Friday 27 November 2020



“ My song is from the scaffolding

to reach the stars,

the song makes sense

when it beats in the veins

which will die singing

real truths,

not flatter shooting

or foreign reputations

but the song of a lark deep

into the earth.”

(words from Victor Jara’s, ‘Manifiesto’)


Here is ‘Labour Grassroots’ wonderful Castaway interview with Jeremy Corbyn



Jeremy’s final choice of music was this from Victor Jara


The Chilean military killed him in 1973 after crushing his fingers so he would never play guitar again. This followed the coup against Salvador Allende. Jeremy Corbyn is our Allende, our Jara. They have not yet crushed him and it is our job to make sure they never do.



Wednesday 25 November 2020

Covid-19 is a place in the country


"Tory Steve Dechan’s £276m in PPE contracts lands him a place in the country." THE TIMES


P14 Medical, a loss-making company run by former Tory Councillor, Steve Dechan, ‘won’ a £156 million Covid contract to supply PPE gowns imported from China.


Neither this contract, nor an earlier one for £120 million to supply face shields, was put out to tender and neither contract was publicised within the statutory time limit of 30 days from award. The gowns business was kept out of the public record for four months. 


But the good news doesn’t end there as Dechan has been able to pay off his 2019 £500,000 loss and buy himself this 100 acre 17th century Cotswolds mansion. 


This reeks of the Chumocracy I have written about before.

Monday 23 November 2020

Fixing our Health - a hope. Fixing the Market - a certainty



Pfizer and BioNTech have jointly announced that their COVID-19 vaccines had 90% efficacy in clinical trials. Similar announcements from the Russian Sputnik V and Moderna vaccines followed. 


The Lancet reports that, “2020 has been a year of incredible scientific achievement. In less than 12 months, researchers have developed diagnostics, produced treatment protocols, and established the efficacy of drugs and vaccines in controlled trials.”


Is the prospect of preventing illness and death, and avoiding the harm and misery of restrictions, a cause for optimism?

There remain uncertainties as to how the vaccines will affect the course of the pandemic. How well will the vaccines work on older people or those with underlying medical conditions? What is the duration of protection and will boosters be needed?

Pfizer and BioNTech have been joined by Gilead Sciences, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), Roche, Moderna, Concordia (Advanz Pharma), Actavis, Teva and many other companies in attempts to develop vaccines and treatments.

I have checked out the list of pharmaceutical companies involved and can happily report there are no pest control businesses involved and none with personal connections to Dominic Cummings or Michael Gove.

But even if we feel secure about these companies medical competence, can we be assured we will not have a repeat of the corrupt £ millions handed out in Covid and PPE contracts?

Check HERE and HERE and HERE and HERE

This comes down to the heartbeat of the capitalist system, whether it be the sale of cat food or sleeping tablets. Money and profit.

The BBC reports that Concordia “overcharged the NHS by millions for a key thyroid treatment”. The Competitions and Marketing Authority (CMA) have added that Concordia and Actavis “fixed the market for hydrocortisone tablets.”

Two years after a bribes scandal in Poland and Romania in 2012, GSK was found guilty of paying bribes to doctors and hospitals to promote the company's products in China. They were fined £300 million.

The same year GSK paid $3 billion (£1.9 billion) in criminal and civil liabilities in the largest healthcare fraud settlement in US history and in 2016 the firm paid $15 million to US authorities to settle new allegations of bribery.

Roche have been accused of price rigging in their vitamin trade. In 2019 a lawsuit was filed in the US by 44 states, claiming price fixing for dozens of generic medicines. A total of 20 pharma companies were cited in the lawsuit – including Teva and Pfizer – all accused of ‘multi-billion dollar fraud’.

Although some Covid-engaged companies have promised to limit profits from the COVID-19 pandemic, Pfizer and the other companies I have referred to above have made no such commitments.

 A reader has commented - "Oxford/Astra Zeneca are part of Covax and ‘no profit’ is a fundamental part of their deal with the University. Their vaccine should be globally available at an affordable price." 

Yes and let's hope their vaccine, assuming its viability, will be widely available. The corruption surrounding earlier Covid / PPE contracts and the neglect of the non-profits, the biggest being the NHS itself, does not suggest optimism.

Sunday 22 November 2020

Purging socialists



Below is a condensed version of Lynne Segal’s article in Red Pepper. She is a member of Jeremy Corbyn’s Islington North CLP and has known him for forty years. I too was a member of this CLP; joining when Jeremy became leader and resigning when he was ousted. My political loyalties have always been to support socialists and anti-racists rather than parties! So when the Labour Party had a leader who was both of these, I was eager to give whatever support I could. In the twenty years I have known Jeremy; helping me with neighbourhood problems, in support of our local hospital, when I was press officer at Stop the War Coalition and now, when we need to give Jeremy the solidarity he has always shown others, I can confirm Lynne’s sentiments. Here is a photo of Jeremy Corbyn’s visit to me when I was a patient at Barts Hospital.

"It is with the heaviest of hearts that I have to write about being a Jewish member of the Labour Party in Jeremy Corbyn’s constituency … We have had to watch a wholly false invention of charges of antisemitism against our MP, with our own views as Jewish members completely ignored … I am devastated that this process has climaxed in the suspension of our cherished MP, and former leader … What we can confirm is that as Jews in North Islington we have always felt more than safe, more than welcome, unfailingly supported, in everything we do in the borough, and the Party … I have known Jeremy Corbyn since helping to get him selected, then elected, almost 40 years ago. However, battles to discredit Corbyn as antisemitic began only after his quite unexpected victory as leader of the party … Methods first used by Corbyn’s opponents were the routine ways of attacking the radical Left, as ‘unrealistic’, ‘unpatriotic’, and so on ... It was only in the last few years, under Corbyn, that continuing investigations into antisemitism began in the LP ... clearly tied in with Corbyn’s support for Palestinian rights ... Over the years, Corbyn has had mutually supportive relations with the practising Jewish community in Islington, attending Shabbat dinners with the orthodox Chabad Rabbi, Mendy Korer, and attending numerous other official Jewish events in North London … Unlike most of his critics in Westminster, Corbyn unfailingly turned up to vote for motions addressing antisemitism in Parliament, just as he worked tirelessly against racism on every front …" (Lynne Segal)


Wednesday 18 November 2020

The wrong sort of Jews


Hannah Arendt, political scientist:
“The trouble is that Zionism has often thought and said that the evil of antisemitism was necessary for the good of the Jewish people.”

Isaac Asimov, novelist:  “I find myself in the odd position of not being a Zionist ... I think it is wrong for anyone to feel that there is anything special about any one heritage of whatever kind.”

Uri Avnery, ex-Israeli army officer. writing after an Israeli military victory:  “What will be seared into the consciousness of the world will be the image of Israel as a blood-stained monster, ready at any moment to commit war crimes and not prepared to abide by any moral restraints.”

Daniel Barenboim, Israeli pianist and conductor:  “I don’t think the Jewish people survived for 20 centuries, mostly through persecution and enduring endless cruelties, in order to now become the oppressors, inflicting cruelty on others. That is why I am ashamed of being an Israeli today.”

Lenni Brenner, writer and 1960s civil rights activist:  “Italy's Zionists never resisted Fascism; they ended up praising it and undertook diplomatic negotiations on its behalf. The bulk of the Revisionists and a few other right-wingers became its enthusiastic adherents. The moderate bourgeois Zionist leaders were uninterested in Fascism itself. As Jewish separatists they only asked one question, the cynical classic: 'So? Is it good for the Jews?'”

Martin Buber, Israeli philosopher:  “How great was our responsibility to those miserable Arab refugees in whose towns we have settled Jews who were brought here from afar; whose homes we have inherited, whose fields we now sow and harvest; the fruits of whose gardens, orchards and vineyards we gather; and in whose cities that we put up houses of education, charity and prayer.”

Noam Chomsky:  “In the Occupied Territories, what Israel is doing is much worse than apartheid. To call it apartheid is a gift to Israel, at least if by "apartheid" you mean South African-style apartheid. What’s happening in the Occupied Territories is much worse.”

Richard Cohen, US columnist:  “The greatest mistake Israel could make at the moment is to forget that Israel itself is a mistake … the idea of creating a nation of European Jews in an area of Arab Muslims (and some Christians) has produced a century of warfare.”

Marek Edelman, a leader of the 1943 Warsaw ghetto uprising: "Commanders of the Palestine military, paramilitary and partisan operations - "to all the soldiers of the Palestine fighting organisations.” letter in addressed to the Palestine resistance.

Albert Einstein:  “The (Israeli) state idea is not according to my heart. I cannot understand why it is needed. It is connected with many difficulties and a narrow-mindedness. I believe it is bad.”

Ben Ehrenreich, author of the novel The Suitors:  “The characterization of anti-Zionism as an “epidemic” more dangerous than anti-Semitism reveals only the unsustainability of the position into which Israel’s apologists have been forced. Faced with international condemnation, they seek to limit the discourse, to erect walls that delineate what can and can’t be said."

Richard Falk, former UN special rapporteur on human rights:  Called Israeli policies in the Occupied Territories “a crime against humanity.” Falk also has compared Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians to the Nazi treatment of the Jews.

Andrew Feinstein, ANC member who served under Nelson Mandela: "I lost 39 members of my family in the Holocaust. Jeremy Corbyn is no antisemite."

Sigmund Freud:  “I concede with sorrow that the baseless fanaticism of our people is in part to be blamed for the awakening of Arab distrust. I can raise no sympathy at all for the misdirected piety which transforms a piece of a Herodian wall into a national relic, thereby offending the feelings of the natives.”

Erich Fromm, social psychologist:  “The claim of the Jews to the Land of Israel cannot be a realistic political claim. If all nations would suddenly claim territories in which their forefathers lived two thousand years ago, this world would be a madhouse.”

Gerald Kaufman MP: "My grandmother was ill in bed when the Nazis came to her home town of Staszow. A German soldier shot her dead in her bed ...My grandmother did not die to provide cover for Israeli soldiers murdering Palestinian grandmothers in Gaza."

Gabriel Kolko, a leading historian on modern warfare:  “The large majority of Israelis are not in the least Jewish in the cultural sense, are scarcely socialist in any sense, and daily life and the way people live is no different in Israel than it is in Chicago or Amsterdam. There is simply no rational reason that justifies the state’s creation.”

Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun Magazine:  “If a Jew today goes into any synagogue in the U.S. or around the world and says, 'I don’t believe in God or Torah and I don’t follow the commandments,' most will still welcome you in and urge you to become involved. But say, 'I don’t support the State of Israel,' and you are likely to be labeled a 'self-hating Jew' or anti-Semite, scorned and dismissed."

Primo Levi, writer and Auschwitz survivor.  "Everyone has their Jews. For the Israelis they are the Palestinians."

Miriam Margolyes, actor:  “The black South Africans asked for our support and now it's the Palestinians who are asking for our support. I hate what Israel is doing over there to the Palestinians. I think that boycotting is a very active and non-violent way of protesting."

Harold Pinter. In 2008 he joined 105 prominent Jews who said,  “We cannot celebrate the birthday of a state founded on terrorism, massacres and the dispossession of another people from their land. We cannot celebrate the birthday of a state that even now engages in ethnic cleansing, that violates international law, that is inflicting a monstrous collective punishment on the civilian population of Gaza and that continues to deny to Palestinians their human rights and national aspirations. We will celebrate when Arab and Jew live as equals in a peaceful Middle East.”

Henry Siegman, Rabbi and director of the U.S./Middle East Project:  “Israel has crossed the threshold from ‘the only democracy in the Middle East’ to the only apartheid regime in the Western world.”

I.F. Stone, US journalist:  “Israel is creating a kind of moral schizophrenia in world Jewry. In the outside world the welfare of Jewry depends on the maintenance of secular, non-racial, pluralistic societies. In Israel, Jewry finds itself defending a society in which mixed marriages cannot be legalized, in which the ideal is racial and exclusionist.”

Prof Avi Shlaim, Professor of International Relations:  “Israeli propagandists deliberately, yes deliberately, conflate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism in order to discredit, bully, and muzzle critics of Israel.”

Thursday 12 November 2020

The Chumocracy


The UK government has awarded £10 billion worth of contracts related to the coronavirus crisis to private companies since March 2020, mostly without a competitive tender.” The Financial Times

Cabinet Office Minister, Julia Lopez, has responded to criticisms of a chumocracy by assuring us that ‘The government will carry out its own inspection on procurements during the pandemic.”

Here is a list of the Chumocrats at work:

BARONESS DIDO HARDING, Chair of NHS Improvement and NHS Test and Trace is the wife of Tory MP JOHN PENROSE, who has responsibilities for ….. anti-corruption.

KATE BINGHAM, head of the government’s vaccine taskforce, is married to Tory Minister JESSE NORMAN and is a business colleague of DOMINIC CUMMINGS.

RUPERT SOAMES, CEO of SERCO, and awarded £57 million in Covid contracts, is brother of former Tory MP SIR NICHOLAS SOAMES whose wife, CAMILLA SOAMES, is a Tory party donor.

PAUL STEPHENSON, director of HANBURY STRATEGY and awarded £900,000 in Covid contracts, is a friend and business associate of DOMINIC CUMMINGS.

SEAN TOPHAM and BEN GUERIN of TOPHAM GUERIN and awarded £3 million in Covid contracts, were behind the Tory party 2019 election strategy and worked with DOMINIC CUMMINGS.

JAMES FRAYNE and RACHEL WOLFF of PUBLIC FIRST and awarded £840,000 in Covid contracts, are friends of DOMINIC CUMMINGS and MICHAEL GOVE.

THEODORE AGNEW, responsible for the government’s digital technology, is a major shareholder in FACULTY, awarded £500,000 in Covid contracts. He is also a business associate of DOMINIC CUMMINGS and worked with him on Vote Leave.

DAVID MELLER of MELLER DESIGNS, awarded £148 million in Covid-related contracts, is a Tory donor and friend of MICHAEL GOVE.

STEVE DECHAN, director of P14 MEDICAL, awarded £120 million in Covid contracts, is a former Tory councillor.

SIR MERRICK COCKELL, employed by PA CONSULTANCY SERVICES LTD who were awarded £156 million in Covid-related contracts, is a former Tory leader of Kensington and Chelsea Council

STEVE PARKIN, Chairman of CLIPPER LOGISTICS, and awarded £1 million in Covid-related contracts, is a major Tory Party donor.

ANTHONY PAGE of PPE MEDPRO Ltd, who were awarded £203 million in Covid-related contracts, was secretary of the firm that provides branding services to Tory peer Baroness Mone’s company.

Daniel Bruce, the chief executive of anti-corruption campaigners Transparency International UK, warned the government should not use the crisis like a “blank cheque to get rid of controls around transparency and accountability ….The alarming number of contracts seemingly awarded without any competition risks setting a dangerous precedent.”

I leave you with this one. Controversy and mystery surrounds a £32m Covid-related contract handed to a rodent infestation control company called PestFix to source surgical gowns. It has listed net assets of only £18,000.



Tuesday 10 November 2020

Klub 27 at Mostar's Pavarotti Music Centre



The Pavarotti Centre in Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina, opened in 1997 after the bloody wars in the former Yugoslavia. The objective was to try to bring a divided people together through music. So I was I very happy to see that the PMC has had a facelift and opened a new social area at the front of the building – Klub 27. I am honoured that my Bob Marley quote greets visitors as they come in the door.


A brief aside. I helped smuggle in a Marley photo/music exhibition into Mostar in 1995 in the war because, as he says, “When music hits you, you feel no pain”. Twenty five years later, that remains true of this centre, of the people who work here and the young people who take part in its actvities. Good luck to Klub 27. I will be there as soon as I can. Rock on. And here's the link to Marley's "One Love".


 NB: I wanted to include this excerpt from the 'Music & War' chapter in my memoir, Left Field. The whole  book can now be read free online here.


"The Centre allowed the healing power of music to enter this community. The young were particularly affected by the war and, from the day the PMC opened its doors, they flooded in. Some of them used music to escape their darkest memories. They would tell me that only when they played, or heard music, could they escape their nightmares. Children and young people were brought together to make and listen to music: to sing, to beat drums, to strum guitars, to act and react together through music."




Sunday 8 November 2020

US election - just the beginning




Every single House Democrat who endorsed Medicare for all won reelection. They included “The Squad”, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib. As women of colour they championed climate action, healthcare for all Americans, the creation of well paid jobs and support for unions.

Other progressives who won re-election include Pramila Jayapal of Washington and Mark Pocan of Wisconsin. And they are joined by new winners, Jamaal Bowman of New York, Cori Bush of Missouri, Marie Newman of Illinois and Iman Jodeh of Colorado.

Ilhan Omar tweeted: “We are building a movement that sees my struggle as inherently tied to your struggle, and sees a world where all workers can be uplifted. Together. The results of this election are not the end. This is just the beginning.”

Marie Newman tweeted, "As we begin to rebuild we're going to work together to lower health care costs, fight climate change, create new good-paying jobs, revitalize our transportation infrastructure system and continue to make a strong economy no matter who you are or where you are."

Ayanna Pressley added: “Together, we have fought for our shared humanity. We have organized. We have mobilized. I believe in the power of us. And we’re just getting started.”

They will be continuing the fight to pull the Democrat Party to the left, a fight which started with their victories over right-wing incumbents. Bowman did this in New York by knocking off 16-term Democratic Congressman Eliot Engel, while Newman ousted Illinois Democratic Congressman Dan Lipinski, one of the last remaining pro-life Democrats in the chamber.

Perhaps Bernie Sanders didn’t lose the Democrat Party leadership after all. His place has been taken by a new younger leadership and led by women.

In his congratulatory message to Joe Biden and Kamala Harris he said this:

"This election result was brought about by millions of grassroots activists, black and white, Latino, Asian American, and Native American … But our work is not done … Now a whole new chapter of hard work begins. We cannot go back to business as usual. We cannot go back to a situation in which the corporate elite and their lobbyists dominate the economic and political life of this country. We need to create a People’s Agenda, of, by and for working families, a powerful movement that demands that agenda be implemented.”

I am writing this from the UK. The US election result has lessons for us here.