At 1 am on November 14, 2012, I decided to take a late night bike ride to Canary Wharf, the modern mutant offspring of the City of London. The City is an ancient lawless zone, but it is now rivalled by the lawlessness of the Docklands project initiated under Margaret Thatcher, which expanded hugely under Tony Blair.
Canary Wharf, which I first photographed here, fascinates and repels me. Its towers, with their horribly ostentatious show of wealth, and their disdain for even vaguely concealing how much money can be made through devious behaviour that ought to be illegal — and in many cases is — are visible from almost everywhere, and are particularly dominant from all over south east London, where I live. However, while the buildings are, in some ways, architecturally impressive, that is not all that calls out across the miles when One Canada Square and its phallic companions are glimpsed from afar. The wealth they display is also meant to intimidate and/or dazzle those mere mortals — the majority of us, in other words — who earn in a lifetime what well-paid bankers take home in a year.
I’ll be analysing Canary Wharf further in the article following this one, which features the photos I took in the heart of Canary Wharf. In contrast, this set features the start of my journey, through Deptford and Greenwich, including Deptford High Street, which stands in total contrast to the wealth and rarefied shopping malls of Canary Wharf (which I photographed here). I then cycled through the Greenwich Foot Tunnel, and took photos in Millwall, and also of Millwall Inner Dock, South Quay DLR station and the mainly residential developments around them, including the Pan Peninsula towers, luxury high-rises that deliberately scorn the ordinary humans below, with their promotional material celebrating those who “inhabit a private universe.”
Andy Worthington is 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. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed — and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr (my photos) and YouTube. Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in April 2012, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” a 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, and details about the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here — or here for the US). Also see my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and please also consider joining the new “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
Shops, Ships and Union Jacks: A Surreal Tour Around Canary Wharf, a set on Flickr.
This photo set — the 60th in my ongoing project to photograph the whole of London by bike — is the last in a series of five sets recording a journey I made one sunny day in July, from my home in south London, through New Cross and Bermondsey by bike, across Tower Bridge, and up through Shadwell to Commercial Road, which I followed — with many fruitful deviations — along its whole length, to the junction where West India Road bears off towards Canary Wharf, and Commercial Road becomes East India Road.
As my camera battery had run out, but I couldn’t bear not having a working camera, I decided to find one in Canary Wharf, which was more difficult than I expected, as the shop I needed was some distance from where I parked my bike, through a series of shopping malls whose scale surprised me, as they now constitute another city entirely. Read the rest of this entry »
Glass, Light and Fantasies: The City of London At Night, a set on Flickr.
This latest photo set, on Flickr, from my ongoing project to photograph the whole of London by bike — the 23rd instalment in what will be at least a year-long project — follows up on a previous set, Parks, Water and Dreams: Photos of a Journey from Surrey Quays to Central London, in which I recorded a journey through Rotherhithe on the evening of July 19, 2012, when I travelled to The Arts Catalyst, on Clerkenwell Road, in London EC1, to speak at an event marking the sixth anniversary of the arrest of Talha Ahsan, a British citizen and a Londoner, who has been held without charge or trial ever since, while fighting extradition to the US — an unjust situation that I have also written about here and here. Please also see this photo of me wearing an “Extradite Me, I’m British” T-shirt, to highlight the problems with the US-UK Extradition Treaty.
After the event — shortly after 9pm — I set off for home, but took a detour through the City of London, to capture photos of the City of London at night, the morally and legally dubious powerhouse of Britain’s financial industry, which fascinates me (see the evidence here and here), as does its offshoot at Canary Wharf on the Isle of Dogs (see the photos here and my essay here). 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 »
That’s an optimistic headline, obviously, as, to date, bankers have demonstrated that they are in fact above the law, and that they can do what they want — wrecking the global economy, for example, and being bailed out instead of being punished, as happened in 2008. However, in the wake of the inter-bank rate-rigging scandal that became public knowledge last week when Barclays were fined £290m in the US and the UK, the time may have come for there to be a reckoning — one which, appallingly, was avoided four years ago when the global crash happened that has poisoned our economic health ever since.
This time, perhaps, the odd high-profile scalp — Barclays CEO Bob Diamond, for example, who finally walked on Tuesday — and the promise of some sort of toothless inquiry may not be enough to quell the growing calls for the entire financial sector to be thoroughly overhauled and regulated, and for those who have committed crimes — in the many banks other than Barclays which are still being investigated — to be prosecuted.
Certainly, as Yves Smith explained on her Naked Capitalism blog, there are reasons to believe that this story has only begun in the US (where £230m of Barclays’ fine was imposed), because price fixing — of the type uncovered at Barclays, in which many other banks are also implicated — “is a criminal violation under the Sherman Antitrust Act.” As Smith noted, “The Department of Justice stressed that Barclays had been the first bank to cooperate with the investigation and had been extremely forthcoming, and for that reason it would not be prosecuted if it complied with the settlement terms for two years. The implication is that the DoJ will not be as generous with other banks involved in the price-fixing scheme.” Read the rest of this entry »
They say that patriotism is the last refuge
To which a scoundrel clings
Steal a little and they throw you in jail
Steal a lot and they make you king
Bob Dylan, “Sweetheart Like You” (1983)
The record-breaking fine of £290m to which Barclays was subjected this week for financial crimes committed from 2005 onwards sounds significant, until you realise that Barclays chief executive Bob Diamond was paid £17m for last year alone (and that the bank also paid £5.7m to cover his tax bill), that he has been paid almost £100m since 2006, and that the amount of the fine (£60m in the UK and £230m in the US) is basically peanuts — just 10 days’ worth of profit for Barclays, as Paul Lewis of Radio 4’s Money Box programme explained to the BBC.
The first thing that occurred to me was that, however much bankers are caught committing financial crimes, they always seem to get away with it, as Bob Dylan explained back in 1983. Moreover, Bob’s recognition of the disparity between the rich and the poor when it comes to crimes involving money also rings horribly true still, as is clear from the punishment for Barclays — a slipped wrist — and the punishment for those involved, however peripherally, in last August’s “riots” in the UK, when judges decided to “make an example” of the mostly unfortunate young people who came up before them. The most shocking example I came across was described in the Guardian as follows: Read the rest of this entry »
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