Archive for May, 2012

If it walks like a fascist and talks like a fascist………

28 May

… will probably be a fascist.

Even thought the EDL are a small – and if Redditch on Saturday is anything to go by, dwindling – bunch of morons, remember that it only takes a few people.

In both Bradford and Oldham in 2001 the riots were sparked by small groups of white racists seeking out trouble. In Oldham things were kicked off by only 12 football hooligans linked to Combat 18, running down a predominantly Asian street attacking people and property. In Bradford it was a small group of Combat 18 and National Front supporters attempting to hold a city centre protest despite being banned by the Home Secretary. The EDL will always, by nature, be a magnet for far right extremists and violent individuals

So, why are the EDL allowed to march and demonstrate, shouting anti-Islamic slogans and protected by the Police? I’m really not sure.

This struck me on Saturday as I was one of 150 plus Redditch people kept penned up on Easemore Road for between 3 and 4 hours while the aspiring Adolfs came into town on the train, marched up Unicorn Hill onto Church Green and found 100 different ways to express the politics of hate before heading back to Birmingham on the half past 2 train. The people of Redditch were not allowed to protest in their own town, racist and fascist filth who came in on a train got police protection. Go figure

I’ve already submitted a Freedom of Information request to West Mercia Police about the cost of Saturday’s operation, and within Redditch Labour Party will lobby to ensure we do all we can to avoid them ever polluting our civic space again, but the fundamental question of how they can be allowed to act as they do without hindrance remains.

Next time this subject comes up, I’ll be referring to 2 pieces of law:

Sections 4A and 5 of the Public Order Act 1986, a draconian law aimed at curbing trade union picketing, make it an offence for a person to use threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour that causes, or is likely to cause, another person harassment, alarm or distress. In 2006 the Racial and Religious Hatred Act amended the 1986 Public Order Act to make it an offence punishable by up to seven years imprisonment, to use threatening words or behaviour intended to stir up religious hatred. For the life of me I can’t see how the EDL isn’t stirring up religious hatred.

Ultimately, this comes down to an age-old struggle between hate and hope, the modern manifestation of a nine decade long fight against the politics of hate.  Against the very same politics which gave us Europe’s bloodiest civil war in Spain in 1936 to 1939 and immediately after almost drowned the entire world in a sea of blood driven by economic turmoil, a terror of Bolshevism and the NSDAP’s success both in reinflating German nationalism and finding a handy scapegoat.

The EDL may attempt to deny it, but the UK far right are Hitler’s grandchildren, cousins of Anders Breivik and the logical heirs of Oswald Moseley.

They shall not pass.

‘All it takes is the right girl, the right bar and the right friends’

21 May

In 1990, the late, great Bill Hicks said “anybody can be a bum; all it takes is the right girl, the right bar and the right friends”.

Hicks always had a hard core of truth in his humour, recognising here that people can – and do – go from affluence and security to poverty, homelessness and insecurity faster than you can say ‘austerity budget’.

How are people left homeless? Relationships breaking up, substance addictions, serious illness, escaping abusive relationships, severe debt, leaving the Services or coming out of prison can all bring homelessness, as well as something we can all relate to: losing your job. No job, run up debt, you can’t meet the mortgage or rent. Bang! Of course, you may be lucky enough to have friends and family who’d look out for you – but many people don’t.

Ask yourself how long you would be able to make your rent or mortgage if your income stopped tomorrow? That’s how close you are to being classed as homeless.

So why in a society like ours is the issue of homeless people, like many of those men, women and children who sleep rough, invisible?

The last Labour government stated: “the vast majority of homeless people are actually families or single people who are not literally sleeping on the streets but living with relatives and friends or in temporary accommodation.’ This at least began to recognise the problem of people who don’t qualify for local authority housing assistance, sleep rough, or staying in hostels or in some other unsatisfactory or insecure accommodation.

These, then, are the hidden homeless: 87 per cent male, 72 per cent white, mostly 25 to 45, 41 per cent of whom have been in prison, 13 per cent in care, 6 per cent having served in the armed forces. And they are a growing number as this recession bites, not only as people lose work and therefore their homes, but as homeless people watch local authority and support services dwindle like a car park puddle in a heatwave.

And why should we care?

Just take a second and think about what being homeless could do to you. Remember the time when you couldn’t sleep or were kept up by a young child, noisy neighbours or worrying about something or someone? Think about the day after and then think about having that feeling every single day.

I see people avoiding Big Issue vendors like the plague, but the irony is that a homeless person is 13 times more likely to be a victim of violence than you are. They probably will have low self-esteem, feel lonely, be utterly marginal, may behave oddly, will be hugely less likely to be employed than you are, may well have taken to alcohol or drugs to numb the pain, half of them haven’t even seen a doctor in the past year and they may be on the road to being institutionalised.

And as the London Olympics approaches we already hear anecdotal tales that homeless people, like council house dwellers in Westminster an the residents of Newham offered moves to Stoke on Trent, are being targeted not for support and intervention, but for pressure and coercion. So much for we’re all in this together.

Last Friday night I slept rough in the Old Vic tunnels with a few dozen like-minded souls to raise money for the Big Issue Foundation. I say ‘slept rough’ but unlike real life the tunnels were warm, relatively dry and safe. I’ve sponsored the Big Issue Foundation for about 8 years but it wasn’t until I met an ostensibly middle class and degree educated woman who had also been homeless after leaving care as a teenager, that I decided to up the ante and see if I could get a few more people to care.

Hopefully, this blog will at least have made you think twice, and hopefully you won’t ignore either the Big Issue vendor trying to make enough money for their rent or the sleeping bag and blanket huddled quietly in a doorway.

Spare a thought for Rebekah Brooks?

16 May

Poor Rebekah Brooks.

A few months ago Bex was arguably the most powerful woman in the country; now she’s looking down the barrel of a custodial sentence.

She faces three charges of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice over allegations that she concealed “material, documents and computers” from detectives investigating phone hacking at the News of the World and alleged bribes to public officials by journalists at the Sun.

Her husband, Charlie faces one charge of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice by acting with others to “conceal documents, computer and other electronic devices” from detectives.

Their recent Court steps appearance brought a tear to my eye – well, a tear of laughter, at least. The poor wee lamb was whining about her privacy being invaded, about those ‘close to her being dragged into it’, about unfair treatment…….doesn’t sound to me like Rebekah does either irony or self-reflection.

Let’s remember the back story here; invasion of privacy? FFS the Sun and News of the World did nothing BUT invade people’s privacy. Ryan Giggs, anyone? Or how about one of the little people, Allan Reid, who found his name and photograph splashed all over the Sun in 2007 because he was a dentist and had HIV?

 And what was hacking into the voicemail of Millie Dowler or the families of serviceman and women killed on active service, , if not the most ghoulish possible intrusion into something that was nothing to do with the press, media, News International or NewsCorp?

To say nothing of the Millie Dowler intrusion being an act which may well have interfered with the police investigation.

As for those close to Rebekah being dragged into this? Well, Mrs Brooks, how about that being entirely your fault? How about you acting like decent human being in the first instance and not exposing those close to you to harm? Her husband Charlie (you know, the close friend of PM call–me-Dave) is hardly an innocent party, since he’s been charged with conspiracy too.

Cards on the table here: I loathe the entire Murdoch clan, Brooks, Andy Coulter and the whole rotten shower that have polluted our national discourse and put our supposedly independent politicians in their pocket. I despise their newspapers, the Times included, I deplore what they stand for and what they say. Big surprise, eh?

This is the same Sun newspaper which never, ever, ever has a single positive – or even neutral – thing to say about trade unions or their members. Which sneers at, traduces and encourages hatred for immigrants, those who receive benefits, public sector workers, the BBC, every other European country, the EU……basically anything to the left of Norman Tebbitt.

A paper which has attacked the Labour Party at every opportunity since 1976 with the single and sole exception of the Blair years – and then only because Murdoch felt he had Blair in his pocket and that New Labour was no threat to him and his Empire.

The Times, of course, has never pretended to be anything other than the Tory Party’s in-house discussion sheet. As soon as Anthony B was out of Downing Street, there was a Gadarene rush in Murdoch’s rags to ditch Gordon Brown en masse, go back on the attack against Labour and to go so far up David Cameron’s backside they could see The Daily Mail Editor’s feet.

No, I’m sorry, but my (admittedly sparse) fund of compassion for a right-wing cabal who have collectively corrupted, polluted and dragged politics into the gutter with their partisan, twisted bile and propaganda is exhausted.

In terms of irony, hopefully Rebekah and Charlie Brooks find out what a sharp dose of law and order and the working class people they so patently despise look like, up close and personal.


When is a democracy not a democracy?

08 May

The aftermath of the May elections has provided one particularly interesting insight into the mentality of the governing class in Westminster, one which I’m sure they wouldn’t want us ordinary people to pay too much attention to. And the revelation in question is basically that our votes are being ignored.

If you think about it, that’s a pretty major flaw in the democracy we’re all so proud of.

If we thought our votes didn’t change anything, perhaps we’d start to ask awkward questions about the unelected state and where power really lies, or the cynicism which taints our political discourse would grow and social discontent almost certainly fester.

No, the fact that our votes don’t matter is not a message that Cameron, Clegg and Co. want to give out.

But if you think about it, how else are you to read clichéd pap like ‘we need to redouble our efforts’ and ‘we won’t change economic course’?

Last Thursday voters in England threw out well over a thousand Conservative and Liberal Democrat councillors. The Labour party took control of 12 additional councils and many previously run by the Tories or Lib Dems were hung. Labour won council seats in areas of this deeply-divided country like Reading and Thurrock, areas where it was thought that the Tories would govern for the foreseeable future. In Wales, the Labour Party won almost everywhere they stood. In Scotland, both Labour and the SNP made substantial gains at the direct expense of an already marginal Liberal Democrat and Tory presence.

And to excuse this massacre of local councillors, Saida Warsi, Paddy Ashdown, Simon Hughes, David Willets and other paid-up usual suspects were wheeled out to tell us that this was a shame, voters were delivering a verdict on ‘national issues’.

OK, if we did that, why aren’t we being listened to?

The undeniable message, either in those turning out or those who didn’t, was voters rejecting the self-imposed austerity straitjacket put on by the Tory Lib Dem pantomime horse. People want an end to 80’s style unemployment queues; to more young people being out of work than being employed; to endless rounds of job losses in education, health, local government, civil service, police, fire and ambulance services.

For every single day that this Coalition has been in office, 625 public sector jobs have disappeared. Osborne and Cameron’s blind faith in the market picking up the slack has proved to be a supreme act of dogmatic folly and voters have said ‘enough’.

And with that message delivered via the democracy that our ruling classes constantly tell us we should be grateful for?

Clegg (Westminster, Cambridge) and Cameron (Eton, Oxford) waited until the bank holiday was over then toddled off to an Essex factory on 8 May 2012 to tell us it will be business as usual. In short, ‘shut up and let us get on with this’.

Think about that and then ask yourself the only question that matters in the teeth of such a blatant ‘F**k You.’; whether or not you’re prepared to put up with it.

GIg Review: We Are Augustines, Hare & Hounds, Kings Norton, Birmingham 5 May 2012

07 May

‘Fevered egos tainting our subconscious and making us pay a higher psychic price than we imagine.’

The late Bill Hicks could well have had Simon Cowell and Co in mind and music as his frame of reference, but a welcome antidote to the homogenised, deracinated pap music are New York’s We Are Augustines, currently touring their superb debut Rise Ye Sunken Ships around small and intimate UK venues.

King’s Norton’s Hare & Hounds is about 40 feet long and twenty feet across, but those of us smart and smug enough to have paid the £7(!!) for the sold out show got a rare treat, an original band who clearly love to play live, write interesting and articulate songs, don’t sound like anyone else and rock like a mofo.

The support act was a band called My Goodness and hailed from Seattle. At least they weren’t the painfully dire Twin Atlantic and didn’t take up much room on stage. They were a grunge metal two piece who drew an inevitable and unflattering comparison with The White Stripes, occasional blues influenced songs drowned out by too much distortion pedal, indistiguishable songs and not enough emotional clarity in the lyric department. We Are Augustines, however, are none of those things.

Their debut record has depth, range and in Bill McCarthy they have a singer who has a unique styling, conveys genuine emotion and leads a band that really ought to be playing bigger venues to more people. Billy has an infectious enthusiasm, telling us not only that this was the first gig the band had performed the entire record, but that they were thrilled to be in England and to be in sunny Birmingham, cradle of heavy rock and home to some great bands, and also Duran Duran.

The Augustines started slowly but tore the venue up and by the end had everyone singing and bobbing along,totally enthused, to the extent that Bill McCarthy and Eric Sanderson invited everyone to stay behind for a drink, after quite literally sharing a bottle of Jim Beam whiskey with the front section of the 80 strong crowd- that’s right, the H&H holds about 80 people, and if you get the chance to watch a band you care about there, do so.

Like The Hold Steady, We Are Augustines are an act who look like they love playing to a live crowd. But despite 5 superb records and a live show which matches anything you’ll see on the circuit, THS have never had the recognition they deserve – I’m hoping the Augustines don’t replicate that.

Set List:
1. Philadelphia
2. (Ballad?)
3. Juarez
4. (Rise?)
5. Strange Days
6. Augustine
7. New Drink for the Old Drunk
8. Barrel of Leaves
9. Patton State Hospital
10. Book of James

11. East Los Angeles
12. Headlong into the Abyss
13. Chapel Song

Stephen Smith: writer

Rants, rambles and other assorted thoughts

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