Monthly Archives: March 2011

So why did UKUncut target Fortnum & Mason’s?

Is it because Fortnum & Mason’s is the “Queen’s grocer”? No. Is it because it is a very posh supermarket? No. To hear the Tories, you’d think that UKUncut’s occupation of F&M constituted a form of grievous bodily harm on the Tory body-politic. So many Tories got into a funk about it.  George Pitcher of the Telegraph, wrote

Now, pay attention at the back, especially the youth that I spotted in the Fortnums atrium holding a sign saying “Share the Wealth” without any apparent sense of irony. The Garfield Weston Foundation owns nearly 80 per cent of Wittington Investments, a company registered in the UK, which is the ultimate holding company of Associated British Foods, Fortnum & Mason and interior stylist Heal’s. Dividends flow upwards to the Foundation, principally from ABF given that retail is having a tough time and Fortnums has just been through a major investment programme, which then distributes grants (a word students may still be familiar with).

It’s bad neough that Pitcher associates UKUncut with students, even though plenty of non-students participate in the protests. But enough of that. Here’s George again,

Typically, the Foundation distributes about £40 million a year, though in good times much more. A glance at the trustees’ report – I presume UKUncut’s organisers know how to use the internet – would reveal that the Foundation gives grants to schools and universities, as well as to hospitals and housing associations. The Weston Foundation gave £25 million, for instance, to Oxford University last year alone for the development of the Bodleian Library, so I hope any Oxford students who “occupied” Fortnums will honourably refrain out of shame from using that facility for the remainder of their studies, out of respect for the Westons.

Uh huh. The Weston Foundation distributes largesse to educational institutions too. But what George failed to tell anyone was that last year, the foundation was in hot water with the Charity Commission.  This article from the Times says

The Charity Commission has found that some of the family members who run the Garfield Weston Foundation allowed an investment company it controlled to make political donations between 1993 and 2007. Wittington Investments Ltd gave £100,000 to the Conservative Party each year from 1993 to 1999, except in 1995 when it donated £200,000. The payments stopped when a new law required shareholders to give approval for political donations, but it made a further £100,000 donation in 2004. Between 2000 and 2007 Wittington donated £70,000 to the Centre for Policy Studies, a think-tank with close links to the Conservative Party. It also gave £305,000 to the anti-EU European Foundation and £45,000 to the anti-single currency Labour Euro-Safeguards Campaign.

Oops! Now you know why the Tories got into a tizzy about the occupation of F&M. But this is only one reason why F&M was targetted. Funny how George kept quiet about it.

Associated British Foods, the company that owns F&M also owns Primark. In 2008 Primark was accused of making use of sweatshop labour. Nice people, those Westons.

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Life On Gilligan’s Island (Part 28)

Yesterday, Gilligoon announced to the world that he has been “Longlisted for the Orwell Prize”. Nowhere Towers believes that Gilly should be shortlisted for a prize for Orwellian journalism. Remember, people, that “Ignorance is Strength”. One suspects that all the comments offering him praise are actually Gilly in sockpuppet mode.

I wonder if I’ll get another visit from “Geordie Mark”?

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Politically motivated arrests and illusions of liberty

I found this article in The Guardian from one of the UKUncut protesters who was arrested on Saturday. This article confirms my suspicions that this country is sliding towards a police state.  This paragraph stands out,

A very senior officer in my station admitted to my parents that he regretted having to charge the protesters on the orders of Scotland Yard: he said they all seemed like “nice people”, and that he suspected the charges were politically motivated. These sentiments were echoed by other officers who kept distinguishing us from “proper criminals”. Another senior officer told me he suspected that it wasn’t so much a case of legality, but that UK Uncut had upset people who were that little bit too rich; that little bit too powerful. Some police officers, I’ve been told, even advised protesters about constructing a defence.

Yes, these are the same powerful people that not only own most of this country’s wealth, but are in a position to print lies about UKUncut and smear both the group and those people who support them.

Fortnum & Mason’s is not merely a posh supermarket, it is a symbol of the power and authority (not to mention their spending power) of the rich and the privileged.

You can read the rest of the article here.

Filippo Tomaso Marinetti, the libertarian who supported fascism

Interestingly enough, right wing libertarians claim to be in favour of freedom and liberty but aren’t prepared to extend this idea to anyone outside their select group of people – the wealthy.

We need to remind ourselves of the futurists, who also referred to themselves as “anarchists” and “libertarians”. They all supported Mussolini’s fascists. Therefore the gap between right libertarianism and fascism is quite a narrow one and remains so to this day.

The case of the Anti-Socialist Union in this country is strangely similar. Born out of the remnants of the Land and Property Defence League, the ASU represented the interests of the wealthy. The ASU were proponents of laissez-faire economics and, at one time, boasted a young Stanley Baldwin as a member. The ASU would become closely allied with various fascist movements in the 1920’s because of their shared opposition to communism.

Cut a right libertarian and you will find the blood of an authoritarian.

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Police State Britain. Are we there yet?

Last Saturday’s march and rally, the occupation of Fortnum & Mason’s and the smashing of  a few bank windows has got the entire Tory world in a spin. So much so, that some of them (Telegraph commenters mainly) are calling for the banning of this party and the proscription of that organization.  But this government is so desperate to cling on to power that it will use any means necessary to silence its critics and rubbish the names of those who call for justice. Meanwhile the opposition seems to be sleepwalking into a trap that has been laid for them by the Tory press and the government. It’s as though the 1980’s never went away.

But it seems the state is up to its old tricks again.

Lenin’s Tomb blog believes that police agents provocateurs were allowed to smash windows while their uniformed colleagues stood by and watched. This clip from the BBC on Liberal Conspiracy shows a man in a hoodie crossing a police line. He looks like a police agent. I have also heard unconfirmed reports of how journalists from a certain tabloid newspaper paid people to commit acts of vandalism elsewhere. In paying people to carry out acts of vandalism for the sake of, what seems to be, a gruesome headline, it helps to manufacture consent in the public mind, which is good as a  nod and a wink to the  government who, in turn, grant the police more draconian powers to control, contain and destroy the ‘menace’ or ‘enemy within’. This is newsgathering and guess what? It’s always been that way. You get me the pictures and I’ll bring you the war. If you see what I mean…

There’s no truth like the untruth.

Dan Hannan writing in the Daily Telegraph is pushing his and Carswell’s idea for elected police chiefs as a solution.  Their case for elected police officials is, in my view, poorly made and, in the case of his blog, opportunistic and smugly self-congratulatory. Here Hannan puts the boot into anarchists and the Socialist Workers Party

So, which is it? Did the police provoke gentle marchers with their fascistic heavy-handedness? Were they heroic in the face of intolerable provocation from thugs? Or were they a bunch of pantywaists, standing idly by as anarchists (an odd name for people dependent on the state for their livelihood) and Socialist Workers (few of whom seem to work) vandalised private property?

Thing is, Hannan seems to think that all anarchists and members of the SWP are idle. That actually isn’t true. Many anarchists and Swappies actually have jobs.

It’s much easier to be ignorant. That way you never have to think.

Furthermore there are many flavours of anarchism, some of which – like anarcho-capitalism – Hannan would doubtlessly approve. Perhaps he needs to meet people outside his own circle to get to grips with that concept. Fat chance. The elected sheriff idea merely underlines how out of touch these Tories are. Borrow some idea from the States, apply it here and claim that it’s in the name of  ‘democracy’ or otherwise claim that it’s done to devolve more power from the centre.

We get to the meat of the blog here

The Bill to place our constabularies under locally elected representatives will be presented to the Commons this week. I’m obviously delighted, having been pushing the idea of elected sheriffs for the better part a decade (although Carswell will have you believe that he thought of it first).

Yes, another crazy idea from The Plan has been transformed into a bill. While this doesn’t appear prima facie to indicate Hannan’s desire to see some kind of police state, the office of ‘sheriff’ would arguably be open to anyone that claims to have a ‘cure’ for the ‘cancer’. In times of manufactured fear, this could be the very thing the that right has been yearning for.  As any miner (NUM need only apply) from the 1980’s will tell you, the police are always on the side of the state. If this idea is pushed through (it’s a white paper at the moment), they will also be on the side of whatever party they happen to belong to. For instance the elected commissioner could be responsible for

Appointing – and, where necessary, removing – the Chief Constable.

Also

Elections
2.12 The Government wants candidates for Commissioners to come from a wide range of backgrounds, including both representatives of political parties and independents.

Do you see what I see?

This government will use any means at its disposal to blacken the names of those who take part in legitimate protests – even if that means relying on fabricated evidence and employing agents provacateurs to bolster its case for proscribing certain groups and outlawing certain forms of political activity. Even the TUC Leadership fell into line and condemned the action of a “minority of hooligans”.  The simple fact is that the Tories don’t like UKUncut and its innovative approach to protests. The group has done a great job of drawing attention to the fact that certain businesses, some of them loyal to the Conservative Party, have been using offshore addresses to avoid paying tax in this country. Add to this Sir Phillip Green, the millionaire owner of Topshop, who has been given the role of ‘efficiency czar’ and you have a situation where the oligarchs call the tune. These oligarchs will use whatever means at their disposal to press the government to take a tougher line against anyone who opposes them.

Does that sound like a liberal democracy to you?

It isn’t one that I recognize.

The use of agent provocateurs is nothing new. Recently at the G20 protests, Lib Dem MP, Tom Brake, alleged that police agents provocateurs  were employed to besmirch the name of the protesters.

Of course this sort of tactic has its origins in the 19th century when the state routinely resorted to such methods. The so-called Six Acts were enacted in the aftermath of the Peterloo Massacre and were designed to crush dissent and stifle debate. The Six Acts included,

  • The Training Prevention Act (or Unlawful Drilling Act) (60 Geo. III & 1 Geo. IV c. 1)[1] made any person attending a meeting for the purpose of receiving training or drill in weapons liable to arrest and transportation. More simply stated, military training of any sort was to be conducted only by municipal bodies and above.
  • The Seizure of Arms Act (60 Geo. III & 1 Geo. IV c. 2) gave local magistrates the powers to search any private property for weapons and seize them and arrest the owners.
  • The Misdemeanors Act (60 Geo. III & 1 Geo. IV c. 4) attempted to increase the speed of the administration of justice by reducing the opportunities for bail and allowing for speedier court processing.
  • The Seditious Meetings Prevention Act (60 Geo. III & 1 Geo. IV c. 6) required the permission of a sheriff or magistrate in order to convene any public meeting of more than 50 people if the subject of that meeting was concerned with “church or state” matters. Additional people could not attend such meetings unless they were inhabitants of the parish.
  • The Blasphemous and Seditious Libels Act (or Criminal Libel Act) (60 Geo. III & 1 Geo. IV c. 8)”, [2] toughened the existing laws to provide for more punitive sentences for the authors of such writings. The maximum sentence was increased to fourteen years transportation.
  • The Newspaper and Stamp Duties Act (60 Geo. III & 1 Geo. IV c. 9) extended and increased taxes to cover those publications which had escaped duty by publishing opinion and not news. Publishers also were required to post a bond for their behaviour

The Newspaper and Stamp Duties Act had the effect of creating a newspaper industry that was loyal to the state. In that regard little has changed. The industry is dominated by Tory-supporting titles, all of them with connections to arms manufacturers and financial institutions. The Seditious Meetings Act, for example, prevented free association and meetings could be broken up – often with violence – on a whim. Agents provocateurs were employed to stir up trouble and spies were used to obtain intelligence on seditious persons. In the 19th century, Britain was a police state in all but name.

2011 marks the centenary of some rather important events. Winston Churchill sent troops into Tonypandy to crush a riot. He ordered gunboats to be moored at Liverpool and Hull. Troops were ordered ashore at Liverpool, where they acted with the police to crush the transport strike. Churchill was also present a the Siege of Sidney Street, where excessive force was used to kill a pair of Latvian anarchists. Then, as now, the word on the collective typesetter of the press was “anarchists”, which became synonymous with a bearded bomb-thrower. A lunatic. A swivel-eyed zealot.

The word is now liberally used by politicians and the press to conjure up images of fear or as threats to individual ‘liberty’. It’s lazy and it’s weak.

In 2011 a range of measures under Terrorism legislation can be invoked in situations where the government feels protests have gone too far and, more importantly, property is being damaged. Section 1 of the Terrorism Act 2000 defines terrorism thus:

(1) In this Act “terrorism” means the use or threat of action where-

(a) the action falls within subsection (2),
(b) the use or threat is designed to influence the government [or an international governmental organisation][2] or to intimidate the public or a section of the public, and
(c) the use or threat is made for the purpose of advancing a political, religious [, racial][3] or ideological cause.
(2) Action falls within this subsection if it-

(a) involves serious violence against a person,
(b) involves serious damage to property,
(c) endangers a person’s life, other than that of the person committing the action,
(d) creates a serious risk to the health or safety of the public or a section of the public, or
(e) is designed seriously to interfere with or seriously to disrupt an electronic system.
(3) The use or threat of action falling within subsection (2) which involves the use of firearms or explosives is terrorism whether or not subsection (1)(b) is satisfied.

My italics. This act can be used to fit any definition of terrorism imaginable. It is intended to be that way. Judges and the police can interpret it any way they like.

They call it the letter of the law.

Those who cling to the neoliberal economic model, who tell us that there is no alternative, do so from a position of philosophical and intellectual weakness. They refuse to consider an alternative by insisting that none of us has an alternative. Their spreadsheets tell them that they are right and anyone else is wrong.

It requires no thinking on their part.

The Tories want a smaller state. A smaller state that has no welfare state and no public services. Their idea of the smaller state is one in which only the repressive functions (the police and security apparatuses ) are left intact. A police state where the legislature exists to rubber stamp the will of the oligarchy.

Are we there yet?

Finally, the Sun, always on the side of law and order, demands that the “rent-a-mob” be “nail[ed]”.

Sweet dreams.

EDIT: 30/3/11 @ 0927

This article from The Independent says

Scotland Yard plans to increase the use of stop-and-search powers on the day of the royal wedding, the next major test of policing methods in the capital, as well as stationing more officers at rail and Tube stations to spot possible troublemakers

And

In the Commons, Ms May backed the use of football-style “banning orders” against people suspected of planning to use legitimate protests as a pretext for violent action. They would be barred from travelling to demonstrations and could be arrested if they refused to comply. Ms May also urged police to make wider use of existing powers to confiscate masks and balaclavas from marchers.

Anyone who tells me that this country isn’t fast becoming a police state is a liar. We need to fight this.

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Protesters at Fortnum & Mason’s tricked into mass arrest

A video on The Guardian website clearly shows UKUncut protesters being conned into being arrested en masse as soon as they step over the threshold of Fortnum & Mason’s. Before these arrests had taken place, the rolling news channels had claimed that the posh supermarket had been trashed by axe-wielding crusties.

Campaigners for the tax-avoidance protest group UK Uncut have claimed senior police officers “tricked” them into a mass arrest after a peaceful protest inside Fortnum & Mason’s in London on Saturday.

Activists say they were given repeated assurances by a chief inspector from the Metropolitan police that they would be shown to safety after the protest, which she described as non-violent and sensible. However, when protesters left the luxury Piccadilly store on police instruction, they were kettled, handcuffed and taken into custody.

Read the rest and watch the video here

Today, the Tory press is full of a load of guff about how Fortnum & Mason’s donate to charitable causes. Of course, what they fail to mention is that donating to charity is great to offset the tax bill – which is why companies do it in the first place. The only reason the right have gotten into a funk about all of this is because Fortnum & Mason’s is a symbol and nothing more.  For them,though symbolic as it is, the occupation was good as an assault upon the person. It wasn’t so much the fact that people were protesting there, it was more the fact that these people were filthy anarchists (which wasn’t true). How dare they?

Personally, I think there is more here than meets the eye.

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Chatting with the hatchet-man

I must apologize for the tardiness of this blog. But, as they say, better late than never. The Deputy Vice Chancellor, John Joughin, held a green paper discussion on Friday afternoon. The meeting wasn’t as well attended as I would have liked and there were plenty of empty seats in the lecture hall. I suspect, that once again, the message hadn’t gone out to the majority of students. Indeed, I only knew about it because I’d received an email on the rather poor UEL webmail service, where the fonts are 8 point – if that. If you are visually-impaired, reading emails must be a real nightmare.

As we arrive there are 2 security  guards on the door. Why? Is Joughin expecting trouble? Does he fear for his life? Is he being paranoid? FAQs are distributed to those of us who attended. My eye is immediately drawn to the words “market-based funding system, student expectations, industry requirements and Research Council priorities”. OK, but it’s that phrase “market-based funding system” that sticks in the mind. It comes directly from the mouth of Two-Brains Willetts.

Elsewhere on the FAQs it says “it is a myth that only HSS funding is being targeted by the Government”. I would dispute that statement and, as I point out in this blog, the Tories are very keen to choke off funding to the Humanities and Social Science because it does not regard these as ‘proper subjects’. In fact, as the Observer reports, HSS funding will be tied to so-called “Big Society” projects.

Under the revised principle, research bodies must work to the government’s national objectives, although the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said that ministers will not meddle in individual projects.

It is claimed the AHRC was told that research into the “big society” was non-negotiable if it wished to maintain its funding at £100m a year.

This reminds me of something that Gramsci said with regards to organic intellectuals and how they are usually suborned to the party – in this case it will be the Tory-led government. In this instance, we can see that any intellectual activity will be conscripted to serve the dominant cultural and political hegemony and any activity outside of that will be seen as ‘subversive’. Make no mistake, this ‘shake up’ is ideologically-motivated – regardless of what Two-Brains or any of the intellectual pygmies on the government benches thinks.

The discussion begins. It is moderated by Prof. Mohammad Dastbaz, the Dean of Computing Information Technology and Engineering, which, presumably, isn’t going to be targeted by the cuts. Joughin says that the consultation process has  been “an enjoyable experience”. We all laugh. These are either the words of a sadist or a masochist. I suspect it is the former.

Joughin, who seems less combative than at the previous meeting, announces that consultation period is to be extended by a week. How very generous of him. It still isn’t long enough. The floor is now open for discussion. Godwin Odusemi, makes a point that is not related to the discussion. He talks about voting and other matters. It’s not as if his school is under threat. After he makes his point he leaves with his mobile phone pressed to his ear. What a joker.

Tom raises an issue about the lack of communication. Joughin admits that this hasn’t been perfect and says that this will improve. Others put questions to him about redundancies and the worry that there will be fewer staff working longer hours. He doesn’t seem too concerned and bats these questions away with a “let’s wait and see”.  He then talks about “the national student survey” and issues such as contact time, which he attempts to link  to HSS. But this is a red herring. Social Sciences have always had fewer contact hours and for good reason: students are expected to spend a great deal of time in the library and doing field work. This is a point that is lost on Joughin.

There are 4 admin staff at the back who say “when we were showing new students around, you told us to keep quiet about the changes”. Hearing these words is like watching a torpedo hit a dreadnought at midships. The ship, explodes, lists and eventually sinks, with its bow still poking out from the water before it, too, disappears. Joughin does his best to refloat himself. He denies that he said those words, but the administrators are having none of it. Bravo!

The meeting ends with all of us feeling distinctly cheated but we resolve to fight on.

Another meeting has been called for Thursday at 6pm to accommodate those students with childcare and family commitments. I will try and be there but it will mean that I will likely get home at 10pm.  Friday is a very busy day for me .

Today, I saw a man checking names on lecturers’ doors and making notes about their hours. I can only guess why he is doing it and the thought fills me with dread.

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Postcards From The Barricades (Part 8)

Topshop after it was attacked

Today’s TUC led march was billed as the “March for the Alternative”. There were other events taking place around London that I was hoping to get to but I’m not omnipresent. I set off to the march and rally by bus rather than the Tube. The traffic along Kensington High Street was bumper to bumper. This journey was going to take longer than normal and as the bus arrives in Knightsbridge, I decided to get off and walked the rest of the way. I walked past the set of swanky apartments. There were security guards hanging around and a couple of cops.  I really don’t think a breakaway group has this place in mind but, given the level of paranoia among the filthy rich, perhaps it isn’t so surprising. I had arranged to meet my old friend, Matt, who had come up for the day from leafy, affluent Hampshire. We had a coffee from a nearby stall and as we did so, the head of the march arrived. We joined the other marchers and headed towards the rally point. There was a chilly easterly blowing and I began to regret not wearing a pair of gloves.

I checked my camera and I was annoyed that it needed batteries. I had to use my mobile phone instead. The picture quality is going to be inferior. We sat and listened to a couple of speakers. Then came Brendan Barber who gets a fairly decent welcome. He was followed by Ed Miliband. Matt and I and many others boo him. He talked the same rubbish that he does for the cameras. Like so many politicians of his ilk, he name-checks the suffragettes and others. “We know what this government will say”? he says. That was my cue for a heckle “What would your dad say”? I have a pretty loud voice, so there was every chance that he’d heard me. I followed that with “Your dad must be spinning in his grave”! He made a comment about Martin Luther King. God, this is cheap. “How dare he”? demanded Matt. I agree. It’s pretty shabby and an insult to the great man. We decided to leave for Oxford Street. Milly Band wrapped up his speech and was followed by UNISON’s Dave Prentis. It looks like we got out in time. Prentis is a really dull speaker.

Milly Band speaks

We got to Oxford Street to see that Topshop had been attacked. There was a line of riot cops standing in front of the store. I shouted “Phillip Green is a tax dodger”. But it was really too late for that. I could see David Aaronovitch being interviewed by a television crew. What’s he doing here? Surely he isn’t demonstrating? Of course not and when the interview is finished, he scuttles off. No doubt to write a hatchet job on UKUncut and the march.

Former student radical Aaronovitch scuttles off to write a hatchet job for the Murdoch press

I encountered Robin Hood as we walked towards Tottenham Court Road.

It's Robin Hood!

We went off down Poland Street. Years ago, I went to castings on this very street. We stopped off for coffee and tea and took a seat on some steps. We saw another march heading down Wardour Street towards Oxford Street and head it off.

We decided to head for Trafalgar Square We avoid Piccadilly Circus and walk down Haymarket. Suddenly, there was a terrifying scream. I rush off to see what’s going on and take a few pictures but the TSG has surrounded someone who appeared to have been wrestled to the pavement. I don’t want to get anywhere near the TSG, they’ll hit and kick you as soon as look at you. Matt gets a better shot of it than I do. He has a proper camera.

We get to Trafalgar Square and there are still people marching towards Hyde Park Corner. I get a text from Andy, who’s down from Bury with his family. I haven’t seen him for well over 20 years. We meet and chat. I can see someone carrying a placard with a man’s face on it with the word “DEMAND” underneath. The face looks like that of John Maynard Keynes. When I get home I find out that’s exactly who it is.

Keynes? Yes! Hayek? No!

We can see helicopters over Piccadilly. We soon discover that Fortnum and Mason’s is being occupied by UKUncut. It started to get chilly, so we decide to find somewhere to have a hot drink and a seat. But most of the cafes are full and we have to walk all the way down The Strand till we find one with some seats. On our way, we spotted a anti-Mugabe demonstration on the north side of The Strand. This really is a day for demonstrations but my guess is that particular protest will be ignored because of all the others.

When I get home, the rolling news coverage is full of the usual rubbish about how “violence” had “overshadowed the peaceful TUC march”. The usual suspects come out and blame a “hardcore of activists”. I decide to check the Telegraph blogs for a laugh and I’m not disappointed when I see this blog from Dan Hannan. The comments are a psychoanalysts’ dream. Hannan asks “WHAT alternative”? If we told him the alternative, he wouldn’t listen nor would he want to know. As far as he and his buddies are concerned, it’s a case of TINA. But in the 30 years that we have lived under a neoliberal economic system, there have been 3 recessions and 3 very serious financial crises. Wages have stagnated and the cost of living has gone up. Compare that with the Keynesian period. It’s a no-brainer. Sunny Jim Callaghan’s decision to adopt monetarism eventually led to Thatcher’s enthusiastic embrace of neoliberalism. Now look where we are – again.

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