Burning Effigies of Tories at the Bonfire of Cuts in Lewisham, a set on Flickr.
On November 5, 2013 — Bonfire Night — I photographed effigies of members of the cabinet of the Tory-led coalition government — including David Cameron, George Osborne and others, as well as key Lib Dems and Labour politicians — as they were burned by activists in a brazier in the centre of Lewisham, in south east London. The caricatures were drawn by a member of the political group People Before Profit.
The activists in Lewisham were part of a day of action across the UK, in which numerous protestors held Bonfires of Austerity, initiated by the People’s Assembly Against Austerity, an anti-austerity coalition of activists, union members and MPs, to protest about the wretched Tory-led coalition government’s continued assault on the very fabric of the state, and on the most vulnerable members of society — particularly, the poor, the ill, the unemployed and the disabled.
The borough of Lewisham, where I live, is famous for successfully resisting the government’s plans to severely downgrade services at the local hospital, and on Bonfire Night activists marched from Catford to an open space in the centre of Lewisham (by the main roundabout, and affectionately known as “the grassy knoll”), where they burned effigies of David Cameron, George Osborne, Theresa May, Jeremy Hunt, Michael Gove, Iain Duncan Smith and Boris Johnson. The protestors also burned effigies of the Lib Dems Nick Clegg and Vince Cable, key members of the disastrous coalition government, and Labour’s Gordon Brown and Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor.
In many cases, those chosen to burn on Bonfire Night, when it is traditional to burn effigies of unpopular figures, had some involvement in the Private Finance Initiative (PFI), popularised by New Labour, whereby major projects for society as a whole — the building of schools and hospitals, for example — is farmed out to private companies, who make outrageous profits from the deals. In particular, Gordon Brown was included as “the architect of the PFI catastrophe,” and Ed Balls was included because, outrageously, he defended PFI as “good value for taxpayers’ money” in April this year.
PFI is no such thing, as Ed Balls should know. However, instead of having politicians who defend the need for pubic investment in projects that are of benefit to all — schools and hospitals, for example — all our politicians are enslaved by a corporate mentality, and are committed to handing over more and more of our common resources to private companies, who are not only unaccountable, but are also driven by profit, and not by the need for universal services.
The privatisation programme that Margaret Thatcher embarked upon, in which our utilities and social housing were privatised (and to which John Major later added the railways) literally robbed us of assets that were for the common good. The Tory-led coalition government has now added Royal Mail to that ignominious list, and, moreover, have made it clear that their mission is to destroy the state almost entirely, so that only their own salaries and a few other concerns will remain in public hands, and everything else will be privatised.
In a monstrous sleight of hand that reflects very badly on the British people’s ability to perceive when they are being played (and are, moreover, being played by a bunch of rich crooks), the Tories have been engaged, for the last four years, in painting the poor, the unemployed and the disabled as somehow being to blame for our financial problems, even though the truth is that it was caused by bankers in cahoots with politicians, and by corporate tax avoiders and tax evaders, the kind of people queuing up to profit, with taxpayers’ assistance, in taking over public sector occupations, maximising profits and driving down the quality of services.
In south east London, the cost of New Labour’s embrace of PFI can clearly be seen in the financial failures of the South London Hospital Trust, where two new hospitals, which cost £210 million to build, will have raked in £2.5 billion for the private companies who own them (Barclays, Innisfree and Taylor Woodrow) at the end of a 25-year period — unless someone in power decides that such profiteering ought to be illegal. Those debts contributed to the collapse of the trust, and the plans to make Lewisham Hospital, unconnected to the SLHT, pay for the failures of its neighbour — and its PFI albatross — by having its A&E closed down, its maternity services and other acute services decimated, and half its buildings sold.
That disaster has been averted — or at least delayed — but the costs of PFI continue to cripple other parts of the NHS, up and down the country, and continue to allow unqualified business people, at taxpayers’ expense, to run an ever-increasing number of schools.
What we need are politicians prepared to stand up to the lies that the public sector is bad, and the private sector good. In reality, the opposite is almost entirely true when it comes to public services, as doctors, nurses and teachers, for example, are motivated by something in addition to their salaries — something called “the public good,” which self-serving politicians and profit-maximising corporations have forgotten about.
Note: For further information about the outrageous profiteering in the South London Healthcare Trust PFI deal, see the article in the Independent last July entitled, “The funding timebomb that crippled an NHS healthcare trust.” For information about Innisfree, and a powerful critique of PFI, see “Private Finance Initiative: hospitals will bring taxpayers 60 years of pain,” a January 2011 article by Andrew Gilligan in the Daily Telegraph. Also see this Daily Mail article by John Ware of the BBC’s Panorama.
Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer and film-maker. He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).
To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the four-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.
Last night, when I posted “David Cameron burns” on Facebook, Neil Mckenna wrote:
Hurrah! Do me some chestnuts on that bommie!
Ha, yes, that would’ve been good, Neil! I’m amazed at the complaints on Twitter from people who think burning effigies is wrong – on Bonfire Night of all days, and involving effigies of people who, unless you’ve had your heart cut out and pickled, are, objectively, cruel to a genuinely alarming degree. I sometimes wonder how the chaotic, iconoclastic world of my youth has turned into one in which people of supreme dullness are everywhere, telling us all what to do – or what not to do – every second of every day.
Neil Mckenna wrote:
Art of the Destructivist school. It’s been with us for millenia. Ask the same people what they think about paper lanterns.
Yes, there is a streak of punitive, fun-hating and deeply dull Puritanism that runs through the heart of our land, Neil, and that I find myself constantly and consistently opposed to.
Waris Ali wrote:
I have posted on your wall Andy, please take a look when possible and post on it. I know how passionate you are about the cuts and the most vulnerable in society, being hit the hardest.
Thanks for your post about this Tory-led government’s persecution of the disabled, Waris, via the bogus tests administered by Atos, and the way in which the poor man you mention, David Toope, was hounded to death, like so many others. Truly appalling. Here’s the e-petititon, which I have signed and previously promoted. If anyone is UK-based and hasn’t yet signed it, please, please do and please share it as widely as possible. 100,000 signatures are needed by December 12, and it currently has 76,000: https://submissions.epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/43154
And here’s Waris’s post about David Toope: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10202396489334124
Neil Mckenna wrote:
Lanterns and effigies. Never get too hot under the collar about symbolism. Remember Bill Hick’s line about the burnt American flag and somebody’s outrage, that his father had died in Korea for that flag – ‘What a coincidence. My flag was made in Korea.’
That’s a great Bill Hicks line, Neil. I had forgotten it until you reminded me. Now there’s a sign of the times – obviously Bill Hicks was more outspoken than most people 20-30 years ago, but imagine him magically transported to the world in 2013. He would think most people have had lobotomies, wouldn’t he?
Neil Mckenna wrote:
That’s a good question, Andy. I often imagine Hicks kind of just screaming out his tonsils entire onstage, were he around today. I don’t know where he could actually go with what he was doing and where we’re at.
I’m glad you see it too, Neil. The quiet conformity that prevails today obviously hides so much misery and anger. I can’t tell what a lot of the “aspirational” people here in London are about, as they seem like hollow people, interested only in money and status and nothing else, but elsewhere I see how the calmness and order is superficial. Unfortunately, though, almost every time I engage in conversation with strangers, or overhear them, they’re banging on about immigrants, blaming them for everything, and not realising how the more fundamental problems might not involve Britain drifting towards a state of mind that has clear parallels with the rise of fascism in the 1920s and 30s. Hello, people, the problem might be your government, and the banks, and the corporations ripping you off and lying to you every minute of the day.
Neil Mckenna wrote:
For once I feel rather mercifully cosseted, Andy … I think I need even bigger personal stereo headphones …
In London those would make you a hipster, Neil, and you would need to get a florid moustache and giant beard to accompany them!
Kristin Higgins wrote:
Who is running our shop?? Get them fired, and call the cleaners to clean up all this shite
Hilarious, Kristin. With an attitude like that, you are sorely missed here in beleaguered Blighty. Albion is being strangled by the greedy and the dull.
Beverly Hendricks wrote:
I would have loved to have been there for that.
Yes, there was something mildly cathartic abut it, Beverly!
Very nice that the Londonist website has posted the photos with a short accompanying article about all the Bonfires of Austerity protests yesterday: http://www.londonist.com/2013/11/cameron-boris-and-osborne-burn-in-bonfires-of-austerity.php
So there’s very little in the mainstream media about yesterday’s event, the global Million Mask March called by Anonymous, for example: http://millionmaskmarch.org/
There’s a Guardian article here, and other media outlets picked up on it in the UK because Russell Brand took part in it, but there’s been little serious discussion, as usual, about why people might be angry about the current state of affairs in significant numbers but without political representation from a corrupt status quo: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/nov/06/protesters-gather-million-mask-march
And here’s Channel 4 News: http://www.channel4.com/news/million-mask-march-russell-brand-anonymous-london-video
And the Independent: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/comedy/news/russell-brand-joins-thousands-to-protest-for-anonymous-million-mask-march-8924035.html
Also, here are some photos of the Bonfire of Austerity occupation of Westminster Bridge, which was mentioned in other reports, but was not the focus of a single mainstream report: http://www.demotix.com/photo/3150621/bonfire-austerity-blocks-westminster-bridge
[…] You can also read and view Andy Worthington’s report and pictures here. […]
Jennah Solace wrote:
Good idea! I love it! Who knew that I would one day be personally experiencing the wrath of Cameron (Moron) and his Tory posse! Oh, the strange mysteries of life! Of course, I only wish for them to burn metaphorically or experience some cosmic justice – either way, I am sure ‘burning’ will somehow be involved
Ha! Yes, thanks, Jennah, good to hear from you. When you get the sharp end of this wretched government, it’s good to get the Bonfire Night tradition of burning figures we don’t like as well. That used to be Guy Fawkes or the Pope or Catholics in general, and nowadays, if left to their own misguided perspective, far too many people would burn effigies of immigrants, but we must rise above that, and target those who really deserve it – the politicians and, next time I hope, bankers and corporate CEOs.
Neil Mckenna wrote:
eg. Sir Philip Green …
Yes, Neil, clothes horse giant Sir Philip Green, and Amazon and Google and all the others who flaunt their international immunity from paying taxes, as though that’s some sort of badge of honor, rather than just unfettered greed and corporate self-obsession. The problem is, I find it easy not to buy clothes from Green’s empire, and I don’t buy anything from Amazon (although I do advertise them selling “The Guantanamo Files”), but Google’s a big problem, as well all – or most of us – use it. I remember that, when UK Uncut was first established, they made a very good and concise analysis of why tax avoidance and tax evasion are so monstrously damaging for all of us: http://www.ukuncut.org.uk/about/cuts
And as always – Solidarity! My brother across the pond – time to run David Cameron far away from #10
Oh, if only, Jan, but the people are, in the majority, asleep, or supporters of the Nasty Party’s bleak message of hatred, intolerance and the death of the state. Always good to hear from you, though! Hope all is well with you.
we will never ever be free of this government or the sceptic corperate mentality that is destroying our lives until will take to the streets en mass instead most have become brain dead sat the dribbling in front of x factor ..its mass brainwashing..we realy are liveing now in the film ..they live..lolxx
Great to hear from you, Damo. I was thinking about you just today, and thinking I hadn’t heard from you for a while. I was about to email you to check that you’re OK.
Your mention of the X-Factor reminded me that it would be a good thing if people stopped watching TV. I stopped watching TV over a year ago and my life has improved. No more pointless distractions from crappy reality TV, and no more inadequate news, with its really rather disturbing enforcement of the status quo. I also think people could do with getting off their devices for a while too – yes, switching off those smart phones that they are now closer to than their families, and remembering what reality is outside of the world of social media, playing games, being permanently plugged into your i-Pod, and texting and calling.
It really doesn’t seem likely at the moment, though, does it?
Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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