Showing racism the red card

Long before I became a Labour activist I was an anti-racism campaigner. In my teens I joined the Anti-Nazi League, and since I have supported a number of groups, such as Unite Against Fascism and Hope Not Hate. I was therefore delighted to be invited to a Show Racism The Red Card event at St Mary’s Church of England Primary school yesterday afternoon. At some point in the past (probably nearly two decades ago) I owned a Let’s Kick Racism Out Of Football tee-shirt, the predecessor project to SRTRC.

A DVD was shown, and then four of us responded to questions from the assembled year 4/5 pupils. Two of my fellow panellists were ex-professional footballers, the third had a community engagement role with Southend United FC. I have had thirty years involvement with local football – I cannot pretend to have got any higher than the semi-professional level, and my current level of engagement is minimal.

The fight against racism goes on. Over the many years of activism I have seen the intolerance and bigotry and it is still there, but the targets have changed. I recall the Ugandan Asians coming over in the early 1970s, and they struggled to be accepted at first. Nowadays it is East Europeans and Travellers than seem not to be accepted by all. However, I genuinely believe that things have got better – certainly the casual racism of the 1970s is a distant memory.

Incidentally, in more than a thousand games of football officiated as referee I can only recall sending one player off for racial abuse. I think most involved in football are tolerant, although I do confess that as a referee an element of deafness is an asset and maybe I did not hear everything that was said.

At the end of the event there were photographs of some of the Premier League teams (none of Aston Villa) given out and the pupils asked us to sign them. Now I can understand that they might want some footballers to sign, but a borough councillor?! I did point out to them that I was only a mere councillor – they still wanted my autograph. Doubtless there are some parents looking at the signatures across pictures of the Arsenal squad, or Manchester City or Chelsea, who must be wondering who this Julian Ware-Lane fellow is.

Later I paid a visit to the public exhibition on the proposed development at the former Prittlebrook industrial estate. This was hosted by Bellway Homes and Havens Hospices. I found it informative and it was good to see the plans. Naturally I had some questions too, and I reminded the Havens representative that I had suggested this site was a better prospect than the Belton Way when I paid a visit to their Chalkwell Avenue establishment a couple of years ago.

Unite Against Fascism national conference 14th June

UNITE

Beyond Right and Wrong – a film for International Women’s Day

Tomorrow is International Women’s Day.

If you have fifty minutes to spare watch “Beyond Right and Wrong“, a film produced by former Women for Women International board member Lekha Singh. The exceptional film features stories of justice and forgiveness in Rwanda, Israel/West Bank and Gaza, and Ireland.

Even if you do not have fifty minutes, just watch what you can. I think you will find it both moving and uplifting.

Some public health data

The data below comes from the Public Health England website . This shows the seventeen wards that make up the Borough of Southend-on-Sea, and also includes the English average.

The four columns show admittedly arbitrary choices (the website has many indices to choose from); however it does reflect and illustrate some of the things I campaign about.

Life expectancy at birth for males (years) Life expectancy at birth for females (years) Income Deprivation (%) Overcrowding (%)
Kursaal 71.9 78.4 31.6 19.9
Victoria 74.9 78.6 30.8 19.8
Milton 74.4 78.5 23.6 19.5
Shoeburyness 78.0 81.4 20.2 10.1
Southchurch 77.6 83.5 19.5 6.2
St Luke’s 78.8 83.2 18.9 7.7
West Shoebury 78.3 79.8 18.6 5.9
Blenheim Park 77.0 83.1 18.2 6.2
Westborough 77.3 83.3 17.0 9.9
St Laurence 79.3 84.5 15.1 6.6
England 78.3 82.3 14.7 8.7
Belfairs 79.5 83.2 14.1 5.8
Prittlewell 77.7 82.5 14.1 7.5
Chalkwell 76.1 79.5 12.4 13.3
Leigh 79.1 85.0 9.5 6.2
Thorpe 78.8 86.4 8.7 2.5
Eastwood Park 81.1 83.4 8.5 4.8
West Leigh 80.1 84.3 5.6 3.2

And so, what does this all mean? Well, clearly there are some disparities. The table is sorted by income deprivation which shows Kursaal and Victoria some way behind most of the rest of the town, and way behind West Leigh.

The UKIP candidate in West Leigh is campaigning on over development – ironic given that West Leigh not only has a very low overcrowding figure (16th in the borough) and it is also the fifteen least densely populated ward (see http://warelane.wordpress.com/2012/12/04/population-density-per-ward-in-southend-on-sea/). I think we can safely file that under ‘scaremongering’.

Overcrowding is at about a fifth in the three town centre wards, which further vindicates my campaigning about overdevelopment here.

The contrasts in life expectancy are stark; men in Eastwood Park can expect nine years more than their Kursaal  brothers. The gap for females is not quite so large, although it still stands at eight years between the women of Kursaal and those living in Thorpe. That these wards also rub shoulders says something.

Chalkwell ward, which does well on income deprivation, falls behind on the other three measures. I wonder what the voter under registration figure is here, because I suspect that the eastern end of this ward (east of Crowstone Road/Avenue) has many houses of multiple occupancy – and this usually means both poverty and disengagement.

Stand up to racism and fascism

Sup123

Excess winter deaths

This graph makes for pretty ugly reading if you live in Southend-on-Sea. For almost all of the last twenty years my town has had a worst record than the comparator average when it comes to excess winter deaths. Recent numbers show the gap to have narrowed, and I hope that I will be able to report at some point that Southend-on-Sea is better than average.
EWD9011
(Excess winter deaths (EWD) are calculated using the Office for National Statistics method which defines the winter period as December to March, and compares the number of deaths that occurred in this winter period with the average number of deaths in the preceding August to November and the following April to July.)

I asked for an explanation for our poor past record, and here is the response:

The causes of excess winter deaths are complex and interlinked with cold weather, fuel poverty, housing and health inequalities, as well as infectious diseases (such as flu and norovirus) and the extent of snow and ice. It is therefore very difficult to say that there is any one particular reason for Southend being above the average of its CIPFA comparator local authorities throughout the period being reported on.

I have been supporting Ed Miliband’s freeze that bill campaign. Until something is done about fuel poverty one can only speculate what this graph will look like after this coming winter has passed. This is why the vote on the Local Council Tax Support Scheme Annual Review last Thursday was so crucial, and why those who support the idea of making the poor poorer (and for what the administration had proposed) must be made aware that actions have consequences. We can add to the ‘heat or eat’ question ‘or council tax’.

Stop FGM

I have been asked to mention the petition on female genital mutilation on my blog (found here). I am no expert on this subject but I can state that every story I hear fills me with horror.

This is from the Equality Now website :

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is a harmful traditional practice that involves the partial or total removal of the female genitalia. It is estimated that between 100 and 140 million girls and women around the world have undergone genital mutilation. FGM ranges from the partial or total removal of the clitoris (clitoridectomy), to the removal of the entire clitoris and the cutting of the labia minora (excision), to its most extreme form, the removal of all external genitalia and the stitching together of the two sides of the vulva (infibulation).

FGM is generally done without anaesthetic, and can have lifelong health consequences including chronic infection, severe pain during urination, menstruation, sexual intercourse, and childbirth, and psychological trauma. No one knows how many girls die from FGM.

Anyway, I think I am signatory 93,241 on the e-petition. You could add yours, too.

For more reading on FGM you could try this – http://www.dofeve.org/stopping-fgm.html

The gender balancing act

I subscribe to the concept of gender equality. I support this when it comes to political representation and have played my small part in ensuring it happens.

There are some subjects that are guaranteed to start an animated discussion in Labour circles, and all-women shortlists (AWS) is one of them. AWS, I think it fair to say, gets a lukewarm reception in certain quarters, and this is not from any aversion to seeing gender equality. Whilst comrades subscribe to equality, AWS is viewed by some as a very blunt instrument in achieving this.

I accept that AWS has flaws, but if one wants to drive up the numbers of women actively involved in politics then I have yet to see a better method. I know that sometimes a woman is selected or elected over their male counterparts when those frustrated males have years more campaigning experience behind them. But selection is not, and should not, be a reward for long service. It is about being the best qualified for that positions, and yes one’s gender does matter.

Outside the marginals tackles an aspect of this; stemming from a radio phone-in on producing a gender balanced parliament by halving the number of constituencies but then having each constituency elect (simultaneously) one man and one woman.

This idea is deeply flawed in one aspect, and that is the implication that male constituents are best served by a male MP, and vice versa. Not so, and gender equality has nothing to do with this idea. In fact, this is the very opposite of equality as women should be able to represent both sexes, as should men. Gender equality is all about the overall gender balance in Parliament (and council chambers, and in internal party constructs).

I should add that gender balance does not mean an exact 50/50 split either. It is best endeavours to get parity, cognizant that absolute equality is not necessary. If we get to 40% of MPs being female, for instance, I would think “job done”. Of course, women may get to 60%, but anything beyond that and we may have to contemplate AMS.

Sometimes you run out of suitable women candidates. I accept that in part this may be the fault of the local party in its failure to attract sufficient numbers of interested women, but whilst that may be true one has to deal with the reality one is faced with. I am pleased to be able to say that the Labour Group on Southend-on-Sea Borough Council has exact gender parity. Seeing the number of women coming forward it may be problematical keeping that fine record if we start to make significant inroads into the chamber.

I do wonder, though, why we have to have gender equality at all levels within the party except the very highest. Why is the Shadow Cabinet exempt? This really does send out the wrong signals.

The article goes on to explore other potential claimants for special treatment – BAME shortlists for example. I have waited in vain for the one-quarter Belgian shortlist myself.

The Southend Ethnic Minority Forum – good company, chatter, and food

Dr Mohamed Pasha MBE speaks

Dr Mohamed Pasha MBE speaks

Mr Simon Woolley

Mr Simon Woolley

It does not take a lot of encouragement to get me inside an Indian restaurant and the annual general meeting of the Southend Ethnic Minority Forum’s promise of a buffet was ample inducement.

Of course, I would have attended regardless, but a little encouragement by way of a promised repast goes a long way!

I was an anti-racist campaigner a long time before I became a Labour activist, and so it was an easy decision to join a organisation aimed at bringing peoples together. Mine was not the only white face there, and regardless of ethnicity I would encourage all to consider joining.

An old foe, Ahmad Khwaja, greeted me warmly and he gave a good speech. (He is an old foe by virtue of us both contesting, and losing, Westborough ward a few years back.) Ahmad is a charming host. Simon Wooley of Operation Black Vote was the guest speaker, and his talk ended with a call to try to get all of us to encourage young people to engage with the political process.

Ahmad’s address included appointing Dr Mohamed Pasha MBE as patron of SEMF. Dr Pasha spoke a few words of acceptance. James Duddridge MP and the mayor, Cllr Brian Kelly, also made good contributions, and I have promised to do something with James about trying to encourage young people to take notice of politics, to vote, and to become active in their communities. Despite sitting on opposite sides of the political spectrum both James and I value our democracy and want greater participation on all levels.

The food was very good, the company too. I have been promised Egyptian cooking and a visit to a mosque. I look forward to both.

Tuesday

For the second year running I was invited to the Trinity Family Centre’s annual general meeting and volunteer awards evening. I was honoured to be asked, again, to hand out the awards. Many volunteers put in long hours to keep this place running and some of the time put in is truly breath-taking. It seems that many give what they can of their time, and whilst this can be quite modest in some cases (3 hours was the fewest number of hours credited), some efforts can only be described as prodigious. A new award – platinum – had to be created for Norman Cowin who amassed 1154 hours (averaging more than 20 hours for every week of the year).

I managed to have a chat with Mara Chrystie who helps run the Community and Asylum Seekers Together (CAST) charity. I have an interest in this area and have campaigned with Amnesty International to see that those fleeing persecution are treated well. Asylum seekers rarely get a decent press and are frequently lumped in with immigrants, and seemingly blamed for everything that is going wrong with society. It is one of the challenges of canvassing that I am often dragged into debates about immigration. I try to present a balanced view, not always an easy task when so many in our media use them as the convenient scapegoat. I think we do need a national debate about migration and asylum, one where facts and not fantasy prevail.

I left the TFC to deal with a minor domestic incident and then hot-footed it to Thorpe Bay where Labour’s Parliamentary candidate for Rochford and Southend East, Ian Gilbert, was having a fundraising event. And that, folks, was my Tuesday evening.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,206 other followers