Saturday, 16 July 2011

Hacking crisis reveals problems of an increasingly devalued trade

It was three years ago at an employment tribunal hearing in Stratford, east London that I first got a glimpse of the darker side of News International.
The tribunal was hearing the case of Matt Driscoll, a sports reporter on the News of the World, who had been dismissed finally by the company in 2007.
The process of getting rid of Driscoll though began two years previously, with warnings. Emails revealed that then NOW editor Andy Coulson wanted to “get shot” of him “as quickly and cheaply as possible.”
Driscoll got sick but was still subject to a barrage of phone calls emails and visits to his home insisting he see the company doctor, despite his own GP saying he must distance himself from the source of his stress.
Driscoll won the day with the tribunal declaring there had been “a consistent pattern of bullying behaviour” from senior NOW managers. He was awarded £792,736 in compensation for unfair dismissal and disability discrimination.
The Driscoll case showed a glimpse of the atmosphere of fear that the newspaper could create amongst its own employees, let alone what it considered to be sources for news stories. It was an unhealthy culture that has only recently come to light.
The last editor of the NOW Colin Myler seems to have steadied things down a little at the paper, from the days of hacking, but few will be regretting the loss of a paper that was obsessed with scandal.
The demise of the News of the World and the wider debate now opening up on the media raises a number of questions. The concern must be that once again the broad brush approach will be taken that all journalists are bad, just as all MPs and bankers were suddenly tarnished as a result of the scandals that erupted in those sectors over recent years.
The truth is that proper investigative journalism has a vital role to play in any functioning democracy. It acts as a check on those holding power and exposes the ongoing injustices being perpetuated against the often weak and vulnerable. The true task of the journalist must be to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.
The problem has been that over recent years fewer and fewer media operations seem to be operating to that mantra. One of the recurring questions over the tabloids is how much better it would be if they turned their investigative skills on corrupt companies or abuses in government, rather than exposing which celebrity is sleeping with who.
The tabloids ofcourse would argue that the public don’t want that type of news, they seek salacious tittle tattle – it’s what sells papers. To a large degree this is true, it is no use the great British public suddenly becoming prurient about these matters when it is they who buy the NOW, Sun and Daily Mail in their millions.
The papers that do the more investigative work like the Guardian, the Daily Telegraph and Independent sell in the 100,000s.
What is more even these “quality” papers have been drawn down market over recent years by what they have seen sells the tabloids. So they also devote increasing amounts of space to celebrity and less to real investigations.
There is a lot of truth in the claim that the public gets the press it deserves. Maybe the wrongdoing at the News International titles is reflective of a society driven by greed and an anything goes mentality. Rupert Murdoch afterall worked practically hand in hand with the government of Margaret Thatcher in selling the neo-liberal revolution that has created the society we have today. And it was Mrs Thatcher who helped Mr Murdoch smash the unions at Wapping.
One of the major reasons that the media is the way it is in the UK is due to the pattern of ownership. A very few large corporations and individuals own and dominate the media scene. So many of these owners go hand in glove with some of the corporations that should be being vigorously investigated by their papers. An incestuous relationship has built up. Editors may claim independence but the slavish way in which they follow the dictates of the owners is nowhere more clearly seen than in the Murdoch empire. Mr Murdoch decides which party his papers will support in a general election and they do. Equally, he is a Eurosceptic which is another view reflected in his papers.
What is needed is a root and branch examination of media ownership. There needs to be more diversity, allowing trust funded operations to proliferate. It is ironic that at a time of mass media communications by the likes of the web and social networking that ownership has actually concentrated. This needs to be broken down with the plurality of media being restored.
The values of journalism also need to be restored. It is ironic that with the internet explosion, the number of journalists producing papers has shrunk, becoming more desk bound. Many local papers due to “technology” are now produced by a handful of journalists.
The accountants who unfortunately control so many newspapers do not understand journalism and the need to build up sources and networks. For them, a body not tied to a desk, scanning websites is wasting time. This needs to change, good reliable relationships are crucial to being an effective journalist. It is unhealthy for journalism and society to reduce the journalist’s role to that of a glorified word processor, increasingly dependent on Public Relations industry for news.
All of these matters need to form part of an examination of the media industry. Ownership and what we should be looking for in a healthy democracy from journalism are crucial questions that need to be answered. Individuals need protection but any reform must not go too far by tying journalists hands to the extent that wrongdoing gets even more difficult to expose. It is crucial in looking at journalism that we do not throw the baby out with the bath water in seeking to clearly right the wrongs of the past

Monday, 11 July 2011

Tributes to Ronald Reagan show prevalence of historical amnesia

There was much publicity recently about the 100th anniversary of the birth of former US President Ronald Reagan, who died in 2004.Amongst the events staged was the unveiling of a statue of the former President outside the American embassy in Grosvenor Square in London.The surprising thing about all of the eulogising that went on about Reagan was that it should come so relatively soon after he left office in 1988. Historical revisionism has become all too commonplace over recent years but the gap seems to be narrowing as to when is an acceptable period has passed before the mythologising can start.One of the most surprising things about the case of Reagan has been how the left has almost seemed to be outdoing the right when it comes to heaping praise on the old war monger. So for example there was New Statesman political editor Mehdi Hasan writing in the Guardian in glowing terms as to how Reagan had ended the cold war, was not a neo-conservative and fought less wars than successors.Tell the women of Greenham Common who opposed Reagan's government siting of nuclear warheads in this country about his peaceful intentions or people in Libya who were bombed by US warplanes flying from British airfields in 1986. And what of the people of Grenada, who woke up one day in 1983 to find their island had been invaded by US troops.In the Catholic sphere also there have been the views of author John O'Sullivan who wrote the President, the Pope and the Prime Minister (2006). O'Sullivan told in a lecture delivered in Kracow how the former President found common cause with Pope John Paul II on disarmament, capitalism and the ethics of liberation theology.Again the approval of Reagan is difficult to sustain. A man who accelarated the arms race to the point where either the Soviet system or the western capitalist one would crash. The recent banking inspired crash coming just two decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall proves just how close run the race was between the two superpowers and the relative economic systems. The far more interesting question, rather than whether Reagan was a peacenik, is what would have happened had there not been an arms race between the superpowers? What would it have meant for world peace and addressing poverty, if so many billions had not been expended on war?The epithet from another left wing paper that Reagan was actually a war criminal holds far greater credence, especially when looking to his record in Latin American and the Iran/ Contra scandal. Reagan came to power at a time of ongoing civil wars in Latin America. Archbishop Oscar Romero had been killed by US backed thugs and the Reagan administration simply upped the amount of backing being given to that brutal right wing government. Similarly in Guatemala the US government backed a government that deployed death squads against its own people.The slaughter was appalling but all fell nicely into the deniability zone for Washington until later years. Then there was Nicaragua where the Sandanistas came to power bringing education and healthcare support to the whole population. This ofcourse did not fit with the American model for Latin America which despite the rhetoric of new frontiers etc saw in reality native populations subjugated by brutal dictators in order to deliver for US owned multinational companies. What happened to Nicaragua was similar to what has happened to Cuba ever since Fidel Castro took power in 1959. The force of the US military and intelligence estate was deployed against them. This action was fuelled by the concern that other countries seeing relative prosperity in neighbouring countries, like Cuba and Nicaragua, would want to emulate them. Not good news for US multinationals.As a result the Reagan administration backed the Contras in Nicaragua against the Sandanista government. There was cross funding of these operations to get round the US Congress funneling arms to Iran to provide funding. What Reagan's administration did would no doubt have led to impeachment in another era. But these were different times with the right wing taking power in American and Britain, dominating the media, academic, economic and political spheres. So the old B movie actor was able to bluff his way through, escaping sanction.The legacy of Reagan lives on with us today with a rampant capitalist economic system and wars raging on an almost constant basis. Despite the recent economic disaster the neo-liberal market model of Reagan and Thatcher based as it is on Gordon Geko's private greed mantra continues to dominate the world. Arms spending continues to spiral upward with Britain and America among the worlds leading arms salesmen. There has never been a world less at peace and more set on the path toward economic and environmental destruction. This is the true legacy of Ronald Reagan.

Church must speak up on trade union rights

The recent strike action taken over government plans to cut public sector pensions brought forth calls from ministers for more legislation restricting trade union activity.
Education secretary Michael Gove echoed sentiments previously voiced by business secretary Vince Cable and London mayor Boris Johnson that a worker’s right to strike may have to be restricted.
Mr Gove claimed public opinion would not be happy with strike action being taken by teachers and others, pointing the way toward more repressive legislation.
This public opinion summoned up by politicians to suit their own political agendas is a curious phenomena. Supposedly in Mr Gove’s case it excludes the 6.5 million members of trade unions in this country. So when does a trade unionist stop being a member of the public?
What public opinion amounts to in this instance is a mythical force dreamt up by politicians to justify their repressive policies on behalf of employers and business – it has no credence at all amongst most of the workforce.
What government ministers constant sabre rattling about restricting strikes does denote is a global effort to cut the power of organised labour or put another way make it easier to exploit people.
In Spain for instance, the decades old rights to collective bargaining have come under threat as the employers representatives suddenly pulled back from signing an agreement. The negotiations had been ongoing since February but following the election of the right wing, the employers sensed a change of atmosphere and moved to block the agreement. Now the government has announced it will legislate to reform collective bargaining.
In Canada, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers are in dispute with Canada Post over staffing and conditions but rather than reach agreement the employers seem set on a path that would see the Conservative government legislate to force the workers back to work.
In the US, there have been the efforts in Wisconsin of Republican Governor Scott Walker to cut pensions, increase health insurance and curtail the collective bargaining rights of workers.
The move brought a vociferous response from public sector workers, taking action that included blockading the governor’s mansion.
In Tennessee, Indianapolis and Ohio there have also been attempts to restrict collective bargaining with different groups of workers.
So it can be seen that governments are making use of that old adage, never waste a good crisis, as they justify attacks on organised labour on the basis of the need to address the deficit.
What the actions of the public sector unions demonstrate is how important it is to resist this onslaught on the common good. Pensions are but the latest thing being cut on the back of the economic crisis. Yet a closer look at many pension schemes will find that most are in surplus, the shock deficit headlines are usually conjured from manipulating figures to the effect that everyone in a scheme will claim their full pension on one day – this is never going to happen.
Then there is the National Pension Fund that is used to fund the state pension. It takes in funds from national insurance contributions and has been billions of pounds in credit for years. The Treasury has borrowed against this money to fund other projects. So the claim that decent pensions cannot be afforded is just bunkum.
The Church must speak out on these matters of worker’s rights. Speaking ahead of her address to the National Justice and Peace Network annual conference (15 to 17 july) TUC deputy general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Catholic teaching recognises that the relationship between an employer and a worker is a fundamentally unequal one and that therefore unions have an important role at work and in society, building solidarity and providing a voice for working people," said Ms O'Grady, who was echoing teaching going back to the papal encyclical Rerum Novarum (1891) that recognised the injustice of a situation where the worker with only his or her labour to sell is pitched against the overwhelming power of the employer. As such the Church has always recognised the right to be a member of a trade union.
In his encyclical, Laborem Excercens (1981), Pope John Paul II stressed that the interest of labour must take precedence over those of capital.
More recently the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (2004) states that unions are “a positive influence for social order and solidarity, and are therefore an indispensible element of social life.” Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols recently indicated that the Church would welcome an approach from the trade unions as part of the ongoing discourse on how it will respond to the Pope’s call for a greater role in the sphere of social responsibility. It must be hoped that this discourse can be established and that the Church will articulate a louder voice on the rights of workers and the importance of the role that trade unions play for the common good of our society.
* For more information on the NJPN conference - Justice at Work see

There are many costs to volunteering

A central element of the Big Society debate has been the role of volunteering in providing services.
One non-religious charity which draws particularly heavily on volunteers is Oxfam, with its highly successful network of bookshops largely run by volunteer staff. It is not unusual for there to be one paid manager running a busy shop, with the rest of the staff being volunteers. If that manager is away the shop will be entirely run by volunteers.
The variety of staff employed by an Oxfam bookshop also nicely illustrates some of the issues around volunteering. First, there is the retired person, living on a reasonable pension, looking for something to do to fill their time. They take on the volunteering job and enjoy the experience.
Next is the person, who cannot find work, they will be receiving a benefit from the state while working a number of hours for Oxfam. Taken to an extreme, this could be seen as the state subsidising Oxfam. Between these two positions come a plethora of situations from students to mums and dads who may want to keep their hands in for a few hours between child minding duties. The looming question ofcourse must be why does a charity devoted to reducing poverty and suffering in the world not feel able to at least pay the minimum wage to those working in its shops? They would no doubt claim lower labour costs in the shops, enables more money to be sent out to poorer people in other parts of the world but is that justified?
Oxfam is not alone in using volunteer labour, many charities use volunteers in their offices. This is often justified on the basis of leading to a full time paid job in the longer term. Beyond the charities there has been the debate about MPs interns. All of these areas offer examples of people volunteering to work for nothing.
Taking this analysis onto the Big Society, another element has to be added. This involves the case of the person put out of work due to cuts but whose role has been taken by a volunteer. This is the most costly form of volunteering because the person put out of the job may now be on benefits. Potentially the volunteer who has replaced them may also be on benefits and volunteering for a set period of time. Then there is the training cost of replacing a skilled worker with a volunteer. This also raises the question of what happens if the volunteer then finds paid employment and leaves.
So the whole question of volunteering is nothing like as simple as it has been portrayed by the proponents of the Big Society. The public relations spin put on this idea is that of the middle class person able to give up a few hours a week to volunteer at their local library or some other public service. The hidden costs are not acknowledged, even for this mythical person with time on their hands there could be unseen impacts on family life.
Volunteering costs, it is not as simple as replacing paid employment with someone who will do it for nothing. The real concern about the Big Society is that it is all about a variant of volunteers replacing paid workers. It does not value the work of those being replaced and seeks only to make savings on public services.
This is not ofcourse to say that volunteering should be banned. Offering to do some worthwhile tasks for the good of society is a laudable aim but it is when volunteering becomes part of some overall scheme to exploit that the problems arise.
It is a very basic right to receive a wage for work done. Not paying a person for their labour costs somewhere along the line, whether it’s the Oxfam shop or the volunteer run library.

Discrimination against the travelling community inside and outside prison

The Coalition Government’s retrograde approach to the travelling community appears set to continue with the eviction of 100 families at Dale Farm in Essex
Dale Farm nicely illustrates the countrywide problem of lack of site provision, with Basildon Borough Council having been trying to remove the families for years.
Now, the council has court approval for the eviction. And at these alleged cash strapped times for government, the council has been granted £5.85 million to cover policing (£4.65 million) and the cost of the eviction (£1.2 million).
The immediate thought has to be would not such a large amount of money be better spent on buying appropriate land where the travellers could settle? Surely nearly £6 million would have bought enough land to not only cater for the Dale farm families but a sizeable number of the rest of the travelling community in the UK.
Instead, the government and local council seem to think it a much better idea to throw the families off the land, disrupting their lives and putting the educational futures of their children at stake.
The problem of lack of sites for the travelling community was being addressed by the last government which put an obligation on local councils to identify areas for sites. This policy has been abandoned by the Coalition Government which has sought to return to the simple criminal justice approach, constantly moving the travelling community on from one place to another.
The effects of criminalising travellers has been highlighted in an excellent report from the Irish Chaplaincy titled Voices Unheard. The research conducted in prisons over the past year found that around 1 per cent of the prison population is made up of Irish Travellers (IT). This amounts to between 2.5 and 4 per cent of the minority ethnic population in prison. The cost of holding these prisoners works out at between £23 and £38 million a year.
Some 51.7 per cent of IT were in prison for crimes relating to the unlawful obtaining of property while burglary accounted for 36.4 per cent.
Once in prison, travellers feel even more discriminated against than on the outside. The whole prison system can appear like a hostile environment. Report author Conn MacGabhann found it difficult initially to get members of the travelling community to come forward and speak out. It was safer to remain anonymous.
One of the real problems discovered was how the lack of literacy among travellers stopped them getting onto courses to learn a trade. It also makes doing those courses regarded as important to show a prisoner is trying to improve him or herself more difficult. Prisons largely run on paper and if the prisoner lacks those basic literacy skills it makes navigating a way around the system even more of a problem. This adds to the isolation.
It was found that 26.1 per cent of IT prisoners had one or more mental illnesses, a figure that rose to 64.7 per cent in the case of female prisoners.
The Prison Service seems to have been blissfully unaware of the situation regarding IT prisoners, not conducting any monitoring of the prison population.
This has not helpedl, so it must be hoped that the recommendation from the Irish Chaplaincy for proper monitoring of the traveller population is taken up. Other recommendations from the report include that when there are five or more IT prisoners in custody then regular meetings of a prisoner group should be facilitated; there should be a traveller representative to help with reception, induction, monitoring and delivery of services and there should be cultural awareness, equality and diversity training for prison staff.
So it would seem, the attitudes being displayed toward the travelling community, as exemplified by the situation at Dale Farm, are being replicated in the prisons. How many more IT prisoners will there be for instance as a result of the eviction process at Dale Farm?
There has been some real progress made on travellers issues over recent years, with moves to recognise what the culture is all about. The effort to provide sites was also welcome as it sought to redress a position in the country made worse by the repeal of the Caravans Act in 1994. The Caravans Act had put an obligation on local councils to provide sites but this was repealed under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act passed by the Conservative Government. The policies of the present government seem in line with the past Conservative administrations.
The attitude toward the travelling community is truly one of back to the future. What is needed is for a greater tolerance to be shown toward these peoples. Lack of funding is no excuse, given the amount of money that is apparently easily available for evictions.
The sites should be provided as previously planned and the moves continued toward addressing the real issues of discrimination identified in the Irish Chaplaincy report on prisons. Returning to the failed and expensive public order approach is simply no answer, building more problems that often finish up being played out in the prison system.

Growing cult of militarism should cause concern

There has been a growing militarisation of British society over the past decade, with soldiers increasingly viewed as some higher form of life.
This militarisation takes many forms. Pax Christi recently drew attention to the visits made to thousands of schools each year. The Ministry of Defence (MOD) admits that the visits are “a powerful tool for facilitating recruitment.”
The excellent organisation Forceswatch pointed out that the army visited 40 per cent of London schools from September 2008 to April 2009, with a disproportionate number of visits to the most disadvantaged areas.
The government has suggested an expansion of cadet forces within schools to encourage the military “spirit” and that ex-soldiers mentor youngsters.
Another sign of the growing profile of the military in society is the charity Help for Heroes. The charity has raised millions of pounds to help out those soldiers returning home wounded from the various conflicts where British troops are deployed. It has high profile support from the Royal, sport, media and dramatic spheres. It does good work and receives incredible levels of publicity but never asks the question why it has to exist?
Why is a charity like Help for Heroes having to provide money to support returning wounded personnel? This is an MOD responsibility, the government sent the soldiers into these conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Something else Help for Heroes does not ask is why are British forces in Afghanistan, Iraq and what of the expanding mission in Libya?
The attitude to Help for Heroes reflects an almost psychic numbing among the public. They see the tragedy of returning wounded military personnel and dig deep to give to a charity that helps out. The charity has laudable aims so receives massive media exposure but why are the questions of justice not being asked, namely why are the troops deployed and being damaged in this way?
At other levels there seems to be an increasing profile for the military in society. The number of times attending football matches and other sporting events there seems to be a special day for the armed forces. So the pitch will be surrounded by marching soldiers before the kick off of a match. There will be a collection for Help for Heroes.
Then there is armed forces day, which seems like a general fest to celebrate an increasingly militaristic culture.
All of these elements are factors in the growing profile of the military in society. The heroic image is reflected in a belief if something needs doing properly then the military are the ones to call into to do it. Former Prime Minister Tony Blair was believed to have a particularly liking for the can do attitude of the military.
A closer look ofcourse at the militaries record over recent decades would ofcourse suggest a somewhat patchwork record. The Northern Ireland conflict, Iraq and Afghanistan can hardly be called overidding successes, indeed many would argue the very opposite. Though in defence of the military, in most of these recent conflicts it has never been set out exactly what the objectives were supposed to be.
Any criticism of the military is generally a taboo in the British media. It is rare for the British army to be criticised for its actions at home or abroad and there is always ready media access given for any soldier who wants to voice his or her opinions regarding equipment shortages.
Once committed to a conflict overseas, any criticism of our boys – who are afterall killing foreign people in their countries in the name of Britain – is considered in terms of betrayal.
The rising cult of militarism could become a dangerous thing. The effects of the myth that if you want something done give it to the military can be seen increasingly in society. Indeed, the government is pushing at an open door with many schools on the subject of military involvement. It is worrying that some schools, particularly in the Catholic sector, seem to be so popular with parents not because of the holistic education they offer but the military style discipline. Some parents it seems would like nothing better than to send their children to military academies.
The politicians too seem to be recognising the danger of the rise of the cult of militarism. It was notable that the Prime Minister seemed to have had enough recently when he exasperatingly suggested that the military chiefs got on with the fighting and left the talking to him.
The politicians no doubt see the danger of the military man or woman being built into some sort of mythical creature who gets things done. Following this construct to the logical conclusion results in the military in the end taking over totally, as has happened in many countries around the world.
Whilst today this country is a long way away from such a scenario, the continued erosion of civil society combined with some of the potential major crisis of the next few years could make it a far more likely happening in the future.
So in that respect the efforts of Mr Cameron to slap down the military chiefs should be welcomed.
People need to open their eyes to what the military are all about and not simply go dewy eyed at the sight of a soldier in uniform. The military deserve support but they are not perfect and must be made accountable for their every action like any other public servant.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Living sustainably in east London

The sight of Aileen and Michael Brownlee's house in St Marys Avenue, Wanstead is striking, not due to its architectural elegance but the presence of solar panels and photovoltaic tiles on the roof.The Brownlees had the system fitted 18 months ago as part of an ongoing effort to live in a more sustainable less carbon heavy way. As a result of having the system fitted, last year the Brownlees were able to live totally off the energy generated from the roof for six months of the year. Hot water from the boiler was supplied by the solar panels while electricity from the photovoltaic tiles powered the house during the day. The excess electricity generated goes back into the grid at an advantageous rate of return. This has meant that there has already been a substantial payback as a microgenerator of energy. Michael had the system fitted because it is the right thing to do but for those counting the pennies this type of system also makes sense. Energy costs are already rocketing upward so the system will pay back more rapidly as time goes by. "Supermarkets should be having these tiles on their roofs, then they could power the shop totally, not to make money out of the tariffs being paid by government but in order to stop destroying the planet," said Michael, who believes that no new construction should be being built now without some sort of sustainable energy system as part of it. "There has been lots of interest from people walking down the road, knocking on the door and asking about the system. Some have gone on and got it themselves," said Michael, who believe such renewable energy systems are a crucial way of getting away from reliance on the ever decreasing oil supplies in the world.Michael recalled that the first thing the family did was to grow their own vegetables in the back garden. "This started in basic fashion but has now advanced to seven raised beds and a small pollytunnel," said Michael, who recalls that last summer they did not have a meal that did not include something that had been grown in the garden. The most recent addition to the growing complex is an imposing greenhouse that will ensure that plants can be brought on ahead of time, without having to rely on the ever fluctuating climate outside. Composting waste material for garden use has also taken off in St Marys Avenue, resulting in the Brownlees now putting out just one black sack of waste rubbish a week compared to the previous three or four they regularly used to do. "I've also taken a decision not to use air travel," said Michael, who runs his ship broking business in partnership with his two sons Dominic and Ben. "I won't deny I have done a lot of air travel in the past but it is unsustainable. We have reached the point where oil productiion has peaked and it will be all downhill as far as oil supply is concerned from here on in. Peak oil has happened, I talk to the guys in the industry, they all acknowledge it now. In a very short period of time we are going to be back to village economics again. People need to realise this and learn to live with the consequences, too many remain in denial," said Michael, who is also trying to drive less and walk more. "My intention is not to buy another petrol car but get an electric one, when there is a bit more choice and the price becomes more sensible," said Michael, who will then be able to supply the car by way of a charger with elecricity generated from the photovoltaic tiles on the roof. The next project for the Brownlees is to plant some English apple trees at the bottom of the garden. "You can buy a tree that will give you apples from September. These things are available. They may not produce pristine perfectly round fruits of the type that the supermarkets crave but there is great flavour. It is important to keep these heritage things going," said Michael, who always makes the effort to buy British products, ideally sourced locally.He would also like to have chickens, though this may depend on the fox population in the area.. "A neighbour keeps bees, so we get honey from him," said Michael, who believes a barter type system is one thing that the local Wanstead Transition Initiative could encourage. So people who grow vegetables, either at home or on their allotments, could exchange with others. Somone might swap potatoes for carrots or apples. "If you explain to people, they will come round," said Michael. The Brownlees support the idea of the transition communities, believing that the concept of the more resilient less oil dependent community will be essential to develop for the future. "We all have to get things going ourselves, it is no good waiting for governments or corporations to act. Some people are no doubt in complete denial about what is happening to the world but you cannot opt out we all need to pull together in community," said Michael. * For more information on theWanstead Transition Initiative see: