t been enough to convince the website, aptly called Is Brian Coleman a tedious cock?, who remind us that:

How long will he get away with it for?

When will the UN turn its back on bigoted governments?

Yesterday Nick Cohen said, based upon a report by Freedom House, that:

Islamic states and religious vigilantes use blasphemy laws to persecute Christians, Ahmadis and Muslims who believe that Muhammad was not the final prophet and, of course, ex-Muslims such as Rushdie who decide to change or renounce their faith, as free men and women should be entitled to do.

This is an abuse of power by any yardstick, and yet there seems to be no foreseeable end to it.

Cohen continues:

In Iran and Egypt, blasphemy is used to prosecute political opponents of the regime […] Blasphemy is not a protector of religious freedom, as the UN maintains, but its mortal enemy. If free speech is absent, citizens are not free to argue for and practise their beliefs without the fear of state or clerical intimidation.

Blasphemy was used as an excuse to kill – and sure it is incumbent upon good people in the Middle East and elsewhere to condemn the persecution of minorities everywhere, but too many times regressive governments resort to ridiculous defenses to back up their bigoted ways.

Maybe it’s about time the UN seriously considers withdrawing nation states’ representation when they abuse human rights – in this day and age it is beyond belief that human rights abuses are ignored, or worse condoned, by national governments in the name of majority rights or blatant prejudice.