Union Jack Summer: The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics, a set on Flickr.
I have no great love for either the Royal Family or the Olympics, and, on this latter point, my articles should make clear where I stand — Our Olympic Hell: A Militarised, Corporate, Jingoistic Disgrace, Olympics Disaster: The G4S Security Scandal and Corporate Sponsors’ £600 Million Tax Avoidance and The Dark Side of the Olympics: Kettling Cyclists and Telling Fairytales About Our Heritage. You can also find some more photos here.
As for the Queen, I have long adored “God Save the Queen” by the Sex Pistols — one of the greatest rock songs of all time, along with “Anarchy in the UK” — and I did dream of mounting a black sound system to a black bike with a black flag, pumping out the Pistols’ “God Save the Queen,” and cycling around every street party I could find in London on the Diamond Jubilee weekend.
That never came to pass, and in truth, although I find the existence of the Royal Family objectionable, some of the individuals involved work hard (the Queen and Princess Anne come to mind) and I also don’t trust any politicians to preside over the dissolution of the Royal Family and the disposal of their assets in a way that would benefit the majority of the people. More sensible, then, would be for their role to be scaled down enormously, as in other European countries, but there appears to be no hint of that on the horizon, and so we are stuck with something that looks like the divine right of kings (or queens), but is in fact a very expensive charade. Read the rest of this entry »
The Wealth of Empire: The City of London in the Rain, a set on Flickr.
To describe these photos of the City of London, I used the word “empire” in the title because I believe that, in many fundamental ways, it is apt, although I realise that the British Empire is not, of course, the only source of money and power in the City of London and in its modern offshoot, Canary Wharf. In many ways, the mafia would be a better reference point for what these well-connected crooks have been getting up to as a result of the financial deregulation initiated by Margaret Thatcher (which benefitted David Cameron’s father, who made a fortune through the creation of tax havens) and Ronald Reagan, the subsequent repeal, under Bill Clinton, of the crucial Glass-Steagall Act — which was introduced after the Depression in 1933, separating “domestic” banking from its potentially fatal speculative aspects — and New Labour’s enthusiasm for filthy lucre, and whatever scum happened to have loads of it. The current shower of clowns in Downing Street and the Cabinet are only different from New Labour in the sense that most of them are already rich, millionaires out of touch with the people and thoroughly unconcerned about it.
In particular, the modern money markets are international, and much of the expertise in dodgy financial engineering — of the kind that ought to be illegal, and of the kind that nearly bankrupted the world in the global crash of 2008 — came from Wall Street as much as from the robber barons of the British establishment, although, crucially, it was the long-cherished secrecy of the City that allowed Wall Street bankers to initiate policies in London that were illegal at home. Read the rest of this entry »
Street Art, Sunshine and the River: Deptford and Greenwich, a set on Flickr.
Three weeks ago, I posted my first set of photos of my journeys around London on my new Flickr account — a set I took on May 11, cycling around Greenwich and Deptford, down the hill from my home in Brockley, south east London — when I first began to realise that I had a need for exercise, a need to be outdoors whenever the sun shone in this rainiest of years, and a great desire to explore this vast city that has been my home for the last 27 years, even though I have never visited much of it, and have only partial knowledge of its contours, its hidden corners, and even some of its more obvious glories.
Combined, these various motives have progressively unmoored me from being enslaved to my computer, after six years of pretty relentless blogging, and have opened my mind and my body to the sights and the sounds of London, to the sun and showers, the torrential rain, the fast-changing skies like epic dramas, and also to the pleasures of the back roads, away from the tyranny of cars and lorries, where the unexpected can more easily be found, and where much of the city is silent in the daytime, its former industries replaced by apartments, its workers away — in the City or elsewhere — earning the money to pay for the “luxury” apartments in which, in many cases, they do not spend much time.
Repeatedly, I have found myself drawn to the River Thames and its tributaries and canals, most now flanked by towering new apartment blocks or converted wharves — and to classical compositions and perspectives of buildings and sky, clouds and water. Always, though, I find myself in search of unusual sights, glimpses of less obvious worlds in this city of millions of stories, places where the money has run out, or the standardising waves of gentrification cannot reach. Idiosyncratic places, touched by mavericks, or largely abandoned. Read the rest of this entry »
On Monday, a rather unprecedented event occurred. The BBC, in its long-running but generally dumbed-down Panorama slot, broadcast a half-hour programme — Britain on the Brink: Back to the 70s? — which took off the blinkers, or the rose-coloured spectacles, that much of the mainstream media have clamped on Britain’s face since the cruel and incompetent Tories began laying waste to the British economy two years ago.
Those of us with any intelligence — and I don’t count George Osborne and David Cameron or any of the other clowns masquerading as functional ministers in this category — knew that the government’s claims that, despite all evidence to the contrary, savage austerity cuts to the state provision of almost services, accompanied by up to a million job losses, would allow the private sector to ride in on a white charger dispensing new jobs like confetti were the worst sort of fantasy. The truth, of course, is that savage austerity cuts always — always — mean an economic death spiral, and the only way out of a recession is to spend wisely to stimulate demand.
In addition, of course, those not blinded by having studied the propaganda that mostly passes for economics would also have realised that the private sector’s ability to provide answers has come to an end. In truth, the motto that private was better than public was largely a ruse of Margaret Thatcher’s to destroy Britain’s manufacturing, and then plunder the family silver for profit — the nationalised industries and some other necessary state-provided services. Read the rest of this entry »
When David Cameron responded to a Times investigation into offshore tax avoidance schemes, which found that around 1,000 individuals — including the comedian Jimmy Carr, and other celebrities, including musicians and sports stars — were paying as little as 1% of their earnings in tax through a legal, but morally unacceptable scheme in Jersey, a notorious tax haven, he decided to take the moral high ground.
Saying that media reports of Carr’s financial arrangements suggested “straightforward tax avoidance,” the Prime Minister added:
I think some of these schemes — and I think particularly of the Jimmy Carr scheme — I have had time to read about and I just think this is completely wrong [sic]. People work hard, they pay their taxes, they save up to go to one of his shows. They buy the tickets. He is taking the money from those tickets and he, as far as I can see, is putting all of that into some very dodgy tax avoiding schemes. That is wrong. There is nothing wrong with people planning their tax affairs to invest in their pension and plan for their retirement — that sort of tax management is fine. But some of these schemes we have seen are quite frankly morally wrong. The government is acting by looking at a general anti-avoidance law but we do need to make progress on this. It is not fair on hardworking people who do the right thing and pay their taxes to see these sorts of scams taking place. Read the rest of this entry »
So I’m sure you’re all aware that Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II celebrates her Diamond Jubilee this year. To mark the occasion, the Whitsun Bank Holiday has been moved from May 28 to June 4, and a Diamond Jubilee Holiday has been added on June 5, making a bumper four-day holiday, in which the emphasis will be on an expensive nationalistic back-slapping celebration of Little England myopia, and no one in government will be discussing how much this orgy of manipulative jingoism will be costing, both in terms of the celebrations, or the cost in lost productivity (which would cause outrage in government, if, for example, it came about through a strike). I also suspect that there will be little visible dissent, and certainly not my preference — hordes of anarchists on black-clad bicycles, flying black and grey Union Jacks, and with pedal-driven sound systems pumping out the Sex Pistols’ “God Save the Queen” on a permanent loop at street parties up and down the country.
One organization opposed to the jubilee celebrations are the theatrical anti-austerity activists of UK Uncut, who, on Saturday, held alternative street parties up and down the country, and, in London, took over Parkfields Road in Putney, where Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg lives. As they explained in a press release:
UK Uncut had previously only announced that their protest would directly confront the high profile ‘architects of austerity’, the politicians, bankers and tax avoiders they they see as responsible for the government’s cuts. The move to directly target politicians marks a significant change in tactics for the group which is well known for targeting tax avoiders, such as Vodafone, Sir Philip Green’s stores, Boots and Fortnum & Masons. Read the rest of this entry »
Fed up with an artificial age of austerity, designed to destroy the welfare state and transfer every remaining function of the state — the NHS, education, land, property, even the police — into private hands? Fed up with being told by wealthy, out-of-touch Tories that “we’re all in this together,” when we clearly aren’t? Fed up of the nationalistic nonsense driving the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, 35 years after the Sex Pistols’ “God Save the Queen” accurately demolished deference to the monarchy? Fed up with the corporate, militarised, jingoistic haemorrhaging of money for the Olympics?
Then you, my friend, need to attend UK Uncut’s Great British Street Party, next Saturday, May 26. As the anti-cuts direct action group explained last month in an announcement of the plans:
Britain was emerging from a World War and had a huge national debt. Much bigger than the one we face today. Did we see painful cut backs and austerity measures? No, quite the opposite. We saw the birth of our National Health Service and the Welfare State. The UK was the first country to make health care, social care and financial security accessible to all.
1948 saw the launch of ground-breaking new laws designed to protect and care for everybody in our society, including universal unemployment benefits, universal child benefits, disability benefits, rights to housing and the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Read the rest of this entry »
On Wednesday, the coalition government delivered a dud Queen’s Speech demonstrating that they have run out of ideas, apart from insisting, like deranged automata, that their inflexibility and lack of vision is actually helpful. In the House of Commons, David Cameron claimed that the Queen’s Speech was “about a government taking the tough, long-term decisions to restore our country to strength, dealing with the deficit, rebalancing the economy and building a society that rewards people who work hard and do the right thing.”
That is ridiculous, of course, as the Tory-led government’s mania for austerity has pushed Britain into a double-dip recession, and rewards are the last thing being visited on “people who work hard and do the right thing.” Instead, the ordinary hard-working people of Britain are being squeezed financially and besieged by ministers whose only message seems to be to tell people to be permanently insecure, while the only people who really matter to those in power — those rich enough not to feel the squeeze — continue to get richer through their dubious investments in property, their exploitative ventures around the world, and their shareholding in private companies profiting or preparing to profit from the destruction of the state (as with the NHS, for example).
In the Guardian, Simon Jenkins did a good job of kicking the government, as they deserve to be kicked, in an article entitled, “George Osborne’s growth policy is turning British cities into Detroit UK.” Jenkins began by noting, with reference to the pan-European obsession with austerity over the last two years, that “Europe’s collective response to the 2008 credit crunch ranks with the treaty of Versailles and German reparations among the great follies of history.” Read the rest of this entry »
Is there no end to the arrogance of this wretched government? In February, while pushing their vile bill to destroy the welfare state, the Tory-led coalition resorted to dismissing important amendments demanded by the House of Lords by invoking “financial privilege,” an arcane set-up whereby, as Conservative Home explained in a highly critical post, The House of Commons has “‘sole rights’ in respect of financial legislation that applies indivisibly to public expenditure and to the raising of revenue to meet that expenditure.”
Now, in a disgraceful manoeuvre designed to prevent the public from knowing the full extent of the damage to the NHS as a result of the Health and Social Care bill that was passed in March, the government has decided to use its veto — a tactic “used only three times before in the previous decade,” as the Guardian explained — to block an important ruling by the Information Commissioner, who, last November, ordered the government to release its risk register regarding the dangers of its planned NHS reforms. The government appealed the decision, but was ordered to release the risk register for a second time by the first-tier tribunal for Information Rights just a week and a half before the bill was passed.
Furthermore, as I explained a month ago, when the tribunal’s judgment (PDF) was finally made public, it was so damning that it might have derailed the bill had it been made available earlier. As Dr. Éoin Clarke explained on his blog The Green Benches, “I have never read a more damning judgment by a UK court on a government’s flouting of democracy … [T]he court unanimously decided that the NHS Bill was contrary to the Tory manifesto, unexpected, rushed, far reaching, pre-judged and without proper consultation. In effect, the judgment implies that the Tories cynically hid their plans to carve up the NHS prior to the 2010 election. You and I knew that of course, but to read it in black & white from a court judgment is truly unprecedented. This document … is a devastating indictment of the Tory handling of our democratic process. The judges unanimously ruled the Tory government should release the full contents of the NHS Risk Register.” Read the rest of this entry »
With all 181 councils having declared their results, Labour had taken over 32, to control 75 in total, while the Tories were down to 42, having lost 12. With 4863 council seats declared, Labour had gained 824, and had 2159 in total, the Tories had lost 403 and had 1006 in total, and the Lib Dems had lost 329, and had 438 in total.
The only good news, from a Tory point of view, was that Boris Johnson narrowly held onto London for a second term as Mayor, beating Ken Livingstone, but it is also clear that, to win, Johnson had to stand apart from his colleagues in central government, and his success can only make David Cameron look worse rather than better. Personally, I find that disappointing, as Ken offered to help hard-working Londoners by cutting fares, whereas Boris offered nothing more than his usual stand-up routine, but whether through his own failings, or through a media that was extraordinarily biased against him, Ken appeared to have no chance of winning whatsoever, and he should, therefore, take comfort from the fact that so many people actually voted decisively against the Tories and almost brought him victory. It was also significant that Jenny Jones, for the Green party, beat the Lib Dems and the hapless Brian Paddick into fourth place.
Excepting the London Mayoral victory, the elections have been a disaster for the Tories, and the results countrywide have been a disaster for the Lib Dems, but across the UK there is no real sense of triumph as far as I can tell (outside of Labour political circles), and the most depressing statistic to take from the elections is the sad truth that only a third of those who were eligible to vote actually bothered to do so. Read the rest of this entry »
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