Saturday, October 24, 2020

Still Towering over London


beefeaters' lonely vigil
By Carole Barclay

The Tower of London has dominated the London scene for almost a thousand years. It began in 1066 when William the Conqueror ordered its construction to make his mark on the capital of his new kingdom. Since then the Tower has served as a fortress, palace, prison and even a royal zoo for those who sat on the throne of England.
    This is where the two young “Princes in the Tower”, who stood in the way of their uncle Richard III, were held before they conveniently “disappeared” in 1483. Ann Boleyn, one of Henry VIII’s unfortunate wives, spent her last days awaiting execution in the Tower. Many others, including Walter Raleigh and Guy Fawkes, passed through ‘Traitors Gate’ down the ages.
    During the Second World War Germany’s Deputy Fuhrer, Rudolf Hess, became the last state prisoner of the Tower when he was held here after he parachuted into Scotland to try and negotiate an armistice in May 1941 while the last man to be executed behind its grim walls was a German spy shot by firing squad in August 1941.
    Though this massive fortress may seems impregnable to the modern visitor the only time it ever fell was when sympathetic guards opened the gates to Wat Tyler’s rebel army during the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381. A rebel detachment led by John Starling seized the architects of the hated poll tax who were cowering behind its walls. The Lord High Treasurer Robert Hales along with the Chancellor of England Archbishop Simon Sudbury and John Legge, the king’s tax collector for Kent, were dragged out and beheaded on nearby Tower Hill.
    Though there is modest display dedicated to the Peasants Revolt in one of the bastions along the eastern ramparts walkway little or nothing is said about the turbulent times of the English Civil War.
    London was the staunchly Puritan capital of the Parliamentary forces during the Civil War which began in 1642 and ended in 1649 with the trial and execution of Charles Stuart and the abolition of the monarchy. The Republic of England, or Commonwealth as it was commonly styled in English, was proclaimed soon after.
    In 1653 Oliver Cromwell, the great commander of the New Model Army, became head of state, the Lord Protector. He established the Tower’s first permanent garrison and ordered the original crown jewels to be melted down to meet the needs of the new republic – a fact coyly mentioned in the current Crown Jewels exhibition.
    Cromwell never lived in the Tower but the fortress did provide a roof for some of his less than welcome “guests”. Most were Royalist prisoners. Others had once fought by his side.
    One was John Lilburne, a parliamentary army officer who had become a leader of the radical “Leveller” movement that campaigned for justice and equality during the conflict. “Freeborn John” denounced MPs who lived in comfort while the common soldiers fought and died in poverty. He ended up in the Tower for denouncing his former commander, the Earl of Manchester, as a traitor and a Royalist sympathiser and campaigning against the “grandee” army leaders who led the new republican government that the Levellers claimed were no better than the Cavaliers they had just ousted,
    Lilburne was accused of working with the Royalists to bring down the Commonwealth. Though a London jury acquitted him of treason charges his continuing opposition activities led to his exile soon after. Lilburn was sent back to the Tower when he returned to London without permission. He was finally freed in 1656. By that time he had abandoned his radical beliefs to become a pacifist and a Quaker and he died the following year.
    Lilburne told the Puritan preacher Hugh Peters, one of Cromwell’s inner circle, that he would rather have had seven years under the late king's rule than one under the present regime.
     Whether Lilburne had actually became a turn-coat, however, is still debatable.
But there’s no doubt about Edward Sexby, a prominent Leveller “agitator” who was arrested for plotting to kill Cromwell and distributing a pamphlet that incited the murder of the Protector.
    Sexby was an ambitious man. When the Levellers turned against the grandees he joined Cromwell’s camp and was rapidly promoted. He was elevated to the rank of Colonel and worked in France for the fledgling republic’s intelligence service. But he made many enemies along the way and by 1654 his military career had come to a halt. An increasingly bitter man, he returned to his radical past and the now underground Leveller movement.
In 1655 he fled to the Netherlands after being implicated in a new Leveller conspiracy. There he joined Royalist exiles plotting to assassinate Cromwell.
    Sexby helped produce, and may have actually written, an appalling pamphlet called Killing No Murder that called for Cromwell’s death. But he was speedily arrested after secretly returning to England in 1657. He died in the Tower the following year. The Commonwealth’s semi-official bulletin, the Mercurius Politicus, said he was ‘stark mad’.
    There’s plenty to see and this is the best time to do it. Before the coronavirus crisis the Tower of London was one of London’s most visited tourist attractions and one of the leading visitor attractions in the United Kingdom.
    Over 15,000 visitors, many from overseas, passed through its gates every day. In these troubled days London’s tourist industry has all but collapsed while the Covid-19 restrictions strictly ration the numbers allowed into the fortress at any given time. It’s around 800 on a good day. But when it rains visitors are almost outnumbered by the Beefeaters and the soldiers of the garrison. The long queues to see the Crown Jewels have vanished and you can really explore the nooks and crannies of this fascinating relic of London’s past.

The Tower of London is currently open from Wednesday to Sunday from 10:00 to 18.00. Tickets cost £25.00 (half-price for children) and visitors must book entry-slots with their tickets.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Meeting to tackle global poverty

by New Worker correspondent

 NCP leader Andy Brooks went online to take part in a seminar on how political parties could help poverty eradication, which kicked off on Monday in Eastern China's Fujian province.
    Ambassadors to China from more than 30 countries, including Pakistan, Egypt and Argentina, joined in the seminar in Fuzhou, the capital city of Fujian, whilst delegates from more than 100 political parties worldwide attended via video link.
    The seminar, organised by the International Department of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and the Fujian Party provincial committee, was attended online or offline by nearly 400 participants from more than 100 countries, including representatives of political parties, diplomatic envoys to China, representatives of international organisations in China, media representatives of developing countries, and think-tank scholars.
    `Heads of some foreign countries expressed via video or in writing their appreciation of China's historical achievements in poverty reduction and emphasised the necessity for political parties to play a leading role in building a consensus and promoting co-operation in global poverty eradication.
    Chinese President Xi Jinping delivered a message of congratulations to the seminar calling on the international community, including political parties in all countries, to work together to accelerate the process of global poverty reduction because difficulties and challenges in this regard are still severe.
    Xi was a communist leader in Fujian in the past and he elaborated his thoughts on poverty eradication through his experiences in the province. Practices in Fujian such as officials being stationed in villages, sending technicians to poor areas, targeted measures and close monitoring to avoid returning to poverty were subsequently adopted nationwide.
International delegates learned about the poverty eradication experience of Fujian, and shared challenges and efforts of their own countries as the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, which falls on Saturday this year, approaches. Attendees said this forum was timely in exchanging ideas and practices on poverty alleviation, especially at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic makes the task even more difficult.
    “To eliminate poverty, to improve people's livelihoods and achieve common prosperity are the essential requirements of socialism with Chinese characteristics and important missions of the CPC," Xi said.
    Xi, who is also the General Secretary of the CPC, said that since the 18th National Congress of the CPC, China has made poverty eradication a key task in achieving its first centenary goal, and it has made a series of major plans and arrangements to fully launch the poverty reduction battle. The issue of absolute poverty, which has plagued the Chinese nation for thousands of years, is about to be solved historically.
    “China has the confidence and ability to resolutely win the battle against poverty and realize the poverty reduction goals of the United Nations (UN) 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development 10 years ahead of schedule,” said Xi.
    “Global poverty alleviation efforts have scored huge progress, but the difficulties and challenges are still severe,” he said, calling on the international community, including political parties of all countries, to build a consensus and work together to uphold multilateralism, and maintain peace and stability.
    “It is hoped that through sharing experience and summarising rules, seminar participants can discuss ways to advance the cause of global poverty reduction, enhance confidence in fighting poverty, and contribute to the realisation of the goals of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” the Chinese leader said.

Monday, October 19, 2020

A Rare Victory for Public Sector Workers

By our Westminster correspondent

There is, at least, better news for one group of dedicated public sector workers who are getting a well-deserved pay rise which will hopefully compensate them for having to work long hours in cramped offices in an antiquated building situated beside a polluted river, which for most is distant from their homes. For that reason alone Members of Parliament surely deserve their £3,000 pay rise which brings their basic salary up to £81,932.
     Naturally this excludes expenses, but these have been tightened up with honourable members no longer able to claim for getting their moats cleaned without getting their names in the newspapers.
     Their pay is determined by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) which saves MPs from needing to go on picket lines. IPSA was set up after the 2009 expenses scandal which exposed the widespread misuse of allowances and expenses by MPs on both sides of the House. This included the exotic expenses claim mentioned and a Home Secretary claiming her main home was her sister’s front room so that she could claim her real house was a “second home” for the purpose of claiming expenses.
    The outrage on the street resulted in a large number of resignations, sackings, de-selections and retirement announcements in parliament. Some noble lords as well as former and sitting MPs were forced to repay substantial amounts. Others were even charged with false accounting or fraud and sent to prison.
    IPSA was designed be “independent” to end the spectacle of MPs voting on their own pay. Before the expenses scandal MPs voted to set their own pay scales. Some left-wingers noisily opposed the pay rises and some abstained, but the whips ensured that their numbers were not so great as to stop it being blocked.
     Nowadays MPs can put their hands on their hearts and (with crossed fingers) truthfully say “Nothing to do with us, it is independent”. Next year IPSA is set to authorise a 4.1 per cent increase – taking MPs’ salaries up by about £3,360 from the new figure of £81,932 to over £85,000.
     Even so, this is tough for people such as Boris Johnson. He made an immense sacrifice when he gave up his Daily Telegraph column which paid him £250,000 a year, a figure he described as chicken-feed. He now has to eke out a miserable living on his prime ministerial salary which is only about double that of a back-bench MP. It is extremely noble of Johnson to take huge pay cut so that he can devote himself to public service.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Danger Money

 By New Worker correspondent

Another dispute is brewing in Hackney, this time as part of a national campaign to secure a decent wage increase for local government workers.

After the rejection by Unite members of the 2.75 per cent wage offer for local government workers in England and Wales, local pay battles are now taking place. These individual battles are seen as pathfinders in the hope that local victories will persuade other local authorities to fall into line. This is the first skirmish, of what is called a “pathfinder” strategy.

Those involved are 32 drivers and passenger escorts on the borough’s school buses for disabled children in Hackney. The aim is to secure a one-off £500 payment and an extra day’s holiday for risking their health working through the pandemic. One of the reasons for choosing Hackney was that the Labour council had earlier reneged on an earlier local deal that would have given them a lump sum and made agency workers permanent employees.

Unite’s regional officer for London, Onay Kasab, said: “The national cost of living rise for 2020 has now been settled and this has been reluctantly conceded by our members.

“However, we feel that many of the issues in the national claim, such as the working time and annual leave elements, remain outstanding – and that there is scope for negotiations with local council employers.”

He also noted that there were serious concerns about Covid-19 measures on buses – specifically because buses with a capacity of 30 have over 20 children on them. No social distancing is possible and the ‘bubbles’ that are in force in schools are broken on buses where new ‘bubbles’ are formed.

This is part of a national campaign for a one-off £500 payment for frontline workers as compensation for the added pressures of working throughout the pandemic, a reduction in the working week to 35 hours from 36 with no loss of pay, and an extra day of holiday.


Saturday, October 03, 2020

End sanctions on Democratic Korea!

 by New Worker correspondent
 Korean solidarity activists returned to Whitehall on Saturday to demand an end to British sanctions against Democratic Korea in July and an end to all the other sanctions imposed on the DPR Korea by US imperialism, the European Union and America’s lackeys in Japan and south Korea.
    NCP leader Andy Brooks and other comrades including London organiser Theo Russell, joined the picket called by the Korean Friendship Association on 26th September by the gates of the road leading to the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, just a stone’s throw from Downing Street and the heart of government.
    In a lengthy interview with a London journalist Dermot Hudson, the KFA chair, explained why they were picketing the Foreign Office. He denounced the unjust sanctions imposed by the British government and defended the human rights record of Democratic Korea against false accusations.