Month: November 2015


South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay speaks to constituents about TTIP, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Tory Mackinlay was one of the founders of UKIP and won the seat despite a high profile challenge by UKIP leader Nigel Farage.  Mackinlay dismisses constituents’ fears that, if agreed, TTIP will have dangerous long-term consequences for the NHS.


Earlier this week Momentum Thanet was launched, as a new group campaigning for the policies of Jeremy Corbyn.

But some local Labour Party members are questioning the need for Momentum.

Why not just work within the Labour Party, they say?  Let’s get knocking on doors, posting fliers and just forget about everything except winning the next election.

Well, as someone who was in the Labour Party years ago and helped get Tony Blair elected (God help me), I can explain why that oft-repeated call to arms will no longer wash.

Time after time Labour Party candidates have stood for election promising to bring radical change, more equality, more jobs and to keep us out of cruel and unjust wars.

Time after time dedicated party foot-soldiers have flung themselves into battle trying to get those candidates elected.

And time after time those same foot-solders have found themselves comprehensively shafted by their MPs, both in government and in opposition.

Policies are watered down, promises discarded, principles forgotten.

But this time, for the first time, the foot-soldiers of the left, have found someone who miraculously both represents their views and seems to be actually ready to stand up for them: Jeremy Corbyn.

So we the poor bloody infantry will fight for him, with unrelenting commitment and passion, both to keep him as leader and, ultimately, make him prime minister.

But we will not accept that the party, which Jeremy himself has promised to change, will easily give up its old ways.

We may join the Labour Party.  We may rejoin the Lahour Party. We may decide not to join the Labour Party at all but simply work with them in the quest to realise Corbyn’s policies.

But, whatever we do, we will not waver in our commitment to Corbyn and his exciting, energising attempt to change the way we do politics, because some members of the “old guard” in the party find it hard to march to a different tune.

At all levels in the party from MPs and national officers to local councillors and branch officers there are people who believe that Jeremy is a sort of strange diversion on the road to their golden grail of what they believe is necessary for “electability.”

They believe maybe that Jeremy will calm down and compromise or more likely be deposed in some coup or other.

But, however it happens, he will be gone and then they will resume their progress to being the same old hopelessly compromised Labour Party whose main virtue is that it’s not as nasty or inhumane as those terrible Tories, but will still, on the whole, pursue very similar policies.

Well, we, the foot-soldiers who made Jeremy leader, won’t wear that.

Not any more.

This time we want REAL change.

And that’s why we need Momentum.








Dear MP

Please don’t support the bombing of Syria, should it be put to the vote.

It didn’t work in Afganistan. It didn’t work in Iraq. It won’t work in Syria.

Killing a lot of innocent people because a lot of other innocent people were killed is never a good idea.

Bombing Syria will not stop Isis. It will make Isis bigger and stronger.

Bombing will only make things work. It is exactly what Isis want us to do.





Momentum has come to Thanet.

At a packed meeting in Ramsgate last night, the new Momentum Thanet group was formed.

The group is dedicated to campaigning for the ideas and policies of the new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

A spokesperson for the group said: “Jeremy Corbyn is currently under enormous attack from a combination of the media and right-wing Labour MPs. Momentum is a grass roots movement which we hope will support him in this struggle.”

The spokesperson added: “We will be campaigning against cuts and austerity, we will be campaigning for homes for the homeless, for jobs, for education and our NHS, for the environment and for a better way of doing politics.

“This is a huge struggle but our first meeting showed that there is a great appetite and enthusiasm for taking it on.”

The next big meeting of Momentum is on Tuesday 19 January at 7pm when the guest speaker will be the shadow chancellor John McDonnell. The meeting will be at the Kings Hall, Kings Place, Ramsgate CT11 8NN. Free tickets can be booked on




LUCY WILLIAMS finds people desperately trying to find their way to Europe via Greece and Turkey. As winter nears their problems can only get worse…

Our ferry docked in the Greek island of Chios at 4.30 in the morning and, in the dark, we chose a café for the wait for our next ferry to Turkey via Çeşme.

Warm and dry we watched some other recent arrivals, wrapped in grey UNHCR blankets, wander along the quayside looking for a sheltered place to rest.

Earlier that morning we had woken when the engines of our ferry from Athens slowed.

The ferry was taking part in a rescue and there, just off our port side, was a coastguard boat helping refugees off an inflatable dinghy.

The coastal patrol boat rolled uncomfortably in the heavy swell and its bright masthead light illuminated the refugees’ fluorescent lifejackets.

Alongside was the refugees’ rubber RIB [rigid inflatable boat] and, as the coastguards let it go, the rescue was completed and we got underway.

At daybreak on Chios we ambled about the town.

Sea spray was coming over the sea wall and, in a small yard 30 or so refugees had lit a fire to warm themselves and dry their clothes.

This must have been some sort of official welcome centre but there was little evidence of hospitality that morning other than the ubiquitous UNHCR blankets.

Close to the now moored coastguard boat, lifejackets were strewn about and clusters of refugees sat keeping out of the wind in patches of weak sun.

Dismal though the scene was, it meant success: these refugees had made it to the EU.

Refugees on Chios, mostly likely from Syria, Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq but from African countries too, will be moved on to Lesvos – one of Greece’s “hot-spots” – or to Athens.

But we were going on, against the flow, to Turkey.

Çeşme, our destination, is a pleasant enough place with an end-of-season feel that accentuated the hurry of the small groups of people we saw carrying bags and children – people on the wrong side of the crossing and the wrong side of the summer.

On we went to Izmir, a city of over 3 million with a history of migration and transformed from Smyrna to Izmir in 1923 when its Greek population was “exchanged” for ethnic Turks from Greece.

In Izmir refugees arrive from the east to negotiate onward passage, perhaps by boat from Ayvalık, Çeşme or elsewhere.

According to the Association for Solidarity with Asylum Seekers and Migrants (ASAM) many stay only days, or even hours, while others stop and try to find a living in the city.

Turkey, maintains the 1951 Geneva Convention’s original geographical limitation so only Europeans can be recognised as refugees.

Asylum seekers can apply for “temporary protection” but the status offers little except restrictions, and registered asylum seekers cannot work legally or claim welfare support.

ASAM is internationally funded and has 24 offices across Turkey. In Izmir it offers medical screenings, counselling, legal support and other services to Syrians but by their estimate of 150,000 Syrians in the town, their services can never be enough.

Like the refugees, ASAM is watching the seasons change and with winter, they anticipate transit migration will slow and more people will stay living hand to mouth in the crowded city.

Halkların Köprüsü, the “bridge between people”, is an activist, solidarity association which provides practical help and support. They try to improve housing conditions, advocate and document where and how refugees are living in Izmir.

Halkların Köprüsü took us to visit a Syrian family living in what our guide referred to as a “ghetto”.

The Agora district is an ant heap of houses, narrow lanes and steep stairs where the family of six were living in a shelter of bare walls without a roof until the activists supplied one.

Of Turkoman ethnicity, they spoke Turkish but still the older children were not in school and finding work was hard.

For Halkların Köprüsü, the coming winter means an increased demand for building materials, clothing and manpower to ameliorate the situation of refugees without livelihoods and secure places to stay.

On again to Istanbul, where we met Afghans hustling to support themselves and their families at home or en route.

Some planned to stay in Istanbul but for others, Istanbul, like Izmir, is just a staging post – a place to raise money, find information, support, an agent perhaps – before pushing on to Europe.

Night crossings to Greek islands can be arranged from Istanbul and in migrant districts like Kumkapı and Zeytinburnu life jackets, the leitmotif of the dash to the islands, were on sale.

These Afghans, unlike the Syrians, were old hands at the border crossing game. They had already tried and failed but saw no alternative to pressing on.

One reminisced about his time in Barbès, Paris, and described the trauma of his deportation from Denmark.

Another described beatings by police after making it across the border at Edirne.

Winter for these refugees looms large but only as another variable to consider before committing their bodies and savings to the border.

Aware of their families’ dire situation back home they will continue. The winter just adds a further dimension to the physical and technological barriers between them and Europe.

Wahid [not his real name] is 18 and supporting his parents, five sisters, four brothers and the family of his uncle who lost his legs in a bomb blast in Jalalabad three months ago.

Wahid had crossed the border four times already but each time had been caught and returned and sometimes beaten. Since his family told him to invest everything he could earn in crossing again Wahid had stopped sending money home and was saving hard.

Everyone we spoke to told us “winter is coming” and that migration patterns will change.

Transit migration may slow but refugees fear their window of opportunity in Europe will close as the fences grow higher.

The border control business may become more efficient and pervasive but people like Wahid have everything to gain and will always find a way whatever the price.

The cold of the northern militarised border or the stormy sea crossing ahead are as nothing compared to what lies behind.

  • “Refugees In The Jungle” – Read Aram Rawf’s account of his visit to the refugees in Calais in the new issue of Thanet Watch magazine in the shops now.




Our Great Leader…

In the new issue of Thanet Watch, someone who claims to be a Kipper councillor, writes:

“I know you dontz really appreciate King Chris Jelly-Belly-Welly, our great leader…But, like Nige says, we gotta give the guy a chance.

I mean he azn’t REALLY had eight wives, divorced half of them and ate the others, az he? He juz LOOK like he haz, haahahahahahaah.”

To read the full article, with a special piece on Manston airport and the new Thanet Momentum group, get the new issue of Thanet Watch in the shops now… 



refugees (1)

(Above: the refugees at Calais) 

A group of Thanet people went to Calais to help the refugees in the makeshift camp they call the New Jungle. PETER BATT reports.

“I don’t want to stay here because they’re horrible people. They’re horrible to us. They try to make our lives difficult – as if it’s not difficult enough. You English, you’re so kind. Are all people like that in England?”

Such was the recurring message that confronted Paula Erol at the makeshift refugee camp known as the New Jungle, outside Calais, earlier this month (November).

She described a camp increasingly cut off from the outside world and patrolled by riot police “dressed like Transformers”. They block access and mount dispersal operations with the apparent intention of reducing its 6,000-strong population by two thirds.

The refugees’ view of the UK couldn’t contrast more starkly. While the French police fire stun grenades, rubber bullets and water canon to contain them, what relatively little comfort they do enjoy is largely thanks to British donors.

“That’s the impression they get,” said Paula. “Someone said to me: ‘Loads of English people come over to help us and they’re really kind.’ I didn’t want to burst his bubble.
‘The people are, yes,’ I said. ‘But the politics, no.’”

Paula, from Broadstairs, is one of a number of Thanet people who have launched appeals for food, clothing, sleeping bags, shoes and other goods over the last few months and crossed the Channel to distribute them among the Jungle’s inhabitants.

She was joined on the trip earlier this month (November) by fellow Broadstairs residents Joyce Edling and Aram Rawf, who years ago himself escaped Iraq with thousands of other Kurdish refugees.

What they saw was a mass of people from a variety of unstable and/or impoverished, mainly African and Middle Eastern nations who now face increasing political hostility, in addition to institutional isolation, in France.

Their actions belie the fact that just a few short months ago, Thanet looked likely to become Nigel Farage’s political bridgehead for UKIP’s anti-immigration, anti-EU message.

In a journal about her visit, Joyce wrote: “The Jungle is exactly how I imagined it would be: mainly scruffy tents and tarpaulins inhabited by desperate people, trying to make the best of their situation. The rain did nothing to enhance the appearance. Indeed, we were walking ankle-deep through mud.”

Last Friday’s ISIS attack on Paris has darkened the political climate further, raising the likelihood of a backlash against the refugees, even though it was such cold-blooded brutality that drove many of them to Calais in the first place.

“It’s moving how they get on and have a life,” Paula said. “People sitting around cooking together, making coffee together, children playing. Obviously, they’re not happy there but what choice do they have?

“The general atmosphere on the camp is stoical and friendly. I said ‘morning’ to everybody I passed, whether they looked or smiled at me or not, and I always got a good response. People always responded with a smile.”

Until recently, it was possible to rock up in a van to help out and deliver donations directly to the Jungle. However, in recent months, the French authorities have restricted access to only volunteers issued with passes, and even this limited contact with the outside world is under threat.

So now, the constant stream of donations are delivered to the “Warehouse”, a building a short distance away. Its location is not widely publicised to avoid far-right groups from targeting it – both the English Defence League and Pegida have been active in Calais.

With the exception of Médecins Sans Frontières and Doctors of the World, there are no recognised non-governmental organisations (NGOs) managing the site. Instead, Paula, Joyce and Rawf arranged access with a non-profit solidarity organisation working on the ground.

They were emailed details of where and when to turn up, as well as the times of the briefings at which volunteers can choose which of the day’s projects to be involved in.

But despite the lack of NGOs, what system there is seems to function well.

Aram speaks Kurdish, Arabic and Farsi, and spent his time working as an interpreter. He was so busy that, once there, his compatriots barely saw him during their stay.

Meanwhile, Paula and Joyce spent their first day helping to sort donations in the Warehouse, before they participated in cleaning and other projects on the camp itself.

“We unpacked the car and shared a cup of coffee with some friendly helpers,” wrote Joyce in a journal about her experiences there. “About 20 volunteers were sorting through a colossal mountain of clothes in cartons and bin-liners. The task looked insurmountable.

“The variety of articles was astonishing. How could people imagine that DVDs, stiletto heels and electric toothbrushes could be useful for refugees living at best in tents and at worst in the open air?

“Having said that, there was a simply amazing amount of fantastic clothing, a lot of which seemed quite new or hardly ever worn.”

The following day, Joyce and Paula reported to the Warehouse for the 9am briefing.

“We stood round in a circle [for] a sort of yoga session to loosen us up,” wrote Joyce. “We are really impressed by the organisation here. No one seems to be in charge and there is no real rota as such, but somehow it all works.”

They joined around 40 volunteers for yet more sorting, among them Jeff, who had travelled to Calais all the way from San Francisco.

Then it was off to help the various communities clean their area of the camp, and they left them gloves, bin bags, sanitation gel and litter pickers so they could manage it themselves.

“This was our first introduction to the camp’s inhabitants,” wrote Joyce. “At one point, I heard a shout ‘hellooooo!’. I turned round and there was such a sweet little Kurdish girl, about four years old, who then launched into helping us with great gusto. Another girl about the same age joined in. The innocence of children! They thought it was a fun game.”

Joyce said she found the work “back-breaking, even though it doesn’t involve any hard labour at all”.

And Paula definitely agreed: “We were so busy that we were totally and utterly knackered by the end of each day.”

Shoes are in great demand in the camp. Many of the Jungle’s inhabitants struggle around in flip-flops or walk the unforgiving, muddy terrain with their heels sticking out of shoes that are far too small.

Said Paula: “On the Friday morning, we sorted in the Warehouse before doing the clean-up. We were advised to take a shopping list if we saw anything that people needed, and to liaise with the communities to see if there was anything they wanted us to bring back.

“We came back with a shopping list of mainly shoes – they’re desperately in need of shoes. The next day, we sorted for another hour or two and made up our shopping list and went back to give them out. We went to visit the women’s centre, because we had a big box of Lego to donate, but Saturday was ‘beauty day’. I’m a masseur, so I got nabbed and spent the rest of the day giving massages to about 14 women. That was exhausting.

“On the Sunday, we took as many shoes as we could carry into the camp, but they were quickly gone. We were surrounded by people needing shoes. We wrote down people’s names and their shoe sizes and went back to the Warehouse, did some sorting and arranged to give them out at the water tap [in the camp].

“But, of course, people saw us carrying the bags through the camp, so they followed us. When we reached the tap, not everyone had turned up, so there were maybe eight pairs of shoes left. Lots of the people who had followed us wanted shoes, but how do you decide who gets a pair?

“You look around at this sea of faces and say, what size are you? They say 42 and, as you get them out, there’s eight hands all trying to grab them.

“At one point, two guys grabbed one pair tied together with their laces and they were struggling. One of them was really angry.

“At the end of it, there were plenty of people who didn’t get any. At one point I said: ‘Guys, guys, if it was possible, I’d open a shoe shop for you all.’ That kind of diffused the atmosphere. Some people laughed and tempers calmed, and some people came up and said ‘you’re really kind, thank you very much’.

“It was horrible to see people reduced to scuffling over something as simple as a pair of shoes.”

Both Paula and Joyce stress that the shoe incident was out of keeping with the rest of their time there, during which the desire for basic human dignity was clearly in evidence.

Said Paula: “As we were coming away from the shoe debacle, a couple of guys approached Joyce and said ‘I’ve got a €500 note, can you change it for me?’ She tried to give him a €250 note, but he just refused it. He was adamant he didn’t want it. He kept saying: ‘My friend, I just want change, please.’
“I’m sure a lot of British people think they’re criminals and crooks that would stab you in the back as soon as look at you, but even when someone tried to give him €250, he did not accept it.

“There might have been some cultural thing about taking money from a woman, but I think that was just stunningly admirable. He might not have been poor – after all, many of them have sold businesses and houses, and have left good jobs, cars and the rest of it.”

Another inmate of the camp Paula and Joyce met was A*** R*** a linguist and university professor in his previous, more settled, life. He helped them carry the bags of shoes, and insisted on being called by his first and last name.

“That really impressed me because, in the midst of all this crap, his loss of status – his loss of everything – he was holding onto his dignity,” said Paula.

“When Joyce and I were leaving the camp, he caught up with us again and thanked us for the shoes and for doing the distribution. I said to him: ‘Do you try to get on the lorries, A*** R***?’ He said yes. And, I asked, if you get to Dover, what next? He said: ‘I don’t know.’”

The UK’s tightening border controls and the calls for reprisals against Isis from the West makes this a particularly testing time for the refugees. Trying to maintain any hope of finding a better life – currently defined as getting inside or clinging to lorries and trains long enough to cross the Channel – is proving difficult.

The French police are becoming ever more punitive, not only when they catch a refugee near the ferry port or the Channel Tunnel, but also in the Jungle itself.

Joyce described how the police caught a teenage boy near the tunnel. They confiscated his shoes, so he had to walk barefooted back to the camp.

Next time, the officers told him, they would also take his trousers.

Encouraged by the sense that Britons are a generous breed, the bulk of the refugees still doggedly cling to the hope for a lucky break – if only because there appears to be no alternative.

Said Paula: “They’re very aware that it’s getting harder to get into the UK. Some Sudanese guys we met were upbeat, but they were saying: ‘Yes, I want to get to the UK, but I don’t think it’s going to happen’.”

Some of the refugees are believed to have applied for asylum in France, but applicants receive no financial support or accommodation while the application is processed. So, according to Paula, they live on the camp and wait to be granted asylum – which, demoralisingly – can take up to a year.

“I never cease to be astonished at the strength of the human spirit,” Joyce wrote. “So many people I met are doing so much to make the most of their miserable existence in the squalor. It is moving beyond belief.

“Along with this experience is my pride at all the help and support that so many from the UK are giving – from ordinary people to churches, schools, ex-army officers and charity organisations. The enormous mountains of clothes and food, the many vans which turn up loaded every day from all parts of the UK, the commitment of so many wonderful volunteers. It made me (uncharacteristically) proud to be British.

“One of the few French people there said he was ashamed at the paucity of helpers and donations from France. No wonder the refugees tell me – often with tears in their eyes – that they love the English.”

To read Aram Rawf’s view of the conditions in the New Jungle see the Winter edition of Thanet Watch in newsagents and shops now, price 80p.

Want to help the refugees? Go to the page on this website HOW TO HELP THE REFUGEES


jeremy corbyn cu

Do you want to help Jeremy Corbyn in his battle against the media and many of his own MPs? Momentum, the group dedicated to supporting Jeremy in his attempt to change the way we do politics is setting up in Thanet. Its first meeting is in Ramsgate on Wednesday 25 November at 7pm in the Oddfellows Hall, 142 High St, Ramsgate CT11 9TT. To read more about this controversial new group see the new issue of Thanet Watch, out now in newsagents & shops across Thanet, price 80p.