Walk 4 Mayfair

This is the 4th in my series of London walks from my 1980s London guidebook. This walk took me around Mayfair. 30 years later I did this walk on 17/2/2018, this is what I found…

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Above: Walk 4 in the 1980s AA London guidebook. Mayfair.

Te walk commends in Piccadilly. According to the guide book the famous London thoroughfare takes its name from a form of 17th century ruff or collar called ‘piccadil.’ From here the walk took me to Burlington Arcade and Bond Street

Above Burlington House and Arcade 

Little has changed of this area of London in 30 years. Elegant Clothing and jewellery shops with fairly expensive price tags.

IMG_6979Above: This bronze statue of FDR sitting on a park bench with Churchill was unveiled in 1995 on Bond Street.

The walk then took me to Berkeley Square. According to the guide book ‘most of the Georgian houses which stood here have been demolished, but some survive on the westside, including Number 45 Which was the home of Clive of India.

Above, Berkeley Square and Clive of India’s house. 

Next the walking tour takes me to Charles Street, full of 18th century houses. The Iconic ‘I am the only Running Footman’ pub is on this street.

Above: The Footman pub and Charles Street.

The walk then took me through Shepherd Market through to South Audley Street.

Above: Number 1 South Audley Street.

Above: South Audley Street. Right Mayfair Hotel.

The tour then took me the US Embassy. In early 2018 this embassy has moved from its long standing home in Grosvenor Square to Vauxhall. President Trump believes this move is to a lousy location and described it as the “Bush Obama.” Grosvenor Square now has a statue of Ronald Reagan in front of the old embassy building, Reagan was President at the time of the guidebooks publication. It also has the London memorial to the September 11 terrorism attacks of 2001.

Above Grosvenor Square: Ronald Reagan, Franklin D Roosevelt and the September 11 Memorial. 

Next the walk took me to Brook Street past Claridges.

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Above Claridges.

Of Brook Street the guide book also noted that “The 18th century composer Handel lived at number 25 for over thirty years.” It also mentioned that Handel wrote most of his works at this address. However Handel was not the only notable resident at this address…

Above: Number 25 Brook Street has now been turned into a Museum. The former residence of Jimmy Hendrix and Handel. The Handel museum has been open for a few years, the Hendrix floor was opened up in 2017. In the 1980s they just had a blue sign on the door, and only for Handel. 

After a spending a bit of time at the Handel and Hendrix residence, I continued the walk onto Hanover Square.

Above William Pitt and Hanover Square

The walk them took me down Savile Row and Albany court through to Regent Street, described by the guide book as “one of the finest shopping streets in the world, at the expense of some of the greatest architecture”

Above: Regent Street.

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English council elections

I’ve refrained thus far from commenting too much on here about English politics. Having moved to the country in September I felt it appropriate to sit back and observe for a bit. But having just gone through and voted in the recent council elections I have a few observations.

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Above: Map of the 2014 London Council election results.

Firstly unlike New Zealand, in the UK councils are very much more party political. So councils have Labour, Conservative or Lib Dem majorities. This is a refreshing change from New Zealand. There you get 10 candidates tell you how much they love Upper Hutt, and if you’re lucky their opinion on fluoride in the drinking water. Ultimately you have no idea what these candidates stand for, and many just don’t bother voting as a result.

The downside to Party Political council elections is that the media interest is primarily what the impact of local council elections on national politics. This has included projections for how many seats each party would get in the house on commons based on these results, despite the fact that not all councils were up for re-election. More importantly, while some will be voting on party lines, many others are likely to vote on local issues. Someones vote in council elections may not reflect how they would vote in a general election.

Many are saying that Labour did not perform as well as expected in the council elections, both in London and Nationally. Some are now saying that the country has reached “peak Corbyn.”  Ex spin doctor for Tony Blair Alastair Campbell believes Labour are “a long way from power” (though of course Campbell is still struggling with the fact that its no longer 1997 and his era of politics is long gone).

The response to this by Labour and Momentum has been that they actually had a successful election. The counter argument is that this was best election result for Labour in England since 1971. The issue was that target councils such as Chelsea and Kensington were held by the Conservatives despite that councils handling of the Grenfell Tower fire. Polls earlier in the year did show a Conservative loss in Chelsea and Kensington was possible. Labour and specifically Momentum talked up the prospect of Labour winning this council, along with Westminster and Wandsworth. The reality is these councils have been Tory strong holds since the 1960s, so building expectations that Labour could win there was optimistic. Also the Conservatives clearly campaigned hard to retain this and neighbouring Westminster Council.

The other factor is the First Past the Post voting system. In Wandsworth Labour won slightly more votes than the Conservatives, but the Conservatives retained control of that council. In Richmond the Liberal Democrats won over 70% of seats with fewer than half the votes. Apart from the Electoral Reform Society there has been little comment about this. A better electoral system would help achieve better representation and results that actually reflect the will of the people. Hopefully this changes for future elections.

I know a few people who ran in these elections, from various Parties. To those who were successful, congratulations. To those who were unsuccessful, well done for putting yourself forward. Local Government serves an important role in our communities, its important that people get involved.

Radical Socialism

In an earlier post I wrote about my expulsion and later re-joining of the New Zealand Labour Party. I’ve also written about ideology and some of the limitations this can cause. I have experience of this, as in the years following me leaving Labour, I became active in the radical socialist movement.

So to put this into context, in 2002-03 the Iraq war resulted in a global mass movement built. At this time I was elected to the student executive (a subject for a future post) and was also becoming a union delegate on the cleaning site I was working on. The late 1990s anti globalisation movement had lost some of its initial steam, but anti capitalist and certainly anti neo liberal politics and ideas were still being discussed at university. To me and many of my friends at the time, the third way Labour Government was on the wrong side of these issues, and something more radical was needed.

I first became aware of the Anti Capitalist Alliance in 2002, shortly after it formed. It was a coalition of a couple of other smaller socialist groups, and ran a couple of candidates in that years NZ general election. The grouping had a 5 point platform:

The five-point policy platform of the Workers Party is as follows:

  1. Opposition to all New Zealand and Western intervention in the Third World and all Western military alliances.
  2. Secure jobs for all with a living wage and a shorter working week.
  3. For the unrestricted right of workers to organise and take industrial action and no limits on workers’ freedom of speech and activity.
  4. For working class unity and solidarity – equality for women, Maori and other ethnic minorities and people of all sexual orientations and identities; open borders and full rights for migrant workers.
  5. For a working people’s republic

After a few months of flatting with one of its members (who in 2003 arrested at a Wellington anti war protest for throwing his lunch at Australian PM John Howard), I eventually joined the group.

I became a regular contributor to the organisations paper The Spark writing about my time as a cleaner and various critiques of the government such as this one demanding equality for same sex couples during the 2004 Civil Union debate. This also meant many cold Saturday mornings selling the paper on the streets of Wellington and Porirua (often hungover).

In 2004 I ran for Mayor of Upper Hutt against incumbent Wayne Guppy. And in 2007 I was one of a number of candidates to run unsuccessfully against Mayor Kerry Prendergast.

By 2008 the Anti Capitalist Alliance had changed its name to the Workers Party, a somewhat generous description of the tiny socialist group. It gained 500 signatures allowing it to appear on the ballot nationally in the 2008 general election (NZ has Proportional Representation, thus party’s with over 500 members can run as a party on the national ballot as well as standing local candidates).

The ideological debates within the groups were about Trotskyism verses Maoism, and peoples assessments over Russia and China. These historical debates always interested me, but I generally entered them usually to wind others up rather than seeing them as the pressing issue of the day. Other debates such as whether New Zealand was a junior imperialist state or a semi colony of the US was more somewhat more interesting, as it was assessing the current state of the NZ economy. I also enjoyed studying volume 2 of Karl Marx’s capital addressing the Tendency of the rate of profit to fall, a theory that many economists on the left and the right of the political spectrum believe explains why the post war boom and subsequent neo liberal policies were implemented from the late 1970s onwards.

On the issue of revolution verses reform, or working within the parliamentary established structures or outside of them was always a big questions. While my time in Labour and subsequent views leaned me heavily towards creating change outside of parliament, looking back I wasn’t consistent on this. For most of my time in radical socialist groups I was an elected student representative, working within the university structures to achieve change. Later I was elected a union president and representative. While both involved encouraging members to become active and pressure for change, both roles also involved working within the system. I later realised the revolution/reform, working inside or outside the system dichotomy was a false and limiting one.

Eventually the inevitable happened with small socialist groups, and those who have seen the Life of Brian know how this goes down. My then girlfriend (soon to be ex) and I ended up leaving the group in 2009. A rather long polemic ghost written by me was issued by Jasmine, you can read it here, but I don’t recommend it. The organisation became dysfunctional, and I certainly don’t claim to have been totally in the right. In the end it was a group built on 19th century ideology, and unsurprisingly this didn’t work out. The group disappears not long after I left.

The global financial crisis of 2008 was I think the end of it for me. Capitalism had ended up in another crisis due to its own inherent flaws. The free market that had been trumpeted as the ideological way by the right had to be abandoned as governments bailed out the banks. Yet left and socialists politics went into decline rather than growth after this crisis. Yes the banks and markets had failed. But socialist idea’s, while perhaps providing some useful analysis did not have much to offer during this.

So I was a radical socialist. Do I regret it? It was an experience I learnt from, so why would I regret it. By taking part in radical politics many dismiss you as a nutter, and years later some still view me in this light. This is disappointing. Yes some of the positions I took at the time were (literally) out of left field. But sometimes radical or out there ideas can be right. Blindly following ideology is limiting, but so is totally dismissing someone who has these ideas and everything they say as “nuts.”

 

Walk 3 St James

The third in this series of London walks using a 1980s AA guide book takes us to St James. So Trafalgar Square, Pall Mall and all that stuff. Its rather good.

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Above: Walk 3 St James, Done February 11 2018

The walk commences in Trafalgar Square, outside the National Gallery.

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Above: Statue of George Washington outside the National Gallery. 

Then around the block past the National Portrait Gallery to Leicester Square. The Guide book says a ‘Statue of of Shakespeare in the centre.’ Also ‘Cinemas abound in this area.’ Probably fewer cinema’s 30 years on, but this is still the place to get cheap tickets to shows.

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Above: Shakespeare, allegedly didn’t write all of his plays.

Following this the tour took me past New Zealand House in Haymarket and down Pall Mall. Eventually I ended up at the Duke of York’s Column – the geeza marched his 10,000 men up the hill and down again. The guide informs me that these same men had to pay for his memorial.

Above: Top left  – NZ House, Top right and bottom – The Duke of York Column.

The tour then took me past Carlton House Terrace, a collection of nice 17th century houses.

Above: Carlton House Terrace and surrounds.

The tour then took me to Jermyn Street. I had recently purchased some shirts in Canery Wharf which said were from Jermyn Street. I was pleased to wander around and window browse the area. Some great old shops and interesting old church in the Street.

Above: Jermyn Street.

Above: Piccadilly Arcade off Jermyn Street.

Next I headed down St James Street. According to the 1980s guide book “many of the best known gentlemen’s clubs in London are situated in this genteel street.” I did not enter any ‘gentlemen’s clubs’, especially after recent controversies. In stead I continued down to the Stable Yard.

Above: Left – St James Street, Centre Left – Berry Bros and Rudd, wine merchants, Centre right – St James Palace, Right – Cleveland Row.

After this my 1980s guide wanted to take me to the Stable Yard, the system of interlocking courts between St James Palace, Lancaster House and at the time of publication the Queen Mothers residence Clarence House. On attempting to take this route I was greeted by a polite but serious looking police officer holding a semi-automatic weapon. I showed him my guide book and he did a wee smile and said “yes you used to be able to walk through here, but not anymore.” Given this I elected to deviate from the guide books recommended tour and took another entrance to St James Park.

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Above: To the right of the stop sign was the police officer.

Above: St James Park

Following a nice walk through St James Park, I proceeded onto the Banqueting Hall which is part of the old Palace of Whitehall.

Above: Top Left – Whitehall, with a London Eye peeping out the top (not there in 1987), Top right and bottom left – A man on a horse, Right centre and bottom: The Banqueting Hall.

Finally the Walk 3 Tour concluded back at Trafalgar Square.

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Above: The Admiralty Arch separating Trafalgar Square from The Mall.  

Hope – A powerful but dangerous tool.

Hope is one of the most galvanising and powerful emotions. It is the thing that has driven some of our greatest achievements as a species. It has kept people alive in times of despair and sorrow. It has driven movements for social change, such as the abolition of slavery or civil rights movement. Hope is essential. Without it humanity cannot move forward.

But when hope is lost, it can be utterly devastating. Worse it can result in other powerful emotions, ones that drive people not to do good, but ill.

Its now a decade since the rise of Barack Obama in the 2008 US Presidential Primary. After 8 years of the Bush administration, American liberals and much of the world were very cynical about the US politics. At the start of the presidential primary, the likely Democrat nominee was Hilary Clinton, who like her husband Bill was seen as Republic Lite. Chicago Lawyer and Senator Barack Obama surprised many in the political class through his upset victory in the primary.

Obama offered hope. He ran on a platform of improving health care, closing Guantanamo Bay, improving labour (labor in the US) rights and being a genuinely reformist president. The first since the Reagan years. In short, Obama offered hope to the poorest, disenfranchised and alienated sectors of American society who’d been ignored for decades.

When elected president later that year, the Democratic Party also held majorities in both houses. He was the first Democrat President to achieve this in over half a century. This wasn’t to last long.

Weeks into his presidency the financial crises was really starting to bite. Banks, having been bailed out by the US government, proceeded to pay their executives bonuses and foreclose on working people who couldn’t pay their mortgages. Meanwhile Obama’s economic team was packed with Wall Street insiders.

His big achievement in his first term, and in fact his presidency was healthcare. He did more than any other president to pursue this cause. However the Republicans fought him every step of the way. The end product was very much a compromised Obama Care package, which low to middle income Americans had to pay the cost of.

For most of Obama’s time in office he faced a hostile Republican Party who from 2010 had a majority in Congress and eventually also in the Senate. However early in his presidency he didn’t help himself. One of Obama’s criticisms of the previous Bush administration, was the way it tried to force Congress and Senate to support the Presidents legislation. During the health care reforms in 2009, Obama at first tried to find a compromise with Republicans, and wanted to respect the independent powers of both houses. Very noble. Politically inept. The Bush administration knew how to drive a policy agenda, and used this to full advantage after 9/11. By contrast Obama’s respect for the constitution, gave Republicans space have a go.

I regard Obama as the best US President in my lifetime (I was born in the 80s during the Reagan era). On Gun Control for example I think he did the best he could. He was ultimately a disappointing President. Obama promised hope, and intended to deliver that through the US political system. The problem is, that system is flawed. He gave people hope in a political system which couldn’t deliver on the promise.

We all know what happened next. Hope turned to Anger. Donald Trump’s call to drain the Swamp in Washington resonated. Both Democrat Bernie Sanders and Republican Trump surprised commentators by their rise in support. Both talked of a broken political system, a message that clearly resonated with large sections of the American public.

America isn’t the only country where people have been offered hope, only to be bitterly disappointed. This little ditty about Nick Clegg, former Liberal Democrat leader in the UK shows similar frustration in a politician who in 2010 had given many hope for change. Recent Italian elections saw the crushing defeat of the Democratic Party, who only a few years earlier had won on a promise of hope.

The reality is that hope is a very powerful tool to use on an election campaign. Nothing motivates people to head to the ballot box like the hope that their lives may get better. But nothing will turn people off politics more than having this hope dashed. Worse it can drive people to the politics of anger and hate, which sadly the world is seeing more and more of.

In politics, and life generally people should be offered hope. But this hope needs to be real. If you give people hope in something, you need to be able to see it through. Giving people hope, only to disappoint later is a cruel, damaging and irresponsible. To give people hope and then deliver, is by contrast one of the most positive and powerful things you can do as human.

Walk 2: Buckingham Palace and Westminster Cathedral

This is the second in my series of walks out of my 1980s AA guidebook to London.

I did the second walk on 19 January 2018, a cold but sunny winter day in London. The theme for this walk is Monarch and Religion.

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This walk commenced the Queens inner city residence, Buckingham Palace. Neither she nor Phil invited in for a cuppa (very rude). I was able to walk past and see the Royal Mews where the queens carriage and horses are kept.

Above: The Royal Mews

Next to this was the Queens Gallery. I had a quick look in the gift shop

Above: Items in the gift shop at the Queens Gallery. The style didn’t quite fit the decor of my London place. 

After walking down the Birdcage Walk, leading me to the Wellington Barracks. The Chapel and museum were closed to the public that day, so I took a photo and moved along.

Above: Wellington Barracks

After this my 1980s guide book sent me to Queen Anne’s Gate, a ‘quite close built in 1704. Lord Palmerston used to live at number 20, and Lord Haldane at number 28. Queen Anne has a statue outside number 13.

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Above: Anne outside number 13.

After this we head to Broadway. Not quite the glitz and glamour of the New York version, somewhat more utilitarian and functional. The main site here is the 1920s built London Transport Headquarters.

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Above: London Transport HQ. In 2015 London Underground were due to vacate the building and move the Headquarters to the Olympic Park in Stratford. The building was to be converted into city apartments, but Transport for London still occupy the space and the planning permission to convert to housing expires this year. Watch this space. 

The next stop on walk 2 was Caxton Hall, a former registry office, and was once the most fashionable venue for out of church weddings.

Above: Caxton Hall – fancy registry office.

Further down Caxton Road is the former site of he Blewcoat school. Since 1987 when the guide book was published, the building was refurbished and is now a clothing store.

Above: Blewcoat School

After this, the 1987 guide book suggested I stop at the Albert Tavern. Well its still there so who was I to argue…

Above: The Albert Tavern had their own Bitter, pretty nice drop too. 

Then I realised I had skipped a bit. Grey Coat Hospital, a charity school founded in 1698

Above: Grey Coat Hospital 

The final leg of the tour took me through the inner London streets on the way to the final stop.

Above: The streets of London

Final stop, Westminster Cathedral. Catholic Church built between 1895 and 1903 in the Byzantine-style. It certainly stands out, and is very different to other Cathedrals you see in the British Isles.

Above: Westminster Cathedral. Also me inside a church, a very rare occurrence.

Walk number 2 started with monarch and finished with religion. Neither have changed much since the 1980s guide book was published. I guess both are conservative institutions that rarely change, even if they should.

Driverless cars

The pace of technological development has increased phenomenally over the last century. In the 35 years I’ve been on the planet there have been huge changes. I recall at primary school in 1991 being excited that our class had a computer, a commodore 64. In 2018 most of us have a smart phones that have 1000 times more memory, and have functions we wouldn’t have dreamt of back in the early 1990s.

Driverless cars are the latest technological development people are excited about. Its amazing to think that we now have the ability to build cars that drive themselves. Further we are quickly moving into an era where many previous manual tasks can be automated. Everything from barista’s to factory workers are seeing machines able to do what humans can.

This is exciting, but also frankly terrifying. Not only because of all the dystopian science fiction novels where machines take over and wreck havoc. But socially, economically and in terms of human society there a whole bunch of serious considerations when we look at automation.

At the risk of being accused of being a luddite, a killjoy or even a cynic, I question the rationale of prioritising the development of automation of people’s jobs. I get that driverless cars reduces labour costs for business. But when driverless cars threaten 25,000 jobs a month in the US, what will the impact be on society. Even for businesses who make short term gains from this sort of automation, will significant increases in unemployment and corresponding drop in disposable income really benefit many firms in the medium to long term?

Further, at a time when we face a serious environmental disaster in the face of human caused climate change, why are we prioritising driverless cars over zero emission vehicles? Why are our lawmakers having to put their energy into thinking about how the economy will survive automation, when we are yet to solve the fact that our future survival as a species is under threat from carbon emissions?

The issue is two fold. One is that business, especially post 2008 financial crisis focus on making efficiencies to maintain or improve profit. Some are thinking bigger picture but many aren’t. So they invest in technology that fixes the immediate problem, rather than consider the issues down the road. Those who work in research and development are generally at the mercy of their funders. They focus on what they are paid to, regardless of the wider consequences.

The Second issue is the silo’s that exist between the innovators, business, law makers and those concerned with social issues. What should happen is an economic plan that looks at the major issues facing the economy as a whole, then funding research and development in areas that would help solve these. This happens to an extent, but more could be done to invest in things like zero emission technology. Government has a leadership role to play here. As I mentioned in my post about the Housing Crisis, politics is captured by electoral cycles. Long term strategic thinking is often not a good re-election strategy (though be nice to see it tried sometime).

To conclude, I’m not against driverless cars or other forms of automation. But we need a society where there is full employment. If we put the livelihoods of millions at risk by developing new technology without creating alternative jobs, the negatives far outweigh the positives of this development.