Wednesday, August 31, 2011

August 31

Not a great deal to report in the last week, as the House isn't sitting until next Monday. Yesterday we had the carpets steam-cleaned, which meant removing everything from the floors, including the one in my office which has always been part of the filing system. It took an amazing amount of work to pile everything up in the rooms without carpets, and then to restore them to their rightful places after the exercise was over. At the same time one of my computers suffered a catastrophic failure which meant buying a new copy of Windows 7 and installing it, together with reinstalling all the programs. Fortunately I keep all my data on two Nas's rather than on local hard disks, and periodically I also copy working files onto DropBox. This free program allows you to store 2 Gb in the cloud, rising to 10 Gb if you can persuade as many as 32 of your friends to sign up to it. That's enough to cover almost 20 years worth of my correspondence, the only problem being that pre-1998 Word files won't open. There must be a solution to this and I'll find it, though its not at the top of my priority list.

Thursday, August 25, 2011


Left to right: Matthew Brindley of the Irish Travellers Movement in Britain; Andy Slaughter MP; Mary Ann McCarthy, Dale Farm resident; Richard Sheridan, President of the Dale Farm Housing Association, me, and a representative of the European Roma community.
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Dale Farm evictions

Presentation of the petition at 10 Downing Street against the eviction of Traveller families from the Dale Farm site at Basildon: In the next few weeks, some but not all the families living on this site ate going to be kicked out, at a cost of over £10 million, £6.85 million on which is being subsidised by the Home Office and Communities and Local Government. Over a third of the families have planning permission and will be left alone, so it isn't as if there were overwhelming planning arguments for the evictions. There is nowhere else in the county to which the evicted Travellers could move, so they will be on a roadside facing new harassment, with endless disruption to family life and interruption to the children's education. Travellers are already the ethnic minority with the worst record of educational attendance and achievement and this is not going to help. The health experience of Gypsies and Travellers is also substantially worse than that of settled communities and again, and the trauma of eviction will harm the victims access to care, particularly the disabled, pregnant women and children already suffering from chronic diseases. This eviction is an inhumane waste of public resources which can only impose further burdens on the victims and the public purse for many years to come - and it could so easily be avoided by finding the small amount of land needed to accommodate the families who don't have permission on the Dale Farm site, somewhere else in the neighbourhood.

See also Amnesty International's statement at, and Travellers' appeal to the UN's Committee on the Eimination of Racial Discrimination at

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


Letter of August 19 from Dr P, consultant haematologist, to the GP:

FBC: Hb 9.5 g/dl, WBC 4.41 x 10A9/L, platelets 614 x 1(T9/L

I reviewed Lord Avebury in the clinic today. I am happy to say that he is well in himself just having returned from holiday. His platelet count is gently coming down on hydroxyurea and I have asked him to maintain this at 500 mg od and we will see him in four weeks' time.

So the myeloproliferative disorder seems to be under control. Platelet count not far above the normal range, though Haemoglobin well below the normal range of 13.2-16.2 g/dL. For the time being, I'll survive!

TUC on Bahrain

Bahrain's anti-union repression escalates
Despite growing international pressure, the Bahraini authorities have stepped up the repression of the country's trade union movement, sacking more than 100 government employees in recent weeks.
In total, more than 2,600, workers have been sacked since the pro-democracy uprising earlier this year. According to the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), 'Despite numerous promises to the contrary, the government has largely failed to reinstate workers illegally dismissed. According to the General Federation of Bahraini Trade Unions (GFBTU), only 134 workers have been reinstated to date. Many of these workers had to agree to unacceptable, indeed illegal, conditions in order to get their jobs back - including agreeing not to take part in any future political activity, waiving the right to participate in legal cases against the government and agreeing not to re-join their trade union.'
The TUC is supporting an international appeal by Education International and Amnesty International to secure the release of two leaders of the Bahrain Teachers' Association (BTA). While Jalila al Salman the Vice President of the BTA has been released on bail over the weekend, she is due to face trial before a military tribunal next week where it is 'highly unlikely' that she will get a fair trial according to the ITUC and Amnesty. Roula al-Saffar, head of the Bahrain Nursing Society is also standing trial.
Please sign Education International's urgent action appeal calling on the Bahraini authorities to drop the charges against the BTA leaders and to respect the human rights of all workers in Bahrain.
For more information see:
International Trade Union Confederation (23 August 2011): Bahrain's anti-union repression
Amnesty International (22 August 2011): Bahrain must not try activists in military court
CS Monitor (19 August 2011): Bahrain government fires hundreds of employees for political views
ITUC: Bahrain's anti-union repression
Brussels, 23 August 2011 (ITUC OnLine): The authorities in Bahrain are stepping up repression of the country's trade union movement, with further suspensions and sackings of workers due to their actual or suspected participation in trade union and political actions earlier this year. Government workers in particular are being targeted, including in health, education and municipal services, as the authorities seek to cleanse the public sector of workers who hold political opinions of which it does not approve.
Dismissals have in fact increased since June, and government workers facing dismissal report having to appear before disciplinary boards with no opportunity to mount a defence of any kind. There is little question that the outcomes of these hearings are predetermined. Minister of Labour, Jamil Humaidan, has disclaimed any responsibility over the public sector, effectively given a green light to the on-going dismissals.
This year, some 2,600 workers in both the public and private sector have been fired, with an additional 361 workers suspended. Despite numerous promises to the contrary, the government has largely failed to reinstate workers illegally dismissed. According to the General Federation of Bahraini Trade Unions (GFBTU), only 134 workers have been reinstated to date. Many of these workers had to agree to unacceptable, indeed illegal, conditions in order to get their jobs back - including agreeing not to take part in any future political activity, waiving the right to participate in legal cases against the government and agreeing not to re-join their trade union.
Six members of the GFBTU Executive Board remain dismissed as well as 44 Executive Board members of GFBTU-affiliated unions. Of great concern, the Vice-President of the Bahrain Teachers Association, Jalila al Salman and Roula al-Saffar, head of the Bahrain Nursing Society, are to stand trial before a military tribunal next week, despite the fact that they are both civilians. It is highly unlikely that either will get a fair trial on the dubious charges related to the protests earlier this year. The two were only recently released on bail after being jailed for months, where they were reported to have been subjected to torture and degrading treatment during their detention.
'The Bahrain government is continuing its campaign of punitive action against workers who have simply exercised their rights under international law, causing real suffering to them and their families. The imprisoned trade unionists must be released without delay, and all the workers illegally dismissed must be reinstated,' said ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow. 'Instead of maintaining their destructive and repressive approach, the authorities should engage in meaningful dialogue with the GFBTU to resolve pressing issues such as job creation, labour relations and a broader agenda for real reform.'
Briefing document (800 words) issued 23 Aug 2011

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


Part of the audience at today's meeting.
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With Saeed Shahabi of the Bahrain Freedom Movement and Mohammed Matar of the Wa'ad Society, who spoke about the legacy of British rule in Bahrain, and its effects on post-independence developments after 1871.

Sandrine Tiller of Médecins sans Frontières (MSF), which was doing medical humanitarian work in Bahrain, described the way the MSF clinic was raided, medical equipment stolen, and an employee was roughed up and arrested, after they sent a casualty to the hospital, and security forces there were infuriated by their emergency treatment of a demonstrator's wounds. MSF are now withdrawing from Bahrain.

John William also spoke about the work of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (for whom he is working), and their plans for the forthcoming session of the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva
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Tuesday morning, back to London, just in time to chair a symposium on Bahrain in No 1 Abbey Gardens, unfortunately the last of a long series we have held in this building as the lease has expired and its being returned to the Abbey.

We had some gripping testimony over a Skype link from Ayat al-Ghormezi, an articulate 20-year old poet who was arrested at midnight on March 39 and after being helf in solitary confinement and tortured for several weeks, was sentenced to a year's imprisonment on charges of “inciting hatred of the regime" for a poem she wrote criticising the regime and for "being involved in a rally to commit crimes”, after attending a demonstration at the Pearl roundabout with many hudreds of others. In the end she was released as a result of huge international pressure from poets, writers and artists across the world.

We also hear from Mohammed al-Tajer, also detained in a night raid on his home by more than two dozen uniformed and plainclothes security officers, most of whom were masked, on the evening of April 15, 2011. Like Ayat and almost everyone else arrested in the crackdown since February, Mohammed suffered intense torture, and we asked both our witnessed whather they had been able to communicate with the Bassiouni commission, which is investigating allegations of torture and other human rights violations in Bahrain with a view to reporting in October. But however thorough the commission may be, and however willing the government to accept their recommendations, it can do nothing to address the fact that Bahrain is a hereditary dictatorship, in which the king has power to reverse any concessions that may be needed to appease international opinion. As Liam Fox, the Defence Secretary remarked on Radio 4 last evening at about 22.30, "If you don't allow change to be a process then it can become an event"; but a process can only start if the vicious sentences passed on the many political detainees including Hassan Mushaima, Leader of the Opposition, are unconditionally cancelled, and if the al-Khalifa dictatorship is genuinely prepared to change itself into a constitutional monarchy. Seeing the tenacious resistance to reform in every other Arab state since the Arab spring, this is an improbable scenario, and one that could only happen if there is concerted pressure by the UN, the EU, the US, and democratic NGOs throughout the world.
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Lindsay in the Organ Room at Glyndebourne, where we saw Handel's Rinaldo. This production was intended to mark the first production of the opera, also Handel's first in England, in 1711, but unfortunately somebody decided to be clever and pretend that the plot, originally about the conquest of Jerusalem in 1099 during the First Crusade, should be the dream of a 1920s schoolboy asked to write an essay on whether the First Crusade was a political or a religious exercise. That sche is set while overture plays, and in the opera itself the schoolboy becomes the Christian hero Rinaldo, in love with Almirena, a schoolgirl/daughter of Godfrey of Bouillon, leader of the Crusade. The wicked sorceress Queen of Damascus, accomplice of Argante, the Saracen king of Jerusalem, is a rubber-suited mistress wielding the cane over a troop of furies/short skirted schoolgirls, and the Christian troops are Rinaldo's form-mates. Why muck about with the original idea of Aaron Hill, the 24-year old impresario who collaborated with Handel to devise the plot of Rinaldo, itself only loosely based on Torquato Tasso's poem Geruslamme Liberata? Surely a 300th anniversary celebration should be faithful to the original, but fortunately the music speaks for itself, as Chi-chi Nwanoku, who plays the double bass on an instrument which itself is over 300 years old, said to us behind the scenes. She took us onto the stage before the performance began, and invited me to sing a note, which I did, so that I can say it was my first return to the operatic stage for 79 years, since I played the baby in Madam Butterfly in 1932. Yes, the music is sublime, and children should be introduced to Handel as part of the school curriculum. Handel operas and oratorios should be played over the loudspeakers at Underground stations, though only if the quality of the sound were enormously improved.

Of course, I wouldn't only play Handel to Underground travellers. They should have Bach as well - the sarabande from cello suite No 5 on a rainy day, perhaps, or how about the cantata Erschallet, ihr Lieder (BWV172) to cheer everybody up?
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Lindsay at Globe Place. I should mention that there are shep and chickens as well as the cat and dogs.
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A little extension of our holiday - Sunday and Monday at Globe Place, Hellingly, Sussex, the comfortable and hospitable home of Alison and Willie Boone, and their three dogs and Siamese cat. The Golden Retriever, Molly, and two dachshunds, one longhaired, also very friendly and welcoming, and the cat, Pushkin, talkative and intelligent.
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