Tag Archives: London

The far right falters

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photograph: Steve Eason

Heavens knows the Tommy Robinson fans are miserable now. That’s why they’re sharing pictures from Egypt in 2011 rather than London yesterday.

There were somewhere between three and five thousand Tommy Robinson supporters on Whitehall. That sounds like an impressive number, except that it’s barely a third of the crowd that his followers turned out in June.

The Robinson fan club can’t share pictures of Whitehall from above, because the truth that picture would reveal is that the numbers mobilised by anti-fascists were almost as large as those turned out by the right. Four thousand in London to celebrate Trump? It’s not much to celebrate when 250,000 people opposed him the day before.

You could hear the Robinson fans as they joined their protest singing “Hey, Tommy Tommy.” A brutal two hours later, having endured some of the dullest speakers available to the international right, they headed towards the tube: grim faced and miserable.

This movement is losing energy fast. Its rank and file know precious little of their leaders. And they have more defeats ahead of them than victories.

Once again, the core demographic was men in their fifties. They were in their club strips, singing their fan songs. But to the Arsenal fans who were there with their Gooner, chants; how do you think Michael Thomas would feel if he knew you’d been there? Or Mesut Ozil; or Granit Xhaka? Don’t tell me you know about football, if Tommy Robinson is the only name you know.

The strangest thing about the present incarnation of the far right is the vigour with which its leaders insists that they are the world’s only campaigners against the problem of child sex abuse (by Muslims).

It’s a demand that appeals to a group of people with deep insecurities and who are prone to wild visions of alliances between the state and Britain’s ethnic minorities. But if this was truly a movement of justice for the victims, where are the victims? Where are the nurses who’ve sat with them, shared their pain, held their hands? Where are the dozens of local people who actually exposed the injustices in Telford or Rotherham?

What both the left and right learned yesterday is that while Robinson is in prison, and his movement is in the hands of people who have no bigger ambition than another street meeting, another bore fest, its prospects are strictly limited.

If they weren’t so busy glassing a mixed group of male and female trade unionists as they drank in a pub, you could almost feel sorry for them.

My love goes out to my friends and comrades who were there standing up to them. To the comrades from Plan C and AFN who are trying for the first time in a decade to recruit a new generation of people to the anti-fascist cause. To the trade unionists who were there, who recognise that justice comes fighting the rich and the state, rather than making yourselves into a street army for the right.

To all the people (whatever group they came with) who built the human barricade that for one hot afternoon held back this new incarnation of the right. My heart goes above all to those – from both demonstrations – who cheered as the two marches of anti-fascists joined together. That’s what the united front means in 2018.

A film which made me dream of running

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I was eight when Chariots of Fire appeared in the British cinema, too young to have watched it by myself, and I doubt that its sporting theme would have appealed to my mother, the one adult who might have acted as a chaperone.

It is a shame that she did not offer to watch it, for one of its two protagonists Harold Abrahams, a Jewish law student at Cambridge, faces a dozen petty barriers which have been hers too. “There’s an ache, a helplessness, an anger”, Ben Cross’ Abrahams remarks, ”I catch that look at the edge of a remark, in the cold reluctance of a handshake … This England is Christian and so are its corridors of power … They lead to me water but they will not let me drink” (seconds after he delivers this line, a waiter delivers Abrahams a tray of pigs’ trotters).

She would not have endorsed Abrahams’ response to anti-Jewish racism: which in the film is one of resistance, “I’m going to take them on, one by one.”, a decision expressed by his choice of the law as a career. Nor would she have admired the film’s second hero, the working-class Scot Eric Liddle.

I suppose I must have seen the film when it was first on television, perhaps two or three years later. Watching it now, I am struck by the busy-ness of the screen: there is as much going on around the edge of the shot as you would find in an Aardman film. A young Derek Pringle is an extra in the freshers’ fair scene. The college quad scene is filmed around College square at Eton (who the actors’ legs must have stung afterwards from the impact of so many paving stones – above). Nigel Havers’ Lord Andrew Lindsay hurdles jumps with champagne glasses placed just above.

My brother in law Hugh O’Donnell was an assistant director on the film.”The director, Hugh Hudson, came from a background in TV commercials”, he tells me, “As a result, the film is very strong visually. The art department worked very hard, as did costume etc.”

“The crowd scenes were limited, before CGI. Even though we paid local extras very little, they all had to be costumed and have suitable haircuts etc. That took time and money. In the Olympics scenes, the numbers were enhanced by having distant crowds painted on the edge of a glass sheet placed near the camera.”

“The film was deliberately lit to have some of the feel of period photographs.”

“At the time, I was motivated by the quality of the script. I got caught up in the portrayal of striving for athletic prowess and the wish to achieve an authentic 1920s period feel. Hugh Hudson showed me many books of photographs by people like Brassai to help me when casting extras and choosing location.

“I always felt that David Puttnam was more involved in this film than a producer normally is. Although it is Hugh Hudson’s film, Puttnam was very hands on throughout. It was he that brought together all the principal elements and made it all work.”

Returning to the film’s plot, for Abrahams, running is an addiction; defeated in an early race by Liddell he threatens to quit the sport, determining instead to train with the professional coach Sam Mussabini. Abrahams is then criticised within his university for betraying the amateur code. Liddell’s motives have a different origin, but his commitment is just as deep: “When I run, I feel God’s pleasure … to win is to honour Him.”

The story of Chariots of Fire was still playing in my head five years’ later when I took my first preliminary steps towards running competitively.

Poem for the London Olympics

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I believe in sport, in the chance it gives
To escape our cramped lives, to breathe deeply
To quit our towns of low plastic celilings,
Our days plugged in, without direct sunlight.

Standing tall, my back  straight, my head forward
I live. I steady myself and prepare
To spring forward: to move, and see anew
Parks, paths, flowers in an urban setting.

But you; who paint the worst polluters green
Who block my routes, who fence open spaces
For the private joys of spies and thieves

You, who bring rifles, jets, navy frigates
Armed police, to my London that was ease,

You have no right to speak in sport’s free name.

Reasons to demonstrate on July 28; number 9: the injustice of Olympic “fast-track justice”

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A number of newspapers have been reporting plans reportedly drawn up by the Crown Prosecution Service to the effect that for the duration of the Olympics, courts are going to be operating special extended opening times, from 8am to 7.30pm instead of the ususal 10am to 4.30pm, and there will be a special “fast-track” for offences committed in the vicinity of the Olympics.

The fact that prosecutors are talking like a British version of Judge Dredd does not, of course, mean that they have the resouces to deliver on the same threats. After all, just five weeks ago, the papers were reporting that there will be fewer courts open during the Olympics than there are normally; the Crown Courts will be operating at only 50% of capacity, “Thames and Stratford magistrates’ courts, both situated on the specific ‘games lane’, will operate one courtroom only (for overnight cases) and planned youth courts will not be held at Stratford. Highbury Corner will deal with priority custody trials and productions from Stratford and Thames, whilst gateway traffic cases will not be listed at Waltham Forest.” I.E. the Coalition’s cuts, which have hit the criminal justice system especially hard, will prevent fast-track justice from taking place in quite the way that the prosecutors are saying. (And the senior judiciary, whose summer holidays are precious, are not playing ball).

One part of the latest announcement though which I do find genuinely troubling, however, is the suggestion that Magistrates will be expected to carry out a larger number of hearings by “virtual court”, i.e. by video link from police stations. This is a problem. Where virtual courts have been tried in London before (as they were in 2010-2011), they have been a manifest failure. You have to set up a timetable for the hearings (which are booked in 15 minute slots each), there are often connection difficulties, and in practice the pace of the court hearings is considerably slower than the ordinary courts.

More worrying than the general inefficiency of the system is what it does to the meanigful content of justice. At a Magistrates’ Court hearing a person may plead guilty, and if they do the court is expected to proceed to sentencing. Fifteen minutes is usually far too short an amount of time to deal properly with sentencing decisions, and you can imagine what an inadequate sense the Magistrates get of the peronality of defendants – who they see as a smal blob at the other end of a TV screen – and who will often be a drug user, a recovering alcoholic, a young person who has been in trouble lots of times before for very minor offences, etc. Difficult decisions, such as whether to jail someone, or whether to refer them for treatment, end up being made on the hoof.

Bad decision are made which have a long-term impact on people’s lives.  You could say something similar about the Olympics as a whole.

Details of the main July 28 protest can be found below:

Simon Moore: ASBO decision

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At today’s hearing before Westminster Magistrates’ Court, District Judge Purdy issued the ASBO sought by the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, making an order limiting Simon’s ability to protest for the minimum period of 2 years required by law.

Unusually, DJ Purdy issued his reasons as a typed document, which have been scanned (although they are not tremendously easy to read) onto the Indymedia website.

As to the merits of the application, Purdy says as little as he could possibly get away with, noting that Simon is personally brave, sincere in his hostility to the corporate take over of the Games, and non-violent.

Purdy granted the application (as almost any district judge would feel obliged to do), but with 2 interesting refinements:

i) Although the order was made for the minimum two year period, Purdy recorded that the order could be dismissed by consent as soon as 17 September, i.e. as soon as the Games have been finally put to bed (and it has to be assumed that if Simon applies for its discharge, that will be granted).

ii) Purdy discharged the old “clause 3” of the order which prohibited Simon from trespassing anywhere. It now appears that it was this particular clause which police in Windsor had relied on when arresting Simon for involvement in a Levellers protest (unrelated to the Olympics) last weekend. That doesn’t take away all the malice of the ASBO, but it does lessen its sting a little…

After the hearing, Simon issued a short statement to the press: ”The effect of this ASBO is to criminalise peaceful protest.  There are legitimate issues for concern around the Olympics such as the destruction of Leyton Marsh in East London for a temporary basketball training facility and the ethics and human rights records of corporate sponsors for the games.  These punitive and coercive measures will not stop us from peacefully protesting or from doing what is right.” 

“I stand by my position that I will continue to do what I think is just even if that means having to live in prison.”

London 2012: the touts move in

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Sunday’s papers report the news that Serbian and Chinese Olympic officials have been caught offering to sell tickets outside their jurisdiction in blocks of up to 1500 tickets at a time. This in turn begs an obvious question: who is buying the tickets, and who will be filling their seats?

The suspicion is that some of the tickets are being sold to British sports fans.  Thursday’s and Fridays’ issues of the Metro newspaper ran an advertisement for tickets for the London Olympics. “The Games may not come to London again”, it began “are you and your family really going to miss them.” (Phew, so no pressure there). It was the prices that really caught the eye: £295 for the unglamorous Canoe Sprint at Eton Dorney, £495 to watch the slightly most desirable sport of handball in the Olympic Park, and £695 for the morning athletics events at Stratford on 3 August.

What delights await the spectator who stumps up £695 for a single ticket? The 1st round (of 2 rounds) in the hammer, the 1st round (of 2) in the 3000 metres steeplechase, and one (repeat, just one) final: the shot put. All that for just £695 per person? A bargain, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Simon Moore speaks

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The court hearing the application for a “full” (i.e. 2 year) ASBO against Simon Moore has reserved its judgment until Monday.

This is the text of the statement Simon read out in court:

“I feel that this ASBO is symptomatic of the nature and feel of the Olympic games in London 2012 and the general state of consciousness of the authorities at this time.

I think it is clear to see from the delivery of London 2012 that these games are not simply about sport and amusement. They involve the channelling of very large amounts of public funds into the hands of private corporations whose primary aim is the make as much profit from their service as possible.

Partly due to this, I believe that a culture of greed has been created as London 2012. It has been reduced from an event which could be a benefit to everyone to a profit making exercise which places private interests above public.

The games offer the government the chance to increase its national and international image and popularity at a time when austerity and turbulence are becoming commonplace. The government appears to be desperate to use the games to better its image.

For these reasons I believe that there is a pathological desire on the part of the authorities and private interests to ensure that the delivery of the games is executed to exactly as they intend. This is not a healthy, balanced and reasonable attitude and it is creating negative effects.

The needs of local communities in the areas where the infrastructure of the games are located are being ignored and in many cases overwhelmed or infringed on by the delivery of the games. This is evidenced by multiple examples including:

The intensive and ecologically destructive developments for games related venues on open metropolitan land at Hackney Marshes, Leyton Marsh and Wanstead Flats to name a few. This destruction of local community resources illustrates that the authorities believe is a price worth paying despite how unpopular the decisions have been in the local areas. It feels like a case of: ‘the games must be completed at any cost’.

The pathological desire for results has created an atmosphere of intolerance towards anyone or anything that disagrees with any aspect of the games or its delivery.

This has meant that when local communities have expressed legitimate concerns about the way some aspect of the delivery of the games is being delivered in their neighbourhood, not only have they been ignored, they have been criminalised and penalised. The campaign to Save Leyton Marsh which is made up of residents and locals has been subjected to coercion and intimidation through the use of the law as it attempted to peacefully stand up for the protection of a community space which was taken without their consent for the construction of a basketball training facility. The construction has created a lot of problems for the locals there including the exposure to dangerous toxic waste in areas in which children, adults and animals regularly play, not to mention being effectively locked out of a vital community space indefinitely. Their concerns are legitimate and have not been listened to by the authorities to any degree which could be called understanding.

The use of measures such as the ASBO which are tools to coerce and punish, are being used for those who are engaging in ordinary peaceful demonstration against aspects of the games which are unpopular. They can and are being used to stifle legitimate dissent. This reflects a possible desire by the authorities to ensure that the public image that they are crafting for the games is not tarnished in anyway by peaceful protest. It is a further indicator of a pathological mentality which characterises the undertaking of the delivery of the games

Personally I do not think disrupting the ceremonies or sporting events of the Olympics would necessarily be an effective form of helping to awake people to an injustice. I think there is a risk of alienating and irritating those people who may be open to a message, but are also keen to enjoy these events.

However I believe that this use of punitive and coercive measures to intimidate and punish those who cause or are under suspicion of causing some form of limited, temporary and non-harmful disruption is unreasonable and is symptomatic of the pathological mentality which characterises these Olympics.

This attitude shows no attempt to understand why people have issues with aspects of the games including its delivery, its timing and its relationship with private interests.

The authoritarian nature and behaviour of the authorities in its behaviour in delivering the games are also present in its everyday activities, although perhaps in a less extreme way. It seems that our system of diluted fascism is becoming more fascist everyday. It need not be this way and it is within our power to change it.

In my case this ASBO has imposed on me a challenge whether to proceed with activities which I know are fair and reasonable and by so doing break the law or to succumb to its coercive nature and stop. I have decided to break the law.

The activities which I speak of include:
Travelling around London and elsewhere and passing through and by the various Olympic routes and venues as part of a consequence of taking part in everyday activities including visiting family and friends and even coming to the court today. (in contravention of prohibition 1).
Engaging in peaceful demonstration against unreasonable aspects of the games or other issues in, around or near Olympic venues or routes such as Leyton Marsh.
Living on disused land and using camping equipment such as sleeping
bag, tent and other equipment in order to create low impact
sustainable communities. (In contravention of prohibition 3).

I have decided that I would rather live in prison than be entrapped and controlled by fear of breaching the prohibitions contained within this ASBO. Control by fear is a worse prison than physical prison. Only reacting to fear can imprison the mind and spirit.

I would also like to take this opportunity to say that the heavy reliance of ASBOs and other forms of coercive or punitive laws to regulate society and prevent ‘anti-social behaviour’ is failing to create a just, peaceful and free society. I think we need a radically different approach to dealing with anti-social behaviour which is based on ‘restorative’ justice.

Sir I would like to put to you that if you think the prohibitions contained within this ASBO are just then you should do as you see fit. However if you see the injustice of this ASBO or any legislation which you think is unjust, you would show the highest respect for the law by resigning your post.”