The Ghost of Watt Tyler

Watt Tyler was one of the leaders of the 1381 Peasants’ Revolt. He was a slain by the King’s supporters after drinking a jug of beer “in a very rude and disgusting fashion before the King's face.”

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Why We Fight

On Sunday I watched the excellent BBC4 documentary Why We Fight (a friend luckily recorded it). Taking as its starting point Eisenhower’s warning in 1961 about the growing power of the military industrial complex it investigates the enormous influence of the defence industry on American public life – with one contributor even suggesting it is now a state of mind. Despite being a bit of a shit in his time, Eisenhower’s warning deserves repeating as it is as relevant as ever:

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence -- economic, political, even spiritual -- is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

Interestingly the original draft said the military industrial congressional complex - perhaps more appropriate given the collusion of Congress.

The director, Eugene Jarecki, manages to tell this complex story through a number of personal stories: a former New York cop, a Vietnamese US bomb maker, an eager army recruit and a whole cast of establishment figures who have fallen out with the neo-cons . Jarecki weaves these disparate tales into a devastating depiction of corruption and malfeasance at the highest levels.

Although there have been a whole rash of excellent and not so excellent films about US imperialism – this one really stands head and shoulders above the rest. It is original and distinctive.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Lynton Crosby and dogs....

What is it about Lynton Crosby - the evil mastermind behind the Tory election campaign – and dog whistles? Today in the Guardian it is mentioned again:

But, guided by the advice of his Australian election strategist, Lynton Crosby,Mr Howard is recycling populist themes with strong tabloid appeal - "dog whistle issues" - to which certain voters respond in Crosby-speak.

What does it mean? According to Jim Swenson at the Environmental Earth Science Archive:

The only secret about it is that dogs can hear sounds of higher pitch than people can. So we make an ordinary whistle with a very high pitch.

If you are training your dog, any whistle is a good thing. A whistle is simpler for a dog to notice than words. To him it's a distinct, clear, simple, special barking with no words. Like barking, it is either there or it's not. The dog only needs to interpret the occasion of the whistle-blow, not the vowels and consonants and sentences people keep hoping the dog will understand.

Dogs aren't very good at hearing vowels and constants, let alone sentences. It just isn't built into their brains yet.

Truly chilling. Lynton Crosby considers us mere dirty muts to be manipulated. Moreover is Howard about to ditch vowels and consonants and sentences in favour of whistling?

Monday, March 21, 2005

So how many marched on saturday?

As usual there is a huge difference between the estimates of the police and the organisers. According to the BBC:

One of the biggest marches of the day was in London.
Organisers say 100,000 people took part, while police put the figure at 45,000.

I don’t know the rationale for either figure but I am naturally suspicious of the police figure. They have historically been on the wrong side of every major social conflict since the first bow street runner er… hit a poor beggar on the head. As far as I can remember the one occasion the police estimate matched the organiser estimate was the Countryside Alliance march.

However can we really trust the organiser estimate? They have an obvious interest in over estimating just like the police have an interest in under-estimating. Now I don’t doubt their sincerity and veracity – but many, many others do. My friends always claim it somewhere inbetween the two figures (which is silly when you think about it). Why don’t Stop the War employ a few crowd specialists to devise a method (or just bloody count people as they leave Hyde Park)? Then at least we could challenge the police figure with more credibility.

This issue has been raised before most notably by John Vidal in the Guardian. He interviews a company who provides a crowd counting service:

So is there an accurate way of counting the numbers at demonstrations? Yes, says Dr Jake de Salis, of the planning consultancy Intelligent Space which specialises in crowd numbers. He was employed by the GLA to put a real figure on how many people went to the Notting Hill carnival where the figure of 2m people was always quoted by both police and organisers.

Using hundreds of people with tally counters and stopwatches, analysing CCTV cameras, sampling head counts, collecting bus and tube figures and evidence from police aerial pictures as well as a tested formula based on how many accidents there are in mass crowds, he found that the figure was more like 1.2m.
What are we waiting for?

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Did I imagine it?

Did Jeremy Paxman vaporise after a Newsnight report about the new Doctor Who at some point last week? I was half asleep so it could be a dream.

Monday, March 14, 2005

European moaning ….

Victor S says:

I don't think I'm going to make friends here, but I have to say that I am seriously leaning towards voting in favour of the European Constitution simply becuase of the failure of the UK far left to mount a serious campaign against it.

Meaders agrees with him apart from the conclusion:

It's not good enough, comrades. Go read Victor S his conclusion isn't correct - but then, I'm expected to say that - but his demand for a little more effort on our part is spot on.

As always we need to ask what is paramount? It’s very easy to come up with a wish list of issues but we have limited (in some cases very limited) resources. There are only so many causes we can meaningful take up. To mention but a few: militarism, international inequality, privatisation, anti-racism and civil liberties.

Of course the proposed neo-liberal European Constitution links many of them - but then so does our economic system which is why we are trying to overthrow it and ‘replace it with something nicer.’ Yet nobody with a brain suggests a general campaign against capitalism at this moment in time?

And anyway do constitutions make a lot of difference. Many of the worst dictatorships have had pretty good constitutions.

The left should take up causes which capture the public imagination and pose the greatest threat to humanity. At present that is US imperial ambitions.

Saturday, March 12, 2005


As I’ve already mentioned I am writing a story about anti-social behaviour. It seems to me that anti-social behaviour orders (Asbos) are the domestic counterpart to the recently passed anti-terror legislation. Now Asbos may be less draconian but they are no less mean spirited. Today the Guardian reports a substance abuser addicted to fuel has been imprisoned for breaching his Asbo banning him from petrol stations.

A fuel sniffer has been jailed for breaching an antisocial behaviour order that banned him from petrol station forecourts in north-east England.

Since when did it become an offence to walk onto a petrol station forecourt and breathe in the fumes? Many car manufacturers fight for the right to do exactly that in all our great cities.

I spoke to Harry Fletcher from Napo just after the Guardian did and he told me quite rightly this man needs treatment not prison. They may have tried before but the maxim of probation is: never give up on someone. I wish New Labour had a semblance of a heart somewhere in its cold unfeeling icy body…

Friday, March 11, 2005


I’ve been very busy writing about anti-social behaviour so only a short note…. If you live in London go and see Alison Moffett’s first solo exhibition at the MW projects gallery in Hoxton. Moffett is going to very big, very soon. She has already sold some work to Saatchi (who has pretty good taste for a Tory scumbag). She has also been profiled in the press and tipped by lots of art magazines.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005


According to those clever spooks who labour long and hard to protect us Bin Laden was once after Russell Crowe. Today’s Guardian reports:

“At the time, the Hollywood actor had never heard of al-Qaida or its reclusive leader. But Osama bin Laden, it seems, knew all about Russell Crowe.

In one of the more unlikely terrorist plots, the Oscar winner has revealed that he was a kidnap target for the network, and that the FBI was so concerned about his safety that it gave him protection for four years.”

Funny - but remember the Home Secretary may soon have power - possibly with or without a judge – to put people under house arrest on the basis of intelligence supplied by those same spooks. Still laughing?

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Vote Labour (in some places anyway)

I went to a Stop the War rally last night in that hotbed of sedition and kebabs… Hackney. It was very good - despite the rain, last minute change of location (a wake was taking place in the original venue) and the constant drone of traffic from Kingsland Road.

The TV sofa loving Hackney north MP Diane Abbott spoke first about the political intrigues leading up to the war votes in parliament. Although she revealed nothing new it was interesting to be reminded that Blair only scrapped through by lying to the ranks of angry (but gullible) MPs opposed to the then looming military action. She said Blair told individuals and small groups of MPs that: “if you had seen the evidence I’ve seen then you would back the war.” And many of them believed him. But now – according to Abbott – Blair struggles to command much support because so many feel betrayed. After all he would have lost the parliamentary vote on terror legislation had the Lib Dems bothered to turn up. Abbot believes, for instance, he would not be able muster enough support to wage war on Syria or Iran. However I fear she may have overestimated her comrades steel.

Anyway that said I think Abbott deserves the left’s support in the forthcoming election. Yes… she sent her son to a private school. Yes… she sits on a sofa with Michael Portillo and Andrew Neal. Yes... she has said some silly things about gun culture. But on the key question of the war she cannot be faulted: she spoke out before it started and now calls for an immediate end to the occupation. Moreover her voting record is principled and progressive. She appears on Defend Council Housing platforms and at countless other progressive meetings. As her BBC profile puts it:

"In the last parliament she was one of the most rebellious Labour MPs, consistently voting against the government on issues like welfare cuts and military action."

To withdraw support - like a teacher at the meeting suggested to me - would above all damage the anti-imperialist left. And what for? To make a point about hypocrisy that she herself acknowledges. Moreover I suspect we are all guilty of hypocrisy at some level - even if it is just buying basil grown in Israel.

Elsewhere in the my favourite east London borough – the ancient Hackney south MP Brian Sedgemoore is retiring. A new Labour apparatchik – Meg Hillier - has been parachuted in and the local party is none too pleased. Reportedly they wanted a black candidate. Meg Hillier promises to be a loyalist with teeth but she has not spoken out against the war in any meaningful way. Meanwhile both the Greens and Respect have selected candidates.

So, in my humble opinion, vote Labour in Hackney north and Respect or the Greens in Hackney south.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Open the gates...

I work part-time in an office near HMP Pentonville in North London. Although its sprawling white façade dominates Caledonian Road nobody - including me - seems to pay it much attention. But during my lunch hour today I spotted some families waiting expectantly outside the front gates and it made me think of all the lives caught up in the criminal justice system.

And that’s a lot of people. According to the
Prison Reform Trust the number of adult male prisoners is currently 68,479, which is the highest ever recorded total. In the last month the total population has increased by just under 1300, the equivalent of two medium sized jails. The director of the Prison Reform Trust, Juliet Lyon, said:

‘Until Government succeeds in its policy to reserve prison for serious and violent offenders, and unless the courts are prepared to send petty offenders out on community service or drug treatment orders and keep time spent in custody to a necessary minimum, then we are stuck with an overcrowded prison system patently failing to do its job to prevent re-offending.’
But is it government policy? The Home Office predicts the total prison population will rise to 87,500 by the end of the decade.

I wonder how many of Her Majesty’s current guests are innocent….

LA Naylor has just written a book (reviewed in the
Guardian on Saturday) about the criminal justice system. He argues the safeguards introduced after all the high profile miscarriages of justice in the 70 and 80s have made little difference as they have been repeatedly flouted.

Access to a solicitor is not automatic – only 14% of arrested people obtained legal advice at police station. I can personally testify this is a very important as suspects – yes, even innocent suspects – can feel under intense pressure to give the police want they want in order to end their ordeal.

Naylor also shows the Crown Prosecution Service routinely colludes with the police. Evidence that might help the defence is often withheld. Meanwhile police brutality and misconduct go unpunished. Not one officer has been successfully prosecuted in relation to any of the miscarriages that have littered the past two decades. Nor has one officer been successfully prosecuted for any of the 1,000 deaths in police custody between1969 and 1999.

Of course one of things Watt Tyler did - like all good revolutionaries - was open the prison