Finance and our cities
I enjoyed reading the interview with Doreen Massey (» Living for the City, 10 November).
One argument that Doreen uses is that London’s expansion as a centre of finance helps create a north/south divide in Britain. Although I would not dispute the central importance of London to both British and world capitalism, there is a danger of an analysis that emphasises geographic inequalities.
It is open to the suggestion that if financial capitalism was more spread out this would help address the growing gap between rich and poor.
Doreen herself argues that the growth of the City finance sector has led to greater inequality, but this is also true in the north.
Leeds, for example, has expanded rapidly as a base for financial companies. Edinburgh has long been seen as a little brother of the City of London.
A growing diversity of financial centres does not lead to greater levels of equality – in fact they just reproduce all the same inequalities at the regional level.
In Scotland, nationalists are keen to use the idea of the dominance of London – but only to move more financial capital to Edinburgh or Glasgow. Doreen clearly would not support this, but arguments of a growing north/south divide can be a hostage to it.
Joe Hartney, Edinburgh
In reference to your interview with Doreen Massey (» Living for the City, 10 November), Ken Livingstone may not have been able to do anything about the presence of financial capital in London, but he did not have to embrace it quite so enthusiastically.
The London Plan, the Thames Gateway development, the Olympics and Crossrail all show that Livingstone’s vision for London is one where business and financial interests are pre-eminent.
Livingstone has praised London’s multi-ethnic character – this was, for example, a key part of the success of the 2012 Olympic bid – but the reality is that diverse communities in east London are being moved on and priced out to make way for the sterile corporate vision of the Olympic park.
He has also made clear his support for Metropolitan Police chief Ian Blair following the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes.
Like many Londoners, I voted for Ken in 2000 to try to stop tube privatisation. Now, seven years later, he tells striking RMT members to scab and pushes ahead with privatisation of the East London Line.
Ordinary Londoners need a genuine socialist alternative. That’s why I’m proud to be a candidate on Respect’s list for the London Assembly elections in 2008.
Elaine Graham-Leigh, Respect London Assembly list candidate
New Zealand terror legislation
The “war on terror” became a reality in New Zealand last month, with “anti-terror” raids across the country.
After 9/11, New Zealand’s Labour government quickly moved to pass legislation allowing the prime minister to name or designate individuals or organisations as terrorist.
On 15 October, 17 people were rounded up across New Zealand in raids by armed police. They included anti-war and environmental campaigners, and Maori activists.
Armed units searched school buses, children’s clothing were confiscated and residents were forced to be photographed at police checkpoints.
Following the arrests, further raids have occurred, including the invasion by at least five cars’ worth of armed police of veteran socialist Jimmy O’Dea’s home.
The raids are a clear attempt to intimidate opposing voices and criminalise activists, and there have been a number of protests against them.
A new amendment to the terror bill is currently before parliament, and is likely to be passed. It will mean that individuals can be jailed for up to 14 years for participating in, recruiting or financing a terrorist entity, as defined by the prime minister.
Currently it is not an offence to support or finance activities “for the purpose of advocating democratic government or the protection of human rights” but this exception is not included in the new law.
The law could be used against those engaging in political or industrial action.
The campaign to free all detainees, remove charges under the Terrorism Suppression Act and revoke new anti-terror legislation continues.
A number of detainees have been denied bail, and face lengthy detention.
Messages of support can be sent through the Civil Right Defence Committee website, » civilrightsdefence.org.nz/about
Nicola Owen, New Zealand
UPDATE: All detainees have now been released on bail. All charges under the Terrorism Suppression Act have been dropped, though some former detainees are still charged with firearms offences.
Individual action won’t stop climate change
Jonathan Neale’s article on the environment (» Will it take a ban on flying to stop climate change?, 20 October) was an important contribution to the debate about pollution.
In the last few years the right has argued that responsibility for the environment is the duty of everyone – not socially, but as individuals. Massive government advertising campaigns saying you should feel guilty if you leave the light on for a few seconds longer than necessary are one example of this.
Based on this right wing concept – the responsibility of the individual – New Labour has developed a simple approach to pollution and the environment.
They turned the issue into a money-making exercise by taxing people’s activities, such as using a car, air travel or heating their homes.
In a recent Radio 4 debate I heard a Labour MP attack the Liberals for opposing VAT increases on heating fuel for homes.
On this basis, only the super rich would be able to afford to drive, travel overseas and do a host of other activities.
Jonathan’s article is important because it challenges New Labour’s right wing approach and proposes alternative solutions that would benefit everyone.
If instead of just using the issue to raise money the government spent money things would be much better. It should spend money on the railways, subsidise house insulation and solar roofs as Jonathan suggests.
It should also subsidise research on alternative fuels and sources of energy. We have to argue that the problem is social and should be tackled socially and while individual lifestyle changes may help, ultimately this is not the answer.
Demetrios Hadjidemetriou, North London
Health cuts are a threat to gay men
In the last few weeks, the NHS funders of the Promoting Action on Clinical Effectiveness (Pace) programme and sexual health counselling service have announced a 36 percent cut to the overall budget for London gay men’s HIV prevention work.
We believe this action to be ill-conceived and to have been done without proper consultation with the people who will be most affected.
The cuts are being made to fund a prevention programme for African people in London. We support the need for an African prevention programme, but believe there has not been a proper attempt to find the funds needed for this service from other sources. Cuts are proposed to gay men’s services because they are perceived as an easy target.
The NHS London region is currently forecasting a £92 million underspend this year – so it is not true to say there are no other sources of funding available.
This cut is likely to have a devastating effect on sexual health services for gay men.
London is the only region in Britain where the evidence suggests that a reduction in new HIV infections is occurring among gay men.
This is probably due to the quality of sexual health services. To cut these runs the risk of HIV infection rates increasing, putting many more gay men’s lives at risk.
Tim Franks, Director of Pace
The way to defend NHS
The national demonstration for the NHS finally took place on 3 November.
Activists had travelled from around the country. Most people on the demo will have been excited about it and proud that they were part of this protest.
The problem is that there were only around 7,000 people on the march. There have been far larger protests up and down the country against local cuts.
It’s a shame that the trade union leaders decided to restrict the demo to health workers, instead of mobilising more generally.
My own union Unite has two million members – but no one invited them.
I believe the real problem is political. The general secretaries of Unison and Unite have thrown their weight behind Gordon Brown.
That means that their defence of the NHS has been ambivalent.
We can’t rely on the union bureaucracy to fight all out for the NHS.
Health workers have to build rank and file organisation.
We have to work with other trade unionists and with community campaigns to build the massive fight back that we need. And we have to challenge the politics that put the interests of Brown before the interests of our members.
Gill George, Unite (Amicus) National Executive (personal capacity)
Cost of fire service cuts
As a serving firefighter in Britain I was appalled at the terrible loss of life in the recent warehouse fire in Warwickshire.
This incident has affected all in my workplace and has focused our minds on the fact that firefighter deaths are increasing in Britain.
When I started my career we went six years without one British firefighter being killed at a fire, yet six have died in one year. We have to ask why.
There is sometimes a moral pressure to go into situations that we shouldn’t be going into.
We have risk management plans which look at the minimum resources that are needed. The feeling on the ground is that this is about removing resources not improving training.
I think the government just doesn’t value our lives enough.
Jaz Thomas, Bristol
Brown’s new nuclear threat
gordon Brown’s proposals in the queen’s speech included a worrying bill to allow more nuclear power stations to be built in Britain. They are to be funded, built and run by private companies.
This flies in the face of evidence of the dangers of nuclear power and is an abandonment of trying to find alternative sources of energy.
The government’s own research advises against building new nuclear power stations.
The Sustainable Development Commission, which advises the government on environmental issues, said last year that both the dangers and cost of nuclear power outweigh any potential benefits.
The fact that private companies will be in charge means that it will be even more expensive and unsafe and will also be completely unaccountable.
It becomes clearer every day that Brown’s vision for Britain is one that we urgently need to challenge.
Kelly Hilditch, North London
The Levellers’ vision of democracy (» The Putney debates, 10 November) did not seem to extend to Ireland.
After Oliver Cromwell dealt with the Levellers’ leadership he was able to recruit most of their followers for the murderous war of conquest he then unleashed in Ireland.
Democracy was not on offer for the Irish, just massacres and Cromwell’s promise of “Hell or Connacht”.
Angela O’Leary, North West London