Thursday 31 May 2012

Don't Follow The Crowd This Jubilee Weekend

“The strongest bulwark of authority is uniformity; the least divergence from it is the greatest crime.” 
Emma Goldman
I'm off tomorrow morning to Switzerland to stay with friends for the duration of the Diamond Jubilee nonsense, escaping from the relentless pressure to pay homage to a monarch who has basically done little but spend the last 60 years waving back at the crowds. The number of consumer products that companies are slapping a Union flag onto is getting ridiculous but it's all part of a carefully manufactured nationalist distraction exercise designed to make us spend more money and forget the country is in deep trouble, thanks to the bankers and their pliable political allies.

Whilst I'm away, I can only hope that some of my many troublemaking friends find a way to refuse to follow the flag-waving, bunting-crazed crowd (and manage to avoid pre-emptive arrest like the Starbucks Zombies experienced before the royal wedding last year - I hope the current court case against the Metropolitan police is a success). With this in mind, I offer as inspiration this famous photograph of August Landmesser, a German shipyard worker who dissented when everyone else made the Nazi salute. Now that's what I call stubbornness.
Blogging will resume next week. Have a great republican weekend.

Monday 28 May 2012

Olympic Security: Big Brother Really IS Watching You

This interesting report on NBC News in the States reveals that the Metropolitan Police's Air Support Unit, which is based at Lippitts Hill out in Epping Forest and that many of us can hear flying over east London on a regular basis, is using cameras on its three helicopters that are not only capable of seeing onto rooftops and other ‘inaccessible' places but are able to see very clearly "as much detail as they need to".

What this "very dynamic" surveillance means in practice is the ability to obtain a "good clothing description" (using a x1000 zoom, known as a ‘spotter scope’) as well as "multiple number of recorders" to gather evidence that is "not just visual, it's audio as well." This will be put to use during the Olympics to "facilitate crowd movement and crowds dynamics". In public order situations, the Met says that helicopter crews "down-link live pictures to either the Central Communications Command or to small suitcase size mobile receivers so the incident commander can make informed decisions on the basis of real time pictures".

All this clever technology is on top of speculation that Olympic security will include aerial drones: as Independent foreign correspondent Peter Popham pointed out in April, their historical development has always centred around their use for surveillance and it was only a matter of time before they are used on civil society:
It is the snooping function foreseen by Orwell that is the most significant next step for drones in our societies: with our cities and public buildings already saturated with surveillance cameras, we may fondly suppose that the state's monitoring of our daily lives has gone as far as it can go. But we ain't seen nothing yet.
The Met's Sergeant Richard Brandon told NBC that the Air Support Unit's cameras will provide "reassurance for the public" but, like much of the security operation during this summer's Games, isn't there something alarmingly sinister about aerial surveillance that can pinpoint sound and the colour of your shoelaces from a kilometre away?

Sunday 27 May 2012

Working High Above London

Yesterday I was on my way home from central London and stopped off at north Greenwich to take a look at the new Thames Cable Car, which opens in the summer. Repair work continues and I was lucky to capture these dramatic pictures. More on Flickr

Friday 25 May 2012

Guest Post: Race To The Line - The Continuing Clash Between Race And The Olympics

This is a second guest post by the sports writer and Philosophy Football founder Mark Perryman. It also appears at Red Pepper.. John Carlos is at Stratford Picturehouse at 6.30pm on Tuesday 29 May in conversation with journalist Dave Zirin. Tickets are still available and I will post a report on the event next week.

With John Carlos, one of the Mexico ‘68 podium protesters, on a speaking tour of Britain, author of a forthcoming book on the Olympics MARK PERRYMAN describes the continuing clash of race and the Games

United on the Mexico podium by their fierce opposition to racism Tommie Smith, Peter Norman and John Carlos used the medal ceremony for what has become an iconic moment of public protest. Its durability as an image of anti-racism in sport and beyond is testament to the global platform the Olympics provided. Even before satellite TV and digital media, the dignified audacity of the three medal-winners became an overnight world-wide news story.

The Sydney Olympics in 2000 offered another iconic Olympic memory of sport and race. As the twenty-first century began Eric Hobsbawm’s description of the role of sport in providing a popular expression of national identity amongst the debris of globalisation became increasingly relevant: “The imagined community of millions seems more real as a team of named people.” As part of this process a sporting contest can sometimes crystallise social or political changes within a nation. When Cathy Freeman, the Australian Aboriginal sprinter, streaked around the track to win the 400 meters gold medal, kitted out in an all-in-one skin-tight green and gold Lycra suit complete with hood, she was chased every inch of the way by the light of thousands of camera flashes capturing her moment of glory. This was more than an instant of supreme sporting achievement. For Australia’s Aboriginal community it represented recognition and inclusion from the majority white population - however temporary it ultimately proved to be. Inequality, discrimination, racism, and disputes over land rights didn’t disappear just because Cathy was a national heroine. Her success was the exception, not the rule, but for a moment it pointed to a different version of Australia.

These moments of opportunity provided by sport are vital in constructing any kind of progressive conversation around issues of race and nationality. Especially in the wake of London’s 7/7, one day after the city was selected to host the 2012 Games, a caricature of multiculturalism has been used as cover to break with the kind of celebratory diversity that the Olympics bid had seemed, at least for one of those moments, to represent. In Singapore, as the London bid presentation approached its climactic ending, Seb Coe welcomed on stage thirty youngsters, “Each from East London, from the communities who will be touched most directly by our Games. Thanks to London’s multicultural mix of 200 nations, they also represent the youth of the world...” And what a mix too. “Their families have come from every continent. They practice every religion and every faith.” Was there any box in the table of diversity these kids didn’t tick? It was a compelling image of London as a global city. But this was a flimsy populism, a kind of corporate multiculturalism, a presentation of a cosy team picture of unity through diversity which obscured the realities of representation.

As he paraded the youngsters ‘representing’ London across the Singapore stage it might have been useful to ask Coe, or even the kids themselves, a few questions: What was it like living in and growing up in Tower Hamlets, Newham and Hackney, among the poorest boroughs in the city? What jobs did their parents have, if they had jobs at all? What opportunities in terms of health, education and housing could they look forward to? How confident were any of them that they and their families would be able to afford the tickets to watch the Games they were on the stage to promote?

The forces of integration and difference reflect a set of power relations and consequential resistance which, like the national identities they help to define, are always in motion. These help to portray the ways in which all national identities are never entirely fixed but a process in motion. Sport plays its part, a very important part, in this process, but its role is partial and over-hyped at the expense of examining why the black athletes who represent Britain on the pitch, in the ring, or on the running track are not replicated in anything resembling equal numbers on Trade Union executives, or on the front benches, or on the committees that run sport’s governing bodies. Writer on race and sport Dan Burdsey provides a poignant and powerful observation of how the racialisation of sport is often experienced. Apart from the athletes on the track, “You will often see a significant presence of minority ethnic people in the stadium: they will be directing you to your seat or serving your refreshments. The racialised historical antecedents, and continuing legacy, of these roles - entertaining or serving the white folk - should not be lost within the contemporary clamour of positivity.” An Olympic Park built at the epicentre of three of Britain’s most multicultural boroughs which is experienced in this way will expose much of the inclusion and exclusion which persist in our society, or at least it should if anybody cares to notice.

Mark Perryman is the author of the forthcoming Why The Olympics Aren’t Good For Us, And How They Can Be available at a pre-publication 15% discount now from

Thursday 24 May 2012

Royal Wedding ‘Pre-Crime’ Detention Faces Judicial Review

On 29 April last year, the day of the Royal Wedding, the Metropolitan Police arrested, handcuffed and detained dozens of people across London pre-emptively 'to prevent a breach of the peace', a crime that none of them had actually committed.

These arrests were an apparent attempt to silence a disparate group of republican and anti-monarchist dissent, which included activists Chris Knight, Camilla Power and Patrick Macroidan who planned to stage a mock execution of an effigy of Prince Andrew as a piece of street theatre In Soho. Others were people the police merely suspected of being protestors. Members of the ‘Charing Cross 10’ who were on their way to a republican street party, the ‘Starbucks Zombies’ who were arrested from an Oxford Street branch of Starbucks for wearing zombie fancy dress and a man who was simply walking in London was stopped and arrested by plain-clothes officers because he was a ‘known activist’. All of the claimants were released without charge once the public celebrations had finished.
“The British Transport Police officer’s comment confirmed our suspicions that the police were using pre-emptive arrests as a political tactic to keep republican voices off the streets and out of the public eye.”
Daniel Randall, Charing Cross 10 arrestee

“I was told by the police, ‘if you’re going to dress like that, you’ve got to expect to be arrested’. And I thought I had to break the law to be arrested…”
Erich, Starbucks Zombie arrestee
The Metropolitan Police’s actions over the Royal Wedding weekend reflect the increasingly heavy-handed ‘total policing’ tactics against all peaceful protestors, which appear to deliberately seek to dissuade people from exercising their right to free speech or to avoid participation in protest altogether.

However, fifteen of the Royal Wedding ‘precrime’ detainees have been granted leave to challenge their arrests by way of a judicial review next Monday at the Royal Courts of Justice. If they succeed in persuading the court that their arrest and detention was unlawful, it may prevent the use of pre-emptive arrests and detention during the Diamond Jubilee weekend and this summer’s Olympics.

Commenting on the judicial review, civil liberties solicitors Bhatt Murphy, who are representing the claimants, said:
“It is our view that the treatment of our clients was unlawful under common law and was in breach of their fundamental rights. The apparent existence of an underlying policy that resulted in those arrests is a matter of considerable concern with implications for all those engaged in peaceful dissent or protest.”
The judicial review hearing will include three other cases arising out of the police’s actions over the course of the Royal Wedding bank holiday weekend,: two concerning raids on squats on April 28th by Metropolitan Police officers and the other arising out of another pre-emptive arrest of a minor on the day of the Royal Wedding itself.

For further information visit the Pageantry and Precrime website

Olympic Brand Protection? More Like Repression of Free Speech

Yesterday, the Twitter account of the serial troublemakers The Space Hijackers (who I have written about before) was temporarily suspended after a complaint by the London organisers of this summer's Olympic Games. The group, which has been satirically promoting itself as the Official Protesters of the London 2012 Olympic Games, received an e-mail from Twitter that said:
We have received reports from the trademark holder, London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Ltd, that your account, @spacehijackers, is using a trademark in a way that could be confusing or misleading with regard to a brand affiliation. Your account has been temporarily suspended due to violation of our trademark policy.

LOCOG has extraordinarily powerful brand protection rights – they are enshrined in law within the Olympic Symbol etc. (Protection) Act 1995 and prevent the use of “the Olympic symbol, the Olympic motto or a protected word” for commercial purposes. However, the Act also limits the powers that LOCOG can exercise by saying they do not apply when “the person using the work does not do so with a view to gain for himself or another or with the intent to cause loss to another.”

This is what makes the use of brand protection threats against a group like the Space Hijackers seem like deliberate repression of free speech. They are quite obviously taking the piss out of the way that, in order to satisfy corporate sponsors, there are 'Official Partners' for everything during the Games. It does appear that, given the chance, LOCOG would willingly commercialise and seek sponsorship for practically everything, even the act of protesting against the Olympics itself.

However, it is hard to see how anyone could mistakenly believe that the Space Hijackers have genuinely been granted 'Official Protester' status, how they might stand to gain financially from sending up LOCOG's obsessive branding or how this has “the intent to cause loss to another”. Is there another genuine 'Official Protester' that stands to lose financially, or have I missed something? You really don't need to be a rocket scientist to see this is satire. It almost seems that the London organisers' lawyers haven't bothered to read section 4 of the 1995 Act on the limitations of its effect.

But it also appears that LOCOG is only capable of seeing the Olympic symbols as a way for predatory commercial competitors to cash in on its brand – which itself is a damning indictment of how corporate and money-obsessed the Olympics have now become.

Monday 21 May 2012

Some Thoughts On Yesterday's NetPol Conference

There are two quite different and opposing views of the way protests and public order is policed in Britain and during yesterday’s ‘Kettle Police Powers’ conference, organised by the Network for Police Monitoring (NetPol), someone asked me a very odd question rooted in one side of the argument. Did I think it would be a good idea if the police started using ‘protest liaison officers’ to improve communications between public order officers and protesters? I’ll admit I was rather lost for an immediate answer. What did I think? Initially, I thought that anyone looking at the tone of the event’s programme and its speakers, or reflecting at the repeated containment and vilification of protesters over the last few years, really shouldn’t need to ask about the dubious benefits of ‘protest liaison officers’.

One side of the argument, the mainstream position on public order policing – what might be crudely characterised as the ‘Liberty-HMIC’ viewpoint – is that there isn’t a deliberate attempt to clamp down on the right to protest in the UK or to treat all protesters as potential criminals. Instead, there is a failure to communicate and the misconduct and excess of a few officers, with the first fixed by protesters agreeing to talk more to senior officers and the latter by using the courts and the Human Rights Act to seek legal redress for injury or ill-treatment.

The opposing view – one I happen to share – is that negotiations with senior police officers have done little to stop heavy-handed policing tactics (especially when protesters are lied to, as they were at the Fortnum & Mason occupation), whilst systematic surveillance of activists and violent arrests during overwhelmingly peaceful protests places a greater responsibility on police than protesters to explain their actions. At the same time, fourteen years of court cases since the introduction of the Human Rights Act in 1998 has failed to prevent the introduction of a new repressive ‘total policing’ model. It has instead depended on individuals taking time, effort and often expense to seek legal redress after their rights have been denied, often with little prospect of securing anything more than a civil claim without an admission of liability. Inevitably, it has also often taken the struggle for an end to police misconduct away from campaigners and handed it to lawyers and judges.

Instead of simply trying to hold the line against a rising tide of new police powers, this more radical position argues that the state needs to be forced into losing some of its powers and closing down operations like its indiscriminate data gathering, which are used primarily to undermine and disrupt the right to freedom of speech and assembly.

Sunday’s excellent speakers were able to explain in great detail the scale of the problem facing protesters, local communities and football supporters experiencing tough public order policing. The session I shared with the documentary photographer Marc Vallée covered the range of draconian police powers that may be used during the Olympics, hopefully without scaring anyone into scrapping plans to exercise their right to protest or simply avoiding east London altogether over the summer. Marc also revealed the interest that the private sector is now starting to show anti-corporate protesters during the Games.

But as one of the people who helped organise the ‘Kettle Police Powers’ conference, I felt that what was perhaps missing yesterday was some genuine conflict, a greater clash of ideas. It feels as if we have now reached the stage where more and more people understand and accept the merits of the alternative position on public order policing – and maybe the time has come for the two different and opposing sides of the argument to properly lock horns.

So next year, I hope that the Network for Police Monitoring might be able to persuade the director of Liberty, Shami Chakrabari, to debate what difference the Human Rights Act has made to protesters. And who knows? Maybe Sir Denis O’Connor, the Chief Inspector of Constabulary, would like to come and argue the benefits of ‘protest liaison officers’?

The briefing handed out during the 'Policing and the Olympics' session at yesterday's conference can be downloaded from here

Saturday 19 May 2012

How the FBI Tried to Destroy Progressive Movements

Screening of COINTELPRO 101, hosted by Newham Monitoring Project and Stratford Picturehouse - Thursday 21 June 2012, 8pm

On 8 March 1971, activists from a group called 'Citizens' Commission to Investigate the FBI' broke into an FBI field office in Pennsylvania and stole over 1000 classified documents, which they sent anonymously to a number of American newspapers. Most refused to publish what these documents revealed: the existence of COINTELPRO (an acronym for Counter Intelligence Program), a series of covert and often illegal projects conducted by the FBI, who had spied on, infiltrated, discredited and disrupted a huge range of US political organisations included anti-Vietnam war protesters, Native American groups and especially the Black Panther Party.

But by 1976, what had been initially ignored by the mainstream media had been investigated by the Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities (the 'Church Commission'), which concluded:
Many of the techniques used would be intolerable in a democratic society even if all of the targets had been involved in violent activity, but COINTELPRO went far beyond that...the Bureau conducted a sophisticated vigilante operation aimed squarely at preventing the exercise of First Amendment rights of speech and association, on the theory that preventing the growth of dangerous groups and the propagation of dangerous ideas would protect the national security and deter violence.
The exposure of COINTELPRO revealed, in the words of Noam Chomsky, "a program of subversion carried out not by a couple of petty crooks but by the national political police, the FBI, under four administrations... aimed at the entire new left, at the women's movement, at the whole black movement, it was extremely broad. Its actions went as far as political assassination." US government counter-intelligence agencies had sought to deliberately destroy these movements for self-determination and liberation for Black, Asian, and Indigenous struggles, as well as attack the allies of these movements and other progressive organisations. 

Although the programme was 'officially' terminated in 1971, widespread surveillance and 'intolerable techniques' have continued, both in the US and in Britain and especially since the start of the ‘War on Terror’. So too have tactics designed to disrupt the right to protest, such as the use of agents provocateurs, entrapment, the misuse of stop and search powers and the creation of secret databases on known activists.

On Thursday 21 June, Newham Monitoring Project is hosting the screening of a documentary at Stratford Picturehouse, which examines the history of COINTELPRO and its legacy. Claud Marks, the director of 'COINTELPRO 101,' is over from San Francisco and will join a panel to discuss the experiences of the 60s and 70s and what lessons we can learn for the present - particularly the intensive surveillance of campaigners and activists as part of the massive security crackdown planned for east London during this summer’s Olympics.

Tickets are available directly from Stratford Picturehouse, Salway Road, E15 1BX - box office number: 0871 902 5740

Friday 18 May 2012

Who Gets To See The Torch? Who Gets To See The Games?

This is a guest post by Mark Perryman, sports writer and co-founder of the excellent Philosophy Football

As the Olympic Torch relay starts its route around Britain, author of a forthcoming book on the Olympics Mark Perryman questions the claim of a Games for all

Beginning its long route around Britain, the Torch Relay is one of the few examples of decentralisation and free-to-watch events that could have transformed the 2012 Olympics into a Games for all.

There is little doubt that the sight of the Olympic torch as it passes through a village, town or city up and down the byways, with photo-ops at famous landmarks will ignite popular interest and huge media coverage.

But the scale of that enthusiasm reveals the lack of ambition behind the 2012 model for the Olympics. In my new book Why the Olympics Aren’t Good For Us, And How They Can Be, I propose Five New Rings for the Olympic symbol. The first, and most important, of these is decentralisation. As a mega-event football’s World Cup has its problems too with new stadia sometimes built with no obvious future likelihood to be full again once the tournament is over. But the singular advantage for the hosts of a World Cup over the Olympics is it is spread all over the country, and sometimes more than one. In this way the global spectacular becomes not only a national event but a local event too. The Olympics is an entirely different model, apart from the yachting and the football tournament every single event is London-based, most of Britain will have no contact with the Games except a fleeting glimpse of the Torch relay as it passes through.

Decentralisation could have changed all this, and saved enormous amounts on new builds too. Glasgow and Edinburgh, Cardiff, Manchester, the North-East, Yorkshire and the Midlands all posses world-class stadia and arenas with huge capacities and multi-use possibilities. North Wales, the Lake District and parts of Scotland have the natural landscape perfect for events including the canoe slalom and mountain biking. Badminton is one of the finest three-day event venues in the world, its not in London so its not being used for 2012.

Avoiding those costly new builds by using existing facilities would not only magnify the Olympics’ local appeal but vastly increase capacities too. With imaginative reconfiguring Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium could have hosted the show-jumping, Manchester’s Old Trafford and Eastlands stadiums plus the MEN Arena the boxing, between Glasgow and Edinburgh share the Hockey tournament , the Midlands Stadiums host the Beach volleyball, the North-East already hosts the Great North Run, why not stage the Olympic Marathon there, give Yorkshire the Football tournament and so on.

Decentralisation enables this spread of venues with far bigger capacity than many hosting the events in London. And with Scotland, Wales, regions and cities hosting entire parts of the Olympic programme an effective campaign combining civic pride and participation in the adopted sport could have been mounted.

Decentralisation could also afford an extension of the Olympic programme to include events that are both nation-wide and free to watch. Why not an Olympic Tour of Britain multi-stage cycling race, and a Round Britain sailing race. The potential for crowds lining the streets and the quay-sides to watch , for free, as the Olympics comes to their town or port would have been huge.

The book that I have written is neither anti-Olympics nor it it against sport, I am a fan of both. But I am opposed to what the Olympics have become, the false promises made on their behalf and the chronic lack of ambition in the way they have been organised. My argument is that a different Olympics isn’t only possible, but better. If our only experience of the Games in this much hyped once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to host them is watching them on the TV, well they might as well be anywhere else but here, and a lot less costly too.

Mark Perryman’s Why the Olympics Aren’t Good For Us, And How They Can Be is available at a pre-publication 15% discount from

Mark Perryman is the author of Ingerland: Travels with a Football Nation and the editor of Breaking up Britain : Four Nations after a Union.

Mark has written for a range of publications, including the Guardian and The Times, and is a regular commentator on the politics of sport for BBC Radio 5, BBC TV News and Sky Sports News. He is a Research Fellow in Sport and Leisure Culture at the University of Brighton.

Tuesday 15 May 2012

Wanstead Flats - Join The People's Picnic

Following a public meeting in mid-January, the idea of another community picnic on Wanstead Flats (like the one we held on 5th September 2010) has been floating around for a while. The intention was to mark the start of the occupation by the Metropolitan Police of eight acres of the Flats for its Olympics operational base, with a reminder of the opposition to the enclosure of public land - and to repeat this with an event to 'Reclaim the Flats' after this summer's Games are over.

However, after a long battle that has seen the arguments of local residents ignored by the police, the City of London Corporation, Redbridge council, Parliament and finally the courts, people were understandably disillusioned. The Save Wanstead Flats campaign had wound down, I had difficulties confirming help with organising a picnic and, with so much else going on, I was reluctant to press ahead without genuine support and enthusiasm from others

But over the last two weeks, volunteers have suddenly come forward and more and more people have said that they don't want the start of the construction of the police base to pass without comment. So the picnic is back on - and it's an opportunity for everyone who campaigned so strenuously to stop the flagrant misuse of Wanstead Flats to join together in a celebration of why we value our common land so much.

So come along on  Sunday 10th June at 1pm, to the Fairground area between Centre Road and Lake House Road. Bring food to share, picnic blankets, music, drums, games, bikes, your children, your friends and your neighbours. This is the last opportunity to collectively show our opposition before construction begins on 23rd June - so pick up some leaflets from the reception at Durning Hall Community Centre or download from here and pass them on to your neighbours.

And finally - I really hope that the couple in the cow suits (below) who came to the 'Take Back Wanstead Flats' protest can make it along again!

Saturday 12 May 2012

Pictures: International Day Of Action - Meet The 1 %

I popped along to the small but noisy Occupy London demonstration this afternoon, part of an international day of action in promised protests in cities in 82 countries. Here are a few photos - there are more here.

Meet The Olympics 'Official Protesters'

Back in March, I speculated whether we will eventually see an announcement of the kind of “authorised protest zonethat has featured at every Olympic Games since Sydney in 2000. There's still no news on this, but I am now the proud owner of an 'Official Protester of the London 2012 Olympic Games' t-shirt (above) thanks to those perennial pranksters The Space Hijackers.

They figured that as, ludicrously, the 2012 Olympics has an official chemical company (Dow) and an official 'Oil and Gas Partner' (BP), then why not make the protesters official too? Their new 'Official Protester' website, launched today. is promoting tickets for the 'official protest' this summer:
As the official protesters of London 2012 the Space Hijackers don't want you to miss the opportunity to celebrate and be inspired. Taking place in venues across London you can now sign up to be part of the official protest of the games. You can make a start by registering your interest with us.

Tickets to the official protest will be released by us in Spring 2012. Tickets to officially protest will be dispatched in Summer 2012.

Get ready to be part of a lasting memory of London and the Games!
Anyone worried that they might face arrest wearing an 'Official Protester' t-shirt can relax -  the London Olympic Games (Trading and Advertising) (England) Regulations 2011 do not apply to "advertising activity intended to demonstrate support for or opposition to the views or actions of any person or body of persons" or to "publicise a belief, cause or campaign". 

Of course, that doesn't mean that you will find it easy getting into an Olympic venue wearing one, or that G4S security guards with insufficient knowledge of their powers won't take exception. But if you'd like to become a proud owner of the coolest t-shirt in London this summer, then make a point of signing up to find out more.

Sunday 6 May 2012

The Most Important Event On Policing Before The Olympics

This article appears today on the Red Pepper website

Kevin Blowe invites you to a conference on defending our fundamental liberties during the Olympics and beyond.

This weekend, with Olympics organisers testing preparations for the 2012 Games, LOCOG chair Sebastian Coe has been forced yet again to promise that London will not turn into a 'Siege City'. Plans to deploy surface-to-air missiles on residential buildings in east London are just one part of the gradually emergence of a huge security operation during the Olympics, with policing having the greatest impact on local residents and anyone planning to protest against sponsors like BP or Dow.

The media is starting to wake us to the potential consequences of the capital’s lockdown: over the last ten days, because I have been writing about Olympic security, I have had numerous requests for interviews and comment from journalists all over the world. However, describing what we can expect from the largest police deployment in London since the Second World War is all very well, but the real question is what can we do in practice to protect the fundamental liberties of both protesters and local working class communities living on the doorstep of the Games?

This is why an event on 20 May at the Bishopsgate Institute in London is one of the most important in the weeks preceding the start of the Olympics. The ‘Kettling Police Powers’ conference is organised by the Network for Police Monitoring – which brings together activist groups like Climate Camp’s legal team and Green &; Black Cross with community organisations such as Newham Monitoring Project. It will provide campaigners, lawyers and others working at the sharp end of challenging unlawful, violent, racist or excessive policing with a chance to discuss the impact of London’s new ‘Total Policing’ concept and what that will mean this summer.

Speakers include Alfie Meadows (who was struck on the head with a police baton during December’s student protests), Marc Vallee (a campaigning photo-journalist who was also one of the founders of the ‘I’m A Photographer Not a Terrorist’ campaign) and Rob Safar (one of the Fortnum & Mason 145 defendants), as well as the experienced lawyers Simon Natas and Kat Craig. Most importantly, the conference will enable activists to debate how to best respond to the most draconian, heavy-handed policing operation we have ever experienced.

I hope as many people as possible can attend. To register, visit the Network for Police Monitoring website.

Saturday 5 May 2012

Doncaster Shows Rejecting a Mayor is Easier than Abolishing One

It may have been the endorsement of Lord Heseltine and Lord Adonis, or the prospect of Labour's appalling "eager diva" Liam Byrne standing as candidate, that swung the vote, but Birmingham was one of a number of cities that voted in local referenda to reject the idea of directly elected mayors. Nottingham, Manchester, Coventry, Bradford, Wakefield, Sheffield, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Leeds all made the same decision as the people of Birmingham, with only Bristol voting in favour (with a turnout of only 24%). No wonder Liverpool City Council, unlike other cities, took the shameful decision to do away with consulting local people and plough ahead anyway.

Hopefully, the results from Thursday, which mirror the 25 out of 38 earlier referenda that had already voted against the concentration of power into one person's hands, will fatally undermine the Tories' idea of a 'Boris in every city'. However, there was one result - in Doncaster - that provides an important reminder to those of us, like many residents of Newham, who already have a directly-elected Mayor and would gladly be rid of him.

Doncaster seemed ripe for change: it was officially classified as a 'dyfunctional authority' by the Audit Commission, which criticised the English Democrat mayor Peter Davies and senior councillors for political in-fighting and placing their political objectives above the needs of local people. In 2010, the then Labour government intervened to take control of the town,  appointing three commissioners to oversee a recovery plan. You would think that in those circumstances, the referendum on abolishing Doncaster's mayoral system would be worth a flutter on a 'no' vote. Instead, there was a decisive 62% of those who voted choosing to keep the current system.

This decision may reflect a certain bloody-mindedness by Doncaster's electorate about the imposition of controls by central government but what I think this also proves, as I have argued before, is that managing to secure a new referendum in Newham to rid ourselves of Sir Robin Wales' fiefdom is not nearly enough. A successful 'no' campaign in any subsequent referendum will have to argue for something far more radical than a return to the way things were back in 2001 or it will fail to inspire people to get out and vote.

In a posting in January, I made five initial proposals for what that radical agenda might look like. Please feel free to add your own suggestions in comments to this post.

Thursday 3 May 2012

EVENT: London 2012 The Olympics - Winners & Losers

I will be speaking at the 6 Billion Ways event next Tuesday evening at the Rich Mix in Bethnal Green. Come along if you are free.

London 2012 The Olympics - Winners & Losers 
An evening of short films, speakers & campaigns 
Tuesday 8 May, from 6.30pm – Rich Mix, East London 

 Will the legacy of the London Olympics be exploited garment workers and the marginalisation of local people? Are corporate sponsors wrapping themselves in the Olympic flag and reaping profits at the expense of communities and their environments around the world? Or have the Games brought benefits and resources to London with them? Can we still stop the Olympic dream becoming a nightmare? Join 6 Billion Ways for an evening of short films, speakers, campaigns and discussion

Speakers include:
Murray Worthy - Olympics & Sweatshops campaigner - War on Want
Rania Khan - Tower Hamlets Council Cabinet Member for Culture
Kevin Blowe - Newham Monitoring Project

Ground floor bar, Rich Mix, 35-47 Bethnal Green Road, E1 6LA (googlemap
Free event, paid bar available

6 Billion Ways is brought to you by:

It's Election Abstention / Climate Activism Day in London

I won't be voting in the London Mayoral election today, but I wish the people of Doncaster the best of luck in (hopefully) getting rid of their directly-elected Mayor. If the same choice is ever on offer in Newham (and rumours of a campaign to petition for a new referendum are still floating around), then I won't just be casting a vote, I'll be working hard to get rid of the staggering power wielded locally by Sir Robin Wales.

With all due respect to the other candidates for London's Mayor, today is really a close race between Boris and Ken for control of the capital's £14 billion budget - and while I'll never vote for a Tory, it still amazes me that sections of the left are prepared to put their faith in a Tammany Hall politician like Livingstone (the reasons why I can't bring myself to vote for him haven't changed since 2008). I already know, however, that if Ken loses, Labour and his supporters on the left will blame abstentions like mine for 'letting Boris back', rather than the rather obvious failings of their candidate.
However, if you fancy something genuinely political instead today, why not join the hundreds of protesters from across the country who will target the UK Energy Summit in the City of London. The conference brings together the Big Six energy companies who have recently come under intense criticism for drawing in record profits whilst one quarter of UK households have been pushed into fuel poverty. The fun starts at 11am - see here for more details.

Wednesday 2 May 2012

Police Announce Olympic Dispersal Zone

Yesterday, the Metropolitan Police confirmed that a three month dispersal zone had begun in the Stratford area, which "will specifically cover Stratford Town Centre, including the Magistrates' Court, the main transport hubs in Stratford and the areas along West Ham Lane commonly known as the West Quadrant".

Powers under the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 to move on groups of people congregating in the zone began on 27 April, exactly three months before the Olympics opening ceremony. The police rather coyly add that at the end of the current period, they will "review the intelligence gathered and will consider making application to Newham Council for a three month extension", but it is pretty obvious that an extension will happen automatically. Coupled with confirmation that "local residents and businesses will also notice a marked increase in police patrols" supported by the Met's specialist public order unit CO20 (the Territorial Support Group) and Newham council enforcement officers, this is clearly a clean-up operation in advance of the summer's Games.

So what does a dispersal zone involve in practice? Section 30 of the Anti-Social Behaviour Act says that police officer or Police Community Support Officer has the power to order a group of two or more people to leave the area and, if they don't live within it, to ban them from returning for up to 24 hours. Refusing to comply with an officer's direction or not following the rules of the dispersal order can lead to arrest and charge, with a conviction potentially leading to a maximum penalty of three months' imprisonment and/or a fine of £5000.

In addition, officers have 'curfew' powers: young people aged under 16 are effectively prohibited from public spaces within the dispersal zone overnight, from 9pm to 6am, unless they are accompanied by a parent or a responsible adult over 18 years of age. An officer has the power to remove anyone within this age group that they find during these hours to their place of residence, unless there are "reasonable grounds for believing that the person would, if removed to that place, be likely to suffer significant harm."

Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRT) has shown that dispersal orders can have an impact on levels of crime and anti-social behaviour within a designated zone, although they risk displacing crime to the immediately surrounding neighbourhoods. Dispersal powers do, however, tend to have the impact of stigmatising all young people as potential perpetrators of anti-social behaviour, although they are most likely to be its victims:
Dispersal orders potentially criminalise youthful behaviour on the basis of the anxieties that young people congregating in groups may generate among other people. As such, the power is potentially less concerned with the agency of individuals than the assumptions that are made about what they might do.

For many, meeting friends and peers in local public spaces constitutes a fundamental aspect of developing their sense of identity and control, as well as providing space in which to forge their independent capacity to manage risk and danger.
With the Olympics fast approaching, the underlying fear of young people from Newham scaring visitors and upsetting the drive for the 'perfect Games' does seem like the major motivation for creating a dispersal zone this early. It is as much about sending what JRT describes as a 'symbolic message' - mainly to stay away from public spaces in Stratford. The reality, though, is that this message is unlikely to succeed - many young (and not so young) people are are likely to head towards the area after 27 July, whether they have tickets for Olympic events or not, out of curiosity and excitement generated by the relentless publicity for the Games if nothing else.

However, when coupled with other stop & search and anti-terrorism powers and the huge number of police and private security around Newham over the summer, the dispersal zone is clearly seen by the Met as an important element in the expected lockdown of Stratford for the duration of the Olympics - one that could lead many young people to unexpectedly find themselves in court if they don't fully understand their rights.

Tuesday 1 May 2012

Possible Olympics Missile Site Overlooks Wanstead Flats

Fred Wigg Tower (right)
Following on from the report that the army plan to to site a ground-to-air missile battery on the roof of the private apartment block in Bow, other locations were revealed yesterday - and one is very close to home.

The Fred Wigg tower block in Leytonstone is a landmark for residents of Forest Gate - it is one of the two just off of Harrow Road that look across Wanstead Flats (on the right in the photo above - the other is John Walsh Tower). So as well as having a massive Olympic police station, we may also have a Rapier missile launch site right on our doorstep.

It keeps getting better and better, doesn't it?

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