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Sadiq Khan Tones Down Calls for Rent Controls in Capital after Keir Starmer Appears to Reject Plan

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 17/04/2024 - 6:51pm in

The London mayor has told Byline Times he has “not been able to persuade” Labour leader Keir Starmer of the need for private sector rent controls, despite growing pressure from Londoners to take firmer action on the housing crisis.

Since 2019, London Mayor Sadiq Khan has been calling on ministers to grant him powers to freeze private rents in the capital. He may have hoped for a warmer reception from Sir Keir Starmer should the politicians win the mayoral and General elections respectively this year. But Labour HQ appears to have poured cold water on the idea. 

In his successful 2021 manifesto, Mayor Khan pledged he would “stand up for London's renters by leading the campaign for rent controls for our city, to make renting more affordable and secure for the millions of Londoners who rent their home from a private landlord.” 

He later renewed those calls but in his recent announcement on a ‘new deal for renters’, there was no mention of rent controls – perhaps anticipating that Sir Keir Starmer would not allow it were they both elected this year. 

Sadiq Khan’s calls for private sector rent controls appears to have been replaced with a pledge to set up a London Rent Commission, which would explore the issue and involve landlords and renters, and a commitment to build his own rent-controlled homes.  

But previously unreleased polling for Byline Times, conducted by WeThink at the end of March, found that 70% of UK voters backed “a maximum rent on properties” – including 71% of Conservative voters and 75% of Labour voters. Similar polling for the Green Party found that nearly 70% of Londoners back private rent controls. 

A spokesperson for the London Renters Union criticised Mayor Khan’s apparent shift earlier this month, saying: “Sadiq Khan’s New Deal will fall flat if he does not continue to push for the power to cap rents in London. London renters are trapped in a cycle of instability and many will feel let down if Khan stops campaigning for city-wide rent controls under a Labour government.

“6,000 new rent controlled properties will not bring security to the capital’s 3 million private renters who are living in fear that they will be forced out of their homes by an unaffordable rent increase.”

In an interview with the Evening Standard last month, Sir Keir said rent controls were “not our national policy.” 

“I can assure you that Sadiq and I work very closely together. Sadiq feels strongly about this. But look, we will work together as we go forward,” he added. Last June, shadow housing minister Lisa Nandy also claimed rent controls would contribute to homelessness by causing landlords to withdraw their properties from the rental market.

These statements have perhaps contributed to Mayor Khan saying he would not "make promises that won’t materialise after the election" on rent controls. "It's really important we're realistic about what we can do,” the London leader told Byline Times. 

He has instead pledged to build “at least 6,000 rent control homes” in London if he’s re-elected for a record third term on May 2, noting: “I can do that with the powers I have.” London is home to approximately 2.7 million private renters, according to GLA figures, a number which has risen considerably since the 1990s, and which would be out of the limited rent capped homes Mayor Khan hopes to build.  

“When it comes to building 40,000 council homes, I can do it with the budget I have. With a Labour government, I can [build] far more council homes, far more rent control homes.”

Mayor Khan added that his call for a London-wide licensing scheme to rein in rogue landlords would “probably need a change of Government” to enable it through legislation. 

Speaking at an event launching his pledge to abolish rough sleeping by 2030 – if Labour are elected UK-wide too – he added: “So far I've not been able to persuade either of the main parties to devolve [rent control powers] to London. But it's still a long way between now and the general election. 

“Should I have the privilege of being reelected, I'm gonna carry on lobbying both the Tory party and the Labour Party to at the very least, devolve to cities and regions the choice about doing so. [And] at the very least allow us to set up this rent commission.”

The Labour Mayor also softened his tone on the policy, saying he “understand[s] the arguments on both sides – those landlords and developers who say if you did this, we'll just simply withdraw from the property market. And that's why we're going to have a commission that includes landlords, that includes developers as well as your tenants and renters as well.”

City Hall and the Labour leader’s office appear to have mended their public feuds after Keir Starmer refused to publicly back Mayor Khan’s expansion of the Ultra Low Emissions Zone in London last year. And the issue of securing more powers for London is likely to be high up Khan’s agenda with a Labour Government in Westminster. 

More powers are perhaps more likely than more cash from the Treasury given Sir Keir Starmer and shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves’ commitment to strict ‘fiscal rules’ that could mirror Conservative spending plans. 

Asked by Byline Times if he was concerned that the austerity he has criticised under the Conservatives might continue under a Keir Starmer-led Labour government, Khan said: “I lived through only through the last Labour government, and Tony and Gordon stayed within the spending limits Ken Clark set out for two years back between 1997 and 1999.  

“Notwithstanding that, we saw a massive investment in public services but also massive growth in our economy at the same time. So I'm confident that Keir and Rachel are as good as Tony and Gordon, in understanding the importance of getting the economic policies right but also understanding the importance of addressing social injustice that demand investment.”

Like Keir Starmer he echoed the claim that higher economic growth will mean Labour could spend more without raising taxes. “Good growth will benefit the NHS, will benefit our schools, our public services. Without growth we don't get the money that we need,” Khan said.

“This is a moment of maximum opportunity. A Labour Mayor and a Labour Government can be transformative, notwithstanding the inheritance they're going to have, which will be the worst since the Second World War,” he added.

And the Labour Mayor added that it “wouldn't” concern him if Rachel Reeves signed up to Conservative party spending plans for several years after their likely election.

“No, it wouldn’t. Here's why: because that would be a temporary measure. Don't forget Keir has made it quite clear you need two terms, the Labour party needs two terms to fix the mess of the last 14 years. But also the country will know, those who want to invest in our country will know, chief executives will know – we need the stability and certainty we've not had…for the last 14 years,” the Labour candidate said. 

Khan has accused the Conservatives of being ‘in the pockets of the landlord lobby’. He has claimed the mayoral election on 2 May is a two-horse race between him and “the Conservative candidate for Mayor [Susan Hall AM] who has been virtually silent on renters’ issues and cheered Liz Truss’ mini-budget, which sent rents through the roof.”

Do you have a story that needs highlighting? Get in touch by emailing josiah@bylinetimes.com

Sadiq Khan Accuses Conservatives of Manipulating Mayoral Election as he Pushes Starmer to Repeal Voting Changes

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 16/04/2024 - 4:11am in

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has accused the Conservative Government of rigging Britain’s electoral system to benefit them, in an interview with Byline Times.

Mr Khan, who is running for a record third term on May 2, says he is pushing his own party to significantly alter or scrap the new mandatory voter ID rules, and believes Sir Keir Starmer would reverse Conservative changes to the mayoral voting system if elected.

The London Labour Mayor told this outlet: “The Conservative Party is the most successful political party in the democratic world. Why? Because they win elections and in between elections, they change the rules to make it more likely they win.” 

He pointed to two major changes the Conservatives have made recently, allegedly for “a simple reason: to maximise their chances of winning, and to minimise Labour's chances of winning.”

In 2022 under the Elections Act, ministers changed the voting system for the mayoral election to first past the post, whereas previously voters could put a second preference that would be counted if their first choice lacked majority support. 

The change is likely to suppress the vote of smaller parties like the Greens and Lib Dems, whose voters could previously “vote with your heart in relation to their first preference, and then give a second preference– an insurance policy– to one of the two bigger parties,” Mayor Khan said, speaking from a campaign event a London Waterloo church. 

The margin of victory for the former lawyer last time on first preferences was 5%, but he was boosted significantly by the second preferences of Green and Lib Dem voters.

Mr Khan also condemned mandatory photo ID rules, which will be used for the first time in this mayoral election round. 

City Hall has claimed that in London  around 15% of Londoners– roughly 900,000 people– haven't got an appropriate photo ID. The Government’s figures put the figure at closer to 5%, but either figure is dramatically more than the rate of impersonation fraud allegations, which photo ID is supposed to tackle. 

Voters will need to use a driver's licence, a passport, or other forms of ID such as an older person's travel card. However, young person’s Railcards are not accepted, leading to considerable condemnation from electoral watchdogs.  

For Labour, the changes have boosted the party's calls for Green and Lib Dem voters to opt for Khan in the mayoral election, now that they no longer have a chance to put a second preference. “I say in a respectful way, those parties cannot win on May 2,” the incumbent Mayor claimed. 

He also renewed his attacks on competitor Conservative Susan Hall, naming her in a rare move.

“The choice on May 2nd is building a fairer, safer, greener city with me, or Susan Hall who will take us backwards….Susan Hall is somebody who supported Donald Trump in the past, she’s liked Enoch Powell, and she cheered on Liz Truss’ budget– that’s the sort of Mayor we could have.” 

Asked if he had asked Sir Keir to repeal voter ID and the election rule change to First Past the Post, the Mayor told Byline Times: “Yeah. I think the Labour party has already committed in the mayoral election to go back to the previous system…And I'm lobbying the Labour Party, making the point: what is the [issue] you're trying to address with photo ID? To me, there's no evidence in relation to the concerns the Tories are saying about the need for photo ID.”

He believes that in urban seats like London, there may be a higher proportion of people who lack photo ID. However, election expert Rob Ford has argued: "Even if turned away voters leaned heavily Labour, the share of voters turned away and not returning would have to be massively above that observed anywhere else in the country for the impact to be on the scale claimed [by London Labour]." Around 14,000 voters were turned away and did not return due to photo ID problems in last May's local elections, though it amounts to a small percentage of voters overall.

London Labour has repeatedly poured cold water on polling showing Mr Khan around 20 points ahead of his Conservative opponent, with Khan noting that in 2008, “everyone said there's no chance for [Boris] Johnson, and it's in the bag for Ken Livingstone. We know how that movie ended.” 

Despite his headline poll lead, recent polling by QMUL/YouGov shows that Londoners are generally dissatisfied with Mayor Sadiq Khan. Khan's approval rating sits at -16, particularly among older voters and those in outer London. However, the Government's approval rating is dramatically lower, at -55. 

A separate recent ITV London/Survation poll found that the cost of living is the most pressing issue influencing London voters, with 41% putting it top, far ahead of crime (12%), health (11%), the economy (9%), housing (9%), and the ULEZ charge (6%).

A Centre for London/Savanta poll found that over half of Londoners think Mayor Khan has done a good job of making London more diverse, multicultural and tolerant, managing the transport network and protecting green spaces, the LDN newsletter reported. But his handling of homelessness, housing, and knife crime and gang issues is viewed less positively.

One of the biggest challenges facing all candidates– but perhaps particularly Labour given its support base– is a lack of awareness about the mayoral election, with only 40% of those under 35 knowing it was taking place, according to the same Savanta poll. 

Sadiq Khan was speaking at an event to launch his new pledge to end street homelessness in London by 2030, if Labour is elected nationally in this year’s General Election, and he is re-elected at City Hall. 

Susan Hall AM’s campaign was contacted for comment. 

Do you have a story that needs highlighting? Get in touch by emailing josiah@bylinetimes.com

Vid: Mason’s deranged Corbyn smear – ‘He’s disarming Ukraine and tolerating antisemitism’

Corbyn apparently travelling the length and breadth of Europe to stop the neo-Nazi Ukrainians from ‘fighting fascism’…

Paul Mason was caught last month in a full-blown meltdown of deranged accusations, at a woman who dared to challenge Israel’s mass slaughter of innocent civilians and the unhealthy influence of pro-Israel lobby groups in British politics – and also caught misrepresenting what she had said, when a recording of her comments and his diatribe was revealed.

And he was caught on the same evening in another deranged rant, when he accused Jeremy Corbyn of ‘touring’ Europe ‘tolerating antisemitism’ and ‘disarming the Ukrainian people in their struggle against fascism’:

Audio capture by @UrbanDandyLDN, subtitles by Skwawkbox

As ‘Urban Dandy’, who recorded Mason’s ramblings, commented:

Mason’s suggestion that Jeremy Corbyn tolerates antisemitism is false, just as the widespread, mainstream claims that there was a serious antisemitism problem in Labour under Corbyn’s leadership were false, and have been debunked repeatedly. The MP for Islington North is taking legal action against Nigel Farage for similar defamatory statements, while another political commentator favoured in the mainstream media recently had to make a humiliating public apology for his baseless allegations against Corbyn.

Screengrab from X / johnmcternan

Disarming the Ukrainians

Paul Mason’s second allegation against Corbyn, that the MP has been on a European tour aimed at disarming the Ukrainian people, is also false. Corbyn has never called for the disarming of Ukraine. The anti-war veteran who fronts the Peace & Justice Project has spoken in many European cities since Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine in early 2022, mainly at events organised by peace campaigners. Corbyn has called for diplomacy instead of escalation, and expressed skepticism about the relentless arms sales by western companies. 

Mason’s claim that the left wants to somehow stop Ukrainians ‘fighting fascism’ is also bizarre enough to verge on the delusional. Ukraine is well known, despite the best efforts of the UK media to rewrite history, to be rife with actual nazis, some of whom are in influential positions in the Zelenskiy regime. Zelenskiy himself has seized control of Ukraine’s media, stripped workers of their rights and shut down opposition groups, all key identifiers of fascism.

Mason’s reputation, already falling apart because of his support for Keir Starmer, was shredded in 2022 when The Grayzone revealed his emails plotting with security-state figures to take down left-wing news outlets, accompanied by a notorious, sprawling chart showing the links he imagined among left groups Russia and China – and boasting of ‘cauteris[ing] Corbyn and Stop the War’ so that ‘no MP will touch them:

Mason’s support for Starmer despite the so-called ‘Labour leader’s backing for Israel’s genocide in Gaza has left him a risible figure, yet he keeps spouting his nonsense despite the inevitable backfiring and mockery.

If you wish to republish this post for non-commercial use, you are welcome to do so – see here for more.

‘An Assault on Democracy’: Rishi Sunak Backs Bill to Overturn Sadiq Khan’s ULEZ Extension

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 22/03/2024 - 10:28pm in

Rishi Sunak is backing a bill that would overturn the expansion of London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone, in a move which sources close to the city’s mayor described as an “unprecedented assault on democracy and devolution.”

Powers over transport and air quality are currently devolved to the Mayor.

Londoners will also soon be handed the opportunity to have their own voice heard on the issue when they vote in May's London mayoral elections.

Sadiq Khan's Conservative candidate Susan Hall has made scrapping the zone's extension her central pledge, but is currently 24 points behind him, according to a Savanta poll published on Friday.

However, under the new backbench bill, which is being brought to Parliament today by the Kent-based Conservative MP Gareth Johnson, the Government would be handed the ability to unilaterally scrap the extension of the zone anyway.

The Transport Secretary Mark Harper said in a statement that the Government was "happy to support" Johnson's Bill.

“The government has been clear the Mayor of London’s decision to expand ULEZ charging area to the London borders, in breach of his own manifesto commitment, is a tax on the poorest motorists, which his own impact assessment states, in terms of air pollution, will only have a moderate impact on NOx and minor impact on particulates", Harper said.

A spokesperson for the Prime Minister added that the bill would allow "communities to have their say".

A source close to Khan hit out at the bid to overturn the zone's extension.

“This unprecedented assault on democracy and devolution is a desperate distraction by a Government in its death throes which time and again has shown its contempt for Londoners and their rights,” the source said.

“Londoners will see through this pathetic attempt to play politics with the capital.”

Downing Street had previously ruled out seeking to overturn Sadiq Khan’s decision to extend the city’s air quality zone to Outer London.

A spokesman for the Prime Minister said last month that "road user charging is a matter for the Mayor of London and for him to justify his decision to residents and businesses."

The zone, in which owners of higher-emission vehicles are compelled to pay a daily charge if they drive inside London’s boundaries, has proven controversial with some Londoners.

Labour leader Keir Starmer has also previously criticised it, telling Khan last summer that he should “reflect” on the policy. A spokesman for Starmer told Byline Times that the Labour leader's view had not changed since the scheme was brought in.

However, City Hall say the scheme has been a success, with a spokesman saying that 95% of vehicles on London’s roads were now compliant with the newly expanded zone, which was “helping clean up London’s air and protect Londoners’ health.”

While the Government's apparent support for Johnson's bill will allow it time in Parliament, it is unclear whether it will be given sufficient time to pass into law before the next general election.

Sunak's spokesperson said plans for the bill's passage would be set out by the Leader of the House in the coming weeks.

It comes as Conservative MPs also call on the Prime Minister to remove the Mayor’s powers over policing.

Asked this week about the push to reduce the Mayor’s powers, Khan told this paper that “you can tell there's a general election and a mayoral election around the corner because of these silly gimmicks and games from the Tories.

“They should get their own house in order before they start lecturing us about taking powers away.”

A spokesman for the Prime Minister did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication.

Exclusive: Corbyn’s Islington North CLP system access suspended by Labour

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 21/03/2024 - 1:08pm in

Local party officers’ access to Labour’s ‘Organise’ campaign platform revoked as party tries to shut down local democracy, say locals

A banner from Corbyn’s Islington North constituency (image: S Walker)

The Labour party has suspended former leader Jeremy Corbyn’s local Labour party in Islington North, but hasn’t bothered to tell local members or elected officers of the ‘CLP’, according to inside sources.

Instead, Labour has revoked officers’ access to the party’s ‘Organise’ campaign system, without telling them why or even that it had been done.

The ‘Organise’ manoeuvre is the latest in a long line of party moves to kill local member democracy to try to secure candidates and outcomes Starmer wants – and exposes yet again the regime’s deep contempt for party members and their rights. Starmer broke Labour’s rules to suspend Corbyn, prompting thousands of current and former party members from all over the UK to say they will travel to London to campaign for Corbyn in the seat at the next election. So far Labour has not named a candidate to stand against him.

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Keir Starmer To Hand ‘New Powers’ to Mayors and Regions as He Extends Olive Branch to Sadiq Khan

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 21/03/2024 - 3:27am in

The Labour party is set to unveil more details of its plans to devolve powers away from Westminster, Byline Times understands.

Some details of the proposals are expected to be outlined in a speech by the party's Deputy Leader Angela Rayner later this week.

The intervention follows notable tensions between the Labour leader and England's two most high-profile elected Mayors, Sadiq Khan and Andy Burnham.

Khan and Starmer clashed last summer over the London mayor's plans to implement a now-enacted low emission zone in outer London, while Burnham has criticised Starmer's decision to U-turn on his plans for green investment and House of Lords reform.

Starmer's appearance earlier this week alongside Khan for the launch of the London Mayor’s re-election campaign marked an apparent attempt to heal divisions after a period of real tensions between the two politicians.

The Labour leader’s very public criticism of Khan’s flagship decision to bring in an Ultra Low Emission Zone in Outer London last summer was met with significant anger by some of those around the Mayor.

At the time, sources close to Khan expressed frustration at Starmer’s decision to attack a policy which by that point was just weeks away from being rolled out. They also warned that Starmer’s intervention risked giving oxygen to the Conservative party’s anti-ULEZ campaign in the then upcoming Uxbridge by-election.

Their warning appeared to pan out, with the Conservatives pulling off a surprise win in Uxbridge and Rishi Sunak using the result as justification to ditch much of his own Government’s green agenda. Half a year on and Khan believes his original policy has been vindicated.

“When we brought in ULEZ in central London there were people who were very hostile and anti and the truth is that the sky didn’t fall in” Khan told this paper.

“And the great news is that 19 out of 20 cars seen driving into [the new zone] now on an average day are compliant [with ULEZ]… and this has transformed the air in our city.”

Repairing Relations

The two men’s appearance at a London community centre on Monday appeared to be attempt to move on from the row.

It was particularly notable that in his speech, Starmer praised his “friend" Khan's agenda on cleaning up London’s air, saying that “I say to people who challenge me on cleaner air, I’ve got two kids. They’re 15 and 13. I wouldn’t give them dirty water to drink and I wouldn’t want them to breathe in dirty air.”

However, he failed to specifically endorse the ULEZ policy. A spokesman for Starmer later told this paper that the Labour leaders’s view on the policy “hasn't changed”.

A source close to Khan admitted that relations between City Hall and the Labour leader's office had been strained by the ULEZ row. 

Other policy differences do still remain between Khan and Starmer.

An example of these came on Monday when Starmer was asked about Khan’s proposals to implement a form of rent controls in London. The Labour leader poured cold water on the idea, saying that “it’s not our policy at the moment.”

However, despite these ongoing differences, Khan’s team retain hope that a Starmer Government could prove pivotal for London.

Over the past eight years Khan has been a regular target of successive Conservative Governments, who have tightly held the purse strings on new London infrastructure projects. Khan's recent treatment by former Conservative Chairman Lee Anderson, who was accused of making a series of Islamophobic comments about the London mayor, was seen as emblematic of this.

City Hall hope that a relations with central government would be transformed if Starmer enters Downing Street.

In particular Khan's campaign pledge to build tens of thousands of new council homes is seen as lining up with the party's own national proposals to increase housebuilding.

Yet as well as being potentially more amenable to investing in London, Khan is also pinning his hopes on an incoming Labour Prime Minister handing over big new powers to the Mayor.

“I'm really optimistic about the next Labour government devolving more powers and resources to the cities and regions,” Khan told this paper.

“The key things we’re talking about are in relation to planning, skills and the economy.”

Khan pointed to proposals by the London Finance Commission to give the Mayor new powers to raise infrastructure funding as the sort of proposals he would be lobbying Starmer to adopt in office.

“We've done the heavy lifting on this so we're hoping in the first 100 days that you'll see the fruits of [those proposals].”

A spokesman for Starmer told this paper that the Labour leader accepted “the need for more powers for regional mayors” on areas including skills and welfare.

Devolution 2.0?

Labour proposals to devolve additional powers to the Mayor were set out in a report for the party by Gordon Brown two years ago, but little has been confirmed since.

However, with a general election looming later this year, Labour sources suggested that some details of these new devolution proposals would be set out by the party’s deputy leader Angela Rayner during a speech later this week.

Labour's devolution proposals are unlikely to be as impactful as anything pursued by Tony Blair during his first term as Prime Minister, however. The big wave of devolution rolled out by the then Labour Prime Minister was transformative, creating devolved government in both Scotland and Wales, as well as rolling out regional mayors and authorities across England.

Little proposed so far by Starmer appears to match that level of ambition, with previous plans for a new “senate of the regions” to replace the House of Lords, also reportedly being reconsidered by Starmer’s team.

However, with Labour dampening down expectations of big new spending proposals, the devolution agenda poses an opportunity for an incoming Starmer government to make real differences to the political landscape of the UK, at relatively little expense.

It could also help to contrast with the failure of the Government's own promise to "level up" the country. A Parliamentary report last week found that 90% of projects promised by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson remained years away from completion.

A spokesman for Starmer told journalists on Wednesday that the party would ditch the phrase "levelling up" if they form the next Government.

Met Police launches criminal investigation into Croydon East vote rigging

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 19/03/2024 - 10:30am in

The Labour party in Croydon is formally under criminal investigation by the Metropolitan Police cyber crime unit into allegations of vote-rigging in last autumn’s parliamentary selection for the new Croydon East constituency – a selection cancelled by the party after it could no longer deny the fixing of the result and tampering with local member lists and admitted that one candidate had been given early access to member lists and other candidates eventually received lists strewn with errors.

The data tampering included unauthorised changes of addresses, phone numbers and email addresses of a significant number of members with a vote in the selection.

Labour under Keir Starmer has been accused of frequent rigging to ensure the selection of favoured right-wing candidates and to weed out principled and left-wing hopefuls, including those with strong union backing. London has featured prominently in these allegations, with the blatant rigging against Muslim Poplar and Limehouse MP Apsana Begum among the thoroughly-documented examples.

Such alleged stacking of the process, particularly in postal and online voting, has even been used to favour right-wing candidates facing serious allegations of sexual assault.

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British Library

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 14/03/2024 - 11:54pm in

Tags 

Travel, London

Some trees on a damp winter day on Hampstead Heath
Hampstead Heath today

My plane landed in the London darkness at 5:30am this morning. The 15 hour flight was extruciating. I took the train to Farringdon to give myself a walk through an old haunt to my hotel in Kings Cross. London has changed a lot since I knew it 30 years ago.

I waited for my hotel to open it’s doors at 8 and left my small suitcase with them. I had time to kill until I could check in at 2pm.

Why I make these difficulties for myself I do not know…

I walked up to Euston and had some breakfast in a Wetherspoons pub. It was full of silent gentlemen my age and older. A few older couples came in while I drank my bottomless coffee. Nobody spoke, I felt watched.

The caffeine with a little ibruprofen began to work and I readied myself with a third cup. I walked through Camden and up to Hampstead. I circled back through the rain and slippery mud of the Heath. Past the ponds I used to swim in and up to Parliament Hill. I sat for a while and watched the dog walkers and considered Karl Marx’s resting place over on the eastern hill of Highgate Cemetry.

boom
For some reason I recorded some of my perambulations on the Garmin. I added in the rest in purple

My legs were tiring and my backpack was feeling heavy. I picked up an electric bike and sped back over Hampstead and down to Camden Town. A short walk down the canal to the oddly creepy Coal Drop Yard with it’s tech company mavens and private security guards. I preferred it when it was the battlegrounds of the Borribles.

Kicking the mud off my tattered running shoes, I washed up in the British Library. Damp from the rain and puddles. Every table here is laden with laptops lighting up the punters faces. Seems a good place to sit for a bit.

Photos/video: members protest at Unite HQ over Graham’s betrayal of Gaza

General secretary’s actions and action prompts demo at union’s executive meeting

Unite union members furious at Sharon Graham’s continued silence on Israel’s genocide in Gaza – and her attempts behind the scenes to prevent officials representing the union at rallies and marches, as well as her ban on film showings and book readings on Unite premises and her attempt to cancel a pro-Palestine event, demonstrated outside Unite’s Holborn headquarters yesterday during a meeting of the union’s executive.

Around fifty protesters, including some with experience of the fight against South African apartheid, gathered with banners calling for a free Palestine and an end to the genocide, to hear speakers and chant for freedom.

Anti-apartheid campaigner Dr Jonathan Fluxman, of Doctors in Unite, spoke to the demo about the racist atrocity propaganda that Israel and much of the western media are using to dehumanise the Palestinians:

Another speaker talked of the solidarity of Jews around the world with the oppressed Palestinians:

And the protesters joined in the South African freedom call and response, “Amandla – Awethu”, ‘Power to the people’:

Sharon Graham has been slammed for her actions – and inaction – relating to Palestine and the Israeli regime’s genocide in Gaza. She has been publicly silent about the slaughter, but has been criticised for banning Unite officials and national banners from pro-Gaza protests, banned and smeared films and books exposing the ‘Labour antisemitism’ scam, placed an official under investigation who refused to cancel a Palestine solidarity fringe event at Labour’s 2023 annual conference – and senior Unite sources have alleged that she told her chief of staff to threaten a soon-to-retire official with the loss of a pension bonus if he did not soften his support for Palestinians. An email from her official union address to an angry member dismissed the genocide perpetrated on the people of Gaza.

Ms Graham’s tenure as Unite boss has also been marked by a string of other allegations – which neither she nor the union has denied – including alleged destruction of evidence against her husband in threat, misogyny and bullying complaints brought by union employees. She is also embroiled in both an employment tribunal for discrimination and a defamation lawsuit brought by Irish union legend Brendan Ogle for the union’s treatment of him and comments made about him by Graham and her close ally Tony Woodhouse.

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Jewish Londoners Slam Government Advisor’s ‘No-Go Zone’ Claim About Pro-Palestine Marches

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 09/03/2024 - 4:10am in

Many Jewish Londoners have slapped down a Government advisor’s claim that London is now a “no-go zone for Jews” during the weekly pro-Palestine marches. 

Calling for tougher action against the Palestine protests, Government anti-extremism tsar Robin Simcox told the Telegraph: “We will not have become an authoritarian state if London is no longer permitted to be turned into a no-go zone for Jews every weekend... All these things and more have become normalised in the UK."

His comments dominated the paper’s Friday front page and led the BBC's agenda. 

BBC Radio 4 reported that Simcox – a self-described ‘neoconservative’ – declined to appear on the show on Friday morning to answer questions about his claim.

Responding to his comments, Green London Assembly Member Zack Polanski, who is Jewish, replied: “I've been on plenty of Palestine marches – and spoken at them– and as a Jewish person have felt completely safe. Whilst I don't doubt there are fearful people in our Jewish communities, headlines like this which serve to stoke fear and tension, are utterly irresponsible.”

Polanski told Byline Times that he has worked closely with Jewish organisations such as Na'mod, which marches for a ceasefire and Palestinian human rights.

“[They] are bringing Jewish voices against the occupation together and have been excellent in demonstrating the growing Jewish movement that is utterly horrified by what we're seeing unfold in Gaza,” he said.

“I've been and spoken at their rallies also and there's an absolute feeling of what else can we do now to make a ceasefire happen when politicians from the two old parties are looking away?

"It feels like stoking up stories of no-go zones are a huge distraction from our complicity in the collective punishment of the Palestinian people."

Simcox previously worked for the Henry Jackson Society think tank.

One of its founders, Matthew Jamison, wrote in 2017 that he was ashamed of his involvement and that it had allegedly become “a far-right, deeply anti-Muslim, racist... propaganda outfit to smear other cultures, religions and ethnic groups". Jamison and organisations, such as the Muslim Council of Britain, have claimed that the HJS has “relentlessly demonise[s] Muslims and Islam" – a claim the group denies. 

Another Jewish Londoner, Rachell Penn, said she was “so sick to death of this idea that Jews think in a singular way”. 

“From ultra orthodox to secular, and from right-wing to left-wing, we have so many different views, yet are patronised in the media as being incapable of different views.

"I march with  the Jewish bloc some weeks, and the very warm welcome it gets week in and week out is heart-warming. This is how peace will be achieved, not this culture war bullsh*t. Once again Jews are being used as a political football by politicians."

Ben Samuel, a Jewish Londoner from Edgware, has been in central London regularly to take part in the marches. He has marched with the Jewish bloc, in all weathers. 

While he says he’s witnessed a change in London since the 7 October attacks, and rising fears over security, he has felt safe at the marches. 

“I have monitored the situation closely by talking with Jewish neighbours and those at my synagogue," he told Byline Times. "In fact, synagogue has been a no-go zone for my black Jewish friend… The police presence has made the situation intolerable.”

He said another Jewish friend has felt uncomfortable at the atmosphere within her synagogue since October.

“At the end of [a] service the decision was made to sing Hatikvah, the national anthem of Israel," he added. "Just the whole atmosphere made her uncomfortable so she bravely [spoke] at the Bimah (pulpit), acknowledging Palestine in her talk. It's the first time I've ever heard the P word in that communal setting."

Samuel says he has been taken off door duty for his synagogue since October – he believes it may have been triggered by his pro-Palestine views. 

And while he has witnessed antisemitism and protest signs which “crassly reference the Holocaust”, media portrayals of the Palestine demonstrations do not present “the full picture”.

“I think it's vital that voices like mine are represented in the media reports,” he added. Samuel will continue to join the Jewish Bloc at the pro-ceasefire protests. 

Green activist Lesley Grahame, based in Norwich, said: “I once hid my matzos in a shopping trolley in case anyone associated me with the massacres. Nobody did. I support the ceasefire marches in Norwich and London. Yes, it's uncomfortable, but nothing to the life/death/grief/terror in the remains of Gaza.”

Matthew Butcher, a Jewish Londoner and progressive activist, said: “I am [Jewish] and it's just extraordinarily irresponsible for the Government advisor to say this. I'll be in central London feeling just fine I'd say.”

Non-profit policy worker James Ingram argued that Jews appeared to be “useful” to Simcox’s worldview and this his comments were "damaging and exclusionary”.

However, another Jewish London, Nicole Lampert, said she and her Jewish family were fearful on Saturdays “when there are people with antisemitic placards and people singing for the destruction of the only Jewish state”.

“I note there are no calls for peace or the return of the hostages on these demos (apart from the Jewish bloc),” she added. 

“Jewish people were already at a low level of fear before all of this because of the multiple threats against us. We don’t have security guards outside our schools, nurseries and synagogues for fun but because of all the death threats – and we’ve seen in France, Belgium etc. how these attacks will be carried out. That also has to be taken into account."

Writer Tanya Gold said the claim that London was a “no-go zone” was “absurd”, but added that certain parts of the marches – “anywhere where hostage posters are repeatedly defaced – feel threatening to Jews who are not anti-Zionist: i.e., most of us”.

Gold said that, while the marches haven’t erupted into violence and probably won't, “the demonisation of Israel – and with it, Jews who don't denounce Israel – feels appallingly familiar. In the mediaeval period, Jews were god-killers, demonic beings, and inhuman. You can hear very clear echoes of that language now. That is what terrifies us, and I think that fear is rational.”

Responding to Byline Times’ call for views on Simcox's comments, Francis Freeman claimed that some Jewish friends “no longer go on the marches because of the increase in antisemitic hate”.

Another Jewish respondent, Rebecca Trenner, added: “I don't go into [central] London on Saturdays because I feel threatened. I won't take my children to central London on protest days – many friends agree.”

Rabbi Zvi Solomons, who lives in Reading and often comes to London, said he has faced antisemitic behaviour (though not necessarily on the marches). He told Byline Times: “I am street savvy and have had two or three occasions when a young man has approached me from behind, in a menacing manner, whilst I’m walking down the road. They saw my kippa. I turned to avoid the situation becoming threatening to me."

Do you have a story that needs highlighting? Get in touch by emailing josiah@bylinetimes.com

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