Despite the Landslide, Labour Have No Vision and Only Won the UK General Election Because the Tories Lost So Spectacularly

A composite image of the outgoing Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, and his replacement, Sir Keir Starmer.

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So the good news is easy. After 14 years of cruelty, incompetence and corruption, the Tories were wiped out in yesterday’s General Election in the UK, suffering their worst ever result, and ending up with less MPs than at any other point in their 190-year existence.

Of the 650 seats contested, the 365 seats that the Tories had when Rishi Sunak unexpectedly called a General Election on May 22 were slashed to just 121 (a loss of over two-thirds), with their vote almost halved, from 13,966,454 in 2019 to just 6,814,469 yesterday.

High-profile Tory losses included Liz Truss, the disastrous 43-day Prime Minister, whose vote plunged from 35,507 in 2019 to 11,217 in South West Norfolk, the absurd and offensive pro-Brexit toff Jacob Rees-Mogg, and a number of ministers until six weeks ago including the vacuous Tory pin-up Penny Mordaunt, the empty Grant Shapps and Mark Harper, the far-right ideologues Liam Fox and Johnny Mercer, and the offensive Thérèse Coffey and Gillian Keegan.

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Britain’s 9/11 and Cannibalistic Capitalism: The Grenfell Tower Fire, Seven Years On

Remembering the 72 children, women and men who died in the Grenfell Tower fire on June 14, 2017: a graphic produced by Grenfell United and posted on X.

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You might be thinking that’s an outrageous analogy. Apart from the visual similarities between burning towers, how can I compare an attack by a foreign entity on the tallest buildings in New York’s banking centre with an unfortunate accident that befell the inhabitants of a tower block of social housing in a historically deprived area of west London?

The reason I make the analogy is because the Grenfell Tower fire, on June 14, 2017, wasn’t an accident, as such; it was the inevitable result of a system of deliberate neglect, and the deliberate erosion of safety standards, for those living in high-rise housing, which came about because of the deliberate creation of what I believe we’re entitled to call cannibalistic capitalism; or, if you prefer, economic terrorism, knowingly inflicted on civilians by politicians and almost the entire building industry.

Terrorism is the deliberate targeting of civilians for political or ideological aims, and at Grenfell, seven years ago, 72 people died because, over the previous four decades, a system of providing safe and secure rented housing was eroded and largely erased, replaced with a new ideology that, under Margaret Thatcher, sought to eliminate the state provision of housing, selling it off via the notorious ‘Right to Buy’ policy, demonising those who still lived in social housing, portraying them as shirkers and scroungers and reclassifying them as inferior, or second-class citizens, cutting funding for maintenance and repairs, and transferring as much of the remaining social housing as possible to less accountable, or, seemingly, completely unaccountable public-private entities.

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From Ignorance to Denial to Disaster: 60 Years of Living With Climate Change — Part Two: The 1980s

An image of an environmental protestor and Planet Earth.

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This is the second of what will be four articles looking at how awareness of the climate crisis has developed, and been supported, ignored or resisted, over the last 60 years. I’m writing these articles to reflect on my 60th birthday, which somehow ambushed me at the end of February. The first part, covering the 1960s and 1970s, is here.

When the 1980s began, I was in a good place personally. 16 going on 17, freed from the bullying, insecure tribalism of the mid-teenage years, and also freed from the plate-spinning requirements of the ‘O’ level syllabus, which, then as now, essentially required everyone to demonstrate competence in maths, science, languages and the humanities, I was free to specialise for my ‘A’ levels — in English, History and French — which I took to with enthusiasm, helped by some genuinely inspiring teachers, not least my English teacher, Mr. King, who took us on theatre trips across the country, which, in particular, vividly brought Shakespeare to life.

I also started going to gigs, in those fascinating years of post-punk experimentalism and the rise of Two-Tone, got a girlfriend, published a fanzine, became a singer in a band, began watching arthouse films, and generally found life full of fascinating possibilities.

Politically, the situation was far different. The rise of Margaret Thatcher cast a cloud over life in general, as she began her malignant mission of de-industrialising the nation to break the power of the unions, and privatising everything in sight.

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From Ignorance to Denial to Disaster: 60 Years of Living With Climate Change — Part One: The 1960s and 1970s

A photo from Union Square in New York City during the first Earth Day, on April 22, 1970.

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This is the first of what will be four articles looking at how awareness of the climate crisis has developed, and been supported, ignored or resisted, over the last 60 years. I’m writing these articles to reflect on my 60th birthday, at the end of February. The second part, covering the 1980s, is here.

60 years ago, as my poor mum grew ever larger, carrying what would be her only child — me — the UK experienced its coldest winter since records began. The Big Freeze began on December 12-13, 1962, and by December 29-30, when my mum was seven months pregnant, the snow lay nine inches deep in Wythenshawe, south of Manchester, and just a few miles south east of where my parents lived, in Sale.

In January, the upper reaches of the River Thames froze, and at Herne Bay, in Kent, the sea froze for a mile from the shoreline. By February, when I was born, storms reached Gale Force 8 on the Beaufort scale, and a 36-hour blizzard “caused heavy drifting snow in most parts of the country”, reaching 20 feet in some areas, as “gale-force winds reached up to 81 miles per hour.” Many parts of the country were swathed in snow for two months continuously, and it was not until March 6, when I was six days old, that the Great Freeze came to an end.

The discovery of “global warming”, from the 1820s to the 1960s

It was difficult to think, back in 1963, that human activity was already contributing to an alarming increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, but it was indeed the case. Scientists had been investigating how the earth’s atmosphere functioned since the 1820s, when the French mathematician and physicist Joseph Fourier suggested that the earth’s atmosphere might act as some kind of insulation system, making the planet warmer than it would otherwise have been if it was dependent solely on solar radiation.

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36 Years Since the Battle of the Beanfield, the Tories Remain Committed to Eradicating the Nomadic Way of Life

Two photos of shocking police violence at the Battle of the Beanfield on June 1, 1985.

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36 years ago today, on June 1, 1985, Margaret Thatcher’s para-militarised police force, fresh from suppressing striking miners, turned their attention, via what has become known as the Battle of the Beanfield, to the next “enemy within” — the travellers, environmental activists, festival-goers and anarchists who had been taking to the roads in increasing numbers in response to the devastation of the economy in Thatcher’s early years in office.

The unemployment rate when Thatcher took office, in May 1979, was 5.3%, but it then rose at an alarming rate, reaching 10% in the summer of 1981 and hitting a peak of 11.9% in the spring of 1984. Faced with ever diminishing work opportunities, thousands of people took to the roads in old coaches, vans and even former military vehicles.

Some, inspired by the Women’s Peace Camp at Greenham Common in Berkshire, which was undertaken to resist the establishment of Britain’s first US-controlled cruise missile base, engaged in environmental activism, of which the most prominent example was the Rainbow Village established in 1984 at RAF Molesworth in Cambridgeshire, intended to be Britain’s second cruise missile base, while others found an already established seasonal free festival circuit that ran though the summer months, and whose focal point was the annual free festival at Stonehenge, first established to mark the summer solstice at Britain’s most celebrated ancient monument in 1974, which had been growing ever larger, year on year, drawing in tens of thousands of visitors, myself included, in 1983 and 1984.

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It’s 35 Years Since the Battle of the Beanfield; Where Do We Go Now?

Two photos of shocking police violence at the Battle of the Beanfield on June 1, 1985.

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Today is the 35th anniversary of the Battle of the Beanfield; actually, a one-sided rout of heartbreaking brutality in a field in Wiltshire, when 1,400 police from six counties and the MoD violently “decommissioned” a convoy of 400 travellers trying to get to Stonehenge to establish what would have been the 12th annual Stonehenge Free Festival, a huge autonomous settlement, numbering tens of thousands of people, that occupied the fields by Stonehenge for the whole of the month of June, and that had become a target for violent suppression by Margaret Thatcher.

My book The Battle of the Beanfield, published to mark the 20th anniversary of the Battle of the Beanfield, is still in print, so please feel free to order a copy. Also available: Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion, my counter-cultural history of Stonehenge.

Thatcher had spent 1984 crushing one group of citizens described as the “enemy within” — the miners — while also paving the way for the next “enemy within” to be crushed — the travellers, anarchists and environmental and anti-nuclear activists who made up the convoy attempting to get to Stonehenge when they were ambushed, and then crushed after they sought refuge in a bean field off the A303.

Elements of the convoy had been violently set upon by police in the summer of 1984, at Nostell Priory in Yorkshire, and in February 1985, activists and travellers who had established a settlement at RAF Molesworth in Cambridgeshire (the second proposed site for cruise missiles after Greenham Common in Berkshire, the site of the famous women’s peace camp) were evicted by the largest peacetime mobilisation of troops in modern British history, symbolically led by Thatcher’s right-hand man and defence secretary, Michael Heseltine.

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“First They Came for the Travellers”: Priti Patel’s Chilling Attack on Britain’s Travelling Communities

A composite image of the home secretary Priti Patel and a Gypsy caravan.

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I’ve chosen my headline with care, in response to the news that the home secretary, Priti Patel, has launched a horrible attack on Britain’s travelling community, suggesting that the police should be able to immediately confiscate the vehicle of “anyone whom they suspect to be trespassing on land with the purpose of residing on it”, and announcing her intention to “test the appetite to go further” than any previous proposals for dealing with Gypsies and travellers.

As George Monbiot explained in an article for the Guardian on Wednesday, “Until successive Conservative governments began working on it, trespass was a civil and trivial matter. Now it is treated as a crime so serious that on mere suspicion you can lose your home.” Monbiot added, “The government’s proposal, criminalising the use of any place without planning permission for Roma and Travellers to stop, would extinguish the travelling life.” 

“First they came for the travellers” alludes to the famous poem by the German pastor Martin Niemöller with reference to the Nazis, which begins, “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a socialist”, and continues with reference to trade unionists and Jews, and ending, “Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.”

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The War on Social Housing – on the Centenary of the Addison Act That Launched the Creation of Large-Scale Council Housing

The unnecessary destruction of Robin Hood Gardens Estate in Poplar, in east London, March 2018, to make way for a new private development, Blackwall Reach (Photo: Andy Worthington).

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Today, July 31, is the centenary of the first Housing and Town Planning Act (widely known as the Addison Act), which was introduced by the Liberal politician Christopher Addison, as part of David Lloyd George’s coalition government following the First World War, to provide Britain’s first major council housing programme, as John Boughton, the author of Municipal Dreams: The Rise and Fall of Council Housing, explained in an article published yesterday in the Guardian.

Boughton explained how, when Addison “introduced his flagship housing bill to the House of Commons in April 1919”, he spoke of its “utmost importance, from the point of view not only of the physical wellbeing of our people, but of our social stability and industrial content.”

“As we celebrate the centenary of council housing”, Boughton noted, “this sentiment is not lost in the context of the current housing crisis. From the rise in expensive, precarious and often poor-quality private renting to the dwindling dream of home-ownership, it is fuelling discontent. This escalating crisis means that increasing numbers of people are now forced to deal with the painful consequences of the country’s inability to provide such a basic human need — a stable, affordable home.”

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34 Years On from the Battle of the Beanfield, Is Widespread Environmental Dissent Conceivable?

A photo from the Battle of the Beanfield on June 1, 1985, when the government of Margaret Thatcher violently decommissioned a convoy trying to get to Stonehenge to set up what would have been the 12th annual Stonehenge Free Festival.

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It’s 34 long years since the boot of Margaret Thatcher’s Britain crushed one of the most visible demonstrations of counter-cultural dissent in the UK via a brutal demonstration of the violence of the establishment at what became known as the Battle of the Beanfield, when 1,400 police — from six counties and the MoD — shut down a vastly outnumbered convoy of nomadic new age travellers, anarchists, environmental activists and free festival stalwarts as they attempted to get to Stonehenge to establish what would have been the 12th annual Stonehenge Free Festival.

From humble origins in 1974, the festival grew — reflecting massive discontent in Thatcher’s Britain, where unemployment was at an all-time high in the early ‘80s — so that by the time it was suppressed, tens of thousands of people, for the whole of June, set up a makeshift settlement, the size of a small town, in the fields opposite Stonehenge. 

Drug use was rife, as was acid rock music, while the festival’s regulars, who took part in a circuit of free festivals in England and Wales from May to September, tried to get by via the creation of a low-level, low-impact economy that, like their decision to take to the road in old vehicles rather than stagnating on the dole in towns and cities without jobs, fundamentally challenged the state’s insistence that nomadic activities were reserved solely for Gypsies, who, themselves, have a long history of persecution, as settled people generally, it seems, despise nomadic people. 

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Video: The Battle of the Beanfield, Free Festivals and Traveller History with Andy Worthington on Bristol Community Radio

Is the UK on the verge of a second traveller revolution? A question posed in a Bristol Community Radio show in August 2018, featuring Andy Worthington and New Age Traveller Sean in discussion with Tony Gosling (Photo: Alan Lodge).Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.




 

Last week I was in Bristol for a screening of ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, the new documentary film about the cynical destruction of council estates, and residents’ brave resistance to the destruction of their homes, which I narrate. The screening was at the People’s Republic of Stoke Croft, a pioneering community space in a once-neglected area of Bristol that has now started to be devoured by the insatiable profiteers of the “regeneration” industry. My article about the screening is here, and a brief report about the screening is here, and while I was there I was also interviewed by Tony Gosling for Bristol Community Radio, which is based in the PRSC complex.

Tony and I have known each other for many years, through a shared interest in Britain’s counter-culture, and it was great to take part in his politics show for the station as the author of two very relevant books, Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. Although we discussed the film, that interview has not yet been broadcast, because Tony’s primary focus was on discussing the traveller community of the 1970s and 80s, the free festival scene, focused particularly on Stonehenge and Glastonbury, and the Battle of the Beanfield, on June 1, 1985, when, with Margaret Thatcher’s blessing, 1,400 police from six counties and the MoD violently decommissioned the convoy of vehicles — containing men, women and children — that was en route to Stonehenge to establish what would have been the 12th annual Stonehenge Free Festival.

To discuss the above, Tony had also contacted Sean, a veteran traveller, who still lives in a vehicle, and still upholds the DiY values of that time. We had a wonderful discussion over 40 minutes, which Tony has put on YouTube, illustrated with traveller photos by Alan Lodge, and which I’ve cross-posted below. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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