Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of meeting Yemi Hailemariam, the partner of Andy Tsege (Andargachew Tsege), a prominent opponent of the Ethiopian government, who, as I explained when Yemi subsequently stood for a photo for the Countdown to Close Guantánamo, “was kidnapped” in Yemen “and rendered to Ethiopia on the command of the Ethiopian government” in June 2014, as his lawyers at Reprieve explained, adding that he was “held in secret detention and in solitary confinement for over a year, without access to any form of due process. He has been paraded on Ethiopian TV looking ill and gaunt. He was given an in absentia death sentence in 2009. He could be executed at any time.” Andy is pictured above, with Yemi and their three children.
I noted the above when I posted Yemi’s photo, back in May, at a time when the British government, with Phillip Hammond as foreign secretary, had refused to act decisively on Andy’s behalf. Since then, of course, David Cameron has resigned following the EU referendum debacle, Theresa May has become our new and unelected Prime Minister, and Hammond has become home secretary, with May surprising everyone by appointing Boris Johnson as foreign secretary, a man with a history of racist comments about countries and people he is now supposed to be presenting himself to as a responsible and statesman-like figure.
No one who has seen the footage of John Kerry wincing as Johnson was grilled by journalists at one of his first outings as foreign secretary (a joint US-UK press conference) can be in any doubt that Johnson is ill-suited to the role, but he is now responsible for Britain’s position with regard to Andy Tsege, and answerable to the more than 130,000 people who have signed a 38 Degrees petition calling for Andy to be freed. Read the rest of this entry »
This Sunday, October 16, my band The Four Fathers will be playing our first gig since summer, when we had a run of gigs in south east London — and a spot at Molly’s Bar at the WOMAD world music festival in Wiltshire.
We’re playing at the Arts Cafe, in Manor Park, in Lewisham, London SE13, a community cafe run by Fred Schmid (a jazz saxophonist) and his partner Banu, following up on a gig there in July. The Facebook page is here. It’s a wonderful space, beside the River Quaggy, which burbles past on its way to the centre of Lewisham, where it meets the Ravensbourne and feeds into the Thames at Deptford.
No one has definitively defined our sound yet, but we think it would be fair to describe it as a mix of pastoral rock and punky roots reggae. Certainly, no one who knows my work would be surprised that, as the lead singer and main songwriter, I bring my indignation about injustice from my work as a journalist and human rights activist into my music. Read the rest of this entry »
It was always worrying that Theresa May, on being handed the leadership of the Conservative Party, unelected by either the Party or, more crucially, the British public, was immediately positioned as a safe pair of hands by the corrupt mainstream media, an illusion that was widely embraced by ordinary members of the general public. Immediately, it became apparent that a strong-looking woman in charge of the Tory party — and suddenly the ghost of Margaret Thatcher was back amongst us — appeals not just to Tory boarding school inadequates, but also to the British people in general, as a result, I believe, of the deep damage caused to the British psyche by centuries of class division and Puritanism.
Metaphysically, Theresa May was the only senior official left standing after the brutal denouement of the EU referendum — with David Cameron gone, George Osborne doomed, Boris Johnson disgraced for having campaigned to win something he didn’t even believe in, and Michael Gove just plain creepy — but that didn’t mean she should have been anointed to lead, after the last irritant, Andrea Lettsom, was disposed of.
As I hope I made clear in my article, As Theresa May Becomes Prime Minister, A Look Back at Her Authoritarianism, Islamophobia and Harshness on Immigration, she is not a safe pair of hands at all, but an alarming authoritarian, with a track record on counter-terrorism that is dangerously Islamophobic — remember her obsession with deporting Abu Qatada, rather than putting him on trial if he had committed a crime (see here and here), remember how she crowed about extraditing a Muslim British citizen with Asperger’s to the US, but refused to extradite a white British citizen with Asperger’s (see my Al-Jazeera article here), and remember how she stripped British citizens in Syria of their citizenship so that they could be killed in US drone attacks (see here and here). Read the rest of this entry »
Yesterday it was 100 days since a slim majority of the British people who could be bothered to vote in the EU referendum decided that they wanted us to leave the EU after 43 years’ membership, a generally ill-considered decision that I wrote about at length at the time — see my articles UK Votes to Leave the EU: A Triumph of Racism and Massively Counter-Productive Political Vandalism, Life in the UK After the EU Referendum: Waking Up Repeatedly at a Funeral That Never Ends, Not Giving Up: Photos from the March for Europe in London, Saturday July 2, 2016 and As the Leaderless UK Begins Sinking, MPs, Media and British Citizens Don’t Seem to Care.
As the Tories’ annual conference gets underway, Brexit hangs over it like a black cloud, however much our unelected Prime Minister Theresa May wishes that were not the case. The beneficiary of the collapse of David Cameron’s government after the referendum — and the discrediting of the Tories’ main cheerleaders for the Leave campaign, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove — May has done very little since coming to power, beyond expressing a largely unpopular desire to fill the nation with grammar schools.
On Brexit, as a generally unenthusiastic member of the Remain camp, she has tried to wash her hands of the referendum’s toxicity, appointing three stooges to preside over our departure from the EU — Boris Johnson brought back, embarrassingly, as foreign secretary, plus David Davis, allegedly in charge of negotiating our departure from the EU, and the crook Liam Fox, who resigned because of inappropriate behavior in 2011, when he was the defence secretary, after breaking the ministerial code by repeating allowing his friend Adam Werrity, a lobbyist, into meetings with military figures, diplomats and defence contractors. For more on the failures of Boris Johnson, David Davis and, particularly, Liam Fox, see this withering criticism by the Tories’ former business minister Anna Soubry. Read the rest of this entry »
It was with some shock that, two weeks ago, I read the following headline in the Guardian: “Government blocks plan to force out London estate residents.”
The article was about the Aylesbury Estate in Walworth, south east London, one of the largest estates in western Europe, built between 1967 and 1977. Labour-held Southwark Council is in the process of destroying the estate, replacing it with new, privately-funded housing in which genuinely affordable flats will be almost non-existent, and ensuring that many of the estate’s residents are socially cleansed out of London — or at least have to move to less desirable boroughs than Southwark.
At the Aylesbury, the council is working with Notting Hill Housing, a former social homebuilder that has enthusiastically embraced the drive towards building private housing and offering unhelpful — and not genuinely affordable — part-rent, part-buy options for former social renters that has been prompted by government cuts.
Astonishingly, this is the same Southwark Council that engaged in social cleansing at Walworth’s other huge estate, the Heygate, for which they were soundly criticised. The estate was sold for a pittance to the Australian developers Lendlease, who are currently building a monstrous new private estate, Elephant Park, which features no genuinely affordable social housing. The Heygate’s tenants, meanwhile, have ended up scattered across south east London, Kent and beyond, as the graph below shows. Read the rest of this entry »
Yesterday (September 17), a “Refugees Welcome Here” march and rally took place in London, following up on a massive march in support of refugees that took place in March, which I photographed and wrote about here. Organised by Solidarity with Refugees, the event (on Facebook here) had the support of dozens of organisations, including Action Aid, Amnesty International UK, Freedom From Torture, Friends of the Earth, Help Refugees UK (the main provider of support in Calais), Hope Not Hate, Oxfam and Stand Up to Racism.
There were many thousands of people on the march, which was colourful, noisy and positive, with numerous passionate and poignant handwritten placards and banners, as well as placards produced by some of the many organisations supporting the march.
However, it was impossible not to be disappointed that there were not many more people marching, as the largest humanitarian crisis in the lifetimes of anyone born after the Second World War continues. The statistics are sobering and horrific. As the Observer reported today, in an article entitled, “Why won’t the world tackle the refugee crisis?”: Read the rest of this entry »
On Saturday September 3, I visited Parliament Square at the end of the latest March for Europe. The first March for Europe took place on July 2, and was attended by around 50,000 people. See my photos here, and my article about it here.
Saturday’s march and rally was a smaller affair, but many thousands of protestors marched in London, and in other cities across the UK, and I believe more people would have taken part had it taken place a few weeks later, after the end of summer had more thoroughly worn off.
The March for Europe organisation describes itself as “a diverse, inclusive movement seeking strong ties between Britain and Europe,” and it provides an opportunity for those of us who were — and are — dismayed by the result of June’s EU referendum — to leave the EU — to highlight our concerns; essentially, as I see it, that leaving the EU will be so disastrous for our economy that MPs, generally supportive of remaining in Europe, must demand that Article 50, triggering our departure, is not triggered. If MPs refuse, those of us who perceive how disastrous leaving the EU would be need to do all we can to publicise the truth about what our isolation would mean. Read the rest of this entry »
“Brexit means Brexit, and we’re going to make a success of it,” said Theresa May, as she became the leader of the Conservative Party and the next Prime Minister, following Andrea Leadsom’s withdrawal from the Tory leadership contest.
This is bad news for those of us who fear Theresa May’s authoritarianism, and, I must say, what seems to be her Islamophobia, but for now I want to focus not on her beliefs in detail but on her Brexit statement, as the fallout from the EU referendum 18 days ago is still the most important story in the UK, despite the mainstream media’s constant efforts not to acknowledge it as such.
May’s repeated message about Brexit is at odds with a letter delivered on Saturday to the outgoing Prime Minster David Cameron, the architect of our Brexit fiasco — just the day before he was booed at Wimbledon — signed by 1,054 lawyers, who point out that the EU referendum result is not legally binding, because it was only advisory. As they state, “The referendum did not set a threshold necessary to leave the EU, commonly adopted in polls of national importance, e.g. 60% of those voting or 40% of the electorate.” Read the rest of this entry »
I find it hard to express sufficiently my contempt for the Labour MPs who, on the day the EU referendum result was announced, squandered one of the greatest opportunities in the Labour Party’s history for attacking the Tories by, instead, launching a pathetic coup against their democratically elected leader, Jeremy Corbyn.
With half the country reeling in shock, the economy in freefall, and David Cameron announcing his resignation, it should have been child’s play to point out that Cameron had called a referendum he didn’t want for the most narrow and cowardly of political reasons (to appease Eurosceptic members of his own party, and UKIP), and that Boris Johnson, who had won it, had also done so for narrow political reasons, to advance his own career, and, moreover, didn’t even believe in the cause for which he had been campaigning.
Instead, a coup that had been planned for months, but that was not initially intended to take place straight after the referendum, was brought forward, and enacted with a drip-feed of resignations that focused the media’s attention almost exclusively on Labour’s meltdown. As a result, criticism of the referendum, and of its result, evaporated. Read the rest of this entry »
Two weeks after the EU referendum, the situation in the UK is even more depressing than it was at the time, for a variety of reasons, primarily to do with having no leadership whatsoever, with few people seemingly caring that we have no leadership whatsoever, and with our political class and our media failing to understand that the ramifications of the referendum result mean that is is not business as usual, and will not be ever again.
Since the result was announced (51.9% for Leave, 48.1% to Remain, on a 72% turnout) we have constantly been told, by those with power and influence, that the will of the people must be accepted, but it remains apparent that the referendum should never have been called, and was only called because of David Cameron’s pathetically narrow political concerns and his cowardly refusal to challenge UKIP and Eurosceptics in his own party. It also remains apparent that it was primarily won because of outrageous lies by the Leave campaign, led by someone — Boris Johnson — who didn’t want to leave the EU and only did so to further his own political aims.
I don’t mean to suggest, by the way, that people only voted Leave because they were lied to. I understand that millions of people made up their own minds, although I don’t believe in general that proper consideration was given to the myriad ramifications of severing our involvement with the EU, by those who weren’t either acting on racist and xenophobic impulses, or false notions of sovereignty (the “us v. them” scenario, even though as a member of the EU, we were part of “them” and, in any case, most decisions about our spending and policies were still taken by our own government), or some essentially counter-productive notion of giving a kicking to the out-of-touch political elite in Westminster. On our sovereignty, by the way, I would just like to remind anyone reading this that Chatham House (aka the Royal Institute of International Affairs) noted, in “Britain, the EU and the Sovereignty Myth,” an important briefing before the referendum, that, “Apart from EU immigration, the British government still determines the vast majority of policy over every issue of greatest concern to British voters – including health, education, pensions, welfare, monetary policy, defence and border security. The arguments for leaving also ignore the fact that the UK controls more than 98 per cent of its public expenditure.” 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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