Highlights from Occupy London protest issues demands to democratise City of London | UK news | guardian.co.uk
- An end to business and corporate block-votes in all council elections, which can be used to outvote local residents.
- Abolition of existing “secrecy practices” within the City, and total and transparent reform of its institutions to end corporate tax evasion.
- The decommissioning of the City of London police with officers being brought under the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan police force.
- Abolition of the offices of Lord Mayor of London, the Sheriffs and the Aldermen.
- And a truth and reconciliation commission to examine corruption within the City and its institutions.
I agree with them, but fear they’ll be outmanoeuvred by an increasingly belligerent Church of England, aided as it is by the right wing press and other apologists. Giles Fraser is gone, edged out by a Church completely indifferent to its scriptural objectives. The organisation which repeatedly bleats about losing its influence and how it faces ‘persecution’ by no longer being able to discriminate against whomever it pleases, is going to show just what lengths it’s prepared to go to to protect its privilege. Inequality? Who cares. Corruption in the City which is its home? Not a problem, because they do very well out of not challenging the neoliberal status quo.
We are at a crossroads. Our economies were broken in 2008 by a reckless banking elite, who have never been brought to account. Our neoliberal governments capitalised on the economic crash to force through the standard model of what Naomi Klein labels ‘disaster capitalism’, forcing through (with the right wing media’s help) economic and social changes which would have made Thatcher or Reagan blanche. We have a situation where the poor are being made to pay the price for the abuses of the rich, who are being allowed to pay themselves outrageous bonuses with our tax money. The Occupy movement is taking a stand against this calamity, and are under regular attack by the police in whichever Western country demonstrations begin. Everyone needs to watch this video and to learn how vital it is that we hold our leaders to account. ‘Yes we can’ said Barack Obama that very year – now beholden to the very interests he said he would hold to account (and then didn’t), the US President, British PM and others need to be shown how true that tagline is (and has to be).
So the students, as expected, came for Richard Dawkins last night. Here’s why:
A group of well-known academics are setting up a private college in London which will charge students £18,000 a year in tuition fees. There will, as usual, be scholarships for the deserving poor. As a kind of Oxbridge by the Thames, the New College of the Humanities will offer students weekly one-on-one tutorials. For that kind of money, I would demand a team of live-in, round-the-clock tutors, ready to fill me in about Renaissance art or logical positivism at the snap of a finger. I would also expect them to iron my socks and polish my boots.
There will, however, be teaching from 14 “star” professors as well, including Linda Colley, Christopher Ricks, Richard Dawkins, Niall Ferguson and David Cannadine. Somehow it’s hard to imagine these guys rolling in at 9am and teaching for 12 to 15 hours a week, which is what you do in the real Oxbridge. Prospective students should talk to these professors’ travel agents and insist on obtaining photocopies of their diaries. Students can, however, be fairly relaxed about the prospect of being kicked out. It would be like JK Rowling being kicked out by her publishers.
New College of course is an odious idea – you get an ‘Oxford’ education with ‘star’ professors, with the bonus of it being in London, but only if you can afford it. And indeed with academics notorious for turning up when (and if) they choose, how often will superstars like Dawkins actually turn up? At a time when the higher education system is being fundamentally marketised, Dawkins et al, including the ‘master’ of the school AC Grayling, have decided that rather than rock the boat and stand up to the Tories, they’d much rather just go along with it and make a tidy profit.
Last night Dawkins and PZ Myers held a public discussion under the auspices of the British Humanist Association, at the Institute of Education. Unsurprisingly the topics of discussion were evolution, atheism and to please their fawning audience they did as much as they could to say offensive things about religion. But before they even had a chance to start, the gathering was invaded by students, outraged at Dawkins’ participation in Grayling’s venture. They clearly intended to sabotage the evening, and expected the backing of the audience. When they started facing increasingly abusive heckling back, and eventually a full audience rebellion against them, they were quite bewildered and got increasingly petulant.
What they didn’t get was that a significant proportion of the audience agreed with them: Dawkins’ participation in the NCH venture is vile, but the battle against Tory marketisation of higher education wasn’t to be had there that night. Most people were there to learn (ironically for free) from the star professors, or just to be entertained – as one irate man pointed out: it would have made more sense to attack Michael Gove, not Richard Dawkins. Much of the audience agreed with the invaders, but were there for entertainment and intellectual stimulation despite their misgivings about the evolutionary biologist’s decision. We’re complex beings – it’s entirely possible to enjoy someone for their talents, whilst disagreeing with wrong minded decisions they’ve taken. He was eventually successfully challenged in the auditorium and tried to defend his case, but did so poorly. He came across partly as an Oxford elitist who didn’t understand how the other 90% lived, but mostly as a typical academic on a different planet to everyone else.
It’s entirely possible that his standing against the Tories may not change anything about education policy in the UK. But if he’s so laissez-faire about marketisation, why not offer his star services to somewhere like London Metropolitan University, now on the brink of disaster? I’m sure a university prepared to cut 4 5ths of its courses would bend over backwards to accommodate whatever teaching system he thinks is so vital to important to export to London. But of course that’s not the point. Dawkins is going along with Grayling because he doesn’t understand what’s really important for most young people in higher education, (his precious ‘Oxford style’ is a red herring) and that helping to set up what might be a whole tranche of private universities for the rich and elite fundamentally undermines the mainstream system he professes to care about. Every member of Dawkins’ & Myers’ audience must have understood that as well, but by arguing that ‘Richard Dawkins insults the whole world’ the students opposed to him shot themselves cleanly in the foot.
That’s what cuddly Business Secretary Vince Cable is threatening:
“We are undoubtedly entering a difficult period. Cool heads will be required all round. Despite occasional blips, I know that strike levels remain historically low, especially in the private sector. On that basis, and assuming this pattern continues, the case for changing strike law is not compelling,” he will say.
“However, should the position change, and should strikes impose serious damage to our economic and social fabric, the pressure on us to act would ratchet up. That is something which both you, and certainly I, would wish to avoid.”
Of course he neatly sidesteps the fact that strikes, in response to the ConDems’ austerity agenda, would/will be entirely because of the social damage they inflict on our economic and social fabric. An ideological war is building up, which will make the early 80′s look like a mild spat.
By ‘you’ of course I mean you people who voted Tory. I do hope you Lib Dem voters don’t make the same mistake twice:
Anyone who thought Andrew Lansley‘s political career was over had better think again after tonight’s meeting of the Tory 1922 committee.
The health secretary was cheered to the rafters when he appeared before the 1922 committee to explain the “pause” in the government’sNHS reforms.
My mole described the scene:
The minute Andrew walked in there was sustained banging of desks. He was very very very well received. The support was genuinely warm.
The enthusiastic reception for Lansley was designed to send messages to two people:
• David Cameron needs to tread with care amid concerns among some Tory MPs that No 10 has suggested that Lansley is an isolated figure in the government’s “listening exercise” over the health and social care bill.
• Nick Clegg, who announced his support for major changes to the bill at a meeting of his parliamentary party on Tuesday night, will face a furious response if he turns too harshly on Lansley.
You voted against AV, which might have better represented the majority who don’t agree with any of this. But no, in your ignorance you enabled this party to continue dismembering the NHS, to continue its unnecessary policy of ‘savage’ budget cuts, its thorough marketisation of higher education (which will destroy it for the – you guessed it – majority). You voted against the Lib Dems in the local elections, when they haven’t acted as a discernible brake on the Tories, and in doing so sent the Tories the message that they could do as they pleased. Even the police hate them! We have a voting system which allows a party which most people didn’t vote for to try its utmost to dismember as much of the areas of the public sector which most people value and a population with attitudes so insufferably stupid that given the chance to send a message that this has to stop then didn’t!
You people have brought what’s to come on yourselves. The destruction of London Metropolitan University is only the start for higher education, and when one of Cameron’s advisors says the NHS will be shown ‘no mercy’, you can only imagine what’s next. There’s no alternative, I hear you idiots cry? Of course there bloody is. Even the ultra right Sarkozy in France is talking about a Robin Hood tax to make the bankers pay the financial cost of the damage they caused. And of course even the senior doctor brought in by Cameron to review the ConDems’ reforms is utterly opposed to them:
Prof Steve Field, chairman of the NHS Future Forum – set up last month to undertake the coalition’s “listening exercise” – flatly rejects the health secretary’s plan to compel hospitals to compete for patients and income, which he says could “destroy key services”. The proposal, contained inAndrew Lansley‘s health and social care bill, has led key medical organisations to warn that it will lead to the breakup of the NHS and betray the service’s founding principles.
My alma mater London Metropolitan University has just announced it’s going to institute 70% cuts to its courses, ripping the heart out of the university in precisely the ‘market is everything’ manner the students themselves warned us about in their demonstrations against the ConDems’ higher education policies. From the Guardian:
from September 2012, it will reduce its 577 different course arrangements to around 160, shutting history, philosophy, Caribbean studies, theatre studies, trade union studies, dance, parts of multimedia and performing arts. Closures to modern languages are under discussion. It will also move away from semester length to year-long modules of 30 teaching weeks, with more core learning in the early years of an undergraduate programme.
Gillies says the idea is to replace the “smorgasboard” approach of students picking from a huge range of courses to something more focused. Employability will be key – “our strapline does have the words ‘building careers’” – and services such as learning support will be decentralised.
Students at North Campus have taken matters into their own hands:
I couldn’t support them more. London Met is holding a teach-in tomorrow, and the students are in need of your practical support. If you oppose the ConDems’ decimation of higher education in this country even partly as much as I do, give them a hand.
The film shows senior police officers assuring members of UK Uncut who had peacefully occupied Fortnum & Mason that they would not be confused with the rioters outside, and would be allowed to go home if they left the store. They did so, and were penned, handcuffed, thrown into vans, dumped in police cells and, in some cases, left there for 24 hours.
Isn’t all that supposed to have stopped? Haven’t we entered a new era of freedom in which the government, as it has long promised, now defends“the hard-won liberties that we in Britain hold so dear”? No.
In May 2010, after becoming deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg pledged that the government would “repeal all of the intrusive and unnecessary laws that inhibit your freedom” and “remove limits on the rights to peaceful protest.” The Queen’s speech firmed up the commitment by promising “the restoration of rights to non-violent protest”. So how did this grand vision become the limp rag of a bill now before parliament?
Because a) Clegg is more interested in power than principle and b) Clegg presumed he had about as much influence as Tony Blair had over George W Bush. But there’s far more in play than just those issues. Clegg also wants to prove (apparently at any cost) that coalition politics can work in the UK, but he’s labouring under a massive misapprehension – coalitions are supposed to be based on red lines and principles, not a supine desperation for approval by the dominant party. The betrayal of UK Uncut and attack on the students in Trafalgar Square are reminiscent of the worst authoritarian excesses under New Labour, and Cameron, Clegg and Home Secretary Theresa May appear entirely comfortable with them, then again this isn’t surprising. They’ve always known their ‘savage’ cuts would cause severe social unrest – apparently free-market ‘Orange Bookers’ find that a price worth paying. If it’s a choice between liberty and the unfettered free market, we know what’s most important for Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats. Monbiot goes on to say:
I don’t believe Clegg’s claim, which seems to have gulled the usually sceptical Observer journalist Henry Porter, that this act is the beginning, not the end, of the coalition’s reforms; and that, in Porter’s words, “there may even be a great repeal act down the road that would look at some of the laws not addressed in this bill”. Perhaps he is unaware that the original title of the current legislation was the freedom (great repeal) bill.
This legislation shows every sign of having been stopped and searched, fingerprinted and stripped of any content that might have rebalanced the relationship between people and power.
He’s right. Clegg’s early boasts mimic Obama’s promise to close down Guantanamo Bay – they promise change to get power, which when pushed turns out to be the objective they care about most. Neither Britain nor America has the slightest chance of change we can believe in – it’s no wonder young people are fighting back.
What’s new, I hear you cry? Well in the past they’ve normally been adept at covering up their excesses. Not so after the #march26 March for the Alternative protest when they mass arrested dozens of entirely peaceful UK Uncut protesters. Watch:
Appalling. And read Adam Ramsay’s account of his arrest:
When we were inside Fortnum & Mason, the police made it clear to us: if we left, we would not be arrested. At 6pm or so, we left, together. The police kettled us outside the shop. I was towards the back, and so could not see exactly what was going on, though I could see in front of me people who had left about an hour earlier, having been let out by the police.
It then became clear that they were, one after another, leading people away to be arrested. So, we shared notes on what this was likely to involve, and sang songs to keep people cheery.
Eventually, it was my turn. I was placed in handcuffs, asked on camera for some basic details, then led down a side street by my arresting officers – one of whom later turned out to be a part time officer, full time German language student. I was told why I had been arrested (suspicion of trespass and criminal damage) and was asked a few basic questions & told we were in for a long night as they struggled to find enough places in stations to fit us all.
You have to ask yourself why the Metropolitan Police would lie like that – what’s in it for them? Then again they are an institution with a long history of deceit: blaming the crowd for Ian Tomlinson’s death at the G20 (they themselves caused it), blaming Jean Charles de Menezes for his own murder (they carried it out), to name just two recent high profile instances. Did a superior officer see a chance to get back at them for humbling them so often in recent instances of direct action? Was there political pressure to find easy scapegoats for the disorder which did occur (yet not at Fortnum & Mason)? Or (watching later scenes in the video) was there a darker motivation? Was this a blatant case of the police being used yet again as the violent means of enforcing the status quo? Did they simply change their minds to prosecute UK Uncut members for daring to challenge the political order?
Given the anger that this mass arrest caused, there’s no doubt it won’t end here and nor should it.
On Saturday I attended the highly successful #march26 March for the Alternative, and I was almost outside Fortnum & Mason when the TSG riot police blocked Piccadilly off entirely. I knew that protesters from UK Uncut had occupied the store but it was still a shock to see the sheer volume of police removing what I ‘d understood to be a sitdown protest with considerable prejudice. One of them has shared her experience, and it makes a great deal more sense now:
UK Uncut conducted itself with this peaceful etiquette throughout the three-hour occupation of Fortnum & Mason, a shop they said they had chosen because a related company allegedly avoided £40m in taxes.
Despite being detained in the store, Joan Higgins, 61, from Liverpool, described the protester’s theatrical show as “the perfect accompaniment to my tea and scones”. The exit was slightly less polite.
Police officers inside the building thanked protesters for their cooperation and promised that they could leave together without interrogation. Outside, however, riot police pushed those who exited into a small area where they were unlinked by force, photographed, arrested and led away. The protesters, who spent the night in police stations around London, believed they had been duped. Or communication between police inside and the force outside the shop had completely broken down. The riot police told me that protesters were being arrested for “aggravated trespassing” and that the customers unable to leave the shop were “scared half-to-death”. A spokeswoman for Fortnum & Mason said: “The damage is minimal. We have cleared up after the disruption and are now helping our neighbours on Piccadilly do the same. The store is open for business as usual.”
My partner and I were walking right behind the building on Jermyn Street to bypass the trouble, when a bank of TSG started marching down the street in our general direction. Clearly an order had been given by someone to secure the entire area with as much menace as possible, without any interest in differentiating between Black Bloc anarchists (who were causing significant trouble, and had done throughout the day) and anyone else. Laurie Penny said of the situation at Fortnum & Mason:
What differentiates the rioters in Picadilly and Oxford Circus from the rally attendees in Hyde Park is not the fact that the latter are “real” protestors and the former merely “anarchists” (still an unthinking synonym for “hooligans” in the language of the press). The difference is that many unions and affiliated citizens still hold out hope that if they behave civilly, this government will do likewise.
The younger generation in particular, who reached puberty just in time to see a huge, peaceful march in 2003 change absolutely nothing, can’t be expected to have any such confidence. We can hardly blame a cohort that has been roundly sold out, priced out, ignored, and now shoved onto the dole as the Chancellor announces yet another tax break for bankers, for such skepticism. If they do not believe the government cares one jot about what young or working-class people really think, it may be because any evidence of such concern is sorely lacking.
She has a point. The increase in radical behaviour on the streets can easily be tracked back (in large measure) to New Labour’s betrayal over Iraq. The power of the signal which Blair sent out in his refusal to acknowledge the will of over 2 million people who protested entirely peacefully can’t be understated, and Penny is right when she notes that a significant number of young people have understood it; peaceful protest changes nothing. Having said that, I haven’t heard a single account of the protest at Fortnum & Mason to suggest it was marred by violence (when other local premises had been attacked), and she continues:
A large number of young people in Britain have become radicalised in a hurry, and not all of their energies are properly directed, explaining in part the confusion on the streets yesterday. Among their number, however, are many principled, determined and peaceful groups working to affect change and build resistance in any way they can.
One of these groups is UK Uncut. I return to Fortnum’s in time to see dozens of key members of the group herded in front of the store and let out one by one, to be photographed, handcuffed and arrested. With the handful of real, random agitators easy to identify as they tear through the streets of Mayfair, the met has chosen instead to concentrate its energies on UK Uncut – the most successful, high-profile and democratic anti-cuts group in Britain.
UK Uncut has embarrassed both the government and the police with its gentle, inclusive, imaginative direct action days over the past six months. As its members are manhandled onto police coaches, waiting patiently to be taken to jail whilst career troublemakers run free and unarrested in the streets outside, one has to ask oneself why.
Of course the mainstream media and usual suspects will now lump UK Uncut alongside Black Bloc and others who were responsible for violence before and after this event. But Laurie Penny’s analysis of the power relations in play couldn’t be more poignant – however much those who disapprove of protest may bleat their anger about people being unable to shop at a branch or two of Boots for a spell, UK Uncut provides an invaluable means of peacefully highlighting the fraud behind the government’s ideological attack on the public sector. The ConDems’ savage cuts were not voted for, they aren’t necessary, and you do indeed have to question why the police expended so much energy against them, when the ringleaders of the violence were blatantly clear even to uninformed passers-by. I applaud anyone, young or old, who is prepared to stand up for the society they want, in the face of shock doctrine economics, and the social disaster which inevitably comes with it.
Jenny Jones, the Green Party’s London mayoral candidate for 2012 explains why she’s going:
I’m appalled at the damage being done to our society; the Government’s assault on our cultural life with the closure of libraries and cuts to art and film funding, and the way a whole generation of young people are having their ambitions squashed by a combination of cuts to EMA, a reduction in university places and rising tuition fees, is all quite terrifying and unfair.
Above all on the cuts agenda, I’m horrified at the perfect storm that the Government is about to unleash in London, with poorer Londoners suffering the consequences of housing shortages, a guillotine-like execution of housing benefit provision, and the drying up of funds to build social, rented housing for people earning below the average wage. This could result in the social cleansing of London, driving poorer residents out of their homes, away from their friends and relations, and into outer London boroughs that won’t want them.
I couldn’t agree more. I also couldn’t agree more with her further point:
I’m marching because I believe that the deficit is being used as an excuse for the coalition to do what Conservative governments always enjoy doing – creating small government by cutting and privatising public services.
There is money to bail out Ireland. There has been no action taken against the bankers who got us into this mess in the first place. There is a narrative being pushed that although they were responsible, they can’t under any circumstances be pressed into taking responsibility for it – the poor can and should. After all the Big Society will take care of them (except the funding needed for that is being forcibly removed too). As of yesterday small businesses can fire pregnant women or gay men and get away with it, and hey – like movies like ‘The King’s Speech’ or the excellent indie production ‘Submarine’? No more UK Film Council either – regulations and government agencies are all ‘wasteful’, as apparently is spending money on teaching in universities.
It’s time to start standing up against this assault on the economy and British public life – Jenny Jones is right when she says what the coalition is doing is ideological. Fight back, and enjoy this satirical take on just this point:
I’m going to the March for the Alternative on the 26th March (2 days from now as I write) to stand up against these bastards. If you have any shred of intelligence or decency you should too. I’ll be damned if I’ll just stand by and let them dismantle what little there is left of this society which actually works…
Johann Hari is outraged at Tory Westminster Council. You should be too:
the Tory-run Westminster Council, one of the richest in Britain, announced a ban on sleeping on the streets, or feeding anybody who does. They say giving Steven food only “encourages” him to be homeless. So on Tuesday night, I went on one of the soon-to-be-criminalized soup runs. I walked around the neon warrens of the West End – through the theatre-throngs, and past the fancy fashion stores – with two volunteers from the charity the Simon Community.
Cynthia Jameson and Mark Jones know by name all the homeless people they give soup, sandwiches and coffee to. They know their anxieties, their foibles, and their jokes. There’s Steven. There’s Greg, who believes he has discovered a cure for malaria, but the UN has stolen and destroyed it. There’s Andrew, shivering with heroin-withdrawal. There’s the Chinese man who can’t speak English but smiles with gratitude as he shovels five sugars into his tea. And, these days, there are new faces every time they come. Phil is a 27 year-old who has only been out on the streets for three weeks. “I worked in construction for twelve years, but this recession is so bad now there’s just no work,” he tells me. “I couldn’t pay my rent, so I got chucked out. I never thought this would happen to me. I’m so ashamed.” I tell him the Tory council believes he is “encouraged” here by the free food. He looks down at his sandwich and asks softly: “What planet are they on?”
His hatred of the Tories is self-evident (and quite right). Cameron says he believes a free media is a building block of a free society? He has a funny way of showing it indeed. But Mitchell’s hatred of Labour is equally valid – for them to attack the BBC for cowardice when the Hutton witchhunt was entirely their doing is unbelievably hypocritical. The two of them together have reduced BBC News to a supine gathering of cowards and sycophants, uncritically presenting what each government has told them is fact, without any meaningful critical evaluation. I would say the biggest problem is their refusal to stand up to both parties – if they end up diminished, under-funded or wholly trampled over by Murdoch, much of it will be their own fault.