Please note that my books Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield are both still available, and I also wholeheartedly recommend Travelling Daze: Words and Images from the UK’s New Travellers and Festivals, Late 1960s to the Here and Now, Alan Dearling’s epic review of the traveller scene (to which I was one of many contributors), which was published last year, and is essential reading for anyone interested in Britain’s traveller history.
Every year, on the summer solstice, I am confronted by two particular questions, as, I’m sure, are many people old enough to have spent their youth growing up under Margaret Thatcher, or in the years previously, under Ted Heath’s Tory government, and the Labour governments of Harold Wilson and Jim Callaghan, when an unofficial civil war was taking place in British society.
Those two questions are: what happened to my youth, and what happened to massive, widespread societal dissent?
The former of course, is an existential question, which only young people don’t understand. It’s 29 years since the last Stonehenge Free Festival, an annual anarchic jamboree that lasted for the whole of June, when Britain’s alternative society set up camp in the fields across the road from Stonehenge, and it’s 39 years since the first festival was established, by an eccentric young man named Phil Russell, or, as his friends and admirers remember him, Wally Hope. Read the rest of this entry »
I just have time to throw out a quick reminder that tomorrow, Tuesday June 11, there’s a Carnival Against Capitalism taking place in London’s West End, beginning at 12 noon, at the start of a week of action against the G8, which takes place on June 17-18 in Northern Ireland. There are two suggested meeting points — one at Oxford Circus and one at Piccadilly Circus — and this is what Milena Olwan, a social worker, told the Guardian about the protests against the G8, echoing what many people think, as politicians meet, who, at best, are deluded, and at worst, like the Tories, are revelling in the opportunity to impose savage austerity cuts on the most vulnerable members of society.
“The G8 are anti-democratic, unaccountable, and they represent an extinct world order,” she said, adding, They embody the old ways of protectionism, imperialism and greed … [W]e will show them that ordinary people coming together taking action can forge alternatives that do not destroy lives but create a life beyond capitalism.”
This is how the organisers describe the Carnival Against Capitalism:
This action will only be as effective as the people participating in it. We have not negotiated with the police and we will not be controlled. If we look after each other, stay mobile, don’t get caught in kettles and are ready to make quick decisions about what to do next we can make the most of the day. Read the rest of this entry »
On the 100th day of the prison-wide hunger strike at Guantánamo, please ask the US authorities to free prisoners and take concrete steps towards finally closing the prison. Call the White House (202-456-1111, 202-456-1414), US Southern Command (305-437-1213) and the Department of Defense (703-571-3343). You can say, “I support closing the prison at Guantánamo Bay. President Obama can and should resume transfers, today, for the 86 cleared prisoners who are still held. Indefinite detention without charge or trial is a human rights violation.” You can also call or e-mail your congressperson and senator to ask them to support swift executive action to close Guantánamo, and you can also send a letter to a prisoner.
To mark 100 days of the prison-wide hunger strike at Guantánamo, events are — or have been — taking place in the US, the UK and worldwide, involving, amongst others, my friends and colleagues in Witness Against Torture, Amnesty International, the Center for Constitutional Rights, World Can’t Wait and the National Religious Campaign Against Torture in the US, and the London Guantánamo Campaign and the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign in the UK.
In the US, the various groups delivered petitions to the White House containing over 370,000 signatures, including, in particular, the petition on Change.org initiated by Col. Morris Davis, which currently has over 200,000 signatures, and is still ongoing. In London, campaigners will be performing street theatre outside the US Embassy tomorrow (Saturday May 18) at 2pm. For further information, including other actions you can engage in, see the Witness Against Torture website, and Amnesty International’s Facebook page. Also see the video for “Hunger Strike Song” by the Peace Poets and Witness Against Torture.
Following the action in Washington D.C., the National Religious Campaign Against Torture sent out a press release, in which executive director Rev. Richard Killmer stated, “Years of detention without charge or trial have created a sense of desperation and hopelessness among the men at Guantánamo, which has led over 100 of them to join a hunger strike. The human crisis in Guantánamo is a moral one that needs to end immediately. The faith community calls on the President to close Guantánamo. It is the right thing to do.” Read the rest of this entry »
Please attend the march at 12 noon on Saturday May 18, 2013, from Jubilee Gardens (on Concert Hall Approach near the South Bank Centre) to Whitehall, where there will be a rally outside Downing Street at 2pm. The marchers will cross Waterloo Bridge and walk up The Strand to Whitehall, and NHS campaigners, politicians and union representatives will address the crowd from an open-topped bus. See the Facebook page here and the website here.
The irony could hardly be starker. Across London, and countrywide, cuts begun under the Labour government and aggressively continued under the Tories are wreaking havoc on the NHS. Nor it is only politicians who are to blame, as the cuts are enthusiastically endorsed by senior NHS officials.
As I have been reporting here since October, when plans to disembowel Lewisham Hospital were first announced, across the capital A&E Departments face closure or downgrading, even though the need for them has never been greater. In addition, the closure or downgrading of A&E will have a horrendous knock-on effect for the millions of people affected — as frontline services also close, and, to give just one example, maternity services are cut savagely, as only births regarded as safe can take place in hospitals without emergency services.
This is what is planned for Lewisham, where the recently refurbished A&E Department is to be closed, leaving just one A&E Department, at the distant and already overstretched Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich, to deal with the 750,000 inhabitants of three London boroughs — Lewisham, Greenwich and Bexley — including, of course, babies and children as well as adults. Read the rest of this entry »
A year ago yesterday, I embarked on a huge and ongoing project — to photograph the whole of London by bike. A year and a day later, I have taken around 13,000 photos, and have published nearly 1,700 on Flickr. As it happens, my time has been so consumed of late with my ongoing campaign to close Guantánamo — where the prison-wide hunger strike, now in its fourth month, has finally awoken the world to the ongoing horrors of the prison — that I have not had time recently to publish photos from this project, although I have continued to take photos on an almost daily basis. I am currently organising the photos by area — largely, in fact, by postcode — as I work out how best to show them and to market them, but to mark the anniversary I will soon be posting a selection of photos from the first year of the project – and if anyone has any good ideas abut how to take tis project forward, then please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me.
In the meantime, I realised that today — May 12 — is the first anniversary of an event organised by the worldwide Occupy movement (inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York), and that I had photographed the event that took place in London, and so, to coincide with that anniversary, I’ve put together a selection off photos from the various political campaigns and protests I’ve been involved in over the last year. Read the rest of this entry »
UPDATE MAY 7: It has just been confirmed that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will now be taking part in this event, via video link from the Ecuadorian Embassy, from 7.30 to 8.15pm.
It’s almost three years since Pfc. Bradley Manning, who had been working as an intelligence analyst in Iraq, was arrested by the US military and imprisoned in Kuwait for allegedly making available — to the campaigning organization WikiLeaks — the largest collection of classified documents ever leaked to the public, including the “Collateral Murder” video, featuring US personnel indiscriminately killing civilians in Iraq, 500,000 army reports (the Afghan War logs and the Iraq War logs), 250,000 US diplomatic cables, and the classified military files relating to the Guantánamo prisoners, which were released in April 2011, and on which I worked as a media partner (see here for the first 34 parts of my 70-part, million-word series analyzing the Guantánamo files).
In July 2010, Manning was transferred to the Marine Corps Brig, Quantico, Virginia, where the conditions of his confinement began to cause international concern. I first wrote about his case in December 2010, when he was being held in solitary confinement, in an article entitled, “Is Bradley Manning Being Held as Some Sort of “Enemy Combatant”?” and I followed his story into 2011, and his transfer to less contentious conditions of confinement in Fort Leavenworth on April 20, just five days before WikiLeaks released the Guantánamo files.
In the last two years, I have largely deferred to other writers, researchers and activists, dedicated to Bradley Manning’s story, to cover developments in his case, particularly relating to a series of pre-trial hearings. His trial begins on June 3 (preceded by an international day of action on June 1), and I’m delighted to have the opportunity to revisit his story this Wednesday, May 8, at an event in London organized by Naomi Colvin and Katia Michaels, at which I am honoured to be sharing a stage with Chase Madar, the author of The Passion of Bradley Manning, and Ben Griffin, a former SAS soldier and conscientious objector. Read the rest of this entry »
It’s now eleven days since the House of Lords voted against a motion proposed by the Labour peer, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, which was intended to strike down regulations relating to Section 75 of the Health and Social Care Act that had caused alarm to campaigners when they surfaced in February. Following a massive grassroots campaign, featuring a petition by the campaigning group 38 Degrees that secured over 350,000 signatures, the regulations were rewritten, but those of us who fear, understandably, that the government is committed to the privatisation of the NHS remain deeply suspicious, as they were only tinkered with, and not, it seemed, sufficiently to prevent the key section, relating to an obligation in the regulations designed to put almost all NHS services out to tender, from surviving intact.
I described the outcome of the vote in an article at the time, entitled, “This was the Week the NHS Died, and No One Cares,” but below, to provide further details, I’m cross-posting the debate that took place that night, when important speeches were made by Lord Hunt, Lord Owen, Lord Turnberg, and Lord Davies of Stamford — and some important points were also made by Baroness Masham of Ilton.
There is much in the debate that will not reassure those who campaigned so hard against Section 75, and who continue to campaign to save the NHS from the government’s destructive aims — and the deluded machinations of its own senior management — but it is useful for understanding how the provision of NHS services is seen by members of the House of Lords.
However, before I cross-post the transcript of the debate, it is worth asking: what now? There has, sadly, been very little media coverage of the issues since the debate, but one useful article was published in the Guardian on April 30, written by Bob Hudson, a professor in the School of Applied Social Sciences at Durham University. Read the rest of this entry »
On Wednesday April 24, the House of Lords voted by 254 votes to 146 to dismiss a motion, proposed by the Labour peer Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, a shadow health minister, to prevent the passage of regulations relating to Section 75 of the Health and Social Care Act (the Tories’ wretched legislation for NHS reform, passed last year), which was sprung on an unsuspecting public back in February.
The reason I call this the week that the NHS died is because the regulations enforce competition on almost all NHS business, paving the way for private companies to swiftly and effectively dismantle it, cherry-picking services they can easily make profits out of, and cowing the newly appointed Clinical Commissioning Groups (the GPs responsible for 80 percent of the NHS budget), who will be afraid of ruinously expensive legal challenges if they dare to take on the private sector.
It is not strictly true, of course, that no one cares, but I stand by the necessity of such a provocative headline. In fact, a 38 Degrees petition was signed by over 360,000 people, but millions should have been on the streets since the Tories first announced their intentions to destroy the NHS. That, however, has never happened. On the night of the Section 75 motion last week, despite furious lobbying of peers, and some great speeches in support of the NHS (by Lords Hunt and Owen in particular), the last chance to block the legislation was lost. Read the rest of this entry »
On April 24, 2013, campaigners calling for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, held a demonstration outside Parliament following a Parliamentary debate in Westminster Hall from 9.30 to 11 am. Shaker, who has a British wife and four British children, is one of 86 prisoners cleared for release by an inter-agency task force established by President Obama in 2009 but still held, and, in recent weeks, his story has finally become prominent in the mainstream British media, as he is part of the prison-wide hunger strike that began on February 6, and there are fears for his life (see my recent reports here and here).
The Parliamentary debate followed a successful e-petition, calling on the British government to “undertake urgent new initiatives to achieve the immediate transfer of Shaker Aamer to the UK from continuing indefinite detention in Guantánamo Bay,” which secured over 100,000 signatures, through the tireless work of numerous campaigners, making it eligible for a discussion in Parliament. Please note that an international petition for Shaker is still ongoing. Read the rest of this entry »
The case of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, is one that has taken up much of my time since the other British residents were released in 2007 and 2009, and I feel I have got to know him through his accounts from the prison — some made available to me last year via Ramzi Kassem, one of his lawyers (see here, here and here), and, this year, since the prison-wide hunger strike began, through the accounts of phone calls with Shaker made by Clive Stafford Smith, another of his lawyers, and the director of Reprieve, the London-based legal action charity (see here and here). These feelings were reinforced last month when I met his wife and his four children at an event in Tooting Islamic Centre with Jane Ellison MP and Jean Lambert MEP.
I am delighted that the e-petition calling for the British government to take renewed action to secure Shaker’s return from Guantánamo secured 100,000 signatures last week, making it eligible for a Parliamentary debate — and I’d like to publicly thank the many, many people who worked tirelessly to secure that result. Shaker’s ongoing detention is an indictment of the indifference of the US government and the British government, because he was cleared for release under President Bush in 2007, and again in 2009 under President Obama, but is still held.
The Parliamentary debate is taking place tomorrow, Wednesday April 24, in Westminster Hall, in the Houses of Parliament, and members of the public are allowed to attend. Please do go along if you can. The debate is from 9.30 to 11am, but you will need to make sure that you have time to clear security, so an 8.30 arrival is advisable.
Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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