Friday, 29 October 2010

Death of a radical action hero.

Ironically just a few days after the anniversary of the Putney Debates in 1647, comes the anniversary of the assassination in 1648 of one of its most prominent radical protagonists - Colonel Thomas Rainsborough.

His life was that of a  swash-buckling hero and a political visionary. Every movement needs its heroes and Rainsborough more than fits the bill:

Born into a naval family from Wapping, Ranisborough was a ship's master in the heavily puritan-influenced navy. With the outbreak of civil war the 'Royal' Navy came out solidly in support of the parliamentary cause and Rainsborough commanded the frigate Swallow in a number of actions against Royalist privateers. He was also involved in raiding parties on land and played a part in the lifting of the seige at Hull. By 1645 he had transferred to the army and commanded a regiment of infantry in the New Model Army, which he led at Naesby, Langport, Worcester and Bristol. 

Rainsborough had been heavily influenced by the radical ideas  of the Levellers and in addition to his military duties he also became the MP for Droitwich. Whilst he was at Westminister away from his regiment, it mutinied at the threat that it would be disbanded by parliament - dominated at the time by Presbyterian faction who were looking to negotiate a compromise settlement with the king and so wanted to weaken the radicalised army. 

In what was a pivotal moment Rainsborough returned to his regiment to support his troops. He led a number of regiments to march on London to prevent the prospect of a Presbyerian counter-revolution which in the troops eyes threatened to throw away the gains they had made  - and in parliament  he proposed the 'Vote Of No Address' which pledged no more negotiations with the king. 

However in doing so Rainsborough not only drew a line in the sand between himself and the Prebyterians he also made an enemy of Cromwell and the army grandees of the Independent faction. Although more resolute than the Presbyterians in their opposition to the king, they still were far from the democratic position of the army rank and file. At the Putney debates, Rainsborough emerged as the highest-ranking and most influential Leveller spokesman - arguing for a position of republican government and universal male suffrage.

This probably sealed his fate, and from then it was clear that Cromwell wanted him out of the way. Rainsborough returned to the navy - whic by then were dominated by the Presbyterians - and he was ignominiously put ashore by his crew who refused to serve under him.  Returning to the army he successfully commanded a new regiment in the Second Civil War, defeating the Royalists at Colchetser, but he was then sent to take command of the armies in the North, as far away from the centre of events in London as possible.

Whilst on his way, he was assassinated by Royalist agents who managed to smuggle themselves into his lodgings in Donacaster. Conspiracy theories abound and it is widely believed that Cromwell  connived in his killing - it was certainly a most convenient death  - and in many ways marked the high water mark of the Leveller movement.

And as an epilogue: He was given a Leveller funeral and  the streets of London  were lined with mourners wearing green - the colour of English radicalism until it was replaced by the symbol of red imported by European socialist exiles.  This may be the origin - rather than the Irish nationalist connection - of the English folk-song 'all around my hat I will wear the green ribbon'. 

• Picture of Rainsborough from the BBC's costume drama 'The Devils Whore' which appropriately mixed a bit of bodice-ripping romance with a bit of history and a sprinkling of radicalism.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Made In England

Back when we were the 'workshop of the world',  'Made In England' was a bench mark of quality. A slow and painful  decline in our manufacturing base, with a finishing stroke from Thatcherism put paid to all that, and all we hear about now is outsourcing to  'leaner' (possibly a euphemism for hungrier ?) producers in China and India.

But in one area at least it appears that the knowledge that a product is  'Made In England' is sufficient to ensure that no more questions are asked - the manufacture of lethal drugs for use in judicial killings.

Jeffrey Landrigan was executed in Arizona - this week  after having been sentenced to death in 1989. As so often in these cases  there had been a successions of appeals and reversals , including the original sentencing judge saying that she would not have given him the death penalty if she had known  full extent ofLandrigan's congenital brain damage.

The last appeal had been granted on the grounds that the anaesthetic - Sodium Thiopental - the first of three drugs administered in lethal injection executions, was from an unknown source. There has been  a  shortage since the  US manufacturer of the drug  -  Hospira - have made it know that they are not to happy about it being used in executions, and so a number of US states have been importing the drug. And because the source of the drug was unknown, its 'quality'  couldn't be assured, and it might  therefore constitute a 'cruel and unusual punishment' - and so an illegitimate execution. 

The  Arizona Attorney General argued that they had the right to keep the anonymity  of their overseas supplier, citing legislation used to protect the identity of the officials who preside over executions. However he did say that the drug had been sourced from the UK - and on this basis it was deemed that it was a reliable source and therefore the Supreme Court overturned the appeal and allowed the execution to go ahead.

The identity of this UK supplier has still not been announced- although it appears that there is only one known manufacturer in this country - Archimedes Pharama UK. Although it is of course possible (and will no doubt be argued) that they were unaware of  the intended use when they supplied it. I couldn't possibly comment.

There is an obscene sophistry at every stage of this story:  A man with brain damage kept on death row for over 20 years; arguments over what constitutes 'cruel and unusual punishment' - even a truly bizarre suggestion that the 'weapons' used in judicial killings in future should require FDA approval ! And all this so that western democracies can sleep soundly  - and smugly - whilst condemning the uncivilised practises of stoning or garroting.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Soldiers and radicals.

The anniversary this week  (28th Oct to 9th Nov) of one of the most extraordinary and significant episodes in English history - the Putney debates of 1647. 

With the First Civil War effectively over, Charles Stuart in prison, and the ranks of the New Model Army in radical ferment, the leaders of the parliamentary armies - the Grandees -  under pressure of their own troops on the verge of mutiny, convened a week of meetings with the rank-and-file, essentially to discuss  'what kind of victory' ?

The debates have been much recorded and analysed - with on one hand  the position of the Grandees, favouring some sort of constitutional compromise with a monarchy controlled by 'godly' men of property,  summed up by Ireton:  'no man hath a right to an interest or share in the disposing of the affairs of the kingdom... that hath not a permanent fixed interest in this kingdom.' 

 And on the other, that of the Leveller-influenced  'Agitators' - famously articulated by Rainsborough: 'the poorest he that is in England hath a life to live, as the greatest he ... every man that is to live under a government ought first by his own consent to put himself under that government; and I do think that the poorest man in England is not at all bound in a strict sense to that government that he hath not had a voice to put himself under'.

A few days later the debates ended when the king escaped from captivity - and in the end,  following the regicide,  a brief  republican interlude, the repression of the Levellers, and two more subsequent civil wars, it could be said that it was a version of Ireton's vision that triumphed. 

But perhaps what was most extraordinary was that the debates happened at all:  The army leaders would have been happy to have had a loyal army defeat the royalists militarily, then be paid-off  and go home - thereby permitting  a negotiated constitutional settlement.  But in five years of civil war they had come to rely on forces they couldn't control and so - in an early example of proto-Permanent Revolution - the masses had entered on to the stage to push the process of change far beyond the realms of what was initially envisaged. 

As a footnote -  it is impossible to avoid drawing a parallel with the 'Soldiers' Parlaiment' convened in 1944 in Cairo by the British Eighth Army: Some of these troops had been posted overseas for three or four years and they had been radicalised by their involvement with liberation movements in Greece, Italy and the Balkans. 

Their 'mock' parliament again debated 'what kind of victory?' - and in answer elected a  Socialist/Communist coalition 'governement' and passed 'legislation' nationalising the heights of the economy - actually going beyond Labour's platform  in the landslide 1945 election.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Tory pay-back time

There were  obscene cheers from the Tory benches after Osbourne had delivered  the CSR yesterday. Shadow chancellor Alan Johnson was quite right in putting their unconcealed glee down to  the long-awaited fulfillment of a Tory ideological vision. 

Forget their home-spun bullshit about diligent housekeeping - the Tories have never liked the welfare state and generally think that the working masses perform better without a safety net - presumably it sharpens our attention.

It has always been so: The welfare state's origins do not lie in the  1945 Labour Government, but - ironically - in Lloyd George's Liberal government before the Great War.

The Old Age Pensions Act of 1908, the People's Budget of 1909, and  the National Insurance Act of 1911 were the building blocks of the benefits system.  Lloyd Gerorge talked about moving out of 'the shadow of the work-house'. In truth the reforms came about largely because the Liberals were leaning on the support of a newly-enfranchised working class, political allies in the embryonic Labour Party, and reacting under the pressure of an upsurge in trade union militancy.

They were modest measures, applying to only certain sections of the 'deserving' working class -  and generally they had some sort of contributory angle. But the Tories fought them tooth and nail, perceiving a threat to undermine western civilisation - or at least free market capitalism. And using their in-built majority in the House Of Lords they took the country to the brink of constitutional crisis.

This history matters - don't imagine for a moment that these people don't have long memories: 

When I heard the news  that Thatcher had been taken in to  hospital my first thought was that she can die happy now knowing that the work she began 25 years ago  - declaring war on 'society' - is now well on it's way to being done.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Let them eat cake

This is the list of shame: The fat-cat chairmen of 35 top UK companies who have publically come out in a letter to the Daily Tory-graph to support the ConDem's austerity programme - And to hurry up and do it quick; because they just can't wait for the working class to be made to pay for the mess that their boardroom-bonus guzzling mates have got us in to. Fuckers - one and all:

Will Adderley - CEO, Dunelm Group
Robert Bensoussan - Chairman, L.K. Bennett
Andy Bond - Chairman, ASDA
Ian Cheshire - Chief Executive, Kingfisher
Gerald Corbett - Chairman, SSL International,, Britvic
Peter Cullum - Executive Chairman, Towergate
Tej Dhillon - Chairman and CEO, Dhillon Group
Philip Dilley - Chairman, Arup
Charles Dunstone - Chairman, Carphone Warehouse Group Chairman, TalkTalk Telecom Group
Warren East - CEO, ARM Holdings
Gordon Frazer - Managing Director, Microsoft UK
Sir Christopher Gent - Non-Executive Chairman, GlaxoSmithKline
Ben Gordon - Chief Executive, Mothercare
Anthony Habgood - Chairman, Whitbread  - Chairman, Reed Elsevier
Aidan Heavey - Chief Executive, Tullow Oil
Neil Johnson - Chairman, UMECO
Nick Leslau - Chairman, Prestbury Group
Ian Livingston - CEO, BT Group
Ruby McGregor-Smith - CEO, MITIE Group
Rick Medlock - CFO, Inmarsat; Non-Executive Director, The Betting Group
John Nelson - Chairman, Hammerson
Stefano Pessina - Executive Chairman, Alliance Boots
Nick Prest - Chairman, AVEVA
Nick Robertson - CEO, ASOS
Sir Stuart Rose - Chairman, Marks & Spencer
Tim Steiner - CEO, Ocado
Andrew Sukawaty - Chairman and CEO, Inmarsat
Michael Turner - Executive Chairman, Fuller, Smith and Turner
Moni Varma - Chairman, Veetee
Paul Walker - Chief Executive, Sage
Paul Walsh - Chief Executive, Diageo
Robert Walters - CEO, Robert Walters
Joseph Wan - Chief Executive, Harvey Nichols
Bob Wigley - Chairman, Expansys, Stonehaven Associates, Yell Group
Simon Wolfson - Chief Executive, Next

Monday, 11 October 2010

'If I ran a business like that ....'

... I'd deserve to be shot.

May be it's because in my own work I get bullied by big-business retailers, but I find it particularly fucking outrageous that fat-cat cunt Sir Philip Green of the Arcadia Group is appointed as a 'procurement czar' and now gets to lectures us on the inefficiencies of public spending.

Ever since a certain shop-keeper's daughter started telling us that society should be run on the model of a business, a consensus has insidiously developed that this is nothing less than 'commonsense'. And it's kind of  understandable that simple maxims like 'not spending what you haven't got' have an appeal to ordinary people who can relate this only too well  to their own lives.  

But the trouble is that the examples that Thatcher - and her successors through Blair to Cameron - were referring to are not those of some quaint and hokey 'mom and pop' small business.  The kind of businessmen they are so fond of - like Sir Philip -   have money-making strategies that are just not open to the small businesses they would have us believe are the paragons of all civic virtues. 

Strategies like creating a labyrinthine chain of ownership through off-shore holding companies that leads back to a wife who is a resident of Monaco.  So  she is free of paying UK tax on the £1.2billion profits she gets out of the businesses, whilst he gets to say smugly - and entirely legally - that he is a UK tax payer. 

Or strategies like extending this off-shoring to the manufacturing for his clothing empire - by  sweat-shop labour: In Asia workers for his suppliers can expect 40p an hour for a 70hour week - but only after they have paid a recruitment company up to the equivalent of a year's salary for the job in the first place.

It shows  a kind of moral bankruptcy that shouldn't even be tolerated amongst business people  -   let alone co-opted into the government.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Plus ca change ...

Last night my nearly-sixteen year old daughter came with me to the London Socialist Party 'How We Beat The Tories Last Time' public meeting. I feel some conflicting emotions at this.

Firstly,  pride: that she's definitely on the 'right' side; that she gives a toss about what's going on in the world;  and that she has sufficient energy to get up and do something about it. Something must have rubbed off.

Secondly, frustration: I was about the same age when I first got involved - and never would have dreamt that 25 years later we would again be facing another period of doom and gloom recession -  and with so many defeats from Tories and betrayals from Labour behind us.

But also lastly - a sense of getting old: The meeting started with an excellent  short film of news clips from the 80's and early 90's - featuring a fresh-faced Tommy Sheridan and a youthful Derek Hatton, surrounded by comrades sporting  the shell-suits and mullets of that era. And  I could vividly recall all the events featured - the meetings, the demos, the strikes, the lobbies ... and the headlines.

Fucking hell - I've become a part of history.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Police horses for the chop.

One unexpected upside of the ConDem's cuts is the possibility that several police force's may have to lose their mounted branch

Good. I can see no possible use of police horses in a modern urban context other than to intimidate people. 

From experiences at Wapping and Trafalgar Square, I can personally confirm that the experience of facing a full-tilt charge of police horses is terrifying. It's meant to be so -   not just to disperse a crowd but also to intimidate it from forming in the first place.

And  the threat is not just psychological - mounted police officers are equipped with those extra long batons precisely so that they can reach down and  do some actual damage as well.

At sports events and big concerts,  the horses may get petted by kids and other animal lovers, but their very presence for me  is still a veiled threat  - and one that brings back echoes over the centuries of  the Peterloo massacre.

Monday, 4 October 2010

In praise of rat-bikes

I was trying to explain to someone why I thought this - Steve McQueen's legendary Indian rat-bike - was one of the coolest bikes I'd ever seen. I'm afraid it was a classic case of 'if I have to explain you won't understand'.

I'm inclined to anthropomorphize my motorcycles. It's obviously daft - I know they are lumps of unfeeling metal, but since I've had two Sportsters I am conscious not to show any favouritism between them. I try to rotate riding them evenly. My orange 2002 model - which I have had  longest - is undeniably the superior model and I've certainly lavished the most money on it, whilst my grey 1989  - a more recent acquisition - is tattier and altogether rougher. I'm worried though that I might be developing a favouritism for what was always supposed to be my rat-bike.

Actually it's the roughness that's the very essence of its charm. It's why I get a buzz parking  it up next to a row of gleaming bling-machines. Which is  exactly what I did at the local HD dealership's open day this weekend: The plain paint job, the lack of any  graphics and with just-enough home-customizing/bodging ...  it all causes the casual weekend riders to stop just for a few moments and think what model it actually is - I suppose they can't recall seeing it in the catalogue.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Another so-called 'Apprentice'


I actually caught this show on late night cable - before I saw it reviewed over at the Needles and Sins tattoo blog. The review there of 'Jodie Marsh Tattoo Apprentice' is spot on - the programme  encapsulates  many things that piss me off but mostly I'm depressed by her lack of respect for the fellowship and tradition of the craft she's trying to enter. It's a depressingly and infuriating phenomenon that's not confined to the world of tattooing:

Jodie doesn't want to be an apprentice - she wants to be a tattooist  or perhaps more accurately she wants people to know that she's a tattooist - and above all to do so quickly.

I see that attitude all the time in martial arts with students who  question why they have to spend three months learning a form before they get to practice its application. I also see that attitude with graphic design graduates who come to us at work thinking that  they are god's gift and then get offended when they're told to make the tea.  And yes; I was a smartarse grad' once, full of my own cleverness who had to spend a couple of years making the teas, getting the breakfasts and being the butt of every practical joke - I also had some of the most fun I have ever had at work - because I had the right attitude.

But of course though Jodie is a celebrity - it's just I  can't remember what for.

I have a vague recollection of seeing her on various reality shows but she hasn't actually  shown a discernible  talent for anything in particular. Like the recently beatified Jade Goody, her burning ambition to be famous is  deemed sufficient in itself to be a passport to a world of D-list fame.

Their lack of talent - and of others like them - has  actually  been turned into a virtue  as  a celebration of 'ordinariness'. It's  a  fucking sad view of humanity that sees 'everyman' as a moron. I'd rather marvel in the incredible talents that are hidden in the most unlikely of places: And I'm not talking about the X-Factor wanabees I'm talking about genuine backstreet heroes - the amateur astronomers, the local historians, the musicians who tirelessly play on the pub circuit, the guys who engineer beautiful motorcycles in the garden sheds - who do what they love for the sheer hell of it and just go about their ordinary lives in the meantime.

And most relevantly there are plenty of talented young artists, passionate about tattooing, who would give their right arm to get a start as an apprentice in a tattoo studio, and if they do, will then endure several years of low pay and hard work.