london

Sian Berry: ‘Khan and Goldsmith wouldn’t meet the Greens’

The Greens’ London Mayoral candidate Sian Berry has said that the Labour and Conservative teams refused to meet with the party to discuss who Green supporters should back as their 2nd preference on May 5th.

Speaking to me for NovaraMedia, Berry claimed that ‘neither of the candidates wanted to meet with us to talk about them’ – despite the fact that 2nd preferences have been decisive in every single Mayoral election since the London Assembly’s first election in 2000.

She said that “Sadiq specifically turned [a meeting]…down’, while Zac Goldsmith simply “didn’t arrange” one. Labour’s response was apparently dismissive – “[Sadiq said] he didn’t want to seek the 2nd preference recommendation.”

It follows a meeting of the London Federation of Green Parties on Monday to debate and vote on who the party should recommend Green supporters back as their 2nd choice. In 2008 and 2012 the party asked members to vote for Ken Livingstone after Jenny Jones.

Under the capital’s Supplementary Voting system, Berry’s voters’ 2nd choices are counted if she doesn’t win enough support to make it into the final round – a likely scenario.

It was widely thought that the Greens’ would back a 2nd preference Labour vote this time. However, statements from Sadiq Khan on various issues and a refusal to meet have frayed relations between the parties: “You’ve got some real red lines there – Sadiq’s [pro-expansion] position on Gatwick, and Zac has been appalling on the Silvertown Tunnel [i.e. in support]. Those are things that either of them could easily have given way on.”

Berry stated that two candidates are “really hard to tell…apart – [Khan] visited the City and said he’s going to be a mayor for big business – that’s not what you expect from someone who says he going to be a mayor for all Londoners.”

This election the party put forward four ‘red lines’ to the two lead candidates, which they would need to give ground on to win official 2nd preference support – an end to road building, airport expansion and enforced council estate demolitions, and to reduce London’s inequality.

Discussions outside of official meetings had proven unhelpful. “We’ve had chats with them, including during debates. One example is [council] estate demolition – I’ve challenged them a number of times during hustings to condemn the councils that are doing it and they’re doing it on Labour and Conservative councils – and they haven’t.”

Berry also hinted she is against the system of recommending Green supporters back a 2nd choice – “This whole idea that we should instruct our voters who to vote for anyway is a bit wrong – they can think for themselves what kind of campaigns the others are running.”

Outgoing Green Assembly Member Darren Johnson wrote for MayorWatch that ‘London’s Greens have grown over the past 16 years, it’s no longer appropriate to endorse rival mayoral hopefuls’.

Around 50 members of the London Federation of Green Parties debated the Mayoral race on Monday, at the final ever meeting in the party’s traditional North London HQ Development House, with members voting unanimously not to back a 2nd preference.

Members also voted on whether to make a statement against the Goldsmith campaign, which has been viewed as ‘divisive’ on Khan’s faith. Members voted by around 4-1 to not officially condemn the Conservative campaign, in what may be seen as a boost for Goldsmith. Berry was among the minority voting to condemn the Tory campaign.

With Berry battling it out for third place with the Lib Dems’ Caroline Pidgeon and UKIP, last Monday’s vote may turn out to be a key moment in the Mayoral race.

That Mark Duggan photo? There’s more to it than meets the eye…

You’ve probably seen this picture of Mark Duggan, the young man shot by police in London last year, in the media over the past few months.

Duggan

When featured alongside clearly negative (and misleading) articles – the intention is arguably to present him as an angry, intimidating gangster-figure.

But here’s the full picture:

Duggan 2

As you can see, there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye. Almost every media source crops out the key reason he looks not-entirely-happy in the photograph – he was at the grave site of his infant daughter. The only major media outlet that has used the full picture from my cursory search online was one in Ireland, The Journal.

Now, obviously news outlets always crop pictures to a certain extent, but to exclude absolutely everything from the image except his face – leaving him with only an out-of-context and seemingly menacing appearance – is manipulative and arguably bad journalism. Sections of the media – obviously primarily that of the right – have been keen to demonise Duggan since his killing, and this is just one small way of doing that.

I’ve taken this from a post shared on Facebook around a thousand times yesterday – a post that has for some reason now disappeared (correct me if I’m wrong/if it comes back):

This is the FULL VERSION of a picture used by the media to vilify #MarkDuggan. In this picture he is in a GRAVE-YARD, visiting the graveside of his infant daughter who had just died prematurely. If you look closely you will see he’s holding a granite-memorial stone in her memory.

Q: Is he supposed to be smiling in this picture?

I can’t imagine what it’s like to loose a child but i’m sure i wouldn’t be smiling about it. None the less the media seized upon this image, cropped & edited it to suit there agendas and yet never mentioned the context in which this photo was taken. Instead they used the grimaced look on his face to convict him in the public eye via a trail by media.

Empathy and the location alone tells me, this is the face of a man in mourning, nothing else. To infer anything else from this image would be mere conjecture.

Please share.

The Left in Labour – what to make of the LRC Conference

The left in the Labour party face an important year. Saturday saw well over a hundred delegates, members and observers come together for the annual Labour Representation Committee conference in London. The conference coincided with the Fabian Society conference, marking an important day for the left in the Labour party. The LRC unites over a thousand left-wing activists both inside and outside of Labour, and Saturday saw intense debate over the future of the LRC – in particular whether to involve itself with other anti-cuts groups, or to remain the main group in the Labour party arguing for socialist values and policy.

LRC leader John McDonnell MP gave a rousing opening speech, calling for solidarity and resistance to the government’s cuts and privatisation agenda. Tony Benn, arriving later, also spoke of ‘demanding, not protesting’ that the government changes course. He was met with standing applause on entrance and after the speech for his dedication to the cause, despite him being in his 80s. He constantly attends anti-cuts meetings around the country, and has been on the picket lines over the past year supporting workers defending their jobs.

Other speakers included Tunisian exile Mohammed Ali, who spoke passionately about the uprising in Tunisia at the moment, with thousands of students and workers opposing the government’s oppressive West-backed regime.

The issue of union affiliation was raised by a Communist Students amendment which called for ‘all unions to affiliate to the Labour party’, a contentious point. But because there was no modification process this could not be removed from the otherwise positive amendment. Most unions reject the idea of affiliating to the party until Labour becomes an organisation which truly supports the working-class.

An amendment from Left Front Art in support of LGBT community groups draw unanimous support. Near unanimous support was also received for calls for a more democratic Labour party and party conference.

One of the most encouraging aspects of the day was the calls for the LRC to be less London-centric – for example, conference to be held in Birmingham in the future, and for executive committee meetings to be held in areas other than London – Bristol, Manchester, Cardiff and Edinburgh being clear options. A comrade from Exeter supported this proposal, noting how difficult it is for many in the South West to get up to London with increased rail fare and high accommodation costs.

John McDonnell summed up the mood when he said the Tory-led government’s attack on both the unemployed and working people amounts to a all-out ‘class war’.

Islington Labour Councillor Charlynne Pullen bravely came forward and explained why she had voted for a cuts budget: ‘this is not the ’80s’, referring to militant Labour councils in the north of England voting against budgets which slashed services and jobs. To many though it appeared hypocritical that she has been campaigning against the cuts in her area while at the same time voting for them. There are indeed huge problems for councils who refuse to set legal budgets – but the majority of LRC members believe Labour councillors must vote against the cuts, and instead resign in protest, or stay on and face the consequences for the sake of local communities – mostly deprived communities – being slashed by the neoliberal axe of Osbourne.

It is hoped that by the end of the year there will be a Devon and Cornwall LRC group, following on from the establishment of groups in Hampshire and Teeside. As the saying goes – ‘two is company, three is a branch’. The growth of the left in Cornwall can also be seen in the Socialist Party’s aims to establish a branch in Cornwall within the next few months.

There were some problems with the conference – the second half was rushed, some speakers were wrongfully heckled and some amendments were given too little discussion time. One speaker noted that ‘the left prefer fighting ourselves to the enemy’, a point being raised in anti-cuts groups around the UK, some of which are suffering from sectarianism. Matt Wrack of the FBU offered similar criticisms. But the conference on the whole was passionate and supportive of all organisations fighting the cuts in a bold rejection of infighting and internal chaos (which Compass, the centre-left element within Labour, is being torn apart by).

The message of the conference was therefore clear. Councillors must oppose the cuts. LRC activists should be at the heart of community campaigns. And 2011 must be the year that the myriad anti-cuts groups unite under one banner in defence of public services and our welfare state.

 

 

 

A Message to Aaron Porter – Support the Student Movement or Step Down

A few days ago a video emerged on the internet that shocked thousands: cerebral pulsy sufferer Jody McIntyre being thrown out of his wheelchair and dragged by police across the ground at the student demonstration in Parliament Square last Thursday. At the same protest, Alfie Meadows was smashed in the head by a baton and had to undergo immediate brain surgery. The most disturbing aspects of this news was not only that police initially refused to get him medical attention, but that NUS President Aaron Porter refused to condemn the actions of the police. In total, over 40 protesters were injured or hospitalised because of Met police brutality on the 9th. Where was Aaron Porter, the supposed representative of students across the country?

It is vital that we do not bicker amongst ourselves and let the bigger issues pass us by. But Aaron Porter has spent the past month U-turning (he said the NUS would provide legal support to students – it didn’t) and attacking students who attended the 10th November Millbank demonstration. He apologised to the UCL occupation about his ‘dithering’, and then did nothing to support further demonstrations – successfully proposing a motion refusing to back the 9t December protest in London. While over 30,000 students and activists were defending education in Parliament Square, being kettled for hours in the freezing cold, Porter was at a candle-lit vigil attended by less than 500 people.

25 student unions are required to initiate a vote of confidence and an Extraordinary Conference. Birkbeck SU has put forward a motion calling for his resignation and announcing he has lost the confidence of students, saying he is ‘incapable of leading’ the movement. I think it’s imperative that SUs in and around Cornwall do the same – Cornwall College, University College Falmouth, University of Plymouth and the University of Exeter. This movement needs a leadership that is prepared to stand up for students, to organise, to back us and to truly represent us.

The emails leaked a couple of weeks ago and published in the Telegraph in which Porter backs education cuts and cuts in grants for the poorest students shows that he says one thing to young people and something else to government. If he supports the fight, he has to put that into practise. Otherwise, he appears more like a young Met representative (with Sir Paul Stephenson describing the police violence as ‘splendid’).

FXU and other SUs in the South West – back a vote of no confidence or this generation will be left without a leader we can trust to pave the way.

(Watch the BBC’s shamefully biased interview with Jody McIntyre here)

It’s the Vote that Counts, Not the Rolls Royce

Headlines of ‘Protest Mayhem Strikes London’ (from I) and ‘Charles and Camilla Caught Up In Violence’ (The Guardian) adorned the front pages today. But as has happened with every previous protest, the coverage has been heavily skewed towards the Metropolitan Police’s account of the events, and has dwarfed reportage of the vote itself: a vote which indicated just how weak the coalition really is.

Let’s start with the Prince’s car incident. The Rolls-Royce Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall Camilla were in was splattered with paint and a window was cracked. Why does that demand the attention of dozens of front pages and spark outrage among the mainstream press? So, these unelected aristocrats were frightened by the protest. What isn’t being raised is the fact that the extravagant Rolls Royce they were driving in is paid for by the tax-payer, and part of the anger which caused the violence emerged from legitimate disgust that Britain’s ultra-wealthy elite is taking millions of our money whilst workers, the unemployed and students are hit with increased VAT and massive cuts to welfare, education, legal aid, transport and the rest of the public sector.

Secondly, reportage of militant elements of the demonstration has overshadowed the vote itself, which saw the government’s majority of 80 reduced to a mere 21. Dan Rogerson of Cornwall North and Andrew George of West Cornwall & St Ives voted against the government’s tuition fee proposals. Disgracefully, front-bencher Steve Gilbert of Newquay & St Austell back the rise, contrary to his election pledge. The Morning Star have reported that Vince Cable was visibly shaking and pale when defending the plans in Parliament yesterday. The charged protest of 30,000 people right outside might have had something to do with this.

Always active in opposition to the cuts is Caroline Lucas MP, the Green Party comrade in the Commons. She has been asking Theresa May whether she will be investigating the nigh-criminal behaviour of the police on the 24th, and Lucas will no doubt challenge the Home Secretary in the coming days about the handling on 9.12.10, which saw the heaviest-handed police tactics used yet.

Even some Tories voted against the tuition fee plans (though Lee Scott, a Conservative MP who pledged to oppose the rise U-turned on his promise and abstained). Outside of Parliament there have been other surprises – UKIP’s EU division declared this week they are ‘wholeheartedly’ ‘against fees’, a fantastic development that has added to the broad coalition of opposition to the government’s education cuts.

The vote passed. That is something we can’t ignore. But what must drive the campaign over the next few months is the astounding number of concessions already made – Scotland and Wales exempt, first year free for some students and the fact that dozens of Lib Dems defied the party whip and voted against the measures. The Poll Tax was defeated three years after it was passed – there is plenty of time for the resistance to organise and work out the next steps for the fight-back, and the presence of almost all the major unions – Unite, GMB, RMT, UCU among others – at yesterday’s demo was a much-needed progression towards complete worker and student solidarity.

Meanwhile, a vigil has been held outside Charring Cross in West London for Alfie Meadows, a student who was hit on the head by a Met police baton and then left to wander, wounded and dazed, while the police refused to for medical help.

Campaigners Condemn Met Violence – What Really Happened on the 9th

[A version of this piece appeared in the Socialist Worker on the 13th December]

There is a lot to say about the demonstration in London on the 9th. It has been attacked by those on the right as a protest of ‘wanton violence’ – but that statement could easily describe the actions of the real culprits: the Metropolitan Police. This is what I saw happening on the march and in Parliament Square.

A small group of around 10 students from Cornwall headed up to London by minibus, leaving at 2:30am and bringing placards, a megaphone and a Cornish flag to show that students here want their voices heard. We were part of the massive and growing movement defying the government and the Lib Dem’s broken promises.

Arriving at around 10am, we were met with instant support from workers and members of the public, with one woman shouting ‘go for it’, and we had several conversations on the way to the tube in Brixton from supportive Londoners.

At midday in Malet Street there were already several hundred gathered, and stalls had been set up distributing placards and left-wing literature. The vibe was good-natured, and though we did not get a chance to hear the speakers, the reaction from the crowd in response to EAN organisers, RMT executive members and other group representatives was incredible, spreading through the crowd with immense energy.

The march itself was entirely peaceful – thousands walking through the centre of London chanting ‘they say cut back – we say fight back’, with people waving out of windows and clapping the protesters on. But when we arrived at Parliament Square at around 2pm, the atmosphere changed. The police had already begun to kettle us, and horses were brought in without justification. Only then did some ‘violence’ break out, with flares lit and smoke-grenades thrown. Resisting this kettling technique, many broke out onto the main area of Parliament Square, where the kettling was then moved to. The protesters, meanwhile, resumed the positive vibe, with music playing and small groups sat in circles chatting.

On the other side, by Westminster Abbey, the police were agitating further. Nonetheless, the chanting and music continued, even with the condensed crowd being pushed ever further back by thick lines of police. Some tried to get near Parliament itself but the police presence was overwhelming, indeed excessive. As demonstrators realised that the kettling tactic was being extended across the Square, the fight back began.

Around 100 who got out of the kettle at first, and a spontaneous meeting was established to determine what the plan was – with ideas of occupying neighbouring Barclays bank. This was abandoned after police caught on and covered the area. Instead we resolved to refuse to be kettled ourselves, and a line of young people was formed, arm in arm, to prevent the mounted police infringing our right to peaceful protest and movement. It was an amazing moment, as the line of horses came forward and the police threatened to crush the human-wall. The line surged up with a song – ‘break these walls between us’, and the mostly female line of teenagers forced the police to back off. The response from the demonstrators at the Met’s retreat was ecstatic – we had won a small victory.

Though the police wall at the other end was not broken, some were allowed back in to join their friends on the other side. This was around 3pm, and soon the mood got more intense as several dozen extra horses were brought in, an intimidatory move designed to generate fear in the crowd. And then, without warning, they charged.

Over the course of the night several more horse charges occurred, and one protester from Cambridge was crushed underneath one, breaking her collar bone. Other disturbing examples of Met brutality such as police throwing a man off his wheelchair and batoning innocent school kids provide an insight into the attitude the London police have. One of the Cornwall students had his glasses ripped from his face and stamped on by an officer, and I saw a man being pushed back by a policeman into a construction hole where presumably roadworks had been taking place – the hole now uncovered and unsafe. Had he have fallen, it could have broken several of his bones.

But within the kettle, against all odds, the crowd continued dancing, talking and demonstrating. The hacker group Anonymous spoke from on top of the Churchill statue, and small bonfires were lit to keep warm in the freezing temperatures. Other groups sat with their laptops or watched from a height the thousands of people filling Parliament Square.

There was a darker element to all this. The police had provided no toilets, with even the Westminster underground toilets locked up. No water was distributed, and many had not eaten since the morning – despite hundreds being kettled until as late as 11:30 at night on Westminster Bridge.

Personally, my phone was broken and I could not find my friends for around two hours, and while climbing up a fence to get a better view to look for them, a policeman ran forward and threatened to pull me down, using insulting terms I won’t even go into here to describe me. There was no consideration for well-being. It was just provocative police action.

Our divided group left at around 7 to catch the minibus (which had been waiting two hours due to the prolonged kettling), shaken by the experience and what we had seen, and returning back to Cornwall for 6am. We had been charged at, kept confined for hours in the cold and refused the right to leave, and denied the ability to remain calm through the constant attacks of the Metropolitan Police.

The National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts have released a statement, saying the organisation ‘utterly condemns the violence inflicted on demonstrators by the police’ as shown by the large number of hospitalised protesters and personal accounts of what happened.

Students should and will not be deterred by the result of the vote or the tactics of the police seen on the 9th of December. Instead we will regroup, organise and fight back against the assault on social mobility, our generation and the working class by the ConDem government. There are more protests planned for the 13th to save EMA.

8.12.10 – Falmouth moor occupation: Cornwall’s students to stage huge protest before vote.

Preparations are being made for what is expected to be a huge occupation of the moor in Falmouth this Wednesday, by over 500 students and local people against the cuts to education.

The protest is planned to precede the vote on tuition fees on the 9th, which will see another demonstration in London, dubbed ‘London Calling’. This time the NUS and UCU are backing it (as they did with on the 10th), along with a coalition of other anti-fees organisations – EAN, NCAFC, Youth Fight For Education and more.

But the one in Falmouth on the 8th will be immensely important as a new stage in Cornwall’s fight against the cuts. Though the occupation at Tremough has fizzled out, the sit-in on the moor will bring together students and workers from all over Cornwall, with many expected to come from Truro and the surrounding area. The prospect of a considerable Cornwall College should not be limited by the fact that the SU president there is a Conservative. Mass mobilisations should take place everywhere across the county, and as we have seen with recent NUS dithering, we should not wait for right-wing SUs to back demonstrations.

The aim is to occupy the moor for as long as possible, and March the Fury urges students, parents, trade unionists and socialists in Cornwall to come and express their outrage at the sheer scale of the cuts to higher education and the marketisation of universities.

That which is privatised is rarely reclaimed, and therefore it is essential that in Cornwall we defend what educational institutions we have.

On a side note, transport up to the demonstration in London from Falmouth/Truro is currently being arranged. The event page concerning the coach trip can be found here.

It should also be noted that regarding these protests, the NCAFC has published legal advice for protesters to assist them in case they are arrested or injured by police.

Falmouth Protest Poster

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Solidarity with those who have been occupying Tremough Campus’s Stannary and Library for almost a week.