Our lovely Prime Minister, who had the temerity to suggest the summer’s riots had nothing whatsoever to do with poverty, is now going to tell the poor it’s time to pay their debts:
In a delicate balancing act, he will try in his closing speech to the Conservative party conference on Wednesday to re-energise the country by insisting that despite the pessimism over the economy, politics and society, “the country’s best days are not behind us”. “Let’s bring on the can-do optimism,” he will say before claiming that his “leadership is about unleashing your leadership”.
But despite the efforts to lift the mood of the country, Cameron will also provide a frank admission that the economy is not going to be fixed quickly. His aides openly admit that the country’s finances are in worse state than they had expected – a fact underlined by repeated downgrading of official growth forecasts.
At one point he will even urge households to clear their debts: “The only way out of a debt crisis is to deal with your debts. That means households – all of us – paying off the credit card and store card bills.”
What an utter, insensitive moron. What the country needs is jobs and investment, not a contraction in public spending (entirely on ideological grounds) as a way out of a financial crisis caused by his banker friends, coupled with an (ideological) assault on the benefits system. Where’s a Robin Hood tax? Nowhere. Where’s reform of the banking system? Nowhere. What about forcing corporate Britain to pay the massive amounts of tax it owes? I don’t think so. Instead we get Cameron blaming the poor for their poverty – an act of spin the likes of which even Blair would haven’t stooped to. George Eaton points out:
If we are to avoid an economic death spiral, we need people to spend, not save. Keynes’s paradox of thrift explains why. The more people save, the more they reduce aggregate demand, thus further reducing (and eventually destroying) economic growth. They will be individually wise but collectively foolish. If no one spends (because they’re paying off their debts) then businesses can’t grow and unemployment willl soar. The paradox is that if everyone saves then savings eventually become worthless.
This is the reason why the comparison I repeatedly hear that household finances can be compared to a country’s is so utterly wrong. Tory supporters please read this and learn. John Prescott summarises it best on Twitter:
So millionaires with inherited wealth order working families to pay off their debts whilst freezing pay & cutting benefits
Oops I swore. Boris wouldn’t like that:
Action will be taken so that police can arrest members of the public for swearing at them, Boris Johnson has promised.
The London mayor attacked police guidance advising officers not to try to arrest those who verbally attacked them on the basis that police should have thicker skins.
“I reckon we need to get back to where we were before some judge given law of 1988 and be clear that if people swear at the police, they must understand they will be arrested,” Mr Johnson said.
“If people feel that there are no comebacks and no boundaries for the small stuff, I’m afraid they will go on to commit more crimes.”
What a complete load of shit. He and the police can…FUCK OFF. Such poor, timid things. There are so many things wrong with London, and all this Tory moron can do is collude with the new Commissioner Hogan-Howe to protect his own interests. It’s pathetic; it’s even more pathetic though that he’s likely to be returned to office next year.
What bullshit to say that more serious crimes are perpetrated by people who swear at the police. What about reforming the fucking police, Boris?! You know, the organisation which in the last month decided it could attack the freedom of the press itself? And people wonder why I resent Tories…
I love how Dr Harris breaks Dorries’ argument so easily, succinctly and utterly.
Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association, asks why the British response to the recent riots has been so authoritarian, when the opposite approach has been proven to work better:
Equally sparse as full consideration of the causes of the violence has been any serious attempt to ask how we should treat those who participated in it. Many are deeply unsympathetic characters that it is easy to want removed from sight, but if we want to prevent future problems we need to be guided by reason, not rage. Norway effectively abolished incarceration as a punishment and reconceived prisons instead as rehabilitation centres built on principles of human rights, and rates of reoffending are a third of the UK’s. Again, it can be an example to us.
Most people in Britain are not lawless rioters, and the crowds who turned out on cleanups are probably more representative of the majority. But we have clearly allowed significant alienation to develop in our society and it is in all our interests to address the causes of it. We need reason and a rigorous scientific approach to diagnose the immediate and underlying causes of violence. We need the courage to be rational and not vengeful in eliminating those causes: inequality, poor urban environments, underemployment. We need empathy and humanity to deal with those people who are the symptom of our problems in a way that will rehabilitate rather than further victimise them. A society that will brutalise and neglect, then discipline and punish those that it has made brutish and negligent is not one in which any person can live happily and safely for long.
Britain however has deeply authoritarian attitudes built into its social fabric, the extent of which has shocked me in the post-riots desperation to condemn first and ask questions never. Copson’s argument is completely logical and sound, yet the British public is disproportionately happy with disproportionately harsh sentencing. Cameron knows it, is taking advantage of it, and indeed it’s hardly surprising that he should, as Naomi Klein points out:
But the people committing night-time robbery sure as hell know that their elites have been committing daytime robbery. Saqueos are contagious. The Tories are right when they say the rioting is not about the cuts. But it has a great deal to do with what those cuts represent: being cut off. Locked away in a ballooning underclass with the few escape routes previously offered – a union job, a good affordable education – being rapidly sealed off. The cuts are a message. They are saying to whole sectors of society: you are stuck where you are, much like the migrants and refugees we turn away at our increasingly fortressed borders.
Cameron’s response to the riots is to make this locking-out literal: evictions from public housing, threats to cut off communication tools and outrageous jail terms (five months to a woman for receiving a stolen pair of shorts). The message is once again being sent: disappear, and do it quietly.
There is a desperate need to change our attitudes to those who have been economically neglected, but as John Pilger points out, that narrative simply isn’t on the table:
As MPs lined up to bay their class bigotry and hypocrisy in parliament, barely a handful spoke this truth. Not one of the heirs to Edmund Burke’s 18th-century rants against “mob rule” by a “swinish multitude” referred to previous rebellions in Brixton, Tottenham and Toxteth in the 1980s, when Lord Scarman reported that “complex political, social and economic factors” had caused a “disposition towards violent protest” and recommended urgent remedial action. Instead, Labour and Liberal bravehearts called for water cannon and everything draconian. Among them was the Labour MP Hazel Blears. Remember her notorious expenses? None made the obvious connection between the greatest inequality since records began, a police force that routinely abuses a section of the population and kills with impunity, and a permanent state of colonial warfare with an arms trade to match: the apogee of violence.
We haven’t quite become a Tea Party nation, but our attitudes have similarly been shaped by the right wing media over the last generation to believe overwhelmingly that these people are somehow different – ‘feral’ some have said. We don’t need to look at any political, social or economic factors – this, we’re told, is down to a different type of human being – one not like the rest of us. Of course this dehumanisation suits both the tabloid press and right wing politicians (by which I include New Labour), but until we’re prepared to challenge this entirely false narrative as a nation, and reject a judicial paradigm which is clearly failing, this problem isn’t going to go away; it’ll get much worse.
It was never going to be long before the Tories noticed NuLabour were trying to outflank them on law & order from the right and decided to do something about it. The ConDems have decided to ‘anonymise’ DNA samples the authorities hold of people who have been arrested but never convicted of a crime:
One of its key features of the Protection of Freedoms Bill, we were assured by Nick Clegg in January, would be an end to the “indefinite storage of innocent people’s DNA”.
That seemed to be an unambiguous promise, and a welcome one. Unfortunately, as The Daily Telegraph reveals today, the Government has decided not to keep this promise, bringing the number of policy U-turns to at least 14.
Instead of clearly and simply wiping out the DNA of more than one million people who have been arrested but not convicted, the authorities will retain the samples, but in an “anonymised” state.
This means that the names and other identifying features will be removed from the police database but kept elsewhere, enabling agencies with the right expertise to join the pieces of data together again and identify the DNA.
In the clumsy but revealing phrase of James Brokenshire, a Home Office minister, the genetic information will “be considered to have been deleted”.
Considered by whom? Certainly not by civil liberties groups, which have accused the Government of betraying an explicit commitment in the Coalition Agreement and ignoring a judgment of the Court of Human Rights.
Back we trot to the database state, which would always reform under different guises, with different agendas in play. The motive here seems to be straightforward party political – splitting Ed Miliband from his authoritarian underlings, whilst snubbing the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to please the right wing of the Tories. We deserve better politics than this, but there seem to be very few politicians in the British parliament who have any interest whatsoever with the rule of law. You’d think with the influence of Murdoch waning that you’d have one or two MPs shrieking with outrage at the injustice of it, no longer that worried about a NOTW campaign against them, but no – the cowardice lives on.
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.
A quick demonstration of how Nick Clegg has utterly lost his way. His long-promised House of Lords reform isn’t going to be anything of the sort:
The Government’s proposal to retain 12 reserved seats for Church of England Bishops would actually mean an increase proportionately of the presence of Bishops in the House of Lords. Keeping any reserved seats for the Bishops would be an affront to democracy and antithetical to the aims of a fairer and more egalitarian parliament, the British Humanist Association (BHA) has claimed.
The Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg set out the Government’s plans in a statement to the House of Commons from 15.30 on Tuesday 17 May. The Government’s proposals include a significant reduction in membership of the chamber, from nearly 800 at present to 300, and between 80-100% elected and the remaining appointed. At present, 26 Bishops of the Church of England are entitled to sit in the House of Lords as of right; the only such example of clergy holding automatic membership of a legislature in a modern democracy.
Under current arrangements, Bishops make up 3% of the House of Lords. Under the Government’s proposals that would increase to 4%. Reducing the number of reserved seats for Bishops from 26 to 12 would actually increase their presence proportionately in the chamber.
This is palpably absurd. The Bishops represent the views of unaccountable organised religion and haven’t been voted for by anyone. They are an appalling anachronism in what now, more than ever, needs to be a modern parliament, bent on ever better representation and not privilege. The Bishops should not be there at all. It’s a good thing that the Deputy Prime Minister wants to transform the upper chamber into an elected body, but retaining an increased undemocratic element can’t be allowed to happen. I saw the word ‘religiophobe’ used on Twitter yesterday, and an even better definition:
Religiophobe: One who strives for the elimination of religious privilege in government and public service.
I couldn’t agree more. That’s a badge I’d wear with pride.
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…