Sadly, I never seem to run out of opportunities to berate the Tories for their cruelty and stupidity, and the latest example came on Wednesday evening, when Parliament passed the Housing and Planning Bill, which will do nothing to ease Britain’s chronic housing crisis, and, in fact, contains several developments that will continue the Tories’ malignant obsession with destroying the provision of social housing. This can have only one end result — contributing further to the scale of the housing crisis, which is already unprecedented in my adult life.
During debates on the bill in the House of Lords, Baroness Hollis of Heigham described the “skeleton Bill” as the worst she had seen in 25 years. “This is a half-baked, half-scrutinised, quarter digested Bill that is not fit for purpose,” she said.
The housing crisis is particularly severe in London and the south east, where house prices have reached stratospheric levels that would be blackly hilarious were they not so chronically unfair and divisive. This insane housing bubble has been fuelled by banks and politicians keeping interest rates close to zero, so that house price inflation has become the main focus of the economy, by the relentless wooing of foreign investors by estate agents, banks and politicians acting as pimps (and whose actions, moreover, betray the British people), and by a persistent under-investment in housing. Read the rest of this entry »
On Monday evening, the cruelty of this government was, yet again, laid bare, when, by 294 votes to 276, MPs voted against an amendment to the Immigration Bill tabled by Lord Alf Dubs, who, as the BBC described it, “arrived in the UK in 1939 as a six-year-old refugee fleeing the persecution of Jews in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia.”
The amendment, calling on the government to take in 3,000 unaccompanied refugee children, already in Europe, who have relatives in the UK, was defeated “after the Home Office persuaded most potential Tory rebels that it was doing enough to help child refugees in Syria and neighbouring countries,” as the Guardian described it.
Home Office minister James Brokenshire said during the debate that the government could not support a policy that would “inadvertently create a situation in which families see an advantage in sending children alone, ahead and in the hands of traffickers, putting their lives at risk by attempting treacherous sea crossings to Europe which would be the worst of all outcomes.”
However, Keir Starmer, the shadow immigration minister, disagreed, and voiced the concerns I and numerous other British citizens have. “What it boils down to,” Starmer stated, “is to say we must abandon these children to their fate, lest if we do anything, others may follow in their footsteps. I am not prepared to take that position.” Read the rest of this entry »
On March 19, 2016, the organisation Stand Up to Racism held a national demonstration, ‘Refugees Welcome’, to send out a hugely important message to the British government and to other EU governments that refugees are welcome in the UK and across Europe. I wasn’t able to make it to the march, which began at Portland Place, although I was determined to show my face, and made it to Trafalgar Square for the rally, where I took the photo set that I’ve just published on Flickr.
I understand that there were around 15,000 people on the march, which is commendable, of course, but I must mention, as I now do every time I discuss protests, that people opposed to the cruelty and indifference of the Tory government need to get out on the streets and make some noise to show their opposition, as there is no indication that sitting back and waiting until the next General Election in 2020 is a plausible course of action to take on a government that is in power despite securing just 24.9% of registered voters, who are also intent on redrawing electoral boundaries to keep them in power forever.
The timing for the demonstration could hardly have been more fortuitous, as the EU has just reached an agreement with Turkey, described by the Guardian as follows: “Refugees and migrants arriving in Europe will be sent back across the Aegean sea under the terms of a deal between the EU and Turkey that has been criticised by aid agencies as inhumane.” Read the rest of this entry »
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.
There are so many horrible aspects to life in the UK under the Tories that it’s sometimes difficult to keep track of them all, unless you’re unfortunate enough to be affected by all of them — the unfettered housing bubble, for example, and the similarly unregulated private rental market, coupled with a sustained assault on social housing; the assault on the unemployed and the disabled; the demonisation of Muslims; the hard-hearted approach to the current refugee crisis; the refusal to tackle the tsunami of anti-immigrant hysteria that has gripped the country since the global banking crisis of 2008 and that has, in fact, more often than not been deliberately stoked by the media, largely with the complicity of politicians; the endless widening of the gap between the rich and the poor; the Prime Minister’s failure to challenge his own right-wingers and UKIP by refusing to call a referendum on Europe, which any credible leader would have done; and, of course, the remorseless assault on the NHS.
As I mentioned last May, just before our thoroughly depressing General Election, when our sole Green MP, Caroline Lucas, launched a Private Members’ Bill, the National Health Service Bill (HC Bill 37), generally known the NHS Reinstatement Bill, with the support of eleven MPs from four other parties (including Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell), “Ever since the Tory-led coalition government passed the wretched Health and Social Care Act in 2011 (after David Cameron blatantly lied to the British people, by falsely promising ‘no more of the tiresome, meddlesome, top-down re-structures that have dominated the last decade of the NHS’), privatisation of the greatest and most important institution in the UK, the NHS (National Health Service, founded in 1948), has been increasing to an alarming degree.”
As I also noted last May, I have been involved in trying to save the NHS ever since the Tories first got back into power in 2010. As I stated, “I campaigned against the passage of the Health and Social Care Act at the time (see here and here), and then became heavily involved in the successful campaign to save my local hospital, in Lewisham, in south east London, from savage cuts (see here, here and here). [In 2014] I campaigned to resist the Tories’ spiteful response to Lewisham’s success, which became known as the “hospital closure clause” (see here and here), and covered the People’s March for the NHS, a grass-roots initiative that involved a recreation of the Jarrow March from the 1930s to save the NHS (see here and here).” Read the rest of this entry »
Yesterday, March 1, over 600 rights groups and prominent individuals — including Ai Weiwei, Pussy Riot, Naomi Klein, Arundhati Roy, Brian Eno, Ken Loach, Noam Chomsky, John Pilger, the former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, and the Northern Irish peace activist Mairead Maguire — delivered an open letter to the British and Swedish governments (via the EU reformist group DiEM25), at the 31st United Nations Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, urging the two governments to respect the finding last month by the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention that Assange — the WikiLeaks founder, who, in 2010 and 2011, released the Iraq and Afghan war logs, a trove of US diplomatic cables from around the world, and the Guantánamo files, all originally leaked by Chelsea Manning — has been subjected to arbitrary detention. This was “partially,” as the Guardian explained, “on the grounds that Swedish prosecutors used disproportionate methods, including a European arrest warrant, rather than initially interviewing him in the UK.” The statement was delivered to the Swedish and UK Permanent Representatives to the United Nations.
Noam Chomsky said, “Julian Assange should have been freed a long time ago. The judgment of the UN Working Group is welcome, and should be implemented forthwith.” Mads Andenas, professor of international law at Oxford All Souls, and the UN Special Rapporteur on Arbitrary Detention, said, “UK politicians [have] aimed at weakening the authority of the UN body for short-term opportunistic gain.”
Assange has been living for over three and a half years in the Ecuadorian Embassy, behind Harrod’s, in Knightsbridge, in London, where he first sought asylum in June 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden to face questioning over rape and sexual assault allegations, which he has always denied. Read the rest of this entry »
Next Saturday, February 13, my band The Four Fathers are playing a gig at Vinyl, a wonderful record shop with an old school rock and roll basement located at the bottom of Tanners Hill in Deptford, in south east London. The full address is 4 Tanners Hill, London SE8 4PJ, phone number 07930 421113. There’ll be a bar, plus tea and coffee and some special pre-Valentine’s Day snacks, so if you’re anywhere near, come and check out our rocking, roots reggae sounds first-hand! If you’re coming, please let us know on the Facebook page (just click “Going”).
The gig is free, and we’ll be playing our first set — of topical songs about love and loss — at 8pm. At 8.30 there’ll be a beatboxing set from my son Tyler (aka the Wiz-RD), and at 9pm we’ll be playing a political set of original songs including live favourite Fighting Injustice, Tory Bullshit Blues, Song for Shaker Aamer (featured in the video for the We Stand With Shaker campaign), 81 Million Dollars (about the US torture program) and several brand-new songs, including Riot and London, which we played live for the first time at our recent gigs at Deptford Cinema and at the Bird’s Nest, also in Deptford, and guitarist Richard Clare’s song She’s Back, about Pussy Riot.
Below, I’m re-posting a video I made available yesterday of me singing “Song for Shaker Aamer” at an event in Washington, D.C., after I had also spoken about the campaign to free Shaker Aamer, during my recent US tour to call for the closure of Guantánamo on and around the 14th anniversary of its opening. The version I played has lyrics I amended to reflect Shaker’s release in October, and I hope we’ll be able to record the new version in the not too distant future. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
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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