Three days into this disaster, and the fallout is so immense that it colours everything. Bereaved-looking people are everywhere, talking about their disbelief, unable to process it. I had a migraine on Friday, and I don’t normally even get headaches. Many people are reporting similar symptoms — of colossal stress, of an unprocessable shock. Every time we distract ourselves for a moment from the awful reality — that we’ve left the EU and that everything is now in freefall; not just our economy, but basically every certainty we had before Friday morning — we wake up again to the horror of it all, like having endless deja vu at a funeral without end, like being in a real-life version of a film in which aliens have taken over, even though they look just like us.
My funereal encounters are taking place in London, where a majority of those who could be bothered to vote — 60% — called for us to remain in the EU. I live in Lewisham, where the portion of Remain votes was even higher — 70% — so I can presume that I am not surrounded by the deluded, or by those with hideously misplaced anger, however justifiable that anger may be, although I accept that even that is difficult. I have been ambushed in recent weeks by the odd middle class, educated person my age (circa 50) supporting the Leave campaign, and I can’t help but be instinctively suspicious of older white people.
However, I also know it’s not just a white issue. About two years I was in a queue in a service station in Brixton, and I struck up a conversation with a black man about my age, who seemed to me to be a Windrush descendant. I started some small talk, leaning it leftwards as soon as I could, as is my wont, and thinking he would agree with me, until he started talking about how it was all the fault of the immigrants. Since that encounter and others, I have grown to be wary of casually chatting with my fellow citizens on the street. Read the rest of this entry »
What a disaster. In the UK referendum on EU membership, 17.4 million of my fellow citizens (52% of voters) voted to leave the EU, while 16.1 million (48%) voted to remain. Turnout was 71.8%, the highest turnout at a UK election since 1992, and by region the strongest support for the Remain camp was in Scotland, which voted 62% to 38% for Remain, London, which voted 60% to 40% for Remain, and Northern Ireland, which voted 56% to 44% to Remain.
In England as a whole, Leave secured 53.4% of the votes, compared to 46.6% for Remain, and in Wales Leave secured 52.5% of the vote, with Remain on 47.5%.
In London, breaking down the figures still further, 28 boroughs voted to remain, and just five voted to leave (Barking and Dagenham, Bexley, Sutton, Havering and Hillingdon), with 2,263,519 votes in favour of remaining in the EU, and 1,513,232 Londoners voting to leave. See the full London breakdown here.
In Lewisham, where I live, I’m glad to report that 86,995 people (70% of voters) voted for Remain, and just 37,518 voted for Leave, but these results, and similar results across London weren’t enough to prevent a victory for the Leave campaign. Read the rest of this entry »
I thought it was time to make my feelings clear about the EU referendum vote. I know the EU is a profoundly flawed entity, but as I’ve been saying since David Cameron, demonstrating supreme cowardice, agreed to a referendum to placate UKIP and far right critics in his own party, the only way leaving the EU would be acceptable would be if we immediately had a socialist revolution — and that’s not going to happen. Instead, as former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis has explained, we must reform it from within.
A leave vote will be a vote for the terrible racism and intolerance that has been ramped up as a result of the referendum, but that has been cynically promoted by the media and politicians for far too long. A leave vote is not only an unwise leap into the dark economically, but will legitimise the leadership ambitions of Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Iain Duncan Smith and Nigel Farage — who are all disgraceful, self-seeking, deluded and/or sociopathic figures — and the racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia that they have been so shamefully promoting. In addition, please don’t think for a moment that I’m defending David Cameron and other ministers who are currently calling for us to remain in the EU, because they have criticised Europe relentlessly over the years, and have undertaken more than their fair share of immigrant-bashing and Islamophobia.
What depresses me profoundly is how, through self-delusion, as well as the encouragement of the media and politicians, far too many of my fellow citizens have concluded that immigration and the EU are the reasons they are feeling so put upon and isolated, when the truth is that everything they are complaining about is actually the fault of the bankers who caused the global crash in 2008, the politicians of all the main parties who have unquestioningly supported big business and the banks over the needs of the people, and the Tories (whether Leave or Remain supporters) who, since 2010, have presided over an “age of austerity” designed to cynically dismantle the British state in an unprecedented manner, which has involved punishing the poor, the unemployed and the disabled while further enriching those who are already well-off, and pandering relentlessly to the global super-rich. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
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.
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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