Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Government responds on photography restrictions in public places

The government has responded to the petition signed by 6,329 people calling for the lifting of the vaguely defined restriction in the Counter Terrorism Act, which prevents people taking photographs of a police officer, military personnel or member of the intelligence services for purposes that "may be of use for terrorism".

The response reads as follows:

Thank you for your e-petition.

On 16 February 2009, the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 (Commencement No.2) Order 2009 brought in to force section 58A of the Terrorism Act 2000 (inserted by section 76 of the CTA 2008), offences relating to information about members of the armed forces etc.

Section 58A makes it an offence to publish, communicate, elicit or attempt to elicit information about any of such persons which is of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism. Contrary to some media and public misconception, section 58A does not make it illegal to photograph a police officer, military personnel or member of the intelligence services.

On the 18 August 2009, the Home Office published the following information via its website to clarify photography in relation to section 58A.

Photography and Section 58A of the Terrorism Act 2000

The offence concerns information about persons who are or have been at the front line of counter-terrorism operations, namely the police, the armed forces and members of the security and intelligence agencies.

An officer making an arrest under section 58A must reasonably suspect that the information is of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism. An example might be gathering information about the person’s house, car, routes to work and other movements.

Reasonable excuse under section 58A

It is a statutory defence for a person to prove that they had a reasonable excuse for eliciting, publishing or communicating the relevant information. Legitimate journalistic activity (such as covering a demonstration for a newspaper) is likely to constitute such an excuse. Similarly, an innocent tourist or other sight-seer taking a photograph of a police officer is likely to have a reasonable excuse.

Is that clear? No, not to me either. There is such a wide range of photography between professional photojournalism (that is only 'likely' to be a legitimate excuse) and an 'innocent tourist' that section 58A is still open to abuse by police officers - to start with, every protester involved in the G20 demonstrations in April would fall between these two extremes.

That would mean that those who captured on camera the assault of Ian Tomlinson would run the risk of being stopped by police officers who already seem unaware of the limits of their powers. The prospect of people exercising self-censorship when innocently taking photos, to avoid the indignity of a stop and search by the police, remains high.

And anyway, how would you provide proof that you are an 'innocent tourist'?

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Gordon Brown's Hollow Words on Antisocial Behaviour

Although the press coverage of Gordon Brown’s speech this afternoon will probably focus on the headline issues – teenage pregnancies, ID cards and electoral reform, as well as the proposal to allow voters the chance to recall of Members of Parliament, I though the following passage stood out:

Neighbourhood policing is now a reality in every council ward in our country.

Recent cases have shown it is time for a better service for the citizen. So if it's an emergency you must get action in minutes, where it's a neighbourhood priority within the hour, and where it's a general but not urgent enquiry no one will have to wait more than 48 hours for a reply or a visit. That's what I mean by public services personal to people's needs.

And I can tell the British people that between now and Christmas, neighbourhood policing will focus in a more direct and intensive way on anti-social behaviour. Action squads will crackdown in problem estates, protect the public spaces you want safe and hold monthly beat meetings to consult you directly on your priorities for action.
The ‘recent cases’ that Brown was referring to include, of course, the tragic deaths of Fiona Pilkington and her disabled daughter Francecca, whose inquest this week revealed a catalogue of abusive anti-social behaviour over eleven years that was repeatedly ignored by the police and the local council. This passage of his speech also reflects public concerns that, in spite of crime statistics generally declining (down 1.6% in London, although rising since last year in places like Waltham Forest and Croydon), people still do not feel any safer.

This is where Brown’s promises seem so disingenuous: as if this is an issue that the Prime Minister has suddenly discovered is important to citizens. But the mantra “tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime” has been a central tenet of the New Labour project and has seen more criminal justice legislation since 1997 than in the preceding 50 years. Much of it has related to so-called ‘minor’ crime and includes the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 (that introduced ASBOs), the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 (restorative justice), Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 (on-the-spot fixed penalties) and the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 (widened ASBO powers and introduced dispersal orders).

Anyone who has experienced repeated anti-social behaviour targeted against them, as I have, will understand how little difference this raft of new laws really makes. The real problem is with the police, local councils and the bureaucratic ‘crime and disorder partnerships’ that every local authority area has. It is all very well Brown saying that emergencies should be responded to immediately and priorities within an hour, but it simply doesn’t happen.

For nearly four years I’ve had to put up with groups of youths gathering in the entrance to the block of flats where I live. They have forced open the electricity cupboard at the front of the building so they can use it to store weapons, abused residents, smashed windows and over the course of last summer, systematically removed the whole of the fencing around the front garden. I have lost count of the number of times that I have called the police but it made little difference, for the people making the decisions about what was an ‘emergency’ or a 'priority’ were controllers in a 999 call centre. The council’s anti-social behaviour hotline was just as useless: all they ever did was ‘record’ the incidents. The comments made by Fiona Pilkington in her letters and diary therefore seem extremely familiar:
''We called the police but by the time they arrived they had scarpered, only to come back later. I really am getting to the stage where I am at a loss as to what to do about things.''

''I drew the curtains and sat in the dark until 2.30am, stressed out.”

''Learn from experience that no-one is available on Fridays to Mondays as it's busy elsewhere and this is low priority.''
I've been there on every count. That’s why it is all very well Brown proudly proclaiming that “neighbourhood policing is now a reality in every council ward in our country”, but my experience of police ‘Safer Neighbourhood Teams’ (SNTs), as they are known in London's 624 electoral wards, has been mixed. They are undoubtedly more sympathetic, are better communicators than other officers and often appear very busy but there seems little connection between them and the rest of the Met.

Where I live, one police sergeant, a constable and a few community support officers, whose shifts do not include late-nights when the worst anti-social behaviour takes place, weren’t the same officers responding to emergency calls. The officers who were, if they turned up at all, had no idea about or apparent interest in what might be a ‘neighbourhood priority’ or a pattern of incidents, And just as Fiona Pilkington experienced, nothing changed. Instead, the local SNT’s main concern was improved home security, encouraging people to effectively barricade themselves in their homes, rather than actually catching people responsible for crimes like criminal damage and intimidation. With a private landlord or property management company rather than the local authority, it is incredibly difficult to get any money spent on security anyway, whilst eventually I was told bluntly to stop ringing the SNT on the regular occasions when other police officers failed to respond to an emergency.

All I ever heard was that it was impossible to act without evidence. So if not Newham's police, then who else might collect evidence of anti-social behaviour? In theory, the local council does, but this is why it is all very well Brown promising a ‘crackdown’, which seems like little more than party conference rhetoric. It's pure fantasy.

In Newham, council employees I know say the borough’s Anti-Social Behaviour Division is in disarray. Its contact with ward-level SNTs is at best patchy and in many cases non-existent, it has been unable to recruit anyone foolish enough to become a permanent Head of Service and it has abolished its Hate Crime Unit (the sort of specialist help that someone like Fiona Pilkington, with a daughter who was the victim of a disability hate crime, desperately needed). And just like the police, the council is so obsessed with government targets that although it is awash with money for combating antisocial behaviour, I’ve been told that the dozens of ‘enforcement officers’ it is enlisting will focus on tackling easy targets like illegal street traders, rather than complicated issues like recurring problems affecting local residents.

In January, at another meeting with the police, an Inspector expressed his horror about how long residents of my block had enduring repeated incidents and how little progress had been made. He offered to arrange a CCTV camera so I could collect evidence on his officers' behalf. That was nine months ago – I have never heard from the police again.

Fortunately, although problems still persist, over the summer the hardcore of scumbags that hung around outside my home have drifted away to a nearby street, where police recently discovered a stash of weapons. I’m sure the Met would claim this as a success, although the residents where the antisocial behaviour has moved to would probably disagree. But the truth is rather more prosaic – so many friends, from different parts of the country, knew what had been happening that quite unbeknownst to me, somebody arranged for several seriously heavy-duty individuals to pop round one Saturday night whilst I was out of London and have a quiet word with those responsible. This is all I have been told: frankly, I don't want to know the details.

Most people don’t have mates with such colourful acquaintances. Fiona Pilkington and her daughter certainly didn’t. They need more than hollow promises from Gordon Brown - they need a police service and local councils that are genuinely accountable to the public and that care more about impact than they do about targets and statistics.

Policing, in other words, that is radically different from what we have now.

Michael Moore - Capitalism: A Love Story


Trailer for Michael Moore's new film 'Capitalism: A Love Story', which is out in the US on Friday but as yet has no UK release date.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Afghanistan: It Was The Sun Wot Backed It

Hat Tip: Chicken Yoghurt

A Comment on Our Glorious Mayor?

I'm sure the City of London Corporation have a view on Newham's Great Helmsman (who doesn't?). But this one is particularly acerbic...

Journey Down The Thames

It was such a lovely day yesterday that I took my camera and cycled along the Thames.


Riverside near St Katherine's Way

Repairing Tower Bridge

LEFT: Aldermans Stairs off Wapping High Street RIGHT: St Katherine's Dock

I finished up at the Tower of London, where I rashly paid the exhorbitant entry fee and went inside for the first time since I was five years old. It was all rather too commerical for my tastes, but I have ticked off another of London's attractions from my list.

Photos from the journey down are on Flickr here and from the Tower of London here.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Space Hijackers Prosecution - Belated April Fools Joke?

I'm not sure whether David Leppard of the Sunday Times ran this story in the way that he did simply to print a picture of a fruity woman in a riot helmet flashing a suspender (whatever floats your boat, I guess), or because he is a weird sexist creep. But the continued prosecution of members of the Space Hijackers on charges of impersonating police officers seems ever more farcical.

For those who have forgotten, the Space Hijackers' contribution to April’s G20 protests was a old six-wheeled personnel vehicle, complete with speakers blaring out the 'Ride of the Valkyries'. The charges against them make up a substantial proportion of the total prosecutions resulting from events on 1 April, which also make it look all the more like they are being made an example of.


A spokesperson for Space Hijackers, said
We are shocked and appalled by the behaviour of the police on the day both towards us and others. We don’t feel that we were arrested because the officers honestly believed that we were impersonating the police but because we were becoming a thorn in their side.
Raj Chada of solicitors Hodge Jones Allen added:
The Space Hijackers were protesting entirely peacefully. In light of the numerous allegations of violence and misconduct against the police that have marred the event, perhaps the biggest joke is the decision to prosecute those peaceful protesters playing loud music and wearing fancy dress.
But if evidence from another police impersonation case in Scotland is anything to go by, the Space Hijackers look set for victory. In January, the Daily Mail reported the case of Stuart Kennedy (right), a male stripper who performs under the stage name of Sergeant Eros. Apparently people pay for this sort of thing (again, whatever floats your boat). Anyway, Kennedy had been arrested for the second time for impersonation of a police officer and for the second time had found that the charges had been dropped. Unfortunately, his ongoing battle with Grampian police was far from over: in August, the Sunday Herald reported that the fourth court case against him had just been thrown out.

It seems that making a charge of impersonating the police stick when there is obviously no malicious intent has proved harder than prosecutors with no apparent common sense had realised.

Put the G20 case in front of jury and it will be laughed out of court. And the great thing is that when the Space Hijackers eventually get to sue the Metropolitan Police for wrongful arrest, the proceeds will be ploughed back into more mischief.

Protest This Tuesday Against More Flights At London City Airport

On Tuesday Sept 29th London City Airport introduces a new business-only service from London to New York. A return ticket cost over £3,000.

By 2030, London City Airport aims to add another 90,000 flights each year to its timetable, including bigger, noisier, jets. How much more do they expect us to take? Newham already suffers from severe air pollution problems, above average levels of asthma and high levels of infant mortality. A huge increase in flights risks making matters even worse.

In a message to supporters, Climate Camp London have said:

If the airport is going to make a load of noise, so are we. On the morning of the first London – New York flight, a group of local people will be gathering outside the entrance to show the airport what it’s like to be disturbed by unwanted noise. We’re bringing pots and pans, trumpets, whistles, horns – anything that makes a racket.
The protest on Tuesday starts at 11.45am outside the London City Airport entrance on Hartmann Road, London E16 2PX.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

A Day With The Dead

I was too relaxed and lazy to get up really early today and head down to Brighton for the 'Convention of the Left' meeting, so I'll have to wait and see if there is a report by Harpymarx, who I know was there (and who might want to include this graphic in any blog post if it turns out to have gone horribly wrong).

The excuses for this morning's lethargy are two-fold: an incredibly busy week at work and the fact that one of close friends, Estelle, learned massage on holiday instead of relaxing in a hammock with a cocktail. She likes to practice on the people she knows and so in return for some trifling help with something or other, I was repaid with dinner and and pampering. As Estelle says, it's not so much a film night as an 'oily-film night', which is a joke that you have to admit is pretty... slick.

And so this is how, instead of taking a train to Brighton, I eventually spent most of the day in the company of a bunch of dead people.

Just in case you think this is some kind of sly and oblique dig at the comrades gathered at the seaside, let me explain. Like most Londoners, I've never managed to find the time to see half of the city's many attractions. I have a list of places I should get around to visiting and a free day seemed like an opportunity to try and cross a couple off. So I cycled the 12 miles from Forest Gate to one of the highest points in London (in other words, up some steep hills) to visit Highgate Cemetery. I arrived just in time to have a look around the West Cemetery, which is only possible by guided tours organised by well-informed, unpaid volunteers from the charity Friends of Highgate Cemetery.


Highgate, it turns out, is very much a product of Victorian capitalism, one of the seven privately run cemeteries around the outside of London that catered for a growing population and a quite different attitude towards death than today, one concerned much more with Christian belief in the eternal soul and eventual bodily resurrection.

It was also aimed at London’s emerging middle class, set in beautiful and well-maintained surroundings with a spectacular view over the city. At a time when the poorest sections of the working class were buried in unmarked paupers’ graves, prosperous families were expected to plan ahead and many established permanent monuments to themselves with mausoleums, gravestones and tombs that publicly displayed their wealth and prestige. It was a way of creating a form of immortality, often at great cost – none more so than the monument built for Julius Beer, a businessman who briefly owned the Observer newspaper. It was fascinating to learn that Beer's revenge on a society that shunned him because he was Jewish was to deliberately construct his mausoleum so it obstructed the view of the fashionable people who escaped the city at the weekend to picnic on the land above the Circle of Lebanon (above).

Ultimately the crippling cost of Victorian mourning and the later the mass slaughter of young men in the trenches of northern France during the First World War changed public attitudes to this extravagance. The private cemeteries soon found that their business model, which promised to maintain graves in perpetuity without understanding exactly how this would be paid for in the longer term, was fundamentally flawed. But people are still buried in Highgate and after the tour, it was over to the East Cemetery to do what everyone else does, which is searching out the famous, taking pictures of angels and visiting the grave of Karl Marx.


Click on the pictures to enlarge.

Marx’ final resting place may not be as bold as that of Julius Beer, but it is still monumental, with the same Victorian concerns for grandeur and immortality. It is a place for the living to come to pay tribute and, to my surprise, even in death some members of the Marx cult are drawn to be near to their secular saint. Dotted around the memorial are a number of graves of Communists, many who were exiles from Iraq, Iran and South Africa.

They include Claudia Jones, an important figure in recent black British history, who was born in Trinidad but grew up in Harlem in New York, where she became a Communist and a great orator. In the midst of the McCarthy witch hunts of the early 1950s, she was repeatedly arrested and finally deported, eventually receiving asylum in Britain (back when providing sanctuary from repression was still honourable). Jones then threw herself into resistance to racist attacks against the Caribbean community in west London, founded the West Indian Gazette and started the forerunner of what was to become the Notting Hill Carnival. Her grave is right next to Marx.

Another comrade close by is the campaigning journalist Paul Foot, his gravestone facing the great man just across the path. I found this more surprising: Foot was never a CP member but a life-long supporter of the Socialist Workers Party, more 'dissenter' than ‘established religion’ and well respected on the Left. But then I don’t really understand cult followers. Presumably Coyoacán was just too far away.

Leaving Highgate, I headed down to try and squeeze in another on my list: St Paul’s Cathedral. There wasn’t much time and it is eye-wateringly expensive (£11 to go to church!) but despite already feeling tired out, I clambered by the narrow staircase to the Stone Gallery for the great views across the City and the Thames. Then, having missed out on the Open House London tour of the Bank of England, I stopped off by Bank station to take advantage of the light and finish a roll of film.

It has been great to be outdoors in the sunshine for most of the day rather than stuck inside, even if I missed some interesting debate and cycled around 25 miles.


Anyway, my photos from Highgate Cemetery are on Flickr here and from St Paul's Cathedral and around the City here.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Terminator Invited To Newham As Official Civic Guest

As if he didn’t already have enough to worry about, Californian governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Republican former film star and sex pest who currently presides over an unemployment rate of 12.1% and the fiscal freefall of a $26.3 billion budget deficit in the richest state in the US, has been invited by Newham’s Great Helmsman Sir Robin Wales to become the borough's ‘official civic guest’ at the Olympics. What a clash of egos that could prove to be.

According to the Newham Recorder, Wales has written to Schwarzenegger, who lived and trained at Charles ‘Wag’ Bennett's gym in Romford Road in Forest Gate in the 1960s, saying:

You have been an inspiration to weightlifters and sportspeople since you started winning titles during the 1970s, and have capitalised on your appeal by moving onto acting, and now governing California.

The success of our borough is largely because of the hard working men and women, like yourself, who have contributed towards continually improving Newham, which is the most ethnically diverse area in Britain.
The local rag also says that Wales “would like to talk to Arnold about saving money”. It says something about the monumental self-regard that the Mayor of Newham has for his own abilities that he now thinks he can ride to California’s rescue.

Schwarzenegger, who has impoverished the most deprived sections of his own state by infamously making swingeing cuts to child welfare, health care for the poor and AIDS prevention efforts and by firing 5,000 state government employees (as well as proposing to close 220 state parks) hardly seems like a suitable choice for ‘official civic guest’ to one of the poorest boroughs in England.

However, that doesn't mean that we can't draw some inspiration from the Golden State. The massive campus protests by students and faculty members at the University of California, the scale of which, according to the Guardian, have shocked state authorities as they have escalated from a local dispute to a state-wide walkout, are a tremendous example to the rest of us in opposing the cuts in local services that a new Tory government is expected to introduce.

Pittsburgh Police Use Sonic Weapons Against Protesters

Pittsburgh police, over in the land of the free and the home of the burst ear drum, have shown once again their interpretation of the meaning of 'a proportionate response' by using military grade 'sonic weapons' against their own citizens during protests against the G20 summit.

This technology has previously been deployed against Somali pirates and Iraqi insurgents - and by the Israeli army against Palestinians. Noise at frequencies used by this kind of weapon affects the inner ear, creating dizziness and nausea and can cause hearing damage.

WARNING: the sound of a sonic weapon is annoying even when it's 3725 miles away...


Close Sri Lanka's Detention Camps

Since the defeat of the brutal and authoritarian Tamil Tiger rebels by the Sri Lankan government in May this year, there have been warnings that the detention of Tamil civilians in ‘welfare villages’ amounting to the creation of a system of hidden, collective punishment against those who have suffered enough already.

Robert Evans, a Labour MEP who visited Sri Lanka as chairman of the European Parliament Delegation on Relations with South Asia, has said these ‘villages’ are “not welfare camps, they are prisoner-of-war cum concentration camps” and Human Rights Watch has called the camps “detention centres” that violate UN guidelines on internally displaced people .

Over the last few days, in the run up to the G20 summit in Pittsburgh, international NGOs have been renewing their serious concerns about human rights violations in Sri Lanka.

On Tuesday, Human Rights Watch called for the immediate release of more than 260,000 displaced persons illegally confined in Sri Lankan detention camps, adding:

Human Rights Watch said it was concerned about a lack of protection mechanisms in the camps and the secret, incommunicado detention - and possible enforced disappearance - of suspected combatants. Poor conditions, overcrowding, and inadequate medical care increases the risk of serious health problems during the coming monsoon season. Human Rights Watch also said that the authorities are not being open and honest with camp residents about when they may go home, keeping them in a state of uncertainty and anxiety.
Yesterday, Amnesty International raised concerns about clashes between detainees and the Sri Lankan Army. Its Asia director Sam Zarifi said:
The danger of serious human rights violations, including torture, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings increases substantially when detainees are held in locations that are not officially acknowledged places of detention and lack proper legal procedures and safeguards.
There are two meetings coming up soon on the illegal mass detentions by Mahinda Rajapakse’s government. The first, organised by the Tamil Legal Advocacy Project, takes place on Tuesday 29 September at Conway Hall in central London, whilst in October, the Tamil Solidarity Campaign has a meeting calling for the shutting down of the prison camps, which is in the Laws Building at Queen Mary University of London in Mile End.

Hat tip: Liam Mac Uaid

Thursday, 24 September 2009

A Beginner's Guide to Acting English

Comedian Shappi Khorsandi was promoting her new book at Stratford Circus yesterday evening and as always, organisers Newham Bookshop drew a big crowd.

Having listened to her Radio 4 series ‘Shappi Talk’, I’ve started to think Khorsandi has become a rather one-dimensional comic, relying on a standard of tired ‘aren’t foreigners funny’ material that now seems incredibly old-fashioned. But her memoir about leaving Iran and growing up in England because her father, a writer, had mocked first the Shah and later Ayatollah Khomeini sounds really good, a sometimes sad and moving tale. I look forward to reading it, but unfortunately last night it was totally under-sold, with Shappi completely failing to engage with the people who came to listen to her read extracts from her story. She rambled, seemed unprepared and lost without the prop of her stand-up routine and managed a first for a Newham Bookshop event: not even one question from the audience. At times it was painful to watch.

The next bookshop event I’m attending is Tony Benn speaking about his new book “A Letter to my Grandchildren”, which is on 14 October. Somehow, I expect the audience questions will come thick and fast.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Westminster Village Idiots

Several of the people I follow on Twitter, including the Liberal Conspiracy blog, have suddenly become terribly agitated over the last 24 hours, because the controversial Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party, Lord Ashcroft, had paid for a major stake in a ‘news aggregator’ website I had never heard of called PoliticsHome.com.

Ashcroft’s involvement had led to a surge of resignations, beginning with chief political commentator of the Observer Andrew Rawnsley, of liberal and left-leaning members of a panel of 100 ‘opinion formers’ that the site surveys every morning and then publishes poll results about at the end of each day.

Frankly, I couldn’t give a toss where Ashcroft invests his money. What I have a bigger problem with is that notion that apparently sensible people like the Green Party's Siân Berry choose to buy into the flattery that they are the “best and most influential political brains in the country”.

I can imagine why right-wingers are obsessed about privileged status, recognition and making sure their name appears on the right list of ‘very important people: it’s something hard-wired into their politics. But why on earth supposedly progressive people desire to be part of a cabal of “Westminster insiders” is quite beyond me. Especially when the incestuous alliance of politicians, strategists and the media who make up the ‘Westminster bubble’ conduct politics in a manner that has so alienated voters, newspaper readers and the minority who still bother to watch political coverage on the television.

This is how the establishment is maintained: they coax you in, tell you how important you are and soon you start to believe your opinions are more important than the rest of the population. Precisely because the outlook of the closed circle dominates the news cycle, soon you start agreeing with and reinforcing the views other ‘opinion formers’ who are supposedly ‘important’ too and whose attitudes seem like the conventional wisdom.

Personally, I can't think of anything in life less appealing than association with the likes of Polly "One Last Chance for Labour" Toynbee or the Daily Mail political editor Ben Brogan. But hey, that's just me.

Then again, I don't think that resigning from a panel of Westminster 'opinion formers' is particularly brave or praiseworthy. Having nothing to do with such bullshit in the first place, however, is far more impressive.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

"We're Screwed" - Yes Men Issue Fake New York Post

The latest from pranksters The Yes Men:

Early this morning, nearly a million New Yorkers were stunned by the appearance of a "special edition" New York Post blaring headlines that their city could face deadly heat waves, extreme flooding, and other lethal effects of global warming within the next few decades. The most alarming thing about it: the news came from an official City report.

Distributed by over 2000 volunteers throughout New York City, the paper has been created by The Yes Men and a coalition of activists as a wake-up call to action on climate change. It appears one day before a UN summit where Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon will push 100 world leaders to make serious commitments to reduce carbon emissions in the lead-up to the Copenhagen climate conference in December. Ban has said that the world has "less than 10 years to halt (the) global rise in greenhouse gas emissions if we are to avoid catastrophic consequences for people and the planet," adding that Copenhagen is a "once-in-a-generation opportunity."

Although the 32-page New York Post is a fake, everything in it is 100% true, with all facts carefully checked by a team of editors and climate change experts.

"This could be, and should be, a real New York Post," said Andy Bichlbaum of the Yes Men. "Climate change is the biggest threat civilization has ever faced, and it should be in the headlines of every paper, every day until we solve the problem."

The fake Post's cover story ("We're Screwed") reports the frightening conclusions of a blue-ribbon panel of scientists commissioned by the mayor's office to determine the potential effects of climate change on the City. That report was released in February of this year, but received very little press at the time. Other lead articles describe the Pentagon's alarmed response to global warming ("Clear & Present Disaster"), the U.S. government's sadly minuscule response to the crisis ("Congress Cops Out on Climate"), China's alternative energy program ("Chinas Green Leap Forward Overtakes U.S."), and how if the US doesn't quickly pass a strong climate bill, the crucial Copenhagen climate talks this December could be a "Flopenhagen."

Another ad promotes civil disobedience, encouraging readers to visit BeyondTalk.net and pledge to risk arrest in a planned global action November 30, just before the conference in Copenhagen.

"We need strong action on climate change," said David Solnit of Mobilization for Climate Justice West, one of the partners in BeyondTalk.net. "But history shows that leaders act only when people take to the streets to demand it. That's what needs to happen now."


This paper is one of 2500 initiatives taking place in more than 130 countries as a response to the "Global Wake-up Call" on climate change.

For more information, visit tcktcktck.org/wakeup

Honest Ads For BAE Systems

In response to the attempt by arms manufacturer BAE Systems is to clean up its tarnished image with a PR campaign, one that focuses on its 'innovation', employment and patriotic values and features on posters, news websites and taxi livery, the Campaign Against the Arms Trade has produced six spoof adverts that attempt to inject some honesty into BAE's brand advertising:

Content on this page requires a newer version of Adobe Flash Player.

Get Adobe Flash player

Climate Camp – Which Side Are We On?

This article was written for the latest issue of Labour Briefing

Community activist Kevin Blowe asks how the traditional left can engage with the Climate Campers.

In September, the British Film Institute (BFI) screened a season of films in London and Sheffield under the banner “King Coal”, exploring the immense effect coal mining has had on British life. Material from the BFI National Archive's collections included director Carol Reed’s 1939 mining village drama The Stars Look Down, Ken Loach's untransmitted South Bank Show film Which Side Are You On? and Jeremy Deller’s 2001 re-enactment of the Battle of Orgreave. These films are a reminder of how harsh and dangerous coal mining has always been and how many miners would have preferred not to see their sons follow them down the pits – but also how totemic mineworkers’ industrial militancy has been to the left. There are plenty of socialists of a certain age who grow misty-eyed at the memories of the great miners’ disputes of the past, especially the strike between 1984 and 1985. For many of us, it was part of our political education.

Since that strike, we have a better understanding of the implications of catastrophic climate change. Had Margaret Thatcher and National Coal Board boss Ian MacGregor failed in their efforts to hasten the decline of Britain’s coal industry, socialists might now be facing the same dilemmas over the use of coal as we do over demands to bail out Britain’s car industry. We now know that coal is the dirtiest, least efficient fossil fuel, adding considerably to greenhouse gas emissions, just as we understand that cars are responsible for around 14% of EU emissions. "Clean coal" technology is, at best, years away from ever working, while car emissions have continued to grow at a time when other sectors have started to make reductions. The implications of climate change for the poorest and most vulnerable globally mean that action is needed immediately – but how do we protect workers employed in industries that directly contribute to global warming? As we once asked of others, which side are you on?

Any answer needs more subtlety and complexity than a demand to take sides can provide. However, confusion about how to balance the damage that unrestrained economic growth may make to our planet with the need to defend jobs during a recession may explain why many left wingers I have spoken to have been rather dismissive of August’s much publicised Climate Camp on Blackheath.

Despite the apparent media-savvy of those who took part in Climate Camp, it has generated a tremendous amount of sneering. The media is mystified by its lack of leadership, its apparent earnestness, its youth – and its failure to deliver a newsworthy confrontation with the police. Old school, cider-drinking anarchists have dismissed it as a middle-class distraction, while others have mocked it for being disconnected from working class struggles and its anti-technology politics.

As with all scorn, there is at least an element of truth in these accusations. Having attended Climate Camp, I would say it is undoubtedly pacifist, middle class, youthful and sometimes rather raw and inexperienced in its perspectives. It included a few people who believe in a return to a more rustic and primitive society. However, to dismiss Climate Camp out of hand means misunderstanding why a new generation of activists and campaigners are rejecting the more traditional routes to left wing politics.

Putting to one side the media circus over the August Bank Holiday weekend, there is much that is positive about those who took part in Climate Camp. Most see themselves as both anti-capitalist and internationalist, with a far-sighted understanding of the implications of decisions made in the most powerful industrial countries on the nations of the global south. They displayed a refreshing lack of macho posturing that can be commonplace on the left and a genuine respect for the ideas of mutual aid and co-operation.

Climate activists have also shown they are prepared to engage in direct action to prevent climate change – in defiance of the orthodoxy that young people are not interested in politics. They have more insight about the motivations of corporations and investors than many of our trade union leaders appear to possess. In the face of the frightening possibility of climate disaster in our lifetime, they are not prepared to continue to be ground down by compromise and betrayal within mainstream political parties. Based on the evidence of the short shrift that members of the Socialist Workers Party received at Climate Camp in their pitch for the “vanguard Trotskyist party”, the prospect of selling newspapers and obeying orders from above did not seem that appealing to the campers either.

What was evident from the workshops I attended at Climate Camp – as well as a degree of naivety and some startling gaps in knowledge about earlier struggles for justice and worker’s rights – was genuine concern about the movement against climate change’s failings, particularly to link up with wider trade union activism. Campaigners talked repeatedly about the need to consider that demanding the closure of coal-fired power stations means telling Eon workers that their jobs will go, just as reducing air travel or closing down the arms trade will have an impact on employment. Anti-capitalist climate campaigners are calling for investment in new “green jobs” – for which the Vestas wind turbine factory lock-in on the Isle of Wight has become symbolic. However, they are also calling for a more radical transformation of society as a necessary step for defending the planet – and they are looking to the wider left to joining in helping to shape it.

The left therefore seems to have a choice. It can place its faith yet again in a corporate-friendly Labour Party, think only in the short-term and dismiss a new generation of activists as a bunch of middle-class hippies. Or it can start talking to climate activists, as the RMT has already started to do, about how working together can help to bring greater depth to the debate about what a credibly sustainable future might look like.

What we don’t have is the luxury of simply pouring scorn on non-traditional activism, remaining misty-eyed about the past but doing nothing about the real threat climate change poses to us all.

It seems important to keep saying this again and again. There just isn’t enough time.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Youth Use Facebook to Organise Riot

There's an intriguing claim here that young Muslims in a suburb of Sydney in Australia, angered by the actions of the New South Wales Police's 'Middle Eastern organised crime squad', used Facebook to 'rally and organise' participants in a riot in early September.

A representative of NSW police said that laws preventing the use of a mobile to call or text others to incite a riot failed to cover social networking sites such as Facebook, which meant that those who posted derogatory messages about the police could not be prosecuted:

“It’s not as simple as prosecuting anyone who sends a message or posts a message online, there needs to be a direct progression from the message in order to be able to prosecute an individual. Singling out individuals at this point would be virtually impossible.”
In another report, Detective Chief Superintendent Ken McKay of the Middle Eastern organised crime squad also complained about 'the general lack of respect young people from all backgrounds have for authority'.

I wonder why that might be? Auburn sounds like a tough area but presumably the lack of respect has nothing to do with last year's record level of complaints against NSW Police?

VIDEO: Angry crowd turns on riot police

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Struggling On - Red Pepper at 15

Fifteen years ago, when the magazine Red Pepper was launched, Britain had a Prime Minister perceived as weak and ineffectual facing constant questions about his leadership, MPs mired in allegations of sleaze and a revitalised opposition that had a new leader and was well ahead in the opinion polls. After years of dominance by one political party, it felt like the end of an era, one that would eventually be interred as soon as the government ran out of time and finally had to call an election.

But any similarities between the Major and Brown governments ends here. The big difference, of course, was that in 1994, the economy was gradually recovering from the recession of 1990 to 1992 and the Labour opposition could pledge to increase public spending on health and education. Now, in the midst of a new recession that seems likely to be far longer and deeper than before, all the Westminster parties are talking only about one thing – cuts in public spending.

If, as expected, the Tories win an election predicted for April 2010, the extent of these cuts may make the current situation seem like little more than the prelude to a new and far more frightening crisis. We face the possibility of both a period of mass unemployment and a government with few ideas about how to generate renewed prosperity and end the recession – other than allowing discredited bankers and investment companies to repeat the mistakes that led us here in the first place.

It’s a gloomy prospect, made more so by the left’s inability at the moment to make alternative ideas and voices heard amidst the clamour for cuts in spending. But as yesterday’s small but fascinating Red Pepper discussion meeting at Conway Hall highlighted, the uncertainty of the main political parties about squaring economic recovery with a growing movement demanding action on climate change, coupled with a real prospect of trade unions in the public sector actively resisting cutbacks, offers an opportunity not simply to react to events but to influence them.

But what kind of influence so are we striving for? One of the problems for much of the radical left has been to massively over-estimate the degree of influence it can hope to have in relation to its modest size. It’s therefore refreshing that Red Pepper, one of the few genuinely non-sectarian and open-minded but inevitably cash-strapped publications of the left, seems completely aware of its limitations. From the discussion I took part in on Saturday, this means providing a platform for campaigns that are invariably local (and are likely to increasingly focus on struggles in local government) and are therefore ignored by the rest of the media. It also means offering ideas and analysis that the corporate press never even considers putting forward.

One example - there has been considerable coverage in liberal papers like the Guardian about the Vestas dispute on the Isle of Wight and what this says about the commitment to ‘green jobs’. But what debate has there been about how these jobs could have been saved? What could be learned by looking again to experience from the past, like the alternative plan devised by shop stewards at Lucas Aerospace in the 1970s (covered in the next issue of Red Pepper)? This is where a hub for radical ideas can potentially become influential and essential reading.

If I have one real concern, it is that if the Tories win, the past has also shown a willingness on the left to take the least creative option of focusing all its energies on influencing and ‘fixing’ the Labour Party – to so very little effect. I’m old enough to remember all that wasted effort in the 1980s, which gave us what? Tony Blair and New Labour. This impulse certainly exists within Red Pepper, especially because of its occasional flirtations with the Labour pressure group 'Compass' and the magazine’s open endorsement of ‘left’ politicians like the police-appeasing populist Ken Livingstone.

I hope this is held in check, because a substantial number of non-aligned activists and campaigners not longer see Labour as a realistic part of the solutions we are striving for. For some, the Greens offer better prospects for change, whilst others are seeking far more radical alternatives or are focusing on campaigning to force local and central government of any party to listen and respond to public pressure.

Dismissing this as a ‘left counter-culture’ that isn’t 'influential' or speaking to a wider audience, a popular refrain from many Labour left-wingers, simply won’t wash any more. Failing to debate and develop vibrant alternatives to the accepted political orthodoxies is one reason why new ideas have often emerged from elsewhere, from outside the mainstream - and why the traditional left has failed to have any influence on events with such depressing regularity in the past.

AND LATER YESTERDAY EVENING

Loop Ellington entertain at the party in Manor House to celebrate the fortieth birthdays of my friends Debbie and Supriya. It's a shame I had to leave early to cycle home, but at least I just missed last night's almighty downpour.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Culture And The Financial Crisis

For the benefit of everyone who enjoyed watching Oliver Kamm look like a humourless cock on yesterday's Newsnight Review, here again is the clip from South Park that was featured in the debate on how effectively comedy has tackled the financial crisis.



I'm off to the Red Pepper 'Their Crisis, Our Challenges' event at Conway Hall.

Friday, 18 September 2009

British Legion Foolishly Accepts BNP Gift

If, like me, you downloaded Radiohead's tribute to Harry Patch, whose proceeds were donated to the Royal British Legion, you'll share my disappointment at the news that the ex-services charity has accepted a donation from a member of the British National Party, after seeking to distance itself from the party with a full-page advert in national newspapers and an open letter to Nick Griffin calling on him to stop wearing a Poppy.

The money was raised by a BNP member from Skelmanthorpe, Rachel Firth, who was sponsored to spend 24 hours on the streets in a cardboard box. She then donated half of the funds raised to the BNP and half to the Legion.

The Legion says it was assured by Firth that the donation would not be used "for partisan political activity" but have complained that it was then splashed on the BNP website.

What did the Roysl British Legion expect? That the BNP wouldn't cynically try to link the charity's respectability to its particular brand of racist extremism? After all, the BNP has form in this regard: it is linked to another donation to a Rochdale bird sanctuary that it also heavily exploited on its website.

I work for a charity and am on the board of trustees of several others. Trustees have a responsibility under Charity Commission rules to avoid undertaking activities, including decisions about fundraising, that "might place the charity’s... reputation at undue risk."

With that in mind, I can see no other option for the Legion than returning the donation and making it clear that do future offers from the BNP or its members will be accepted.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Cuts Are Their Consensus, Not Ours

Since the financial crisis started last year, more and more people I know have stopped skipping from the editorial to the sports pages in the newspapers and started reading the business news more often. It feels like we should try and understand what is going on, but frankly, I’m still confused.

One the one hand, we are told that we are facing a "recovery" and the end of the recession, whilst at the same time unemployment is at its highest level for 14 years. Then we have a strange debate between the mainstream political parties about the difference between cuts and ‘efficiency-savings’, but a general acceptance that one way or another, public spending has to shrink by between 10% and 20%.

Apparently, without this drastic action, which will increase unemployment by between 700,000 and 1.4 million people, the very financial institutions that got us into this mess in the first place – many of whom we now wholly or partly own – will react badly to the level of debt created by stopping them from collapsing and lose ‘confidence’ in the economy. But the economy isn’t some association or organisation that is somehow separate from us – it is us. So does that mean that what the markets would really lose confidence in is their ability to make staggering amounts of money from us as they have in the past?

Last October as the banks were reeling, I remember reading a post on the left-of-centre blog Liberal Conspiracy, which was charmingly titled “The UK bank bail-out: some notes for idiots” and said:

The taxpayer isn’t “footing the bill” for anything. The taxpayer is getting an excellent portfolio of assets, which will be worth a great deal of money in five years’ time, for next to nothing.
But nearly a year on, it does feel exactly like we are footing the bill for bailing out the banks. The ‘next to nothing’ that was paid out is now the primary excuse for making taxpayers pay out twice, first with a massive subsidy for the wealthiest in the country and second with the loss of personal income, purpose and security that mass unemployment brings.

Having spent £500bn on the bailout, the debts that Royal Bank of Scotland, Lloyds TSB and HBOS, now partly nationalised, are liable for are now our debts, pushing up the costs to £1.5 trillion. Now it seems that we will also have to fund a bailout of secretive, unaccountable off-shore tax havens like the Cayman Islands and the British Virgin Islands.

And are the banks grateful for our help? Hardly. We haven’t seen any sense of contrition from the financial sector we how bankroll. They continue to vigorously defend the bonus culture that encouraged the kind of short-term, high risk decision-making that brought about the financial crisis in the first place. A number of greedy, ungrateful employees of a German-owned investment bank are even suing for payment of their unpaid ‘discretionary’ bonuses. And it’s not just the banks: whilst the rest of us are expected to endure the pain of cuts and unemployment, the rich are using executive perks to maintain the lavish lifestyles they have become so used to.

The reason that the main political parties refuse to take tougher action against the bank’s bonus culture is because, unlike the rest of us, they are still in awe of the bankers and fearful too. Having shifted power in the economy so that London has become a global centre of the investment industry, they are afraid that even mild action will mean the banks will relocate elsewhere. This is nothing less than blackmail worthy of the Mafia. We may think we own the banks - but the banks believe they have us over a barrel.

As Philip Inman, a business reporter - rather than some left-wing activist - has said:
No one in their right mind would buy this argument if they had any semblance of self-respect or self-belief. But there is a panic in Westminster and among voters that we cannot pay our way without a steady supply of golden eggs. Bankers are feeding on that panic. It's our last great industry, they say, when really many of its innovations simply impose a tax on all of us and hold us back from developing a more sustainable future.
I couldn't agree more about self-respect and self-belief, but part of the problem seems to be that comments like this from people who cover capitalism's workings every day are usually hidden away in the business pages. They are certainly not being articulated in a consistent way by the left, which is as weak now as at any time over the last three decades.

And so instead we hear infuriating statements like the one I heard John Humphreys utter this morning on Radio 4's influential Today programme:
So that’s it then. The phoney war is over. Politicians of all parties have accepted what we all know anyway, that there must be cuts in public services.”
This was the introduction to a really awful interview with another banker, Sir Andrew Foster, who is deputy chairman of the Royal Bank of Canada and chair of a commission that wants to unravel the welfare state and return us to the means-testing of the 1930s.

Politicians of all parties may have accepted that there must be cuts in public services but we don't have to. That means the left needs to offer more analysis similar to this, which has come from Observer business journalist William Keegan:
In his Callaghan lecture… Chancellor Alistair Darling made a reference to James Callaghan's assertion during the crisis of 1976 that "You can't spend your way out of recession". But Callaghan later made it clear to me that that passage, by a speechwriter, was entirely tactical – designed to please a very rightwing US treasury secretary and the financial markets, whose lack of wisdom has been amply demonstrated by recent events.

The truth is that the only way out of a recession is to spend your way out. If the private sector is depressed, the spending has to be done, or facilitated, by governments. That means deficits until normal service is resumed.
Outright rejection of the consensus on cuts within the three Westminster parties, which insist we must be made to suffer for what amounts to criminal behaviour by the banking and finance sectors, deserves to be part of mainstream debate. And it shouldn't just be buried between the letters pages and the sports coverage.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Queens Market Developers Receive Ceauşescu Award

Developers St. Modwen Properties has received second prize in the new Ceauşescu Awards for their plans for Queens Market at Upton Park.

The Ceauşescu Awards have been set up by Capacities Ltd, an educational charity, who asked community organisations in London’s five Olympic boroughs to nominate development projects that they felt were:

  • oppressive in size or scale
  • bulldozed through the planning processes
  • architectural hype
The awards are named after Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu, who had 30 000 homes, historic churches and synagogues pulled down to make way for his ‘ego’ project, a huge governmental ‘People's House’, the second largest administrative building in the world with dubious architectural merit.

A citizens panel has awarded first prize to Dalston Square in Hackney, a high rise development opposed by most local residents. Hackney’s Mayor Jules Pipes publicly denounced one opponent in classic dictator style: he accused the Children’s Poet Laureate Michael Rosen of wanting to ‘keep Hackney looking crap’.

St Modwen's second prize was for their plans to demolish a much-loved traditional street market and replace it with a indoor market hall with “copper chimneys”, all overshadowed by 18 and 31 storey tower blocks. This proposal was bulldozed through at local planning stage despite 2549 planning objections (and 3 letters of support). Boris Johnson finally used his mayoral powers to throw the plans out and save the market but Newham council and the developers remain unrepentant about the plan and furious about its rejection.

The Chairman of St Modwen Anthony Glossop will not be present to accept the wooden spoon award offered by Capacities. He is currently embroiled in controversy over his company’s payment of £100k to an agent for MG Rover that preceded St Modwen's acquisition of a sizeable chunk of Rover land.

The Friends of Queens Market therefore intend to turn out at the market on Saturday 19th September at noon to receive the ‘bad development award’ on behalf of St Modwen.

“The presentation will be a good laugh” says campaign chair Sasha Laurel, “but there is a serious side to this. The developers want to displace the shoppers who depend on this market for fresh good value food and clothes and turn it into a high rise, high rent, unaffordable area. It’s a dictator’s plan which has to be resisted.”

UPDATE: Campaigners receive award on St Modwen's behalf

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

British Fatalities in Afghanistan Reaches 214

I found this incredibly saddening when I first saw it. How many more young men and women must die before this madness ends? Click on the pictures for the names of Britsh service personnel who have lost their lives since the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

Fiver Day - Every Little From Tesco Costs More

In its continuing campaign against corporate supermarket dominance in Newham, members of the Friends of Queens Market in Upton Park sent their ‘mystery shoppers’ to Green Street to compare the prices of a typical week's supply of fruit and vegetables in Tesco with the popular local market, which Newham Council remains committed to redeveloping.

In Tesco, £5 brought a reasonable selection of fruit and vegetables, but a visit to Queens Market buys triple the amount of produce for the same price. In place of two bananas at Tesco, shoppers can buy a bunch of six from the market stalls, whilst four vine tomatoes at Tesco costs the same as 18 at the market and one onion from the supermarket giant costs the same as an entire bag at Queens Market.

In May 2009 London Mayor Boris Johnson rejected plans backed by Newham's Mayor, Sir Robin Wales, for Midlands-based developer St Modwen Properties to pull down the existing market and rebuild it it as a shopping hall, whilst piling on 31 and 18 storey high-rise (mainly private sale) flats. However, St Modwen Properties have been handed responsibility by the council for the management of the market and have increased rents and allowed it to fall into disrepair. It looks a lot like running the place down to help make a case for a new development proposal. As well as opposing this, Friends of Queens Market believes the market should not be leased to developers but refurbished and kept under local control.

Speaking on behalf of the campaign, Lucy Rogers said:
This market is flourishing in these lean times. Newham is a designated ‘food desert’ and local people depend on this market for healthy food at bargain prices. Fix the market’s roof, give it a lick of paint and we will have a gold medal market for 2012.
Stall holder Neil Stockwell added
More people are coming to the market though some are spending less. And new stalls are opening up every month. This market is definitely livelier than it was two years ago.
The fruit and vegetables from the display were given to a local charity with traders adding their own gifts of more fruit and vegetables.

Monday, 14 September 2009

A Palestinian Joke

Click on the image or here to enlarge

Taken from Joe Sacco's excellent graphic novel 'Palestine', which I'm currently rereading and that is based on the two months he spent in the West Bank and Gaza in late 1991 and early 1992,

The Bride Wars Challenge


Back in January, the film critic Mark Kermode announced on his excellent Radio 5 Live slot that if there were ten films released in 2009 that are worse than Bride Wars, the woeful wedding ‘comedy’ starring Anne Hathaway and Kate Hudson, then he would give up film criticism and get a proper job.

The reaction from fans has been surprising – as Mark says, “it’s always as if some of you actually want me to go.” Therefore, at the start of September, Mark boldly repeated his promise and listed four films – Transformers 2, Marley & Me, Dance Flick and Charles Dickens’ England – that have made it onto his list. He has also requested suggestions for films that are worse than Bride Wars, which again has resulted in loads of nominees on his blog.

However, opinion about films is always a matter of personal taste – I really, really hated Borat, for instance (I walked out of the cinema), whilst some deluded people think it’s a masterpiece of comedy – so one of Mark's blog comments offers what seem like some useful ground rules, which I’ve reworded as follows:
  • The movie must promote something morally offensive – Bride Wars' objectification and demeaning of successful women is the standard to measure against.

  • The movie must be hypocritical – the one thing in the defence of films like GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra is that they offer exactly what they promised.

  • The movie must be popular enough to be recognisable by the general populace. There's nothing appalling about a young and inexperienced director making a low-budget indie film that sucks. It's when millions of dollars flow through some unfunny rom-com that it's annoying.

  • The movie must misuse talent that could be used elsewhere. (Anne Hathaway, excellent in Rachel Getting Married, awful in Bride Wars).

  • The movie must not be unintentionally funny, like the accents in GI Joe or Angels vs Demons that are worth the admission fee alone
In order to establish a baseline against which to measure, I reluctantly decided to rent Bride Wars on DVD from Lovefilm and to watch it all the way through – and it is really is quite staggeringly bad. But the problem is that I haven’t seen any of the other four films that Mark Kermode has chosen as worse than this particular cinematic disaster – and I’m not wasting more good money to do so.

So I welcome suggestions too, based on the criteria above. My own offerings, all seen (or at least partially seen) on DVD or Sky, include:

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans
Criminal waste of the talents of both Michael Sheen (wonderful in The Damned United) and Bill Nighy

Knowing
A sub-standard rip-off of M Night Shymalan – who’d have thought such a thing would be possible?

X-Men Origins: Wolverine
Criminal waste of the talents of Leiv Schreiber, Danny Huston and possibly Huge Action Hugh Jackman.

On the principle of never judging a film I haven't seen, I can only assume that Fired Up and My Best Friend’s Girl, which looks like a particular pile of sexist crap from its trailer and more evidence that Kate Hudson should fire her agent, should probably be counted along with Lesbian Vampire Killers, for which I pity poor Paul McGann – Withnail & I seems like a sadly distant memory. Has anyone seen these films?

If you spot Mark Kermode down at the Southampton Job Centre Plus, tell him we're all really sorry...

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Searchlight Threaten UAF With Legal Action

Just as the threat from the far-Right seems to have found a new voice with the emergence of anti- Muslim protests by the English Defence League, it appears that the ongoing feud between two leading anti-fascist organisations, Unite Against Fascism (UAF) and Searchlight, has in the words of one side of a new unseemly row, “got out of hand”, and is about to descent into legal action.

Nick Lowles from Searchlight wrote to the UAF Steering Committee on 1 September demanding a public apology for allegations made in a UAF document entitled “Lessons of the 2009 election of the BNP to the European Parliament for anti-fascist strategy”. UAF was given until Friday 11 September to respond with a full retraction and public apology for allegations that Lowles “personally of pandering to racism, spreading racist myths and writing material that ‘would not be out of place on a BNP leaflet’”. Otherwise, steering committee members were warned that Lowles would “pursue this matter further, up to and including legal action against those responsible for the document”. This includes raising the issue with the TUC Congress.

Although copies of this letter have now started to circulate within UAF, no such apology or retraction appears to have been offered.

Assessing the debate over strategy within the anti-fascist movement in the Lessons of the 2009 election document, UAF had argued:

There have been many debates over strategy in the anti-fascist movement…The two poles in this debate have been Searchlight, on the one hand, and the UAF, on the other. Searchlight walked out of the UAF some years ago, splitting the anti-fascist movement, when it was criticised for making concessions to racism by giving credence to myths, rejected by the local Police Service, that a major phenomenon of so called ‘Asian grooming’ of young girls for sex by Muslim men due to their marriage customs, uniquely emerged as a major problem in West Yorkshire.
Criticising Lowles personally for an article he wrote in Searchlight in April 2005 called Tackling Taboo Issues, it goes on:
It did not confront racism, and still less, Islamophobia head on in its campaign, instead over some years making concessions to racist myths. This approach was spelled out particularly clearly some time ago when Nick Knowles wrote: ‘In Keighley, grooming is a real not a perceived problem. In other parts of the country the issues might be Asian gang violence against young whites, Black drug dealers or even alleged preferential funding. It is no point denying that some Asians and young Blacks are involved in crime because they clearly are. It is pointless denying some predominantly ethnic minority communities receive more funding than their white neighbours because, again, they clearly do’ (Searchlight, April 2005). This quote would not be out of place on a BNP leaflet and it has never been repudiated by Searchlight. In reality, of course, racist attacks are overwhelmingly directed against Black, Asian, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh and Jewish communities; most Black and Asian communities are much less well-funded than the national average on virtually every criterion; and all ethnicities have paedophiles, gangs and criminals.
Aside from spelling his name incorrectly, Lowles has complained of the “selective use of sentences from an article" and that:
...the quote attributed to me in the UAF document never existed in the form that it has now been reproduced. The author(s) has merely taken sentences from two separate paragraphs and added them together, conveniently missing out certain other sentences, which throw a very different light on my article.
In an internal letter to supporters of Searchlight’s HOPE Not Hate campaign, Lowles has added:
I do not want to re-open a feud with the UAF - we have enough to do in fighting the BNP - but I hope you will understand my need to defend my reputation and that of Searchlight/HOPE not hate.
Frankly, the allegations against Lowles are appalling – whatever the disagreement about tactics, Lowles has offered some thoughtful ideas about the way forward and it is hard to comprehend why the SWP dominated UAF would think it appropriate to circulate a paper accusing him of pandering to racism. For the time being at least, it can still be easily downloaded from both the Yorkshire & the Humber UAF website and the Sheffield UAF Facebook page.

But will UAF apologise? Or will this end in the courts? Whatever happens, this is an ugly dispute that needs resolving quickly.

Anti-Fascist Footprints

After the flashmob at Canary Wharf, I headed back to Whitechapel with fellow amateur photographer Cilius, in time to join Dave Rosenberg's fascinating walking tour of the East End of the 1930s, from Gardiners Corner by Aldgate East station to the Cable Street mural (above).

What is great about Dave's talks is that they place the history and experience of east London's Jewish and working class communities into a context that can be drawn on by today's anti-fascists. Thus, it is unlikely that the Daily Mail, which ran a story headlined "Hurrah for the Blackshirts" in January 1934, would today publish an outright defence of the English Defence League, whose provocative Islamophobic protests in Birmingham and Harrow have led Communities Secretary John Denham to raise fears of a return to 1930s fascism. But the poison that drips from the pages of commentators under Paul Dacre's editorship makes the EDL and Stop the Islamification of Europe effectively the paramilitary wing of Mail wingnuts Richard Littlejohn and Melanie Phillips. Just as in the 1930s, the far-Right are relatively small in number but operate within a broader acceptance of hatred of 'aliens' - and the anti-Semitic rhetoric of 70 years ago is mirrored in increasingly 'acceptable' attitudes to Muslims today.


But there are other lessons too. Dave (above right) pointed out the advice of Phil Piratin, the Communist councillor and leading member of the Stepney Tenants Defence League in the 1930s, who encouraged young Jewish boxers to join the same boxing clubs as Blackshirt supporters, as these provided one of the few opportunities to try and convince anti-Semites to change their opinions. Piratin saw the importance of drawing away support from the fascists through practical working-class solidarity, which in Stepney meant defending tenants against slum landlords and the bailiffs. In that respect, the legendary Battle of Cable Street gave local Jewish communities a massive boost of confidence and strength to defend themselves, but it was the day-to-day work at a grass-roots level that helped to turn working class supporters of the British Union of Fascists away from Mosley's party.

Might there be lessons here for today's anti-fascists?

More of my pictures from the Anti-Fascist Footprints walk are online on Flickr.

Random Blowe | Original articles licensed under a Creative Commons License.

BACK TO TOP