31 years ago, the British state, under Margaret Thatcher, committed one of its most violent acts against its own citizens, at the Battle of the Beanfield, when a group of travellers — men, women and children — who were driving to Stonehenge from Savernake Forest to establish what would have been the 12th annual Stonehenge Free Festival were set upon by tooled-up police from six counties, and the Ministry of Defence. The travellers were outnumbered three to one, while the police were at the height of their use as a paramilitary force by Margaret Thatcher.
The year before, the police had crushed the miners at Orgreave (promoting calls this year for an official inquiry after the belated triumph of victims’ families against the police at the Hillsborough Inquest), and the assault on the travelling community had started shortly after, when a group of travellers were harried from a festival in the north of England. Some of this group joined up with other travellers, festival-goers and green activists at Molesworth, in Cambridgeshire, the planned location for Britain’s second cruise missile base, where a peace camp was set up, following the example of the Women’s peace camp at Greenham Common, set up in opposition to the first cruise missile base. The Molesworth camp was, in turn, shut down by the largest peacetime mobilisation of troops, in February 1985, and for the next four months the travellers were harassed until June 1, when the Battle of the Beanfield took place.
The Beanfield was a horrible example of state violence, with both short-term and long-term implications. Severe damage was done to Britain’s traveller community, who had been seeking to create an alternative culture of free festivals from May to October every year, and who, as Molesworth showed, were not just hedonists, but also had ecological and anti-nuclear aims. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
On Monday, after an exclusive interview with the Mail on Sunday, published the day before (which I wrote about here and here), both the BBC and ITV News ran interviews with Shaker Aamer, who, until October 30, when he was freed, was the last British resident in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
I am delighted to have played a part in securing Shaker’s release through ten years of writing about Guantánamo, and campaigning to get the prison closed, and, for the last eleven months of Shaker’s imprisonment, through the We Stand With Shaker campaign that I launched with the activist Joanne MacInnes last November.
I have also had the pleasure of meeting Shaker since his release, and was delighted to find that everything I had worked out about him from the reports that have emerged from Guantánamo and from those who know him — his eloquence, his intelligence and his implacable devotion to tackling injustice — was accurate, and this was also evident in his interview with Victoria Derbyshire for her morning show on BBC2, which I’m posting below via YouTube where it has already received over 55,000 views.
Note: Please be aware there are a few glitches in the video, where the sound and images are lost for a few seconds and there is only disturbing white noise. Read the rest of this entry »
What a long road to justice this is turning out to be. Back in December 2011, Abdel Hakim Belhaj (aka Belhadj), a former opponent of the Gaddafi regime, who, in 2004, in an operation that involved the British security services, was kidnapped in China with his pregnant wife and delivered to Colonel Gaddafi, first attempted to sue the British government — and, specifically, the former foreign secretary, Jack Straw, MI6’s former director of counter-terrorism, Sir Mark Allen, the Foreign Office, the Home Office and MI5.
Since then, the government has fought to prevent him having his day in court, but on Thursday the court of appeal ruled, as the Guardian described it, that the case “should go ahead despite government attempts to resist it on grounds of the ‘act of state doctrine’, arguing that the courts could not inquire into what happened because it involved a foreign state.” The Guardian added that the ruling “establishes a significant precedent for other claims,” although it is possible, of course, that the Foreign Office will appeal to the Supreme Court.
The Guardian also noted that the British government had “maintained that the UK’s relations with the US would be seriously damaged if Belhaj was allowed to sue and make his case in a British court.” However, the judgment said that “while the trial relating to the couple’s rendition was likely to require a British court to assess the wrongfulness of acts by the CIA and Libyan agents, that was no reason to bar the claim.” Read the rest of this entry »
29 years ago, on June 1, 1985, a convoy of around 450 men, women and children — travellers, anarchists, free festival goers and green activists — were ambushed by 1,400 police from six counties and the Ministry of Defence, and decommissioned with a violence that has rarely been paralleled in modern British history.
The convoy was en route to Stonehenge, to set up what would have been the 11th annual free festival in the fields opposite Britain’s most famous ancient monument, but the savage decommissioning of the travellers’ vehicles, their mass arrest, and the raising of a military-style exclusion zone around Stonehenge put paid to that prospect.
The exclusion zone was raised every June for the next 13 years, until the law lords ruled it illegal in 1999, and since then English Heritage have allowed unfettered access to the stones on the summer solstice, with up to 30,000 revellers — everyone from pagan priests to teenage party-goers — availing themselves of the “Managed Open Access” policy. Read the rest of this entry »
Please note that my books Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield are both still available, and I also wholeheartedly recommend Travelling Daze: Words and Images from the UK’s New Travellers and Festivals, Late 1960s to the Here and Now, Alan Dearling’s epic review of the traveller scene (to which I was one of many contributors), which was published last year, and is essential reading for anyone interested in Britain’s traveller history.
Every year, on the summer solstice, I am confronted by two particular questions, as, I’m sure, are many people old enough to have spent their youth growing up under Margaret Thatcher, or in the years previously, under Ted Heath’s Tory government, and the Labour governments of Harold Wilson and Jim Callaghan, when an unofficial civil war was taking place in British society.
Those two questions are: what happened to my youth, and what happened to massive, widespread societal dissent?
The former of course, is an existential question, which only young people don’t understand. It’s 29 years since the last Stonehenge Free Festival, an annual anarchic jamboree that lasted for the whole of June, when Britain’s alternative society set up camp in the fields across the road from Stonehenge, and it’s 39 years since the first festival was established, by an eccentric young man named Phil Russell, or, as his friends and admirers remember him, Wally Hope. Read the rest of this entry »
To paraphrase William Shakespeare, I came to bury Margaret Thatcher, not to praise her. However, due to a hospital appointment, I missed the procession and only arrived at St. Paul’s Cathedral after the funeral service, when the guests were leaving, although I was in time to take a few photos as reminders of the day when the woman was laid to rest who, during my lifetime, did more than any other individual to wreck the country that is my home.
My most fervent hope is that I will live to see Margaret Thatcher’s legacy overturned, and for a caring, inclusive society to replace the one based on greed, selfishness and cruelty that was her malignant gift to the people of Britain.
Since her death last week, I have largely avoided the sickening attempts by the Tories to use it for political gain, although I was absolutely delighted that their insistence on providing a lavish funeral at taxpayers’ expense backfired, because only 25 percent of the public thought that a state funeral was appropriate, and 60 percent opposed it. Read the rest of this entry »
A Riot of Colour, Solidarity and Indignation on the TUC March in London, a set on Flickr.
Following up on the photos I published yesterday of the best placards and banners I saw on Saturday’s 150,000-strong march and rally in central London (“A Future That Works,” organised by the TUC), this second set of photos features the march more generally, and includes photos I took of various union members and activists on Victoria Embankment, and also as the march proceeded up Whitehall, along Piccadilly, and into Hyde Park for the rally at the end of the day.
There various speakers, including Labour leader Ed Miliband, addressed the government’s crimes against British workers — and also schoolchildren, students, the old, the ill, the homeless, the unemployed and the disabled. My archive of articles about the Tories’ wretched policies, and the resistance to them, is here. Read the rest of this entry »
When it comes to dealing with Muslim “terror suspects” in the UK, and recent rulings by the European Court of Human Rights preventing the British government from deporting Abu Qatada to Jordan, but approving the extradition to the US of Abu Hamza, Babar Ahmad, Talha Ahsan and two other men, it is often difficult to discern notions of justice, fairness and a sense of proportion when the opinions of so many politicians and media outlets are clouded by hysteria and — often — racism that is either thinly-veiled, or not even hidden at all.
The problems with the planned deportation of foreign nationals to their home countries, and the extradition of foreigners and British nationals to the US, began under Tony Blair, when, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the government implemented a policy of detention without charge or trial on the basis of secret evidence, and also signed an extradition treaty with the US that required little, if anything in the way of evidence to be provided before “suspects” could be extradited to the US.
In a follow-up article, I will look at the cases of Abu Hamza, Babar Ahmad, Talha Ahsan and the two other men whose extradition to the US was approved last week, but for now I want to focus on the case of Abu Qatada, and his planned deportation to Jordan.
Tony Blair’s policy of detention without charge or trial involved rounding up a number of foreign nationals alleged to be terror suspects — including Abu Qatada — and imprisoning them on the basis of secret evidence that was not disclosed to them. The intention — as well as removing their right to a trial in the country that had exported habeas corpus around the world — was to deport these men to their home countries, ignoring the fact that the UN Convention Against Torture (to which the UK is a signatory) prohibits the return of anyone to a country where they face the risk of torture. Read the rest of this entry »
Originally posted on the “Close Guantánamo” website, and written by Andy Worthington.
Ten years ago, on February 14, 2002, Shaker Aamer, a British resident, and originally one of 16 British prisoners in Guantánamo, arrived in Camp X-Ray, the rudimentary prison in the grounds of the US naval base in Cuba’s easternmost bay, which was used to hold prisoners until the first blocks of a more permanent facility, Camp Delta, opened for business in May 2002. On the same day, his fourth child, a son, was born.
A hugely charismatic figure, Aamer, born in Saudi Arabia in 1968, had moved to London in 1996, and had worked as an Arabic translator for a firm of solicitors working on immigration cases. He met and married a British woman and was granted residency. In June 2001, he took his family to Kabul — as did his friend Moazzam Begg — to volunteer for an Islamic charity. As his British solicitor Gareth Peirce noted in the Guardian on Tuesday, “Their work was teaching the sons and daughters of Arabic-speaking expatriates in the capital,” but after 9/11 and the US-led invasion, “the school was flattened in the first days of the bombing.”
Shaker made sure his pregnant wife and their three young children were safe, but was seized by Afghan bounty hunters, at a time when bounty payments of $5,000 a head were widespread. He was then sold on to other bounty hunters on two occasions, and on the third occasion was bought by Northern Alliance soldiers, who eventually handed him over — or sold him — to US forces. Read the rest of this entry »
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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