Author Archives: johnranson
Monday 15th July was a big day of party games for Cameron and it all started with a fun trip to an airshow. Perhaps mindful of the long night of musical chairs that lay ahead of him, Dave limbered up by telling a few fairy tales.
The general theme of these was that it’s not the woods you want to watch out for but the failed states. The wolves, or bears, or bogey men are, however, real and because of the National Health Service (or because they want to kill us – I’m not sure which) they’re all sprinting towards Britain as fast as possible. So we must fight them. On the beaches. No, not on the beaches, on the cliffs. No, not on the cliffs. Definitely not the cliffs. Everyone knows that if you’re going to hunt bears you either go somewhere that has bears or you do the more obvious thing of taking a family outing from your front door, crossing an improbable assortment of terrain before freaking out, running home and hiding under the duvet.
None of this comes cheap. Which is why, over the last few years our benevolent leaders have been carefully closing libraries, sacking lollipop ladies and getting cancer-ridden shirkers back to work. Because bears, heffalumps etc. are pretty much impossible to see without really expensive American paranoia devices, Dave is tooling up. Once there’s a US style defence budget to justify, we’ll be seeing Gruffalos round every corner.
What Dave makes abundantly clear is that we’re not going to find any bears on the White Cliffs of Dover, or even in the Channel. But he won’t rest until he does find a bear (or other fictional archetype). And he’s not going to miss out on finding bears by being thrifty. Oh no.
This is cut & pasted from Schnews because certain networks won’t access Schnews. Their loss. Anyway, this is darn serious so get reading.
SEEING INFRA RED
New Tory Bill threatens sell off of all public land
They’ve stolen our postal service, and are currently giving away the health service, education and prisons to their mates, what’s next for this Government? Perhaps the most audacious theft yet – potentially all of our public land.
Surreptitiously, with zero media coverage, the Government has introduced a Bill, due to be debated in the House of Lords on Wednesday June 18th, with a clause that bypasses the role of councils in granting or denying planning consent, cancels any rights of way or any need to ask the people of England and Wales if they mind losing their parks, playing fields, allotments, woodlands, public facilities or village greens to housing developers, fracking companies, road- or railway-builders. It’s the land grab to end all land grabs. But not everyone’s on the receiving end, luckily all land belonging to the Royal Family is excluded.
Handily, privatisation of the Land Registry is also happening, and the proposed law, known as the Infrastructure Bill, will give this newly private company free rein on deciding who land belongs to. The Government, conveniently forgetting that the land is ours, plans to order local authorities to make 90 per cent of its brownfield sites (a designation that apparently includes parks, allotments, gardens as well as former industrial sites) available to be transferred to the Government quango the Homes and Communities Agency, which was established in 2008. The HCA can then pass it on to developers without any of tiresome planning restrictions. The job of deciding on planning applications will no longer be done by councillors – Eric Pickles (or his successors) and a panel of two Government inspectors will instead get out their rubber stamp for whoever wants the land.
George Osborne (in a recent after-dinner speech) said houses are needed so badly that anyone who objects must be a nimby. In the same breath, he said the Government would protect “green spaces” – by that, of course he means the private estates. As 69 per cent of Britain’s acreage is owned by 0.6 per cent of the population , and quite a lot of that by the Queen and Prince Charles, it means his friends’ rural idylls will be untarnished. Another sweetener for the developers – if their estates contain less than 50 houses, they won’t need to bother making them zero carbon, which is currently required. While many will agree new houses need to be built (whereas only 20 per cent agree fracking should be allowed), why must it all be on public land?
At the time of writing, no newspaper or broadcaster has covered the story – maybe they think their readers won’t want to know that they could lose their recreational spaces? It was only discovered by campaigners from the Forest of Dean nosing around the Government’s website. Campaigners from Hands Off Our Forest were wondering, despite many promises from Defra for many months, why no draft forestry legislation was announced in the Queen’s Speech, the last-chance saloon for this government to pass new laws. HOOF and other members of the Forest Campaigns Network had been told the legislation was ready to go, and they’d been involved with discussions on it ever since they started meeting with civil servants in 2011. They and 3,000 banner-waving protestors – many of them pillars of the community, some even Tory voters – freaked the Government out by burning an effigy of Big Ben in the middle of the Forest and getting it on the news. That, combined with a national petition of 500,000 names and an opposition flank that included the Archbishop of Canterbury, Daily Telegraph and Boris Johnson’s sister, had forced the Government to concede wrongdoing, and to scrap their attempt to pass the noxious Public Bodies Bill, which would have allowed all the public woodlands in England to have been sold off or otherwise disposed of. At the start of the campaign, one member of HOOF received an anonymous phone call from someone who said he worked in “policy”. “The Forests are just the start,” he warned. “They are absolutely determined to sell every scrap of public land – beaches, parks, the lot.”
Within a few months, however, the Government retreated in the face of mass protest, (see SchNEWS 754 Fight them on the Beeches) which included some top Establishment figures. Three years on, it seems the Government are trying it all on in one go, and something is stirring again in the forest… and ought to be throughout England and Wales. The Infrastructure Bill contains a clause which will allow ALL public land to be privatised. There’s no need to reference the Forestry Act 1967, the Countryside Rights of Way Act or any other protective law, because Schedule 3 of the Bill- states that “the property, rights and liabilities that may be transferred by a scheme include… property, rights and liabilities that would not otherwise be capable of being transferred or assigned.” It may as well say, “break any law, trample on any rights, do whatever you like… none of it counts for anything anymore, we’ve fixed it for you”. The more Parliament keeps this a secret, the easier it will be for this Government and any future governments to get whatever they want built or fracked, without local busybodies and neighbours getting in the way.
However, given that the ‘save the forests’ campaign transcended politics and class – people equally appreciate beauty-spots to exercise their hounds whether they’re millionaires or paupers – aren’t our political ‘representatives’ taking a bit of a risk that if this secret gets out at an early enough stage (although it is being rushed through Parliament rapidly) that loads of disparate people might find common cause? All the efforts spent in encouraging divide and rule and the rise of the far-right might be in vain… Maybe people will realise they’ve gone too far this time? No protests have yet been organised at the time of writing – but there is a petition, good for raising awareness at least: https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/infrastructure-bill-allows-ministers-to-sell-off-public-land
January 3, 2011, Hands Off Our Forest rally at The Speech House in the centre of the Forest of Dean, when thousands of people gathered in sub-zero temperatures to warm themselves around a burning Big Ben.
The final day of 2013. An intriguing year, composed of lengthy pauses and new experiences. Outside the window the rain is falling steadily; rare normality after twelve months of damaging extremes. I picked a good summer to take up cricket.
Any illusions that cricket would help me embrace middle-age were soon dispelled by the realisation that I’d have to act at least 15 years younger to achieve anything at all, so growing up remains on permanent hiatus. To make absolutely sure, I became a student. And I don’t mean the increasingly widespread nerdy kind who fixate on deadlines and don’t go to demos.
This year I’ve been on more demos than ever before, the friendship and camaraderie of the Norfolk People’s Assembly a welcome fringe benefit of government policies intent on turning Britain into a kind of crap version of India.
Keeping me on the knife edge between sanity and mayhem are my two delightful bits of oyster grit. Number One Son descends periodically from his super-hero überverse to dispense pearls of wisdom like some blend of Thor and Alain de Botton. Little Princess, meanwhile, combines the costume-change frequency of Beyoncé with the run-you-down-in-a-truck attitood of Marmalade Atkins. I don’t know where they get it from…
As for next year, I think I need to spend it getting better at all the stuff I’ve started this year. But hey, no point in standing still. In the words of “the worst ever phrasebook”, “The stone as roll not heap up not foam”.
Ambitious Rachel Reeves, 34, claimed she would do anything to get on in politics and agreed to do the Tories’ work for them because she had been made redundant from her former role as a free-thinking backbencher.
“Where I come from, all the debates have been closed down and there haven’t been any new ideas for years. To be honest, spending time stacking up bigotry on top of misunderstanding for the Tories gets me out of the house. Or into the House, depending on how you look at it.”
Click here to see Rachel doing Nasty Party work for no extra pay!
Recently, I was sitting in some welcome sunshine and I suddenly found myself becoming quite misty-eyed with memories from a few years back. Memories that have undoubtedly grown sweeter and perhaps more selective with time, but no less valid for that. Memories of hope, optimism, possibility, excitement and freedom.
For a bit of context, let’s go back in time with the help of some cheeky re-enacters:
The impact of rave culture is easy to underestimate nowadays. Not only did it introduce a generation to the concept of making their own entertainment, free of the tedious commercialism of the high street, it also went a huge way to ending widespread football hooliganism as folks realised the pointlessness of fighting someone you’ve been grinning at and hugging all night. But it was precisely the “off the grid” nature of raving that saw it rapidly demonised by the powers-that-be. Suddenly hundreds of thousands of people weren’t spending all their hard-earned in pubs and clubs. The brewery barons foresaw disaster and leant on their chums in the police and government to do something about it. The authorities were also spooked by the unity and disdain for authority they saw in the scene. How do you police a bunch of people who, when told to disperse their convoy of cars, spontaneously all throw their keys into the hedge?
Well the reponse of John Major’s chaotic government was the ludicrous Criminal Justice Act, a blanket anti-gathering lump of legislation which even, laughably, sought to define rave music as consisting of a continuous emission of repetitive beats. Obviously, when they’d dried their eyes and picked themselves up off the floor, all decent people let out a resounding raspberry and partied on regardless. But there were other stirrings in the sub-cultural hinterlands. Traveller culture was becoming more widespread than at any time since the 60s as the pop charts got overrun with fiddles and mandolins. Environmental activism was increasingly hitting the headlines in the face of rampant Tory road-building. And it was this last element that led to something truly special. Through a combination of circumstances, and from very small beginnings, Reclaim The Streets was born. This Channel 4 documentary tells the story pretty well (and has been uploaded to YouTube complete with charming period VHS glitches):
A fuller version of the source material is available here:
Despite its anti-road, pro-street origins, it soon became clear that there was more to RTS. It was a defiant kick back against the Criminal Justice Act, it was a means of engaging people in political thinking, it was a demo tactic, it was a celebration of chaos-laced fun over dull conformity. Because RTS actions relied on strength in numbers, everybody who took part was a crucial contributor. Although there was clearly some kind of forward planning being done, most events involved a thrilling spontaneity. A classic example of this was at the early action in Angel when, with the planned soundsystem not turning up, this phat puppy emerged from a side road to provide the tunes:
Not too shabby eh? And proof of how well it can work when someone thinks, “I’ve got some skill, or some equipment, that would be useful; I’ll go along and see if I can help out.” Of course if you don’t happen to be The KLF, you might not have something quite as big and noisy but no matter. The most important ingredient was simply people and the positive attitude they came with. My memories of RTS parties, and the reason I got a lump in my throat thinking back to them, are of incredible friendliness and welcome. There was a real sense that these were the good guys; you could see in people’s faces that they got it. Of course the business of occupying a road and turning it back into a street both demands and creates trust and cooperation. Everyone had to be prepared to move when the group moved and not worry overly about themselves. We all had to subscribe to the view that standing about meekly on the pavement or on some “approved route” is never likely to achieve much, or be any fun. (Are you listening Stop The War 2003?) The thrill of transgressing accepted norms not only bound us more closely together, it provoked us to look beyond the everyday. When you’ve reversed the usual order of things on a stretch of road it becomes easier to imagine a different world. The imagination can take flight and the spirit gets a chance to soar. It may only be temporary, but it’s great.
You can’t have a party without music and you can’t have a street party without people being in the street, so if you’ve been inspired and are planning a bit of a do, you’ll probably find this handy:
And this last tune is just a gift to you for reading this far:
Today we can reveal that the Government has been working both with its legal advisors and intermediaries for the Jordanian Royal Family to formulate a framework for kicking the NHS out of Britain for good.
Although frontline politicians have been unwilling to speak on the subject and coverage in the mainstream media has been kept to a minimum, a Home Office insider was happy to be quoted anonymously. “The real issue here is preventing incitement,” he said. “As long as the NHS is allowed to remain here, there is a very real danger that people will think the country has some kind of duty of care to its inhabitants.” “Furthermore,” added the source, “although no formal charges have been brought, everybody knows the NHS is guilty of disseminating anti-profit ideology. This can’t go on unchecked.”
When asked why Jordan was the chosen destination, our man paused before saying, “I imagine it’s because, apart from people who’ve been on holiday to Petra, most folk know nothing about Jordan so we can say what we like about it and they’ll swallow it.”
Media-watchers have pointed out that it’s not unusual for deportation cases to go unreported. One analyst said, “The powers-that-be generally like to keep these sorts of things under wraps and we’ve all been taken aback at the way the whole Abu Qatada circus has flared up and got in the way of all the real news for days on end.”
For the many, many people on the wrong end of Margaret Thatcher’s ideological blitzkrieg, her death feels like the end of a nightmare. The catharsis is palpable and genuine. However, if we take a step back from the raw emotion, it is simply an elderly person dying naturally. Sad, inevitable, normal, universal.
What we should look forward to celebrating is the death of Thatcherism as a political force. See Owen Jones’s piece. By contrast, this isn’t inevitable. The narrative of Thatcherism was shouted long and loud. Sometimes it seemed to make sense. It was certainly impossible to ignore. it has taken root sufficiently to outlast the political career of its founder and it will have no trouble carrying on now she’s dead. Unless we do something about it. And the first step to defeating it is to understand it.
Like much of politics, the story of Thatcherism is rife with contorted meaning. On the global stage, Maggie was widely seen, along with Ronnie, as a bastion against Communism and tyranny. A quick look back shows that she was in fact rather selective about which tyrants she opposed and which liberties she supported. Now, such ethic-free “pragmatism” is sadly not uncommon in international politics but it needs to be highlighted when a person is in danger of being institutionally beatified.
The idea that private ownership is intrinsically better than public ownership is at the very core of Thatcherism. We’re told sometimes that this is simply an English tendency, even that it’s what makes us better than the French where they’re all into communes and stuff. It certainly struck a chord with the council house right-to-buy scheme. Many people felt it gave them the opportunity to better themselves and move from the working class to the middle class. But with hindsight, much of the eagerness was just naked profiteering. Substantial numbers of council houses were sold relatively soon after purchase as people spotted a chance to move up the ladder, taking advantage of the massive equity given them by the subsidised sell-off. It has now emerged that there’s been a considerable concentration of former council property in the hands of private landlords, taking advantage of surging private sector rents, subsidised by in-work housing benefits. What’s most shameful about the boot-sale disposal of nationally-owned property is that we were promised the proceeds would be ploughed back into council house building but this just never happened. Against a backdrop of right-to-buy propaganda, social housing was seen as a very low priority by councils and was allowed to wither. This leads us to the current situation of endless waiting lists and the mad folly of the bedroom tax which somehow tries to blame tenants for the house they’ve been allocated out of the meagre stock. All told, it is hardly radical thinking to posit that the right-to-buy scheme was a collosal vote buying racket. At the time, tenants had a tendency to vote Labour while the Conservatives were seen as the party of property owners. You can see what the Tories were hoping would happen.
Because the Thatcherite mindset saw every resource as a commodity it also made perfect sense to extend the Cash-In-The-Attic mentality into areas such as utilities, raw materials and national industries. The raft of privatisations in the mid-80s were touted as an opportunity for everyone to own a piece of businesses such as BT, BP and British Gas. This was doublespeak at its most mendacious. We already owned them. Privatisation didn’t confer ownership to the public, it stole the asset from the public and then sold it back to those who could afford to buy. Again, profiteering was the base motive for many and after a short while a large number of shareholders had cashed in their chips for a quick buck and ownership was largely in the hands of a few big financial institutions. Any sense of accountability to the public had been almost entirely removed and the new PLCs were subject to the profoundly non-democratic whims of the (newly-deregulated) markets. As a result, we now have water companies controlled by Chinese corporations, French-owned power stations and a rail network that relies on sky-high ticket prices and massive subsidies to plump up its profits whilst still not running any more punctually. All of this was sold out from under us and yet the country doesn’t seem better off for it. Just more expensive. See here for a fuller explanation.
Of course there were winners in the great privatisation bunfight. An allegation often thrown around by critics of the public sector is that wages are too high, pensions are too generous and the folks at the top are creaming off whopping salaries. Well, that’s as maybe but its all small beer compared to what goes on in the private sector where already fat contracts get further inflated by share options, bonuses and hefty pension pots. Somehow it’s OK because these remunerations are subject, apparently, to market forces and are therefore inherently realistic. Naturally, in private companies which have been vigorously de-unionised (another pillar of Thatcherism), the fat cats can be funded by squeezing the wages of the low earners. This is described as being “competitive” and “flexible” and anyone who suggests that appalling pay and atomisation of the workforce might be hurting productivity is lampooned by Thatcherites as some kind of 70s throwback who would doubtless have us all wearing tank tops and living on Angel Delight. We shouldn’t rail against high earning executives, they say, because they are the wealth creators and the money that they make gets recycled into the national economy through a combination of taxes paid and money spent on goods and services. Sadly, this is bollocks. It’s becoming increasingly apparent that trickle-down just doesn’t work. Firstly, the wealthiest have become expert at reducing their tax bills, often to levels well below what the lowest earners are contributing. Also, they are highly mobile, flitting around the globe to wherever they can get the best value. Of course they spend some money in Britain, but not broadly enough to shore up the national economy. Since the banking crisis even the usual food chain of company profits being ploughed back into investment and, god forbid, wage rises has been subverted as corporations, worried by the turbulent economic situation, hoard cash rather than putting it to work. Yet still the Government subsidies flow into company coffers. As a country, we spend much more on our rail network now than we did when we actually owned it. In-work benefits have mushroomed and allow companies to hold down pay and accrue an extra profit layer at the tax-payer’s expense. Money is being funnelled from the many via the public purse to the very few in company boardrooms and frequently then out of the country altogether into offshore accounts. It is trickle-up economics with no public benefit and it is the result of the deluded ideology of Thatcherism.
I could go on about how the mantra “There’s no such thing as Society” has led to the fatuous newspeak of the “Big Society”. I could tell you what you already know about market dogma wrecking the NHS and preparing the ground for privatisation. I could talk about the politically motivated folly of destroying the UK’s coal industry at a time when it was producing the safest and cheapest coal in the world. But I know that if you havent understood yet then you’re possibly immune to reason and I’d just be wasting my time.
I also hope that no one will be too sad that I haven’t filled this piece with links to stats, tables and graphs. Again, I’m trying to save time. If you want to look stuff up, I’m sure you’ll find it. Also, I’ve never noticed Thatcher’s tub-thumpers concentrating too hard on facts and analysis so in some ways it’s their fault.
A Pentagon spokesman today admitted that “cultural misunderstandings” may be at the root of current tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
“We have a team working deep-cover in the Demilitarised Zone and their job is to kind of jolly things along by choosing the music. I’m sure they honestly had no idea that the Rock Lobster is regarded as a deeply unlucky animal in North Korean folklore. There was a strong southerly wind that day and some of the soldiers on the North side obviously felt they were being mocked. If they could make head or tail of the song that is,” he added.
When asked why the agents hadn’t tried to promote harmony by playing “Loveshack” at high volume, the spokesman responded, “To be honest I think the best thing for World Peace would be if we kept the B-52s out of the area completely.
There can be no doubt that Peter Jackson’s Lord Of The Rings films were a landmark achievement in film making. If Jackson had hung up his megaphone after Return Of The King, his status as a Giant of Cinema would have been assured. Returning to Middle Earth was far more of a gamble for him than it is for the prequel-loving money men who run his industry. I suspect he just loves the universe of Tolkein so much that the urge to return was overpowering.
Anyway, back he is, with the much lighter and slimmer precursor to LOTR. But where the heavyweight masterwork was thriftily squeezed into three (albeit epic) movies, Jackson is using the opposite process to achieve the same result with The Hobbit. A book that could certainly be turned into a sub-two hour film is also getting the triple-epic treatment. Whether you see galloping profit motive or rampaging fanboy Tolkeinism will probably depend on how much you like the film, which I suspect will also be greatly influenced by your feelings about LOTR. I loved that trilogy so I’m prepared to trust the same team with this one.
I watched it in the much-discussed HFR3D format and thought it worked well. It IS different to the cinematic look we’re all used to and there are a few times when the heightened realism threatens to show too much (eg. painted backgrounds, animated segments). But at its best it pulls you right into the world of the story, creating an involvement in the film that meant I didn’t once think about the time and didn’t want the film to end.
I felt the LOTR trilogy strengthened with each installment and I can see that happening here as well. Above all, in Martin Freeman’s Bilbo, we have a character to cherish and watch grow.
Before you get going on this, you might want to check out Part 1 to see how I wound up in the clink.
Well, there we go – I spent a night in a police cell. I was referred to throughout as “the prisoner” and forced to wear some really whack plimsolls and bright white jogging bottoms. I’d been told that it would probably be mid-afternoon before I got out so when dawn began to creep greyly through the curtainless window I figured I should eat some breakfast and try and collect my thoughts.
Collecting my thoughts didn’t take long. I didn’t really have any, apart from a sense of guiltless ambivalence. Breakfast was an altogether tougher challenge, in every sense. I suspect it had been microwaved, then left in hot sunshine, then sealed in a slightly leaky bottle and thrown from an ocean liner, then found some years later by a Hebridean and dried on a washing line, before being posted to Harrow Road Police Station, microwaved again, allowed to cool, then delivered to my cell. Nothing else can explain it.
So it was with a feeling of hunger, more than anticipation, that I finally got to meet my legal representative. A quick plug here for the excellent Green and Black Cross legal helpline – you know, that number you see on bust cards? When I’d finally been booked in at nearly midnight, I was allowed to make two calls. I rang a colleague to say I would be, at best, late for work. I also rang GBC. A very reassuring young woman answered the phone and told me not to worry, not to say anything to the cops and to ring Bindmans solicitors. She also said that there was someone waiting outside the station, although she couldn’t guarantee they’d be there all night. In one quick conversation she raised my spirits dramatically and I thanked her warmly for being there. If anyone reading this has got a tiresome problem of too much cash, I’m sure GBC could put it to good use.
My legal rep, Matt from Bindmans, met me and we went into a meeting room. He was a friendly guy and told me he’d been involved in representing people from a number of demos I’d heard of. It was very pleasant to be able finally to talk openly to someone about everything that had happened. Most interestingly, he filled me in on the detail of the building at which I’d been nicked. It was called Panton House and was home to the UK offices of Xstrata. That name rang a faint bell and when Matt told me that apparently the Xstrata CEO Mick Davis was the highest-earning boss of a FTSE-100 company, I recalled reading an article that mentioned him. It had struck me when I read about it that I’d never previously heard of Xstrata and it struck me again as notable that their UK HQ was so anonymous that I’d been able to walk in its front door and up onto the roof with no evidence that I was even in a working building. Why so secretive and stealthy?
However, no chance to dwell on that now; it was time for me to go downstairs and be grilled by the feds. Or in my case, chatted to by a very mild pair of WPCs. Here’s a hint for anyone who finds themself in a similar situation: making no comment in a police interview is good common sense. If the CPS decides to press charges and it ends up in court, you’ll have a chance to say your piece. By then you’ll have been able to gather your thoughts and work out in your own mind what you think happened and what you think you did. The cops will have been able to examine their evidence and the whole thing can be dealt with in a calm and considered manner. There’s a good chance it won’t even go that far and you’ll have no case to answer. In the interview, however, the cops are looking to achieve two objectives: they want to gather evidence and they want to obtain a confession. There’s no reason why you should help them with either of these. They know that, so they’re subtle. My cheery WPCs made it seem like it was hardly an interview at all, engaging me in chit-chat as we walked to the room – the weather, that sort of thing. I’m by and large a polite bloke; I don’t like to ignore people and when people are affable with me I like to return the favour. It was really hard staying silent throughout the interview, which was full of leading questions such as, “didn’t you realise…?” and, “surely you would have known…?” Salvation came in the unlikely form of a filing cabinet, sitting against the wall opposite me. I stared at the Bisley logo with Zen-like intensity until, after 55 questions, the rozzers had had enough and that was that. The tape recorder was switched off, I left the room, collected my possessions and departed through the front door of the station.
Of course it wasn’t that simple. Arrest and detention of protestors, although ostensibly about evidence gathering, is primarily used (in my opinion) as a form of extra-judicial punishment and as a deterrent to future action. So I was given back my wallet, my (now expired) travelcard, my phone charger, my keys and some general pocket fluff. But I wasn’t given back my phone, or my shoes, or my coat, hat, gloves or even my ruined trousers. In other words, I had to make my way home across London wearing ill-fitting plimsolls and an insane pair of white loons, carrying my worldly wealth in a transparent plastic bag. Hardly safe or dignified but it could have been worse. I’ve since heard of teenagers being let out of stations in the middle of the night with only paper overalls to wear and no idea of how to get home. Disgusting.
Back to reality and the prosaic concerns of sorting out a replacement phone, buying some new shoes and putting up with my colleagues laughing at me, my main concern was what would happen next. I assumed there would be a court summons, possibly leading to a fine and a criminal record. However, I didn’t really know; all this was new territory for me. Thank goodness once again then for GBC. They organised an arrestees meeting, attended by two of the lead solicitors who would represent us, Mike Schwarz from Bindmans and Raj Chada from Hodge, Jones & Allen, both of whom have long track records of defending freedom of expression and the right to protest. The meeting was a chance not only to hear about the legal procedures that would likely take place but also simply to catch up with fellow banner carriers and to finally put some names to faces. On the morning of November 30th I hadn’t known any of these people but now we were able to make some more relaxed introductions and actually get to know one another. Of course, because of what we’d been through, we already felt like old comrades in arms. Did we want to contest the charges against us, we were asked. Of course we did. Did we want to meet together again and make a campaign of it? Hell, yeah! Of course, nobody actually said, “Hell, yeah!” but in the film version I’m sure somebody would.
Cheered by each other’s company and support, we began to meet semi-regularly in a pub near St Paul’s. We got to know each other better, realising just what a diverse group of people we were in terms of age and background but how much we felt united by the concerns which Occupy embodied. It quickly became clear that we were not stereotypical spiky activists. Arrest, for most of us, was a complete novelty and not something we’d expected or sought. All of us were, to varying degrees, upset or annoyed to have not been made blatantly aware that we risked arrest by entering the building. That said, none of us felt the arrests were justified and we managed not to let the annoyance detract from our determination to fight the charges. We were also intrigued by the choice of Xstrata as a target for the protest and decided we needed to know more about the company. It didn’t take long at all to realise that the grotesque pay of its CEO was one of the vast mining company’s less serious breaches of good corporate behaviour. A litany of tax avoidance, worker exploitation and environmental carnage rapidly revealed itself as we came to see that this was a particularly dirty player in an unusually filthy sector. Have a gander at this.
We had all been bailed to return to Albany St Police Station on January 19th or 20th but on 5th we received some unexpected news. The police had contacted our solicitors to inform them that they would be taking no further action in respect of the charges against us. If we wanted to collect our property, we should attend our bail date. Otherwise, we were free to go on our own sweet way. Well of course there was a sigh of relief big enough to affect weather systems but somehow it didn’t quite feel right. Less than 24 hours later, our qualms were justified. The CPS, it transpired, had come to the conclusion that although “the crown” stood no real chance of securing a conviction for such heinous crimes as burglary, criminal damage or even aggravated trespass, it wished to pursue charges under Section 5 of the Public Order Act. So we weren’t off the hook just yet. There was a weary resignation as our solicitors told us that “they always do this”. Section 5 is seen as a bit of a catch-all charge in protest cases. Originally formulated to tackle the quaint olde worlde phenomenon of rival groups of football fans hurling abuse at each other across the street, S5 criminalises the use of threatening or abusive behaviour in the presence of others who would be likely to suffer alarm or distress. See here for a more thorough explanation. It’s now regularly employed as a way of criminalising peaceful protest. Essentially, the assertion now was that, in entering Panton House as part of a group and making our way to the roof, we’d caused harassment, alarm or distress to folk working in the offices there. And that we’d been aware that we were doing such.
While on one level, there was relief that we were no longer in any danger of prison time, we were now on a charge that offered a much greater chance of conviction and, significantly, no right of trial by jury. We had no doubt that a jury would find the evidence against us far too flimsy to deliver a guilty verdict but a single District Judge, able to apply a fair amount of personal interpretation, could easily take the view that we were malcontents who should be taught a lesson. Although we only faced a maximum £1000 fine, none of us wanted a criminal record. The cops, ever keen to help and serve, made it clear that we could avoid court by accepting a caution. No fine, no costs, no court case and no conviction. Sounds great. Where’s the snag? Well, to receive a caution, you have to admit some form of culpability and, although you don’t have a conviction on your record, you still end up with the caution hanging round your neck. This can create hassle down the line when applying for jobs, insurance etc. Not something you really want if you can avoid it. Some, however, felt they’d reached a watershed. The logistics of fighting the case were simply too difficult or the threat of a hefty fine + costs bill was keeping them awake at night. Others simply wanted the whole thing to be over. So some of us refused the caution and some, reluctantly and with a strong sense of injustice, accepted it. Those who refused and battled on felt only sympathy for the folk who had to stop at this point. It must have been a horrible decision. As I rolled up at Albany St nick, eager to get back my phone and clothes, which the cops had inexplicably held onto until now, I met two fellow arrestees. One, like me, refused the caution and we went for a beer and to compare photos on our recharging phones. The other, I assume because I haven’t seen her since, accepted the caution. If you ever happen to read this, I truly hope you’re OK and that the whole carry-on hasn’t shaken your determination to speak up for things you hold dear.
This is getting lengthy and I want to give folk a chance to read it before October 20th so you’ll just have to wait for Part 3.
Spoiler alert: I didn’t get executed.