“First They Came for the Travellers”: Priti Patel’s Chilling Attack on Britain’s Travelling Communities

A composite image of the home secretary Priti Patel and a Gypsy caravan.

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I’ve chosen my headline with care, in response to the news that the home secretary, Priti Patel, has launched a horrible attack on Britain’s travelling community, suggesting that the police should be able to immediately confiscate the vehicle of “anyone whom they suspect to be trespassing on land with the purpose of residing on it”, and announcing her intention to “test the appetite to go further” than any previous proposals for dealing with Gypsies and travellers.

As George Monbiot explained in an article for the Guardian on Wednesday, “Until successive Conservative governments began working on it, trespass was a civil and trivial matter. Now it is treated as a crime so serious that on mere suspicion you can lose your home.” Monbiot added, “The government’s proposal, criminalising the use of any place without planning permission for Roma and Travellers to stop, would extinguish the travelling life.” 

“First they came for the travellers” alludes to the famous poem by the German pastor Martin Niemöller with reference to the Nazis, which begins, “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a socialist”, and continues with reference to trade unionists and Jews, and ending, “Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.”

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Murderous Intent and Breathtakingly Cynical Opportunism: The Contours of the Brexit-Fuelled New English Civil War

Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings.

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The last few days have been a particularly dispiriting time to be living in Britain, as anger over the failure of the UK to leave the EU — anger deliberately provoked by our disgraceful Prime Minister Boris Johnson — has begun manifesting itself in threats of, and incitements to violence by prominent Brexiteers.

Boris Johnson, elected by just 92,153 Tory Party members, and with no majority in Parliament, is largely leading this thrust towards violent, and even murderous intent. Last week, Johnson, who is aggressively pushing for a no-deal Brexit on October 31, was compelled to recall Parliament, after the Supreme Court ruled that his decision to prorogue (suspend) it was unlawful, but when he appeared before MPs, he not only failed to apologise, but suggested that the court’s ruling was wrong.

Since then, he has begun suggesting that the justices should be approved by Parliament, which is alarming in and of itself, but the biggest immediate problem with his rhetoric is that it adds fuel to Brexiteers’ notion of judges as “the enemy”, and as “traitors”, which began when, after the referendum, the High Court supported a lawsuit brought by the businesswoman Gina Miller, establishing that Parliament had the right to be consulted before Article 50 (triggering the UK’s departure from the EU) was invoked by the then-Prime Minister Theresa May.

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Brexit, Boris the Narcissist Clown and “Career Psychopath” Dominic Cummings

Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings, in an image produced for the Daily Telegraph.

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It’s now two weeks since 92,153 members of the Conservative Party voted for Boris Johnson to be the new Party leader — and Britain’s new Prime Minister. 

Johnson, in case you’ve just landed on earth from outer space, is an Etonian who pretends to play the buffoon (although behind it lurks a vile temper), and who, for eight dreadful years, was London’s Mayor, when he showed little or no interest in the actual requirements of the job, indulged in countless expensive vanity projects, and pandered shamefully to foreign investors with money. 

Johnson’s elevation to the leadership of the UK was greeted by his former editor at the Daily Telegraph, Max Hastings, with the most extraordinary put-down of his unsuitability to be PM in an article for the Guardian entitled, ‘I was Boris Johnson’s boss: he is utterly unfit to be prime minister.’

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With 25 Days to Brexit, The Four Fathers Release New Single ‘I Want My Country Back (From The People Who Wanted Their Country Back)’

The cover of 'I Want My Country Back (From The People Who Wanted Their Country Back)' by The Four Fathers (cover image by Brendan Horstead).Today marks 25 days until the UK is supposed to leave the EU, and my band The Four Fathers are taking the opportunity to release — via Bandcamp — our anti-Brexit anthem, ‘I Want My Country Back (From The People Who Wanted Their Country Back)’, which has become something of a live favourite over the last couple of years.

Please have a listen to it, share it if you like it, and, if you want, you can even buy it as a download (for £1/$1.25 — or more if you wish).

I wrote it in the weeks after the referendum, when the chorus came to me out of the blue — as often happens to me — and I then struggled to hammer out some verses, aimed at the stupidity, arrogance and lies of, variously, Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage and David Cameron. However, although the chorus arrived fully-formed and has never changed, I thoroughly revised the lyrics for the verses after discussions with my friend, the musician and producer Charlie Hart, whose suggestions led me in a direction that was — at least partly — more poetic, especially in the song’s opening lines:  Read the rest of this entry »

Alarm as Proposals Emerge to Send ISIS Prisoners to Guantánamo, and the UK Strips “ISIS Bride” of Her Citizenship

"ISIS brides" Shamima Begum and Hoda Muthana (composite image by Ozy).Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.




 

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

17 years after the US tore up international and domestic laws and treaties regarding the treatment of prisoners, in the “war on terror” that George W. Bush declared in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and which led to the establishment of CIA “black sites” and the prison at Guantánamo Bay, those decisions continue to cast a baleful shadow on notions of domestic and international justice.

A case in point concerns foreign nationals seized during the horrendous war in Syria over the last eight years. 

From the start of his presidency, Donald Trump made it clear that he wanted to send new prisoners to Guantánamo, and those involved in Daesh (more commonly referred to in the West as ISIS or the Islamic State) were particularly singled out.

Fortunately, wiser heads prevailed, and the proposals came to nothing. Some of those advising Trump pointed out that it seemed probable that a new Congressional authorization would be required to send prisoners to Guantánamo who were not explicitly involved with al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or the 9/11 attacks, and, in any case, others recognized that Guantánamo was no place to send anyone if there was any intention of delivering anything resembling justice. Read the rest of this entry »

As the Stansted 15 Avoid Jail, The “Hostile Environment” Continues with Disgraceful New Windrush Flight to Jamaica

The Stansted 15 on Wednesday February 6, 2019, outside Chelmsford Crown Court, on the day they learned that no one would face a custodial sentence for their role in preventing a deportation flight from leaving the airport in March 2017.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.




 

So there was good news on Wednesday, as the Stansted 15 — activists who prevented a deportation flight from leaving Stansted Airport for west Africa in March 2017 — avoided jail. Three received suspended sentences (with two also receiving 250 hours of community service, with 100 hours for the third), eleven others were given 100 hours of community service, while the 15th “received a 12-month community order with 20 days of rehabilitation”, as the Guardian described it.

However, two troubling aspects of the story remain significant. The first is that the protestors were convicted on charges of terrorism, and, alarmingly, that conviction still stands. As Ash Sardar wrote for the Independent, “Rather than being convicted of aggravated trespass, as other protesters who committed similar offences had been in 2016, the Stansted 15 had an initial trespass charge changed four months into their bail to a charge of ‘endangering safety at aerodromes’ – a scheduled terrorist offence, which potentially carries a life sentence.” The 2016 protest, at Heathrow Airport, against proposals for the airport’s expansion, involved three protestors who were part of the later actions at Stansted — the three who received the suspended sentences. 

Continuing with her analysis of the sentencing in the Independent, Ash Sardar added, “This particular bit of legislation – from the Aviation and Maritime Security Act 1990, if anyone’s interested – was brought in after the Lockerbie bombing of 1988. Its application in a protest case is completely unprecedented in English courts. You might not agree with the actions of the Stansted 15, but this punitive and misguided use of legislation to criminalise protesters should have you worried regardless.” Read the rest of this entry »

Why the Conviction of the Stansted 15, on Terrorism-Related Charges, Must Be Overturned

The Stansted 15 (Photo: Kristian Buus / Getty Images).Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.




 

As someone who has spent the last 13 years working to end imprisonment without charge or trial at Guantánamo, it has always been chilling to see these institutional crimes echoed in the UK. Under Tony Blair, foreign-born, alleged terror suspects were held without charge or trial on the basis of secret evidence, while other foreign nationals, and British nationals too, also regarded as terror suspects, were subjected to a form of house arrest, also on the basis of secret evidence, under what were known as “control orders.”

Unfortunately, throughout this period, the use of immigration detention was also on the rise. As the Guardian explained in an article in October based on a survey of its history, “The power to detain was created in the 1971 Immigration Act – however, it was not until the Labour government under Tony Blair that the detention estate expanded to become what it is today. In 2000, detention centres could hold 475 people, with another 200 or so held under immigration powers in prisons. Capacity has now expanded to about 3,500 spaces.”

The Guardian article noted that “[m]ore than 27,000 people were detained in 2017, according to the most recent figures”, adding, “Detention is now a significant part of the UK’s immigration enforcement efforts, but locking up immigrants without a time limit is a relatively recent phenomenon.” Read the rest of this entry »

Photos: The London Protest Against Donald Trump’s UK Visit, July 13, 2018

Some of my photos from the protest in London against Donald Trump's UK visit on July 13, 2018.Please check out my photo set on Flickr!

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So yesterday a huge protest against Donald Trump, on his first visit to the UK since he became the US president 18 months ago, took place in London. The organisers estimated that almost 250,000 people had turned up, and I was delighted to see so many witty handmade placards, and so many young people showing up to tell Trump that he is not welcome here. Much of the focus, of course, was on his position as the world’s most powerful sexual predator, but there were also numerous placards taking aim at his recent and thoroughly disgraceful immigration clampdown, when he separated children from their parents and imprisoned them.

I was, of course, delighted to see large numbers of people — and particularly women and girls — protesting against Trump, but from the beginning of his presidency, when a visit was first planned, and then called off because of the anticipated scale of protests against him, I have made a point of stating that, while I understand the particular horror of Trump’s role as a sexual predator and people’s opposition to him on that basis, on everything else we should be out on the streets every day protesting against the vile Theresa May and her vile government. In her six years as home secretary, May was persistently racist, xenophobic and Islamophobic, and, of course, was behind the “hostile environment” for immigrants that led to people who were part of the post-war Windrush generation form the Caribbean being forcibly sent back to their countries of origin, despite having lived in the UK for decades.

That said, it is clear that the sheer size of yesterday’s protest ought to give us hope for the future, as it represented, in many ways, a coming together of the many, many different groups of people affected by Donald Trump and what he represents, and if we can do this for Trump then perhaps we can do it again once he’s gone home, and we’re still stuck wth the most ideologically bankrupt government of my lifetime, in which most of the issues that brought people together in such large numbers yesterday are still as relevant — a right-wing, racist, xenophobic, Islamophobic government composed mostly of old white people, hopelessly embroiled in a Brexit nightmare of their own making, that, like Trump’s election, needs to be seen as the death rattle of this old white world. Read the rest of this entry »

Basketcase Britain: Two Years After the EU Referendum, the Tories Are Still Clueless and Racism Is Still Rampant

An apocalyptic view of London (image via Reddit).Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.




 

Exactly two years ago, Britain went to the polls for what turned out to be one of the most depressing days, politically, in my entire life, as a small majority (51.89%) of the 72.21% of the population who could be bothered to vote expressed their desire to leave the EU.

The referendum was merely advisory; in other words, it was not legally binding, but the government never acknowledged this. In fact, referendums involving major constitutional change generally require at least a two-thirds majority, but the Tories ignored that as well.

David Cameron, who had called the referendum to placate UKIP and the far right of his own party, and had mistakenly thought it would be an easy win, walked off unscathed into the sunset, and after a short bloodbath the hapless Theresa May — who had spent six years as a horribly racist Home Secretary — was apparently the only senior minister left standing who could take over. Read the rest of this entry »

Photos: The Powerful Grenfell Protest Outside Parliament, May 14, 2018, and Updates About Safety Concerns

Four of my photos from the Grenfell protest outside Parliament on May 14, 2018. Clockwise from top left: Natasha Alcock of Grenfell United, Moyra Samuels of Justice4Grenfell, Diane Abbott MP and Grenfell community organiser Niles Hailstones.See my photos on Flickr here! And please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.





 

Please also check out ‘Grenfell’ by my band The Four Fathers, and please mark the following date in your diary: Saturday June 16, ‘One year on: Justice for Grenfell Solidarity March’, organised by Justice4Grenfell, starting outside 10 Downing St at noon.

Monday May 14, 2018 marked eleven months since the fire that engulfed Grenfell Tower, in north Kensington, killing over 70 people in an inferno that should never have occurred, and, to mark the occasion, survivors, members of the local community and supporters from across London converged on Parliament as MPs were preparing to debate the government’s response to the disaster, as I discussed in my previous article, Grenfell Campaigners Mark Eleven Months Since the Disaster That Killed 71, As MPs Debate the Government’s Response, written after I had attended the rally in Parliament Square

I also took photos, featuring representatives of survivors’ groups and the local community (including Justice4Grenfell and Grenfell United), which I have just posted to Flickr, so the purpose of this article is to provide a link to the photos, but also to provide some important updates on the Grenfell story that have emerged over the last few days.

The Parliamentary debate was taking place because, after the fire, Theresa May had announced the launch of an official inquiry, but campaigners wanted representatives from the local community to be involved, and launched a petition demanding this from the government, which secured the 100,000 signatures that made it eligible for a Parliamentary debate after grime star Stormzy promoted it to his many followers in February. 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 (The State of London).
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