My Band The Four Fathers Launch A Year of Political Gigs in Walthamstow This Saturday, In A Protest Against Another Divisive Private Development

The poster for the occupation of Walthamstow Town Square on February 24, 2018 at which The Four Fathers are playing.Check out all The Four Fathers’ studio recordings here, and the video of our song ‘Grenfell’ here.

Kicking off a year of varied gigs — involving a healthy dose of political events and community festivals — Lewisham-based band The Four Fathers are heading to Walthamstow this Saturday, February 24, to play a few songs (including ‘London’ and ‘Fighting Injustice’) at an occupation of Walthamstow Town Square by campaigners resisting plans to redevelop the square, primarily because of their opposition to the lack of genuinely affordable housing in the planned new development, but also because of concerns about the size of the towers that are proposed for the site, and the loss of public land in the centre of the town.

Please note that I’m also attending a screening of ‘Concrete Soldiers UK‘, the new documentary film about the housing crisis, directed by Nikita Woolfe, and for which I’m the narrator, at Harmony Hall in Walthamstow at 6pm, and also staying on afterwards what I hope will be a lively post-screening Q&A session. Further details here.

The Observer picked up on the story this weekend, in large part because of Walthamstow’s proximity to Haringey, where, last month, council leader Claire Kober announced her resignation, after an extraordinary grass-roots campaign to stop the council from entering into a unprecedented £2bn deal with the international property developer Lendlease, which would have seen much of Haringey’s social housing, and other assets, put into a 50:50 development project with Lendlease, known as the Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV). Read the rest of this entry »

On Brexit, the Observer Pulls No Punches With a Suitably Savage Editorial Just Before Theresa May Triggers Article 50

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It’s nine months since normal life in Britain came to an abrupt end after the EU referendum, when, by a narrow majority, 37.4% of the eligible voters in the UK voted to leave the EU (while 34.7% voted to remain, and 27.9% didn’t vote). Never mind that the outcome of the referendum was only advisory; never mind that everyone agrees that events involving cataclysmic constitutional change should never be decided by less than a two-thirds or 60% majority — the Tories, most of the rest of Britain’s political class, and the media all behaved as though the “will of the people” — the will of the 37.4% — had to be obeyed.

After a leadership bloodbath, in which David Cameron resigned, and the Leave campaign’s leaders, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, were also revealed as toxic, home secretary Theresa May, nominated by just 199 MPs, became the Prime Minister, and set about becoming nothing less than a tyrant. Although Leave voters had tended to insist that their vote was about restoring sovereignty to the UK, when it came down to it they seemed not to care that sovereignty in the UK resides with Parliament, and not the PM and/or her ministers, and were content to let May insist that she alone — with the assistance of her three Brexit ministers, the hapless David Davis, the dangerously right-wing Liam Fox, and the clown Boris Johnson, recalled from the dead — should decide everything about how Brexit would take place without consulting with Parliament at all. When concerned citizens took May to court and won, the Daily Mail called the judges “enemies of the people,” and far too many Leave voters agreed, showed their true, violent colours.

However, when it came to acknowledging Parliament’s role, May continued to treat MPs with contempt. After appealing, and losing again in the Supreme Court, she and her ministers issued a tiny Brexit bill, and then told MPs to vote for it, disempowering themselves despite the judges’ best efforts to empower them. Rational and/or morally necessary amendments to the bill — guaranteeing EU citizens the right to stay in the UK, for example, and guaranteeing Parliament a final say on the final deal, two years from now — were defeated, with Tory MPs in seats that voted Remain whipped into silence, and Jeremy Corbyn attempting to whip all his MPs to follow suit. When the Lords reinstated the amendments, MPs voted them down again. Read the rest of this entry »

As Racism Spreads and Economic Woes Increase, Is the Tide Starting to Turn Against Brexit?

A selection of racist headlines from the UK's tabloid newspapers, as highlighted in a Hope Not Hate feature in January 2014.

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On the face of it, only a little, but beneath the surface all is not right with the Brexit camp, as Britain — or perhaps, particularly, England — has settled into some horrible racist reality that ought to alarm all decent human beings. This week, as child refugees with relatives in the UK were finally allowed into the country after months languishing in the refugee camp in Calais (the so-called “Jungle”) because the government, up to that point, had done nothing, the response of our disgusting right-wing tabloid newspapers — the Mail, the Sun, the Express, the Star — was to claim that they were not children (I was reminded of Donald Rumsfeld and Chief of Staff Richard Myers claiming that the children held at Guantánamo were not children).

Then the disgusting ordinary racists of Britain got involved — the seemingly countless numbers of people empowered since the referendum result to be even more openly racist than previously, and, of course, those who, for many years now, have been exulting in their power to write whatever filth they want on social media, up to and including death threats, and mostly to get away with it.

Two particular targets of the online trolls were the singer Lily Allen, who had been reduced to tears after visiting the Calais refugee camp, and had apologised “on behalf of England”, and footballing hero and Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker, who so appalled by the media witch hunt and support for it that he tweeted, “The treatment by some towards these young refugees is hideously racist and utterly heartless. What’s happening to our country?” and then faced calls for him be sacked, which he fought back against admirably, His best response, I thought, was, “Getting a bit of a spanking today, but things could be worse: Imagine, just for a second, being a refugee having to flee from your home.” Read the rest of this entry »

As Boris Johnson Approves Monstrous Convoys Wharf Development, New Campaign Opposes 236 Planned Towers in London

I was rather pleased that I was out of the country when Boris Johnson, London’s Mayor, announced on March 31 that he was approving plans for the development of Convoys Wharf in Deptford, because, in a city overrun with soulless riverside developments, designed almost exclusively for wealthy foreign investors and unaffordable for ordinary Londoners, it is a particularly depressing example, and one that, for me, is close to home, as I live just up the road from Deptford.

The 40-acre riverside site has been vacant since 2000, when it was closed by its last owner, News International, which used it as a dock for importing newsprint, and, since 2002, developers — initially NI itself, and, since 2005, the Hong Kong-based Hutchison Whampoa, which bought the site off NI — have been trying to gain approval for a Dubai-style high-rise residential development on the site, consisting of 3,500 homes, featuring one 48-storey tower, and two 38-storey towers, far higher than anything else on the shoreline for miles around.

Normally, Chinese businessmen with £1bn to spend on luxury housing on London’s riverfront don’t have to wait for years to have their plans accepted, but the problem with Convoys Wharf is that it was and is a place of great historic importance — the site of the first of King Henry VIII’s Royal Dockyards, which was first developed in 1513 to provide ships for England’s rapidly expanding Royal Navy. Read the rest of this entry »

Hunger Strike Resumes at Guantánamo, as Shaker Aamer Loses 30 Pounds in Weight

In alarming news from Guantánamo, Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, has stated that the prisoners have renewed the hunger strike that, earlier this year, involved at least two-thirds of the remaining prisoners, and reawakened the world’s media to the ongoing injustice of Guantánamo.

The hunger strike provided evidence of the men’s despair, after eleven years’ imprisonment without charge or trial, in an experimental prison where they are still in a legal limbo, held neither as criminal suspects nor as prisoners of war. Their despair was heightened by the fact that 82 of them were cleared for release in January 2010 — nearly four years ago — by a high-level Presidential task force, and yet they are still held, and 80 others are, for the most part, detained without charge or trial, and with no sign of when, if ever, they might either be tried or released. As I explained in a recent article for Al-Jazeera, long-promised reviews for most of these 80 men have recently begun, but the process is both slow and uncertain.

In a recent phone call with Clive Stafford Smith, the director of Reprieve, the legal action charity whose lawyers represent 15 men still at Guantánamo, Shaker “revealed there are now 29 Guantánamo hunger strikers, including him, of whom 19 are being force-fed,” as the Observer described it on Sunday.

“The hunger strike is back on,” Shaker said, adding, “The number is increasing almost every day.” He also explained that he has been on the new hunger strike for almost a month and has lost 30 pounds in weight. On November 8 he weighed 188 pounds, and he now weighs 158 pounds. Read the rest of this entry »

“I Wish I Was Dead,” Shaker Aamer Says from Guantánamo, as David Cameron Writes to His Daughter

In a desperate message from Guantánamo, Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, told one of his lawyers by phone, “The administration is getting ever more angry and doing everything they can to break our hunger strike. Honestly, I wish I was dead.”

Shaker, who was cleared for release from the prison under President Bush in 2007 and under President Obama in 2009, was speaking to Clive Stafford Smith, the director of the legal action charity Reprieve, and his words were reported in the Observer, which also noted his claims that “the US authorities are systematically making the regime more hardline to try to defuse the strike, which now involves almost two-thirds of the detainees.”

As the Observer explained:

Techniques include making cells “freezing cold” to accentuate the discomfort of those on hunger strike and the introduction of “metal-tipped” feeding tubes, which Aamer said were forced into inmates’ stomachs twice a day and caused detainees to vomit over themselves.

The 46-year-old from London tells of one detainee who was admitted to hospital 10 days ago after a nurse had pushed the tube into his lungs rather than his stomach, causing him later to cough up blood. Aamer also alleges that some nurses at Guantánamo Bay are refusing to wear their name tags in order to prevent detainees registering abuse complaints against staff. Read the rest of this entry »

Happy Birthday, Amnesty International: Peter Benenson’s “The Forgotten Prisoners” Published 50 Years Ago Today

Exactly 50 years ago, on May 28, 1961, the Observer gave over its front page to an article entitled, “The Forgotten Prisoners,” by the lawyer Peter Benenson, who had conceived of a worldwide campaign, “Appeal for Amnesty,” to urge governments to release or give a fair trial to people imprisoned because of their political or religious views. Benenson drew on Article 18 and 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the extraordinary post-war manifesto for a better world, which had been launched 13 years before, and his appeal — with its description of “prisoners of conscience” and its immortal line, “if these feelings of disgust all over the world could be united into common action, something effective could be done” — immediately drew supporters.

Within a year, Amnesty International was formed, which, as a blog post stated yesterday, “has grown to a global movement of 3 million supporters, members and activists with 18 national sections and 850 groups in over 27 countries.” Along the way, Peter Benenson’s original vision has been broadened to include, from the 1980s onwards, work on refugees and human rights education. In 1991, Amnesty decided to promote all the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and in 2001 began to focus on “economic, social and cultural rights, paving the way for global campaigns on maternal mortality, slums and corporate accountability.”

On this important day, I’d like to wish Amnesty International a very happy 50th birthday, and to note how delighted I have been to work with Amnesty as part of its campaign to close Guantánamo and to secure justice for the prisoners still held there, including Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, particularly through the ongoing tour of “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” which I co-directed with Polly Nash. Mainly involving screenings to Amnesty student groups, the tour grew out of an invitation to speak at last year’s student conference in London. This was a wonderful and inspiring event, which, in turn, followed a screening of “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” at Amnesty’s London headquarters in February 2010. 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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