Life in the UK After the EU Referendum: Waking Up Repeatedly at a Funeral That Never Ends

An apocalyptic view of London (image via Reddit).Three days into this disaster, and the fallout is so immense that it colours everything. Bereaved-looking people are everywhere, talking about their disbelief, unable to process it. I had a migraine on Friday, and I don’t normally even get headaches. Many people are reporting similar symptoms — of colossal stress, of an unprocessable shock. Every time we distract ourselves for a moment from the awful reality — that we’ve left the EU and that everything is now in freefall; not just our economy, but basically every certainty we had before Friday morning — we wake up again to the horror of it all, like having endless deja vu at a funeral without end, like being in a real-life version of  film in which aliens have taken over, even though they look just like us.

My funereal encounters are taking place in London, where a majority of those who could be bothered to vote — 60% — called for us to remain in the EU. I live in Lewisham, where the portion of Remain votes was even higher — 70% — so I can presume that I am not surrounded by the deluded, or by those with hideously misplaced anger, however justifiable that anger may be, although I accept that even that is difficult. I have been ambushed in recent weeks by the odd middle class, educated person my age (circa 50) supporting the Leave campaign, and I can’t help but be instinctively suspicious of older white people.

However, I also know it’s not just a white issue. About two years I was in a queue in a service station in Brixton, and I struck up a conversation with a black man about my age, who seemed to me to be a Windrush descendant. I started some small talk, leaning it leftwards as soon as I could, as is my wont, and thinking he would agree with me, until he started talking about how it was all the fault of the immigrants. Since that encounter and others, I have grown to be wary of casually chatting with my fellow citizens on the street.

But if London is largely the same country it was before the referendum, albeit in profound shock, the same cannot be said of these large swathes of the country where the Leave voters outnumbered those calling for us to Remain, and where a legion of stories are already emerging of racism taken to the next step — of people being openly abused in the street, and told to go home. Social media, meanwhile, is a cesspit of racist, xenophobic and Islamophobic filth. The genie that is out of the bottle is a nasty, brutish creature, a 21st century revival of those who, 85 years ago in Germany, began to see Adolf Hitler as their saviour.

And Nigel Farage, who secured 3.9 million votes in the 2015 General Election, after the mainstream media slavishly covered his every utterance as though he was the Prime Minister, has bounced back from his subsequent disappearance — again, with the mainstream media disgracefully attending him every step of the way. How many more of the 17.4 million million people who voted to leave might now vote for UKIP if another opportunity arose — enabling, like Hitler, the rise of fascists in Parliament.

So as we survey the wreckage of Britain today, what can be done by those of us who comprehend that the ties that bind us — that bound us — to the EU, and that confirmed a web of interconnected relationships within Europe, and outside its borders, built up over four decades, are — or were — immense, and yet almost none of that was discussed during the puerile bunfight of the referendum campaign? I’m an educated and reasonably well-informed person, but even I couldn’t begin to tell you how much legislation and funding has been put in place over that time that affects every aspect of British life and the British economy, but over the last few weeks I managed to think about a few of them, and I have ended up believing that the important information discussed in the referendum was rather like the Bush administration’s planning for the Iraq invasion. When the State Department gave Donald Rumsfeld a massive report on what would be involved in nation-building, he chucked it in the bin and replaced it with a single sheet of paper that read, “They will greet us with flowers.” Just last week, a friend alerted me to the possibly fatal impact of leaving the EU on Britain’s university sector, which has been massively encouraged to seek out EU students as the Tories cut their funding, foreign students whose costs are — were — subsidised by the EU, but I heard nothing about that during the campaign.

Those of us who care about human rights have long been dismayed by the Tories’ intention of dismantling our human rights legislation — something that almost all Tories agree on. This is based on a mendacious but well-publicised campaign to suggest that the EU prevents us from sending home alleged terror suspects we don’t like, for generally unspecified reasons, when that is patently untrue. The legislation, in the European Convention on Human Rights, drafted after the Second World War (and which, incidentally, included a prominent role by the British Conservative MP and lawyer Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe, who had been a prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials), cannot be undone unless we withdraw from the Council of Europe — which, of course, we may well do now, as EU membership is only possible when countries are CoE members, and now we’re not, we’ll be free to join that bastion of extremism, Belarus, as the only other country in Europe that has done away with human rights legislation.

In addition, of course, the EU has also contributed significantly to other rights appreciated by people across the UK. Check out this article — noting how the EU has been responsible for curbing excessive working hours, protecting pregnant women at work, harmonising equality laws, protecting people’s personal data, combatting disability discrimination, acting against gender and age discrimination and fighting for the rights of minorities, and also check out the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

A friend of mine recently lamented that no one in the arts sector had paid attention to the huge significance of EU funding, and, of course, the Leave campaign constantly lied that EU money to the poorer parts of the country would be replaced  — a joke when delivered by politicians who are absolutely devoted to the destruction of all subsidies for anyone except the rich, but one that seems to have worked. For further information, I recommend the sad and almost surreal story of Ebbw Vale in South Wales, which has received massive financial support from the EU, but which voted to leave, pretty much cutting its own throat in doing so.

Almost nothing of significance was mentioned in the campaign. David Cameron, the coward and narcissist, now consigned to a dustbin of political failure that is so abject that it contains few predecessors (think Neville Chamberlain, Anthony Eden, and then reflect that they may be small fry compared to the scale of Cameron’s disaster), called a referendum he didn’t want simply to placate the far right of his own party and UKIP, and then arrogantly thought Remain would win, and ran a tragically poor campaign that has resulted in his political annihilation.

In contrast, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, two other dangerous narcissists, went even further. Although Cameron (and Osborne, and others in the Tory Remain campaign) looked pretty stupid every time they tried to defend Europe, having bashed the EU repeatedly for years, Johnson and Gove saw an opportunity to further their careers by leading the Leave campaign without even believing in it, enabling them to position themselves as successors to Cameron who, unlike the PM, had listened to the people’s concerns.

As Nick Cohen explained in his article, There are liars and then there’s Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, “The media do not damn themselves, so I am speaking out of turn when I say that if you think rule by professional politicians is bad wait until journalist politicians take over. Johnson and Gove are the worst journalist politicians you can imagine: pundits who have prospered by treating public life as a game.”

He added:

The Leave campaign has no plan. And that is not just because there was a shamefully under-explored division between the bulk of Brexit voters who wanted the strong welfare state and solid communities of their youth and the leaders of the campaign who wanted Britain to become an offshore tax haven. Vote Leave did not know how to resolve difficulties with Scotland, Ireland, the refugee camp at Calais, and a thousand other problems, and did not want to know either.

As he also noted:

[N]ot since Suez has the nation’s fate been decided by politicians who knowingly made a straight, shameless, incontrovertible lie the first plank of their campaign. Vote Leave assured the electorate it would reclaim a supposed £350m Brussels takes from us each week. They knew it was a lie. Between them, they promised to spend £111bn on the NHS, cuts to VAT and council tax, higher pensions, a better transport system and replacements for the EU subsidies to the arts, science, farmers and deprived regions … [E]xperts said that, far from being rich, we would face a £40bn hole in our public finances.

And now, having unexpectedly won, neither Johnson nor Gove seems to want to have anything to do with the poisoned chalice that they have secured. Cameron, a coward and narcissist to the end, immediately resigned, refusing to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which states that “[a]ny member state may decide to withdraw from the union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements,” leaving that task to his successors, whoever they may be.

And as a reader called Teebs explained in a much-cited comment on the Guardian’s website yesterday:

If Boris Johnson looked downbeat yesterday, that is because he realises that he has lost. Perhaps many Brexiters do not realise it yet, but they have actually lost, and it is all down to one man: David Cameron.

With one fell swoop yesterday at 9:15 am, Cameron effectively annulled the referendum result, and simultaneously destroyed the political careers of Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and leading Brexiters who cost him so much anguish, not to mention his premiership. How?

Throughout the campaign, Cameron had repeatedly said that a vote for leave would lead to triggering Article 50 straight away. Whether implicitly or explicitly, the image was clear: he would be giving that notice under Article 50 the morning after a vote to leave. Whether that was scaremongering or not is a bit moot now but, in the midst of the sentimental nautical references of his speech yesterday, he quietly abandoned that position and handed the responsibility over to his successor.

And as the day wore on, the enormity of that step started to sink in: the markets, Sterling, Scotland, the Irish border, the Gibraltar border, the frontier at Calais, the need to continue compliance with all EU regulations for a free market, re-issuing passports, Brits abroad, EU citizens in Britain, the mountain of legislation to be torn up and rewritten … the list grew and grew.

The referendum result is not binding. It is advisory. Parliament is not bound to commit itself in that same direction. The Conservative party election that Cameron triggered will now have one question looming over it: will you, if elected as party leader, trigger the notice under Article 50? Who will want to have the responsibility of all those ramifications and consequences on his/her head and shoulders?

Boris Johnson knew this yesterday, when he emerged subdued from his home and was even more subdued at the press conference. He has been out-maneouvered and check-mated. If he runs for leadership of the party, and then fails to follow through on triggering Article 50, then he is finished. If he does not run and effectively abandons the field, then he is finished. If he runs, wins and pulls the UK out of the EU, then it will all be over — Scotland will break away, there will be upheaval in Ireland, a recession … broken trade agreements. Then he is also finished. Boris Johnson knows all of this. When he acts like the dumb blond it is just that: an act.

The Brexit leaders now have a result that they cannot use. For them, leadership of the Tory party has become a poison chalice. When Boris Johnson said there was no need to trigger Article 50 straight away, what he really meant to say was “never”. When Michael Gove went on and on about “informal negotiations” … why? why not the formal ones straight away? … he also meant not triggering the formal departure. They both know what a formal demarche would mean: an irreversible step that neither of them is prepared to take.

All that remains is for someone to have the guts to stand up and say that Brexit is unachievable in reality without an enormous amount of pain and destruction, that cannot be borne. And David Cameron has put the onus of making that statement on the heads of the people who led the Brexit campaign.

Not all of the above is true — I’m not convinced, crucially, that finding someone who has “the guts to stand up and say that Brexit is unachievable in reality without an enormous amount of pain and destruction” is sufficient to overturn the result — but it is important, I think, to recognise that implementing Article 50 is definitely a poisoned chalice, and that all the woes and insanely complicated bureaucracy that will follow — as Teebs put it so well, dealing with “the markets, Sterling, Scotland, the Irish border, the Gibraltar border, the frontier at Calais, the need to continue compliance with all EU regulations for a free market, re-issuing passports, Brits abroad, EU citizens in Britain, the mountain of legislation to be torn up and rewritten” — will become the responsibility of Cameron’s successor, of someone who was a strong advocate for the Leave campaign.

Personally, I’d like to have seen Cameron refuse to accept the referendum result, and then fall on his sword, with MPs also refusing to accept the result that a clear majority of them don’t support (and perhaps MPs collectively are who Teebs was thinking of), followed by a General Election, but that may just be my desperation speaking — the desperation of wanting to wake from this endless nightmare that shouldn’t have happened, and that wouldn’t have happened without the incompetence, arrogance and mendacity of Cameron, Johnson, Gove and every single senior Tory who backed one or other of these senseless positions.

But instead of the media reporting on the above — or on the waking nightmare currently experienced by a majority of the 16.1 million people who voted Remain, or on the increase in racism since the result of the referendum was announced on Friday — what do get instead, as the very fabric of reality is torn asunder and nothing that is left is solid or reliable?

Well, instead of the above we are told that the only story that counts is of Blairite Labour MPs’ revolt against Jeremy Corbyn — MPs who, in case you’d forgotten, were so unimpressive to Labour voters last summer that they contributed to Jeremy’s landslide victory, although the main factor in Jeremy’s victory was that his lifelong socialism struck a resounding chord with voters whose party used to be a socialist party, and who were fed up with losing another General Election after a lacklustre campaign in which the Labour Party leadership failed to show conviction about almost anything, so desperate were they not to upset Tory voters who didn’t vote for them anyway.

To watch the news this morning as I did — from the BBC, the Biased Broadcasting Corporation — was to be told that Jeremy Corbyn was to blame for the referendum that was pointlessly called and lost by Cameron, and won by the most colossal hypocrites in history, led by the almost unbelievably self-serving Boris Johnson, and the creeping and creepy proto-fascist Nigel Farage.

Are we really supposed to believe that a Blairite Labour Party, almost indistinguishable from the Tories, would have changed the minds of millions of alienated voters, obsessed with obstinately deluded and simplistic notions about immigration and the role of the EU, and, with unerring accuracy, in contrast, convinced that Westminster is full of remote MPs who serve only themselves?

The alienated can only be won back by reversing the widespread depoliticisation that began under Thatcher and that has almost wiped out class consciousness and solidarity, and that, I contend, can only be achieved by some form of socialism — something that Jeremy Corbyn, and his Chancellor, the wonderful John McDonnell, and his team of left-wing economic experts, have been busy demonstrating as viable, even though the mainstream media has almost entirely ignored them.

Jeremy Corbyn is a rarity amongst politicians — a genuinely nice person who cares deeply about everyone suffering injustice. I concede that he lacks a certain energy and a demonstration of passion, but if an argument can be made that he should be replaced (and I’m really not convinced that it can be), then the only person who should replace him, if Labour is to stand a chance of challenging British voters’ alienation and/or right-wing drift, is someone who shares all his values, but is younger and more energetic. This revolt, in contrast, only plays only into the hands of the Tory establishment, just when the spotlight of disgust should be shining relentlessly on them, is, yet again, another disgraceful betrayal by the mainstream media — of those who regard themselves as “objective” — of their proper role, which is to challenge dangerous hypocrisy and extremism in politics, and not to act as stenographers for right-wing Labour Party failures, breathtakingly self-serving Tory hypocrites like Boris Johnson, and proto-fascists like Nigel Farage.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose debut album, ‘Love and War,’ is available for download or on CD via Bandcamp — also see here). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2016), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — 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 six-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, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

Ha Ha! The Tories Lose London

"Tories out" graffiti.Good news for a change, as the Tories definitively lose control of London (OK, I’m slightly jumping the gun, but the Guardian is reporting that “Sadiq Khan ‘has won’ London mayoral race,” and Jeremy Corbyn has already sent Khan his congratulations). The Tories, who were already down in terms of MPs after last year’s General Election (when 45 of the capital’s 73 Parliamentary seats went to Labour), have now lost the Mayor, with Labour’s Sadiq Khan soundly beating Zac Goldsmith, and in the capital-wide elections for members of the Greater London Assembly, with 14 of the 25 seats counted, Labour had nine seats (a gain of one), and the Tories had five (a loss of one). The BBC reported that 43% of Londoners had voted Labour, 31% had voted Tory, and the Green Party had come third.

This is good news for Sadiq Khan, of course, but also for Jeremy Corbyn, in his first electoral test as Labour Party leader, and for the Labour Party as a whole the results are a vindication of his leadership — especially satisfying after the artificial anti-Semitism row that Labour right-wingers and a throughly unprincipled mainstream media were all too delighted to promote. At the time of writing Labour had held almost all its council seats across England, and had also held 29 seats in Wales (just short of a majority). The only dimmed light is in Scotland, where the SNP continues to replace them as the party of the left — and where, shockingly, the Tories pushed them into third place.

In London, of course, the Tories persistently shot themselves in the foot. Zac Goldsmith failed to connect with people and looked like he didn’t want the job — and it’s interesting to see how people aren’t fooled by a lack of desire for the job. However, his woes multiplied in the last few weeks when he hired the black propagandist Lynton Crosby, the Australian who has been behind the Tories’ relentlessly black propaganda for the last six years, which, it is important to note, is single-handedly responsible for the horrendous increase in the petty hatreds that have come to typify modern Britain — dominated, in particular, by racism, but also targeting anyone vulnerable, as can be seen by the government’s relentless assault on the unemployed and the disabled. Read the rest of this entry »

Photos: Stop Trident National Demo, Trafalgar Square, London, Feb. 27, 2016

Jeremy Corbyn speaking at the Stop Trident rally in Trafalgar Square on February 27, 2016 (Photo: Andy Worthington).See my photos on Flickr here!

Yesterday, February 27, 2016, I cycled into central London to show my support for what turned out to be the largest anti-nuclear protest for a generation, organised by CND (the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament). Tens of thousands of people from across the UK marched from Marble Arch to Trafalgar Square to call for the British government not to renew the Trident nuclear submarine and missile programme, which, it is estimated, will cost £100 billion over 25 years.

As a lifelong opponent of nuclear weapons, I find it mind-boggling that the Tories — and large parts of the Labour Party — want to renew this ruinously expensive programme when we are supposed to be committed to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which calls for disarmament as well as non-proliferation, and when we can clearly ill-afford it, as the Tories’ “age of austerity” continues to wither and destroy the very notion of the state as something that should provide a safety net for everyone, without which we seem to be committed only to an ever-increasing gulf between the rich and the poor.

MPs are expected to vote on the renewal of Trident at some point this year, and unfortunately the Parliamentary Labour Party is not entirely united behind Jeremy Corbyn, who spoke at the rally, and who has been a lifelong member of CND. See my article from last summer — and my photos — of Jeremy at CND’s Hiroshima Day 70th Anniversary Ceremony in Tavistock Square for a further show of his commitment to peace. Read the rest of this entry »

Video: Andy Worthington’s Band The Four Fathers Launch YouTube Channel, Play ‘Song for Shaker Aamer’ Unplugged

A screenshot of a video featuring Andy Worthington and Richard Clare, two of The Four Fathers, playing an acoustic version of 'Song for Shaker Aamer.'I’ve just launched a YouTube channel for my band The Four Fathers. We’re based in Lewisham, in south east London, and we’re four fathers, as the name suggests — myself on lead vocals and guitar, Richard Clare on guitar and backing vocals, Bren Horstead on drums and percussion and Andrew Fifield on flute and harmonica — plus, last but by no means least, Louis Sills-Clare, Richard’s son, on bass.

The first video I’ve uploaded (see below) features myself and Richard Clare playing an acoustic version of ‘Song for Shaker Aamer’, the song I wrote last year that was used in the campaign video for We Stand With Shaker, the campaign I launched last November with my activist friend Joanne MacInnes, which has just met with considerable success, as it was announced on Friday that Shaker will soon be released, after nearly 14 years in US custody without charge or trial, and over eight years since he was first told that he would be freed.

The version played by the full band is the opening track on The Four Fathers’ debut album, ‘Love and War,’ which we released on CD in July. It’s available here as a download, for 80p ($1.25), although you can pay more if you want, and 25% of the money received will be donated to Shaker’s family. The other songs on the album are also available to download for 60p ($0.93) each, or you can buy the whole eight-track album as a download for £4.50 ($7) or on CD, with two extra tracks, for £7 ($10.85). As with ‘Song for Shaker Aamer’, you can pay more if you wish for any of the songs or for the album, and if you do so that will be very greatly appreciated. Read the rest of this entry »

Report and Photos: The Massive March for Refugees in London – and Jeremy Corbyn’s Victory

A placard on the huge march in support of refugees in London on September 12, 2015, the same day that Jeremy Corbyn was elected as leader of the Labour Party (Photo: Andy Worthington).See my photos on Flickr of the huge march in London calling for more refugees to be welcomed in the UK.

For anyone not in thrall to a cruel and self-serving neo-liberal worldview, in which the rich get richer and the poor get poorer until we return to some sort of feudal nightmare, yesterday was a truly inspirational day. In the morning, Jeremy Corbyn won the Labour leadership campaign, with an astonishing 251,000 votes — 59.5% of the total, and 49% of the votes cast by full-time party members, rather than those like me who paid £3 to vote for him (and who didn’t get “purged”). Jeremy’s nearest rival, Andy Burnham, got just 19% of the vote, Yvette Cooper got 17% and Liz Kendall got just 4.5%. Read about Jeremy’s vision for the future of the Labour Party and of the UK in an exclusive article in the Observer today.

As I mentioned on Facebook just after the result was announced, “The people have spoken. It’s time for a renewed Labour Party — of the people for the people. This is the most hopeful moment for politics in the UK since before Thatcher’s baleful victory in May 1979. I’m honoured to have got to know Jeremy through his support of the We Stand With Shaker campaign, and look forward to doing whatever I can to support him and to take on and defeat this wretched Tory government.”

In May, before he entered the leadership race, Jeremy visited Washington D.C. as part of a delegation of MPs from the cross-party Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group, set up by his close friend and campaign manager John McDonnell MP last November, but working to close Guantánamo and to get Shaker Aamer released is just one of Jeremy’s — and John’s — many interests that have long coincided with my own views.

Jeremy entered the leadership race as an anti-austerity candidate, and a rank outsider, as he himself would have acknowledged, but it soon turned out that there was a huge appetite for an antidote not only to the Tory government, but also to its echo in the Labour Party, the right-wingers, or the centre-right that, to far too many people, is largely indistinguishable from the Tories. Read the rest of this entry »

Photos: Jeremy Corbyn at CND’s Hiroshima Day 70th Anniversary Ceremony in Tavistock Square

A photo of Hiroshima after the atomic bomb was dropped on the city on August 6, 1945. Up to 80,000 people died instantly, and the death toll by the end of 1945 was around 140,000.

See my photos of the Hiroshima Day 70th Anniversary Ceremony in London on Flickr here!

Yesterday, August 6, was the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, when, for the first time ever, an atomic bomb — dropped by the US — was used on a largely civilian population. I have been an implacable pacifist, and an opponent of nuclear weapons (and nuclear power), all my life, and a particularly important staging post in my development was when I was ten years old, and I watched the whole of the groundbreaking ITV series, ‘The World at War.’

So yesterday I was at Tavistock Square, with hundreds of other opponents of nuclear weapons, for CND‘s Hiroshima Day 70th Anniversary Ceremony, where speakers included the man of the moment, Jeremy Corbyn, who is standing for the leadership of the Labour Party, and is drawing huge crowds at meetings around the country, for two reasons — he presents a compelling anti-austerity point of view, which a significant number of people are crying out for, and he is genuine and honest and not distracted by the politics of personality, when it is the issues — the common good, fighting inequality and caring for our world and each other — that are most important. For just £3 you can become a registered Labour supporter and vote in the leadership election. You have to register by August 12th, ballots will be sent out on the 14th and must be completed, by post or online, by September 10.

I am pleased to have been involved with Jeremy though his membership of the Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group, calling for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, and before he decided to stand in the leadership contest, he was one of four MPs who made up a delegation to Washington D.C., where they met Senators including John McCain and Dianne Feinstein, and also met with representatives of the Obama administration. Read the rest of this entry »

Video: Charlotte Church’s Inspirational Anti-Austerity Speech on June 20

Singer Charlotte Church preparing to make her speech to the huge anti-austerity protest in London on June 20, 2015.Last Saturday, the new Tory government was confronted by a massive anti-austerity protest, when 250,000 people marched through central London to express their dissatisfaction and disgust with the current political situation — one in which a party that gained the support of just 24.4% of the electorate, and 36.1% of those who voted, nevertheless secured 50.9% of the seats, and is committed to more of the ruinous policies implemented over the last five years — more privatisation of essential public services, including the NHS and our schools, more persecution of the poor, the unemployed and the disabled, and more enriching of the already rich, widening the chasm between the rich and poor with every day that passes.

I wrote about the anti-austerity march here and here, and my photos from the day are on Flickr here, and I hope that another opportunity for people to express their rage in significant numbers will be organised in the not too distant future. We need to meet up regularly, to reassure ourselves that we are many, and they are few, and to find ways in which we can work towards the creation of a better world.

At the end of the march last Saturday, protestors filled Parliament Square, where a succession of speakers addressed the crowd, including Labour leadership contender (and We Stand With Shaker supporter) Jeremy Corbyn, Owen Jones, Mark Steel, Caroline Lucas and Russell Brand. Also speaking was Charlotte Church, the Welsh singer-songwriter, actress and television presenter, who was a child star as a classical singer, and who delivered a powerful speech against austerity and in defense of public services. I’m posting the video of her speech below, as well as a transcript of it from her website: Read the rest of this entry »

Photos: The Impressive 250,000-Strong Anti-Austerity March in London

Campaigners on the huge anti-austerity protest in London on June 20, 2015, attended by around 250,000 people (Photo: Andy Worthington).

See my photo set on Flickr here.

Today I was delighted to attend the huge anti-austerity march in central London on June 20 organised by the People’s Assembly Against Austerity. Although the weather was indifferent, the turnout wasn’t, and around 250,000 people marched from the Bank of England to Parliament Square to show the many, many reasons ordinary, hard-working British people have for despising the Tory government, who, in May’s General Election, won over 50% of the seats, with just over 36% of the votes, cast, and the support of less than a quarter of those eligible to vote. See my article here about the need for a new voting system involving  proportional representation.

I arrived by bike in central London after the march had set off, meeting it on Fleet Street and spending some time on the Strand watching the marchers go by, which was where I realised quite how big it was, as the people — cheerful but with a sense of intent and a plethora of excellent hand-made placards — just kept coming. I hope the message that comes through strongly from today’s event is not only a message to the government — that more and more of us are waking up, and we are not happy about what is happening, but also to the organisers of today, and to the unions, who supported it: we need events like this to take place on a regular basis, at least every six months, if not every three, so we can keep showing solidarity with each other, and also to keep demonstrating it to the government.

The Tories’ austerity programme, which has involved massive cuts to the public sector and to the welfare state, including the NHS, and attacks on the unemployed and the disabled, is driven not by need but by a malignant ideology — the desire to privatise almost everything (but not their own salaries, of course) for the benefit of the private sector, often using taxpayers’ money to achieve their ends, and often benefitting them directly, as they are involved in the companies making a profit. Read the rest of this entry »

Photos: March for the Homeless Opposite 10 Downing Street, London, April 15, 2015

A photo from the "March for the Homeless" in London on April 15, 2015 (Photo: Andy Worthington).See my photo set on Flickr here!

On March 15, 2015, 22 events took place in the UK, Ireland, the US and Canada to raise awareness of homelessness, under the umbrella heading, “March for the Homeless.” I attended the protest in London, opposite 10 Downing Street, where campaigners had arranged for homeless voters to register for the General Election on May 7, and there was a free food kitchen.

Homelessness has increased by 55% since the Tory-led coalition government came to power, and, of course, has increased specifically because of the introduction of certain disgraceful policies — the benefit cap, which attempted to portray those receiving benefits as the problem, when the real problem is greedy landlords; and the bedroom tax, whereby a cabinet of millionaires, with more rooms than they can count, passed legislation forcing people on benefits living in social housing who are deemed to have a “spare room” to downsize, even though there are few smaller properties to move to, and many people, treated as worthless “units” by the government and kicked out of their homes, have had to be rehoused in the private sector, thereby increasing the overall housing benefit bill.

An article in the Guardian last June stated that, in 2013, “112,070 people declared themselves homeless in England — a 26% increase in four years. At the same time, the number of people sleeping rough in London grew by 75% to a staggering 6,437.” In addition, as the Streets of London website notes, there are also “around 400,000 ‘hidden homeless’ in the UK, living out of sight in hostels, B&Bs, ‘sofa-surfing’ or squatting.” Read the rest of this entry »

London’s Housing Crisis: Please Support the Sweets Way Tenants Facing Eviction in Barnet

Tenants of Sweets Way Estate in Barnet resisting eviction and the demolition of their homes (Photo via Sweets Way Resists).Please sign and share the Sweets Way tenants’ petition calling for their homes to be saved from demolition on Change.org, and see below for their story. Also see the postscript following the court decision on March 30.

London’s housing crisis is something that preoccupies me on a daily basis, although I don’t get to write about it anywhere near as much as I’d like. As a social housing tenant who has lived in London for 30 years, I can say that, since the Tory-led government came to power five years ago, I have never felt as vulnerable or as demeaned, and I have watched aghast as the current housing bubble has driven house prices beyond the reach of most families — and, perhaps more crucially, has also driven rents to levels never seen before.

With rents and mortgages easily reaching £15,000 or £20,000 a year, matching the median income in London, it is understandable why so many hard-working people are now paying out so much for a roof over their heads that they have little left over for their own enjoyment (and crucially, to put into the wider economy), or cannot make ends meet and are obliged to use food banks, or are having to leave London entirely.

In addition, for many social tenants, life is increasingly insecure, as cash-strapped councils claim that they are unable to afford the maintenance on aging estates, and, as a result, sell the land to developers to build new estates, from which existing tenants are priced out, replaced by foreign investors and relatively wealthy British buyers. These developments are supposed to include “affordable” social housing, but more often than not whatever social component exists is actually unaffordable for most workers, because, in September 2013, London’s Mayor, Boris Johnson, set affordable rents at 80 percent of market rents. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

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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