Getting Nicked

To make up for the lack of recent bloggage, here’s a whopper. In fact, it’s such an epic that I’ve divided it into two parts. Here’s the first!

To begin, we need to refer back to a blog I wrote just before the national strike of November 30th last year. Entitled “Got To Do Something” it set out my reasons for supporting the upcoming day of action and wanting to be part of it myself. The fact that much of what follows derives from a statement I produced for my legal team in preparation for a court case might give you some inkling as to how things panned out.

So let’s do the blurry screen thing and go back to central London on November 30th 2011.

I was there to show my support for the public sector workers demonstrating against cuts to their pensions and express my more general outrage at the increasing national and international tendency to squeeze the majority in order to enrich the wealthy. As a supporter (more than participant) of the Occupy movement I knew that people from the London camps and other like-minds would be sharing my aims. Having seen a rendez-vous mentioned on Twitter, I turned up at Liverpool Street Station at 7.30am. A group began to form at around the same time as a banner was displayed. I joined the group as it moved out of the station and we began to carry the banner, which carried the slogan “All Power To The 99%”. This slogan chimed eloquently with the kind of feelings I was keen to express so I was delighted to help convey it. Over the next few hours we displayed the banner in various significant or photogenic locations and linked up with some of the pickets that were taking place. Eventually we wound up at the Occupy camp at St Paul’s and went our separate ways for refreshments.

A little while later I returned to St Paul’s to find a large group gathering, ready for the feeder march to the main TUC meeting point at Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Again, I made my way to where the “All Power To The 99%” banner was and took hold of it, along with a number of other people. We carried the banner to Lincoln’s Inn Fields, then along the main march route, all the way to Victoria Embankment. If you were on this march yourself, you’ll no doubt remember that it was a calm, jovial affair, marred only by light drizzle and oppressive policing (remember the ring of steel at Trafalgar Square / Whitehall? The horses and Alsatians at opposite ends of the Strand?)

By this time a message had been put out on Occupy’s Twitter announcing a rendez-vous at Picadilly Circus for 3pm. Word went round that we should make our way there independently. I was keen to make sure that the banner got there and I know a couple of knots, so I folded it up tightly and tied it up. On arrival at Piccadilly Circus, it was very unclear what was going on. There was a significant police presence, including a ring of blue-hatted officers standing round Eros, but also a large contingent of PAOK Salonika fans, gathered in London for their match at Spurs that evening. (I now know that the cops in blue hats were members of the Territorial Support Group – TSG – and their role that day was not to watch over Greek footie fans or even particularly to keep an eye on Occupy but to ensure the safety of plain-clothes rozzers in case they got rumbled. However TSG are also the go-to guys for any kind of running around action so we’d see them again later.) The atmosphere was a bit random but cheery enough. A bit of asking around led me to the conclusion that our aim would be to undertake another “public repossession” of an empty building, in the vein of the “Bank of Ideas”. (The BoI was an office building, owned by UBS but unused and empty for years, which Occupy put to use as a resource centre, hosting talks, gigs, workshops and local community activities.) I figured that the “All Power To The 99%” banner I’d spent most of the day hauling round London would be an ideal accoutrement to this new Occupy venue.

After maybe 15 minutes, I heard someone say the banner needed to be opened out. Aware that I’d tied it rather securely, I scampered over and began to undo the knots. Even as I was finishing undoing the last bits of rope, one end of the banner was being pulled away from where I was, in the direction of Haymarket. I grabbed the loose rope at my end and began moving with the banner towards, and then into, Haymarket. The samba band, which I’d last seen early in the morning, had reappeared and was creating a carnival vibe as we fanned out across the road to display the banner clearly. About 100 yards down Haymarket I could see numbers beginning to concentrate around the entrance to a side road on the left. Somebody held a red flare aloft and moved towards the entrance to a building. People rapidly congregated and then I felt a tug on the banner and heard cries along the lines of, “Go on.”

A gap opened in the crowd and again the banner moved away from me as before. Absurdly, I was still trying to get the loose rope organised in my hands. We moved through an open door, to the side of some revolving doors, briskly but walking rather than running. Passing into a kind of atrium, we turned left and began ascending the stairs. After maybe 5 or 6 floors the stairs came to an end and I spotted daylight through a small door. Stepping through the door, we came out onto the roof and, walking round a pathway, came to an open area where the building fronted onto Haymarket. The roof parapet consisted of a lowish wall topped by a sturdy railing just below chest high. The banner was placed outside the railing, pulled tight and tied at each end. I was at the right hand end, holding the top rope, so I tied it securely with a round turn and a slip-hitch. I used a slip-hitch (basically a loop knot) because it would be easier to get undone and it saved having to haul through several feet of rope. I then set about tying off the bottom rope and gathering and re-coiling the loose ends.

As I was doing this I became aware of a TSG officer grabbing at a young lady to my left. He seemed to have completely lost his temper and was tugging very roughly on her arm. Slightly outraged but trying to remain cordial I said, “Hey, steady on”, which sounded ridiculous the moment it left my mouth. He carried on struggling for a bit until more police arrived. They seemed calmer and it looked like they removed their irate colleague from the scene. By this time the banner was being pulled back over the railing and gathered up so I began undoing the rope at my end. Before I could finish, I was grabbed by another TSG who tried to pull me away from the railing and the banner that I was untying. My instinctive reaction was to grab something solid (ie. the railing) to steady myself and then to indicate to the officer that I was in the process of removing the banner. The cop was then joined by some colleagues and together they hauled me away from the railing and spun me round, grabbing at least one of my arms in a lock. Someone was shouting, “On your knees! On your knees!” I couldn’t think why on earth they needed me to be on my knees but I was conscious that I was standing on a wet bit of roof. A few feet to my left the surface was quite dry so I said, “Can I have a dry bit of floor please?” The response was, “On your knees!” I then said something like, “If you let me onto the dry, I’ll be happy to kneel down.” It’s important to stress that, despite galloping adrenaline, I felt quite serene at this point. I had no desire to fight back against the police, I just wasn’t prepared to be bullied or dehumanised. (I’m also really, really fastidious sometimes.)

My serenity took a bit of a jolt as some police officer stamped a foot down between my legs and threw me, judo style, over his leg. So now I was lying face down on the wet roof. One arm was forced up behind my back. I tried to relax and stay supple, rather than tense up. Then I felt a knee pressed heavily into my back. It was in exactly the right location to push my solar plexus against the ground, giving me the feeling of being winded and making breathing uncomfortable. Also my phone charger, in my jacket pocket, was pushing against my ribs. All this was too much. I felt as though I was now being thuggishly assaulted (probably because I was). Although I was unable to look round to see who was kneeling on me, I was able to say, in a short-winded rasp, “Get your knee out of my back you [insert very bad word].” I’m not a heavy swearer but it was the least he deserved. I’ve no idea if he heard me or not but anyway he got off and a few moments later I was cuffed behind my back and then helped to my feet by the first TSG who began the arrest formalities, while I looked down and realised that my left trouser leg was ripped open from top to bottom. There’s just no conceivable justification for that kind of physical violence from the police. I got off quite lightly – some of the others on the roof sustained genuine injuries in the form of sprains and heavy bruising. Glasses and other property were broken, many of us were forced to lie in puddles. And yet we posed precisely zero threat to the police and would have left as calmly as we arrived if they had simply asked us to. It makes you wonder what they get told in their briefings to make them so frightened and confrontational. Or maybe they’re just simple. Who knows?

A peaceable chap getting mullered by cops

Anyhoo, I was told I was being arrested for aggravated trespass and criminal damage. All thoughts of withholding my name were undone by a wallet containing about fifteen different forms of ID, so I just went along with the whole dreary procedure. I wasn’t actually that bothered when word buzzed through on the police radios that they should re-arrest us on a charge of burglary. The situation was now firmly in the realm of the surreal. I was photographed on the roof and then we were led down to the top landing inside the building.Unbeknown to us at the time, outside in the street hundreds of police were engaged in their usual wrong-brained tactic of kettling the rest of the group who had come down from Piccadilly. See YouTube for all the usual footage of officers clobbering passers-by and one lighter moment as a plain-clothes snitch is identified and ironically kettled by the crowd. Unfortunately this all resulted in a rather boring afternoon for those of us inside as the cops had decided we needed to be removed, in a rigorously secure operation, to various police stations outside central London. After at least two hours we were taken to the ground floor, photographed again, and then led out through a swarm of flashbulbs and questions onto a waiting coach. My arresting officer got into the aisle seat next to me and eventually we moved off in motorcade fashion, shepherded by at least four police motorbikes.

After the fastest journey through London’s fashionable West End I’ve ever had, I was plonked out at the back entrance to Harrow Road nick, along with my inseparable arresting officer and about half a dozen other arrestees. The time was now 6.30pm and although the drizzle had largely eased, the late November evening air was relatively brisk, especially where it flapped in and out of the remnants of my left trouser leg. Gradually we were moved, one by one, first into a locked cage surrounding the door, then through the door itself and into the booking suite. I got inside at 10.30pm. Tired and cold doesn’t begin to describe how I felt. Moments later the arresting officer of the last guy still outside got permission to bring him in because he was worried about him getting hypothermia. The only thing that made the waiting and the cold remotely bearable was the fact that all our arresting officers were there too. I pointed out that they could have all been at home if they hadn’t arrested us. I also felt it was only kind to mention that there were plenty of more interesting, more socially productive things they could be doing with their lives. “I sell and mend bikes,” I said. “I help people have fun.” At this point the Sarge suggested I be quiet and almost seemed to imply that until I opened my mouth we’d all been getting on fine and I’d had to go and spoil it for everyone. At least this made me smile and it helped to while away the hours.

Once inside, thing speeded up a bit. But not much. The Desk Sergeant booked me in, somebody took my outer clothes and boots (but fortunately I was able to keep my base layer, fleece and thermal socks) and finally I was photographed (again!), fingerprinted, DNA sampled, and tested for crack and heroin. “What?” you say. Well, burglary is a “trigger charge” wherein abuse of heroin and/or crack is thought to be a major driver, so for statistical purposes all burglary suspects are tested. Or, to put it another way, by charging us with burglary not only was there the stain of a more serious accusation but also the possibility of uncovering some scandalous drugginess. Or maybe I was just suffering institutionally-induced paranoia by this time. So finally, at 12.30am, I was shown to my cell and given a rubber lasagne to chew on. Frankly I would have eaten my own foot and slept in a bucket so I was actually quite upbeat. I used the T-shirt I’d been given to cover the pillow bit of the rock-hard blue mattress and folded the blanket so it was under as well as over me and just about got to sleep in time to be woken up and asked if I was OK.

Now I’m an introvert; I like solitude and my own company. Plenty of that in the clink, so, time to ponder, to philosophise, to gain perspective. Fortunately, a couple of days previously, I’d read an excellent blog by the wonderful @Scriptonite (www.scriptonitedaily.org) about her experience of being arrested at a demo and bunged in the cells. The knowledge that other people had trodden the path before me made it much easier to deal with. Of course I was aware of many other folk from other times and places who had gone through infinitely worse ordeals than anything I’d faced. I couldn’t compare myself with them for a moment but I could at least draw strength from their perseverance. Scriptonite’s experience was similar to mine and therefore more directly applicable. I was cheered by the thought that there were probably people aware that I and the others were in there and that possibly they were even waiting for us outside. I had no proof but I had the hope that there might be, and that helped enormously. I didn’t feel fearful, I didn’t feel guilty. I felt calm and fulfilled and I slept the sleep of the just.

 

Next time… How I woke up all achey, but fought on regardless. Hurrah!

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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Musical Interlude – 90s Dance Classics

So MTV did a top 100 dance hits of the 90s show. Not sure if it was based on sales or “expert opinion” but anyhoo, Unfinished Sympathy came top. Which is obviously the right answer.
However, the rest of it was a bit rum. What do you reckon was missing or in the wrong place? And if you ever went to a club that wasn’t owned by a corporation, you’ll probably feel there are at least a couple of sub-genres totally unrepresented. So go on, get it off yer chest. Have your say, make a list. Answers on a white label 12″ to the usual address please.

1. Massive Attack – Unfinished Sympathy (1991)
2. Moloko – Sing It Back (Boris Dlugosch Musical Mix) (1999)
3. The Shamen – Ebeneezer Goode (1992)
4. Snap! – Rhythm Is A Dancer (1992)
5. The Prodigy – Out of Space (1992)
6. Stardust – Music Sounds Better With You (1998)
7. Daft Punk – Around The World (1997)
8. Everything But The Girl – Missing (Todd Terry Mix) (1994)
9. Deee-Lite – Groove is in the Heart (1990)
10. The Bucketheads – The Bomb! (These Sounds Fall Into My Mind) (1994)
11. Tori Amos – Professional Widow (It’s Got To Be Big) (Armand’s Star Trunk Funkin Mix) (1996)
12. David Morales presents The Face – Needin’ U (1998)
13. Baby D – Let Me Be Your Fantasy (1994)
14. Olive – You’re Not Alone (1996)
15. Livin’ Joy – Dreamer (1994)
16. Underworld – Born Slippy (1995)
17. Armand Van Helden – U Don’t Know Me (1999)
18. Prodigy – Firestarter (1996)
19. Sub Sub Featuring Melanie Williams – Ain’t No Love (Ain’t No Use) (1993)
20. Robert Miles – Children (1995)
21. Snap! – The Power (1990)
22. Faithless – Insomnia (1995)
23. Paul Johnson – Get Get Down (1999)
24. Rozalla – Everybody’s Free (To Feel Good) (1991)
25. B.B.E. – Seven Days And One Week (1996)
26. 2 Unlimited – No Limit (1993)
27. Crystal Waters – Gypsy Woman (La Da Dee) (1991)
28. Ce Ce Peniston – Finally (1991)
29. Bobby Brown – Two Can Play That Game (1994)
30. Basement Jaxx – Red Alert (1999)
31. Ultra Nate – Free (1997)
32. Nomad – (I Wanna Give You) Devotion (1991)
33. Bizarre Inc – I’m Gonna Get You (feat. Angie Brown) (1992)
34. Bob Marley vs. Funkstar De Luxe – Sun Is Shining (1999)
35. C&C Music Factory – Gonna Make You Sweat (ft. Freedom Williams) (1990)
36. Fatboy Slim – Praise You (1999)
37. Inner City – Good Life (Buena Vida) (1999)
38. Phats & Small – Turn Around (1999)
39. Dario G – Sunchyme (1997)
40. ATB – 9pm (Till I Come) (1998)
41. Madison Avenue – Don’t Call Me Baby (1999)
42. De’Lacy – Hideaway (1995)
43. Robin S – Show Me Love (1993)
44. Urban Cookie Collective – The Key The Secret (1993)
45. Strike – U Sure Do (1994)
46. Happy Clappers – I Believe (1995)
47. Wamdue Project – King Of My Castle (1999)
48. Xpansions 95 – Move Your Body (1995)
49. Energy 52 – Café Del Mar (1993)
50. Tony Di Bart – The Real Thing (1994)
51. Rednex – Cotton Eye Joe (1994)
52. The Chemical Brothers – Hey Boy Hey Girl (1999)
53. Reel 2 Real feat. The Mad Stuntman – I Like To Move It (1994)
54. Mousse T. vs. Hot ‘N’ Juicy – Horny (1998)
55. JX – There’s Nothing I Won’t Do (1996)
56. Ace of Base – All That She Wants (1993)
57. Haddaway – What Is Love (1993)
58. Alison Limerick – Where Love Lives (1990)
59. Beats International – Dub Be Good to Me (1990)
60. Cornershop – Brimful of Asha (Norman Cook Remix) (1998)
61. Adventures of Stevie V – Dirty Cash (Money Talks) (1989)
62. The Original – I Luv U Baby (1994)
63. Sash! – Encore Une Fois (1996)
64. Grace – Not Over Yet (1995)
65. Culture Beat – Mr. Vain (1993)
66. The Tamperer Featuring Maya – Feel It (1998)
67. Felix – Don’t You Want Me (1992)
68. Gala – Freed From Desire (1996)
69. Altern 8 – Evapor 8 (1992)
70. The Outhere Brothers – Boom Boom Boom (1995)
71. Vanilla Ice – Ice Ice Baby (1990)
72. Fatboy Slim – Right Here, Right Now (1999)
73. N-Trance – Set You Free (1995)
74. Wink – Higher State Of Consciousness (’96 Remix) (1995)
75. Shanks & Bigfoot – Sweet Like Chocolate (1999)
76. Double 99 – Ripgroove (1999)
77. K.W.S. – Please Don’t Go (1992)
78. Run D.M.C. vs. Jason Nevins – It’s Like That (1997)
79. K-Klass – Rhythm Is A Mystery (1991)
80. Gat Decor – Passion (1992)
81. The Prodigy – Charly (1991)
82. DJ Jean – The Launch (1999)
83. Adamski – Killer (1990)
84. Todd Terry – Something Goin’ On (feat. Martha Wash & Jocelyn Brown) (1997)
85. Artful Dodger feat. Craig David – Re-Rewind The Crowd Say Bo Selecta (1999)
86. Dr. Alban – It’s My Life (1992)
87. Mr. Oizo – Flat Beat (1999)
88. The Wiseguys – Ooh La La (1998)
89. DJ Luck & MC Neat – A Little Bit Of Luck (1999)
90. The KLF – 3AM Eternal (1991)
91. MC Hammer – U Can’t Touch This (1990)
92. Tina Moore – Never Gonna Let You Go (1995)
93. Brothers In Rhythm – Such A Good Feeling (1991)
94. Enigma – Sadeness Part I (1990)
95. The Grid – Swamp Thing (1994)
96. D:Ream – Things Can Only Get Better (1993)
97. The Blueboy – Remember Me (1997)
98. Corona – The Rhythm of the Night (1994)
99. E.M.F. – Unbelievable (1990)
100. Nightcrawlers – Push The Feeling On (1995)

Sub Judice

As a result of certain goings-on last November 30th, I’m not currently best placed to say everything that I might like to about certain topics. However, I’d love it if you could subscribe so that when I can stick more thoughts on here, you’ll be alerted to their presence.
Ta. JR. 🙂

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?

For Whom The Bell Trolls

A few more thoughts arising from the Occupy London demo:
I mentioned in an earlier post that Social Networking enables access to a far wider range of viewpoints than tends to be covered by conventional media. This is nowhere more true than in the discussions that coalesce around a topical hashtag such as #occupylondon or #OccupyLSX. The purpose of a hashtag (just in case you’re new to this) is to enable people with a common interest to participate in discussion, chat etc about their chosen topic.
However, wherever bridges are being built, trolls will lurk.
“Trolls”, in Social Networking parlance, are people who join in with discussions specifically to disagree with the prevailing view or to stir up confusion or fear. In some cases, such as #OccupyLSX, the trolls end up swamping the discussion to the point of obliterating the hashtag’s original purpose.
Now of course discussions such as these are supposed to be all about open and honest debate, frank exchanges of views, tough democracy. Different points of view are to be expected and encouraged. But believe me, it’s not hard to tell the difference between trolls and genuine participants. The Occupy movement and the vast majority of its sympathisers are characterised by politeness and willingness to debate the issues. Most comments about the encampment are obviously based on firsthand experience. The naysayers, on the other hand, frequently appear quite out of touch with what’s actually going on, dealing in lazy generalisations and stereotypes and resorting to childish insults when questioned. It’s also fair to say that, for the most part, they betray quite breathtakingly bigoted views to the extent that calling them right-wing would be an insult to right-wingers.
Up to a point it’s quite good sport to engage in a bit of back-and-forth with these types and some people make a pretty much full-time occupation of “troll hunting”. Ultimately though, it’s a bit depressing, wading through endlessly retweeted bile and nonsense to finally wind up in some EDL infested cul-de-sac. “Don’t feed the trolls” is probably one of the wiser slogans in cyberspace. Maybe they’ll go away if we ignore them. Here’s hoping hey?