Recent cartoons – Rail and Rwanda

This is becoming a pattern. When Boris Johnson was faced with voting on the third runway for Heathrow, which he had pledged to oppose but his government was pledged to support, he used his position as Foreign Secretary to wangle a trip to Afghanistan. Last week he headed off to Kyiv rather than turn up in Doncaster to let his Northern MPs know that the cupboard is bare; and their careers are likely to be short. This week, on the day of two by elections unlikely to go well for him, he has popped up in Rwanda so he is a long way away when the exit polls drop and there’s some awkward explaining to do. These trips are becoming ever more frequent, so he might not want to come back.

The BEIS has issued a statement that they are introducing legislation to make it easier for agency workers to be used as scabs during industrial disputes – which assumes that there is a load of people out there who are eager to be loathed by their communities. TUC petition against this is here.

Mick Lynch’s demolitions of lying government ministers – like the hapless Under Secretary for Tech, Chris Philp seen here having his bubble burst- and collusive media hacks, like Kay Burley or Richard Madeley, who have shown up their role as propagandists for the established order every time they have opened their mouths – have been a breath of fresh air and struck a nerve with quite a broad layer of people who appreciate a bit of honesty when they see it and don’t like being manipulated. If you have a Labour MP, Momentum have a tool for you to press them to come out in support of the rail workers here. And the Greener Jobs Alliance has a briefing on why climate campaigners should support them too, which is here.

Recent Cartoons

Boris Johnson outdoes Mr Bumble with his refusal to extend Free School Meals to children on universal Credit in the government’s “Food Strategy” announced on Monday. At least Oliver Twist had a first round…

With thanks and apologies to Sir John Tenniel.

The decision to deport refugees to Rwanda – which the government disingenuously portrays as simultaneously quite ok, hinting that anyone who opposes it is being racist towards Rwandans, AND a deterrent to the people who arrive by boat and not through any of the official and legal channels that don’t actually exist – contrasts with the rather mawkish Jubilee film with the Queen sharing marmalade sandwich habits with Paddington Bear. Paddington being a refugee from Peru, who arrived at Paddington station with the label “Please take care of this Bear”. So, people did. Priti Patel would “take care” of him in a different way altogether. Maybe someone should write a spoof book, Paddington gets deported.

“Nothing and No One can stop me now…!” What every villain says just before someone stops them. With 75% of his backbenchers voting no confidence in him last week Johnson reminded me of the last scene in Kurosawa’s transposition of Macbeth to Japan, in which the King dies bristling with arrows like a porcupine.

The DFE Net Zero launch at the Natural History Museum in April combined the usual vainglorious boosterism from the government – Nadhim Zahawi explaining that Britain would “lead the world in the Green Industrial Revolution” because of the “entrepreneurial spirit” (that leads us to have the lowest private sector research and development investment in the G7) and “tech entrepreneurs” – completely at odds with what they are actually doing. Building 4 new net zero schools by 2024 (out of more than 24,000 in the country) was described by the Minister as “upping our ambition”. The student protest movement has been telling the Emperors that they have no clothes since 2018. They are beginning to put on some token garments, but have a long way to go.

Park and Street Life ’22.

On the blasted tree in the middle of Kingsbury Mall roundabout, a grim posse of brooding pigeons stare down, playing at being vultures.

In the Park in the drizzle, a young black woman from the Charismatic Evangelical Church on Princes Avenue is singing into her phone while shimmying along the path by the High School, wearing a striking magenta dress that is a celebration of life; and would therefore be considered suspect in staider denominations. Very gospel. Hands and eyes looking up to heaven, hips swaying, open lunged and full throated. Religious high. Looks more fun than the C of E.

A new Oak sapling has been planted near the kids playground. A plaque identifies it as being part of the Jubilee Green Canopy and to have been donated by the Jewish Refugee Council in memory of the refugees allowed in from Nazi Germany. This is in the same weekend that all the commentators on The World In Westminster on Sunday night congratulated themselves on how comfortably diverse we have become, the Queen took tea with Paddington Bear (a refugee who somehow managed not to be held in a detention centre by “Border Security”) and the flights to Rwanda for refugees from other countries were postponed to the following week. So, we have become symbolically accepting of diversity, while taking ever stronger measures to stop it increasing; our border policy now as enlightened and deserving of a pat on the back as Australia’s. How Priti Patel and her ilk could look at a tree like that without a flicker of conscience is beyond me. No self awareness, some people. And no one should comfort themselves that the UK had a better record in the 1930s; with anti Jewish refugee campaigns in the Daily Mail and such just as virulent as their campaigns today. Many thousands were kept out, and died as a result. The tree, nevertheless, looks hopeful. As trees tend to do. They take root. They grow. They provide peace and shade.

We have very broad pavements in the High Street, and happily the upgrade from TFL money in the last couple of years managed to keep the cars confined to a narrow stream in the middle; though they missed the trick of paving over the entrances to side roads with distinctive surfaces so they force cars to slow down and give pedestrians priority. The saplings put in at the time are beginning to have healthy crowns, so in a few years, if we get through them, the High Street will look positively bosky. Just down from Bombay Spice a temporary open seating arrangement has been put in for the Summer – and just in time for four successive days of heavy rain. Seemingly modelled on the pop up parks that are used to take over parking spaces in low traffic neighbourhoods – clawing back more space for people from the dominance of the motor vehicle – or sometimes outside Shisha bars – it is made of narrow removable wooden flower beds arranged in a rectangle with seating around the inside. It has already been colonised by the old Gujerati guys who previously gathered in circles outside the library to put the world to rights. A few more of these and we’d have a very different vibe along the street. The opposite of the seating in malls that is deliberately made uncomfortable so shoppers get on with their shopping quicker.

The earthwork mounds the Council dug up along the Kingsbury Road side of the Park that looked so ugly last year, like an unfinished building project with no purpose, are now covered in an uplifting rush of poppies and other wild flowers that proclaim life in a wild riot of colour and shapes waving in the breeze as the buses swoosh past.

Neither Moscow nor Kyiv, but Washington

The commitment by the US of $40 billion to funnel war fighting material into Ukraine makes it clear that this war is being driven by neither Moscow nor Kyiv, but Washington.

$40 billion is ten times Ukraine’s 2021 military budget.

Figures from Wikipedia

If the aid were a country on its own, it would be the tenth biggest military spender in the world, not far below Japan and Saudi Arabia, well above Italy and Australia, and double the budget of Canada or Israel.

Figures from Institute for International Strategic Studies, using average market exchange rates.

This comparison can be seen even more clearly if we leave off the USA and China, as the two countries with an expenditure in a different league to all the others – the US especially.

It is also noticeable on this graph that the UK spent more on its military in 2021 than Russia did.

It is clear from this that the US is pushing for a long war, that it will sabotage peace negotiations and keep sanctions in place even if a ceasefire is achieved. The knock on effects on the rest of the world are already grim and will get worse unless a peace deal is reached.

The UK’s role as the USAs most bellicose supporter will be discussed at an online meeting – Opposing the New Age of Militarism – on June 15th organised by No Cold War Britain.

To stop a bad guy with a gun – you need to stop him getting the gun.

Warning. Writing this makes me feel simultaneously weepy and nauseous, so this contains material that might make you feel the same.

The rifle used to kill 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary school in Uvalde Texas on Tuesday was an AR15. This is a devastatingly lethal semi automatic weapon that anyone over the age of 18 in Texas can just buy privately with no restrictions, or walk into a store and buy, with a minimal “real time” background check, no permit required and no record of sale; thanks partly to the seven relaxations of gun safety rules by Governor Gregg Abbott last year. There is no registry of firearms in Texas. People over 21 can “open carry” hand guns. In fact, gun laws are so lax in Texas that smugglers ship guns from there into Mexico. Texas Governor Abbott described the mass shooting on Tuesday as “inexplicable”. Perhaps he can’t join the dots that the rest of the world seems to be able to manage.

The NRA likes to say that “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” Which is as asinine as you can get, because its a lot easier to kill people if you have a gun. Especially a gun like an AR15. Oddly enough, no one is allowed to carry a gun – openly or otherwise – at the NRA convention this weekend in Houston. Given that they see themselves as “the good guys with guns”, you might think this would cause protests. After all, if a “bad guy with a gun” gets in, how are they going to defend themselves?

This is how what the AR15 can do is described in a post that is evidently enthralled by it, and paints a sickening picture of why it is that the remains of those killed on Tuesday had to be identified with DNA tests.

A remarkable feature of the AR 15 rifle is its lightning speed when it is being fired, and even if peradventure the bullet fired does not hit its mark, the gun can get reloaded in a very short and fast amount of time. The reloading speed of the AR 15 mimics those seen in the military rifles being used in war situations requiring combat action. A feature that enhances the firing speed of the AR 15 gun is the fact that the rifle possesses a muzzle of very high velocity. This high velocity muzzle contained in the gun when used with a .223 bullet round can successfully guide the bullet fired to hit its mark (possibly an animal) while also producing a powerful rebound action if the bone of the animal is hit.

The firing speed of the AR 15 can leave a devastating and destructive mark on its target and this is hugely because when the gun is fired, the bullets are ejected out of the muzzle at a high speed. If the bullets come in contact with an animal, they are bound to cause great damage to the bones and internal organs of the target. An AR 15 can fire around 2 to 3 bullet rounds per second, this means that in 15 seconds, an AR 15 can fire about 30 to 45 bullet rounds, so in a minute, an AR 15 rifle can fire up to 120 or even 180 bullet rounds (depending on how fast the shooter is to reload the gun with bullet rounds while continuing to squeeze the trigger).

You might want to take a deep breath after reading that. Or go for a walk. Or have a weep. It really should be enough to read that and know that these weapons should not be on sale. No one should feel under threat from them. But, in the US, those who stand for “the right to bear arms” react with self righteous fury when this is even suggested. When Beto O Rourke stood up at Governor Abbott’s Press Conference this week to make the connection between the dead children and the gun that killed them, the cry from the platform that he was a “sick son of a bitch!” was vehement. A similar proportion of Republican voters oppose an assault rifle ban as believe in the Great Replacement Theory (and there will be some overlap). Their notion of “law abiding citizens with guns” is that the “law abiding citizens” are people like them, “protecting themselves” from dangerous others. Its unfortunate for that argument that some of the mass shooters are “Second Amendment People” who have gone the whole hog into white supremacy, like the Buffalo shooter last week.

To get this onto the emotionally safer ground of devastating statistics.

  • Since 2017, firearms have become the leading cause of death for children and young adults in the United States, and the curve on the graph is continuing to go up.
  • World Population Review stats from 2009 -2018 show the USA had 288 school shooting incidents in that period. The next worst country was Mexico with 8.
  • In 2018, CNN reported that the U.S. had 57 times as many school shootings as the other major industrialized nations combined.
  • The frequency and deadliness of all kinds of mass shootings in the US has gone up 33% since 2010.
  • After mass shootings, gun sales go up because people are frightened, with 63% of gun owners citing “personal protection” as their motivation for buying one. So, the main reason for owning a gun is that other people have them and might threaten you with them; so mass shootings are good for business. Three times as many guns were manufactured in the United States in 2020 as it 2000. Good for business. The gun stalls at the NRA Convention will do a brisk trade this weekend.
  • Assault rifles – at an average price of $800 each for an AR15 – are their most profitable line.
  • There are 120.5 guns per 100 people in the US, more than double the next most gun saturated country, which is Yemen at 52.8 guns per 100 people.
  • There are 400 million guns in total in the United States. Half of them are owned by just 3% of the population (10 million people with an average 20 guns each).
  • 40% of Americans live in a house with a gun, but 70% do not own one.
  • Gun owners are more likely to be men than women (39% : 22%) White than anyone else (36%) rural than suburban or urban (41% : 29% : 20%) older than young and Republican than Democrat (44% : 20%). Some of these categories overlap.
  • There has been no Federal Gun Safety Legislation since the 1990’s, even though 89% of US citizens support universal background checks and 67% an outright ban on the sale of assault rifles.
  • Senator Ted Cruz has received $176,00 from the NRA, which works out at $37,000 for every child killed on Tuesday. He sells himself cheap. Marco Rubio has had $3,303,000.

The line from the NRA and contemptible figures like Ted Cruz and Donald Trump is that, rather than remove, or control, or even register weapons capable of killing whole classrooms full of children – schools should be “hardened”, teachers should be armed so the “bad guy with a gun” can be stopped by a “good guy with a gun”.

The problems with this argument are obvious; which is why no one is allowed to carry a gun into the NRA Convention centre.

There were a lot of “good guys with guns” at Uvalde. There have been “good guys with guns” at other incidents and it hasn’t done a lot of good. A “good guy” with a hand gun has almost no chance at all against a “bad guy” with an AR15, or any other kind of rifle.

This is not new. I remember that in the Buffalo Bill Annual, that I read avidly time and time again when I was 8, an inquest jury in the 1880s brought in a verdict of “suicide” for man who tried to take on an opponent armed with a rifle by drawing a handgun on him.

In the case of the police at Uvalde, there is also a serious question about the motivation of the “good guys with guns”, given that it took them an hour to get in, and they were screaming at, handcuffing and shoving parents who were imploring them to do something in the meantime. The school being overwhelmingly Latino, the Police tending to the Right and seeing them as the sort of people Trump wanted to build a wall to keep out, might be an explanation that won’t be peculiar to that locality. Whose lives matter?

So, are Trump and the NRA proposing to have armed guards in schools with assault rifles to even up the odds? Are the teachers supposed to have an assault rifle propped up by their whiteboard, primed and ready to go, just in case? Are they supposed to devote time to training so they can “safely” take out an armed intruder without hitting anyone else? What are the chances of these weapons being seized and used in a massacre themselves? Nothing like having the tools for the job close to hand. How jumpy would these teachers and schools get? So, what does this do to the school? And the students? Turning a school into an armed camp is a hidden curriculum for Dystopia.

The question for them is actually a simpler one. If it had been illegal to buy a gun in Texas, would those children and their teachers still be alive? That they would is so obvious that the only conclusion that can be drawn is that the NRA and its supporters think that their cold, dead hands are a price worth paying for their “Second Amendment Rights”.

To contrast that with what has happened here.

  • After Dunblane, there were two responses. One was to tighten up laws on gun ownership. This was a political consensus. Major and Blair went up to Dunblane in a show of unity. It had overwhelming popular support.
  • The other was to tighten up security at schools. This had been quite relaxed until then. At the school I used to teach at, local people used to use the playground as a short cut between the estate and the shops. You’d be on playground duty and nod to the parents you knew, strolling past with their shopping bags. After Dunblane, the gates were shut and the security buzzers put in. There was an additional control door put in between the reception area and the rest of the school and all other doors were made so they could only be opened from the inside. That was replicated across the country and there have been no mass shootings in schools since; more because the guns are hard to come by than the schools are harder to get into, but both help.

After the Charlie Hebdo shootings in France there was a lot of concern because a school next to the Magazine’s Offices had implemented its emergency procedures, which meant that everyone trooped out into the playground like they would in a fire drill, making them more vulnerable to being shot – had the killers been interested – than if they’d stayed where they were. Local Authority Health and Safety Committees had to draw up Emergency Procedures in the event of such an incident. There had been plenty of school shootings – like Columbine in the US – that did not spark this response, so I think there was an aspect of this that was about fitting schools into their place in the “war on terror” and – had the procedures drawn up become the basis for regular drills like the “duck and cover” exercises that brought the Cold War into every US classroom in the 1950s – they would have had a purpose well beyond safety procedures. In the event, while teachers were given INSETs about what to do – essentially lock the door and get everyone down behind a brick wall – and distinctive alarms set up and tested once a week as a reminder, most schools that I know of did not do drills with the kids. This was for obvious psychological reasons. The chances of such an incident were and are vanishingly low. But the chances of psychological damage from safety drills done often enough were very high.

Parents here feel safe sending their kids to school. As they should. In the US this is no longer the case. The rage, fury and despair on display in US media and podcasts this week shows a society that is tearing itself apart. Its now the long holidays in America. Schools are shut. How is everyone going to feel in late August when its time to go back?

On the far right/QAnon sites, the conspiracy theories are already starting. This was fake. Actors. Staged. Because the Libtards want to take away your guns. The NRA, with its weirdly appropriate symbol that looks like a steer skull with an entry wound in the middle of its head – will pull its usual strings and press its usual buttons, pushing for more guns as the cure to the guns that are already out there – the profits will pile up at Smith and Wesson and Colt and Olin Corp – and the spiral of US self destruction will take another turn – even as it pushes to recover its military mojo in its European front yard -while we wait for the next mass shooting; unless there’s enough of a surge from the majority that don’t own guns and want them under better control; and they vote out every “sick son of a bitch” that takes money from the NRA and pushes their line.

“No one in the West will believe you”.

Evan Davies, of the BBC Radio 4 PM programme, is so deeply bought into ruling class ideology that he sometimes gives the game away without realising it. My all time favourite is when he commented, on the impending French Presidential election in 2007, that the 35 hour week really had to go because although “it is really good for the people, its really bad for the economy. Which begs the question of what, or who, “the economy” is supposed to be good for, if its not for “the people.”

He did it again when interviewing the Russian Ambassador to the EU on 26th May. Having asked what Russia’s aims in Ukraine were, and being told that they are

  • an end to military threats against the Donbass
  • and demilitarisation and denazification in Ukraine

and that a Russian perception of an imminent threat of a Donbass invasion set for March 8th, as far as they could make out, was the trigger for the preemptive invasion on Feb 24th; his response was not to challenge any of the assertions or argue whether they were right or wrong, but simply to state, with a sneer you could almost cut, “no one in the West will believe you”.

Before looking at the validity or otherwise of the Ambassador’s statement, it is significant that Davies said “no one in the West, not “no one in the world. While “the West” tends to mistake itself for “the world”, or at least, as the only part of the world that matters, this does give the game away that the perception of this war in “the West” is not the same as that in the rest of “the world”; which Davies must be at least subconsciously aware of. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. The countries imposing sanctions on Russia are the United States and its direct allies: the European Union, United Kingdom, Canada, Japan, Taiwan, Australia, and New Zealand – all of them part of the Global North. The Global South has not joined in.

So, taking “the West” as the aberration that it is, could the tendency to dismiss anything the Russians might say as “just what you’ve been told to say”, as Davies put it, have anything to do with the almost complete lack of dissenting voices on our media?

Taking the points one at a time and examining them…

Militarisation of Ukraine and military threats against the Donbass.

Vyacheslav Tetekin, a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (the largest opposition force in the country) details the sharp and sustained increases in military spending by Ukraine after 2014, at a time in which living standards are still below the level they were at the time of the break up of the Soviet Union, the involvement of the US and its allies in training and arms supply, and the huge build up of forces focussed on the Donbas, particularly this year. This is cited in an article by John Ross on the military turn of the US in Monthly Review that is well worth reading. As has been remarked, Ukraine is not in NATO, but NATO has certainly been in Ukraine.

After the 2014, “the country’s finances were redeployed from the tasks of improving the welfare of the nation to strengthening the armed forces. Ukraine’s military budget has grown from $1.7 billion in 2014 to $8.9 billion in 2019 (5.9% of the country’s GDP)… Ukraine… spent three times more [as a percentage of GDP] for military purposes than the developed countries of the West…

Hundreds of instructors from the United States and other NATO countries participated in training of the Army. Ukraine was preparing for war under the supervision of the United States.

Huge funds were spent on the restoration of military hardware. During the war against Donbas in 2014-15, Ukraine has not used air combat support, as all combat aircraft required repair. However, by February 2022, there were already about 150 fighters, bombers and attack aircraft in the Ukrainian Air Force. Such a buildup of the Air Force would make sense only for the capture of Donbas.

At the same time, powerful fortifications were created on the border of Donbas and Ukraine… the salary of soldiers at the end of 2021 tripled, from 170 to 510 dollars. The Government of Ukraine has been dramatically increasing the size of its Armed Forces.

The first stage of Ukraine’s preparation for war was successfully completed by the end of 2021. The combat capability of the Ukrainian army has been restored, military equipment has been repaired and modernized…

the United States has planned two options for using the new, militarized Ukraine… The first one was to capture Donbas and, in case of a successful combination of circumstances, proceed for invasion to the Crimea. The second option was to provoke Russia’s armed intervention…

…Ukraine being under the heel of the United States creates a very real danger. In December 2021, Moscow put forward a demand to the NATO on measures to ensure Russia’s legitimate interests. The West…. ignored these demands, knowing that preparations for the invasion of Donbas are in full swing. The most combat-ready units of the Ukrainian Army numbering up to 150,000 thousand people were concentrated on the border of Donbas. They could break the resistance of the People’s militia of Donbas within 2-3 days, with the complete destruction of Donetsk and spill so much blood of the defenders of the DPR [Donetsk People’s Republic]…

Ask yourself if this assessment, by the main opposition Party in Russia, is more or less plausible than the explanations in the media here, and why it is that we hear it so little. Is this because the accepted wisdom here, the cod psychology version; that its all down to a belated mid life crisis for President Putin, or the version that plays up timeless fears of an eternal Great Russian chauvinism, always just itching to expand and reconquer the old Russian Empire, are so weak by comparison?

The Freudian slip by President Bush last week did shed a little light on the way adverbs are used. “A brutal and unprovoked attack on Iraq…err.. Ukraine”. Of course, the Iraq invasion was never described in such terms. we were taking part, so how could it possibly be?

We should not forget that, in this country, at the time of the second Iraq war, there was a majority FOR the war when people believed that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction capable of being deployed against the UK within 45 minutes. This was on the say so of our Intelligence Services, who told us what it was useful for us to believe, who we are expected to believe that they and their co workers in politics and the media are now telling us the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about Ukraine. It was only when it became clear that we had been lied to, that there were no WMD, that majority opinion turned against the war.

In the case of Russia and NATO, there is no doubt that NATO possesses WMD. Were Ukraine to join and they were deployed on its territory, flying time to Moscow would be a few minutes. A small fraction of the 45 that were considered a good enough reason for war in our case.

Denazification.

This is generally dismissed here with a scoffing reference to President Zelensky being Jewish and then the subject changed as quickly as possible. It is seen as absurd hyperbole. Given the tendency for the media here to label any target enemy, from General Galtieri to Saddam Hussein, as the new Hitler, and that we have used that as cover to intervene in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya since 2000 alone, a little self awareness might be in order here too. The airbrushing of the role of the far right in Ukraine goes as far as the BBC and the Guardian rubbishing their own previous reporting (without mentioning it of course, because what is instrumentally useful now must always have been “true”). A glance back at their previous coverage shows how absurd this is.

Here are some headlines from media here before the war started, from the BBC, Politico, Bellingcat, the Guardian and other sources, that have now been consigned to the memory hole because it is now embarrassing to acknowledge reality.

Ukraine celebrates Nazi collaborator; bans book critical of pogroms leader.

Ukraine’s got a real problem with far right violence (and, no, RT did not write this headline).

Hundreds march in Ukraine in annual tribute to Nazi collaborator.

Violent Anti-Semitism is gripping Ukraine – and the government is standing idly by.

Ukraine conflict: “White Power warrior” from Sweden.

Ukraine conflict: child soldiers join the fight.

Far- Right fighters from Europe fight for Ukraine.

Nazi symbols. salutes on display at Ukrainian nationalist march.

Yes. Its (still) OK to call Ukraine’s C14 neo Nazi.

A new Eurasian far right rising.

Far Right extremists in Ukrainian military bragged about Canadian training.

German TV shows Nazi symbols on helmets of Ukrainian soldiers.

Ukraine designates national holiday to commemorate Nazi collaborator.

Kiev’s far right groups refuse to disarm.

FBI: Militia trained by US military in Ukraine now training US White Supremacists

Ukrainian Neo Nazi C14 vigilantes drive out Roma families, burn their camp

Ukraine underplays role of far right in conflict

New “Glory to Ukraine” army chant invokes nationalist past

Britons join neo Nazi militia in Ukraine

Neo-Nazis and the far right are on the march in Ukraine

How the far right took top positions in power vacuum

Ukraine’s far right menace

With axes and hammers far right vigilantes destroy another Romany camp in Kyiv

“Defend the White Race” American extremists being targeted by Ukraine’s far right

When the media here talks about the Azov battalion as though they are heroes, this is who they are talking about.

In the context of climate breakdown, the impasse of neo liberalism and the rise of China, politics in the Global North will increasingly squeeze down the democratic space that exists for the left and the labour movement, and the rehabilitation of the far right will advance in leaps.

This issue is explored in further detail in the No Cold War Britain webinar here.

Problems with waste disposal.

Arguments between allies can sometimes be fiercer than those with the enemy. Especially in conditions of defeat, in which consolation prizes – and dealing with an opponent our own size – can loom very large. Having gone over the top myself on a number of occasions – not least during the 2019 Green New Deal composite meeting at Labour Party conference (which lasted 12 hours and became more heated as the scale of the differences shrank) – I don’t want to claim immunity from this, nor that everything I ever said, nor everyone I ever said it alongside, was completely right – but would like to argue that a style of debate framed in Manichean moralism is not the best way to get light, and is guaranteed to generate more heat than is useful.

In the current argument over the Edmonton incinerator, there is a tendency for both sides to talk past each other, and neither side to acknowledge difficulties raised by the other. That is a good way to make sure that the fewest possible lessons get learned, while alliances that are needed to go forward on a broad front become fractured. Rhetorical excess, a Waltham Forest Councillor claiming that the campaign thinks that waste can be turned into “unicorn farts” and campaigners arguing that Councillors on the North London Waste Authority are guilty of “social murder” – makes rifts personal and painful and hard to overcome on other matters.

When I visited a far flung rural part of South Africa in 2005, one of the many things that struck me about it was the complete absence of waste disposal services at a Municipal level. On one level, anything that could be reused was. Organic waste was fed to the pigs. Toy cars were made from wire, tin cans and bottle tops. Old crisp packets were wrapped around twigs and sewn together to make beautiful table mats that glowed like stained glass. But, a growing amount of the overpackaging from a newly opened supermarket that could not be found an alternative use ended up just discarded. When I asked the head teacher of the local primary school what they did with excess rubbish he said, “We throw it into the Bush.” Household by household, at the ends of people’s backyard plots there would characteristically be a hole in the ground which contained the burnt out remnants of the household rubbish. So, charred tin cans jumbled among melted plastic and a lot of ash; partially covered with soil.

In the UK, and other “advanced”, “developed”, wealthy imperial predator countries, waste disposal is a collectivised version of that. The waste that we can’t, or fail to, reuse or recycle, we bury or burn.

Or, we dump it on countries in the Global South. Out of sight, out of mind. This is cheaper than developing a proper recycling structure in the home country.

  • In 2020, the USA exported 620,000 metric tonnes of plastic waste to developing countries.
  • The EU exported 2.37 million metric tonnes of plastic waste as part of a total waste exports of 38.4 million metric tonnes. This is a 70% increase since the turn of the century.
  • The UK exported 525,000 tones of plastic waste last year (12.7% of its total plastic waste), with about 40% of it ending up in Turkey.
  • All this counts towards “recycling” targets in the exporting countries, even though, in practice, once the shipping containers arrive and the importer has been paid, with recycling facilities even less developed than in wealthier countries, they are often get rid of it as cheaply as possible, dumping it or burning it. No one is checking. Win, win for the traders, lose, lose for the rest of us.
“Plastic bottles and garbage on the bank of a river” by Horia Varlan is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Push back from the stronger parts of the developing world, principally China, is leading to pressure on the exporting countries to get their house in order, but in immediate terms is leading to a fall in plastic recycling rates in the USA and an increase in incineration.

Between 1992 and 2021, China took 106 million tonnes of plastic waste, more than half of the world’s total; mostly from the USA, UK, Germany and Japan. Starting slowly in 2010, then accelerating in 2017, when 24 different types of recycled waste were banned as imports, China has now banned all solid waste imports.

Reduce

I think everyone can agree that the sheer quantity of waste has to be restricted at source. The UK generates 23 million tonnes of household waste every year (394 kg per person – more than four and a half times our average body weight). Commercial and industrial waste is greater. 43.9 million tonnes in 2018. Household, Commercial and Industrial combined, however, amounts to just 31% of the total of 222.2 million tonnes generated in 2018; with Construction Demolition and Excavation accounting for 62% of the rest of it.

Reuse

A bottle deposit scheme has been delayed and delayed by the government. Reusable nappies and milk deliveries using glass bottles tend to be the preserve of people who have the time or money to use them. Local authority initiatives can and do dent totals, but national legislation can make a more significant difference.

Recycle

In the UK overall, recycling is slowly increasing, at around 45% of the total; better in Wales and Northern Ireland than England and Scotland. The quantity of residual waste has, however, been at a plateau since 2013 (inching down from 551 Kg per household to 537Kg in 2019- after almost halving from 1046 Kg per household in 2000/2001).

In North London, recycling rates are stuck at around 30%. Islington has a target to get up to 36% by 2025. London overall is aiming at 65% by 2030. This is partly through improving capacity to deal with contaminated loads.

Residual waste from North London is currently incinerated at Edmonton, and has been since 1969. It is the plan to replace the old, clapped out, incinerator with a new one that has led to a ferocious debate about whether this is the right way forward.

The campaign against a new incinerator makes a number of forceful points that

  1. Rates of recycling can and must be increased and we need to construct a circular economy.
  2. Building an energy from waste facility cements in a demand for an ongoing supply of residual waste and reduces the incentive to increase recycling.
  3. A Mixed Waste Recovery Plant could get recycled waste levels up qualitatively; and a Review might enable this to be developed instead.
  4. Incineration produces GHGs and particulate pollution, at 1 tonne of CO2 for every tonne of waste burnt.
  5. No one would even contemplate siting such a facility in, say Belgravia.

Councillors supporting the proposal argue that –

  1. Rates of recycling can, must and will be increased, and this is part of the waste management plan, but, even with the London target being met by 2030, which is by no means guaranteed, there would still be 35% of total waste unrecycled and having to be disposed of, either in landfill or incinerated. At present 70% of waste is residual. Even state of the art Mixed Waste Recovery Plants still leave about 26% of residual waste, which still has to be disposed of.
  2. The currently unrecoverable waste has to be dealt with now; and no one is campaigning for the current incinerator to be shut in the absence of an alternative. The rate at which the current incinerator is breaking down makes its replacement a matter of some urgency. A decision to scrap the existing plans and go back to the first stage of a lengthy planning process would both increase costs and delay a viable replacement; and either keep a clapped out and technologically outmoded facility burning waste for longer than it needs to, or consign hundreds of thousands of tonnes of residual waste to landfill while the discussion goes on, in the absence of anything else concrete to do with it.
  3. Each tonne burnt saves 20Kg of CO2 per tonne of waste compared with use of landfill. This is just 2% of the total, but its clear that landfilling is worse (and everyone agrees on that).
  4. The IPCC figure for what they consider to be “climate relevant” CO2 emissions from incineration is actually significantly lower than the campaign’s figure of 1 tonne for 1 tonne. “Assuming that carbon dioxide emissions from MSW incineration average 1 Mg per Mg of waste, then of these CO2 emissions 0.33 (0.50) Mg are of fossil and 0.67 (0.50) Mg are of biogenic origin. In subsequent calculations, the proportion of climate-relevant CO2 is figured out as an average value of 0.415 Mg of CO2 per Mg of waste.” Nevertheless, this is still a lot of emissions. Around 294,000 tonnes a year.
  5. This will be dealt with in the medium term by Carbon Capture and Storage. CCUS capacity has tripled in the last decade, mostly in heavy industry, but is still massively below target, at 40 megatons globally, not the 100 megatons projected in 2010. However, at present, there are 24 CCUS facilities working or being constructed, and another 35 being planned globally, each with an average capacity of 2.6 million tonnes a year: so CCUS looks technically feasible, though the cost – construction capacity and timescale for affordability – is another matter.

Both these sets of arguments have force. For Waste Authorities beginning to plan a way forward, Mixed Waste Recovery looks a very positive option, though it does still have a residual waste element and most such plants incinerate it. I have not heard of any other options. The pollution and carbon emissions produced by this make it a matter of urgency to shrink this through reduction at source, maximum reuse and maximum recycling.

In the immediate situation, the decision to build the new facility has been made. The extent to which the campaign’s prediction that this will stall attempts to increase recycling or reduction of waste at source is fulfilled depends on the extent to which this is built into the next set of waste management plans and campaigns to change behaviour en masse can be made to stick.

Stop the War. Cut the Bills

From Labour List this morning, with my emphasis.

Ofgem’s chief executive Jonathan Brearley told MPs today that the energy regulator expects to increase the cap on energy bills by more than £800 in October. The cap is currently £1,971, having increased by £693 in April.

He said, looking beyond October, Ofgem are “managing between two extreme versions of events.

One where the price falls back down to where it was before – for example, if we did see peace in Ukraine. And one where prices could go even further if we were to see, for example, a disruptive interruption of gas from Russia,” he said.

So, a continuation of the war, and deepening the sanctions on Russia, leads directly to energy bills that are increasing 23 times greater than wages and 38 times greater than benefits, and could, as Brearley states quite clearly “go even further”.

The UK government’s bellicose interventions against peace negotiations will come back to bite it. As it will bite Labour too unless it starts mobilising for peace.

Tales from the Riverbank 3. Go East Old Man!

London. It’ll be lovely when its finished…

Having made it to Hampton Court on our last riverside walk, Jamie and I plan to head East from Tower Bridge to the Thames Barrier, exploring on the way the murky dockside past of some of our ancestors.

On the way down to Tower Hill, a convivially crowded tube is full of people in a state of Bank holiday relaxation, chatting in a variety of languages – as we do in London – blissfully oblivious of offending Nigel Farage in absentia.

Looking at the fragment of Roman Wall still standing opposite the Tower, Jamie expresses a desire to climb it; taking parcours into Spring Heeled Jack territory.

On the North side of the Tower there is a statue that at first we take to be a war memorial; but on closer inspection proves to be a memorial to Construction – and other – workers killed in industrial accidents. Erected by UCATT, the construction workers union (part of UNITE since 2017) it has the same physical look as military memorials; and is very much modelled on them. A solid looking bloke in bronze, staring into the distance/future, wearing a hard hat instead of a tin bowler, with a spirit level over his shoulder where a rifle might go, and a tool belt where his ammo pouches and dagger would be. Recent wreaths from UNITE, probably laid for worker’s memorial day on April 28th, lie at the foot of the plinth. Not a ceremony of remembrance anyone much makes a fuss of. But, they shall not grow old either… (1)

Setting out, down the wide steps Eastwards into the St Katherine’s Dock basin we go. Between 1828 and 1968 a working dock, when “brandy for the parson, baccy for the clerk” started to come in in warehouse loads, stacked high in tall storehouses of fast blackening yellow brick, designed with the same early industrial brutalism as Kings Cross station and having that harsh beauty that functional confidence can confer if built in sufficiently grand dimensions; but now just a marina full of yachts, mostly white and sleek, and fringed with hotels, restaurants and bars for the sort of people, mostly white and sleek, who can afford them. Jamie suggest that it would make a great scene for a chase sequence in a spoof Bond film, with characters hopping from boat to boat. One of the yachts, appropriately enough, is called “Moneypenny”. Moored along the West side is a Thames barge, blunt nosed. solid, red sails furled, ready for a fair days pay for a hard days work; but kept for legacy display and exhibition reasons, just as the heavy overhead winches and pulleys on the warehouses are; mighty pieces of machinery painted glossy black and reduced to a decorative reminder of how far the world of money has moved on from mere mechanics. To one side is “Gloriana” a recreation of an eighteenth century Royal Barge with a sixteenth century name built for the Diamond Jubilee in 2012, and probably due a run out for the Platinum one later this summer- all red and gold, sharp prowed and elegant; a cabin for Royalty to loll in at the back – with Dieu et mon Droit carved above – and seats for rowers to plough the river with their oars in at the front (no God or rights for them). Brassy. All that’s missing is a crowd of musicians on other boats playing the water music; all trumpets and timpani. A wagtail gilded with delicate yellow under feathers dances delicately alongside, its light liveliness a kind of mute mockery of our pretensions to be able to design anything as sublime as it is.

Wapping High Street and the streets off it is more or less free of cars, but there are lots of people on rented bikes – chatting as they go – and joggers, mostly with earpieces in and proper kit. One woman has blue lipstick; which must be some sort of statement. The street is mostly luxury gated apartments, converted warehouses seven storeys tall, hemming in the cobbled road like a canyon, with, to landward, side streets leading to quiet social housing estates and, on the river side, sliced with neglected narrow alleyways leading to steep, treacherously slimy stair ways down to the river; which sucks and sloshes angrily with a smell of salt and sludge and a legacy of green slime far up the walls. A place for a quick scuttled escape to a waiting boat were there to be one there. But not a place to hang about. There is a definite sense of threat about it. The sort of alley way that might lead to a secret trap door to the hideout of an eighteenth century villain like the Spectre in The Valiant. Or a place a pirate might have been hanged, or chained up for the tide to drown him. Among the surviving pubs, which look like the sort of places that would have been really rough half a century ago but have scrubbed up nicely, even though they have a lot of the dame sort of shiny green bricks they used in Victorian public toilets, all gleaming glass and brass, scrubbed wood and real ales, is the Captain Kidd, which has a painting of him on the gibbet as part of its sign. Further up is The Prospect of Whitby, which says it is the oldest riverside pub in London; founded in 1520. The Inca Empire still had 12 years to run when they started. A list of all the monarchs since Henry VIII underlines just how long they have been pulling pints on that spot. There is room for just one more after Elizabeth II, which may or may not be prophetic.

Walking alongside the river for a short patch where it is accessible, we hear a distant chanting, slightly menacing, like a football crowd. It seems to be coming back in the direction of the Tower of London. Not possible to pin down. The swish flats built to look swashbucklingly futuristic by Michael Heseltine’s Docklands Development Corporation in the 1980s – an abortive model for a megalomaniac vision of a wholesale urbanisation of the North Bank of the estuary as far down as Southend jokingly referred to at the time as “Heselgrad” – are looking a bit battered close up. Weathered. Stained. Pooped on by gulls. Rickety and rotted a bit in places. The old pre war LCC council estate flats look as though they will be in better shape for a lot longer. Recently built estates look much more solid than either. Very square, but with handsome dimensions. Bright green privet hedges – a gesture at a Garden City revival perhaps – have the feel of holograms, as though we are walking through one of those computer generated scenes of what the new estate will look like when it is built and the sun is shining and it is inhabited entirely by fit, well dressed people who have places to go and things to do.

At the point that the Regents Canal meets the Thames we walk across a solid looking bridge, looking down at a flotilla of swans nosing around looking for food among the flotsam of plastic bottles and footballs and trying to groom themselves with water that is the colour of diahorrea. Needs must. As we near the far end, lights begin to flash and a siren sounds at both ends of the bridge as barriers begin to descend; so everyone scuttles off. Water is pouring out through the lock gates, with streams of algae spiralling out towards the river like an unappetising green sauce. As the lock gates open, so does the bridge. The whole thing lifts slightly, then swings away from our side to the left, upstream, with a stolid certainty, pivoting on the far bank and coming to rest parallel to the channel of water. Three two masted boats, crewed by quite elderly people and flying Dutch flags at their stern, cast off from the bollards inside the lock and motor swiftly through and out onto the river in a rapid convoy; before the bridge swings inexorably back, and settles itself down with a sigh and a solid THUNK. The small crowds of cyclists and walkers gathered at both ends are made convivial by being held up together; a common experience of no great significance in itself, but the power and the weight involved in the way that the bridge moved, making the forces we use for small everyday experiences visible is humbling and exhilarating; if the grins people are giving each other is anything to go by.

The river is busy all the way down to Greenwich and small children point and laugh at the river clippers; which are large, sleek and powerful and growl through the water like apex predators, churning a foaming wake. Fast orange speed boats operating out of St Katherine’s Dock, bounce across the surface with screaming tourists imagining they are in that chase from the imaginary Bond film- a riverine version of a white knuckle ride. Not to be outdone, a Police boat with its siren going hurtles down river towards Greenwich- sometimes taking flight momentarily – leaping forward in a series of stomach turning jumps; either giving chase to person or persons unknown, or late for tea, or having fun. A boat decorated with Horrible Histories logos lurks alongside former execution sites to give people that Weren’t we awful…! frisson. One of the slower tour boats, heading back up river, is full of people singing “Bring me Sunshine”– in a rather heartfelt way. This may be the possibly the same lot who were chanting earlier so menacingly, but now seem to be in a much mellower mood.

“Bring me sunshine, in your smile

Bring me laughter, all the while

In this world where we live,

There should be more happiness

So much joy you can give

To each brand new bright tomorrow…” (2)

I have to explain the cultural echoes this has for my generation; as it means nothing to today’s. It could be a prayer. You could intone it like an Anglican vicar if you add the words “Oh Lord”… at the beginning. Certainly of its time. Tomorrow might well be brand new, but its not likely to be very bright, and very few young people think it is opening up for them; with 75% in a recent survey afraid of what it might bring, 54% that humanity is doomed and 39% actively considering not having children.

How not to take a scenic photo. Greenwich in the gloom, with the Cutty Sark’s masts centred, the Royal Naval College to the left, and Jamie in silhouette in foreground.

Greenwich from the other side presents as a montage of architectural styles – the stately elegance of the Royal Naval College, reclines with aristocratic languor, stretching effortlessly along the waterfront with green hills behind it. Alongside, and towering above it like an outsized Igor to the College’s Doctor Frankenstein, is a huge Victorian power station; vast vaulted brick halls, foursquare towering chimneys like the stiffened upturned legs of some dead beast, thoroughly Orcine, a hunk of Mordor built on the lawns of Arcadian fantasy.

Walking North up the East side of the Isle of Dogs and the river empties. Only the occasional Clipper prowls beyond Greenwich, giving a sense of abandonment and a quiet that feels a bit eery. On the far side, near the O2, a few dry docks are still working, a Go Cart track makes an enormous noise, and tiny figures can be seen walking across the top of the O2 like a queue of penguins on a very round ice floe. The South end of the Isle is not like the North, dominated as it is by gleaming towers of finance capital. Cubitt town was built on lands reclaimed from swamps as late as the 1840s. Housing estates from before “Docklands” dream in the sunlight, children throw stones into the oncoming waves in old dry docks, one of them, closed off from the river, is covered in algae, smooth and flat like a bilious billiard table dotted with cast off plastic bottles buoyed up high in the airless water beneath, while lots of people in new Shalwar Kamiz’s for Eid head for relatives houses. The ward that elected the first ever BNP councillor in 1993 now feels comfortably multicultural, with people of all descriptions chatting in the street. Another memorial to dead workers stands quietly by the waterfront. Six Fire fighters killed in a fire and explosion on a now demolished wharf in 1969 – a plaque from the Brigade and one for their union alongside each other; their names listed.

At the point that the River Lea reaches the Thames, we have to walk across a flyover on the A13 – an umbilical cord to home in my case (3) – in search of the Orchard peninsular; which was the site of a shipbuilding yard owned by my great, great, great grandfather (via my Dad’s paternal Grandmother’s line), Benjamin Crispin Wallis. The yard’s main claim to fame is to have built the paddle steamship Ruby for the Diamond Gravesend Steam Packet Company in 1836, claimed at the time to be “the fastest in Europe”; 160 feet long with two 50 Horse Power engines capable of 13 and a half miles per hour; allowing her to get to Gravesend ahead of all rivals in just 1 hour and forty minutes. This was such a success that he was bankrupt within a year. He was back in business by 1852, listed in the London Commercial and General Directory of that year as a Barge and Boat Builder at Orchard Place Blackwall, but went bust again by the end of the decade; “occupation 1859: Bankrupt.” His creditors received 1 shilling and 3 pence for every pound they were owed. (London Gazette July 24th 1860). He died in 1877 at 77 years old. (4)

Orchard Place is a backwater along Bow Reach that is almost as hard to get to now as it always was. Cut off by the Lea’s meanders, and the basin of the East India Dock, with no public transport, seen as an island by those who lived there and those who shunned visiting it; it was desperately poor. Marked dark blue on Charles Booth’s poverty map, denoting “very poor, casual, chronic want” – only black – “Lowest class, vicious, semi criminal” was rougher. People worked in the industries that grew up around the docks, notably rendering whale oil from blubber, glass polishing (mostly women) a lucky shift at the Docks for those with enough cash to buy drinks for the foremen in the many pubs, or “toshing”, scavenging along the shoreline for useable goods, or lumps of coal to use or sell. Largely isolated from the rest of London, three families dominated – the Scanlans, Jefferies and Lammins. A school report from the Bow Creek School noted that, “of 160 children in the school, 100 were Lammins”; which must have made taking the register interesting.

Lammin? Here.

Lammin? Here.

Lammin? Here.

Some of these children were reported as asking their mother for a candle, “so we can watch the rats”. Made our own entertainment in them days…

The view from the A13 flyover looking South across Orchard Place. To the right is the entrance to the East India Docks. Ahead is the river and Greenwich. The Wallis yard, I think, was where the flats are to the right. The Thames Cable Car can just be seen on the Greenwich side – a ski lift to nowhere much.

At the end of the peninsular there is a cafe in a prefab unit, which has a black cab on the roof with a tree growing through it, where we rest our aching feet and eat a vegan buttie (bit dry).

Across the flyover looking down to the right at scuzzy Leaside industrial leftovers, big, broken wooden drums dumped in piles, buddleia growing through the concrete of an industrial graveyard – ahead to the Tate and Lyle factory – Baking Britain Golden – a last citadel of production left isolated in brownfield desolation – and to the left to the Victoria Dock; which for a moment we are disoriented by; as it is so broad it looks like the river has been moved (by Jonathan Strange perhaps) or the universe has been turned inside out around us. The Thames Cable Car – the Dangleway – sways high up 300 feet over our heads and we wave back at some kids who are very excited to be in it.

Finally, the Thames Barrier and journey’s end. The park alongside is full of families out for Eid and the river flows muckily too and fro.

On the tube back, I notice in our reflections that we are sitting in a disturbingly identical way.

  1. Deaths of front line workers in recent years, thanks partly to “health and safety gone mad”, have gone down quite sharply from 2.1 per 100,000 in 1981 to 0.44 per 100,000 in 2021. A total of 142 in 2020-21 (mostly falls from height or being hit by a vehicle) mostly still in construction and agriculture, with a much higher rate of deaths for the over 60s. Lest we forget, the death rate from Covid in the same year was running at about ten times that rate for front line workers in jobs like health, care and transport.
  2. The theme song for Morcambe and Wise. Having known it for years- and assumed it was a late Music Hall type variety song – I’m slightly surprised to find that it was written and composed by Willie Nelson. This is his original. I think I prefer theirs, which is gentler; somehow ordinary, a couple of blokes singing a song with no great passion – but with a kind of sincerity; and definitely with the right notes in the right order.
  3. Billy Bragg has a song about it – an Essex version of Route 66 (Dig the scene, on the A13). How could you not?
  4. Research by Jonathan Clarke.

Massive Majorities favour transition from fossil fuels to sustainable energy.

On the heels of a survey by Onward showing that the UK Conservatives could shed 1.3 million votes if they backed off their pledge to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050, a survey for the World Economic Forum by IPSOS shows.

  • More than four out of five people globally think it important that their country make the transition.
  • That this majority is strong in Global North countries like the USA and Canada, with 3 out of 4 in support.
  • But even stronger in Global South countries like China, Argentina and Peru, with more than 9 out of 10 in support. The report notes, “Citizens of emerging countries were especially adamant about it.” This is likely to be because, not despite, the much harsher impact of the current increases in fossil fuel costs there.

Support among women – at just under 9 out of 10, is even higher than support among men, running at just over 4 out of 5.

Bad news for Nigel Farage and Lord Lawson.