Sunday, 22 June 2014

The protest you are not allowed to see

Yesterday I was one of the 50,000 people who marched through the centre of London, from the new BBC Broadcasting House, down Oxford Street, through Trafalgar and Piccadilly, to a rally in Parliament Square. We listened to short speeches from Owen Jones, Caroline Lucas, Mark Steele, Francesca Martinez, Len McCluskey, Diane Abbott, Jeremy Corbyn, Matt Wrack and Russell Brand.

But you probably don’t know anything about this, as the protest was not reported on the BBC, ITV or Sky. It was only on Channel 4 News and reported by Russia Today. The Guardian website reported it, but in common with every other major newspaper, The Observer did not run the story. 

The BBC obviously had forewarning that the protest was taking place. Note the extra heavies, and the fact that the plaza in front of the BBC was closed off. Yet no reporters, no camera crews, nothing.

The building on the left in this photo is the BBC. They would have heard the speeches, seen the banners and the people - all they had to do was stick a camera out of a window.

I took a camera because I wanted to blog about the protest, what was said by the speakers, spread the message. I didn’t know that once again, I’d be writing about BBC bias and control of the mainstream media by the government. 

The protest was one of the biggest I've been on, and was supported by a wide selection of trade unions, lobby and pressure groups and thousands of ordinary people who belong to none of the above, but just turned up to protest, with the idea of making their voices heard. 

Or so they thought.

The problem with our media-saturated society is that (in a twist to Baudrillard) if something isn't reported, it didn't happen. It isn't so much the media report supplanting the reality, it creates the reality. By running a media blackout, the effect of the protest is practically and easily negated. 

To an extent, the fact that the protest was not reported by the papers can be understood as they all have a particular ideological slant and political affiliation. But the BBC is a public service broadcaster, not supposed to have any bias whatsoever. Clearly in this case, the editorial decision was made in advance not to cover the protest at all. If not bias, what legitimate reason could there be for this?

The March
It was a very hot and sunny day yesterday, and the marchers were in good spirits; a good atmosphere right from the start. Whilst marchers continued to assemble, some of the speakers addressed the crowd - however I couldn't tell you who was there and what they said, as a police helicopter came in and hovered over the stage for some reason.

We set off and kept a good pace. I couldn't find the Green Party or UCU so ended up marching with comrades from the NUT. The hundreds of police lining the route had done a good job at stopping the traffic and closing all the roads, so there were no choke points. 

All of Parliament Square had been stopped to traffic, which was good given the number of people who eventually squeezed into it.

The speakers started off with Owen Jones, who gave a real old-fashioned tub-thumper of a speech. A line that stuck out in my mind, and I tweeted at the time, was that as a growing part of the population were disenfranchised by the major parties and were suffering under the austerity measures, they were losing hope. And this loss of hope had lead to the rise of UKIP. 

All the speakers underlined the themes of the protest, why all these groups had come together in common cause:

  • The current economic problems were not caused by the poor, but by the bankers, the super-rich, and yet it was the poor that were having to pay for it. We used to be able to afford all this stuff, libraries, education, the NHS and the welfare state, but now we can't because all the money has gone, and we are being told that it is the poor that have taken it.
  • Divide and rule - Tories divide the working class against itself by victimising the unemployed and disabled - blaming the immigrants who come here to work with stories about 'benefit tourists' - when it is the immigrants who supply a large proportion of the infrastructure.
  • Wages are coming down - not due to immigration, but the increase in zero-hours contracts and the creation of an 'army of the self-unemployed' - where most of the people in poverty and in receipt of benefits are actually working. The benefit system is being used to subsidise corporations who can then pay poverty-level wages - and also who coincidentally pay little or no tax in the UK.
  • The Tories are running a propaganda war against the welfare state and NHS in order to cut resistance to privatisation and eventual dissolution - despite a report this week that revealed that the NHS was the best public health service in the world. 
  • Welfare should not be based on the contributory principle. We all pay in for the good of society in general and consequently we all benefit from it, directly or indirectly.
  • Resistance is possible. The E15 mothers stopped themselves from being re-housed hundreds of miles away from their families; the  Doncaster Care UK strikers fighting NHS privatisation at ground level; the FBU - by the way, did you know they were on strike yesterday?

Miliband came in for particular criticism from Abbot, Corbyn and others over his 'youth tax' and pandering to the fabled 'middle-ground' of dissatisfied Tories instead of  arguing for principle and supporting his base. There were 50k of his base outside Parliament right there, and all of them were against this. Miliband may just have made himself unelectable and alienated many more people than he could have ever gained.

Green Party MP Caroline Lucas received a raucous welcome and seemed almost overwhelmed by the response from the crowd to what she had to say, one of those being support for a Robin Hood tax.

The best speech of the day in my opinion was given by comedian and writer Francesca Martinez.

Francesca was also interviewed by Channel 4 News - obviously what she has to say is irrelevant as far as the BBC is concerned. 

Later on, Russell Brand showed up. Personally, I'm not a fan. Nevertheless, if his celebrity value gets more people interested in the cause, then I'm not going to knock it. 

And the fight continues.

  • People's Assembly Stand-up Benefit gig on 7th July 
  • Public service strike on July 10th to include NUT, FBU, PCS, Unison, Unite and the GMB.
  • People's March for the NHS, Jarrow to London, starting 16th August
  • Mass Demonstration by the TUC in London, 18th October

The government and corporations may have almost total control over the mainstream media, but we can't let them win. We have social media, and we have ourselves. Everyone who was there yesterday can go back to their communities and spread the word, so even if we are censored they can't stop us from talking, from fund-raising, and ultimately from voting.

And as far as the BBC goes, the broadcaster we all own?

28 June - Owen Jones takes the BBC to task on indefensible bias and censorship:

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Blair - We will be your Judge

PhotoOp by Kennardphillipps

I was going to write about the excellent Don’t Spy on Us day of action that I attended last weekend. But then Iraq erupted – and Blair was given 3000 words in the Independent to explain why it wasn’t his fault – and why once again, we should be bombing the shit out of Iraq.

Read Blair’s essay. His justification for the Iraq war remains, but now he has introduced another element of utter absurdity. 

The first is there was no WMD risk from Saddam and therefore the casus belli was wrong. What we now know from Syria is that Assad, without any detection from the West, was manufacturing chemical weapons. We only discovered this when he used them. We also know, from the final weapons inspectors reports, that though it is true that Saddam got rid of the physical weapons, he retained the expertise and capability to manufacture them. Is it likely that, knowing what we now know about Assad, Saddam, who had used chemical weapons against both the Iranians in the 1980s war that resulted in over one million casualties and against his own people, would have refrained from returning to his old ways?

The Iraq war was sold to parliament and the press on the basis of the dodgy dossier, that Saddam had mobile WMD factories and the ’45 minutes’ nonsense. We now know that all this was a fabrication, it was a pretence so that Bush and Cheney could exploit 9/11 to prosecute an illegal war and take Iraq’s oil once and for all. And also to punish Saddam, who was a CIA asset who was no longer behaving.
We know this, even as the US and the UK governments continue to block the release of the Chilcott report.

Assad, then or now, has absolutely nothing to do with it. ‘Knowing what we now know about Assad…’ – like when didn’t we know Assad had WMD? We had very strong ties with Assad - he was the archetypical cuddly British-trained despot, even having a British wife. His officer elite is British educated and Sandhurst-trained. 

Blair’s second argument is that if Saddam had still been in power, the Arab Spring would have been a ‘cauldron’ with Saddam and his sons kicking off major Sunni vs. Shia wars. Aside from the fact that the Arab Spring wouldn’t have happened without the Iraq war, and that the campaigns from one country to the next were being directly assisted and kicked off by the US – citing a ‘what if’ to justify actions taken ten years ago is ridiculous.

Western governments went out of their way to court every dictator in the middle east and north Africa to engineer the ‘coalition of the willing’ to support the invasion, or at the very least, not oppose it. Dodgy deals were done left and right and Blair was a part of this. When Iraq and Afghanistan started to go bad, then they tried something else – which has left failed states, tribal genocide and banditry in its wake.

Blair goes on to argue that ‘we’ are not to blame. And it is very difficult to read the next few paragraphs of his essay without seeing them as the worst kind of post-colonial ‘white-man’s burden’ reasoning. The governments failed because they don’t know how to govern, and they didn’t know how to establish a ‘sensible’ relationship between Islam and the state. Let’s forget the fact that most of the middle-eastern states have borders drawn onto maps by elements of the British and other western armies over the past century. Iran has been the bĂȘte-noire in the eyes of the US and UK since they overthrew the vicious dictator we installed, and Saddam was the one we picked, supplied (with WMD) and financed to fight a long and horrendous war against them.

Right-wing pundits here and in the US are blaming the whole thing on Obama and his presidential campaign commitment to pull all the troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan. But the ‘vietnamisation’ of Iraq was a part of the initial withdrawal strategy. Obama perhaps thought that with the millions of dollars invested in training, hardware and bribes, coupled with drones directed from orbit, the situation would be controlled. But he was wrong. The thing about vietnamisation was – it didn’t work. And those pictures we remember of Hueys evacuating the last US staff from Saigon are probably being repeated right now in Baghdad.

Blair stops short of re-invading Iraq but he does seem to think that military intervention of some sort is absolutely necessary – i.e. air strikes. It will achieve nothing, just as it is achieving nothing in Pakistan, in Yemen or Somalia. All it does is kill lots of people, a lot of them ‘collateral damage’. It breeds further resentment, fear and radicalisation. You can’t stop terrorism by terrorising the population.

Blair had the arrogance to ignore the people he governed – to ignore the biggest popular demonstration in the history of the UK. Tens of thousands died and continue to die and the fault is his. He said in 2003 that history and later (after his conversion to Catholicism) that god would be his judge on his decisions over Iraq.
I think the International Criminal Court would do nicely.

And finally – I think this song is about Blair. What do you think?

And if you should desist from deceiving
And if you should confess to the crime
It won't be enough these days to say sorry
No, no, sorry won't save you this time
You may lay down your guilt on the altar
Nail your remorse to the cross
But it's not enough these days to say sorry
No, no, sorry won't pay for this loss