A View From Kurdistan By Cllr Karen Constantine

By Cllr Karen Constantine 

It seemed to me that there was scant coverage in the UK on the critical situation emerging in Kurdistan.

This was a surprise given its global importance and that independence referenda are a current ‘zeitgeist’ issue (Brexit, Scotland, Catalonia, etc ). 

By contrast, here we were, in Kurdistan, post referendum as part of the UK election monitoring delegation saturated in news, digital media and surrounded by people of all nationalities intensely absorbed and totally preoccupied with every twist, turn and nuance of this moment of political and social history. 
My companions, other delegation members, were a mix of MPs, MEPs, Peers, political analysts, trade unionists, Kurds, reporters, and more. 

A substantial number from around the world were evidently deployed across Kurdistan to ‘monitor’ the referendum to see if it was free and fair. Our League of Kurdish Nations delegation comprised 18 people. 

It’s an often overused hyperbole, but this really was the ‘trip of a lifetime’. Not just for the obvious thrill of discovering a captivating country – Kurdistan is mesmerising – but the immersion into the referendum was like nothing else I have ever experienced, nor frankly, do I expect to again. 

We were divided into several teams in order to cover as many polling stations and areas as possible. My own team, which included seasoned political activists that know election process inside out, spent an arduously long day observing 6 polling stations and monitoring the close of the vote and the beginning of the count on 25th September.
We were a formally accredited group, registered and carrying credentials. We were assigned a protocol car* and driver, a polling station list and after that we were absolutely free to go as we pleased. We joked Python-style “no one expects the independent monitoring team”. Nor did they. Our arrival at each station was unannounced. We swept in. Of course we were looking for obvious signs of a well run polling station, no coercion of people, a regular and systematic process, an adherence to key polling principles and conformity across the piece. This we found. 

With regard to unfettered participation of citizens we noted, women with children, young and old, refugees, Yazides, Muslims, Turkmen and Christian’s. Kurds leave you in no doubt of their pride of being peaceful and inclusive. They are proud of their religious tolerance and inclusivity. 
At the IDP polling stations (displaced person camps – there are 240,000 refugees in Kurdistan in 52 camps, 41 are from Iraq and the rest are from elsewhere in the Middle East) we came across those people who have refugee status, mainly from the camps of Mosul. 

These polling stations were overwhelmed

Demand had not been adequately calculated, resulting in far, far too few staff to cope. This meant that what had started as optimistic and patient queues were becoming increasingly fractious in the face of 5-6 hour wait in the slowly snaking queues. A late afternoon decision to extend polling station hours was wise. As far as I’m aware all those that wanted to vote and who were registered to vote, voted.
As a substitute delegation for the UN, who could not facilitate this unrecognised referendum, we enjoyed unprecedented political access. We were invited to all the key forums and meetings with High Commission, Electoral Commission and the Governor of Erbil. I met with and questioned Hushar Suwaley of the KDP and the Head of the foreign relations bureau for the PUK. I also met and questioned members of the KRG (A Turkman MP Dr Mohammedali Yaseen Taha ) and KRG staff member Rezan Kader currently ‘acting’ as Consulate equivalent. We even had an opportunity to meet with the Bazarni foundation which provides support to 17,000 orphans among other amazing work. 

A mix of formal and seemingly informal gatherings gave adequate opportunity to share observations and ask occasionally thorny questions. 

What are the Thorny questions? 

Was this a ‘proper’ referendum? 

Well, no. Under the control of Iraq, at odds with the will of the Iranians and clearly incurring the wrath of Turkey’s Erdogan, it was ‘all but’ a legitimate referendum. Well conducted, sincere and overwhelmingly precise in its outcome. 93% of the vote, some 72% of the population voted ‘yes’ to independence. 

However the legal status of such a quasi legal process is analysed it cannot be dismissed. 
The will of the people is clear. 

Will Turkey now cut off its nose to spite its face? 

The threat to starve the Kurds by withholding £8-10 Billion of trade from Turkey to Kurdistan seems at best ill thought though as its this line of business and trade, including facilitation of the lucrative oil pipeline which feeds Ceyhan 550,000 barrels of oil per day the KRG’s main source of income. But clearly also revenue stream for Turkey. 

Iraq’s threats to close down air space have manifested with Erbil and Sulaimaniya closed. But for how long? 


Meanwhile UKs Foreign policy is a joker card in Boris Johnson’s clumsy hands.
Those of us that support the Kurds, both politically and emotionally – because it feels like the right thing, must do what we can do to apply political pressure. 

The patience of the Kurds throughout their decades of oppression is remarkable. They are the last group in the world without a ‘state’. This has been a battle of hearts and minds. Despite stating otherwise I wonder if they will move to a unilateral Declaration of Independence. After all, if it’s good enough for the Catalonians…

There’s an old Kurdish saying ‘Soup cannot be eaten at the same temperature it’s cooked at – you have to let it settle down.’ We’ll all have to wait … and hope…

*’protocol’ was the support team put into place to facilitate our fact finding. 


Karen is a Labour Councillor and was in Kurdistan for the elections.

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Lisa Mulholland- The Avenger Review: Money Power Love by Joss Sheldon

By Lisa Mulholland 

“Three friends, united by nature, divided by nurture”

As soon as I read the first page of this book that is released tomorrow; I knew I that I would love this tale and that it would be one of those ‘unputdownable’ novels. From the outset it is clear that this fictitious story that’s based on real life events has an underlying moral message.

When it opened with the nature and nurture debate on the first page, I was hooked.

We start with three men born 3 seconds apart in the same hospital. And we follow the twists and turns of their lives with their very different fates and fortunes guiding the way.  And then we are transported by Sheldons’ words, back into the 1700s. His vivid descriptions bring to life the smells of the workhouse, the visuals of the muddy, dreary banks of London and the motivations and dreams of each of the main characters Hugo, Archibald and Mayer.

It is a compelling tale that has underlying messages about the class system of the this country, while it allows us to rethink some of our own beliefs that we may have had instilled in us from a young age. It bravely challenges us to challenge our own beliefs when we see how three men are divided and connected at the same time.

I couldn’t help but draw parallels with the issues raised in the story and the issues we are faced with today in Tory Britain. 300 years on from the time period of when this story is set, we are still faced with similar issues, such as attitudes towards migrants, poverty and education.

It’s quite a revelation despite being a politics graduate, to learn historical facts about the origins of money, debt and economics. I have learned so much that I had not expected to learn and I have actually now been inspired to research more into British history, and the origins of class and will probably be blogging about these subjects in the near future, thanks to Sheldon.


For those readers that might not normally be interested in these subjects
, I would say that this story stands alone as an interesting, engaging and thought provoking story for anyone! 


Even those not usually interested in politics or economics. And that is because this writer weaves facts in with a story that is captivating: we desperately need to know what happens to these characters who are motivated by very different things; money, power and love.

I thoroughly enjoyed it and like any good book I feel a little piece of this will stay with me forever.

My message to any potential reader would be to read this book and just enjoy the tale it tells. If you feel inspired as I do to reflect on the wider issues it addresses or if you find that Rolling Stones song reference (I challenge you to find it) then that is an added bonus!


The book goes on sale tomorrow:

https://www.amazon.com/Money-Power-Love-Joss-Sheldon-ebook/dp/B075L6CCFZ

Why We Welcome an ‘Opt Out’ System for Organ Donation By Kelly Grehan and Lisa Mulholland 

By Kelly Grehan and Lisa Mulholland

** Note** Since we first published the article in October 2017, MPs have voted on the second reading of this Bill today (23/2/2018) and it is one step closer to becoming a reality. It is a landmark vote.

Among the hilarity of Theresa May’s speech at the Conservative Party Conference yesterday, was an announcement of a consultation, which if followed up on will literally save the lives of many people in this country – a plan to make the Organ Donor Register opt out, so consent is presumed unless you remove it.  


6,500 people are currently waiting for an organ, and a chance to live their life free from dialysis, ventilators, tubes and other medical procedures . 175 of these are children!! 

It is an unimaginable situation, waking up every morning wondering if this will be the day you, or your child, are given a chance of life or if it will be another day of struggle and disappointment.

In 2015/16 466 patients died in need of an organ and a further 881 were removed from the transplant waiting list
; many of whom would have died shortly afterwards.

These are shocking figures. It is all too easy for us just to see them as statistics. It is easy for those of us who have never been in a situation where our loved one is hanging on to life by a thread to imagine what that must feel like. Literally waiting for an organ to become available. And unfortunately the reality is that the family hoping for an organ to become available are in reality at the mercy of some one else’s misfortune.

And therein lies the problem.


Despite surveys showing that 90% of the population support organ donation only 30% of have joined the Organ Donor Register.

The shortage is further compounded by consent for organ donation in the UK remaining one of the lowest in Europe, with consent at 62%. This is mostly due to families refusing, having been unaware until the point of death of the person’s wishes.

We ask ourselves why do people not actually consent. Why they don’t sign along that dotted line? When push comes to shove it seems that people just can’t cross that line. 

Perhaps thinking of their own mortality is a step too far for some?
When the opportunity presents itself to donate a loved ones organ , it is usually during a time of massive trauma and shock. Again it easy for us to objectively see the benefit of organ donation from the outside.

But imagine that you are on the brink of losing a loved one yourself. Imagine trying to comprehend losing a child suddenly? It doesn’t bear thinking about. And so we don’t think about it.

Many of us don’t want to imagine losing a loved one. So we don’t consider organ donation. In reality it is our worst nightmare to lose a loved one suddenly, unexpectedly, and ‘before time’.

The circumstances are not exactly ideal for rational and logical thinking. And so when a doctor approaches a parent or loved one to ask for consent for organ donation the answer is sometimes no. 

Similarly to that parent hoping and wishing for an organ, another parent could be on the other side of that wall also not wanting to contemplate a child’s death.

Perhaps they shut down?

Perhaps they go into denial?

Perhaps they cannot accept in that moment that their child will die too. It’s quite a complex and brutal situation. 

For an organ to be transplanted, the body of the donor needs to be kept ‘alive’ for all intents and purposes. Again. Not something any of us would like to comprehend.
Fear, shock, denial and trauma prevent families from making important decisions about organ donation.
That is why ‘opt out’ is the best way forward in our opinion.

It may allow for people to not have to think about the trauma, their loved ones ( or their own) mortality and the technicalities of organ donation.

Reflectively and hypothetically many people would like to be able to give life to others with their organs. And this system allows for freedom of religion and belief when one chooses not to donate organs. The debate over whether you should or should not donate an organ is a matter for a separate blog in itself.

But for now let us hope that the ‘opt out’ system is put into place so that fewer people die waiting for a transplant . But also so those going through trauma themselves do not have to think the unthinkable and consent to something so difficult but yet so important during an emotional and confusing time.


For more information on organ donation please visit: 

https://www.organdonation.nhs.uk/register-to-donate/register-your-details/

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Why We Should Be Worried  About The Rise Of Gambling Addiction By Kelly Grehan

By Kelly Grehan

Last week I attended an event with Matt Zarb-Cousin, he is known for his previous role as Jeremy Corbyn’s Spokesperson, but is a long term campaigner for the organisation Fairer Gambling (http://fairergambling.org/about-the-campaign/). Since listening to him I’ve been looking at the awful impact gambling now has on our communities.
I grew up with relatives who would bet on the horse racing every Saturday and for them gambling was a harmless pleasure, akin to collecting stamps or going fishing.  

Whilst gambling remains harmless for some, for others it is a desperate source of misery. 

More than 2 million people in the UK are now either problem gamblers or at risk of addiction, according to the industry regulator, the Gambling Commission. They also estimated that the number of British over-16s deemed to be problem gamblers had grown by a third in three years, suggesting that about 430,000 people suffer from a serious habit.

Gambling advertising is now everywhere.

Nine premier league football teams now carry bookmakers names on their shirts. During half time, TV advert breaks are now filled with aggressive adverts flashing up the odds on who the next scorer will be and urging them to log on and place a bet. They are now such a staple part of half time advertising of football games, and have normalised gambling so much that many children think the sole purpose of the break in play is to allow audiences an opportunity to place a bet.
Fixed Odd Betting Machines are a major problem, allowing gamblers to spend £100 every 20 seconds. Indeed the bookies, once primarily concerned with horse racing and football bets, currently make 60% of their income from the machines. 

Currently shops are allowed to have up to 4 machines and this is one of the main reasons for the high street becoming full of betting shops: to allow the company to get more machines in. 

As many traditional shops have departed the high street, the number of bookies and arcades has risen.

I feel these machines are an undeniable source of misery: 43% of people who use the machines are ‘problem gamblers.’ Unlike bingo or a night at the dogs there is no social interaction, in fact I visited a bookies before writing this piece, at noon on Saturday and found people so absorbed in the machine they did not respond to any stimulation like noise. It was a sad sight.  
The machines inflict further troubles to the towns they occupy. One third of the machines are smashed every year, meaning the call outs to betting shops by Police are far above the average to other high street shops. Most have only one member of staff, on a low wage, in store at any one time, so their impact on the total economy is minimal.  

The mental health repercussions of problematic gambling are immense. 

The National Council on Problem Gambling estimates that 80% of addicted gamblers think about killing themselves and one in five make an attempt to take their own lives. As a result, gambling addiction costs the UK up to £1.6 billion a year in mental health, police and welfare system services.

A study published in the Journal Addiction last year found that all gambling increases the participants likelihood of engaging in violence. The gambling industry contribute £10 million per annum of their £13 billion profit towards gambling treatment.  

The social effect of addictive gambling does great damage to the family unit and to the disposable income the family should enjoy.

Poorer people are targeted more by gambling companies: there are twice as many machines/bookies in poorer boroughs and gambling companies are even harvesting data to deliberately target low-income gamblers and people who have given up.

Inevitably calls to set limits on gambling we be met by calls of nanny-statism. But I would like to point to parallels with the smoking ban, which has seen marked improvements in public health since it was introduced in 2007. There are already strict laws on the times junk food and alcohol can be advertised on television. I think the same restrictions should be placed on the advertising of gambling. 

Why not ban fixed odd betting machines altogether? We ban drugs, driving without a seatbelt and cycling without a helmet in order to protect individuals from their own bad judgement, why would this be any different? 

It is not as if the machines provide any positive socialisation or community benefits.
Of course problem gambling has always existed, but the rise in it and the implications it has for those affected and the costs to the state of the health problems it generates surely mean government action should be taken.  
If  you have been affected by any of the issues in this article and would like more information please visit:

https://www.gamblersanonymous.org.uk/

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I Am A Mental Health Worker And This Is A Letter To My Patients That I’ll Never Send By The Masked Avenger

Author Anoynmous

Dear Service User,

I am sorry I cannot offer more.

I am sorry I couldn’t call you back yesterday when you needed me and I am sorry I am not able to do more to help you.

I have worked in mental health for 10+ years and whilst I love my job it never gets any easier. 

I have books on my shelves and articles in files on the latest evidence based practice. I have ideas in my head for sessions we can do together and the passion to sit with you whilst we figure all this out. 

However, first you need to get to me and I need the time to deliver it all.

Referrals into mental health services are on the increase, this could be due to the ever growing pressures in society on everyone; from children to the elderly or the successful drive to normalize and promote mental health like never before, ripping down barriers and shouting from the roof tops that it is ok to not be ok.

So you gather the courage to call someone (which I know is so hard to do) and get help…

Unfortunately our pie is not getting any bigger, there is no more ‘money tree’ and we cannot afford anymore resources. So whilst we are able to see you, accessing treatment is entirely different. 
In the service I work in there are 30 practitioners for nearly 400 people on the waiting lists. No matter how you do the maths it is never going to fit. We try and change the service, we make it more lean, we shave things down to try and get everyone in but it is impossible. We have ideas of more we can offer but no money to fund it and no bodies to deliver it.

I want to see you straight away but there are hundreds of other people ahead of you.

I want to take it at your pace and see you for as long as it takes but I only have 8 sessions otherwise other people will have to wait longer. 

I want to be there to answer the phone straight away when you need me but I already have 6 other back to back appointments, before racing to collect my children from school. 

I constantly squeeze every drop of time to fit in more people but inevitably it all runs out as I cannot make 24 hours into 25. 

I want to offer you the therapy you need but no service, that I know of, is commissioned to offer it, which just really sucks.

I don’t know what the solution is but I want you to know that I am sorry because I feel just as frustrated as you. 

I know my boss, their boss and the bosses’ boss also constantly look for answers, but with an ever growing population and more needs becoming prevalent it is very hard. 

It’s not just us either; before, we could have referred you to other 3rd sector organisations which could have helped but they are just as squeezed as us and having to make equally hard and heartbreaking decisions. 

So please don’t be offended when we talk about self help materials or equipping you with the tools to help yourself, it is the only weapon I have at the moment to help you long after I have to reluctantly discharge and move on to the next case. 

Please don’t think I don’t care if my next visit isn’t for another 6 weeks, I hate this just as much as you do. I need you to understand that my intervention isn’t limited through choice , so all we can do in the short time we have is to teach you the skills I have to help yourself.

I need you to not miss any appointments as they count in my limited time and I need you to work with me as much as you can so that I can give you all I have. 

One day maybe we will have enough resources, but for now all I have is I am sorry!! 

We all deserve more than this, no one more than you. 
Please hang on in there, believe in yourself, take any support you can find and know that your wait isn’t because we don’t care, our pie just simply isn’t big enough.

From Your Practitioner. 

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People Are Bloody Brilliant By Lucy Chapman

I have been living in a world of negativity, probably since David Bowie died,  not that I’m blaming him; I think he got his timing spot on. 

Then Alan Rickman, then Caroline Ahern and Victoria Wood finished me off. But this isn’t about them.

There was the Brexit referendum here and Trump winning the election in the USA. I found the injustices of our selfish, immoral and heartless government so overwhelming that I felt duty-bound to start attending meetings with the opposition party to fight the good fight. I also felt compelled to put pen to paper and write about these issues for others to read about but the research necessary simply lead me down even darker paths of corruption and lies; the fire of anger and passion raged even stronger than before.

Writing wasn’t a comfort but a catalyst.

But this isn’t about that either. This isn’t even about Kim Jong Un pissing in corners or concerts where children are being bombed, or police being killed trying to save lives, or Muslims being stabbed on their way to worship. No, this all contributed to the anger churning inside, this was my view of the world and I was getting simultaneously more angry yet more numbed to these events and even bored of trying to argue against them. I was writing blogs about how rubbish things were and at the same time was totally fed up with reading the moans of other people, even when I agreed with them… But yesterday at 4.45pm, I set up a JustGiving page…

My good friend has Cancer. At age 36. Two years after beginning a new life, newlywed with her wonderful husband. This isn’t fair. I got angry some more.

She had radiotherapy, chemotherapy, she’s down for surgery but the tumours are too big, the chemo isn’t working, more aggressive chemo then… still not working.

There is a drug, Avastin which could potentially help shrink the tumours to a size that is operable. I will leave the disgusting practices of Hoffman la Roche, the company who supply this drug for another blog. A company who I have heard described as ‘not even amoral but immoral’ by a Doctor.

The upshot is, Avastin is not deemed cost effective enough to be available on the NHS. My friend will have to pay.  

The drug costs £1500 a session, she needs six sessions for this round and it’s very likely she’ll need at least six further sessions.

Yesterday at 4.45pm we set up a justgiving page and we were blown away. In five hours we had raised £6,000 and by morning her first course of treatment at £9,000 was covered and now we’re collecting for the next.

What struck me, and turned my attentions away from how shitty this situation was for my friend and towards how bloody brilliant people are, were the comments left by people making donations and seeing the range of people who donated.

My friend is a teacher and we saw pupils, ex-pupils, parents of pupils donating. One a twelve year old who gave £10 towards his teacher’s treatment. Friends donated, relatives of friends, friends of relatives. One donation came from a young woman / teen whose brother’s girlfriend’s mum is a friend of my friend. She didn’t need to do that! She is a wonderful person!

People who’ve only ever come into contact with my friend via social media sent funds and one complete stranger donated £250! These people are bloody brilliant.

It wasn’t just the money either. 

A man who I’ve met once contacted me to offer to DJ for free for a fundraising event, an ex-pupil now singer emailed me to offer to perform for a fundraising event, a friend started contacting local venues to put together a concert, the head of a teaching union in our area asked if he could see how they might be able to help. This was phenomenal. These people are bloody brilliant.

So stick it death.

Stick it Trump.

Stick it Putin and Kim Jong Un and Theresa May.

Stick it Boris and David Davis with your crass double-D jokes.

Stick it politicians with your penny pinching, grubby little mits all over our public services.

Stick it to your pay caps and your fake pay-cap lifts.

Stick it Amazon and Starbucks and all you other skin-flint companies who dodge contributing to our children’s education and treatment of our sick through fair taxation.

Stick it Richard-offshore-Branson.

We got this. Us little folk, we got this.

Us on the ground doing the legwork; we’re going to foodbanks and we’re putting school uniforms onto credit cards and we’re not just about managing actually, but we got this. We are good people and we count and you know what? Us people, us little people, we are bloody brilliant.  


If you would like to donate to help Kate pay for cancer treatment please click here:

https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/help-kate-kick-cancer?utm_id=2&utm_term=njP86VBeA

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The UK, Where We Mourn Bells While People Sleep On The Streets By Kelly Grehan 

By Kelly Grehan

Yesterday it was quietly announced that the cost of the renovations to the Elizabeth Tower had doubled to £61 million. Having recently written to my own MP about the lack of public sector pay rises, and having received a reply saying ‘we have to live within our means’ I was somewhat surprised to hear the magic money tree was once again available.  

You will remember back in August when our Prime Minister, not known for her sentimentality, expressed her upset at news that the bell commonly known as Big Ben, was to cease chiming for the period of work, saying ‘it can’t be right for Big Ben to be silent for four years.’ 
She urged John Bercow, the Speaker, to find a way to keep the bell ringing – although what she felt he could do remains to be seen. 

In a country where 250,000 people are homeless, where the number of people waiting more than 6 month for an operation has trebled in the past four years and where Sure Start and care services are being cut that buildings are a priority. 

Of course, The Elizabeth Tower is not the only public building about to be gifted public funds for a renovation. Last year it was announced that Buckingham Palace is to undergo a 10-year refurbishment to the tune of £369m. Work on The Houses of Parliament is estimated to cost around £7 billion. Now I understand Parliament is a Grade I-listed building and a Unesco world heritage site, but I suggest the fact it is in need of extensive restoration is due to it no longer being fit for purpose to fulfil its role. Maybe we should accept it is time to move Parliament elsewhere. While we are at it we can build student style hall of residence for MPs to stay in next door so they will no longer require second homes in London.   
Now people will argue that these buildings are important, are part of our heritage, of historic importance etc. But you know what else is important? People! I cannot help thinking we have got our priorities wrong somewhere and the buildings taxpayers should be spending money on are those intended to house people. 

The signs homes are of no importance are everywhere. 

Housing , or lack thereof is ruining countless lives. Rough sleeping has risen for the last 6 years in a row. Latest official figures show an estimated 4,134 people were forced to sleep outside in 2016, up 16% on the previous year.
The number of families in temporary accommodation has risen by 61% since the tories came into power in 2010. Local authorities accepted 14,600 households as statutorily homeless in the first three months of 2017, with a total of 77,240 families in temporary housing. 6,500 families now live in B&Bs, which are used by local authorities when they have no other options, of these more than 3,000 have dependent or expected children.

The number of people on waiting lists for council housing in England alone stands at 1.2 million. This is despite rules making many people ineligible to apply. Very few of them will ever receive housing from the local authority. 

In January 2016 Labour sought to introduce an amendment to the Housing Bill which would ensure rented homes had to be fit for human inhabitation. Now it beggars belief that anyone could be allowed to make money renting a property unfit for humans to reside in and not be breaking any laws, but they can. The tories voted this amendment down. According to the latest English housing survey 30% of homes fail to meet the government’s decent homes standard. 

We know the awful tragedy which befell those living in Grenfell Tower occurred after residents warnings that the building was unsafe went unheeded by those in authority. It seems the £10 million refurbishment of the building went mostly on the cladding (about £8 million) rather than attempts to make the housing more inhabitable inside the homes.   

Then there are the millions of people who now make up Generation Rent, who, often despite earning above the average wage have no hope of affording a deposit to buy a property so are at the mercy of a largely unregulated and extortionate rental market.   

Every single person living without a permanent, safe or stable roof over their head represents a life not being enjoyed to its full potential and in my opinion indicates the failures of our society. We are always being told that austerity prevents us from addressing these problems, but when it come to fixing palaces and clocks the money is readily available.   

Isn’t it time we started putting people and homes above state buildings?   




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