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Thursday, 26 April 2012

Chernobyl Anniversary - say no to Nuclear Power!

On the 26th April 1986 disaster struck in the USSR. The Chernobyl Nuclear Plant suffered a series of explosions that sent plumes of radioactive gas far into the atmosphere. 58 people died immediately, and nearly 400,000 people had to be moved. 800,000 people received dangerous levels of radiation and the cloud of toxic gas was to spread far and wide, even affecting the West Coast of Ireland.

The effects on the planet were disastrous, and especially for the people of Belarus, Ukraine and Russia. Whole areas of Ukraine will never be safe for human life ever again.

The catastrophe was crippling for the USSR economy and morale, leading to 'Glasnost' and contributing to the eventual fall of the Soviet Union.

But the global consequences far outweighed the political fallout.

Nuclear Power is not the green alternative that some would suggest. It is in fact one of the greatest threats to our existence. The anniversary on the Chernobyl disaster is our chance to remember and resist the nuclear lobbyists. The nuclear power companies want government investment in their industry, but they must not be allowed to 'greenwash' the dangers inherent in the nuclear industry. We have too much to lose.

Chernobyl never again.

15 years of co-operative living at 'The Hive'

Last Saturday was a great party. In the back yard, a log fire crackled amid the sound of laughter and stories. In the kitchen old friends were being reunited, catching up on lives well spent whilst remembering struggles from the past. In a room upstairs, a young man sang with passion and beauty with his guitar. In another room, beats old and new blasted out as dancers twirled like dervishes.

This was the 15th anniversary of The Hive Housing Co-op, Spring Gardens, Bradford.

Was it really so long since we moved in? Jonny, Rupert, Jane, 2 Simon's, Sarah and I moved in to Bradford's first radical roots housing co-op. It had been two years in the planning - most meetings in the New Beehive Inn - hence the name. I had spotted the property by chance whilst coming back from looking at another building further down Manningham lane.

It was too near to the centre, and was too big - there was no way we thought we could afford it! It was going for auction, so we put in a low bid - £56,000, made up of a mortgage from the Ecology Building Society based on £8,000 raised Loanstock and a £10,000 loan from 'Radical Roots' (A great organisation that helps housing co-ops get set up) We lost to a higher bid, but 1 month later, the auctioneers came back to us as the first bidder had defaulted!

We were now the owners of a great Victorian townhouse, with 6 bedrooms, and some communal areas! I have such happy memories of that time - sanding floors, giving a home to radical campaigns, hosting the 'Local Exchange and Trade' project, organising demonstrations and greening the street. Amazing times.

And 15 years later, the Hive is still doing its job - giving a base to activists, a home for those who can envision a better society. A place of action and hope and safety. There were even people at the party who were launching a new Loanstock appeal for another Bradford Housing Co-op, 'Branches'!

It will soon be time for me to leave this city, the city where my heart is. But I will leave knowing that some of the wonderful projects I have been privileged to be part of are still bearing beautiful fruits.

15 years on - don't get nostalgic - get organised!

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Getting it out in the open...

I had a beautiful experience today, splashing about in the mirror pool with my kids and with friends down at city park. It is Maundy Thursday, and the time for traditional services of foot washing, commemorating the scene of the last supper from John's Gospel.

The mirror pool gave an excellent opportunity to do the foot washing in a public place, and to share with the community what happens in worship - singing, fun, prayer, service and sharing food (and sometimes a person in a funny costume!) For me, this is mission - making the life of the church visible and comprehensible.

Most of what we do is hidden from view, with in the walls of the Church building, and if people do wander in, much of what is done during our services is pretty incomprehensible.

I don't think we should be so embarrassed about public expressions of our faith. Nobody is going to mind if we get out there on the great days of our Christian heritage. Even atheists can appreciate the importance culturally of religion. If those of us from more liberal and progressive strands of Christianity stay with in the confounds of our buildings, we leave the public domain to the ranters and shouters - those who taint our faith with aggression to 'outsiders', damning others to hellfire and damnation. We cannot leave the public realm to such as these.

I was with a lovely man today from an organisation that is reviving 'Speakers Corners' around the UK. Bradford is one of many cities that will be setting up committees to identify where such a space might be (the historic ones of our city have disappeared)

It is vitally important that politics and faith can be done in a public space - not hidden away where they end up in the hands of the 'party leaders' and the 'church elders'. We like to have control, and when things are out in the open, we lose control, you never know quite what will happen. This is when change can actually occur. And change is what we need.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Burmese Spring?

I try not to get too excited about the elections in Burma. Even though Aung San Suu Kyi was one of 40 National League of Democracy candidates to get elected, the 45 by-elections form a tiny part of the 664 parliementary seats already dominated by the military rulers. If the regime leaders feel under threat as the 2015 elections come closer, they can easily change the rules of the game.

So why the 'free and fair' elections? Well, some may suggest that it allows the easing of sanctions that have been making it hard for the Burmese Government to rule. Now they appear to be playing 'the game', they may be allowed access to European and US markets. They have much to gain, but little to lose with these elections.

I am hopeful though, and here's why. I believe that Daw Suu is an unstoppable force for good, and 90% of the People of Burma know this in their hearts. My Burmese friends are really excited about these changes. They don't trust the government, but they believe that a tidal wave of change is coming.

We must be vigilant over Burma, its rulers have a history of violence and repression and a lot of it is recent history. But this Easter, let us also remember that the world has often seen hope triumph over the depths of despair. The Burmese spring is inevitable after a long cold winter.

Menwith in the Snow

Yesterday a group of us from 'JustSpace' went to join the regular Tuesday vigil at the Gates of RAF Menwith Hill. RAF suggests a British military site, but it is of course run by the National Security Agency of America (NSAA). It is a spy base for the US, and has promoted the cause of war since 1951.
We had gone as part of Holy Week. As Jesus faces up to his responsibility in defying evil and empire 2000 years ago, so must we continue God's desire for justice and peace on earth today.

It was horrible weather, but that did not deter the person we met at the entrance. Lindis Percy has been demonstrating at the base for over twelve years, constantly being a thorn in the side of the US authorities.

I asked her what keeps her going, especially in force gale winds, and icy snow. "They need to know that people are watching them, that people care about what they do" is her reply.

We waved our peace flags and politely talked to equally frozen police officers, before beating an ice laden retreat. Except for Lindis, who just manages to cheerfully keep on going.

Join her one day at the gates of empire and militarism, every Tuesday, 6-8pm, rain or shine or snow. You will be inspired.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Memories of Malvinas/falklands

On the 30th Anniversary of the 'Falklands/Malvinas' war, it doesn't seem that much has changed. An unpopular right wing government is in the early stages of its life. It is imposing cruel cuts to the public sector and is building up large queues of unemployed people.

And still we 'rattle sabres' as part of our foreign policy strategy.

The Atlantic war is my first political memory. I remember being stirred up in the classroom by the teachers. We all had to make our own union jack posters, which were to be placed in the front windows of our homes. The council estate I lived on was full of them.

Nationalist pride was pushed upon us, and at the age of 12, I loved it. It helped us forget the grinding poverty that we lived in. We didn't think so much about the crap wages my step-dad received as a milkman, or the morning paper round that me and my brother had to do to help pay the household bills. We may have been poor - but at least we were at war!

Looking back, it was that 'nationalist pride' that probably got my working class parents to vote for the Tories in the eighties. The ruling class know how to distract us from the real problems, and we have seen them use these tactics time and time again.

In this Holy Week, we think about being swept up in the crowd, shouting 'Hosanna', wanting a return to power and to sovereignty. But Jesus comes on a donkey, not an aircraft carrier. He pursues the way of peace, not the ways of war.

Whether in Argentina or Britain, let us ignore the nationalist pride of our leaders, and always pursue the paths of peace.

Monday, 2 April 2012

On receiving 'hate calls' after the election....

Today I received my first 'hate call' at my office, from someone clearly not happy with my decision to vote for the Respect Party. I was accused of supporting 'evil', and allowing a despot into Parliament. I lost track of most of what was said, mostly because I don't think it mattered to him what my reply was.

I tried to be polite, quietly explaining why I made my decisions (though he had already read my blog) and invited him to have a coffee with me so we could have a serious conversation. It turned out he lived in London, so it didn't look like the dialogue was going much further. I hoped he realised that after 23 years of being involved in the politics of Bradford West, I might have a better idea of what was going on locally than he did.

I really hope that local folk who disagree with each other will try their best to put Bradford first, above party politics. Elections are divisive, but we must try to reach out to each other and not make too many assumptions about our motives. We have some great Labour, Lib-Dem, Green and even Tory Councillors - they will probably be joined by Respect candidates in May - so please let them start to think about working together for the common good.

But here is some advice for the man who called, if you are still reading my blog, this is addressed to you:

Please be prepared to say your name if you want a conversation with someone.

Try not to be rude or offensive to others who disagree with you

Do not withhold your number, you have nothing to hide from a priest.

I voted Labour in National elections here till 2010. I would have voted for them again if they had put forward a left wing candidate. Sadly, they chose to put up a candidate who may well be a decent local councillor, but did not appear to be of Parliamentary calibre. He thought our troops should be in Afghanistan. I do not. He had never opposed the financial waste of Trident nuclear weapons. I do. Labour's candidate was silent about issues such as tuition fees and local cuts. I want someone vocal and articulate about these matters. The councillor wouldn't even attend hustings alongside other candidates, so it was impossible to know what he was really about, apart from bland glossy leaflets.

I'm not a member of Respect, but George Galloway, flawed as he most certainly is, put forward the local, national and international policies that I agreed with - and policies many in the Labour party also support. Please do not be angry at me for voting for the policies I happen to believe in.

Please don't ring me, and make assumptions about why I and 18,340 other local people voted for Respect. We will judge him or what he does, not on what you or the media says he does.

If he, as you say he does, discriminates against others or supports oppressive regimes, we are more than prepared to challenge him. We will hold him to account on local issues. But at the moment, he appears a little more civilised than those who call me up and tell me who I should and who I should not vote for.

You are forgiven, but please do not continue to anonymously call people and say offensive things, it is not the way politics needs to be done in this day and age.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Galloway secures investment for ODEON site

April Fools day jokes finish at 12 noon, so I'm sorry if your still being directed to this site! Here is the blog as it appeared earlier:

 It has certainly been a week of surprises in Bradford, but no one could have predicted that George Galloway would have been so quick in securing one of his election pledges.

The iconic ODEON building is much loved in the city of Bradford, and has been teetering on the brink of destruction since 2004 when the ironically named 'Yorkshire Forward' company announced plans to demolish the Art Deco building rather than develop it.

In 2007, 1,500 people formed a symbolic 'hug' around the building, opposing the proposals to tear it down and replace it with office blocks and another hotel.

In April 2008, plans for the ALC to redevelop the building turned out to be nothing more than a rumour.

When George Galloway made 'saving the Odeon' an election pledge, it was hard not to think that this was simply the empty promise of a candidate trying to please public opinion.

Yet only 2 days after the Respect candidates stunning victory at the polls, Mr Galloway has announced that he has secured significant funding from an undisclosed Lebanese developer to turn the Odeon site into one of Europe's largest mosques.

The site will incorporate state of the art facilities, with purpose built 'Turkish Baths', set to rival the famous tourist attraction in nearby Harrogate. With the money from the Lebanese backers, it is hoped that Bradford will become the new 'Beirut of the North'

Rolf Pailo, spokesperson for BORG (Bradford Odeon Rescue Group) said that he was thrilled that a rescue package was finally on the tables, though disappointed that the hope of a new music venue and 4D IMAX centre were not incorporated in the newly revealed designs. "It's certainly a better proposal than the 'Betfred Supercasino' that had previously been worked on as an alternative to demolition"

However one feels about such a move, it will be wonderful to see the great domes of this magnificent piece of architecture restored to their former glory. How close we were to seeing a shortsighted local authority destroying such an important part of it's rich heritage - thank heavens that ridiculous threat is now over!