Saturday, 13 December 2014

A Tropical Earthquake

Voters in the Republic of Mauritius went to the polls earlier this week to vote in the tenth General Elections following independence in 1968.  There was a lot at stake.  The governing Labour Party led by Dr Navin Ramgoolam sought to become only the third Prime Minister of Mauritius to secure three consecutive election victories, something first achieved by his father almost forty years earlier.  More significantly, huge constitutional changes were on the table which potentially would have led to the creation of a second Republic.

Mauritius has had a President since becoming a Republic in March 1992, a role which had largely been ceremonial and was a position appointed by the serving Prime Minister.  In many ways it was a role like a Monarch in many other countries,  with duties confined to receiving guests and dignitaries during official State visits.  Ramgoolam proposed fundamental changes to the role which would have included more powers, immunity from prosecution and critically would have resulted in the President being directly elected by the Mauritian electorate with a seven-year term of office.

Opinion polls and most people on the island that I had spoken to since my arrival at the end of November suggested that Ramgoolam was on course to secure a comfortable victory.  However, as results begun trickling through on Thursday lunchtime, it was soon becoming apparent that a stunning upset could be on the cards.  One by one, declarations showed that an Alliance led by Sir Anerood Jugnauth's Militant Socialist Movement (MSM) were securing emphatic victories across Mauritius.  By mid-afternoon it was clear that Jugnauth would indeed be forming the next Government of Mauritius and that ambitious changes to the Republic's constitution had been overwhelmingly rejected by Mauritian voters.  Jugnauth's Alliance had won 47 of the Parliament's 60 seats- a landslide of earthquake proportions.

Yet an even bigger story was brewing, one that even two days after the results were announced leaves most Mauritian's still scratching their heads in disbelief.  Late afternoon on Thursday, reports began emerging that Ramgoolam was in danger of losing his Parliamentary Seat of Pamplemousses and Triolet- one of the safest seats for the Labour Party in Mauritius.  Initially it appeared that Ramgoolam had hung on but by early evening it was clear that the Prime Minister was in severe danger and facing a crisis of monumental proportions.  Confirmation finally arrived at dawn on Friday that the defeated Prime Minister had lost his seat by almost 3,500 votes: a huge margin.

I have attempted to relay the significance of the events to friends and family back in the UK, highlighting the landslide of 1997 as being comparable to the verdict of Mauritian voters this week.  But even this example does not truly illustrate the devastating nature of the result since despite the Labour Party's huge 179 seat majority in the British Parliament, they were never able to unseat the outgoing British Prime Minister John Major who held on in Huntingdon.  These are "safe seats" and it is unthinkable that a Prime Minister can lose his own Parliamentary seat.

Astonishingly this is not the first time that such a dramatic punitive act has been dished out by Mauritian voters.  Back in 1982, Jugnauth ended the political career of Ramgoolam's father, Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, with an unprecedented "whitewash" as the Government were swept from power securing no seats in the new Parliament.  The election is referenced as the "60-0" and was the last time a Mauritian Prime Minister was unceremoniously evicted from his own Parliamentary seat.  The irony has not been lost on many since the Ramgoolam family must collectively be sick of the sight of Jugnauth due to this being the second time such a historic outcome has been secured by a party led by him.

I have been disappointed that the news from Mauritius has not received wider international media attention, with little reports on the events so far.  It is true that Mauritius is a relatively small nation, but this was not a routine election and the ramifications of the week's events will be felt for many years to come.  Prior to publishing this post I checked the BBC's website to establish if the story had finally made its African news section.  I am incredibly surprised to learn that some 48 hours later, the story has still not been circulated on the platform.

As political earthquakes go, this is one of the biggest I have ever experienced.  I was too young to personally witness Ramgoolam Snr losing his Parliamentary Seat.  I did however watch live on BBC Television as the outgoing Defence Minister Michael Portillo lost his seat at the 1997 British General Election.  Up until now I would say it was the most historical political event I had ever witnessed although for me personally, the events of 48 hours ago eclipse that moment.  Mauritius has decided and I had a front-row seat to witness a very tropical earthquake.  Watching the declaration at Triolet will be something which will stay with me for the rest of my life.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Why Do We Tolerate Mental Health Services Reaching Crisis Point?

My trip to Mauritius in 2010 was an adventure like no other and undoubtedly one of the most pleasurable experiences of my life.  A three-week break which coincided with the Mauritian & UK General Elections and included my notorious ten-day long 30th birthday party.  Yet it was a conversation with my dad on the eve of the British General Election that was almost certainly to provide the most treasured of memories.

Here we were: sitting on a balcony overlooking Grand Baie, accompanied by a bottle of mineral water which he had filled with coconut water that had been mixed with Goodwills Rum; our conversations drifted and eventually arrived onto the subject of his two late brothers- Alex and Claude.  My two uncles, practically unspoken about within the family circles, mythical creatures I had heard snippets about from time to time.  They had both committed suicide.

I adopted Alex as my middle-name in my early-teens despite knowing so little about him.  I was fascinated as my dad began filling in the vast gaps, a picture painted of two individuals that I bore an uncanny resemblance to.  Alex would take my dad to the West-End clubs and was always the life and soul of any party.  Claude was quieter but intelligent and ultra-aware of the world around him, whose ambition and focus would mean he was always setting himself targets and deadlines in life.  It was a surreal conversation: hearing about two uncles I didn’t know but somehow had cloned in terms of my characteristics.  I can still picture my dad smiling at the end of the conversation; he appreciated the irony of how things had turned out too.  The spirit of two tragic souls had somehow found an outlet in me.

Claude had taken his life long before I was born while Alex died when I was two.  Alex collected the rent on behalf of his flatmates to pay the landlord where he lived.  He had his eyes opened to gambling by my dad who introduced him to the world of horseracing.  Alex developed a taste for his newfound pastime and enjoyed some good days and bad days, but there were no obvious signs that he was in any danger.  One day Alex lost more than he could afford to lose and made a calamitous decision to use the money he had collected on behalf of his landlord to try and win the money back.  He lost that money too, was too embarrassed to tell anyone so electrocuted himself.  This became a Lebrasse family folk tale with the moral of the story being that ‘you never ever gambled’.

What was essentially a very simplistic explanation about something enormously complicated was further compounded by the fact that me and nearly all my cousins attended catholic schools as children, where such naked indoctrination knew no boundaries.  Life was deemed sacred and people who committed suicide were almost certainly doomed to burning in hell for undertaking an act they had no right to sanction.  By my mid-teens I had a very narrow grasp of suicide and a profound lack of understanding which led to me viewing suicidal people with contempt.  Shameless attention seekers who wreaked untold grief upon the people they left behind.  It was probably considering an issue like assisted suicides that really unsettled my catholic vision of the world.  I could not comprehend how it could be wrong for somebody to wish to have an end to their suffering, and yet my catholic education told me that they had no right to take their own life.  But who has the right to demand that their suffering should be prolonged?  Who has the authority to condemn any creature to such a fate?

When I was 21, my godson’s mother told me she had lost her sister in similarly traumatic circumstances, intentionally consuming alcohol while on anti-depressants to instantly stop her heartbeat.  I allowed my mind to wander beyond the rigid parameters that had defined my understanding of what suicide means and to consider in very different terms the situation that leads to somebody taking their own life.  Of course this coincided with a period in my life where I had begun to reject the catholic teachings on a whole range of issues from abortion to homophobia to birth control, so I was open to having my perception of the world challenged and scrutinised.

It’s laughable to think that if Claude had taken his life just over a decade earlier, he would’ve committed a criminal offence.  In fact it’s only relatively recently that the subject of suicide escaped its pariah status as a social taboo, and I often reference Gary Speed’s death as an especially important stage in that evolutionary process.  It was the first time I could detect the issue of physically healthy individuals taking their lives being analysed as a consequence of a mental illness.  It was reassuring and as tragic as Speed’s untimely passing was, it was a significant milestone. 

Much like the day when society realised that if somebody observes that they can hear voices from within their head, they are unwell and not possessed by Satan as had once been suggested.  We can talk about suicide and we can refer to the deceased in terms of being a victim.  We no longer have to pander to stereotypes and entertain the notion that the individual is a coward or selfish or both.  But ignorance of mental health illnesses continues to be a significant problem in Britain as I have mentioned previously.  More men under the age of 45 die from suicide in the UK than crime or natural causes and it is a problem which disproportionately affects a larger number of men.  Yet to pigeonhole the issue would be to demonstrate an inept failure to grasp how it affects far too many.  Such as the 30 women a day who attempt suicide while in abusive relationships, or the 34,500 children who contacted Childline in the 12 months to April 2014 with concerns about suicide.  Or how the current Government’s ruthless austerity programme has led to some very alarming cases of suicide surfacing, a result of the incompetent assessment procedures managed by ATOS.

It is all the more distressing when we appreciate just how stretched mental health services in England and Wales are due to funding cuts.  That should be a national scandal, but as a nation we never seem to react when these deplorable measures are taken.  Instead we reserve our outrage for when Christopher Clunis randomly attacks a commuter at a tube station.  Something has seriously gone wrong when a tax over a pasty gets more attention than the state of our mental health provisions reaching crisis point.  We’d never tolerate other healthcare services being similarly slashed, so why do we accept it for mental health services?

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Was Mark Duggan Set-Up?

Ten years ago fourteen year old Danielle Beccan was shot dead travelling home from the Goose Fair which is held in Nottingham every October.  It was the latest in a series of incidents of gun crime in the city and ultimately proved to be a high-water mark in terms of how Nottingham was viewed across the UK.  It had been the subject of national attention as far back as 2000 thanks to a decision to routinely arm officers patrolling certain areas of the city- the first on the British mainland to do so.  Now it serves as a shining example of a city that has slashed the number of offences involving firearms and everyone deserves an enormous amount of credit for the impressive turnaround.

Shortly after Danielle was murdered, a memorial vigil took place in the town centre, and I think although on one level it was intended to show solidarity with the Beccan family, it also served another purpose.  It was as if the city was collectively coming together and conveyed a signal that this was a problem for Nottingham.  Not a problem for black people or certain ethnic groups of certain areas, but an issue for everyone and affected every single citizen of the city.  This was a powerful message and in many ways goes on to explain the approach of the police force which did not follow the lead set in London by introducing a new sub-autonomous unit to tackle the problem.

One of the significant things that the local force Nottinghamshire Police did was to pay particular attention to the people actually supplying the firearms into the city.  It is no coincidence that the fall in the number of recorded offences in Nottingham can be directly attributed to some very high profile convictions of individuals associated with the distribution of firearms, among other offences.

Last Saturday a public meeting took place in Tottenham, north London.  The meeting was called by Tottenham Rights co-ordinator Stafford Scott after the family of Mark Duggan discovered that the jury in the original inquest into his death were not provided with all of the relevant facts.  It was the death of Mark at the hands of police marksmen that ignited the biggest social unrest seen in the UK for a quarter of a century.

A number of highly damning revelations were made that evening, but the most astonishing related to Trident, the Metropolitan Police unit tasked with tackling gun crime within the black community.  Stafford Scott, addressing the audience gathered in Tottenham, outlined the events leading up to the shooting of Mark on Ferry Lane who had been under police surveillance during the final 48 hours of his life.  In particular he analysed the exchange between Kevin Hutchinson-Foster, subsequently convicted and sentenced to seven years for supplying the weapon, and Mark on Vicarage Road in Leyton:

“The handover of, whatever it was, took place in Vicarage Road in front of the Trident officers.  They didn’t do anything because Mark was being set-up by their man.”

This is an explosive allegation and can be substantiated by the fact that Trident officers insist that the reason why they failed to witness the exchange was because the cab carrying Mark Duggan turned instead into Burchell Road.  Yet the GPS system on the minicab transporting Mark confirmed that this did not happen and that the vehicle indeed went to Vicarage Road.  The reason this seemingly innocuous discrepancy is so important is because it adds weight to the suggestion that Trident officers had a chance to intercept the firearm before Mark left Vicarage Road.  There was an opportunity to arrest Hutchinson-Foster at the same time, so why was this not done?

The brother of Mark Duggan, Shaun Hall, also addressed the meeting and equally highlighted this crucial discrepancy and questioned the nature of the relationship between Hutchinson-Foster and Trident:

“…Trident officers witnessed the handover but deny doing so, why?  Could it be they’re desperate to conceal the identity of the gun supplier, because he’s working for them?  After they killed Mark…why didn’t they go back and arrest Kevin Hutchinson-Foster?  He’s on parole, they know his parole officer, but they fail to make contact.  Kevin Hutchinson-Foster is only arrested once the IPCC conducts a forensic analysis of the gun found at the scene. This is on October 24th…thirteen weeks to be precise after he’s been identified as the supplier of the weapons.”

When Hutchinson-Foster was charged he was placed in solitary confinement and this potentially amounts to another piece of the puzzle which paints a very disturbing picture, suggesting that he was in need of some kind of protection.  Placing him within the general population was assessed as being a risk too great.

Trident was established in 2000 and was disbanded (as we know it) last year.  Could it be that investigations from those campaigning for justice for Mark Duggan have threatened to expose a highly toxic brand of corruption within a unit of the Metropolitan Police?  The official reason provided by the Mayor of London was that it was in order to “tackle gun crime in London and knife crime as well”, but this did little to quell the increasing concerns.

I have been suspicious of the Metropolitan Police since I was a child and it is no secret that I think the organisation is beyond reform and needs closing down.  So I am not somebody who can be easily shocked when coming to terms with new revelations about an institution which I have labelled as being the most corrupt force in Western Europe.  Yet even I found this all to be appalling and extremely distressing.  I’ve had a week to digest the news and it still resembles being hit by a truck.

Some people in the last three years have used the expression “State execution” when referring to the death of Mark Duggan.  If these revelations represent the facts of what really happened that fateful August evening then they were mistaken to deploy such a phrase.  This was never an execution administered by the State.  This was an unlawful killing committed by criminals.  I echo the calls made by Stafford Scott last weekend- we must have a public inquiry.  We need to establish the truth and scrutinise the nature of the relationship that existed between Trident and Kevin Hutchinson-Foster.  

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Consensus Cartel

I was surprised that Scotland voted to retain the Union.  I was also very relieved because as a Labour voter in England, I knew that losing 40-50 seats in Scotland would be a monumental hindrance to overcome.  Conversely had I lived in Scotland, I would happily have voted to give independence a chance.  Apart from anything else, the prospect of having Tory rule banished forever was too big a prize to turn down.

The figures from Scotland were remarkable with some local authorities recording turnouts in excess of 90%. The unprecedented numbers led to optimism across Britain that the 2015 General Election may benefit from a re-engagement of the electorate with politicians in this country.  Could a Caledonian wind of change inspire more than 70% of the British electorate to vote for the first time since it slipped below the threshold in 2001?

It’s a romantic theory, although unfortunately a simple explanation for the exceptionally high numbers of people engaged in the Scottish Referendum comes down to two factors.  The first is that the Referendum itself was a unique opportunity, a “once in a generation” event, the result would be life-changing without the prospect of reversing the outcome in a few years’ time.  The second because the Referendum by its very nature offered a very clear choice: either for or against independence.  It was a polarising question: Yes or No.  There was no “maybe” on the ballot paper.

The trouble with the British political landscape is that it does not offer that choice.  The origins of “consensus politics” can probably be traced back to the “Limehouse Declaration” of 1981 and the subsequent repositioning of the Labour Party under Neil Kinnock in the mid-1980s.  Tony Blair may have removed clause IV, but it was the tenure of Kinnock which laid the foundations for someone like Blair to lead the party a decade later.

The result is a political debate which largely takes place on the right of the political spectrum.  It’s why issues like immigration never stray far from the heart of the national debate.  It explains how attacking the most vulnerable in society is widely perceived as acceptable, sometimes even popular with public opinion. It is also why issues like social justice and creating a fairer society has slipped so dangerously down the agenda.

So when Labour’s shadow Chancellor Ed Balls announced there would be a freeze on child benefits under an incoming Labour Government, there was frustration from grassroots Labour activists, but no real surprise.  As my boss at work described, the British electorate are not so much offered an alternative vision of how to run the country, but a question of how they wish to be harmed: death by firing squad or a thousand cuts.

It is a dramatic analogy perhaps although it does reinforce the need for an alternative vision of how to lead the country through the second half of this decade.  The obsession with pandering to the right while sacrificing ethical socialism requires an urgent re-think if we are not to repeat the mistakes of the past and offer the electorate the same bland choice which has been on the table for over thirty years.

One area where there was potential for clear daylight to be placed between the parties came in the form of the recent parliamentary debate on military intervention in Iraq.  A Conservative Government took this country into the first Gulf War in 1991, a Labour Government returned the compliment in 2003 and now a coalition of Liberal Democrats and Tories have led the way to ensure that for the third time in 23 years, British forces will once again be engaged in conflict in Iraq.

Labour seized the opportunity for yet more consensus by rallying behind the Government’s case for military intervention and helped to secure an emphatic mandate for war resulting in just 43 MP’s voting against the motion.  24 of the rebels were from the Labour Party and read like a roll call of some of the finest MP’s who currently serve as Parliamentarians.

People like Jeremy Corbyn, the MP for Islington north and long-time friend of the Chagossian quest for justice.   There was Dennis Skinner, the “Beast of Bolsover”, a moral conscience and thorn in the side of a leadership which has lost its sense of navigation.  Diane Abbott, another supporter of the Chagossian cause and representative for the constituency of my birth.  And then there is Graham Allen,MP for where I live now, somebody who I’ve not always said complimentary things about previously but someone I am now looking at in a different light.

Why did they vote against British military involvement?  Well largely for the same reasons that I opposed the push for war as well.  The British record for involvement in military escapades in the middle-east has been one disaster after another since Suez.  The latest enemy is ISIS (or ISIL or IS), a group whose very existence can be directly linked to a decision by Washington to arm and train rebel fighters fighting in Syria once a coalition including the UK fell at the final hurdle just over a year ago.

The similarities with Afghanistan and the emergence of the Taliban illustrate an all too familiar picture in the middle-east, as the rise and fall of one Saddam Hussein explicitly demonstrated.  Driven from power a decade ago, he was once on very friendly terms with London and Washington who supported him during his eight year long war with Iran.  Indeed one has to question just how vociferous the British Government’s push for war in 1991 would have been had Farzad Bazoft not been so callously executed on trumped-up spying charges just under a year earlier.

If Bernie Grant had been alive, I’d like to think he would’ve voted against the intervention too.  The generation of children who (like me) were born under the Tory tyrant's eleven year Premiership are sometimes referred to as “Thatcher’s Children”, a phrase I loathe.  I take huge pride in the fact that I lived in Tottenham for every year of Bernie’s tenure as the MP.  We are “Bernie’s Children”:  a generation inspired by his brand of socialist principles, desire for social justice, providing a voice for the disenfranchised and marginalised while espousing the complete opposite of Thatcherite values.

Bernie Grant passed away fourteen years ago, but wherever he is now, I’m sure he gave a nod of approval to the 24 Labour MPs who voted against military action in Iraq.  That select band of rebel backbenchers represents the fading heartbeat of a party which has been insulted with all sorts of derogatory terms in the immediate aftermath of the Scottish Referendum.  I am always at pains to stress that while the party leadership may frustrate me endlessly, the party itself still has many good MPs and even more activists who share core Labour values.

The key that unlocks the potential to increase voter participation lies within that group of Labour MPs.  That their influence is so marginal is tragic and is the real reason there will be no noticeable spike in the number of people voting in May.  The momentum created by the example set in Scotland will fade away before the Christmas decorations are up on Oxford Street.  An opportunity for change is smothered by a cartel promoting consensus, cruelly crushing all of the new found hope and optimism.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Carnival Tax- One Year On

It’s the end of another summer and the end of another carnival season.  The majority of us who attended the Notting Hill Carnival last Monday are fighting off cold and flu in one form or another, the inevitable price to pay from participating in the wettest event in over thirty years.  Of course in hindsight it was a tiny penalty to pay when balanced against the uniqueness of the occasion.

It was whilst wrapped up in my duvet (with my hot orange juice on the sofa) that I stumbled across the BBC’s “Sunday Morning Live” earlier, and observed a discussion about fracking.  It made me smile because I was immediately transported back twelve months when I was very angry with the city I lived in and at the community who had allowed this to happen.  One of the things I suggested a year ago at the height of my fury was that if the Government wanted to introduce fracking, they should look no further than Nottingham as it was a community that would offer “no opposition” and would “roll over” and allow the intrusive activity to take place without any resistance at all.

Just over a year ago I launched a boycott against the Nottingham Caribbean Carnival following their hugely controversial decision to introduce an admission fee to the event.  It was a move I scornfully derided as the Carnival Tax.   I made alternative plans to take my seat at the Emirates Stadium and to be as far away from the city as possible.  It was a horrible day for me.

Things were compounded further when to my horror, my Monday visit to Notting Hill Carnival the following week to watch acts performing on the Mastermind stage, coincided with a performance from none other than Ms Dynamite.  This was the same Niomi who I had clashed with on Twitter decrying her decision to perform at the treacherous festival which was bastardising the name of carnival.  Having highlighted to the fellow north Londoner about what the organisers behind Nottingham Carnival had lined up with their plans for a tax, she blocked me and then spoke of her pride of being part of the sham.

So when I heard Ms Dynamite being introduced to the stage, I left the area.  I had no interest in watching someone I had labelled a “scab” for even a split second.  And I wasn’t going to allow her presence to infuriate me and spoil what is such a special weekend for me. This was quite a turnaround.  Only a few weeks earlier, a picture of Ms Dynamite took pride of place in my front room.  It was taken with my cousin in Ayia Napa who had mutual friends at the time.  We all did.  We were all roughly the same age and her secondary school was approximately 15 minutes’ walk from where mine was.

I’d always been proud of her accomplishments, someone from our corner of north London who had achieved a significant level of success.  Being mixed race from a single parent family, she was a role model for lots of us.  That all changed when she committed such an unforgivable betrayal.  This was someone who shot to fame on the back of being a break from the contemporary artists at the time.  Her track “It Takes More” contained lyrics about the exploitation of the third world back in 2002.  Eleven years later she was happy to participate in the exploitation of one of the poorest cities in the UK.

About a month ago I was contacted by some very distressed residents of Nottingham who realised that the “voluntary contribution of £1” which had been introduced to the Nottingham Carnival in 2013 had now evolved into a compulsory admission fee of £2.  More worryingly, neighbouring Leicester had also pushed ahead with its own Carnival Tax and was charging patrons £3.

It’s fair to say I did my fair share of “I told you so” and proudly reposted my piece from July 2013.  Practically everything I had warned had come to pass.  That the fee wouldn’t stay at £1, that it was compulsory in all but name and that the disgraceful idea would be copied by other events around the UK under the guise of coping in times of austerity.  But once I had savoured my moment of posturing, I knew that the most important thing was to communicate to everyone why boycotting the Leicester and Nottingham events was so important.

However shortly after recommencing the boycott campaign, I was deeply alarmed that the local radio station Kemet FM wanted to support the boycott.  I maintained last summer that the station were complicit in the implementation of the Carnival Tax because of their support for the 2013 event, despite me pleading with the station to change their stance.

This is the radio station that I had proudly supported since its creation, a broadcaster I told family and friends in London to listen to online as they were the natural successors to Choice FM.  It was a local community station who upheld the values of that original south London radio station from 1990.  I will never forgive Niomi Daley for what she did and she has forever lost my respect.  I hope whatever she was paid for sacrificing her ethics was worth it but I struggle to understand how she can sleep at night.  But her damaging actions only formed part of the problem and it would be wrong to place all of the blame at her doorstep.  Reya El Salahi, Marcia Griffiths, Kemet FM & every performing artist must share equal responsibility for the role they played in the betrayal of carnival values in 2013.

I was horrified to learn that Kemet FM now wanted to play the role of local saviours after proclaiming that they would now boycott the 2014 event.  This was what I urged them to do in 2013.  I stopped listening to the radio station on the day the 2013 Nottingham Carnival took place and vowed never to tune in again.  I felt the position they were trying to adopt in 2014 was deeply offensive, not to mention incredibly hypocritical.

Some might argue that they saw the light in the end and tried to make amends for the mistakes or error of judgement they made in 2013.  It’s an argument which also extends to the majority of the people who supported the 2014 boycott but attended the 2013 gathering.  But I think we need to make a distinction here.  Yes the local community were duped, “sold a dream” as I described at the end of July this year.  It is easier to understand why they were conned, but less so for the broadcaster, who I had been in direct contact with right up to a couple of days before the 2013 event.  I only stopped engaging with them at that late hour when it became crystal clear that there was no way they would back down from their stance to support the Nottingham Carnival and therefore the Carnival Tax.

The 2014 boycott was much more successful.  I explained to fellow campaigners straight away that it was a waste of time communicating with Renwick and the rest of the Nottingham Carnival Committee; I cited the email exchange from July 2013, the campaign I had pushed a year ago and the piece I had written.  I explained that the best course of action was to contact the local authority instead.  Nottingham Council still allocated an annual funding grant because the event was being promoted as a carnival, even though this was a festival in all but name due to the Carnival Tax policy.  It was essential that the local authority was lobbied on this basis.

About two weeks after I began actively promoting the boycott again, the alcohol licence for the 2014 event was withdrawn.  It was to be a significant act because it eventually led to Nottingham Carnival organisers altering their policy overnight.  John Holt had been advertised as being the lead act to perform at this year’s event, and was immediately pulled from the bill.  In addition the Carnival Tax was cancelled.

Nobody from Nottingham Council has ever communicated with me directly to state that the pressure I applied and helped to mobilise to its doorstep was responsible, partially or otherwise, for the alcohol licence being withdrawn.  So it will remain open to speculation as to whether or not our pressure really did achieve anything.  But I think most who followed the campaign last year and again this year will probably put two and two together and with the absence of any definitive evidence to the contrary, it is a fair conclusion to reach.

Of course the late shifting of the position of the Nottingham Carnival organisers was incredibly amusing.  A year ago I contacted the committee and Renwick in July, a full three weeks before the event was taking place.  Among the reasons offered as an explanation as to why the Carnival Tax would stay in 2013 was because it was “too late” to change the literature for posters etc.  So imagine my laughter when Renwick and his ghastly committee members scrambled to change their stance (and literature) with barely a week to go until the staging of the 2014 event.

On the day of the carnival, once again I was 144 miles away in north London.  Although unlike the events of summer 2013, this time I was basking in the joy of an opening day victory as I commenced my fourth season as an Arsenal Season Ticket holder.  I even had a picture of Chris Hudson smiling, the fan I sit next to and whose rant after the defeat to Aston Villa twelve months ago epitomised so much of the pain that I suffered that weekend.

The 2014 event was not a success and this was down to the resolve of local campaigners who helped to ensure that the boycott was widely publicised ahead of the weekend.  As an aside, I would have been at the carnival in Nottingham under the revised plans, but not while it was being administered by Renwick and his colleagues.  I think it is time for a new committee to step forward in Nottingham.  Renwick and his fellow committee members have no credibility left and are a part of a toxic brand now, contaminating anything they organise.

I was furious with Nottingham a year ago and said some things which I now recognise were not accurate.  The people of Nottingham will stand up and resist when something very wrong is brought to their doorstep.  At the height of my distress last summer I suggested that the people of Nottingham would allow anything to be imposed upon them.  Perhaps I was partly right last summer, but I am definitely wrong this year and nothing makes me happier. The community has fought back and once again I am so proud to live in a city that has been my home for over a dozen years.  Nottingham is once again free from the Carnival Tax and that is something we should all be immensely proud of.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Lions Tax

When I was watching the World Cup, I couldn’t help noticing that England had a squad consisting entirely of players who played in the English Premier League.  When I was a kid, this was never the case.  In the 1980s there was Laurie Cunningham at Real Madrid, Luther Blissett at AC Milan, Mark Hateley at Monaco, Chris Waddle at Marseille and Gary Lineker at Barcleona.

Some attributed the late 1980s in particular as being a “talent drain” on the English top flight as players sought European football after English clubs were banned after Heysel.  Yet well into the 1990s and long after the ban on English clubs had been lifted, players continued to further their careers abroad.  Whether it was David Platt at Juventus, Paul Gascoigne at Lazio, Des Walker at Sampdoria, Paul Ince at Inter Milan or Steve McManaman at Real Madrid. All of whom were serving England internationals.

It is perhaps only following the turn of the century that the pattern was reversed with Owen Hargreaves at Bayern Munich and David Beckham & Michael Owen at Real Madrid being the notable exceptions to the rule.  Ashley Cole retired from England duty shortly before finalising a move to Italian side Roma.

Darius Vassell playing in the Turkish Premier League doesn’t really count when he hadn’t played an England game in almost five years.  Same applies for Emile Heskey in Australia.  In fact, the only times we tend to see English players moving abroad now is in order to secure one final big pay day at the end of their careers.

Money: because what this all boils down to is the fact that the top flight in England is probably the best in the world and is definitely the most lucrative.  There is a lack of financial incentive to move abroad simply because we now have a league that pays the highest wages.  A league where even the most average of players can command more money than World Cup winning midfielder Sami Khedira currently earns at Real Madrid.

We have to find a way to dramatically increase the number of English players abroad.  In an ideal world you would want them playing at Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich, but in reality there is no reason why that should happen anytime soon.  However that is not to say that English players cannot enhance their experience (which in turn will help the national team) by playing for less glamourous clubs, provided they were competing at a certain level.  If players can find clubs who are competing in European competitions, then that will provide a standard which would in normal circumstances benefit the player immeasurably.

When I heard Greg Dyke outlining his vision of top flight “B Teams” entering the football league pyramid, I was horrified by the breathtaking arrogance by which anyone could have believed that such proposals would ever be embraced.  Yet with each World Cup, the frustrations behind the continual poor performances of the national side will eventually lead to such dangerous visions appearing to be less deplorable.

I have a more radical solution which I believe would address the core of this problem and eventually should lead to improving performances at international tournaments.  It is potentially controversial, but if given a chance could perhaps lead to England one day winning a major global title again. 

I would like to see English players effectively having their wages capped between the ages of 23 and 27.  What it would amount to would be a form of national service, a form of “Lions Tax” which would impose a levy on the wages of all top flight English players between the ages of 23 and 27 years of age.

It would need to be a significant tax.  We are familiar with the stories of players being fined amounts of money which sound huge to you and I, but in their world barely reflects a few hours work.   I think a tax level of around 20% would be a good target to set in that even for a player earning £300,000 a week, handing over £60,000 would still be a noticeable amount.  That would see such a player paying over £3m over the course of a year, and again this money would be paid towards what could be referred to as a “Lions Abroad Fund”.

The pot or fund of tax revenues would need revenues from other sources too and this could be achieved by taking a proportion of some of the revenue accumulated from TV revenue deals.  The FA could ring-fence an agreed proportion of TV money for the purpose of securing this revenue stream to protect the long term interests of English football.

The fund would serve two purposes. It would top-up the wages of English players who play their football abroad.  It would also be used to top-up the transfer fees for players who are leaving their domestic clubs after their 23rd birthday.

In theory it would also hopefully ensure that clubs were not discouraged from continuing to invest in their youth academies for fear of losing the players at less than their future potential worth.  It should also ensure that clubs aren’t discouraged from investing in English players in their academies or that they would instead fill them up with youngsters from abroad.

However there is still the danger with such an idea is that you run the risk of incurring the wrath of the prima donna and potentially leading to a generation of England players conveniently retiring from international duty on their 23rd birthday.  So in order to safeguard against this, the tax would be applied to the wages of players who are eligible to play for England, even in the event where they decided to reject the invitation.

Critics will argue that what I am proposing would probably be legally difficult to enforce, but I would counter such an argument by stating that other suggested proposals have also been fraught with legal minefields.  Like the suggestion you could enforce a rule which guarantees a minimum number of English players in any match day squad.  But such ideas would be implemented if it had the agreement from clubs who accepted that this was a solution for the wider interests of the national team.

I don’t accept that such a proposal will lead to improving the standards of the national team.  If you restrict the best players from abroad from playing in the Premier League, all you will do is allow for an overall decline in standards.  In time England’s UEFA coefficients would also fall and this would lead to a reduction in the number of places for English clubs in European competitions.  Given time, it would be English champions playing for one spot in the Champions League with a journey that begins a few days into the start of July.

No fan of English football should want to see that nor should they support plans which will enable that to happen.  We are very lucky to have such a competitive and entertaining top flight and the desire of everyone should be about how to raise the bar even higher.  We should all have a striving desire for even greater excellence, the best players from around the world playing in our league.

Apart from anything else if you have the best players from around the world playing in England, that will have a positive effect on young English players in terms of training sessions and watching the talented imports at such close quarters.  An education they can enhance further by experiencing football in different countries around Europe thus improving the standard of the national side further.

I think what I have proposed could form the basis of a wider strategy to get English players playing abroad again, but also believe it is far from the finished article.  The percentage to be collected as a tax would be open to debate, not too much so as to potentially drive players from the profession, but enough so that it will be a noticeable amount (relatively speaking) to vanish from their salaries every month.

Deciding on the age parameters would also be something that would need to be looked at, but the intention would be so that you have the player plying their trade abroad during the first part of their peak years.  They would then be free to return to England without restriction for the second half of their peak years and to wind down their careers wherever they should choose.

England deserves to have a national side which is competitive and holds its own on the national stage, and this is coming from a France fan.  It is time to get English players playing abroad again and the English FA can make that happen by making it financially attractive for the players to do so.  It is a salary cap in all but name, albeit one with a completely honourable objective.  It may not necessarily deliver another World Cup, but it should ensure there will be a more competitive national side in the future.

It has to be worth a try.  Tax the players who stay and reward the ones who move abroad.  

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Goodbye UKChSA

The UK Chagos Support Association (UKChSA) is in disarray as myself and three of the nine existing senior committee members have resigned simultaneously.  It is an extraordinary turn of events, and this post deals with many of the issues that have led to this unprecedented course of action.  It is, for all concerned, an entirely tragic state of affairs, but to remain in such a discredited organisation would only serve to legitimise the Association which is not fit for purpose.

My first contact with the UKChSA (or UKCSA as it was originally known in those days before a cement company objected to the use of the acronym) came in the autumn of 2004.  It was the morning after the broadcast of John Pilger’s ground-breaking documentary “Stealing a Nation” and Celia Whittaker was the first person who ever interacted with me about the cause.  Within a couple of weeks I was emailing friends to raise awareness about the cause and my journey as an activist highlighting the plight of Chagossians was born.

It was a path which would lead to me lobbying MP’s and journalists.  Social networking was exploding as a phenomenon and it was not long before I came into contact with Peter Harris and Sabrina Jean.  In the spring of 2010 I was contacted by somebody who managed a youth news agency I was part of between 1994 and 1998.  She was now living in Canada and  wanted me to write something for a website she worked on.  I leapt at the opportunity.  The piece was well received and six months later I was invited to write again for the website following the exposure of the Wikileaks scandal.

Just over twelve months later, I was elected on to the committee of the UKChSA after being asked by Celia to replace her as editor of the monthly newsletter.  She was standing down after a decade in the role. It was something that filled me with immense pride.  I had really enjoyed writing again, but this was the opportunity to utilise that passion in the most productive way possible.

I made a few initial observations during the period when I was working closely with Celia as the handover from her capable hands to my inexperienced care started to take shape.  I noted that the UKChSA was doing a wonderful job but I feared that it played a role in contributing to a picture of a divided movement.

I highlighted the roles of the various groups and felt that in the long run the best possible solution was to have one group communicating one voice.  This was so that when some politicians who oppose our objectives seek to paint an image of the Chagossian cause being characterised by several groups, with different objectives (even when there was uniform consensus across so many critical areas), this could be avoided. A significant weapon utilised by opponents of campaigners for the cause would be removed at a stroke.

The best solution is to have one group: the Chagos Refugees Group, with one leader, who handles the negotiations with the relevant parties at that level.  When you have multiple groups with multiple leaders, even if there is a consensus in some areas, it still creates a messy picture.  And critically it is seized upon by the Foreign Office who will exploit any conflicting voices, especially if they can find ones which reinforce its own hideous agenda.  Like the old DGS (which I think Sabrina tells me is as good as gone now) who thanks to saying things that David Milliband wanted to hear, held a dubious election where Allen Vincatassin was anointed the  official honour of being the President in waiting of the Chagos Islands.  This despite the fact that he led a group whose number of supporters were spectacularly dwarfed by the numbers affiliated to the CRG and Olivier Bancoult.

Celia recognised the point and agreed in principle but always maintained that such a proposal would only work if it had consensus across the board from day one.  It had been attempted at various stages over the years without success which was why we were where we were.  Celia and I were always on the same page, it is something I appreciated early on during our contact and certainly didn't change when I took over editing the newsletter full time in June 2012.

The first year was an interesting experience for me as I spent most of the time observing and gaining a greater insight into how business was managed at that level of the Association.  Roch Evenor was the Chair of the Association and I valued his contribution as a capable pair of hands to lead the organisation.  He was a reliable individual, but not necessarily someone who could perhaps inspire passion.  He lacked the vision of someone like Sabrina for example.

There was what some might describe as a negligent ignorance when it came to things like the potential of social media.  But I think this would be unfair to single out Roch on this.  It is something that I found was universal across the committee, Sabrina aside, a fact perhaps reflected by the age of the individuals.  Even the person who was tasked with managing the official UKChSA Twitter account, Robert Bain, was somebody who lacked the dedication to ensure that such a vital apparatus was being utilised to its maximum capacity.  This was the flagship Twitter account, the focal point for supporters on that particular platform.  There were times when supporters would even ask my why they should follow the account as it was so rarely updated anyway.  Not just when there was a quiet time for news related to the cause, but often at times when the cause was prominently in the media because of a significant development.

It was something which I believed was hurting the Association, so following discussions with Sabrina, we approached Robert suggesting that the role of supervising such a vital tool was perhaps too much for one person.  We offered to help, to share the load as it were.

Our polite offers of assistance were repeatedly rebuffed.

Eventually enough was enough.  Sabrina and I were very frustrated at the way in which the Association was almost sleepwalking at times, particularly during periods when we should be more active than ever in response to specific developments, courts cases or the publication of significant articles.  As an interim measure, a brand new Twitter account was born.  Within two months, it was the largest and most active account supporting the cause.

We decided that in order to ensure that the Association was best equipped to move forward, progressively, and to ensure that all tools were being utilised as effectively as possible, new leadership was urgently required.  This would need to come in the form of annual elections which would take place at the AGM.

In April 2013 the AGM was held and Sabrina became the new chair after Roch had been voted off the committee.  The AGM also included the development that the joint-patron, Philippa Gregory, had stood down in her capacity as the Press Officer on the committee.  

A couple of months later, something very unusual happened.  With no election or extraordinary AGM, Philippa Gregory became the co-Vice Chair of the Association, with the other co-Vice Chair being Marcus Booth who had been voted into his role at the AGM in April 2013.  This had followed an even more bizarre sequence of events in which it had initially been suggested for Philippa to be the vice-Chair!

Sabrina rightly rejected the proposal out of hand, but collectively as an Association we should have scrutinised this unusual course of events.  However, Philippa’s explanation that she had only wanted a “title to speak to the press” was taken at face value, although why she could not re-assume her previous role as the Press Officer is again something of a mystery.

Around the same time a new organisation was set up, which was being spearheaded by the same Philippa Gregory.  This new group was called “The Alliance”, but unfortunately the group was claiming to be something that it wasn't.  It was projecting itself as the unified voice of the Chagossian community, when it lacked the endorsement of the leader of the biggest group of Chagossians in the world: the Chagos Refugees Group (CRG) led by Olivier Bancoult.  In short, this was a faction making bogus claims which were unfounded and claimed to speak on behalf of everyone despite lacking the fundamental cross-group consensus to proclaim such bold boasts.

“The Alliance” had credible objectives, but the way it had been established amounted to something that was being imposed upon the will of the CRG as opposed to seeking their engagement and consensus from day one.  As I pointed out earlier: the principle of having a unified voice, speaking as one and communicating or negotiating with Foreign Office officials, is a fantastic concept.  It is something that all supporters should be working towards.  However it can only work if you have that crucial consensus from the very beginning.  Without consensus you do not have the authority to claim to speak on behalf of the community as a whole and in doing so you are essentially making bogus assertions.  I would actually go even further and suggest that the boasts deriving from the leadership of the new group amounted to conduct that would be described as fraudulent.

Sabrina and I took the view early on that we would not support the work of this new faction.  The sole purpose of this organisation was to drive a wedge between Chagossians in the UK and Chagossians based elsewhere, mainly in Mauritius and Seychelles.  The logic being that if you undermine the influence of Olivier, you effectively weaken his position.

Sabrina and I did not like what was going on, there were occasions when the Alliance were requesting funds from the UKChSA and we always made the point of voting against the proposal.  This came to a head at the turn of the year when Hengride Permal (by now a key member of the fledgling breakaway “Alliance” faction) the UKChSA assistant secretary, engaged in some entirely unsavoury and unacceptable behaviour during a series of abusive emails, beginning with an attack on my predecessor Celia. When I made it clear that such language was unacceptable, especially when referring to somebody who had dedicated so much time to the cause, Hengride redirected her anger towards me.

It is true that Sabrina and I did consider carefully whether the best course of action would be to stand down from the Association in protest at the appalling conduct of not just Hengride, but the silent endorsement of other committee members like Philippa, Marcus and Bernadette Dugasse.  However we decided that we would stay on, a new AGM was on the horizon and the opportunity would be available to air such issues and conduct elections to see if such senior committee members should remain in their roles.

In January 2014, emails were sent out suggesting dates for the 2014 staging of the AGM.  As with normal protocol, the information was circulated and committee members voted on the relevant dates offered.  Five of the nine committee members indicated that Sunday 6th April would be a suitable date for the hosting of the AGM. In accordance with all normal UKChSA committee business, the decision was noted and the date was subsequently communicated to all supporters in the January edition of the newsletter.  This notice was then reposted in the February and March editions of the newsletter, the latter being just a week before the AGM date.

24 hours before the AGM, by which time many supporters had already committed travel plans to be in London the following day including one who was travelling down from Durham, Marcus and Philippa took objection to the staging of the AGM.  They alleged that protocol had not been observed, that the AGM had never been properly consulted nor called.  They decreed that the AGM taking place the following day amounted to an illegal gathering and Marcus even went as far as to suggest that legal challenges would ensue.

Following lengthy conversations, and checking over emails and newsletters, Sabrina and I were confident that we had adhered to the correct procedures and that the AGM would take place on the 6th April as advertised.  We were confident that we had followed the correct procedures, that the required number of votes had been cast to validate the announcement and that sufficient notice had been communicated.  At one stage Marcus even went as far as to suggest that the notification of the AGM in the newsletter was “irrelevant”, which as I highlighted at the time, almost brought into question the purpose of the newsletter altogether.  Why was a newsletter being produced if senior members of the committee (the vice-Chair no less!) were not even bothering to keep up to date with the news?

On Sunday 6th April we hosted our AGM, a meeting which was attended by five of the nine members of the existing committee. This included the Chair, the Treasurer and the Secretary.  The meeting agreed that the re-election of the new committee would take place by email and that the April edition of the newsletter would confirm all of this along with the report from the AGM which was circulated shortly after the meeting.  

As usual I carried on as normal, so on the 18th April I started preparing the April edition of the newsletter as was my monthly routine.  And just like any other month I finished my draft and sent it over to the same people who checked the monthly editions of the newsletter.  So it went to Celia, George Beckham, David Snoxell- all fine and all approved.

Just before it was about to go to Sabrina for the final check, I got an email from Celia.

Celia said she had concerns over the future of the treasurer of the UKChSA and was worried that the role may go to a Chagossian (potentially limited by literacy/numeracy skills) or someone else who was under-equipped to manage the role.  I explained to Celia that Sabrina and I had spoken about this ahead of April 6th and agreed with the point because we shared a similar view.  Such an important role needed someone of a level of experience.  This is why Sabrina and  I agreed that we would support and actively encourage supporters to vote for Perri to return as Treasurer.  Perri of course was one of the committee members who also attended the AGM on the 6th April.  I duly confirmed all of this to Celia in an email

Despite this email, later that day Celia then wrote effectively the same email she had written to me earlier, repeating exactly the same concerns, only this time she copied in everyone on the existing committee.  In addition she made the completely irresponsible suggestion that the agreed proposal from the AGM to host the elections for the new committee via email should be abandoned.  This would be replaced by a new proposal which was that the existing committee be retained for a further twelve months.  With no elections.

Celia had known about the tensions leading up to the AGM- that we needed a new committee, that the existing committee had broken down, that procedures weren't being followed, that some committee members were openly abusing other committee members in a completely discourteous and inappropriate manner.  She knew that Sabrina, Gianny, Paul and myself would not stay on the existing committee without new elections.

Needless to say Celia's proposal for retaining the existing committee was endorsed and supported by five of the nine members of the existing committee.  Sabrina, Gianny, Paul and I were outvoted and could basically stay, or go.

That was the end of April.  I had a full and frank exchange with Celia by email in which I outlined everything, right back to the fact that the only reason Hengride and I fell out in the first place back in January this year was because she had been insulting Celia in the emails.  My view at the time was that there was no way I would let anybody question Celia's commitment or the amount of time she has dedicated to the cause over the years.  Celia did say that she wished she could turn the clock back, but to be honest, this was empty rhetoric.  Celia is someone I kept completely in the loop- always.  If I had kept Celia in the dark ahead of the AGM in terms of how Sabrina and I felt, our frustrations, the fact we wanted to see changes, then of course her response and ignorance would have been understandable.  But in this instance it simply didn't wash.  She knew why Sabrina and I couldn't work with the existing committee, and she knew that the four of us would walk away.

Following a number of discussions with Sabrina, it was decided that I would not publish the April edition which now had this new adopted proposal about retaining the existing committee for another year.  I wanted to resign immediately but Sabrina wanted me to wait as she had been in contact with Olivier, and he was coming to the UK soon (initially predicted to be in mid-May) and we would have an opportunity to plan our next move.  Unfortunately Olivier's mum was suddenly taken ill, I understand Sabrina also mentioned that his uncle passed away too, so naturally he won't be coming to the UK anytime in the near future.

We was just hanging on, hoping something would change and that Olivier would arrive, but as you all saw last month that all changed and the newsletter was published, despite the fact that I had never officially tendered my resignation.  In fact my intentions had only been communicated to Sabrina and Celia.   But in reality it was all a technicality, there was no possibility that we could stay after what had happened.  Another interesting development was that the newsletter was then published without being sent to Sabrina prior to release.  It was always the convention that the Chair of the Association would be the last person to view the newsletter before it was sent to supporters and campaigners.

Sabrina protested at the fact that newsletter was now being published by Steffan Donelly before she had an opportunity to approve its contents.  These concerns were apparently acknowledged when Steffan replied to Sabrina, however another edition was released again recently and again Sabrina had not been consulted prior to publication.  When Sabrina communicated these concerns to Celia, Celia proceeded to spout the most baseless lies. She claimed that the procedure had always been to send the newsletter to David Snoxell prior to publication and that it was never sent to anyone else as part of the preview process.

Sabrina knew immediately that this was untrue.  Indeed I still have the proof in my emails that during my tenure as newsletter Editor, the draft was always sent to the same individuals prior to publication.   The newsletter would go to Celia first, then to George Beckham, it would then be reviewed by David Snoxell before the Chair of the Association would have an opportunity to review its contents prior to being released to all of the supporters. Celia’s suggestion that this was not the case made Sabrina and I furious.  This was not simply a mistake, or an error or an oversight- this was a downright lie!  Celia knew this was a lie too and this was the final and definitive proof if ever was needed that people who we were once thought were decent and honourable individuals were now having their integrity rightly questioned.

When Sabrina showed me the latest emails with Celia last night, she agreed that the time had come for us to tell everyone about what was happening.  We realised that by going down this route, we were absolutely crossing the point of no return.  But as Sabrina explicitly stated to me last night: our time at the UKChSA was now at an end.  The time had come for supporters to know exactly what has been going on, which is why this post has been circulated to as many supporters as possible.

While our time with the Association has come to an end, there are still big questions that must be asked.  And it is no exaggeration to say that if the UKChSA was an official charity, I would be submitting these questions to the Charities Commission as my belief is that the UKChSA as an organisation is not fit for purpose.

Questions such as what did happen to the money that was given to Hengride Permal?  This money was given to her on the basis that it was for a football team.  But Sabrina helped to set up a football team, which she attained funds for, which she presented receipts for, and a team which was subsequently officially registered with the global umbrella body for non-FIFA affiliated nations, CONIFA.  They have played matches, they have a campaign being championed by David Vine which many of you would have seen already on the social networks.  This is all legitimate.

So what happened to the team that Hengride set up?  So far there has never been one receipt, not one football match, not even a kick about with jumpers for goalposts.  The only thing that happened is that the money was sent to Hengride.  Where it went afterwards, is anyone's guess.  And I have the emails myself from Perri asking again: where are the receipts?

If this money cannot be accounted for then surely is that not a matter for the police?  This is money which has been donated from supporters, supporters who think they are supporting the plight of Chagossians.  

There are further questions which must be answered about the nature of the relationship between the unelected Patron Philippa Gregory (who somehow ended up back on the committee with no election) and Mark Gonzalez, who has to date been the subject of payments of thousands of pounds for some kind of workshop which as yet nobody can yet quantify why such a large outlay was made for an organisation with such limited funding.  Funding which then is subsequently denied to completely deserving applications like people wanting to return to Mauritius to attend the funeral of a Chagossian relative for example.   During the financial year of 2013/14, Mark Gonzales was the recipient of a total of £2380 from an organisation (UKChSA) that in the same year only banked £3056. Almost 80% of the UKChSA’s budget was given to Gonzales, £2000 for workshops and £380 for expenses.  This must be investigated as it is completely unacceptable that such a vast outlay can be committed to an individual project when other, and possibly more worthy, applications were turned down as a result.

We now have decisions to make in terms of how we move forward. Clearly the most obvious choice would be to bolster up the UKCRG, turn it into a UKChSA and take it from there.  And let me be clear that I don't doubt for a moment we could make it absolutely fantastic and do a lot of good work through that structure.

But I do have grave concerns about that proposal and this is mainly because it undermines that fundamental principle for me personally about not wanting to add to the problem.  Starting a new group is not great when it all it does is add another element to the mix which in turn becomes another opportunity for the Foreign Office to exploit.

I am absolutely gutted on a personal level how this has all turned out.  UKChSA was such a special organisation for me, it’s heartbreaking to see what is happening now.  I would not know a single one of you at all if it was not for Celia, so this has completely knocked me for six.  But we had to communicate this post to every single supporter possible, and allow themselves as individuals to decide if they would continue to support an organisation which has such huge questions over the way in which it is being managed.