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 »
For anyone not in thrall to a cruel and self-serving neo-liberal worldview, in which the rich get richer and the poor get poorer until we return to some sort of feudal nightmare, yesterday was a truly inspirational day. In the morning, Jeremy Corbyn won the Labour leadership campaign, with an astonishing 251,000 votes — 59.5% of the total, and 49% of the votes cast by full-time party members, rather than those like me who paid £3 to vote for him (and who didn’t get “purged”). Jeremy’s nearest rival, Andy Burnham, got just 19% of the vote, Yvette Cooper got 17% and Liz Kendall got just 4.5%. Read about Jeremy’s vision for the future of the Labour Party and of the UK in an exclusive article in the Observer today.
As I mentioned on Facebook just after the result was announced, “The people have spoken. It’s time for a renewed Labour Party — of the people for the people. This is the most hopeful moment for politics in the UK since before Thatcher’s baleful victory in May 1979. I’m honoured to have got to know Jeremy through his support of the We Stand With Shaker campaign, and look forward to doing whatever I can to support him and to take on and defeat this wretched Tory government.”
In May, before he entered the leadership race, Jeremy visited Washington D.C. as part of a delegation of MPs from the cross-party Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group, set up by his close friend and campaign manager John McDonnell MP last November, but working to close Guantánamo and to get Shaker Aamer released is just one of Jeremy’s — and John’s — many interests that have long coincided with my own views.
Jeremy entered the leadership race as an anti-austerity candidate, and a rank outsider, as he himself would have acknowledged, but it soon turned out that there was a huge appetite for an antidote not only to the Tory government, but also to its echo in the Labour Party, the right-wingers, or the centre-right that, to far too many people, is largely indistinguishable from the Tories. Read the rest of this entry »
What a horrible, despicable bunch of vicious bullies the Tories are, obsessed with making the poor poorer and the rich richer, while cynically dressing up their abuse in the language of fairness and aspiration.
In the Tories’ first budget since the electorate bizarrely freed them from the restraints of coalition with the Liberal Democrats, the Chancellor, George Osborne, delivered an ’emergency budget’ that was, no doubt, supposed to make us feel that we are in a state of emergency, still in need of savage cuts for the health of the economy, even though the false and damaging rationale for austerity has been thoroughly discredited time and again by economists, who understand that it actually stifles economic health. How Osborne has got away with his cruelty and stupidity for so many years almost beggars belief, as he has not managed to save any money, despite making life miserable for millions, but our bent media urging people to turn on one another — and a sad propensity for British people to revert to Puritan self-flagellation when prompted — seem to be to blame.
And so Osborne’s budget hit poor people hard on a number of fronts, while hiding much of the pain behind one generous gesture inherited from the Lib Dems and another that is nowhere near as good as it sounds. The former is the raising of the threshold at which tax is paid, to £11,000 a year, while the latter is the surprise announcement of what George Osborne described as a ‘National Living Wage.’
This was supposed to hide another policy tweak that is nakedly for the benefit of the rich — the raising of the threshold at which inheritance tax is paid, so that £1m houses can now be handed on to children without the state taking a penny, an increase from £650,000. Even the Daily Telegraph had trouble justifying that. “Today’s emergency Budget has brought huge inheritance tax savings for people with expensive properties,” an article explained. Read the rest of this entry »
I’m pleased to announce that I’ve just taken delivery of the first batch of CDs of ‘Love and War’, the debut album by my band The Four Fathers. Featuring ten tracks — seven originals, two covers and a radical reworking of an old English folk song — ‘Love and War’ is available to buy for just £7/$11, plus postage and packing (£1.25 in the UK, £2.95 for Europe and £3.65 for the US and the rest of the world). Copies can be sent anywhere in the world.
The album, recorded, mixed and mastered in south east London from November 2014 to June 2015, features six of my original songs, including ‘Song for Shaker Aamer’, which is featured in the campaign video for We Stand With Shaker, the campaign calling for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, which I established with the activist Joanne MacInnes last November — and see here for our open letter to President Obama for US Independence Day. For anyone who doesn’t know, I have been researching and writing about Guantánamo and campaigning to get the prison closed down since 2006.
Also included are other new songs I have written recently — ‘Tory Bullshit Blues’, which was made available via SoundCloud just before the General Election in May, the love song ‘Sweet Love and Ever After’, and ‘Fighting Injustice’, a storming roots reggae number that also fulfils the band’s description of itself as playing “Rock, folk, blues and roots reggae. Not afraid of political engagement.” 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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