This is a guest post by Chris Bambery*
What’s been the biggest gathering of radicals on this island in recent years? The answer is the Radical Independence Conference (RIC), which drew over a thousand people to Glasgow last month. That’s the biggest, you ask? Well, in proportion to the size of populations in Scotland and England that would translate into a coming together of 10,000 plus people in London, and that would have had everyone talking.
The Radical Independence Conference was big news in Scotland. Down south it drew little attention, but then the fact that Scotland is voting on whether or not to quit the United Kingdom seems to be by-passing most of the left in England. It certainly does not feature on the agenda of their conferences, schools and events.
Not so the British ruling class – yes, British, because its Scottish component has always enjoyed full membership and played a vanguard role in the creation of the Empire. They are very worried about the Scots voting to go next September – not surprisingly, since it would leave the rump of the UK looking even more reduced on the world stage. It would also mean the loss of Trident and its replacement because all the Yes campaigners and the current Scottish government want rid of it and there is nowhere for it to go in England or Wales.
You might think ‘why should we bother because every poll shows the Jocks will vote No’. Well, maybe. But, writing in the Telegraph, Fraser Nelson writes of the mood in Whitehall regarding the referendum:
“… unofficially, the mood is bleak. Some of the Prime Minister’s chief strategists now argue that the battle is lost and that a Yes vote is not only possible but probable.”
The sheer number of undecided voters means the outcome is up for grabs – but, even if Scotland votes No, the issue is not finally resolved.
Since 1979 Scotland has become more and more separate. Having struck and protested under Thatcher, they increasingly began to seize on using their Scottish identity as a means of resistance. Under Tony Blair, the creation of a Scottish parliament was supposed to put a lid on this, but it didn’t. There has been constant pressure to increase Holyrood’s powers at the expense of Westminster, and in 2011 we saw the SNP achieve the impossible when it won an overall majority; the electoral system was designed to prevent exactly that.
The British ruling class is aware that the unionist camp in Scotland is fast disappearing. The Tories, with one Westminster MP north of the border, teeter on the verge of extinction, and the Liberal Democrats must fear the same fate. They rely on Labour to put the case for a No vote.
There is a generational factor at work here. Scots over 50 can remember the UK state delivering not just the Welfare State but subsidising the start up of car and engineering plants in the 1950s and 1960s. For younger Scots, the UK means Thatcher and Blair, Tory rule they never voted for, and now permanent austerity. For Scots over 50 there is the memory that workers across Britain fought together and won in the 1970s. For younger Scots that is history at best, if they know about it at all.
Most importantly, the political situation on either side of the border is different. In England, in terms of Westminster politics, the old post-1945 social democratic consensus is dead (despite Ed Miliband’s recent shift left) and neo-liberalism is the order of the day. The rise in support for UKIP is forcing all three parties rightwards over the issue of immigration. In Scotland that social democratic consensus still holds, battered as it is, and the battle is between the ruling SNP and Labour with both vying for traditional Labour voters. UKIP, the SDL (the EDL’s northern counterpart) and the BNP are irrelevant and there is not the same level of scaremongering over immigration, or over Europe.
The Scottish government White Paper on independence is a case in point. While there is much wrong with it, when it promises moving rapidly to relying on renewable energy, creating a strategy for industrial regeneration, and removing Trident, it’s hard to think that these things could ever be on offer from Westminster.
So, what motivates over a thousand people to gather to discuss a more radical version of independence than that on offer from Alex Salmond, which comes complete with the pound, the queen, and NATO? The answer is that they believe independence can free them from Westminster and the UK where the road to radical change is blocked. In an independent Scotland, they believe the left could make its presence felt. People are aware of Scotland’s bloody role in empire, but the idea that a Yes vote could help undermine British imperialism plays well.
The composition of the room at the RIC conference was interesting. The biggest percentage was those on the left of the SNP, who were unhappy about Salmond’s u-turn over NATO membership as well as much else. The Greens, a weightier force in Scotland, were there as was the pro-independence far left, along with many who are best described as anti-capitalist. There was also a strong showing of well-known intellectuals – most of them little-known in England but part of a vibrant civil society in its northern neighbour.
The RIC conference was open, unsectarian and energised. RIC groups are forming across Scotland, including in communities with little or no working class organisation these days.
Whatever happens in the referendum, this will not just disappear – in large part because people know if the left could get it act together we could quickly get back to the day in 2003 when six Scottish Socialist Party MSPs were elected to Holyrood. That’s not going to be easy, but that is what is being discussed as people campaign for a Yes vote.
All of this has fed another change. Have you noticed that at left gatherings and most demonstrations there are few if any there from Scotland? One thing that’s changed in the last decade and a half is that young radical Scots are as likely to go to Paris or Berlin as London to discuss ideas and strategies. In the 1970s if you were on the left you would have spent every other weekend travelling south to such gatherings and to all sorts of demonstrations.
It is a wee bit galling to hear from conferences of the English left, often with few or any Welsh people there, talking about the “British left” or “British perspectives.” On the latter there are few issues facing us which are the same in Scotland as they are in England, and that includes the issue of creating an effective left. Gone are the days when there is going to be a UK-wide left with its headquarters in London.
Whatever happens in Scotland’s referendum, we do need each other – but that requires mutual respect. Cameron et al are taking the Scottish question seriously. So should you.
* Chris Bambery is the author of the forthcoming A People's History of Scotland (Verso, June 2014) and a member of the International Socialist Group (Scotland).
Fraser Nelson, Scotland: The case for the Union is still strong – so why not make it?, The Telegraph, 28 November 2014
A guest post by David Renton*
Over the past few days some have queried the near universal sadness and admiration with which the left is responding to Mandela’s death. His government was to the right of its voters, they point out, and co-existed with rather than challenging neoliberalism. They are right, but miss the point.
The African National Congress (ANC) of the early 1990s had an enormous task to deliver a peaceful transition. And from the point of human liberation it was a victory that they did so.
People with no sense of South African history might kid themselves that the country would have benefited from a civil war as this would have been a clearer defeat for apartheid. They are wrong. Through the mid-1980s to the early 1990s, the apartheid state was preparing a civil war which would have pit East against West Cape, the ANC against the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) with the National Party posing as honest brokers.
People forget that something like that “cold” civil war had actually begun at Boipatong and elsewhere, so that the closer South Africa came to defeating to apartheid, the more it was that the violence was not between the ANC and the state but between the ANC and various black proxies acting on behalf but independently of the old regime.
Believing in the necessary moral virtue of popular insurrection against a state is not the same thing as wishing for a civil war in which tens of thousands would have died and which would have delivered no more than was won peacefully.
Second, the price of the pacification of the revolution was that the ANC acted consciously as a moderating force on the armed wing of the revolution. But Mandela played a role that was different from and better than that of his party as a whole.
When Mandela was released, the consensus among the ANC exiles was to negotiate a peace at any price with the Nats. What happened next was a revolution within and against the ANC, characterised by mass strikes, stay-aways, “workerism,” etc. To Mandela’s immense credit, he did not turn on his party critics but essentially conciliated them, allowing their demands to displace those of the exiles..
The left which shaped things wasn’t a military one (the MK) but a political one based on the organisation of class struggle.
Under its impact, the ANC returned to the table, calling not for a compromise with apartheid but its utter defeat.
This is why my son aged eight knows the name of Nelson Mandela: because the black majority of South Africa won. (And where else in the last 20 years has our side had such a clear victory?)
This is the Mandela who needs celebrating, the Mandela who, if he was not Lenin, never pretended to be.
Finally, there is a left common sense in which the fault of our leaders is that by their elevated positions they are separated from the hardships of the struggle and return only to bask in a glory won truly by the rank and file. There are plenty of ANCers who fit this narrative, either for their separation from the bitterest periods of the struggle, or for the ease with which they have become a new owning class. But not the Mandela who rotted for decades on Robben Island.
*David Renton is a barrister at Garden Court chambers in London and blogs about politics, history and running.
Students fly flags as they occupy Sussex's Bramber house last Feburary
Of all the lines in George Osborne’s autumn statement speech this week, the idea that UK higher education is on a ‘secure footing’ ranked high on a scale of taking the bloody piss.
This was days after the second strike of higher education workers this term. It also followed revelations last month about BIS budget mismanagement. The strike was joined by wave of student activism which has roots in the 2010 occupations and protests but, students graduating as they do, is in many ways a very new wave of activism; one that has been building steadily across the country since the start of the calendar year, when students at University of Sussex occupied a central building in against privatisation.
These protests escalated further on the day of Osborne’s autumn statement itself. Heavy police presence which has increasingly become a norm on campuses further grew to accusations of police assaulting protestors. As has become a familiar pattern the last few years, police have been called in to control students and this has only escalated tensions.
Perhaps the most haunting image was a picture of a pool of students' blood outside Euston Square, shared on Twitter that evening (and confirmed to me by eyewitnesses later).
Is this really what secure looks like? Tip-toeing over pools of students' blood to get the tube home? That’s ‘secure’ now?
Securities can take many hues though. What is secure, how, where, why and serving whom? The particular security Osborne seems to mean is economic, not whether students are rioting. But that security is still dubious. Even putting aside the BIS budget issue last month, as Chris Cook argues, be wary of promises to fund anything based on selling off the student loan book, as it is worth more to the government than private investors. And policies aiming for such 'economic security' are linked to the students protests, anyway. These protesters have quite a complex set of complaints, encompassing a range of contemporary economic and social issues, drawn from within and outside higher education. They are looking at the working conditions of a range of staff on campus as well as they ways in which various economic interests are controlling their curricula, their careers advice and the research which is conducted on campus.
A trope of much of the backlash against government HE policy has been the idea that students are being treated as customer and this reflects an insidious marketisation of education. Although I have some sympathy with this critique, I think it's a lot worse than that. They’re not customers. They’re financial assets.
That’s what first forming, and then selling off the student loan book does. Makes the students - and their postgraduate paycheques - something to invest in. It engrains both formally and informally an idea that education is about fuelling a very particular view of the economy, as opposed to the multiple other things a university could be about (including a chance to question how we choose to pattern our economy, and who gets to control it).
Repeating the complaint that the government is turning students into customers only plays into those who know the idea alludes to a promise of greater student agency (forgetting the rather curtailed extent of any customer agency, or if it’s applicable to education, it implies power nonetheless). And none of this is about student agency, it’s entirely about student use. As a friend said to me recently in the different context of the disproportionate amount of landlords’ power: It’s farming people. I’d almost settle for my students as customers at this stage, the idea of them as simple meat for the economy is so much more sinister.
I fear we’ll see many more pools of blood on the streets around universities before we reach any idea of ‘security’. I only hope there isn’t much blood, and any sense of security we conclude with is lead by and serves students, rather than seeks to exploit and control them.
Confiscation Cabinets - a new exhibition at the Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood by artist Guy Tarrant - shows a series of artefacts confiscated by the artist from schoolkids, while he was working as a teacher.
The objects include homemade games, toys, adornments, weapons and keepsakes from 150 different London primary and secondary schools amassed over the last three decades. A preview I'd seen of it suggested the exhibition was largely about old toys, a trip down memory lane sort of exhibit. But it's far from that. You can see products like that in the main galleries anyway. What makes this exhibition different is that they are artefacts of confiscation; objects which show the bits of contemporary urban childhood which are much less marketable.
So, after the plastic spiders, friendship bracelets, yo-yos, hairbands, tennis ball and a headless Mr T doll were largely paper-based hand-made items which were in some ways deeply ephemeral but really brought out the sheer boredom of a lot of school. Paper planes, rubber-band balls, notes kids have passed each other (one heartbreakingly, “Sarah, do you like me? Yes or No” with the “No” box very clearly ticked), a magnificently chewed biro and an entire hand-drawn pack of cards.
And then we get to the weapons. Because childhood can be really, really shit and kids arm themselves, sometimes very resourcefully. There was a glue spreader impressively sharpened to a point, an axe made from a stick and a bit of flint, the old breath freshener and lighter turned flame thrower trick, some olbas oil that had been used in an eye attack (and caused a child to be hospitalised), some computer mouse balls stripped down to act as missiles and a toilet handle fashioned into a knuckle duster. Also ingeniously weaponised were also pieces of a shopping trolly, one of those hanging handgrips there used to be on tubes (with the ball at the end), a taped up table leg, a door knob and a fire extinguisher pull. And some bullets. The most inventive was probably the deconstructed Rubik's cube (pictured) which had been turned into a missile.
Overall the exhibition was quite unsettling. But in a realistic way. It's not an image of London childhood I always like to remember, but if was one i still recognised.
Confiscation Cabinets. 9 November 2013 – 1 June 2014. Museum of Childhood, Cambridge Heath Road, London E2 9PA. 10.00 to 17.45 daily Closed 24-26 December and 1 January. Free.
This is a guest post by Ola Cichowlas*
Imagine a post-Soviet world without Putin, Lukashenko and Yanukovich. That is what Ukrainians dreamt about this weekend. They came in their hundreds of thousands and rallied not only in Kiev, but in rebellious Lviv, industrial Donetsk and sunny Odessa. Why? Because Ukraine is in Europe, because power had been violently abused, and because they felt cheated.
In Moscow, state TV channels portrayed the demonstrations as “a couple of hundred people”, “sponsored by the EU” (and the CIA), and as mostly nationalists that caused havoc on Kiev’s peaceful streets. In an effort to explain to Russians what is happening in Ukraine, Kremlin-controlled Channel One even said the protests in Kiev were a “Swedish-Polish revenge for a Russian victory at the Battle of Poltava in 1709”.
Journalists who work for these channels and covered Kiev that night know that this was not true (if it was, it was a poor effort for a 300 year preparation). One of these journalists, working for state-owned Rossiya 1, was surrounded by a crowd of people shouting “tell the truth!” and “show Russia what is really happening!”, as he attempted to report with his film crew.
But there is a whole other world away from Kremlin censorship, one represented by the Russian-language internet, blogosphere, and independent liberal media. Here, writers rallied in support of “Evromaidan” and against a system of corruption that has engulfed both Ukraine and Russia. Kiev was where there was most hope – Belarus was “lost” to a brutal regime branded “Europe’s last dictatorship”, and Russia has steadily slipped further into authoritarianism since Vladimir Putin’s return to the Kremlin in 2011.
As Russian state TV continued to show the protests as a European project with the aim of weakening Ukraine, and focused on Putin’s victory of an expanding Eurasian Union, the “other world” understood that this was not an anti-Russian demonstration at all. It was a demonstration by people tired of an unreformable system that is dragging both these countries down.
A group of Russian writers wrote a letter in solidarity to those protesting on Ukrainian streets, stating: “we, like you, feel that we are part of one European civilization – the political forces that aim to pull us away from [Europe], provoke the same anger in us, as in you. We are saddened that today you have to think of Russia as a brute and treacherous country […] and we hope in your success: that would be a sign that we too, in Russia, can win our rights and freedom”.
At the same time, amongst Russian liberal and oppositionist writers, journalists and bloggers who came out in support of their neighbours, there was also a sense of emotional envy. “Where’s the Russian tractor?” was a popular meme, referring to the hi-jacked tractor used in the protests that quickly went viral on Twitter. Others wrote “Why does it work in Kiev and not in Moscow?” and “Why could Russia not pull this off?”.
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny complained: “They’re opening a criminal case against the Berkut [Ukrainian riot police] over there, and we have innocent people sitting in prison cells”. Oleg Kashin, one of Russia’s best known liberal bloggers lamented: “Ukraine is making a difficult choice right in front of our eyes, but at least it has one. But Russia won’t have one, and probably never will, and so all we can do is watch the live transmission from Kiev and talk to our TV screens”.
Endless comparisons between Evromaidan and the Russian Bolotnaya protests in 2011 and 2012 were circulating on the Russian-language internet. In articles, blogs, commentaries and Facebook posts, Russians analyzed why this was possible in Ukraine on such a scale and not in Russia.
There were social comparisons: what kind of people attended both mass protests? Evromaidan – ordinary people, Bolotnaya – mostly the creative class. Historical analogies were also common: Western Ukraine was incorporated into the USSR in 1945 and hence the older generations there were actually born in Europe, not to mention that Ukrainian nationalism in the early twentieth century was much more developed than its Russian counterpart. One blogger wrote that “if it wasn’t for the evil genius Boris Berezovsky, the first post-Soviet Orange Revolution should have taken place in Russia in 1999-2000.” Another wrote that the Russian protests were also led by a Ukrainian, Alexey Navalny.
Evromaidan was not about Russia - from which Ukrainians showed they were a world away - nor was it even about the EU. It was about human rights and dignity. But it was a gift to the Russian opposition: a sign that their country’s regime is not wanted for export, that it may be halted right on their doorstep. It inspired liberals not only in Russia but in neighbouring stranded Belarus, too, where activists created Facebook pages to support Ukrainian protests and where the cultural underground proclaimed: “Europe is not complete without Ukraine, or without Belarus”.
Ukraine will not become another Belarus. Russia will not always be authoritarian. Lukashenko will not live eternally. But the people in Kiev’s Independence Square have shown that there is no way to avoid politics and that there is little support for the present system. Many are increasingly asking themselves the daring question – what would these countries look like if the oppositions were in power?
This is a similar question to what the former Eastern Bloc countries were asking themselves at the end of the 1980s. But the power of the state machines is much larger today, while the oppositions are incredibly weak. In Russia, Putin has yet to publicly pronounce Alexei Navalny’s name. In Belarus, the opposition is either in jail, abroad or gone completely underground. Ukraine, despite the imprisonment of Yulia Timoshenko, has an official opposition. Many have accused them of poor leadership this weekend, and nationalists make up a worrying percentage of their ranks. But let’s just hope they have a plan.
*Ola Cichowlas (@olacicho) is a British-Polish journalist writing on Eastern Europe and Russia.
This is a guest post by Dawn Foster.
In some kind of Sisyphean/Groundhog day nightmare, we're told feminism needs rebranding yet again. As ever, apparently the problem with feminism is feminists, not that the very power structures that cause inequality fight against feminism. Feminism is allegedly difficult and time consuming and too academic, and so young people hate it. Feminists are angry and turning people off. Anyway, it's all a question of "branding" rather than campaigning, as Lucy Mangan deftly explains. Why fight for rights when, in our brave new consumerist world, you can “buy in” to a “brand” instead.
Tone policing is always paramount in these complaints about feminism and other campaigns. Feminists are angry, too critical, just need to focus on supporting all women, rather than critiquing forms of feminism, and questioning methods and ideas. Protectors of the status quo are always keen to demand a liberation movement protest and engage on the elite's terms. Women are told they're "aggressive", black people are told they're "angry", the working class they've got a chip on their shoulder. The lived experience of oppression inculcates anger. And the dismissal of anger is a tool of the powerful. “Sure, of course we'd love to hear your arguments, but you're just so unreasonable.”
The same extends to campaigns. Media savvy and traditional campaigns attract far more attention and praise than unconventional and ad hoc methods. The banknotes campaign and "No More Page 3" have garnered endless column inches. The campaign against the Home Office's racist van was just as effective, with a huge proportion of the backlash built up by women - Southall Black Sisters' physical campaign to stall an immigration raid worked wonders, while Twitter's @PukkahPunjabi inspired hundreds of people to prank call the hotline after asking UKBA to give her a lift home to Willesden Green.
Travelling around Britain, discussing the impact of welfare cuts to the poorest communities, I can't help but notice the most active campaigners are women, and women who've been personally hit. The campaign tactics are original, local and effective. A small group wrote to their housing association to request a meeting and were denied an appointment. So they instead all marched together, and the elusive CEO suddenly appeared from nowhere to discuss the bedroom tax with them. Regardless of whether they personally define as feminists, and many of them do, these women are active and they know that when austerity bites, it hits women hardest.
But too often, discussions on feminism are shut down and simplified, using working class women as a canard to argue for dumbing down and depoliticising the movement. As a working class woman, it's offensive, and it's also incorrect. Too often we're spoken for, rather than spoken to. Working class lives are extensively politicised, in the media and through lived experience. If you're working class, chances are your family lived through the miners strike, or experienced economic migration first hand. Even if your family didn't claim benefits, someone on your street will have done. Chances are in the past ten years or so, a major industry will have closed near you too. There's a cursory introduction to economics right there.
And the poorest areas are also often the most diverse. Growing up, in many of my classes at school, white kids would be in the minority. It's a Daily Mail nightmare, but since you're a child you've not yet absorbed the racist messages of much of media and society, so you don't care. You learn a lot about other religions and cultures, and then later, how people treat the friends you've grown up with differently. In terms of disability, working class towns also experience far higher rates of disability, especially mental health problems, so you understand far more about how this can affect people's lives too. Lived experience is what informs most people's politics. David Cameron is a case in point here. And in terms of intersectionality, working class lives are as intersectional as you can get.
As an example, living with my grandmother as a teenager, I saw how she experienced sexism differently as a lesbian. Similarly, my black and Asian friends also experienced sexual harassment and abuse, but the language used was invariably racialised. Speaking to people fighting welfare cuts now, they're keenly aware of this. The people hardest hit by the bedroom tax are the disabled, and much of that is down to economic injustice. Women are also quick to point out that bearing the brunt of childcare means they also bear the brunt of the cuts. We're not all in this together and they know that.
If you're hoping to rebrand feminism, in the hope working class women wake up and embrace liberation, you may need a wake up call. You don't have to go as far back as the matchgirls strike to find examples of working class women's standing up for their rights. Women Against Pit Closures were a formidable and unabashedly feminist force in the 1980s. Every grassroots community campaign group or organising event I visit now has far more women leading and in attendance than any middle class media panel or event. There's a proud autodidact tradition amongst working class folk (my grandfather, who left school aged ten, read more Dickens than I've ever managed), and claiming politics and feminism needs to be dumbed down to appeal to us is tedious and offensive.
Ultimately, in every movement, self-criticism and self-analysis is intrinsic. No one decides to campaign or care about an issue in possession of all the facts. And the landscape of politics linked as it is to the world, keeps changing and shifting. Arguing that feminists should be exempt from criticism, especially when they've built a platform claiming to represents feminists and women, is ludicrous. At this point, we're entering an argument that advocates a depoliticised and fluffy feminism The Onion beautifully parodied with their article "Women Now Empowered By Everything A Woman Does". Pointless vacillation on the purported impenetrably of a single word is facile, and ignores the crux of the issue – conflict in feminism when a campaign for a marginalised group marginalises or silences people within our ranks. And if feminism wants a better society, starting with a better self is a good start.
Guest post by Ian Sinclair*
‘No Platform’ – the decision not to give a platform to those whose views are deemed to be abhorrent – is a popular policy of the Left in the UK. Organisations can 'No platform' by refusing to invite certain speakers to events they organise or protesting their appearance at other events; individuals can use the tactic in a different way refusing to appear on a platform with a given individual. This tactic isolates the targeted individual, putting down a public marker showing that they are not part of normal political debate. I would argue that to be an effective and respected tactic that will be supported and understood by the general public ‘No Platform’ needs to be applied in a broadly consistent manner.
With all this in mind, it is worth giving some attention to the recent decisions of Owen Jones about who to appear with on a platform. As one of the most influential figures on the contemporary British Left, his actions inevitably serve to represent the left to some extent and are likely to shape the choices that other Leftists make about who to appear on a platform with, and who not to. Unfortunately, his decisions seem confused and hypocritical. He appears to ‘No Platform’ relatively powerless people, while being happy to speak alongside far more objectionable members of the ruling elite.
Before I continue, however, I want to make it clear I think Owen Jones is a brilliant voice for the Left in the UK. He has successfully taken apart establishment figures such as historian David Starkey, Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith and Guido Fawkes, has strongly criticised Israel’s attack on Gaza on BBC Question Time and destroyed the pro-war argument at the Huffington Post debate on the 2003 Iraq War. I often Tweet in support when Jones appears on television. Like many on the Left I see Jones as representing ‘my team’ against the Establishment.
Jones is set to speak at the 30 November 2013 Stop the War Coalition conference. On finding out Mother Agnes Mariam wad also scheduled to speak at the conference, Jones told the conference organisers he would not appear alongside her. With US journalist Jeremy Scahill also refusing to speaking alongside Mother Agnes, she has pulled out of the conference.
Mother Agnes is a Catholic nun who lived in Syria until recently. She has received a lot of media attention for arguing the 21 August 2013 chemical weapons attack in Ghouta, Syria was a provocation by Syrian rebels. Critics say she is an apologist for the Assad Government.
Jones, of course, has every right to not share a platform with someone whose views he finds objectionable. However, the problem is in February 2012 Jones appeared on BBC Question Time alongside none other than John Prescott – the Labour Deputy Prime Minister during the invasion of Iraq. The Iraq War has led to approximately 500,000 Iraqi deaths according to a study recently published in the peer-reviewed journal PLoS Medicine.
Prescott confirms his own responsibility for being a leading participant in initiating the invasion in his autobiography:
The massive [15 February 2003] anti-war march in London had been very worrying, but I felt we were all in this so the cabinet should stick together.(John Prescott with Hunter Davies, Prezza. My Story, 2008, Headline Review, London, p. 284).
So, to put it simply, Jones is happy to appear alongside Prescott, a British politician intimately involved in initiating the illegal, aggressive invasion of another country that led to the deaths of over 500,000 people, but he refuses to speak on a platform alongside Mother Agnes who is, at worst, a propagandist for a Ba'athist dictatorship. Bashar Assad’s Government have been a leading participant in the Syrian Civil War that had killed over 100,000 people by July 2013, according to the United Nations.
Jones addressed this criticism of him in his defence of his decision not to appear at the conference alongside Mother Agnes:
The… argument is that I am “happy” to share platforms with those who prosecuted the war against Iraq - including former members of the Blair government - on TV platforms before, but not a Syrian nun. The response here is pretty straightforward. If a pro-war politician had been invited to the Stop the War conference, I would have refused to share a platform, too. That’s because an anti-war conference is an event where - despite differences or nuances in views - everybody is there to make common cause. We are there as allies, as part of the same movement. When I appear on, say, Question Time to debate ministers, there is no presumption of common cause.
This explanation is contradicted by Jones’s appearance on BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions in July 2012, which I described in a previous article:
Finding out that Kelvin McKenzie was also on the panel, Jones pontificated on Twitter about whether he should withdraw in protest because of the former Sun Editor’s lies about the Hillsborough football victims. Unsure about the ethics of appearing with McKenzie, incredibly Jones sought the advice [through Twitter] of Iraq War supporter and Blair apologist David Aaronovitch. Jones eventually decided to appear on Any Questions, noting he would donate his appearance fee to the Hillsborough Justice Campaign.
This isn’t just about Jones – it has wider ramifications because his confusing morality is indicative of a wider cultural problem. Polls show 28 percent of respondents to a 2010 BPIX/Mail on Sunday poll said former Tony Blair should be tried for war crimes. A 2010 ComRes/Independent poll found even more support for this, with 37 per cent of people saying Blair should be put on trial. Unsurprisingly, this large section of public opinion is not reflected in the mainstream media. The Morning Star is the only national newspaper that has publicly called for Blair to face a war crimes trial, as far as I am aware.
But it’s not just silence - key participants in the initiation of the Iraq War are regularly invited onto our screens and to write for national newspapers. Prescott has hosted and appeared on the BBC’s satire programme Have I Got News For You, Alastair Campbell was invited to guest edit the New Statesman and Tony Blair regularly appears in the Guardian’s comment pages to shower us with his wisdom on peace in the Middle East.
While the opinion polls quoted above shows a significant percentage of the British public supports Blair appearing in the dock, it’s clear a further, momentous shift in public opinion would be necessary before the Blair Government is held to account for the invasion of Iraq. However, this shift is going to be all but impossible to achieve while Have I Got News For You, the New Statesman, the Guardian and, yes, Owen Jones, continue to treat the guilty men and women as though they were part of the political mainstream. In short, although Jones is a strong anti-war voice, his decisions on who to ‘No Platform’ effectively normalises the murderous actions of Prescott and his cabinet colleagues.
*Ian Sinclair is the author of ‘The march that shook Blair: An oral history of 15 February 2003’, published by Peace News Press. firstname.lastname@example.org and https://twitter.com/IanJSinclair
For decades the UK construction industry, with the collusion of police or security services, has operated a blacklist of trade union activists and workers who raised concerns about pay, conditions or health and safety.
In March 2009, a raid on the offices of the Consulting Association, a clandestine organisation funded by major names in the construction industry, exposed the existence of a database containing the details of 3,213 construction workers deemed to be left-wing or otherwise troublesome. A subsequent investigation by the Information Commissioner’s Office found that the list had been used by over 40 UK construction companies.
Blacklisting has seen thousands of building workers repeatedly sacked and forced into unemployment. Far from being a thing of the past, blacklisting was used to vet potential workers during the 2012 Olympics and, earlier this year, on the London Crossrail project.
Wednesday November 20th is a national Day of Action on blacklisting, called by the TUC and backed by the Blacklist Support Group.
7:00am – Protest at Laing O’Rourke, Cheesegrater, Leadenhall St, City of London (opposite Lloyds Building)
10:00am – Protest at Laing O’Rourke, Francis Crick Medical Research Centre, Kings Cross (behind the British Library)
1:00pm – TUC protest with MPs & 4 union General Secretaries, College Green, Parliament Square, Westminster
2:00pm – TUC Lobby of MPs, House of Commons
3:30pm – House of Commons Committee Room 11 – John McDonnell MP chairs Blacklist Support Group meeting. Speakers: Sean Curran blacklisted workers.
12:00pm – STUC protest outside Holyrood
1:00pm – film show inside Holyrood organised by Neil Findlay MSP
Transport from Glasgow via: email@example.com
12:00 WTUC event - Senedd media briefing room. Speakers include Andy Richards Unite, Nick Blundell UCATT, Martin Hird GMB and Jane Hutt, Finance Minister.
Anyone wishing to attend contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
7:15am – Manchester Town Hall protest against NG Bailey. Speakers include blacklisted workers: Graham Bowker, Colin Trousdale, George Tapp
UCATT co-ordinated/promoted events in: Newcastle, Manchester, London, Leeds, Eastern England, Cardiff, Birmingham and Edinburgh.
In 2014 it will be 30 years since the last great British miners strike. To mark this anniversary Bad Bonobo Films are making a documentary film covering the story from the perspective of the miners and activists that fought on the frontline. Samuel Grove discussed the project with the film's director, Owen Gower.
The film is called Still the Enemy Within. Where does the title come from?
In 1984, Margaret Thatcher labelled 160,000 striking miners and their supporters 'the enemy within'. We wanted to meet these so called 'enemies' and find out why they're still proud of standing up to Thatcher and why they're still just as angry today as when they went out on strike, 30 years ago.
What inspired you to make the film?
Having only just been born when the miners strike happened, my whole generation has grown up in the shadow of its defeat. Nevertheless most of the history seems to have been obscured. Instead of the mainstream history that's been given to us, I wanted to bring to light what it was really like for those fighting on the frontline as well as introducing it to a whole new layer of young people interested in politics.
What is the story that has been missing from the mainstream history?
The story has usually been told simply as Thatcher vs. Scargill, airbrushing out the hundreds of thousands of ordinary people who stood together in their fight against the destruction of British industry. These people also knew what they were fighting against, which was a well planned attack by the Tory government to destroy trade unionism in Britain. Despite that, this was no inevitable defeat - it was a very close fought thing and the miners nearly won on a number of occasions. We want to challenge the myth of Thatcher as a somehow unstoppable force. As one of our Yorkshire miners, Steve, puts it, 'She was entirely stoppable'.
The story is also usually told as one of 'out of control' unions being brought back into line by a democratically elected government...
Far from this being about 'out of control unions' vs a democratically elected government, this was really about Thatcher attempting to drive through neo-liberalism in Britain. The biggest obstacle to this was the trade union movement. Thatcher wanted to let rip with privatisation and the free market but to do that she had to break the power of this movement, of ordinary people defending their jobs, pay, conditions and of course the welfare state. We're still living with the economic consequences of this today.
Apart from the fact that we are approaching the 30th anniversary, why is it important to tell the story of the strike now?
With a Tory government back in power, and the recent death of Margaret Thatcher - next year will see a huge battle of interpretation for the legacy of the strike. I think many young people who come to this subject for the first time will be shocked about what the miners went through in their fight for British industry. But they will also see how much it resonates with the fight against austerity in Britain today. 30 years on we can truly see the consequences of Thatcherism but we can learn the lessons of the Miners' Strike and be inspired that it's possible to fight back.
Where will the film be shown?
We are hoping the film will be shown up and down the country in independent cinemas, followed by an even wider set of community and trade union event led screenings in the old british coal fields, which will be tied to commemorations of the strike.
Before that the film has to be made. You are still raising money and earlier this month you launched a crowd funding appeal. How much are you hoping to raise and who are you hoping will donate?
We need to raise a minimum of 35k by the end of December to ensure we can get the film made by the 30th anniversary. We have been overwhelmed by the support we have received from trade unions so far, including the FBU, CWU and NUT nationally as well as from individual donations and pledges. Whether you're an individual, in the trade union and labour movement, Occupy, UK Uncut or anything else - we're hoping that if you are angry but also inspired by what happened, you'll dig to deep to make sure we get this story out there.
You can support the film by visiting http://www.sponsume.com/project/still-enemy-within
Or donate immediately by visiting http://the-enemy-within.org.uk/#!/still-the-enemy-within/donate/
Get your trade union branch to support the film http://the-enemy-within.org.uk/#!/support-this-film/
Follow us on Twitter @enemywithin1984
And on Facebook www.facebook.com/stillenemywithin
If you are interested in formally investing in the project please contact email@example.com
Powerful poetic response to 'It's Hard Out Here' (and about a lot, lot more in the process).