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 »
It’s eight months since the Labour MP John McDonnell MP, an indefatigable campaigner for justice, established the Shaker Aamer All-Party Parliamentary Group, to call for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, who is still held, despite being approved for release by the US authorities twice — in 2007, under George W. Bush, and in 2009, under Barack Obama.
With support from the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, which spent many years working to get the Parliamentary Group established, and also from We Stand With Shaker, the campaign group established by Andy Worthington and Joanne MacInnes, which was also launched eight months ago, the Parliamentary Group sent a delegation to Washington D.C. after the General Election in May. The four MPs involved — the Conservative MPs David Davis and Andrew Mitchell, and the Labour MPs Jeremy Corbyn and Andy Slaughter — met with Senators, including John McCain and Dianne Feinstein, and Obama administration officials, in the hope of securing a timeline for Shaker’s release, although no date has been given, despite repeated rumors that it would be this summer, and despite a hard-hitting op-ed in the New York Times by the MPs, who wrote, “There is simply no reason, domestic or international, for the United States to keep Mr. Aamer in custody,” and also stated, “It is difficult for us to shake off the depressing notion that the Obama administration is indifferent to the repeated requests of the British government,” adding that this is “a slap in the face for America’s staunchest friend.”
Prior to this, in March, the Parliamentary Group also secured a hugely important debate in the House of Commons, which led to the government supporting the motion “call[ing] on the US Government to release Shaker Aamer from his imprisonment in Guantánamo Bay and to allow him to return to his family in the UK.” 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 »
Last Saturday, the new Tory government was confronted by a massive anti-austerity protest, when 250,000 people marched through central London to express their dissatisfaction and disgust with the current political situation — one in which a party that gained the support of just 24.4% of the electorate, and 36.1% of those who voted, nevertheless secured 50.9% of the seats, and is committed to more of the ruinous policies implemented over the last five years — more privatisation of essential public services, including the NHS and our schools, more persecution of the poor, the unemployed and the disabled, and more enriching of the already rich, widening the chasm between the rich and poor with every day that passes.
I wrote about the anti-austerity march here and here, and my photos from the day are on Flickr here, and I hope that another opportunity for people to express their rage in significant numbers will be organised in the not too distant future. We need to meet up regularly, to reassure ourselves that we are many, and they are few, and to find ways in which we can work towards the creation of a better world.
At the end of the march last Saturday, protestors filled Parliament Square, where a succession of speakers addressed the crowd, including Labour leadership contender (and We Stand With Shaker supporter) Jeremy Corbyn, Owen Jones, Mark Steel, Caroline Lucas and Russell Brand. Also speaking was Charlotte Church, the Welsh singer-songwriter, actress and television presenter, who was a child star as a classical singer, and who delivered a powerful speech against austerity and in defense of public services. I’m posting the video of her speech below, as well as a transcript of it from her website: Read the rest of this entry »
Happy summer solstice, everyone! I thought I might visit megalithic Wiltshire this year, for my first solstice visit in 10 years, but the anti-austerity march in London — and my desire to attend it — rather put paid to that plan. My hoped-for destination was Avebury, the village built in the remains of a colossal stone circle, roughly 20 miles north of Stonehenge, which awakened — or rather reawakened — my interest in all things megalithic from 1996, when a chance visit with my new girlfriend (and now wife) Dot led to such enthusiasm on my part that I devoted much of the next ten years to visiting ancient sacred sites all over England, and in Scotland, Malta and Brittany.
I also wrote two books in this period, after my original plan failed to find a publisher. That project was, “Stonehenge and Avebury: Pilgrimages to the Heart of Ancient England,” and it was based on three long-distance walks I made with Dot and other friends in 1997 and 1998, along the Ridgeway from the Thames to Avebury, and then an eight-day trek through Wiltshire to Stonehenge, from Dorchester in Dorset, which I christened “The Stonehenge Way,” and another walk of my devising from Stonehenge to Avebury.
I hope one day to revive that particular project, but what happened in 2002 was that I was encouraged to focus on one particular aspect of the book — the Stonehenge Free Festival, my first inspiration when it came to ancient sacred sites. As a student, I had visited the festival in 1983 and 1984, and had found my view of the world transformed by this gigantic anarchic jamboree that filled the fields opposite Stonehenge every June. The photo above is from 1975, the second festival, and is from the Flickr site of Basil and Tracy Brooks. Basil played with Zorch, who played at both of the first two festivals, in 1974 and 1975. See the albums here and here. Read the rest of this entry »
Today I was delighted to attend the huge anti-austerity march in central London on June 20 organised by the People’s Assembly Against Austerity. Although the weather was indifferent, the turnout wasn’t, and around 250,000 people marched from the Bank of England to Parliament Square to show the many, many reasons ordinary, hard-working British people have for despising the Tory government, who, in May’s General Election, won over 50% of the seats, with just over 36% of the votes, cast, and the support of less than a quarter of those eligible to vote. See my article here about the need for a new voting system involving proportional representation.
I arrived by bike in central London after the march had set off, meeting it on Fleet Street and spending some time on the Strand watching the marchers go by, which was where I realised quite how big it was, as the people — cheerful but with a sense of intent and a plethora of excellent hand-made placards — just kept coming. I hope the message that comes through strongly from today’s event is not only a message to the government — that more and more of us are waking up, and we are not happy about what is happening, but also to the organisers of today, and to the unions, who supported it: we need events like this to take place on a regular basis, at least every six months, if not every three, so we can keep showing solidarity with each other, and also to keep demonstrating it to the government.
The Tories’ austerity programme, which has involved massive cuts to the public sector and to the welfare state, including the NHS, and attacks on the unemployed and the disabled, is driven not by need but by a malignant ideology — the desire to privatise almost everything (but not their own salaries, of course) for the benefit of the private sector, often using taxpayers’ money to achieve their ends, and often benefitting them directly, as they are involved in the companies making a profit. Read the rest of this entry »
Since the Tories got back into power, without even needing the Lib Dems for a coalition, thanks to the unfairness of the “first past the post” voting system, the largely corrupt and biased British media and the propensity of voters outside Scotland to vote Tory (and UKIP) in slightly larger numbers than Labour and the Green Party, it is obvious that any of us who care about society, community, the welfare state, the NHS, social housing, the working class, the poor, the unemployed, the disabled, Muslims and immigrants have a huge fight on our hands for the next five years — unless, as is to be hoped, the Tories manage to tear themselves apart.
I confess that I was reassured that, the moment it became obvious that, with the support of just 24.4% of the electorate and 36.9% of those who voted, the Tories had managed to secure 50.8% of the seats in the General Election on May 7, spontaneous protests took place in London and Cardiff.
I think we need to be on the streets as much as possible, to show our discontent, and to remind ourselves that we are not alone, and I hope that the national anti-austerity protest in London on June 20, organised by the People’s Assembly Against Austerity, will be as big as possible. The Facebook page is here. Read the rest of this entry »
Exactly 30 years ago, on June 1, 1985, a convoy of vehicles trying to get to Stonehenge to establish what would have been the 12th annual free festival in the fields opposite Britain’s most famous ancient monument, was set upon with violence on a scale that has not otherwise been witnessed in peacetime in modern times in the UK.
Around 1,400 police from six counties and the Ministry of Defence were in Wiltshire to “decommission” the convoy, which consisted of around 500 new age travellers, free festival goers and environmental activists. The police were thwarted in their efforts to arrest the majority of the convoy via a roadblock, and the travellers then occupied a pasture field and an adjacent bean field, establishing a stand-off that was only broken late in the afternoon, when, under instructions from on high, the police invaded the fields en masse, and violently assaulted and arrested the travellers — men, women and children — smashing up their vehicles to try and make sure this new nomadic movement would never be able to function again.
Successive waves of legislation — the Public Order Act of 1986 and the Criminal Justice Act of 1994 — largely destroyed Britain’s traveller community, although there were fascinating eruptions of dissent along the way — in particular via the rave scene of the late 80s and early 90s, and the road protest movement that was a direct descendant of the free festival movement. Unable to travel freely, protestors rooted themselves to a fixed spot, occupying land regarded as sacred and, in many noteworthy cases, living in trees in an effort to prevent road-building projects from taking place. Read the rest of this entry »
After last Thursday’s General Election, as the Tories entrench themselves in power, without even the need of Lib Dem stooges to prop them up, we hear that the Cabinet spent a whole minute thumping the table at their first meeting, demonstrating a gracelessness and arrogance that is typical of the bullies, sociopaths and misfits who make up the upper echelons of the party.
Through our broken electoral system, the Tories have convinced themselves they have a mandate for even more of the destruction to the British state than they undertook over the last five years, propped up by the Lib Dems, even though the 50.9% of the seats that they took came with the support of just 24.4% of those eligible to vote.
The Tories’ relentless war on the British state and the British people
Since 2010, the Tories have been waging a relentless war on the British state, and on anyone who is not wealthy, privatising anything that was not already privatised, and using taxpayers’ money to make publicly owned enterprises more attractive to private buyers (as with the sell-off of the Royal Mail, for example), and also using taxpayers to fund huge vanity projects like the Olympics. 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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