The Hell That is Boris Johnson’s Broken, Brexit-Deluded, Covid-Ravaged England

Boris Johnson leaves a media briefing in Downing Street on December 24, 2020.

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For the last two months, my physical world has shrunk immensely. For nine years I cycled almost every day, capturing the changing face of London on bike rides that have taken me to the furthest postcodes of Europe’s largest city, and that, since the first Covid lockdown in March 2020, involved me cycling most days into central London — the City and the West End — to capture what began as apocalyptic emptiness, to which, by degrees, human activity eventually returned, but on nothing like the scale that it was before Covid hit. I post a photo a day from those bike rides — with accompanying essays — on my Facebook page ‘The State of London’, and also on Twitter.

Two months ago, however, I sprained my leg quite badly — crossing an unexpected line when what I thought was healthy activity turned out to be something that, instead, signified that my body’s resilience was finite, and that I was wearing it out.

Since then, I’ve barely left my immediate neighbourhood. For most of the last two months, I felt fortunate if I was able to hobble to the bottom of the street I live in in Brockley, in south east London. The worst of it is now over, as the muscle I sprained has finally healed, but in the process of compensating my knee itself is now bruised and painful, and although I can walk further — up to and and around my local park, Hilly Fields, and around the streets nearest to me, I haven’t been able to venture further afield, except on a few occasions when my wife has driven me somewhere.

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

Six photos from the Battle of the Beanfield, on June 1, 1985, when the police, under Margaret Thatcher, destroyed, with unprecedented violence, a convoy of vehicles containing men, women and children, as they tried to make their way to Stonehenge to set up what would have been the 12th annual Stonehenge Free Festival.

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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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Video: I Discuss the Right to Protest, Guantánamo and the Plight of Julian Assange with Team Assange

A screenshot of Andy Worthington being interviewed by Alison Mason of Team Assange on March 20, 2021, discussing the UK government’s attempts to suppress peaceful protest, Guantánamo and the case of Julian Assange.

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I’m pleased to be posting a video of an interview I undertook recently with the London-based activists of Team Assange, who have a primary focus on the case of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, but are also concerned with many other issues of social justice in the UK and around the world.

The interview came about after I met some of those involved with Team Assange in Parliament Square as part of the protests that followed the heavy-handed and astonishingly insensitive behaviour of the police at a peaceful vigil on Clapham Common for Sarah Everard, and that also coincided with the second reading, in the House of Commons, of the government’s horrible Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, with its intention of criminalising non-violent protest, and its assault on the rights of Gypsies and Travellers. For my recent articles on these topics, see The Dangerous Authoritarian Threat Posed by Priti Patel to Our Right to Protest and Dissent and Rise Up! How Protest Movements Define the Limits of Covid Lockdowns, and the Perils of Covid Denial.

My interview, with Alison Mason of Team Assange, starts 15 minutes into the one-hour programme, which also features an interview with Action4Assange activist Misty in Washington, D.C., and lasts for 20 minutes. I’ve posted it below, via YouTube, and I hope you have time to watch it, and will share it if you find it useful.

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Rise Up! How Protest Movements Define the Limits of Covid Lockdowns, and the Perils of Covid Denial

Kill the Bill: protestors in Parliament Square on March 15, 2021 (Photo: Andy Worthington).

With the anniversary of the UK’s first Covid lockdown approaching, I look at how how the protest movements that have arisen over the last 12 months — about racist oppression, the safety of women and an attempted ban on protest itself — have spontaneously arisen when the logical limits of strict lockdowns have been reached. I also note how these movements stand in stark opposition to the protests of those engaged in Covid denial, who wilfully flout genuine public safety concerns through a toxic mix of dangerous conspiracy theories.

The devastatingly incompetent and corrupt government of Boris Johnson

Ever since the first Covid lockdown was declared in the UK, on March 23 last year, the British people have, for the most part, complied with the rules laid down by a government that was spectacularly ill-equipped to deal with a global pandemic, that has handled it with shattering incompetence, and that has also engaged in cronyism to an unprecedented extent.

Elected in December 2019 to ‘Get Brexit Done’ by just 29% of the registered electorate, Boris Johnson stacked his cabinet with inadequate, second-rate politicians whose only requirement for being chosen was that they were fanatically committed to Britain leaving the EU, an astonishingly misguided policy of national suicide that came out of David Cameron’s shameful capitulation to Euro-sceptics in his own party, and the threat posed by UKIP under Nigel Farage.

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The Dangerous Authoritarian Threat Posed by Priti Patel to Our Right to Protest and Dissent

Shame on Priti Patel: a placard at the protest outside New Scotland Yard on March 14, 2021 following the heavy-handed suppression of a peaceful vigil for Sarah Everard on Clapham Common the evening before (Photo: Andy Worthington).

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So the war is on, then — of home secretary Priti Patel versus the people; Priti Patel, the authoritarian bigot, versus anyone who dares to disagree with her about anything; Priti Patel, a woman, and the child of Ugandan-Indian immigrants, who, nevertheless, embodies the worst aspects of an arrogant, intolerant, racist, sexist, planet-despoiling, rights-hating elite British patriarchy.

For anyone concerned about civil liberties in the UK, Priti Patel’s deeply troubling attitude to dissent seems to have fuelled yesterday’s heavy-handed response by the police to a peaceful vigil by women on Clapham Common mourning the brutal murder of Sarah Everard, allegedly by a serving police officer.

The sight of policemen using force to break up the vigil was an act of truly astonishing insensitivity, and while there are clearly questions to be asked of the officers involved — concerning their blatant ‘manhandling’ of grieving women, and claims that some officers deliberately trampled on flowers left by woman at the vigil, as well as the risibility of the Metropolitan Police’s own claims about them having to break up the vigil because of concerns about public safety in light of the ongoing Covid regulations — it seems most pertinent to look up the chain of command for an explanation of how and why such a heavy-handed and insensitive display of force took place — and that chain of command leads inexorably, via the Met Commissioner Cressida Dick, to Priti Patel.

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Over 70 Doctors Write to UK Home Secretary Priti Patel Expressing Fears That Julian Assange May Die in Belmarsh Prison

Julian Assange photographed after his most recent extradition hearing in October 2019.

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It’s three days now since over sixty medical professionals from around the world (now over seventy) published an open letter to the British home secretary Priti Patel (and shadow home secretary Diane Abbott) warning of their fears that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange — who is being held in Belmarsh maximum-security prison as he fights plans to extradite him to the US to face espionage charges that carry a 175-year prison sentence — may die in British custody, and urging her to allow him to have “urgent expert medical assessment of both his physical and psychological state of health”, and that, if any medical treatment is required, for it to be “administered in a properly equipped and expertly staffed university teaching hospital.”

I’m pleased to note that the letter was picked up on by a number of significant mainstream media outlets, including the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Guardian.

However, because I think that, in particular, the detailed list of assessments of Assange’s condition, included in the letter, which have been made by numerous organizations and individuals between July 2015 and this month are worth reading in full, I’m cross-posting the letter below, as published on Medium, and credited to “Doctors for Assange,” and I’m hoping that, as a result, it will reach some new readers, and also that it will provide another reference point online for this comprehensive catalog of how, since he first sought asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy in June 2012, Julian Assange has been deprived of proper medical and psychological treatment, leading to the terrible situation whereby now over seventy medical professionals fear for his life.

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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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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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