Thursday, 29 April 2010

Gordon's bloomers

Right outrage for the wrong reason. Browns' on-microphone / off-camera bad-tempered description of a Rochdale pensioner as a bigot doesn't actually disturb me as much as the previous footage of him speaking to her on his walk-about. The footage is a revealing glimpse of the patronising bollocks we have to endure in this age of spin politics.

Brown thought he was being presented with a pre-arranged and stage-manged PR opportunity to show him speaking to a long-standing Labour supporter - no doubt an experience that could serve as the basis of a 'I was speaking to a woman from Rochdale' anecdotes. Instead he was assailed from the position of traditional Labour values of care for the vulnerable - education, the health service and pensions. Until the all too-easy to ridicule 'where are all these Eastern Europeans coming from?' - Mrs Duffy had actually put a pretty well argued case to the PM.

Was she a bigot ? Well yes - a bit and I don't blame him for saying it how it is.  But if you're out there campaigning you are going to come across these attitudes and you aren't going to change them with condescending liberal disdain. 

And don't be surprised if the best-laid plans of spin doctors leave you with egg on your face. Trying to build populist support is no substitute for policies that actually engage with the issues of ordinary people.

And don't be surprised when the Murdoch press sets you up and  bites you in the arse.

Monday, 26 April 2010

Tales of two TUSCs

Maybe I'm seem kind of a masochist but I actually quite enjoy canvassing in elections. I know some people refer to canvassers as 'human spam' but in this election-by-xfactor era, a bit of 'contact time' on the doorstep can redress the much-derided spin and keeps politics real.

I divided my time this weekend: In my own constituency TUSC are standing an SWP-endorsed candidate,  as the only SP member in the village, I'm in the position of  an amicable minority in  the local campaign there. I'm also venturing across the river to help out in the SP-led TUSC campaign where we also have two sitting  SP councillors up for re-election on May 6th.

There are differences in the campaigns but not necessarily the ones you'd first imagine:

Here in Tottenham the emphasis is on mobilising a protest vote against a prominent and up-coming Labour MP who arrogantly assumes that local demographics guarantee him an automatic shoe-in, whilst happily voting solidly for all those measures that fuck-over an area like this. In response the most common attitude is an embittered abstention-ism but there are also signs of support from a significant minority.

Down in Lewisham, with the added dimension of having well-respected Left councillors in office for some years it is not quite so much of a vacuum. At a national level it may be the same rather abstract task of capturing a mood of protest and making a small beginning. But at local level we can point to the clear example of ourselves as a party, in fact the only party, who consistently vote against local cuts. And this has an effect - for what it's worth the only 'definites' that I encountered on the doorstep were SP/TUSC ones - with a few Greens in the more middle class streets.

But what is most telling is the similarity between the two campaigns  - and a feel good factor about being able to put TUSC forward as a national alternative. Of course there are differences; if I was to be picky I would say that the comrades from the SWP seem unsurprisingly to be less experienced in elections - and when campaigning they can come across a bit 'shrill and shouty'.  And I don't know if it is collective amnesia, or a conscious decision to ignore the elephant in the corner, but there seems to be consensus not to mention  the whole Socialist Alliance / Respect thing. But they do have some good local activists and have drawn others around them, and whatever the ideological  and strategic divisions at national level, locally for too long we have existed in mutually enforced parallel worlds.

It has been predicted that after the election TUSC will fracture along the fault lines of its constituent parts. Past experience would suggest that this is quite possible but personally I hope that unity, albeit fragile, can be maintained.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Who killed Blair Peach ?

At one time the chant of 'who killed Blair Peach ? - the police killed Blair Peach!' was repeated almost to the point of irritation at any demonstration where the old bill were out in force. Nowadays I suspect most people have forgotten who Blair Peach was. Today is the anniversary of his death in 1979 and it seems appropriate to have a quick history lesson for the benefit of a new generation of activists:

Blair Peach was a teacher from New Zealand, a member of the Socialist Workers Party and  an activist in the Anti Nazi League. He died from head injuries at a demonstration in Southall against the National Front at which the police  were out in almost equal numbers to the demonstrators - and which ended in widespread violence and arrests. Nobody was really in any doubt that the police, in particular the riot squad SPG (before they were re-branded as the TSG), were completely  out of control. Eleven witnesses were willing to testify that they had seen the police assault Blair Peach.

But the inquest in to his death found a verdict of 'mis-adventure'. 

This fooled nobody - hence the ubiquitous cry of 'the police killed Blair Peach'. The police-cover up was legendary: one SPG officer was caught disposing of a collection of home-made weapons - iron bars and coshes - that police had used to supplement their issued truncheons. When called for an identity parade some officers grew facial hair whilst others shaved off their beards. Uniforms were dry cleaned before forensic tests could be done. The coroner who presided over this was actually advised not to publish his report because it would damage public confidence in the impartiality of the legal process !

Ten years later, after a campaign by his girlfriend, the Met Police finally came to an out of court settlement over Blair Peach's death. And thirty years later, in December 2009 the Crown Prosecution Service said they were still considering whether to investigate the case further. Needless to say no police officer has ever been prosecuted.

With the death of Ian Tomlinson and the attack on Nicola Fisher at last year's G20 it's worth remembering that we've been here before.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Lib-Dem renaissance and the new era.

OK - judging by Nick Clegg's climb up the polls I may have underestimated the impact of the election-special version of the X-Factor on Thursday night.  Being the unknown new kid on the block - or at least not being Brown or Cameron - and not actually fucking up the televised debate seems to be enough to have spawned a Liberal renaissance.

Amidst the Clegg love-in I choked on one of his sound-bites referring to the upset that the Lib-Dems has caused to the 'old parties'. With antecedents going back to the Whigs of the Glorious Revolution of 1688, surely the Liberals are the oldest of all the parties? 

In fact in the three hundred years since  then, British electoral  politics has been predominately a ding-dong affair between them and their old sparing parties the Tories. Admittedly both parties  had make-overs in the the nineteenth century to re-brand themselves as the modern Conservatives and Liberals, but these exercises in spin actually represented less of a break in continuity than that of Labour's morphing into New Labour. Then as now, the Whigs/Liberals represented the more enlightened and considered position of the ruling class whilst the Tories/Conservatives stood firmly on the headbanging reactionary side of history. 

This has more significance than mere historical smart-arsery:

In the  three hundred year  period of party politics the Labour Party has been a force for barely a third of this time. We can debate the dates, but personally I would conveniently  estimate  its life span from 1895 and the election of Keir Hardie, to 1995 and the dropping of Clause 4 and the (token) commitment to socialism. Coincidentally (?) this is also approximately the same  period that saw the active engagement and participation of the majority of ordinary people in electoral politics. Before that time the working class's participation was constitutionally prevented by a restricted franchise -  and  now it is effectively disenfranchised by a lack of political representation.

The Liberal renaissance does nothing to address this, in fact it may be a reversion back to a more honest system; two pro-capitalist parties of the the ruling class, unencumbered with the confusing and embarrassing spectre of a 'socialist' past. 

The rest of us still won't actually participate in this new political process - but every few years we may get a chance to phone in our preferences from a panel of carefully selected and stage-managed contestants (all calls charged at a premium rate)...

Friday, 16 April 2010

Broken bikes. Broken Britain.

I'm going to resist the temptation to comment on the 'historic' televised leaders' debate. Partly because I had better things to do last night than watch it - I was out training and so have only just seen some online 'highlights' - but also because my reaction to what I have seen is  simply 'no shit Sherlock'. 

All three leaders were clearly well briefed and rehearsed by their respective spin factories - so there were no gaffs like Nixon's five o'clock shadow or Bush senior looking a his watch. There was a broad consensus that the debate wasn't about whether to cut public services but how, when, and to what extent they should relish doing so. And the two main parties made it clear that they wanted to suck up to the Lib-Dems - hardly surprising given that we've been talking about hung parliaments for over a year. 

So. meanwhile in the real world: I am working out how to juggle my time to do some work for TUSC candidates here in London,  and fuming at my own experience  of broken Britain.

TWICE in a week my bikes have been damaged whilst they were parked. The damage was relatively minor and will probably cost only  £100 or so in parts, but with the  added inconvenience of hunting down the bits and then a couple of hours doing the repairs. On the second occasion I found my bike on its side having probably been knocked right over by a clumsy driver. It's not so much the damage, or the cost, or the hassle as the fact that whoever did it didn't even have the courtesy to pick the bike up, never mind leaving a note. Fuckers. 

The one time I damaged someone else's bike - knocking it over whilst stupidly starting mine in gear - I was mortified. I ended up paying out about £200 for replacement parts, an apology bottle of J-D for the owner and another thank-you bottle to my friends at the bike shop who took care of the repairs.

I'm not looking for praise - I think the majority of bikers would have done something similar - it's just when did everyone else become an arse-hole ?

Friday, 9 April 2010

The great rock 'n' roll swindler

Despite an affection for The Ramones and The Clash, I was never a punk - but I loved the punk attitude. An attitude that music could be something more than tin pally commercialism and that rock 'n' roll was the new folk music of our times.

Ironically though Malcolm McLaren was  actually the very antithesis of all that - which is why I just don't get the eulogies that are now pouring in from all corners at the news of his death and lauding his journey from enfant terrible to national treasure.

Forget about the art-school background and his supposed subversive situationism, McLaren was old school showbiz through-and-through. He may have been a commercial genius in his eye for talent and judging the moment, and he undeniably had a massive effect on popular culture and media - but much the same could also be said for Simon Cowell.

There are worse crimes than commercial success, but when this comes disguised as  pretentious  anti-establishmentism, it leaves a very bad taste. And based on McLaren's deliberate fueling of Sid and Nancy's fatal downward spiral, with a general tendency, like Andy Warhol,  to treat the people  he worked with as no more than projects and performance moments, I suspect that on a human level he was just a bit of a cunt.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

The Mountain - West Virginia Mine Disaster

Something to put in perspective any bitching about 'stress' at work - the stress of deadlines or the dangers of a stiff neck from an un-ergonomic chair: In West Virginia 25 miners are killed in an underground explosion  and four more are still missing. And last week in Shanxi province, 39 miners are still missing after 100 more were rescued from an underground flood.

These days  not so many of us get our hands dirty for a living but mining remains as perhaps one of the starkest reminders of what capitalism is still fundamentally about - profit extracted from blood, sweat and tears. And a reminder that in mining industries around the world whatever advances in safety may been made,  have largely  been the result, either directly or indirectly, of the actions of workers' organisations. Maybe this is why there were 2,630 largely unreported deaths last year in Chinese mines.

I heard Steve Earle make this point at a gig a few years ago in relation to an earlier disaster in Pennsylvania, and the role of the United Mineworkers of America - so it seems appropriate to include this as some sort of memorial: 

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

After reading the novels some time ago,  I finally got around to seeing 'The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo' this weekend.

The back-cloth is a gloomy Scandanavian landscape that oozes brooding melancholy. The heroine is an ass-kicking, ferociously clever, heavily tattooed-and-pierced punk girl who rides a motorcycle. And the hero is a principled investigative journalist on a mission to expose big business and Neo-Nazis (in fact so was the novel's author)

The plot of course is complete tosh -  but then that goes with the thriller territory. 

What's not to like?

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Bullying bastard in uniform (one year on)

It's tempting to take one look at Sergeant Delroy Smellie - the copper who attacked a woman half his size last year at the G20 demo - and conclude that he is a sadist thug  who must be very happy in his work as a member of the Met's TSG. But I won't, because then I would be as guilty of stereotyping as the police and now the courts are, in assuming that anyone seen wearing Doc Marten boots, a keffiyeh, and a Bolivian-style woolly hat is in fact a violent threat to public order. Although you do have to question the motives of anyone who makes a career choice of serving in a specialist unit whose euphemistic initials cannot disguise the fact that they are primarily the riot squad.

I am not a part of the 'all coppers are bastards brigade': My own much-loved granddad was in the Met - although mainly the River Police - and I grew up on his anecdotes. These included the story of how he broke the jaw of a Canadian soldier at the VE-night celebrations in 1945. My granddad was a giant of a man who rowed and boxed for the police, so when he said that the Canadian was bigger than him and came at him with a flaming lump of wood pulled from a brazier, I have little doubt that his actions were justifiable. Equally though he would boast that in thirty plus years of service, much of it in the docks, he never drew his truncheon in anger.

According to the judge who acquitted Smellie - and she did this on her own because the case was heard without a jury - he was a 'highly trained and experienced' officer who had 'only seven seconds' to decide if the woman Nicola Fisher posed a threat to his safety.

Anyone with training or experience in close range confrontation would confirm that seven seconds in these circumstances is an eternity. It is ample time to be hit or stabbed several times. If this seems unlikely then watch the martial arts clip in  my previous post and imagine the consequences of one of the participants freezing for seven seconds. 

Or review the footage of Smellie's attack on the woman - Nicola Fisher - and see how he has a clear view for several seconds of her hands holding nothing more  threatening than a carton of orange juice and a camera. Without a doubt Fisher is shouting abuse at Smellie before his attack, but by no stretch of the imagination can it be argued that he had reasonable fears for his own safety, especially if he has experience and training in such situations. 

Just imagine the scenario  reversed and a peaceful protester sees a police officer approaching him with a raised baton -  and so delivers a pre-emptive jab to the copper's chin. Theoretically there is a legal basis to arguing that this was justifiable in terms of a perceived threat to the protester's safety. But good luck to anyone arguing that as a defence.

What we saw in court yesterday was again a attempt to take away the legitimacy of protest and the presumption of innocence  by implying that anyone protesting on the streets is automatically a criminal and the police justified in treating them as such. It may still be possible that not all copper are bastards - but there is a paranoid police culture that is self fulfilling and aided by the increasing use of robo-cop style equipment.  And what it adds up to is that, despite the fact that the police's actions can now be recorded and broadcast,* there has probably  never been a worse time to be a protester in this country since the establishment of a civilian police force in the 1820's.

* Ponder this: Approx 300 complaints of police brutality at the G20 demo' + one much publicised death = still no convictions of police officers a year later