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.”
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?
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 🙂