Exactly five years ago, I was hospitalised — with what turned out to be a blood disease that, manifesting itself via a blood clot, had cut off the blood supply to two of my toes to such an extent that they had turned black, and it was debatable whether they could be saved.
I had first started feeling significant pain in my right foot in the New Year, but had tried to ignore it, both on my US trip in January, to call for the closure of Guantánamo, and on a visit to Poland, at the start of February, on a short tour of “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” the documentary film I co-directed with filmmaker Polly Nash. By the middle of February, however, the pain was so severe that, for a month, I barely slept. Every time I fell asleep, I awoke in blinding agony within just a few minutes. All day and all night, every day and night, this sleep deprivation — ironic for a campaigner against torture, including sleep deprivation — continued without any relief.
I couldn’t get doctors to give me the pain relief I needed, and it took a month until consultants in south east London, where I live, accepted that my situation was so bad that I had to be brought into hospital, to finally be given the morphine that I had needed all along. However, it soon became clear that the hospital I was at had no real plan for what to do with me, so my wife, fortunately, and with my eternal gratitude, pushed for me to be moved to St. Thomas’s, opposite the Houses of Parliament (another irony, surely), where I stayed for a week and half, where some excellent doctors found medication that saved my toes, and where the staff allowed me, like some sort of quietly doped-up maniac, to find the one corner of the ward where I could get wi-fi reception, so that, ridiculously, I could continue working. Read the rest of this entry »
On Sunday March 13, 2016, housing campaigners held a national demonstration against the Tory government’s latest Housing Bill, a disgraceful piece of legislation that introduces what the government has cynically described as “pay to stay,” whereby families in council housing, on median incomes (£30,000 nationally, £40,000 in London) will be made to pay market rents, doubling, tripling or even quadrupling what they pay. The move will affect tens of thousands of families, with research indicating that 60,000 families will be unable to afford to live in their homes anymore, while those that are able to do so will be financially crippled by a government that, disgracefully, claims to represent hard-working families, but is actually doing the opposite.
As the Kill the Housing Bill campaign notes, the bill also “forces local authorities to sell ‘high value’ properties on the private market when they become empty – the biggest council housing sell-off in generations,” “abolishes new secure lifetime tenancies in council housing, replacing them with 2-5 year tenancies,” and “[d]oes nothing to address the housing crisis, and instead replaces obligations to build social housing with Cameron’s unaffordable ‘starter homes’ — requiring an annual income of £70,000 in London.”
For a more detailed analysis of the UK’s housing crisis — and the crisis in London, where the greed is particularly focused — see my article written before the march, Call for an End to Housing Greed: Come to the National Demonstration Against the Housing Bill in London, Sun. Mar. 13. I’ll also be writing more on the subject very soon. Read the rest of this entry »
Where to begin in discussing Britain’s housing crisis? Since the Labour victory in 1997 we have been disastrously misled by governments prioritising an endless housing bubble as an alternative to anything resembling an actual functioning economy. The only break in this divisive and unfair policy came after the global banking crash of 2008, but since the Tories got back into power in 2010, via a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, the bubble has been back with a vengeance.
The latest phase of the revived bubble is, as is now taken for granted, promoted via interest rates that are permanently near zero, making savings appear pointless, and housing the only attractive investment — and also, of course, via the permanent wooing of foreign investors from every part of the world, who are somehow persuaded that the overpriced towers rising up everywhere in London are good value for money. With the addition of a shortage of supply, dating back to the enforced decline of social housing under Margaret Thatcher, who sold council homes but refused to allow councils to build new properties, and chronic under-investment for 30 years, it becomes possible to understand how housing is now out of reach for more and more of London’s workers — even professional couples with generous financial support from their parents.
As the Guardian reported in an article last September, “Revealed: the widening gulf between salaries and house prices”:
In 1995, the median income in London was £19,000 and the median house price was £83,000, meaning that people were spending 4.4 times their income on buying a property. But by 2012-13, the median income in London had increased to £24,600 and the median house price in the capital had increased to £300,000, meaning people were forced to spend 12.2 times their income on a house.
It’s been a while since I found the time to write about the depressing realities of life in the UK under the particularly cruel and inept government of David Cameron and George Osborne, as I’ve been so busy lately with my work trying to get the prison at Guantánamo Bay closed. However, not a day goes by that I’m not enraged by their persistent efforts to destroy the state provision of almost all services in the UK, to punish the poor for being poor, and to enrich the rich for being rich.
So I’m pleased to note that there was a small victory yesterday, regarding the bedroom tax, when the appeals court ruled that it was discriminatory in two particular cases. The bedroom tax — technically, the “under-occupancy penalty” — is an abomination, and when I last wrote about it, I described it as a policy “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.”
Of course, the only people who really have “spare rooms” are those like the Tories who live in mansions. Most of those subjected to the bedroom tax may have a room that, technically, is not a bedroom or a living room, but I find it unthinkable that a decent human being would begrudge another the luxury of a spare room. Read the rest of this entry »
On December 18, I gave a talk about Guantánamo, my research into the men held there, the lawlessness and cruelty of the prison, and my writing and campaigning for nearly ten years to educate people about the prison and, ultimately, to get it closed, at an event held at the Deptford Cinema, a community cinema in south east London that I wholeheartedly recommend. I spoke not just about my research and my writing, but also the Close Guantánamo campaign I launched nearly four years ago with the US attorney Tom Wilner (who represented the Guantánamo prisoners in their habeas corpus cases before the US Supreme Court), and We Stand With Shaker, the campaign I launched last November with the activist Joanne MacInnes to secure the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, who was finally freed on October 30 after nearly 14 years in US custody.
With what I hope is an innovative approach to combining politics, education and entertainment, my talk was followed by a set of political songs by my band The Four Fathers, and I’m delighted that a friend, Andrew — who became involved in We Stand With Shaker via his involvement in CAAB (the Campaign for the Accountability of American Bases), for whom I was a speaker at their annual July 4 protest at the NSA’s Menwith Hill spy base in Yorkshire in 2013 — recorded my talk and most of our set, which he has made available via YouTube.
The video of my talk is here, which I posted before Christmas, and on Christmas Day I posted the video of The Four Fathers playing “Song for Shaker Aamer,” the song I wrote that was featured in the campaign video for We Stand With Shaker, updated to reflect Shaker’s release. Read the rest of this entry »
If you’re in London — or nearby — and interested in hearing me talk about Guantánamo and the campaign to free Shaker Aamer, and/or to see my band The Four Fathers play our mix of politically-infused rock and roots reggae, then I’d be delighted to see you at any of the events taking place in the coming weeks in south east London.
First up, on Saturday December 12, is a free 20-minute set at Brockley Christmas Market, on Coulgate Street, next to Brockley station, in London SE4. This is a free gig, as part of an afternoon of music to accompany the market’s plentiful stalls selling great food and drink, and arts and crafts for Christmas. We’re playing at 2pm, and amongst the other acts playing is my son Tyler, who will be beatboxing at 3.30pm.
Two events are taking place on the following Friday, December 18. First up, at 5.30pm, is a free half-hour set at the Honor Oak Christmas Experience, a Christmas event on the Honor Oak Estate, at 50 Turnham Road, London SE4 2JD.
We then rush down the road to Deptford to set up for an event at the Deptford Cinema, a great community cinema at 39 Deptford Broadway, London SE8 4PQ. There’s a bar, and the doors open at 7pm, when there will be some mingling followed, at 8pm, by me delivering a talk, “Shaker Aamer, Guantánamo, Torture and the Struggle for Human Rights,” followed by a Q&A session. The Facebook page for the event is here, and if you can come, please sign up. It costs £5/£3.50 concs. Read the rest of this entry »
Two weeks ago, the journalist Kevin Gosztola made my “Song for Shaker Aamer,” by my band The Four Fathers, his “Protest Song of the Week” on his website Shadowproof, which he established in August when FireDogLake, for which he had been writing for several years, came to an end.
It was wonderful to be featured on Shadowproof, as part of a “Protest Music Project” that Kevin set up when the website launched, which to date, has featured a dozen songs from around the world, and the “Top 25 Protest Albums of the 2010s (So Far),” and just as wonderful when Kevin asked if I’d be prepared to be interviewed about “what influenced [me] to become a writer and performer of protest music,” and to discuss the protest songs on The Four Fathers’ self-released debut album, “Love and War,” available to listen to, to download or to buy as a CD on Bandcamp.
Our 45-minute interview, with Kevin playing excerpts from “Song for Shaker Aamer,” “Fighting Injustice,” “81 Million Dollars” (about the US torture program) and “Tory Bullshit Blues,” is on the Shadowproof website, and is also available here as an MP3. Also included is an excerpt from one of my favourite protest songs, Bob Dylan’s “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” (as performed on the 1975 Rolling Thunder tour). Read the rest of this entry »
Yesterday, to coincide with the Conservative Party Conference, at which Jeremy Hunt has been causing anger by telling hard-working lower-paid voters that they need to work harder — like the famously exploited Chinese people, for example — rather than get tax credits to top up their government-defended inadequate pay, I posted ‘Tory Bullshit Blues,’ a new video on the YouTube channel of my band The Four Fathers, which I launched last week with a version of ‘Song for Shaker Aamer,’ about the last British resident in the US prison at Guantánamo, played by myself and my fellow guitarist/singer in the band, Richard Clare.
‘Tory Bullshit Blues’ is my defence of socialism over the selfishness and greed that has typified the Conservative Party since Margaret Thatcher — and it also challenges the racism of UKIP, blaming immigrants, the unemployed and the disabled for the problems caused by the bankers who were responsible for the global economic crash of 2008, but have not been held accountable for their greed and their crimes.
The last week has been so busy for me with developments relating to the announcement of the imminent release of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, that I didn’t have time to cover the Labour Party Conference, and to express my delight at seeing Jeremy Corbyn as the new leader of the Party and John McDonnell as the shadow chancellor delivering their message of hope and change — yes, really! — to the conference.
Jeremy’s election, by a landslide, came about because of his refreshing honesty and decency, something that I know about through following his work for many years — and that of John McDonnell, his closest Parliamentary colleague — and being involved with them in the campaign to free Shaker Aamer (John set up the Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group last November, and Jeremy, as a member, visited Washington D.C. in May as part of a cross-party group of MPs calling for Shaker’s release). It is fair to say that everyone who cares about injustice — in issues of social justice, the unfettered greed of the banks and the housing market, the persecution of minorities, workers’ rights, and many more issues — will have discovered over the years that John and Jeremy have taken up their cause, along with another indefatigable opponent of injustice, Caroline Lucas, Britain’s sole Green MP.
It has been wonderfully refreshing to know that, everywhere I go, people I know and care about are delighted that Jeremy has been elected, and are also delighted that John is the shadow chancellor. 60,000 people have joined the Labour Party since Jeremy’s victory on 12 September, and his appeal to the young and the disenfranchised and those fed up with the greed and cynicism of most politicians means that he might well be able to draw in a significant number of the 15.7 million people in the UK who don’t vote. There are, I think it’s fair to say, millions of us in this country who care about all kinds of injustice that are firmly established in the political status quo, and finally we have elected representatives taking on the government and presenting an alternative view that is so refreshing that I can’t help reflecting regularly on the fact that there has been no robust opposition to the prevailing neo-liberal world view, with its focus on selfishness and enriching the rich, since before Tony Blair became the leader of the Labour Party over 20 years ago. Read the rest of this entry »
It’s been an action-packed week. Last Monday, I promoted the release as a download of Song for Shaker Aamer, by my band The Four Fathers, which I wrote about the last British resident still held in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. We recorded it last November, and it was used in the campaign video for We Stand With Shaker, a campaign I launched with my activist friend Joanne MacInnes, featuring MPs and celebrities standing with a giant inflatable figure of Shaker. The song is available — on Bandcamp — for just 80p ($1.25), although you can pay more if you wish. We are donating 25% of the takings from the song to Shaker’s family.
After sending out a press release about the download, I was almost immediately asked to appear on RT to promote it — and the Morning Star also featured it. And then, on Friday, came the welcome and long-awaited news that Shaker is to be released! Thanks to everyone who has worked to get him out of Guantánamo and back to his family in London. We anticipate that he will be home within a month, allowing for the statutory 30-day period that the US Congress has insisted on having before any prisoner is released.
‘Song for Shaker’ is just one of eight original songs on ‘Love and War.’ I wrote five other songs, Richard Clare wrote one, and one is an old folk song that I gave a punky roots reggae makeover in the late 1980s while living in Brixton. The Four Fathers are: myself on lead vocals and guitar, Richard on guitar and backing vocals, Bren Horstead on drums and percussion, Andrew Fifield on flute and harmonica, and — not a father — Richard’s son Louis Sills-Clare on bass. 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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