Happy birthday NHS

Nye Bevin, the Labour health Secretary who founded the NHS said, “No society can legitimately call itself civilised if a sick person is denied medical aid because of lack of means.”

On the 73rd birthday of the NHS, I take my hats off to all NHS workers. I remember all those doctors, nurses and healthcare professionals who died in the pandemic trying to care for the nation. The NHS is a diverse organisation with professionals from all over the world. The first four doctors who died of Covid during the pandemic were Muslim immigrant doctors.

As a Labour politician, I am proud that my party founded the NHS. However, we all have a duty to protect and preserve the NHS from Tory privatisation plans. A future Labour government should re-nationalise the NHS fully.

Regime change in Downing Street?

There appears to be two factions in the Conservative Party right now.

Rishi Sunak, Michael Gove and Dominic Cummings are on one side. They want to bring Boris Johnson down and effect a regime change. Cummings tweeted yesterday disappointed with the news of Sajid Javid’s appointment as the new Health Secretary ending his tweet with “#RegimeChange”:

“So Carrie appoints Saj! NB If I hadn’t tricked PM into firing Saj, we’d have had a HMT with useless SoS/spads, no furlough scheme, total chaos instead of JOINT 10/11 team which was a big success. Saj = bog standard = chasing headlines + failing = awful for NHS. Need #RegimeChange”.

Given Cummings’ recent successes in winning the Brexit referendum and an 80-seat majority for Boris Johnson, I would not put anything past him. He is capable of effecting that regime change.

As for the wider media, they do not want to get involved in the internal Tory party shenanigans. Hence, there is not much reporting of the scandals and corruption in the Boris Johnson government that Cummings is exposing. BBC is afraid that the government will want to privatise it like it is doing to Channel 4. For the moment, BBC does not want to fall out with the government either.

Battle of Plassey: 23 June 1757

Battle of Plassey happened on this day in 1757 marking the start of the British colonialisation of India (representing modern day India, Pakistan and Bangladesh).

Before the British rule began, India’s GDP accounted for approproximately a quarter of the world’s total GDP. Its economy was richer than all of Western Europe. Over the next 190 years, the British colonialists stole a total of US$45 trillion from India. This is 17 times more than the UK’s annual GDP.

In total, 35 million lost their lives in various famines because of the scale of pillaging, looting and wealth extraction by the British. The Bengal famine killed around three million people in 1943 because of the direct policies of Winston Churchill who had blamed the famine on the people of India. He said that the famine was their fault for “breeding like rabbits”.

Windrush Day 2021

Today marks 73 years since the Empire Windrush arrived at Tilbury Docks carrying British citizens from the Caribbean islands who helped to rebuild Britain after the Second World War.

The Windrush scandal, a legacy of Theresa May’s hostile environment, led to the marginalisation and deportation of British citizens from the Windrush generation. Although the Conservative government was shamed into admitting its failures over the Windrush scandal, the victims are still awaiting compensation and justice.

Incidentally, my very first speech after I was elected as a Labour Councillor was at the ‘March for Windrush’ on 5 May 2018. You can watch the video of my speech here:

World Refugee Day 2021

Today is World Refugee Day (20 June 2021). There are more refugees in the world today than there were at the end of the Second World War. Yet, the rise of populist, rightwing politics across the West means that refugees are being turned away. In recent years, I went on refugee solidarity trips to Calais, France to help refugees stranded there. In 2013, I travelled to Jordan to help Syrian and Palestinian refugees. Below, I have reproduced my blog of that memorable journey.

“In July 2013, I took part in an amazing journey to Jordan to give financial assistance to Palestinian and Syrian refugees. I raised money from friends and family and set off with 10 other friends from Dubai, where I was living at the time. Below is an account of our two days in Jordan.

Day 1 – Friday 19 July 2013: We set off in the morning for Mafraq, a small town 80km north of Amman to distribute donations to widows, single mothers and orphans who have fled Syria since the uprising began in 2011. Close to the Syrian border, Mafraq is one of the poorest parts of Jordan. Although its population is 70,000 strong, it now had over 100,000 Syrian refugees. 

Palestinian children in Jerash Gaza Camp

We arrived at a community hall where the Jordanian Association for Orphans and Widows Care had pre-selected 250 Syrian women to receive donations. We gave each woman a sealed envelope with 50 Jordanian dinars (enough to live on for 2 months).

We then made our way to a small village called Turrah. It is 3km from the Syrian border. A local NGO invited a group of Syrian men and women to receive donations from us. Aid agencies and UN did not reach this very remote village. The money that we gave out was the first donation of any kind that they received. Aided by local volunteers, we made a number of home visits to Syrian refugees to give out donations. They were living in extremely overcrowded conditions. For example, we visited two families of 14 people who were sharing a two-bedroom flat. There were no beds – just mattresses lying on the floor. Local Jordanians accommodated Syrian refugees by sub-letting rooms in their homes or building makeshift extensions. Most people had arrived from Syria within the last few months. 

We made a stop at the open border between Syria and Jordan in the village of Turrah. It was guarded by Jordanian army. In the distance, you could see Syria. Minarets and domes of mosques and buildings were clearly visible. It was a surreal moment for me. I was in Syria back in 2000 learning Arabic and it has a special place in my heart.

Day 2 – Saturday 20 July 2013: We made our way to Jerash Gaza camp, which had 40,000 people living in it within one square kilometre. It was set up in 1967 and successive generations have been born and raised there. Palestinians living in this camp had no official status. They did not have identity cards and therefore not considered to be citizens. They could not access health, education or any other services. Their existence was very much as second class citizens.

Jerash Children’s Nursery

Our first stop was at the Jerash children’s nursery which was run by volunteers. Children were aged between four and eight. I spoke to one volunteer who taught them English so that they could learn to use the internet and be exposed to the outside world. We gave an envelope with a donation to 50 children as gift for the upcoming eid ul fitr.

We then visited the Green Crescent Society, a charity that runs a number of projects in the camp. Khaled Abdullah, the General Manager explained that the two key priorities for their projects were health and education. Palestinians living in the camp could tolerate poverty and lack of food, but serious illness often proved much more difficult to handle. We were told that an individual died in the past 10 days because of a lack of proper medical treatment. Education was important because it gave them hope that they could break out of the cycle of poverty and destitution.

Khaled Abdullah outlined a number of projects where they needed funds. We chose three projects to help with our donations. First, a home nursing project which had six nurses visiting homes in groups of two. Second, a number of students needed to pay off their outstanding university fees so that they could graduate and receive their certificates. They had been working in fruit and vegetable stalls or doing unskilled jobs, because they had not officially graduated. Finally, a project to support orphans.Our final stop was at a community hall where the Green Crescent Society had invited 400 men, women and a substantial number of students to receive donations from us. They were the most needy in the camp. I sat in the audience and engaged with a number of students.

Ahmed Sa’ad recently finished school and was looking forward to starting university in September to study business and IT. Husam Muhammad, a local Imam was studying Shari’ah at university. Mus’ab Al-Kurdi was in third year of university studying Arabic language and literature. They were intelligent young men and very humble at the same time. They were driven by ambition, but paying tuition fees was a constant worry for them.

After distributing cash donations in the community hall, we returned to Amman.I left Amman for Dubai on Saturday 20 July 2013 at night having spent two incredible days in Jordan. Three of our friends stayed behind. They visited a camp for Syrians of Palestinian origin on Sunday 21 July 2013. These were Palestinian refugees in Syria and had now become refugees for the second time in Jordan. They also visited a camp for undocumented Syrian refugees – they were not registered by the UN’s refugee agency and as such had no official status as refugees in Jordan.” 

Fourth anniversary of the Islamophobic murder of Makram Ali

On 19 June 2017, a rightwing extremist killed Makram Ali outside Finsbury Park Mosque during the holy month of Ramadan. It has been exactly four years since that terrorist incident. It could have happened outside my local mosque in Tottenham where we had been subjected to a number of Islamophobic incidents. We received hate mail and white powder in an envelope designed to cause alarm and fear. An individual came inside the mosque premises declaring “kill all Muslims” and another person went to the hall upstairs burning a copy of the Qur’an.

While my mosque was subjected to fairly low levels of hate, Makram Ali was not so lucky. Nor were the worshippers in the Christchurch mosque in New Zealand. And the recent murders of four members of the same family in Ontaro, Canada. All of these islamophobic incidents did not happen in a vacuum. Hatred against Muslims or Islamophobia has been institutionalised in the western media. It has become an acceptable form of racism. Muslims are also easy targets for politicians across the world from Emanuel Macron to Narendra Modi.

There are condemnations and statements denouncing such terrorist acts after they happen. However, this is rarely followed up with concrete action. In the UK, we need Islamophobia to be recognised as a specific form of hate in legislation. The All Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims recently proposed a new definition of Islamophobia as a form of racism. It is high time that this is recognised in law. Our politicians need to step up and act rather than put out empty words of solidarity for their social media followers.

Euro 2020 and events off the pitch

Euro 2020 has got off to an explosive start with events off the pitch grabbing all the headlines. This tournament will probably be remembered for Ronaldo’s part in wiping US$4billion off Coca-cola’s share value with a five-second move at a press conference. In this piece, I look at three ‘off the pitch’ events that have generated much discussion on social media.

England’s taking the knee

Before the tournament, England’s manager, Gareth Southgate and the players decided that they would take the knee before each match in solidarity with the ‘black lives matter’ movement. This was met with boos from some English fans who have associated the gesture of taking the knee with Marxism and a movement that wants to defund the police.

This is not true.

Gareth Southgate has been absolutely marvellous in sticking with the decision to take the knee. His open letter titled ‘Dear England‘ will go down in history as a key moment in the struggle against racism in England. Although the Home Secretary, Priti Patel gave her backing to the boo boys, England players have quite rightly stood firm and clarified that the gesture has nothing to do with Marxism or wanting to get rid of the police. It is simply about making a stand against racism. It did not start in 2015 as has been suggested. Dr Martin Luther King also took the knee during his fight against racism in the US.

Ronaldo’s stand against Coca-cola

At a press conference, Ronaldo moved two bottles of Coca-cola that were in front of him and held up a bottle of water declaring, “drink water”. Ronaldo is well known for his healthy lifestyle. Coca-cola has absolutely no nutritional value. It is a sugary drink that is bad for health. Ronaldo has hundreds of millions of followers on social media. He is a global icon. His one five-second action was enough to wipe US$4 billion off Coca-cola’s share value.

Ronaldo’s action was not pre-planned. He simply acted instinctively. It does, however raise a serious question about product placement and sponsorship of sporting tournaments by companies that pose health risks such as obesity, diabetes and so on. Advertising of cigarettes at sporting events has been banned for quite sometime. There is clearly a precedent. It is high time that the likes of UEFA, FIFA and the English FA have a rethink about which companies should be allowed to sponsor football tournaments. Afterall, companies such as Coca-cola, Pepsi, McDonald’s and Burger King sell products that are a complete antithesis of an active lifestyle that sports promote.

Paul Pogba’s removal of a beer bottle

After Ronaldo, it was the turn of another global footballing icon, Paul Pogba to remove a beer bottle that was placed in front of him. The two events are not linked. Pogba was giving a press conference after his man of the match performance for France against Germany. He removed a bottle of Heineken that was in front him and placed it under the table.

Paul Pogba is a practising Muslim and it is against his religion to drink alcohol. No doubt he felt uncomfortable with a beer bottle in front of him which led to his instinctive action. He faced a backlash from racists on social media. That is beside the point. Surely, sporting bodies should also be looking at sponsorship by alcohol and betting companies that can be very damaging to an individual. Sports should be about promoting a healthy and positive lifestyle. There are enough companies around the world whose values align with sports without the need for kowtowing to fast food, fizzy drinks, gambling and alcohol.

#MoreInCommon

“We have far more in common than that which divides us”, said the late Jo Cox.

She was brutally murdered by a rightwing extremist 5 years ago today.

In Brexit Britain today, we are more fractured than ever before. We need to come together to celebrate what we have in common instead of focusing on what divides us.

Noel Park Major Works Scrutiny Report introduction to Cabinet

On 15 June 2021, I introduced the Noel Park Major Works Scrutiny Report to Cabinet. I have set out below what I presented to the Cabinet with the simple message that the Scrutiny Report should be adopted in full.

I will be presenting the Scrutiny Report into the Noel Park Major Works Programme which was authored by Cllr Ruth Gordon in her then capacity as the chair of the Housing and Regen Scrutiny Panel. She is now in the Cabinet.

Before proceeding any further, I want to state that I have checked and there aren’t any conflicts in my presenting this Scrutiny Report. Yes, I used to live in Noel Park, my parents still live there and I am a ward Councillor.

I have had direct engagement with Noel Park leaseholders affected by this Scrutiny Report on what I am about to present, which is perfectly in line with the new cabinet’s approach to co-design and co-production.

I am one for using plain English. In my case, it means that I have spoken directly with the Noel Park Leaseholders and what I am about to say reflects their views as well.

There are three broad points I will make.

First, we are grateful to the Cabinet for accepting the overwhelming majority of the 20 recommendations in the Scrutiny Report.

Secondly, we are a little surprised and disappointed that you are rejecting recommendations 1 and 20 and that you are only partially accepting recommendation 12. Afterall, the Scrutiny Report was authored by Cllr Gordon, one of the Cabinet members.

For the reasons that I will explain, we would like you to adopt all of the recommendation without any exception not least because Cllr Ahmet, leader of the Council said, in response to a question from Sarah Klymkiw (one of the leaseholders) at last week’s O&S Meeting that she stands by the Scrutiny Report.

Finally, there are recommendations that you are supposedly accepting, but the effect of the Cabinet response is that the scope of the recommendation has been altered so fundamentally that it reads like a rejection or that the scope has been watered down so much that it does not give effect to what was intended in the Scrutiny Report. Again, I will elaborate shortly.

Turning now to the recommendations that the Cabinet are rejecting or partially agreeing

Recommendation 1 is about an independent investigation into why responses to leaseholder questions after receiving the S.20 notice in September 2020 were not provided in full or in good time.

Cabinet response for rejecting this is not acceptable for the following reasons:

  • Response said that the leaseholders are not legally entitled to seek further particulars of the works and cost. We should not be operating to what is the statutory minimum. If the new cabinet is serious about co-design and co-production, then we need to be as transparent as possible and provide as much information as possible to residents.
  • The suggestion that there was a high volume of complex questions and that leaseholders organised collectively to ask the same questions should not be material. The high volume and complexity of the questions demonstrates how poor communication and consultation had been prior to the Section 20 notice. Leaseholders share common concerns and may have very similar observations that they wish to raise.
  • Freedom of Information rules must not be used, or rather misused, to ignore observations simply because some leaseholders have helped each other collectively.
  • We are told that a ‘lessons learnt’ session had taken place – In the interests of transparency, it Is essential that any reports resulting from this ‘lessons learned’ session should be made publicly available.

Recommendation 12 is about the cost of removal of asbestos from the pods should be borne by the freeholder (Council). This was only partially agreed.

Leaseholders believe there have been clear failings in the way that Homes for Haringey has managed the issue of asbestos across the estate. Had the works been done when they should have been done, asbestos could have been removed from the pods more cheaply off-site, something that it is no longer safe to do. Residents have been living in unsafe homes for years now due to Homes for Haringey inaction. We believe that this recommendation should be implemented in full, with all costs relating to asbestos removal being borne by the freeholder, for all asbestos throughout the property.

Finally, recommendation 20 is about Contracts and Oversight Procurement Committee – we will simply refer you back to the original Scrutiny Review as to why this is an important recommendation, and it should be implemented in full.

We will now turn to recommendations that the Cabinet have accepted but altered the scoped fundamentally

Recommendation 7 is about guaranteeing the cladding outside the new pods. The Scrutiny Report sought an assurance that leaseholders will not be held financially liable if they need to be removed or replaced at any point in the future. Cabinet response limits the guarantee to 12 years.

In the event that cladding needs to be removed or replaced after the 12-year guarantee has expired, the freeholder must still be prepared to bear any costs for defects related to issues with the design or build, regardless of whether those issues were known at the time or are only identified in the future.

Recommendation 9 states “That it is established how estimates for pod replacement and other works have escalated over the time-period between purchases of the properties and the S20 notices in September 2020.

The Cabinet response is that the cost escalation is due to the wider construction industry cost inflation. Leaseholders do not agree that the extent of the cost inflation has been justified nor that the increase in the scope of the works in the intervening period has been justified. Leaseholders should not have to pay higher costs because the works were not done when they should have been done, nor should they have to pay for works that have become necessary due to the properties being neglected by Homes for Haringey. Both Councillors and Officers have repeatedly stated that the works should have been done years ago.

Recommendation 10 is in relation to resale packs. It recommended that “That a review is undertaken to establish whether resale packs supplied to leaseholders when purchasing their properties were complete and correct.”

Leaseholders support this review but note that there is no suggestion as to how any cases of inaccurate or inconsistent resale packs will be remedied.

Furthermore, the cabinet response says that “HfH have commenced an internal review of Noel Park resale packs to ensure accuracy and consistency going forward.” This is very different from the Scrutiny recommendation which stated that there should be a review of past resale packs.

Recommendation 17: “That the formal roundtable talks should be minuted and outcomes jointly agreed between the parties.

The Cabinet response is that this has been agreed but we note that we no minutes or action points have been made available from the leaseholder consultation sessions. This must be done for the roundtable talks to be meaningful.

Grenfell: forever in our hearts 💕

The Grenfell fire did not happen in a vacuum.

It happened after decades of neglect and prejudice against social housing tenants. I grew up in Council housing. It was people like me – 72 beautiful souls – who perished in the Grenfell fire four years ago.

Grenfell Tower was a reminder that we need to change course and put social housing on the agenda again. Unfortunately, the Tory government is not listening.

We will never forget Grenfell. However, we continue to wait for justice for the victims of Grenfell. Justice delayed is justice denied.