UK backs independent media in Ukraine, & other reforms. Praise and concern.

I posted this comment on Facebook, especially aimed at Ukrainian professional friends who work on media related projects, and anyone who cares about reforms.

… and other friends working on media related projects may by interested in this UK FCO (Foreign Office – Foreign Ministry) announcement about support to independent media in Ukraine.
“Foreign Office Minister of State Lord (Tariq) Ahmad of Wimbledon will today (Tuesday 2 July) announce that the UK is supporting independent media in Ukraine and the wider region through a new £9million three year project, as he attends the Ukraine Reform Conference in Canada. The announcement comes ahead of the first Global Media Freedom Conference in London next week.”
And other political reforms.

It was clear from my three months working in Ukraine recently that media independence – at local and regional level as well as national – is of vital importance, and supporting investigative and political journalism. The lack of local political reporting (except some by television, and citizen journalists), and the obvious concerns for their livelihood or safety of even fairly low key independent journalists, hinder the ability to inform the public.

There are two parts of the four reform priorities set out that I am continually uneasy about:
“We must remain focussed on fundamental reforms: first, reform of the judiciary; second, a well-designed privatisation programme; third, legislation to dismantle monopolies; and, fourth, reforms to media ownership that ensure a free and fair press.”

Judges. I’ve met many Ukrainian judges, in many places and they strike me as being as professional, educated and independent as judges I’ve met in Western Europe (if rather younger than many of the judges in the UK). Of course I haven’t seen them in cases, and have only met briefly, but I’ve been impressed by the regional, city and town judges that I’ve met. As one judge said to me four years ago, people criticise judges but they don’t usually criticise the judge in a case that they are in, or a judge that they know personally. I don’t know the judges at national or Kyiv level who have been often embroilled in controversy – and heavely criticised by Maidan and civil society activists and reformers. But the principle of judicial independence is something that should not be lightly tampered with.

Secondly, this statement talks about a “well-designed privatisation programme.” That is better than the gung ho usually American and London American backed think tanks who seem to think privatisation is an end in itself. There are only practical reasons in favour of or against state ownership or privatisation of utilities and monopolies for example. Being done on ideological grounds is a bad reason. Being done badly will discredit the reform process in Ukraine and set it back.

Nearly every ordinary person I met in Ukraine was most concerned about the cost of utilities, the poor quality / cost of health care, lack of good job opportunities at home for skilled workers and professionals with higher education, and they wanted the War to end. No Ukrainian President can wave a magic wand to solve the first or the last. Only Putin / the Russian State or Army can end the last. On the former at least (as I’ve been arguing for years) there is now big investment into renewable energy in Ukraine, and an emphasis on energy efficiency (much of the latter backed by aid from foreign taxpayers). New windows in very many schools that I visited was a very good start for the children and staff in them.

In Contact. ВКонтакте (V Kontakte).
I also posted it on the ‘Russian speaking’ social media VK (In Contact) which is still used by many in Ukraine, especially popular with Russian speaking young people, even though it has been restricted. Ukrainian government policy and communication fails to reach this audience especially, measures such as (quite reasonably) restricting Russian owned social media without preparing people for alternatives was a particular own goal. One that the new President, a first language Russian speaker like many in Eastern and Central and southern Ukraine, probably understands better than most.

Shakespeare in Chernihiv, and Zaporizhzhya, North central, and South East Ukraine.

One thing puzzled me continually in the lovely historic small city of Chernihiv. Everywhere I go, since my brother Pat was creating Shakespeare Magazine, I see Shakespeare connections. There is always everywhere some link to William Shakespeare.


But not in Chernihiv. I didn’t see any link at all in this cultured modern Ukrainian city.


Until my very last night. Going to call in to a bar to see the barman that I knew, Rosti (Rostislav), I saw this poster on a door next to the entrance to the basement bar. For a performance at the Theatre in the city a few days earlier.


A one man performance by Valerii Chilyaev. In my last week of work in the town I probably walked past a giant banner advertising this event, as it was on at the main theatre on the main square. 20 April. “Performance after the performance”. A one man show including extracts from Othello, Macbeth, Hamlet, Julius Caesar, Taming of the Shrew, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Twelfth Night or What You Will. By Valerij Chyglyayev, Honored Artist of Ukraine.


By contrast as soon as I arrived in Zaporizhzhya, the post industrial post Soviet city in the South East I saw a Shakespeare poster immediately. Although this isn’t a surprise in the Faculty of Foreign Philology (Language) in a city that is a centre of Shakespeare scholars in Ukraine. A week earlier there had a been a whole host of events, put on by students for students across the Zaporizhzhya National University, to celebrate the bard’s birthday. I saw a poster for one postgraduate giving a seminar, and then this noticeboard with several others. All badged as part of the large scale ‘Shakespeare Days in Ukraine 2019’ linked running festival of events across the country. Many of the links promoted by the energy and ideas of Professor Nataliya Torkut.


Just one of the presentations was by Oksana Sobol, speaking on Shakespeare and Nazi ideology. How the texts and words were used both to support and resist Nazi ideology. Oksana gave the same presentation to third year students immediately after my talk to them, on 10 May, about Shakespeare Magazine.


When talking about Nazi attempts to co-opt Shakespeare one can’t but help laugh that Hamlet here is Gamlet (like that well known magician, Garry Potter). Ironic as well that this talk was taking place yards from where Hitler gave two speeches in 1943, the day after victory over the Nazis was celebrated. Our civilised cultural links have survived and grown stronger.


With thanks to Christina Bondarenko for original and additional translation.

Why everything you know about the UK housing crisis is wrong.

Housebuilding & homes crisis debunked.

An unsuccessful entry for the ‘right wing’ ‘libertarian’ think tank the Institute of Economic Affairs Koch prize on how to solve the housing crisis in the UK.

Housing crisis solutions Koch prize K Reid final

Cover note to follow. 04 May. A shorter version of this soapbox appeared in Liberator Magazine, January 2019.


Housing crisis solutions Koch prize K Reid final

Back in Ukraine as a professional International Election observer.

From 11 Feburary to 1 May I have been working in Ukraine as an election observer for the election of the President. Apart from training, briefings and meetings in Kyiv, I worked for two and a half months in the Chernihiv Oblast (region) in the north of Ukraine, 100km north of Kyiv. My team, Long Term Observer Team 28 (LTO28) covered the small city, towns and districts of Nizhyn, Pryluky and Bakhmach, south of the historic city of Chernihiv, the regional capital.
Deployed by SOLACE International Elections, joint with the British East West Centre, on behalf of the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office to join the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights Election Observation Mission to Ukraine for the Presidential Election, 31 March and 21 April 2019.

Birmingham and Zaporizhia, Ukraine. Twin cities, back in the USSR?

Thanks to the library catalogue prompt at the Library of Birmingham, & the helpful staff of the Archives section, after 4 years of enquiries I’ve found the evidence that Zaporizhzhya in Ukraine is or was twinned with Birmingham in Great Britain. People in Zaporizhia remember this but no one in Birmingham seemed to. The sixth largest city in Ukraine with a population of 750,000 people.

I hadn’t thought to look for the spelling Zaporozhe – but the library catalogue software prompted me, “did I mean …” and up came one sole result. A record from 1980 of a typed document with no length and no author. ‘Zaporozhe : Birmingham’s twin city in the USSR’.
Typescript (photocopy), [1980]

And a helpful member of the Archives & Collections team volunteered to look if there were any other items at the same class number. She came back with three slim card folders with A4 photocopied documents.

These included ‘Programme for the visit to Birmingham of a civic delegation from Zaporozhye U.S.S.R, 24th Sept.-1st October 1973’


‘Communique of the first meeting of the twin cities of the USSR and UK’
Typescript (photocopy), 1987.

The twin cities met in Donetsk in July 1987.

I hope that these Birmingham – Zaporizhzhia links can be rekindled. I first was told about them by Assistant Professor Marina Vorybyova at Zaporizhzhya National University in October 2014. That was my second visit to the city and Ukraine, and first visit as a volunteer honorary Professor. I’ve been back four more times since (including volunteering and a lengthy work trip to Ukraine) and will be there again in the Spring.

The 1980 twin city pamphlet is a fascinating 7 page read, by the Birmingham Branch of the Great Britain USSR Association with the help of the Centre for Russian and East European Studies of the University of Birmingham. Contact M. J. Berry.

Of course the full, lavish & wide ranging programme for the 1973 delegation from the Soviet city included a tour of Shakespeare’s birthplace & performance of Romeo & Juliet in Stratford upon Avon. This is fitting as Zaporizhzhya is home of the Ukrainian Shakespeare Centre. You can read more about that on the Shakespeare Magazine website.

Thanks to Wikipedia for explaining the naming (and statistics):, though there are more different transliterations in English that you can see.
Zaporizhia (Ukrainian: Запорі́жжя [zɑpoˈriʒʒɑ] Zaporizhzhya) or Zaporozhye (Russian: Запоро́жье [zəpɐˈroʐjɪ]), formerly Alexandrovsk (Russian: Алекса́ндровск[ɐlʲɪˈksandrəfsk]; Ukrainian: Олександрівськ [ɔlɛksɑndriu̯sʲk])
(Viewed 29/01/2019).

These are the transliterated into Latin letters name variants that I have come across (I may have missed some)
Zaporizhia / Zaporozhe / Zaporizhzhia / Zaporizhzhya / Zaporozhye / Zaporizia

The third record the archivist found doesn’t even appear on the catalogue when searched under that Call Number LP 31.8. (It was mistyped as P 31.8). A great bit of old fashioned library research.

With thanks to Bob Deed of Birmingham, friend of Ukraine and expert SE Europe traveller, for his continued support in finding out about these links between two major European industrial powerhouses.

Zaporozhe Birmingham s twin city in the USSR scan

Birmingham civic delegation ex Zaporozhye USSR

First meeting twin cities USSR and UK 1987

The ridiculousness of ‘age barring’ alcohol related websites.

The most silly gesture of the ‘responsible drinking’ campaign and anti-alcohol lobby is the requirement on many websites connected with breweries, wineries, vineyards and drinks groups (alcoholic drinks groups) to tick a box to say that you are aged over 18 before visiting the website. How is blocking those aged under 18 from reading about beer, wine or spirits a way to encourage them to ‘drink responsibly’? (The slogan of the Portman Group of concerned drinks companies). It is an aged 21 requirement in some old fashioned countries where guns are more available than drink. Leaving aside the fact that it is a self-verification system. Encouraging, educating, supporting (in a context of family, friends or as could have been the case with Sixth Formers in the past, teachers) young people – and any age – to drink socially, enjoyably, to enjoy the experience rather than simply volume and getting drunk, these are useful ways to help a better drinking culture in Britain, more like that of many of our continental European friends.

Banning people under age 18 from reading about alcohol on websites is no way to do it. On principle I refuse to put in my details and enter any website that has an age bar. I won’t look at that brewery or company site – I will almost inevitably find another website that tells me what I want to know about the beer, wine or vineyard. I’ve learnt, and try to follow, three lessons in recent years. To concentrate on enjoying the experience and spending time with friends, rather than focusing on drinking and getting drunk. To eat when drinking (as they do usually in Ukraine, Georgia and Spain, sometimes France and Italy). And to drink water or other non alcoholic drinks – to get less drunk less quickly and stay hydrated to get less hungover. My efforts have often led to more enjoyable experiences, both in the evening and the next day. Whether alone or with friends – lessons best learnt with family and friends, to drink enjoyably with food and water as well. Pub companies, the Government, health / anti-alcohol lobby and the big companies and small craft breweries could all take a less preachy, less nagging approach. As the Council and Police advertising campaigns in Liverpool and elsewhere have encouraged – aid people to have a good time, not have a night that ends up bad.

The gallery shows some examples. Mostly screen shots from my phone. On a couple a friend’s Facebook pic in Messenger was also captured so I had to edit that out.

The and other health related websites do provide a wide variety of useful information, advice and practical tips. All about helping people have better times.

How to end the obscenely excessive Executive pay at BT and other top firms.

In November 2013 in Liberator magazine I wrote about the failure of the shareholder model of company ownership. (Printed as ‘Time to close the casino’, Liberator 362, p. 18). More recently Peter Tatchell wrote about the need for economic democracy and Lib Dem peer Trevor Smith in the same edition criticised the British capitalist economic model (April 2018, Liberator 389). The obscene excessive Chief Executive pay and pay offs at BT show the model and its regulation is a failure. Human rights campaigner, Tatchell, is right that more inclusion of workers may help. Here are two simple ideas for BT:

1) Hire a Chief Executive for quarter of a million and see how the results compare relative to the ones being paid over a million [£2 million in fact]. I’m willing to bet that the results will be significantly better than a quarter or an eighth as good. If they do badly, then change them (with a non-obscene pay off clause in their contract) and replace with another one after a year.

2) Sack Tony Ball and the rest of the “approving obscenely excessive executive pay committee” and hire a randomly selected pool of ten BT employees to do the job instead. Pay them each a share of half the amount that Tony Ball and colleagues were paid to recommend hugely unequal pay. See how well they do. I’m sure that randomly picked employees paid a lot less will be able to recommend salaries that get very high quality leaders to work for BT.


Pay those leaders a quarter or an eighth of what they are paid now – keen, ambitious, bright people who want to succeed, I reckon they’ll be better not worse than the crop there has been. A pretty safe bet in value for money that they’ll do much better relatively than Gavin Patterson and Philip Jansen. Football companies [Clubs] could do the equivalent with some of their ridiculously over paid footballers and give money back to fans.

Incidentally the media coverage of the BT excessive pay was highly misleading. Headlines gave the impression there had been major improvements when that had hardly been the case. The Belfast Telegraph, Irish Independent and Daily Mail were among the papers  that gave headlines such as “BT Acts on Excessive Chief Executive Pay Following Massive Revolt”. This line was common in the regionals & Scottish titles, so probably syndicated. Perhaps predictably it was the line as well in the possibly biased business press. The Guardian especially and the Telegraph were more realistic. A shareholder revolt is good news – my Liberator article attacked a model where shareholders get money for actually contributing nothing, but any effort to share rewards more fairly should be applauded.

(I must declare an interest I would prefer BT to split the obscene pay with employees, customers and me as a shareholder to keep us all happy).

Ironically British Telecom is the only company I have shares in (out of my small portfolio of half a dozen or so shareholdings) where I vote in favour of the auditors each year. I on principle vote against the corporate auditors in each AGM vote as a small blow against a corporate racket that protects auditors and high pay and does virtually nothing for shareholders or employees or anyone else. It’s a highly paid (and yes perhaps highly skilled) cartel of four or so firms. British Telecommunications is the only company in its annual report that clearly, fully and reasonably explains why and how it has appointed or reappointed the auditors that it has done. I first read this about four years ago and was impressed that the writers of the report had taken the trouble to explain and justify the otherwise (in other companies) apparent automatic reappointment or appointment of one of the same club of overpriced City firms.

Electoral observing in Britain.

The British Electoral Commission has published their New Code of Practice for Electoral Observers and a link to the consultation response paper. Here are key actions from their email. And I paste the specific links after that.

“We are now taking forward a number of actions to update the scheme. These include:

· launching a new online application process for individuals and organisations seeking accreditation as electoral observers from January 2019

· redesigning the electoral observer ID badge which will be issued to all observers from January 2019

· developing a programme of work to improve the guidance we make available to electoral observers, and those running elections

· introducing a voluntary feedback mechanism for electoral observers from the next scheduled elections in May 2019

· updating our approach to how we handle applications for accreditation of electoral observers”

The response is here:

And the revised Code of Practice here:

Pre-election processes comment. Overall I personally agree with the changes, mostly improvements in the working of the scheme, but criticise a couple of areas where no change is proposed. The Commission has engaged with feedback received. For example on the issue of whether observers should notify administrators in advance of where they intend to observe. Also in relation to observers giving feedback (both encouraged, but not a requirement). On the other hand they state, pretty pathetically, that observers cannot observe pre-Eday processes such as “access to electoral registers and staff training” because we “cannot provide for this without changes to the legal framework.” Instead of proposing to Parliament to improve the law. (The same answer you get about not being able to inspect candidate election expenses online which is pathetic in the 2010s).

In response to a question from my Irish colleague, Michael G, I made this point – I cannot think of any legal reason why the organisers cannot invite anyone for good reason to observe training. It would seem wholly reasonable to invite accredited observers to do so if they wish. I can also think of no practical reason. I hope someone will correct me if I am wrong – there are a miniscule number of people registered as accredited observers in the UK. I personally know three only.  So I don’t think numbers wanting to observe would be a problem. [I’ve now checked the numbers and give more details at the end – there are actually 250 observers, though not all British.]

The requirement of being politically impartial comment. The Electoral Commission are reiterating their very wide interpretation of a being politically impartial requirement. This was a key area that I objected to. They have considered, engaged with (slightly) and rejected the critique of such a requirement. “Some suggested that political impartiality should only apply during an election period, rather than for the full length of the accreditation. In summary they – public officials – decide (full extract below) “members, officers or employees of a UK registered political party who would be, or are likely to be, politically active during their accreditation period must not apply for accreditation.”

. “Being affiliated to a UK registered political party, or a non-party campaign group, does not automatically disqualify a person from being accredited as an electoral observer. However, members, officers or employees of a UK registered political party who would be, or are likely to be, politically active during their accreditation period must not apply for accreditation.

If we find evidence that an applicant has previously campaigned, or has been politically active, we will contact the applicant to make sure they are aware of and can meet the requirement for political impartiality during their period of accreditation. We believe this is essential to maintain integrity and confidence in the independence of the electoral observer scheme.”

These restrictive criteria seem to me to clearly infringe an individual’s right to both freedom of association and freedom of expression. If they exercise their freedom of expression or freedom of association even significantly before an election period they are barred from being able to be an observer. It erroneously gives the impression as well that people who are party politically active are not able to be objective.

A personal note (as an aggrieved self-publicist 🙂 ). In an administrative error, I find that the Commission engaged with the points that I made but did not actually list me in the respondents to the consultation [unless, erroneously, as an international observer abroad they have put me in their category of ‘accredited observer’]. I suspect this is the misinterpretation of law by many government and public bodies (and petition websites) that believe if an individual replies to a consultation (or signs a petition) data protection means their identity should not be revealed, even though the individual is specifically replying to a public consultation / signing a public petition. I never intend my responses to public consultations, or signature on petitions, to be secret.

The number of independent accredited election observers in the UK?

I am surprised to find that there are 250 accredited observers in the current UK list that runs out at the end of December. Although this includes both officials from government departments and some foreign government and organisation observers I guess from the designations.
These numbers include 20 from a Ukrainian NGO (one that I haven’t heard of myself, ‘Leading Legal Initiatives’), UK Cabinet Office and Scottish Government officials, Korean and Singaporean diplomats. The UK NGO Democracy Volunteers is the largest group (50), and there is one enterprising school listed, Stowe School. I know at least 5 of the people on the list.

The demolition of the Coach House at 23 Aigburth Road, Liverpool (El Chocon)

(Destruction of) Local history, corner. In July I was horrified that the demolition of the only surviving historic building on the north east side of Aigburth Road was allowed. This is an area historically of large Victorian houses, with terraced streets opposite. At the back of one of the few remaining Victorian villas was a period old coach house, full of character. It was demolished on behalf of the Vinco Group property developers, with the permission of Liverpool City Council – the planning officers of Liverpool City Council recommended allowing it – and no objection from the country’s official conservation body, English Heritage. A ‘historic buildings adviser’ Peter de Figueiredo wrote the report in favour of demolition of this historic building. Local councillors made no representations, and only 5 local residents did (all objecting to the large scale development of the site). I suspect that virtually no resident of the Aigburth Road area had any idea that this vandalism was being proposed and would be waved through by the City Council, backed by a ‘heritage expert’ for hire, acquiesced at by the body supposed to protect England’s heritage. So that one of the few historic buildings in what is supposed to be a conservation area is now gone.

One resident objected to the proposed flats on the basis that they would be five storey in height, out of keeping with anything else in the area. That is correct and it is not considered in the Planning report at all. That could be because the planned block of flats on Aigburth Road was reduced in height (according to Figueiredo’s report) in a revised application “following discussions with the Council and Historic England.” The planning officials adopt a line of Historic England (did they used to be English Heritage?) “the location of the new building means that it will be read in the context of the surrounding modern structures, rather than the historic development along Alexandra Drive.” What this bizarrely points out is that demolishing an historic building (albeit one altered and with few original indoor features) will mean the new building will be read (on that side of the main road) in the context of other modern buildings. The fact the historic building was a feature and part of the cityscape seems lost on the heritage officials. My usual view that those tasked with conserving and celebrating Britain’s heritage care mostly about the large and very old, rather than smaller and newer or industrial, is reinforced. And that planning laws about conservation can usually be overcome if the developer and development is large enough, but not as often when commonsense is asked for in relation to individuals genuinely trying to do their best.

Theresa May & Conservative Party squabbling let us all down.

We have to work together across Europe and multinationaly to overcome the great problems of our time. War, economic hardship, terrorism, environmental damage and catastrophe, organised crime, social breakdown. Brexit is the greatest threat to working together, the greatest surrender to isolation and hate, the greatest abdication of leadership by our political leaders and representatives in generations. It is a direct threat to peace, social and economic and political cooperation in Europe, that puts us all at risk. Theresa May is unprincipled, valueless and lacking in vision, in it as a politician just for being in it. A hypocrite. Someone who sells weapons to Saudi Arabia to slaughter civilians cannot be a Christian. Someone whose Government seems oblivious to the obscene gap between the super rich and poorest workers cannot be a Christian. I am not religious but too many people falsely claim to follow caring peaceful religious values when their actions do not reflect that.

Theresa May is unprincipled & hypocritical but these Tory MPs who are queuing up to stroke the tail of the reactionary DUP dog are just horrible. Historical dead ends. The Democratic Unionist Party play the historical envy and division game – they actively resist and hinder improvements in Northern Ireland, blind to the huge benefits there have been over the last twenty years. Sinn Fein also play envy and historical untruth and blame but they are not holding a British Government to ransom.

Yet what of the UK’s ‘Official Opposition’ Labour Party in this time of need. The Labour Party, Britain’s ‘Official Opposition’? They prefer tribal party advantage to statesmanship. The Labour Party, its Leader Jeremy Corbyn, most of its Shadow Cabinet & MPs, and heartland activists put party and sectional interest before that of tackling the greatest political challenges of our age. They prefer to score tactical victories over the Conservatives, to keep their ideological and tribal purity. Britain suffers because in part they make the mistake that Liberal Democrats used to make – of refusing to say anything controversial in case they lost votes. Unlike the Lib Dems, Labour does put forward its policies – it’s just that many of its policies are highly sectarian and divisive and do not include telling anti-EU voters that they were lied to for thirty years and voted in a referendum based on lies and not knowing what they were voting for. The whole of Europe suffers while most of Britain’s political representatives refuse to play a leading role in Europe. The SNP, Greens, Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru, along with a few principled and brave Labour and handful of Conservative MPs have been exceptions.

The British media don’t report that the DUP represent only 36% of the voters of Northern Ireland. The clear majority do not support them. For UK totals – only just over half the vote of the Green Party, less than one third of the Scottish National Party, less than twice Plaid vote for 2.5 times the seats, only 12% of the Lib Dems vote. 10 extreme reactionaries leading Tory Government & Labour policy. All the while while they refuse to do their jobs in Northern Ireland by them and Sinn Fein failing to run the Assembly. Endangering all the improvements since the 1990s and blaming everyone else but themselves for their failures to sustain and increase improvements for all.

Those people who honestly supported leaving the European Union on legal, economic and political grounds have been misled and sold a fairytale by fraudsters and dangerous ideologues. There are some people with genuine reasons for opposing the European Union as it was, or usually as it became. These are not the Brit nihilist anti-EU extremists who dominate social media, the ones who don’t mind which nasties they are in bed with. I hope the thinking Leavers will reconsider and join a campaign so that we can stay in a reformed streamlined EU on better terms – something British Prime Ministers should have lead a coalition of other countries to achieve. If you are on the side of Jacob Rees-Mogg, extremist Conservatives, reckless wreckers like Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, ideologues like Len McCluskey, Mick Cash, nasty populists Kate Hoey, Frank Field, Aaron Banks, tax exile billions & the haters of the Mail, Express & Sun. & Vladimir Putin & Trump, then you are are on the wrong side. A minority of extremists, oligarchs & profiteers are trying to force our country away from values of tolerance and fairness. All of us have to try and stop them before we lose what has made Britain the great country that it is.