On Tuesday, the year-long struggle to save Lewisham Hospital from butchers in the government — and in the senior management of the NHS — ended in victory for campaigners, when the Court of Appeal turned down an appeal by health secretary Jeremy Hunt. The government sought to overturn the High Court’s ruling, in July, that Hunt had acted unlawfully when he approved plans for Lewisham put forward last October by Matthew Kershaw, an NHS Special Administrator.
Appointed under legislation for dealing with NHS trusts in severe financial difficulties (the Unsustainable Providers Regime), Kershaw had proposed closing A&E and other frontline services and selling off over half of Lewisham Hospital’s buildings and land as part of a package of proposals to address the financial problems of a neighbouring NHS trust, the South London Healthcare Trust, which has three hospitals in south east London. The result would have been just one A&E Department for the 750,000 inhabitants of the boroughs of Lewisham, Greenwich and Bexley, and a disgraceful scenario in which 90 percent of the mothers in Lewisham (a borough with a population of 270,000) would have been unable to give birth in their home borough.
Responding to the news, Tony O’Sullivan, the Director of Services for Children and Young People at Lewisham, and a member of the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign, said, “This is a complete victory.” Referring to ministers and the Special Administrator, O’Sullivan added, “We always said they were acting unlawfully and undemocratically in using an emergency process to bypass meaningful consultation and destroy an excellent hospital.” Read the rest of this entry »
Free Shaker Aamer from Guantánamo, Parliamentary Vigil, October 9, 2013, a set on Flickr.
On Wednesday October 9, 2013, the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign held a vigil outside Parliament for Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantanamo, whose British wife and four British children await his return in south London.
Shaker — along with 83 other men still held, out of 164 prisoners in total — was cleared for release by a military review board under the Bush administration in 2007, and by President Obama’s inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force in January 2010, but he is still held because of Congressional obstructions, and President Obama’s unwillingness to spend political capital overcoming those obstacles. Although the British government has been calling for his return since 2007, it is also apparent that his release has not been made a significant enough priority by ministers, or he would have been freed by now. Read the rest of this entry »
Tomorrow afternoon, at 4pm, I’ll be attending an event to mark the 12th anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan. This is a horrible anniversary for two particular reasons: firstly, because, as a the father of a 13-year old, it is unacceptable to me that my country has been engaged in permanent war for almost all of his life; and secondly, because, as a writer and activist on Guantánamo, I am aware that the context for the imprisonment of the majority of the men at Guantánamo was the invasion of Afghanistan — where the Geneva Conventions were first discarded, where torture became Standard Operating Procedure, and where indefinite detention without charge or trial became official US policy.
12 years on, and nearly five years after President Obama took office promising to close Guantánamo, his failure to close the prison is a disgrace, and the continued US military presence in Afghanistan continues to demonstrate what a knowledgable friend has described as America snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. I can only hope that the major withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan next year will play a part in bringing our warmongering to an end — although I have no rosy illusions about that — and will also severely damage the rationale for continuing to keep Guantánamo open, but in the meantime, to mark this anniversary, I’m taking part in the event below: Read the rest of this entry »
On Saturday September 29, disability activists, the Very Rev. David Ison, the Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral, the MP Michael Meacher and representatives of the Occupy movement held a protest in Parliament Square entitled “10,000 Cuts and Counting,” at which and John McDonnell MP and Louise Irvine, a GP and member of the British Medical Association (BMA) and the National Health Action Party, also spoke.
The event was described as “a ceremony of remembrance and solidarity for those who have had their lives devastated by the austerity programme, including more than 10,000 people who died shortly after undergoing the Atos Work Capability Assessment, the degrading test used by the government to assess the needs of people receiving benefits related to disability and ill health.”
In my many articles about the Tory-led government’s relentless and disgraceful assault on the disabled, I refer to the assessments as a process designed to find mentally and physically disabled people fit for work, when they are not, as it has been clear from the beginning that Atos has been hired not to conduct objective evaluations, but to cut financial support for disabled people on the orders of the government. Read the rest of this entry »
Save Lewisham Hospital Victory Parade and Rally, September 14, 2013, a set on Flickr.
On Saturday September 14, six weeks after a High Court judge, Mr. Justice Silber, ruled that health secretary Jeremy Hunt had acted unlawfully when he approved plans to severely downgrade services at Lewisham Hospital (see here and here), campaigners and supporters of the hospital — and of the NHS in general — gathered in the centre of Lewisham, in south east London, and marched past the hospital and on to Ladywell Fields, the park behind the hospital, for a celebration of the victory.
At the rally in Ladywell Fields, there were speakers, stalls, bands and a general air of celebration and solidarity that even the rainy weather couldn’t dispel. We are, after all, used to poor weather, as our first march against the proposals, which attracted 15,000 supporters on a Saturday last November, took place in the pouring rain (see here). I took the photos above, which I hope capture something of our general resilience, and our refusal to have our spirits dampened by the rain.
The victory over the Tories, and the senior management of the NHS behind the proposals to downgrade Lewisham, was certainly worth celebrating. The plans for Lewisham, approved by Hunt in January, had been put forward last October by Matthew Kershaw, an NHS Special Administrator appointed to deal with the financial problems of a neighbouring trust, the South London Healthcare Trust, in the first use of the Unsustainable Providers Regime, legislation for dealing with bankrupt trusts that was introduced by the last Labour government. Read the rest of this entry »
Please sign the petition to the British government to end the “War on Welfare,” which currently has over 55,000 signatures but needs 100,000 to be eligible for a Parliamentary debate, and, if you can, come to the ’10,000 Cuts & Counting’ protest in Parliament Square on Saturday September 28.
The British government’s assault on the poor, the ill, the unemployed and the disabled is so disgraceful that it’s often difficult to know which particular horror is the worst, although every time that their attacks on the disabled come under the spotlight I’m reminded of the importance of the saying, “The mark of a civilised society is how it treats its most vulnerable members” — attributed, in various forms, to Mahatma Gandhi, Winston Churchill and Harry S. Truman — and it strikes me that the most disgusting of all the oppressive policies directed at the most vulnerable members of society by sadistic Tories masquerading as competent politicians — backed up by their Lib Dem facilitators and the majority of the mainstream media — is their war on the disabled.
The people behind these assaults overwhelmingly identify themselves as Christians, even though no trace of Christian values exists in their policies, and they are, instead, waging war on the very people that Christ would have told them are in need of their protection most of all.
I have been covering the government’s war on the disabled since 2011 (see my archive of articles here and here), and a brief explanation of what has been happening can be found in an article I wrote last August, in which I explained: Read the rest of this entry »
Shaker Aamer Protest in London, July 18, 2013, a set on Flickr.
Now that many people have been wakened to the plight of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, through P.J. Harvey writing a song about him that has sent ripples through the music world, I hope that ongoing efforts to secure his release will attract more support in the months to come. After all, what excuse is there for people not to be outraged that he is one of 86 men cleared for release under President Bush and Obama who are still held, and that he is part of a prison-wide hunger strike to which the authorities are responding with force-feeding?
On July 18, as Parliament shut up shop for the summer, I joined campaigners from the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign and the London Guantánamo Campaign in Parliament Square, outside the Houses of Parliament, for a last vigil before the summer recess began. I have already posted a video of an interview I undertook on the day with a representative of the PCS union (the Public and Commercial Services union), but art the time I didn’t have the opportunity to make the photos I took available, and I was then derailed by a week away.
I’m posting them now to try to help keep Shaker’s story in the public eye, and also to thank the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign and the London Guantánamo Campaign for their tireless work to try and secure the closure of Guantánamo and the release of Shaker Aamer. Read the rest of this entry »
Next week (from June 29 to July 5) is “Justice for Lewisham Week” in the London Borough of Lewisham, where the hospital that serves the 270,000 inhabitants has been under threat since last October, when Matthew Kershaw, an NHS Special Administrator appointed to deal with the debts of a neighbouring NHS Trust, the South London Healthcare Trust, through legislation known as the Unsustainable Provider Regime, decided that one way of doing so would be to severely downgrade services at Lewisham (unconnected to the SLHT except by geographical proximity), shutting its A&E Department and axing 90 percent of maternity services along with all acute services.
At the end of January, Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, approved the recommendations, but the people of Lewisham — myself included — refused to give up. Campaigning has continued relentlessly, and two judicial reviews were launched in response — one launched by Lewisham Council, and another by the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign. £20,000 was needed for the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign’s judicial review, which was raised by supporters of the hospital, including Millwall F.C. and other people (including 6,000 supporters of the campaigning group 38 Degrees) who understand that Lewisham is a test case for what the would-be butchers of the NHS can get away with (both in the NHS’s own senior management, and in government).
The judicial reviews will be taking place in the High Court in London from Tuesday July 2 to Thursday July 4, and the campaign is calling for people from the community to attend the hearing each day, and also for a big group of people to be there at the start of the proceedings on the morning of July 2nd. Please email Dagmar to sign up. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
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