Message to Jeremy Corbyn: You Represent Hope Not Just Because You Oppose Austerity, But Because You Must Save Us From Brexit

Jeremy Corbyn campaigning for the UK to stay in the EU prior to last June's EU referendum.Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist and commentator.

 

It’s over a month since the General Election, which destroyed Theresa May as any sort of credible leader. Having called an election, despite repeatedly promising not to, she then showed a startling inability to meet ordinary people and to connect with them, in complete contrast to Jeremy Corbyn, and ended up losing her majority, instead of increasingly it massively, as was forecast, forcing her into a humiliating deal with the backwards religious fundamentalists of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party just to keep her government in power.

Corbyn, meanwhile, thrived on the campaign trail. Finally freed from the liberal media’s shameful negative portrayal of him (which had been pretty relentless for two years), because of the liberal establishment’s accepted need for something more closely resembling objectivity on the campaign trail, he was revealed as a leader with the common touch, able to connect with and empathise with ordinary people effortlessly. His supporters always knew this about him, but it had been suppressed by the media — and by Labour rebels — since his election as leader two years ago.

Some of Corbyn’s success came about because of Theresa May’s uselessness. She scored a huge own goal by refusing to debate with him on live TV, and she made colossal errors of her own beyond her woodenness and her apparently very real fear of actually meeting people: the so-called “dementia tax”, for example, an effort to address the costs of care for elderly people that was immediately seized upon — by Conservative voters and the right-wing media, as well as almost everyone else — as a classic “nasty party” attack on the security, savings and assets of the elderly. Read the rest of this entry »

After Grenfell, Andy Worthington’s Band The Four Fathers Release New Single, ‘London’, A Savage Portrait of the UK Capital Hollowed Out By Greed

The cover of The Four Fathers' new single 'London', released on June 23, 2017.In the wake of last week’s entirely preventable inferno at Grenfell Tower in west London, in which, officially, 79 people died (although the real total may well be over 300), the horrendous loss of life — and the fact that it was entirely preventable — has forced London’s housing crisis to the top of the political agenda, although to be honest, that is where it should have been for the whole of the 21st century.

The latest online single released by my band The Four Fathers (also on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube), ‘London’ deals largely with the housing crisis, as part of a love song to the city going back to the 1980s. I moved to Brixton in 1985, and in the song I provide my personal take on how the wild and chaotic capital of the 1980s and 1990s has been overtaken by a focus on greed and the dull, soul-sapping, materialistic values of “gentrification,” and how, in this dysfunctional new world, the vibrant dissent of the 80s and 90s has largely been silenced, and those in charge of housing — endlessly putting profit before the needs of people — have razed neighbourhoods to the ground and given the capital city a lobotomy.

Listen to the single below — and buy it as a download if you wish:

In the first verse, in which London, in the 80s, was “like a lover to me, drunk and disorderly, and full of honesty”, I sing about “the wild pubs and squats,” where we “broke all of the rules,” and in the second verse, about the early 90s (up to the time of Tony Blair), I sing about how rave culture and protest movements like Reclaim the Streets gleefully continued the spirit of dissent.

The reference to the M11 refers to the M11 Link Road that was ploughed through swathes of housing in East London — and resisted by a formidable protest movement — and the CJA, for those who were not around at the time, refers to the Criminal Justice Act, the Tories’ heavy-handed response to the rave culture that saw millions of people dancing and taking drugs every weekend in huge unlicensed raves, and that, in its cross-over with the free festival culture of the 1980s (which was supposed to have been crushed at the Battle of the Beanfield in 1985), created a huge free festival at Castlemorton Common in Gloucestershire on the May Bank Holiday in 1992, when all the tribes and sub-cultures came together in a glorious celebration of dissent — but one that prompted the government to introduce legislation that, as well as severely curtailing the right to gather freely, also allowed the police to shut down events featuring music that was “characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats.”

London, they tried to stop you being free
By selling off your culture and through the death of industry
But you came bouncing back with your pills and your all-night raves
In those glimpses of giddy utopia when millions misbehaved
And you were like the earth mother on drugs from the M11 to Reclaim the Streets
Though they hit us with the CJA and that ban on repetitive beats

After the heady enthusiasm of the early to mid-90s, the most recent dark change came, ironically, with the election of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown’s New Labour in 1997, when, as strategist Peter Mandelson explained, the Labour Party was “intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich.” He added, as has often been forgotten, “as long as they pay their taxes”, but the former is the point about wealth that sunk in, and changed Britain for the worse.

In almost no time at all, a housing bubble began that, by the early years of the 21st century, was already out of control, as house values were increasing at such a rate that people’s houses were making more money than they were in their jobs. As a result of this bubble, endlessly sustained through low interest rates, and a refusal by government to find and publicise any other way for people to invest their money, a fair society is now nothing more than a memory. There was brief puncture to the bubble after the bankers’ (and politicians’) self-inflicted global economic crash of 2008, but then it came back with a vengeance under the Tories, who took power in 2010 (aided by the hapless Liberal Democrats), and, with the assistance of the colossally corrupt Boris Johnson as Mayor of London from 2008-2016, aggressively tried to turn the whole of London into a giant building site for global speculators, while depriving everyone else of the ability to even live with any kind of security.

As I explain in the third verse, focusing on the destruction of London by developers and politicians:

London, you were my impetuous wife
Always out and out of it with a voracious appetite
But oh my darling, the end came with the men in suits
Whose enthusiasm for the super-rich meant they sold you like a prostitute
And when you still weren’t silenced and laughed at their dull complacency
They razed your neighbourhoods to the ground and gave you a lobotomy

And bringing the story up to date in the final verse, with reference to the plague of luxury developments rising up all over London:

London, you’re on a life support machine
In the basement of one of those hundreds of towers being built for a foreign elite
And oh my baby, I hope that you rise again
And throw off these rich parasites like you have every now and then
And I’ll keep fighting against the dying of the light
But without some kind of revolution the future doesn’t look too bright to me

The focus on housing is, I believe, entirely appropriate, because, even before the Grenfell disaster, housing had become one of the two big themes of the 21st century in London, the other being a cynical “war on terror,” launched after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, which seeks to fulfil the West’s geo-political aims, making huge amounts of money for those profiting from war, and also allowing western governments to clamp down on civil liberties in their own countries — convenient when we look back on the dissent of the 80s and 90s, and its continuation in the massive anti-globalisation movement that 9/11 was used to curtail.

Alongside the “age of fear” promoted by our governments’ cynical counter-terrorism policies, housing stands at the heart of a refocusing of the economy, especially since 2010 — at the top end, a bubble sustained by foreign investors as cities like London have, through assiduous marketing, become seen as safe, tax-free havens for the global super-rich, but a result of this, as noted above, is that hard-working people have been priced out of the market, even those earning more than the national average wage. The housing bubble has also created an accompanying boom in the price of rents in the private sector, as ordinary people encouraged by the endless message of greed and self-interest pumped out by what passes for our culture, resort to the one-on-one exploitation of others.

With private renters free to be as ruthless as they want, due to a chronic and deliberate lack of regulation, unsafe and hideously overpriced slums are everywhere, sometimes housing desperate immigrant workers in crowded conditions, but also housing hard-working families who would once have been on the housing ladder by this stage in their lives.

Also under threat, as Grenfell showed in such a horrific manner, are those living in social housing, which was once provided almost entirely by councils. Unfortunately, a great sell-off of social housing started under Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s, and many surviving social properties have since been transferred to housing associations and arms’ length managements organisations (ALMOs). Some are very good (like the housing association that manages my home), and committed to renting out properties at genuinely affordable rates compared to the tsunami of greed in the private sector, but others, like Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation, the ALMO that runs the 10,000 or so social properties in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, where Grenfell Tower is located, are definitely not.

Note: The photos are from my ongoing photo project, ‘The State of London‘, which I began over five years ago, and which involves me cycling around London on a daily basis taking photos in all of the city’s 120 postcodes, as well as in some of the outer boroughs.

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’ and EP ‘Fighting Injustice’ are available here to download or on CD via Bandcamp). 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.

As Brexit Talks Begin, It’s Clear That We’re Doomed Unless We Ditch the Tories

Brexit alphabet: a photo from the Unite For Europe march and rally in London on March 25, 2017 (Photo: Andy Worthington).Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist and commentator.

 

What an embarrassing and disgraceful position we find ourselves in, as the deluded representatives of an illegitimate government (the shambles that is the minority Tory government headed by “dead woman walking” Theresa May) begin official negotiations for our departure from the EU, following last year’s EU referendum, when a slim majority of those who could be bothered to vote, in a referendum whose outcome was not legally binding, and that didn’t meet the threshold for referendums on issues of major constitutional change, voted for us to leave the EU.

Crucially, the referendum failed to ask voters what they felt about how we should leave the EU and what damage to our economy was acceptable. Can we, for example, stop free movement, as voters seemed to indicate they wanted? Is it feasible, and if it is, would it be damaging to the economy? (the answer to the latter question is a resounding yes). What about the role of the free market and the customs union? Largely ignored in the Leave campaign’s lies, but explained here by the Economist, both are an essential part of our trade with the EU, which is our main market — not just in goods, but in people, services and ideas — and leaving either will almost certainly damage our economy significantly. Is that worthwhile for some spurious notion of regaining “sovereignty,” which in reality, is nothing more than the anguished, meaningless cry of backwards-looking isolationisists?

As Ian Dunt, author of the very necessary Brexit: What the Hell Happens Now? explained in his column for Politics.co.uk on Thursday, aptly entitled, ‘Brexit talks start on Monday and we have no idea what we’re doing,’ the start of negotiations has once more brought the suicidial pointlessness of Brexit into sharp relief. “We are now about to go into the most challenging negotiations since the Second World War,” Dunt wrote, “with no government, no overall aim, no plan to achieve it, no functioning department to deliver it, no confidence at home or abroad with which to pass it, no trade expert capacity to negotiate it, and no time to manage it.” Read the rest of this entry »

Deaths Foretold at Grenfell Tower: Let This Be The Moment We The People Say “No More” to the Greed That Killed Residents

Grenfell Tower in west London photographed on the afternoon of June 14, 2017 after being destroyed in an inferno (Photo: Andy Worthington).

Please sign the 38 Degrees petition to the government urging them to “improve fire safety in tower blocks to make sure the tragedy in Grenfell Tower is never repeated,” which, by Saturday morning, had over 155,000 signatures.

I’ve been preoccupied since Wednesday by the terrible loss of life in the inferno that engulfed Grenfell Tower in west London, by how it was preventable and should never have happened, and, most shockingly of all, by how was foretold, in explicit detail, by tenants who published their fears and warnings on a blog, but were ignored by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Council, and by the management company responsible for their homes, Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation.

On November 20, 2016, under a photo of a tower block on fire and the heading, ‘KCTMO – Playing with fire!’, a representative of the Grenfell Action Group wrote, “It is a truly terrifying thought but the Grenfell Action Group firmly believe that only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord, the  KCTMO, and bring an end to the dangerous living conditions and neglect of health and safety legislation that they inflict upon their tenants and leaseholders. We believe that the KCTMO are an evil, unprincipled, mini-mafia who have no business to be charged with the responsibility of  looking after the every day management of large scale social housing estates and that their sordid collusion with the RBKC Council is a recipe for a future major disaster.”

The author of the post also stated, “Unfortunately, the Grenfell Action Group have reached the conclusion that only an incident that results in serious loss of life of KCTMO residents will allow the external scrutiny to occur that will shine a light on the practices that characterise the malign governance of this non-functioning organisation.” Read the rest of this entry »

Corbyn Rises, Theresa May Falls; Hard Brexit Now Looks Untenable

A Jeremy Corbyn 'Hope' poster by Posterrity.com on Deviant Art.

Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist and commentator.

 

What a great, great, great, great, great day for the fundamental decency of so many of the British people, after seven long years of cruelty, mean-mindedness and division.

Last night was, undoubtedly, Jeremy Corbyn’s night. Vilified by the media since winning the Labour leadership contest in September 2015, he nevertheless survived a cynical coup implemented, insanely, the day after the EU referendum by the Blairites in his own party, when Labour should have been focusing all their energies on discrediting the Tories, and two months ago, when Theresa May cynically called a General Election, he finally got to shine.

In complete contrast to the Prime Minister — shifty, aloof, paranoid, disdainful, dismissive, invisible — Corbyn staged an honest and heartfelt assault on the disgraceful and horrendously damaging “age of austerity” the Tories introduced in 2010 — pretending that the bankers’ 2008 crimes were the fault of Labour’s investment in public services, and using it as an excuse to try to destroy the state provision of services almost entirely, to remove the safety net of the welfare state, and, for good measure, to relentlessly kick those who then fell into abject poverty and misery; primarily, the disabled and the unemployed. Read the rest of this entry »

On Eve of Election, Theresa May Returns to Her Default Position, That of a Grubby Racist Scaremonger with Contempt for the Law

A poster promoting Theresa May as a threat, an adaptation of a billboard campaign, via the Vox Political website.Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist and commentator – and watch my band The Four Fathers playing ‘Stand Down Theresa’, a cover of The Beat’s classic protest song, ‘Stand Down Margaret.’

 

It was all going so well until Saturday. As I explained in my article, The Spectacular and Unforeseen Collapse of Theresa May and the Tories, Theresa May’s campaign was collapsing, after her arrogant belief that holding a General Election — despite repeatedly promising not to do so — would enable her to increase her majority and wipe out the Labour Party. She forgot, too, that although she spoke about securing a greater majority to strengthen her hand in Brexit negotiations, her Brexit position was one of total paralysis.

She refused — and still refuses — to discuss anything about Brexit with anyone, in an increasingly transparent effort to disguise the fact that her amateurish government of deluded Brexiteers has no idea what they are doing, has made no real effort to recruit the people necessary to deal with negotiations (for what will, if it goes ahead, be the biggest bureaucratic task in history), and knows that it will be an economic disaster the like of which has never been seen. (It’s also worth noting that her claim that securing an increased majority will assist in her negotiations was a lie in any case, as her electoral majority has no bearing whatsoever on EU negotiations).

With Brexit off the cards, people’s attention turned, instead, to domestic policies, and as the relentless negative reporting — or complete absence of reporting — about Jeremy Corbyn gave way to an election campaign in which he was allowed to speak and to get his message across, it began to resonate with the British people in significant numbers, as those brutally silenced by Theresa May after Brexit — an evidently large number of the 16.1 million people who voted Remain, but were told to shut up after the referendum result — were finally given back their voice. Read the rest of this entry »

The Spectacular and Unforeseen Collapse of Theresa May and the Tories

An image that appeared on social media deriding Theresa May as "weak and wobbly" rather than the "strong and stable" leader she obsessively insisted she was. The "weak and wobbly" phrase was invented by Michael Crick of Channel 4 News.Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist and commentator.

 

Something extraordinary is happening in the UK, as Theresa May has turned a 20-point lead over the Labour Party into a three-point lead in the course of just one month, in what has been, without any advance warning, the most inept leadership performance by a Prime Minister in living memory.

Just two months ago, I was so thoroughly sickened by the relentless pro-Tory bias in the broadcast media — including most of the BBC’s output, and even Channel 4 News — that I stopped watching the news altogether. It has long been well-known to anyone paying attention that around 80% of Britain’s print media is implacably Tory, but it was a shock to see how, steadily, since the slavish coverage of Nigel Farage in 2014-15, the broadcast media had also become right-wing in what appeared to be a deeply entrenched manner, with a disgracefully high proportion of right-wing panellists and audience members on Question Time every week, with the transparent pro-Tory bias of Laura Kuennsberg on BBC News, and even Cathy Newman of Channel 4 News becoming notorious for most aggressively questioning anyone left-wing.

I didn’t stop reading the news online, particularly via the Guardian’s website, which I visit every day, and I continued to engage with the issues via social media, where, of  course, a vibrant left-leaning community exists, but I could no longer take the stress of watching and listening to a permanent biased media defend what ought to have been indefensible — Theresa May bullying everyone into silence regarding the self-inflicted madness of Brexit and also using it as a cover for the Tories continuing to lay waste to Britain’s essential services. Read the rest of this entry »

Never Trust the Tories: It’s 32 Years Today Since the Intolerable Brutality of the Battle of the Beanfield

'Beanfield', a 2009 work by Banksy, photographed in MOCO Museum in Amsterdam, where it is on display until August 2017 (photo via the website Rajah's 2 Cents).Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist and commentator.

 

Today, June 1, the cultural nostalgia industry — a burgeoning movement that seeks safe havens in the past, where the reality of the here and now can be denied — is in overdrive, marking the 50th anniversary of the release of the Beatles’ LP, ‘Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.’ Cue rhapsodic reflections on the meaning of “the summer of love,” and, presumably, very few people talking about how it’s not the Beatles’ best or more significant album, and, more importantly, “the summer of love” isn’t something to wheel out like a colourful aged relative.

If there is, at some level, a rainbow-hued joy to recollections of the time, this should reasonably be tempered with an awareness that the hippie movement was not just about fashion and flowers; it was also tied into the movement against the Vietnam War in America, to movements of resistance to the status quo (whether violent or non-violent), and to profound questions about culture, love, relationships, business and our place in the world that often led to conflicting and confused responses, in which irresponsibility played a part as well as idealism.

The rather more superficial aspect of the 60s — the fashion and flowers — led in turn to what I see as the most defining betrayal of the hope and desire for change that drove much of the agitation of the time: the sidelining of the commitment to political resistance — a largely communal affair — through the self-obsession of self-improvement: those millions of journeys to self-discovery that, absorbed and reinterpreted by the voracious mainstream of capitalism, have become nothing more than a vain sense of entitlement, typified by L’Oreal’s “Because You’re Worth It” tagline, but apparent everywhere, in the preening, pampering world of materialistic self-worth. Read the rest of this entry »

Andy Worthington’s Band The Four Fathers Release ‘Riot’, New Online Single Tackling Austerity and Inequality

Listen to ‘Riot’ here!The photo is by Eric Hossinger (hozinja) on Flickr, and is reproduced via a Creative Commons agreement. It was taken on December 4, 2010 during a UK Uncut protest outside Topshop in Oxford Street about tax avoidance by the company's boss, Sir Philip Green.

Today my band The Four Fathers are releasing ‘Riot’, our third online single from our forthcoming album, ‘How Much Is A Life Worth?’ following the release of ‘Close Guantánamo’ (2017 mix)’ in February, and ‘Dreamers’ last month.

I initially wrote ‘Riot’ in 1986, while living in Brixton, as a punky reggae song that dealt with how parents and society mess up kids’ minds and emotions — themes of youthful alienation that didn’t survive when I revived the song for The Four Fathers at the end of 2015. We’ve been playing it live since then, and we recorded it last summer in the first session for our new album, ‘How Much Is A Life Worth?’ which we hope to release on CD in September.

Musically, our version of my old tune is the closest we’ve come to date to echoing the minor key tunes and armagideon themes of classic late 70s roots reggae, which remains my favourite music, nearly 35 years after it first blew my mind at university in Oxford. Read the rest of this entry »

Labour’s Dilemma: What Should Be Done with the 66 MPs Who Voted with the Tories to Approve Airstrikes in Syria?

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn addresses the House of Commons during the day-long debate about whether or not to approve airstrikes in Syria on December 2, 2015, which ended up with the House supporting the government's proposals. Given a free vote, 66 Labour MPs voted with the government.So the warmongers are happy now, as our planes began bombing Syria within hours of Wednesday’s vote in the House of Commons, as civilians die, because they always do, and as we’re told that this is the start of years of war. What a shame and a disgrace. This century, this millennium, since the trigger of 9/11, which Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda intended to destabilise us, and to drag us into wars we couldn’t win, we have been mired in disaster in Afghanistan and we plumbed the depths in Iraq, and, when the Labour government gave way to the Tory-led coalition government, and, in turn, the Tories alone, in May’s particularly depressing General Election, we got involved in the destruction of Libya and, after a burst of sanity in 2013, when Parliament voted against bombing Syria, we got back in the game with bombing against Daesh (ISIS/ISIL) in Iraq, which has now been extended to Syria.

Wars of choice, for the whole of this time, so that my son, who is 16 in two weeks, doesn’t remember a time when we weren’t at war. My son was just one year old when we enthusiastically joined the Bush administration’s invasion of Afghanistan, and hideously overstayed our welcome after toppling the Taliban. My son was three when we illegally invaded Iraq, an invasion in which our Prime Minister, Tony Blair, was not Bush’s poodle, as many in the UK think, but was the key ally who gave legitimacy to Bush’s lawless plans.

And these endless wars? They are now longer in duration than the two World Wars combined, and yet they have never had more than the faintest trace of justification; only, arguably, in Afghanistan, at the beginning, although I didn’t agree with that particular invasion either, as wars without proper plans — attributes which all these wars share — are a recipe for disaster. And here we are, 14 years later, with no end in sight, bombing more civilians in Syria. 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.
Email Andy Worthington

CD: Love and War

Love and War by The Four Fathers

The Guantánamo Files book cover

The Guantánamo Files

The Battle of the Beanfield book cover

The Battle of the Beanfield

Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion book cover

Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion

Outside The Law DVD cover

Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo

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