Category Archives: General

2013

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”.

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After Getting Nicked

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.

 

War Games

I’ve got to be honest – I think if the Olympic security plans had been part of the original sales pitch for the London 2012 bid, I would have been a lot less enthusiastic. It would appear that hosting the Games puts Britain in a situation not seen since we momentarily pretended to help out Poland. Invasion is imminent, whether by hijacked jumbo or a clown holding onto lots of balloons or even a flotilla of wetsuit-clad Situationists. For the safety of the Nation, we need to batten down and tool up.

This is the kind of kit that could be gracing the two East End apartment blocks actually well enough built to not fall down if the trigger gets pulled:

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A Rapier missile battery, recently

You’ll observe that the missile pictured is being fired in the middle of some vast desert and not in a crowded metropolis where it would be MASSIVELY POINTLESS AND COUNTERPRODUCTIVE as a form of self-defence. If there are any military experts out there who can explain how this sort of weapon could be usefully and safely deployed, I’d be fascinated to hear from you.

I don’t have high hopes for the boots on the ground approach either. To my mind, if you have to deploy 13,500 troops to secure a situation you’ve actually asked for then that’s masochism on a grand scale. If the Games are that much of a risk to the safety of the British public, surely the only sane and responsible step for the Government would be to cancel them. To press ahead at the same time as insisting that all these precautions are vital seems ridiculously cavalier. I can only assume that David Cameron will be following the action from the Cabinet War Rooms. Clearly the Olympic Stadium will be deemed far too dangerous a location for heads of state and dignitaries.

It wouldn’t be too much of a problem to call it off anyway. Most of the legacy stuff is in place now, which is why we bid isn’t it? I suppose some sponsors would feel they were missing out on exposure but that’s not really what the Olympics are about is it?

Oh, apparently it is.

Anyway, watch out folks because the next few days are going to be full of army types running around trying to look useful, security guards running around pretending to be soldiers and politicians running around pretending it’s all for own good. Hurray! At last the Olympics are about running around.

The End Of The Beginning

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So, the Occupy London camp between St Paul’s Cathedral and Paternoster Square (home of the London Stock Exchange) has been cleared. The area has been emptied, “deep-cleaned” and generally botoxed such that now there are no wrinkles, no character and no sign of emotion. It’s actually harder to walk through from Ludgate Hill than it used to be due to a “ring of steel”, erected as a deterrence to re-occupation.

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The eviction itself was a relatively calm affair although not without some predictable heavy-handedness from the police. The foresight of Giles Fraser, who resigned his post at St Paul’s rather than be an accessory to violence, was vindicated as people praying on the cathedral steps found themselves repeatedly kicked by riot police. Questions need to be asked both of the police and the St Paul’s leadership as to why this was allowed to happen.

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So far, so predictable. The Occupy LSX campers knew eviction was imminent and had made their own decisions as to how they would deal with it. Everyone knew it was an inevitable step along the timeline of the movement.

Almost totally unexpected, however, was the raid on the “School of Ideas”. Although legal proceedings were underway, as far as I know no timescale had been announced and I don’t think anyone was seriously anticipating eviction. As it was, the building was stormed by police and about 20 people were dumped out on the pavement with what belongings they could gather. As dawn broke, demolition contractors with bulldozers were ushered into the site and set about rendering the building beyond use.

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This last action, of everything that happened over that sad night, is the one that most strikes at the heart of common decency and common sense. The School of Ideas was a wonderful example of simple people power. Of folk pitching in to make the world a better place. You could almost call it Big Society (if that weren’t such a devalued concept). By taking an empty former school building, cleaning it up a bit and making it available as a community resource, the Occupiers were doing more for the local area than Islington Council and Southern Housing have managed in three years of botched planning and wrangles over “affordable housing” quotas. See here for a flavour of local feeling. To see the authorities (at the behest of no less a figure than Ken Clarke, Minister of Justice) literally bulldoze both the efforts of the Occupiers and the hopes of the local community is an absolute affront to democracy. The lack of media coverage of this event was also troubling. If the people behind the insane decision making think nobody has noticed, they’ll feel vindicated and justified.

Despite my sense of outrage at this ridiculous state vandalism, I want to end on an upbeat note. And that is to say that any talk of “the end” of Occupy London is not just premature but spurious. To my mind, “The Occupy Movement” was never defined by the Stock Exchange camp; that was simply one action among thousands worldwide. Some have been brief, some lengthy, some quiet, some noisy. All have been making the same general point: that the status quo of economies being run for the benefit of a tiny elite at the expense of the majority must be challenged. And anyone who tries to pretend that political dialogue (certainly here in the UK) hasn’t been dramatically shaped by Occupy must have been living in a bank vault. Different people have different solutions but the strength of the movement has been to hold together folk whose hearts are in the same place even when their minds have been at odds. I don’t see Occupy as an ideology. It certainly isn’t a dogma. It’s more of a gut instinct, an innate emotion against unfairness and institutional stupidity. I believe and hope Occupy can continue to be a friendspace where people come together in a profound sense of solidarity to examine alternatives and try living in better ways. I feel sure that many good things lie ahead and I know that the world is a better and more exciting place thanks to the Occupiers.

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Who Voted For These Idiots?

If you’re thinking of getting solar panels fitted to your house, you’ll kick yourself when you realise how much more cost-effective it could have been. Up until yesterday, a generous incentive scheme was in place to encourage the spread of solar energy production. However the “Coalition” has declared it unaffordable and is proposing to slash the amount that people can save. The solar industry is facing big job losses.

Now this could be one of the examples of a late-period Labour project that was genuinely unaffordable. (As the RMS Gordon Brown was sinking there were undoubtedly some officials not so much rearranging the deckchairs as commissioning Damien Hirst to encrust them in diamonds.) However, it is utterly symptomatic of this Government’s slash & burn approach to public spending. Surely encouraging energy independence and sustainability makes sense if you’ve got the slightest bit of a longterm view. Obviously not enough to make it a Tory priority. Unlike buying more attack drones…

Also up for discussion in the People’s Revolutionary Caucus that is Radio 4’s “You & Yours” was the plight of district nurses. Many are now having to cover areas that used to be staffed by four experienced nurses, their effectiveness further diluted by a hefty administrative and supervisory workload. Unsurprisingly, there’s a dearth of fresh blood into a profession where most are now in their fifties. At a time when patients are being propelled out of hospital almost using the momentum of the ambulance that brought them in, a lack of experienced, skilled care at home is going to create numerous knock-on problems. Short-termism again.

But what can we do? The NHS needs to save £15-20bn a year. So we are told. And we need to save this much here and that much over there and all of that thing has got to go. Apparently. I heard it on the news. It’s all for deficit reduction you see. We need to have no national debt, even though we’ve had one for most of recent history, and sometimes far larger than at present. As happens from time to time with any debt, the creditors want their money back. The rather unfair thing on this occasion is that the primary reason for the debt being quite so large is the incompetence of the global financial industry (at least that’s what the IMF says) and it just so happens that these economy wreckers are also the creditors. So the economy crashed because the bankers ballsed up betting on worthless derivatives; we then spent the rest of what we didn’t have bailing out the banks because apparently the world will end without them; they then turned round and said, “right, can we have our money back please?” Great.

So I would say, “who voted for these idiots?” about the Tories because it was so obvious before the election that a blue vote was a vote for the destruction of social spending and the concentration of power and profit in the hands of an increasingly small number of obscenely wealthy hands. But I would also say, “who voted for these idiots?” about the financial houses who, it is becoming increasingly apparent, are the true owners and leaders of our lives.

Got To Do Something

On Wednesday November 30th 2011, the UK will see the largest outbreak of industrial action for over 30 years.
On Thursday December 1st, I expect everything will be largely normal and life will go on in its own random way.

Here’s why I think Wednesday is important and before I dive in, a quick warning. I’ve done my best to acquaint myself with all the various “facts” surrounding this issue but I’m not remotely infallible so you may disagree with some of what I say. I’m not going to focus on facts in this piece anyway because others have already done that more skilfully than I ever could. I just want to share some impressions and feelings.

I’m sick to death of this club of odious buffoons we call a Tory Government. Before the election, I banged on until I was blue in the ears that if the Tories got into power they would asset-strip the nation to line the pockets of their wealthy chums. Bing! I said they would dismantle the public sector they so despise. Bing! And I knew they would consider unemployment a fair price to pay to support their economic goals. Bing bing bing!!!

In the end they limped into office using the LibDems as a kind of zimmer frame to help them past the post. I recall a reasonably chucklesome running gag pre-election about “Nick Clegg’s Fault”. Not so funny now, eh? I’m ignoring LibDem values in discussing the Coalition, but that’s OK, the LibDems are too. It’s a Tory Government plain and simple.

I want to see the Tories gone and that’s all there is to it. I don’t have much time for the “New” Labour Party but their brand of fairly rubbish governance at least quite often tries to do the right thing. I can never forgive Blair for going to war in the face of by far the largest demonstration of public opinion ever seen but even he would be fractionally ahead of any of the current bunch of Tories in my list of preferences. That really is saying something. The Conservative Party will wreck this country and it needs to be stopped.

But how do you “stop” a government? 3,000,000 people on a single march failed to so much as ruffle the hair of Tony Blair. Not a sausage. (Maybe if we’d all shifted 800 metres east instead of occupying the tranquil vastness of Hyde Park…)

The Occupy Movement won’t bring down the Government. At least not by itself. It has already achieved more than a great many campaigns and who knows what the future holds but it isn’t currently a mass phenomenon. Incredibly widespread, but not mass. Also, Occupy has its sights set on a different (though not unrelated) target. The concentrating of wealth in the hands of the already wealthiest is sadly a global activity which is no respecter of national boundaries. It’s a disease which is only just being diagnosed and for which the cure is still being worked on.

A symptom of this disease, however, is the position taken by many national administrations (although ours seems to be particularly relishing it) that says public spending must be cut and deficits reduced to restore market confidence. “Market confidence” – a usefully impersonal term that suggests impartiality and objectivity. It’s the only arbiter of what should be done, according to every politician and mainstream media commentator I’ve heard in recent times. One by one “The Market” is losing “confidence” in Greece, Italy, Spain, maybe France. The borrowing rates set by “The Market” increase to a ruinous level and the country is forced to default or make changes (austerity budget, unelected technocrat govt) to restore “Market confidence”.

Always “The Market”. Not History, which tells us that high public spending and consequent high deficits are indispensable in recessionary times. Nor common sense, which can see that withdrawing funding at times of great social need is a recipe for despair and unrest. And who is “The Market”? Well, it’s the financial institutions (banks for inexact shorthand) who also happen to be the major creditors of national debt. Which by itself might put the banks in quite a strong moral position were it not for the fact that the primary reason for the recent explosion of national debt was the financial crisis of 2008, precipitated by utterly daft behaviour by the banks. Or “The Market” if you prefer. Sheesh.

All of which stupidity brings me back to the Conservative Party who, to be fair to them, are not the party of the welfare state. Or the NHS. Or “The Working Man”. The NHS makes no sense to a Tory mind, obsessed with individualism and private business. So they’re doing their best to see it off. The Tories have also allowed a perfectly reasonable enthusiasm for enterprise and entrepreneurialism to be contorted into a vicious distrust of any employee seeking to better his or her lot. Private or public, an organisation, to Tory thinking, must be all and only about delivering value to the owner. When he was trying to get elected, David Cameron once spoke of “happy companies” where a good and productive balance was attained. No more. Whatever his own views are, or have ever been, he is now content to see unions vilified and public sector workers lampooned for their “cushy jobs for life” and “gold-plated pensions”. The Tories have therefore come to the conclusion that they can sufficiently demonise the public sector in the eyes of an underpaid, under-protected private sector to justify raising a few quid for the banks by raiding the public pension pot.

This is it: We need some money to give to the banks (deficit reduction) so where can we take it with least complaint? Public sector pensions are unpopular with a lot of non-public workers because they have rubbish pension provision, so let’s have it from there. Banks happy (Market confidence), non-public workers happy (schadenfreude), public sector unhappy (but we’ll say they’re whinging ingrates).

And if everything is as normal on December 1st, maybe that plan will have worked. But if enough people realise that the Tories are out to asset-strip and dismantle, that it’s all about helping out the banks, who are largely responsible for the mess in the first place, and that not all private sector workers are self-obsessed ignoramuses, then the action on November 30th may carry weight and resonance sufficient to dent the Government. National strikes are one of the few things that governments really fear. As such, they’re incredibly hard to organise legally. Pension negotiation is one of very few issues over which widespread action is feasible. So the nettle needs to be grasped. The strike needs to be committed and massive, to the extent that it can’t be ignored or spun by the hateful Tories. And it needs to be supported by the wider body of decent society. I don’t work in the private sector and although I’m hard-pressed, I’m not poverty-stricken. But I stand for what I think is good in this country and against everything that seeks to dehumanise, commodify and splinter community. That’s why I support N30.

If you’ve got this far, well done and thank you for reading. 🙂

More Hippies Needed

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This evening a deadline came and went, marking the commencement of legal action by the Corporation of The City of London to remove those parts of the Occupy London camp at St Paul’s Cathedral which are on Corporation land. The process will be as unspeakably tedious as that sentence and will take much longer. In itself it is unlikely to be a significant factor in the longevity of the encampment. However, it’s a sign of the will of the Corporation. They want the camp gone and probably for a number of reasons.

The most common publicly-stated reasons are access to the “highway”, safety and sanitation. There have been some comments about a negative impact on tourism and, recently, dark mutterings of drinking and drug-taking. All of these are red herrings.

There is no “highway”; there’s a path and people are to-ing and fro-ing along it with no obvious difficulty whatsoever. As far as safety goes, the campers have been meticulous in following the advice of fire safety officers, who have said they have no concerns. Sanitation is always a difficulty when you’re out and about in London and don’t have 20p for a station coin-op. However, a bit of careful planning and judicious use of portaloos seems to be working for folks at St Paul’s. I’d expected to be able to find the camp with my nose the first time I went there but nothing of the sort. Any stories you may hear about protestors pooing on the cathedral steps are nonsense.

Tourism? Who knows? There may be some timorous types who feel that a trip to St Paul’s can’t go ahead because they’ll have to walk past some tents. I’d argue that if you’re prepared to shell out £14.50 for a look inside, it’s going to take more than some campers outside to deter you. For anyone with any imagination, the chance to witness a bit of current affairs would be a nice garnish on a tour of historic London.

The final red herring is the stinkiest of the lot. Yes I’ve seen people at Occupy London who were drunk and caught the occasional whiff of not-quite-tobacco. Call out the army! Panic! Head for the hills! Up until now no-one in London so much as had a fizzy drink. These Occupiers are dragging us into a moral cesspool. Can I stop yet?

What no public figure wants to say, but many of them more than likely think, is that the worst thing about the Occupy London camp as far as they are concerned is the type of person it attracts. Hippies, punks, dossers, loonies… Not what they think London should be about. Well the truth is that the Occupy movement attracts all sorts. Description is impossible. The effort that is being put into accommodating different ideas and backgrounds is truly mammoth. And hangers-on are inevitable. The presence of a friendly welcome and a free cuppa is bound to attract homeless, rootless, itinerant types and why shouldn’t it? The Occupiers aren’t simply railing against the status quo; they’re also attempting to live in a better way and that means reaching out with respect to anybody who passes through, be they a tramp on his way to Waterloo or an investment banker on his way to a City dining room.

I’m not a hippy. I lack the survival skills and ability to function without creature comforts. However, I love to be around friendly, caring, genuine people and as such I find the camp at St Paul’s is my favourite place to be in London at the moment. Especially in the bleak, soulless stone and steel canyons of the City, it is an absolute oasis of humanity and reality. If you get a chance to visit, please do. And if you see Boris, tell him you’ve come on holiday to London to see the protests and be part of history.

If you move fast, you should still be able to watch “Confessions of an Undercover Cop” on 4OD. It was a fascinating doc, not entirely without flaws, but one point came across very strongly. Mark Kennedy, the Met Police officer assigned to gather intel on the hardcore environmentalist movement, “went native” because he realised that the people he was infiltrating were far nicer human beings than the people he was working for. Simple as that. Boris, Theresa and the Corporation may not like “hippies” but I tell you what: I’d rather be a hippy than a ****.

Be good, stay at home

So, the revolting students were back in town (copyright: every newspaper). Once more the nation’s thinking classes descended on the capital to vent their rage at a series of moves that seem designed to saddle them with either massive debt or huge bills when they finish studying.

And once more they were met by a policing operation the likes of which you might expect if the Earl of Somewhere was getting up an army and demanding the throne. Vast numbers were amassed and pre-emptive threats were issued. The clear message was, “if you take part in this march we will regard you as our enemy and treat you as such. Furthermore, we’ll make sure your future gets kyboshed as well. So stay at home.” No, really: look at this

Such scare tactics are despicable and signify a worrying move towards the criminalisation of dissent. At a time when Freedom and Democracy are being portrayed as the worthy objectives of our foreign military adventurism, the Government seems to have no appetite for them at home.

The police tactics on the ground included an early deployment of riot equipment and widespread use of “undercover” officers (in reality, absolute sore thumbs). Horses and dogs were also reported to have been used (not undercover).

The march passed off entirely peacefully, with the exception of some confrontations with police. There was clearly no intention to cause significant property damage (unlike last time when Tory HQ was chosen as a totemic target).

So was this passivity because of, or despite, the police operation? Well, who knows? But in a sense, that’s a side issue. The real question is whether or not we want to live in a society so unsure of itself that it has to bully those who disagree with it. Or are we prepared (like the Occupy movement it must be said) to embrace dissenting voices and do the hard work required to move forward in a constructive and adult fashion?

JR @ The Movies

Every film I’ve seen at the cinema in 2011, marked out of 10. Instant reviews available on request. You won’t all agree so tell me where I’m wrong. 😉

The Voyage of The Dawn Treader 6
127 Hours 9
The King’s Speech 10
Catfish 8
Black Swan 9
The Mechanic 7
Never Let Me Go 10
Paul 7
Drive Angry 7
Source Code 7
Sucker Punch 8
Your Highness 7
Submarine 10
TT3D: Closer To The Edge 8
Hanna 8
Thor 8
Senna 10
X Men: First Class 9
Le Quattro Volte 10
Attack The Block 9
Harry Potter 7b 8
Super 8 8
One Day 7
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy 8
Drive 9
Tyrannosaur 10
The Adventures of Tintin 9

Preface

Opening a space like this is a bit like clambering over a wall into an overgrown abandoned garden. I’m sure there’s lots of intriguing stuff waiting to be unearthed but there could be a few tangles and sharp edges hidden in there as well.

I intend to carry on tweeting the usual bobbins but use the blog to express thoughts that demand a more comprehensive shaking out. If anyone stumbles in here, feel free to comment, join in etc. Unless you’re a troll, in which case you can go and sit under the bridge and eat goats.