Monthly Archives: November 2010

Clegg, “Protests may scare off students”

The ghost of Sir John Simon haunts Clegg

What is it with Nick Clegg? Last week before the student Carnival of Resistance, Clegg advised students not to participate, inviting us all to “look at the proposals”. This article from the Press Association says,

Protests against proposed increases in tuition fees risk scaring young people from poor backgrounds off going to university, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has warned.

Really? How did he work that out?

He appealed to the NUS to ensure that its campaign against fee rises does not have negative consequences on efforts to widen access to higher education.

So now Clegg has resorted to more lies and more threats. Is there no depth to which this man will not sink? The Guardian tells us that Labour will “trigger ” a vote in the Commons today that could “”bring about the first rebellion of the coalition”.

The paper also says,

Yesterday a petition signed by 104 former parliamentary candidates for the Lib Dems, essentially representing the party’s grassroots, called on Clegg to abide by the pre-election pledge to vote against higher fees. Research published today suggests that the higher fees will profoundly damage social mobility.

Of course Clegg is pig-headed and is unlikely to listen to good advice. He is more interested in what it means to be in government – even if that means he risks losing his seat at the next General Election.  There is the smell of desperation about Clegg that is only masked by the odour of his bravado.

NUS President, Aaron Porter told Sky News,

“Given his plan to triple the tuition fees he said he would abolish, it would be astonishing for Nick Clegg to blame anyone but himself for putting people off university”

Porter recently had his spine returned to him by Labour. You can read the full text of Clegg’s letter to Porter here on Liberal Democrat Voice.  This part of the letter stands out.

There is one thing in this debate that I believe unites all of us – both parties in the coalition; your fellow members in the Labour Party; the NUS and people throughout the country who care about higher education – and that is that the opportunity to go to university is one that everyone should feel they have. It would be a tragedy if we inadvertently allowed our debate about the methods to damage our shared goal.

Debate? Given Clegg’s bullishness, the ‘debate’ is likely to be one-sided. The letter to Porter is, in the words of The Spectator, “condescending”.  Clegg has no interest in what the opposition says. He is right and that’s all there is to it.

A third day of action has been called for today and thousands of students around the country will be participating in strikes, demos and occupations.

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Filed under Education, Government & politics, Liberal Democrats, Student protests

The Comedy of the Spectacle (and its alternative)

 

MacIntyre. Spectacular comedian?

Alternative comedy is dead. Maybe it never actually existed. After all, none of us referred to ourselves as “alternative comedians”. Some of us never liked being called “comedian” either. Comedians wore dinner suits, bow ties and frilly shirts. They told paddy jokes and sexist jokes. They told Paki and coon jokes on prime time telly. It wasn’t funny. Alexei Sayle had an interesting line, “I’m alternative comedian. Which means I’m not funny”! But he was very funny.  A breath of fresh air. We needed it then and we need it now.

Whenever someone asked me what I did, I would often offer “plumber” or “exorcist”. Sometimes I would tell them I was a “shaman”.  I thought of myself as an artist who painted or sculpted with words.  This was the 1990’s. Alternative comedy was dead. Some people said alternative comedy died because it was too “politically correct”. I don’t know what “politically correct” means. Others said it was “outdated” while others conceded that it was “necessary”. The frilly shirts and bow-ties returned to the shadowy world of the CIU circuit. They became the alternative comedians.

When I started doing comedy in 1986, it was called cabaret back then. It was fresh, exciting, dangerous and innovative. Sometimes it wasn’t funny. The audiences knew the score. They came for something different. They were fed up with frilly shirts and bow ties too.

The frilly shirts and the bow ties are back. Well, the attitude has come back. It started around 1992.  Loaded appeared and the jugglers and poets disappeared. The lad was here. Well, the lad never went away. What was alternative was transformed into something mainstream. Something more television-friendly. The clubs became factories that produced commodities. The commodities were fetishized by television companies and magazines like Loaded and is imitators. This is comedy on an industrial scale.

Then some journalist declared that “comedy” was “the new rock and roll”. Avalon took this seriously. They even booked Wembley Arena for their star performers. Kerrrrching! Even the comedy tours of the eighties didn’t take in such massive venues. This was the sort of venue that only the likes of Queen or Dire Straits played. This was stadium comedy to go with your stadium rock. “Welcome to the machine” is what Pink Floyd said on their album Wish You Were Here. Welcome to the machine.

Guy Debord said

In societies where modern conditions of production prevail, all of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that is directly lived has moved away into a representation.

The lived experience of the alternative performer was gone. Representations of life appeared in their place. The master discourse was renewed and articulated through the comedian. Observations of nothing-in-particular came to signify la comédie nouvelle. The new jokes needed butts. They were found in the Welsh and people with red hair. One was a ‘sheep shagger’, the other a ‘ginga’. People paid good money to hear this stuff. But you can go to a playground on any day of the week and hear that stuff for free. Save your money.

The girlfriend was substituted for the wife or the mother-in-law. The frilly shirts and bow-ties owned those two. Homeless people became the new niggers at the hand of the hack. I once heard someone do a load of stuff about “smackheads”. It was tiresome. Tedious. Unimaginative. Pointlessly cruel. The weak became the focus of the new cruelty. Not the powerful. Not career politicians. The weak. But it’s just a joke. Can’t you take a joke? You have no sense of humour sometimes! It’s political correctness gone mad!

No, it isn’t.

Carr. Cold and clinical

It’s worse than that.

Much, much, worse.

Today’s comedian is like a vending machine. They produce perfectly formed gags like cans of Coke. Each one is the same as the last one. Put coin in, get a can of Coke. Repeat the process.  If we take Jimmy Carr as an example, we see a comedian who is more of  a technician than an artist. Arthur Smith once said of Carr that  “He makes jokes like little clocks. He has no interest in their context or meaning, only that they cause an explosion of laughter. I want a comedian to have a hinterland”.  Even Carr’s shows reflect a certain sterility to his approach. One show was titled “Joke Technician”. You really cannot get more technocratic than that. Such an admission is revealing, it shows us how some acts view their profession: not as art but as a science or a bloodsport. His current show is titled “Laughter Therapy”, which is not only unimaginative, it is also highly clinical.

Nelson David wrote an interesting article for Chortle a few months ago. He says,

I’ve often wondered why many younger generation comedians seem less politically and philosophically engaged with the world around them than their predecessors of 25 years ago, especially as times are so turbulent.

So where is the reaction? Maybe audiences are more interested in observations of naff all.  A promoter once asked me “Why do you do all that political stuff? Why can’t you just stick with your impressions”? Nelson David,

It does seem that exclusively political comedy has become the preserve of the more mature performer in Britain. Sadly for me their number is few, certainly far less than I’d need to be able to nickname them the Grecian 2000. But Jeremy Hardy, Mark Steel, Mark Thomas, Arnold Brown and Rob Newman for example remain inspirational.

More recently, Bob Slayer, writing for the same website, said this,

Fuckin’ A! It’s been a quarter of a century since alternative comedy turned the industry on its head and it is long overdue another shake-up. Comedy may be booming at the top but there are many signs that it is becoming more than a little middle aged around the middle, it is increasingly choked with clubs promoting generic comedy, established comedians delivering interchangeable material and new acts, that only want to be the next Russell Howard, trying stand up as a career choice.

Bob rightly puts his finger on the industry’s lack of adventure. Pierre Bourdieu reminds us that,

Old style intellectuals monopolise legitimate cultural practices due to the inertia of the institutions of cultural production.

The “old style intellectuals” here are those who control the industry. They are the ones who produce tastes and project them downwards to the masses. These intellectuals come from the public schools and Oxbridge. Many of them are employed by the BBC.  Political satire is one area where production is controlled by former public school and Oxbridge types. A good example of this can be found in Channel 4’s  Bremner, Bird and Fortune, a series that is patchily amusing and often full of obscure parliamentary in-jokes that need to be decoded with the aid of Hansard.  It is a programme for those who have been initiated into the political system. Those who have not been initiated will feel alienated.

The comedy industry like the rest of the  culture industries is not concerned with innovation or inventiveness. It concerns itself entirely with safe ideas, safe products and safe comedy. When it offers danger it tends to be produced without thought or analysis and is done to shock. Recently there have been a series of article about the number of rape jokes being told. Emma Poole, writing for the blog site, Liberal Conspiracy writes,

I watched a recorded episode of ‘Russell Howard’s Good News’ this week – I couldn’t even enjoy the funny bits. The show was fragmented by the host’s jokes about rape and paedophilia. I don’t find them funny. They make me feel sick. They give me nightmares.

Rape and paedophilia jokes have become the new comedian’s stock-in-trade. Rape jokes can be funny but only if the perpetrator is the butt of the humour. More often than not, it is the victim who is the butt of the joke. Alexei Sayle says,

Offence doesn’t reside in the subject matter, but in the power relationship between the comic and the audience.

Perhaps some of the newer comics should take this on board. But the phrase “power relationship” is not one that many of them will understand. Some will try and claim that they are being ‘ironic’ but this is the last refuge of the coward and the bully. The behaviour that would have once been left at the school gates has now accompanied these comedians into adult life.

There is a need for a new alternative comedy. We live in turbulent social and political times. The economic crisis, peak oil and war would have featured in many an alternative comedian’s set in the 1980’s.  Today’s comedians would rather talk about their dicks or talk about disabled people as though they were subhuman. The only way to ensure that there is an alternative to the new mainstream is to create the space for it. But with most pub landlords interested in short term gains, finding a sympathetic landlord is a very difficult task indeed. I should know, in the last three years, I tried to set up an alternative cabaret club and each time,  pub management was the obstacle to progress. The old mainstream acts still had places to play when alternative comedy emerged.  They still had audiences. The alternative acts had nowhere to play once the new mainstream took control but surely they still have audiences? The only real way forward is to have your own space where you are not subject to the capricious whims of a pub landlord. You control the means of production, not the landlord, the brewery or a lads mag.

When alternative comedy arrived in 1979, it disrupted the spectacle. In 1992, the spectacle recuperated comedy and transformed it into a product of the hospitality industry. It’s time to take it back!

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Exhuming kennite

First, I must offer an explanation. Although this blog is about Andrew Gilligan, the subject of this blog is not related to Life On Gilligan’s Island, which is a series that takes a look at what our dogged reporter serves up in his blogs for the Daily Telegraph and elsewhere. In this blog I want to explore three things: 1. the connection between Gilligan and kennite, 2. his denial that he is a propagandist and 3. how trolls and sockpuppets act as instruments of propaganda

With regard to the first point,  Gilligan has denied that he is “kennite”. However while performing periodic trawl of the internet for useful information, I stumbled upon this article by Decca Aitkenhead (the article is well worth a read by the way) of The Guardian on 30/4/08 in which she says,

We meet at his home in Greenwich, south London, where he lives alone…

On Dave Hill’s blog on 3/11/08, Gilligan, using his real identity, says,

Dave,

Kennite is my partner. Is that allowed? I’ve always been perfectly happy, as you acknowledge, to point out the shortcomings in your journalism under my own name. Even by the standards of the Ken Left, it strikes me as more than usually bizarre to accuse me of concealing my true views about our former mayor and his online fan club.

It’s also good to see such a sure sense of priorities. On the day of a major mayoral policy launch about a trivial subject like knife crime, you’re focusing on the issues that really matter.

Andrew

Call me old-fashioned but the word “partner” tends to imply two things: a partner is someone who is domicile with another (there is usually a sexual relationship involved)  or someone with whom one is engaged  in some form of enterprise. I am not certain whether the information of his domicile status that Aitkenhead has presented was volunteered to her or deduced by her.  At this point it may be useful to establish a time-line for kennite. His activity on The Guardian’s Comment is Free section can be found here.   Kennite’s first post is on 20/4/07 to this article, which is critical of Boris Johnson who was, at the time, a mayoral candidate.

Neal Lawson credits Ken with the Freedom Pass; in fact, he has nothing to do with this pass, which has been in existence since the early 1970s and has been provided and paid for by the London boroughs since 1986. The Mayor’s only involvement with the Freedom Pass is to set the charges which the boroughs must pay to reimburse TfL for the OAPs’ free travel. Like so many other charges levied by Ken, these have risen hugely in recent years, placing real financial pressure on the scheme.

“Free travel” for under-18s on the buses is a Ken initiative, but it is not, of course, free. It is simply paid for by other travellers, who were hit with an overnight 25% increase in the Oyster single bus fare in January 2007 in order to raise the money for the “free” child fares.

Anyone who actually uses the buses detests the “free” child concession, because it has led to a significant increase in anti-social behaviour on board, has caused massive overcrowding at schooltimes and has made many fare-paying travellers’ lives a misery. In an age of growing concern about child obesity, it also seems utterly perverse to subsidise children not to walk and cycle.

That comment was posted nearly a year before the Aitkenhead interview. On 20/4/08, a year to the date of the first comment, kennite replies to the editors blog

If you add up the pieces written on CiF, the charge of bias is irrefutable. Since Boris Johnson emerged in the Mayoral race in July 2007, CiF and the Guardian’s politics blog have published at least 63 pro-Ken or anti-Boris articles, including 13 by Ken Livingstone himself. Twenty-four CiF contributors have written broadly pro-Ken/ anti-Boris pieces.

The number of pro-Boris articles or anti-Ken articles (including those in support of Brian Paddick) totals 15, from a total of five contributors.

Nobody outside the ranks of Ken Livingstone supporters would accept your principal commentator, Dave Hill, as “independent”. He has repeatedly attacked Johnson, found endless inventive ways to repeat the “racist” slur about him, done his very best to downplay the importance of the LDA grants scandal and made clear his delight at polls showing Ken closing the gap.

The Guardian’s news coverage has also been obviously slanted against Johnson – as, for instance, when the paper devoted a entire page 3 to the fact that he had missed one of the dozens of hustings organised during the campaign. The Guardian first ignored, then dismissed, the most significant story of the campaign, the Lee Jasper affair.

There is nothing wrong with any of this – newspapers are allowed to be biased. What is wrong is to maintain a dishonest pretence that you are impartial.

Just a point about the comment first: it ignores the evident bias against Livingstone in the Tory press. The accusation of bias does not stand up to scrutiny. This is an example of blatant propagandization that on the one hand complains of “pro-Ken bias”  in The Guardian while pretending that there was no “pro-Boris campaign” being waged in the Tory press. Onward. Kennite commented on Dave Hill’s blog on 1/7/08 and was later identified as a possible sockpuppet.

The role of the sockpuppet or internet troll  is consistent with the modus operandi of a propagandist. In this way, albeit self-referentially,  Gilligan’s blogs and comments as “kennite” also conform to Chomsky and Herman’s propaganda model. Chomsky and Herman posit that consent is manufactured in the public mind by the media in order to prepare it, in this case arguably, for a war with Iran. The production of scare stories about creeping Islamification, Sharia Law, Islamic extremism in local government, town hall coups des etats staged by politicians associated with Islamist groups, Islamist entryism and so forth are part of the ongoing process of demonization that is deemed necessary to convince the public of the need for war. These narratives are often framed in the neoliberal notions of freedom, liberty and choice which are depicted as  polar opposites to Islam in general.  Scare stories work wonders and Gilligan is producing these stories in line with his master’s wishes.  Indeed it could be argued that in a Lacanian sense, the master discourse is being articulated through Gilligan in the form of flak and scare stories which are couched in the presentational style of investigative journalism.  The Telegraph doubtlessly would like to see a war that crushes Iran and by extension the Islamism that is thought to have sprung from there.

Gilligan’s attacks on other journalists, notably Dave Hill and Mehdi Hasan should be regarded as forms of flak. This is quite unprecedented behaviour for a journalist –  especially one who has been given a British Journalist of the Year Award.  We can regard this as part of his duties as a propagandist, which he denies. He also claims to have successfully sued someone simply for suggesting he is a propagandist.

Mr Hasan also includes a number of other claims – that I am a “propagandist” for instance – which are untrue and for which I have successfully taken legal action against one of my other critics.

Critics are not tolerated and will either be smeared or threatened with legal action. So much for free speech.

It may be useful to remind ourselves what the propaganda model is and how Gilligan’s activities submit to this thesis. There are 5 filters,

1. Ownership

2. Funding

3. Sourcing

4. Flak

5. Anti-ideologies; substitutes for anti-communism

In the case of the last filter we can substitute “anti-communism” for “anti-Islam”. Like any religion, Islam is  ideological. That is not in question. Like other religions, Islam has its schools of thought, its sects, its various interpretations of scripture and its tensions. So do many other religions. In the hands of the propagandist, Islam becomes a single, homogenized religion where one sect is indistinguishable from another. For instance, in the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” furore, the Sufis who will occupy the cultural centre are presented by certain journalists, their trolls, sockpuppets and angry correspondents as the same as Shia and Sunni and share with them a desire to take over the planet. This is little different to the anti-communist rhetoric of the Cold War.

Working our way backwards up the list, we come to flak which is self-evident in Gilligan’s case. Then there’s sourcing much of which comes from press handouts from government departments and elsewhere. The funding is obvious, that comes from advertisers. Money from advertisers will quickly dry up if the paper takes a certain position on say, the arms trade, which may or may not be supported by some of the advertisers. In a global economy, the connections between diverse forms of trading activities often converge through mergers and acquisitions. EMI, the electrical manufacturer  and music company was, for instance, involved in the defence industry and was also involved with supply of  components for weapons systems to apartheid-era South Africa. The position of both the  Thatcher  government and the paper on sanctions against South Africa is well documented.

One of the Telegraph’s biggest advertisers is Cap Gemini who, among other things, are involved in the defence industry. Wars mean profits for companies associated with defence. A constant drip feed of Islamopbobic blogs and articles is a form of support for both the warmonger’s case and that of the defence industry. The Telegraph is owned by the Barclay Brothers who support the Conservative Party. The party is generally sympathetic to any form of action that is taken against what it sees as ‘enemies of freedom’, this includes Muslims many of whom Gilligan paints as “Islamists” or “Islamist sympathisers”. The latter reads like the Cold War term of abuse for civil rights activists and others as “useful idiots”, a phrase which has made an unwelcome return in the comments section of Gilligan’s blogs. Words like “dhimmitude” are bandied about to create a picture of a people cowed by an ‘alien’ religion. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The anti-Iranian propaganda campaign began sometime around 2005 or 2006. This article from Globalresearch is instructive,

Not only is the anti-Iranian propaganda based upon a brazen, historic lie but, if the western public were to know just what kind of military scenario is envisaged, would be seen as a terrifying imperial escalation in the kind of (nuclear) blitzkrieg tactics that the West and NATO are now prepared to use.

Of course I am not suggesting that Ahmadinejad or the rest of the Iranian state is not brutal and dogmatic. But how much of what is reported by the media with regards to Iran is factual and how much of it is made up? It is difficult to tell.

Gilligan’s latest blog is typical of the ongoing campaign of vilification of Muslims which it is hoped will form an image in the public mind that the only way to stop this ‘creeping Islamification of Europe’ is to wage war on Iran. While Gilligan doesn’t say this in his blogs, the underlying discourse is there.

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Filed under Ideologies, Iran, Islamophobia, Media, World

Life On Gilligan’s Island (Part 20) or Join the Dots with Gilly

Britain's premier investigative journalist or a figure of fun?

Today, Kennite turns his attention away from his favourite twin obsessions and focuses on a group called iEngage whom he describes as “an organisation of Islamist sympathisers”. Why? Because they challenge Islamophobia? or is it the fact that they have met with some parliamentarians that concerns Gilligoon. Turns out, that’s exactly the case. Kennite blasts,

A body called iEngage (also known as Engage) states in a press releasethat it will be acting as the secretariat to a new All-Party Parliamentary Group on Islamophobia, whose inaugural meeting was held yesterday in the Commons. The group is chaired by a Tory MP, Kris Hopkins. The Lib Dem deputy leader Simon Hughes and the Labour peer Lord Janner are vice-chairs. Sources say that the inaugural meeting was attended by the Tory MPs Angie Bray and Eric Ollerenshaw, and the Labour MP Lisa Nandy, among others.

Then he says,

I’m quite certain all these people are sincere individuals who would have no truck with Islamism or extremism. Indeed, at least one of them is Jewish. But they are being used. They need to look much more closely at who they are getting into bed with.

Do you expect me to take this stuff seriously? I have actually had a good look around iEngage’s website and nowhere on that site is there any praise for ‘Islamism’, ‘terrorism’ or any other ‘ism’ for that matter. I think what irks Silly Gilly is the fact that Mohammad Sawalha recently won a libel case against Mad Mel Phillips and Kennite’s other employer, The Spectator. The reason for his blog therefore is obvious: it’s an attempt to smear iEngage because they had the ‘temerity’ to take on a libel suit against a right wing journalist and a right wing magazine and win. There’s a smell of hubris about Gilligan. I wonder if he realizes this?

Once again, it appears that Gilligan has produced a story (for that is what it is) without leaving the comfort of his home. He says that iEngage,

It attacked the BBC’s recent Panorama documentary on racist Muslim schools – showing that some children are being taught anti-Semitism and Sharia punishments – as a “witch-hunt.” Typically, it launched its attack before even seeing the programme. It was almost alone in this criticism – faced with Panorama’s clear evidence, even some of the usual Islamist suspects kept quiet.

They have a right to their opinions. Indeed I only saw part of the programme and I thought it was sensationalist tosh. Panorama has really gone down the pan since it returned to our screens. Anyone who has studied Media Studies will tell you that there is a disappointing lack of hard news on television these days. Sensationalism is no substitute for real  news.

It doesn’t end there.

It attacked me for writing about the East London Mosque’s hosting of the terrorist preacher, Anwar al-Awlaki, in 2009.

And,

It peddled the straightforward lietold by the mosque that no-one had realised Awlaki was a bad egg at that stage. In fact, Awlaki had been identified by the US government two months before as a spiritual leader of the 9/11 hijackers – and the mosque knew this.

Really? You’re going to have to produce some evidence and not the usual fact-free nonsense that you spew out to your audience. This is all personal. It’s all about him. He’s hurt. Tough shit.

He produces this red herring,

There is no question that Muslims face substantial bigotry and discrimination in this country – although the claim, often made by Islamists, that it is “rising” flies in the face of all the empirical evidence. Hate crimes against Muslims have fallen, often dramatically (in Tower Hamlets, for instance, London’s main Muslim area, hate crimes are down by 50% in seven years.)

He appears to offer the hand of friendship to Muslims, then swiftly kicks them in the teeth. It’s the way he says that “Muslims face substantial bigotry” without a trace of irony that’s the kicker. His contribution to Islamophobia in Britain is well-documented.

The rest of the blog is muddled, directionless and vague. I won’t bother quoting all of  it here but it is safe to say that Kennite is looking increasingly desperate. He talks about the BNP being “Britain’s main anti-Muslim party” and how they lost spectacularly at the last general election. He suggests that because of this drubbing, Islamophobia has gone away. I’ve got news for you, it hasn’t. Joining the dots is easy. Anyone can do it. Anyone with half a brain that is.

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Postcards From The Barricades (Part 5): Before and after in the Tory press

 

Before yesterday’s national day of occupations and walkouts, London’s students were told by Nick Clegg to “look and make up your minds” about the coalition’s proposals. I’m sure I heard someone on BBC London News tell us that Clegg advised protesters not to go on the demonstration. I remember thinking “Who the hell does he think he’s talking to”?

Then the Telegraph published this story,

Mr Clegg’s security personnel are understood to have told him that it was no longer safe for him to bicycle from his home in Putney, south west London, to his office in the Cabinet Office, beside 10 Downing Street.

There were fears that the Deputy Prime Minister could be knocked from his bicycle or pelted with objects.

If I were Clegg I’d be more worried about holding onto my Commons seat than being knocked off my bike. It’s the least of his worries.

During the protests, Clegg appeared on BBC Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine Show. He said that he “massively regretted finding himself in this situation”.  He can’t complain. He brought all of this upon himself.

The Tory press has been full of the usual stories of “violence” and so on. The Daily Mail goes for a more misogynistic/patriarchal approach and says,

Rioting girls became the disturbing new face of violent protest yesterday.

They threatened to overturn a police riot squad van as they smashed windows, looted riot shields, uniforms and helmets and daubed the sides with graffiti.

That’s strange. I was about 20 metres from the van in question and there was a mix of male and female students rocking the van. Painting this as some sort of riot that was led by a bunch of Riot Girls is a bit, well, stupid and typical of the Mail’s reportage.

The Telegraph has a habit of employing recent Oxbridge graduates and the occasional Tory student who is still studying at university. The Torygraph tells us that,

India Lenon is at Oxford University, combining her studies of Classics with all the other joys of student life

Lenon is their eyes and ears within the dreaming spires. She asks “can the rage-filled girl rioters get out of my library now”? She starts by saying,

So we’re told that after yesterday’s student protests the “Girls are leading the charge”. This may be true, but it may also have something to do with the fact that pictures of attractive schoolgirls smashing up police vans are, well, a bit more eye-catching than ones of balaclava-wearing men.

And adds,

And here in Oxford, that’s exactly what’s happened – even among the student body, a lot of people are now thoroughly sick of the way the protests have been handled. First, the march on London on November 10 was advertised as some sort of free day out, then yesterday a group of students “occupied” the Radcliffe Camera, one of Oxford’s oldest and most beautiful libraries. They’re still in there, demanding things and (apparently) dancing, and they even have a website. The only problem is that the Rad Cam is where the history and English books are housed, and there are several hundred students who have history and English Finals coursework due in next week.

Aw, what a pity and they’re dancing. Surely that isn’t allowed at a protest? Lenon is quite possibly one of those students who gets an allowance from mater and pater, drives a Porsche and drinks Pimms. She doesn’t need to protest. She’s all right, thank you very much. She makes what is possibly the worst analogy ever,

“Occupying” our own library to protest about government cuts and the rise in tuition fees is a bit like occupying your own house to protest about council tax and stopping the rest of your family getting in.

Er, no it isn’t. This is quite different. Besides, she has no sense of history. Would it be pointless to say to her, “1968”?

The Sun produced a pretty typical headline “Student mob in cop van rampage”. Oh, the drama!

One student was even seen urinating against the van as crowds swelled during the angry protest against rising university tuition costs.

There are no public toilets on Whitehall save for Portcullis House. I guess that escaped the staff reporter’s attention. Oddly enough, The Sun repeats the story it ran the previous day with a few alterations. What a load of cheapskates.

Terrified schoolchildren who had come along for a peaceful protest – some as young as 13 and wearing their school uniforms – became hysterical as balaclava-clad demonstrators threw flaming aerosol missiles and shouted: “F*** the cops.”

It must have been the two journos who were behind me who wrote this tripe.

Students last night claimed an anarchist group called Black Book were responsible for smashing up the police van.

What? No names?  I’ve just done a search for this “anarchist” group and guess what? Nothing has come up. I found this. It’s for a photography company. Not the same thing.

The Daily Express attempts to spin the Whitehall protest as a case of the poor plucky police  (who are also facing cuts) versus the ugly, angry mob. Its article starts with,

POLICE were injured as thousands of students took to the streets yesterday to vent their fury over tuition fee rises.

London again bore the brunt of the protests, with two police officers badly hurt in the clashes that went on into the night.

One had his arm broken and another was knocked unconscious as violence erupted in Whitehall.

Forget the reason why the protests happened and concentrate on what happened to a few cops. Well done. The Express repeats the same line about the police van,

As a police van parked in the middle of Whitehall was abandoned to the crowd, youths leapt on the roof, smashed the windscreen, and sprayed the vehicle with graffiti.

And like all the other papers, it refuses to ask the question of why the van was there in the first place when the police knew they were going to be blocking access to Parliament Square. This is either a case of police stupidity or deliberate provocation.

Last night I heard that there had been a horse charge in Manchester and London.  The Met denies that it horse-charged protesters. The site Demotix has images. Indymedia has photos from Manchester here.

There was no mention of the horse charges in any of the papers.

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Great song and still relevant after all these years

Enjoy!

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Postcards from the Barricades (Part 4)

Road sweepers being used as auxiliary policemen

I decided to cycle to the demo today. I’m on the mountain bike because it’s smaller and slightly lighter than my new touring bike. It also has SPD pedals which allow me to ride faster and more efficiently. I arrive at Trafalgar Square after battling my way through inexplicably heavy traffic on Kensington High Street. The scene is noisy. I can see Paraic O’ Brien from BBC London News talking on his phone and greeting fellow journalists like old chums. Maybe they are old chums. Who knows?  Someone hands me a leaflet. I take one look at it. It has David Icke’s name on it. I crumple it up and snap “anti-Semitic filth” to the man who gave it to me.  He looks bemused.  There’s a sudden surge of noise coming from Nelson’s Column which prompts the cops into action. But there’s nothing for them to get worked up about. The crowd is just being noisy.

We  move towards Whitehall and the police follow us. There’s easily a couple of thousand students here and more are arriving. There are quite a few Sixth Form students here too.  I can even see a few school uniforms. Nick Clegg must be the most unpopular politician in Britain today. Politicians aren’t well liked at the best of times but Clegg is singled out for a lot of abuse on today’s demonstration.  He deserves it. I cycle in low gear down Whitehall. I can see a police van parked in the middle of the road, just past the Cenotaph. “That’s a bit stupid of them” I think to myself.  It’s almost as if the Met wants that van to get smashed up.

I am outside the Treasury. There’s a cordon of police blocking our way to Parliament Square. I’m now beginning to see my bike as a liability. It’s starting to get in the way. There’s a sudden surge of people moving away from the police. For a moment it looks like some of us will get trampled. I make myself look big and stand my ground. Others do the same. Things calm down. It’s clear the police aren’t going to let us through. A fire is started. Why didn’t anyone think to bring any bangers or marshmallows? There are a couple of journalists behind me. They look like tabloid types. I avoid them. They probably think I’m just some bloke with a bike who’s been caught up in the demo.  Little do they know.

The crowd is starting to thin at this end of Whitehall. I suspect that some of the protesters are going to try and get out of Whitehall. I also suspect that the police have cordoned off all exits. I suddenly think of The Charge of the Light Brigade. This is a time when people really need to understand their terrain. The police clearly have the upper hand in this situation. Then some noise. The police van is finally attacked from all sides. That’s a cue. The police remove their casual-looking baseball caps and swap them for helmets and shields. Suddenly I get the feeling that we’re all about to be kettled. I think of Boris Johnson’s recent outspoken advocacy of that tactic.

I finally manage to squeeze my way to the other side of Whitehall. I negotiate my way across a hole that’s been left by the roadworkers.  I make my way up to the northern end of Whitehall. A woman is being carried by the police towards Parliament Square. I am not sure if she is a protester or some Tory MP. I can see another cordon. Towards King Charles Street, I can see another cordon. They aren’t going to let anyone out.  A number of protesters try and force their way through the cordon. It fails to break the column.

I stand around for a bit, trying to figure a way out. Then I move towards the cordon. The cop says “This is an absolute cordon”. To which I reply, “Is that different to a normal cordon”? He doesn’t reply but lets me out. Maybe it’s because I don’t look like student. Being a bit older does have its advantages after all! I cycle up Whitehall at top speed. I need the loo but they’ve closed all the public toilets. I walk my bike along the Strand and go down that road to the side of the station (I can never remember the name of it), lock the bike up at Embankment Station and go into a pub. There’s a group of blokes sitting around, drinking and gawping at the feed from Sky News. I use the loo and leave.

Cycling home, I accidentally take a wrong turn and end up cycling through Imperial College. It used to be federated with the University of London. I can see lots of students through the windows. Do they know about the protests or are they bothered? Maybe they’re having a sit-in. But somehow I don’t think so. This is Imperial College.

Once home, I turn on the telly. Emily Maitlis is interviewing Michael Gove or “Pob” as we call him at Nowhere Towers. He repeats the, by now, standard lie that the protest was “hijacked”. He knows nothing and yet he is the Secretary of State for Education. You know, I don’t think Gove has ever protested in his life. He probably never had the need. Apparently Gove is in favour of “reasoned debate”. He also talked of “logic”. He’s not au fait with either concept.

There have been other protests around the country. I hear that there was a horse charge in Manchester.  You can read the Twitter feed here.

I’ll post up some photos when I get time.

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Filed under London, Student protests