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 »
I have been visiting WOMAD — World of Music, Arts and Dance, the world music festival established by Peter Gabriel and a number of colleagues in 1982 — as an artist since 2002, helping my wife run children’s workshops with a number of other friends, and this year our posse — eight adults, five teenagers and two children — survived the rainiest WOMAD in our collective experience, although it couldn’t dampen our spirits, or that of WOMAD as a whole. (See here and here for my photos from 2012, and here for 2014).
WOMAD has been based at Charlton Park in Wiltshire, in the grounds of a stately home, since 2007, notorious in WOMAD’s history as the year when the new site was churned up before the festival even began and turned into an unparalleled mudfest as soon as the festival-goers arrived. This year wasn’t quite as arduous as 2007, but it wasn’t far off. Friday began and ended with rain (often torrential), and although Saturday was sunny, it began raining again on the Sunday and didn’t let up much for the rest of the day — although there was a wonderful interlude when the sun shone for the children’s procession, an annual highlight of the festival.
So while we were inconvenienced and tested by the weather, we continued to take in the great music that is always on offer, and this year my discoveries included Pascuala Ilabaca, a Chilean singer and accordion player, with the voice of an angel, the powerful African reggae singer Tiken Jah Fakoly, and the Atomic Bomb! Band playing the music of the reclusive Nigerian funk star William Onyeabor, while old faves included the Tuareg desert blues of Tinariwen. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
Since the Tories got back into power, without even needing the Lib Dems for a coalition, thanks to the unfairness of the “first past the post” voting system, the largely corrupt and biased British media and the propensity of voters outside Scotland to vote Tory (and UKIP) in slightly larger numbers than Labour and the Green Party, it is obvious that any of us who care about society, community, the welfare state, the NHS, social housing, the working class, the poor, the unemployed, the disabled, Muslims and immigrants have a huge fight on our hands for the next five years — unless, as is to be hoped, the Tories manage to tear themselves apart.
I confess that I was reassured that, the moment it became obvious that, with the support of just 24.4% of the electorate and 36.9% of those who voted, the Tories had managed to secure 50.8% of the seats in the General Election on May 7, spontaneous protests took place in London and Cardiff.
I think we need to be on the streets as much as possible, to show our discontent, and to remind ourselves that we are not alone, and I hope that the national anti-austerity protest in London on June 20, organised by the People’s Assembly Against Austerity, will be as big as possible. The Facebook page is here. Read the rest of this entry »
Today, the We Stand With Shaker campaign, launched last November by the campaigning freelance journalist Andy Worthington and the activist Joanne MacInnes to call for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, published the 70th photo of a high-profile supporter standing with the giant inflatable figure of Shaker that is at the heart of the campaign.
The 70th photo was of the journalist Yvonne Ridley, who joins a roll-call of MPs — from across the political spectrum — as well as actors, comedians, writers, directors, musicians, and activists who have stood with Shaker outside Parliament, and at a variety of locations across London, since the campaign began.
The inflatable figure has proven to be one of those campaigning tools that captures people’s imagination, and our launch — attended by Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters, Clive Stafford Smith of Reprieve, comedian Jeremy Hardy, activist Peter Tatchell and the MPs John McDonnell (Labour, Hayes and Harlington) and Caroline Lucas (Green, Brighton Pavilion) — was swiftly followed by high-level support from the Daily Mail, which ran a front-page story condemning Shaker’s ongoing imprisonment, almost eight years after he was first approved for release by the US authorities, and then followed up with support for the campaign and for our open letter to David Cameron, which MPs and our celebrity supporters signed in significant numbers. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
Yesterday, I was delighted to be a speaker at the Not the Global Law Summit, held in Old Palace Yard, opposite the Houses of Parliament, and also to have an opportunity to take the photos you can see in my photo set here. The event was called as a protest against the Global Law Summit, a three-day event taking place in the nearby Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, where tickets are £1500 (or £1750 on the door), and 2,000 delegates are in attendance from 110 countries, including 90 government ministers (see the speaker list here). As I mentioned in the text accompanying my photos, the Global Law Summit purports to celebrate Magna Carta in the year of its 800th anniversary, but in fact celebrates the law as a facilitator for corporate greed and unaccountable power.
The Not the Global Law Summit was also part of an ongoing campaign by the organisers, the Justice Alliance, to resist savage cuts to legal aid proposed by the Tory-led coalition government, and primarily by its chief butcher of the legal world, Chris Grayling, the first Lord Chancellor who is not from a legal background.
The Not the Global Law Summit also took place after a three-day Relay for Rights, featuring a giant puppet of Chris Grayling as King John, in the stocks. The Relay involved a 42-mile walk from Runnymede, where Magna Carta was signed in 1215, whose most lasting outcome was the creation of habeas corpus — the right not to be arbitrarily imprisoned, and to have a fair trial — which has been exported around the world and is our greatest defence against executive overreach. Read the rest of this entry »
February 14, 2015 was the 13th anniversary of the arrival at Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, who, disgracefully, is still held, despite being approved for release by the US authorities twice, in 2007 and 2009.
To mark the occasion, the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, with support from other groups including We Stand With Shaker (the group co-founded in November by Andy Worthington and Joanne MacInnes), the London Guantánamo Campaign, Reprieve and various Amnesty International groups held a lively protest opposite 10 Downing Street, with a number of speakers including Joy Hurcombe, the chair of SSAC, Katie Taylor of Reprieve, the journalists Yvonne Ridley and Victoria Brittain, the peace activist Bruce Kent, Andy Worthington and Shaykh Suliman Ghani, a teacher and broadcaster, and a friend of Shaker’s family. The speakers were ably coordinated by the campaigner David Harrold.
It was a great turnout, as I hope the photos show, and the particular focus of the event — just across the road — was David Cameron, the British Prime Minister. The British government claims that it is doing all it can to secure Shaker’s release, but that ultimately his fate is the in the hands of his US captors, but that is simply untrue. David Cameron could secure his return if he made it enough of a priority, which he should be doing, as Shaker is a legal British resident, with permanent leave to remain, and if any other legal resident found themselves imprisoned without charge or trial for years, and tortured, it is a safe bet to say that they would already have been released. Read the rest of this entry »
The last week has been hugely busy for campaigners working to try to secure the closure of Guantánamo; and, specifically, the release of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison. February 14 was the 13th anniversary of Shaker’s arrival at Guantánamo, even though he was first told nearly eight years ago that the US no longer wanted to hold him, and, in 2009, was approved for release a second time by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after first taking office in January 2009.
His continued imprisonment is an absolute disgrace — for both the British and American governments — and no more excuses are acceptable, although they continue to be furnished by both sides. Last month, Shaker’s case was raised by David Cameron when he met President Obama in the US, but that only led to the president promising to “prioritize” his case, which has led nowhere to date. In fact, the outcome of this meeting was pure evasion: if Shaker’s case was genuinely prioritized, he would be home in London with his family a month from now — after the required 30-day notice to Congress — whereas the outgoing defense secretary Chuck Hagel, who must make the certifications to Congress that it is safe to release prisoners, recently explained that he hadn’t even been given Shaker’s file.
On the eve of the 13th anniversary of Shaker’s arrival at Guantánamo, the We Stand With Shaker campaign, which I established with Joanne MacInnes in November, planned to hand in a giant Valentine’s Day card for Shaker to the Ambassador, Matthew W. Barzun, with the following message: “We urge you to ask President Obama to secure the immediate release from Guantánamo of British resident Shaker Aamer. Please tell the president we want Shaker returned to his loved ones in London now.” Supporters were also encouraged to send smaller versions of the card directly to the Ambassador. Read the rest of this entry »
What an excellent event the ‘March for Homes‘ turned out to be.
Despite hideously inclement weather — it was bitterly cold, and the rain was almost freezing — an estimated 5,000 people marched to City Hall from the Elephant & Castle in south east London and Shoreditch in east London on Saturday to call for secure and genuinely affordable housing for all.
As I explained in the text accompanying my photo set on Flickr:
The protest had real passion and energy, which to be honest, was unsurprising, given the extent of the housing crisis in London, with mortgages unaffordable for ordinary working people, rents spiralling out of control, unscrupulous landlords unfettered by any kind of legislation to protect tenants, and developers making more and more unaffordable new properties for a marketplace swimming with foreign investors, vying with rich Britons to fleece ordinary workers and to drive the unfortunately unemployed out of London altogether.
I wrote my thoughts about the London housing crisis in detail in an article on Thursday, which I recommend for those who want know more of what I think about the single most severe problem currently facing millions of Londoners — the unacceptably disproportionate cost of their housing. It deserves to be a hot election topic, but it remains to be seen if the Labour Party will rise to the occasion — beyond their pledge to scrap the hated bedroom tax — or, if not, if campaigners for restraints on the private rental market, those in social housing and those seeking to preserve it, trade union representatives, members of the Green Party, left-wing Labour Party members and others interested in the importance of social housing can build and sustain a campaign that places housing at the heart of policy-making, where, along with jobs for all (a generally undiscussed topic), it deserves to be. Personally, I’d like to see another ‘March for Homes’ take place in the spring, before the election, when, with good weather, it could be a huge event. Read the rest of this entry »
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