Thursday, 23 March 2017
I wrote this for the Guardian about the documentary that I’ve made with the filmmaker and director Sara Afshar.
Please read it and watch the film Syria’s Disappeared: The Case Against Assad on Channel 4.
Tens of thousands of Syrians are currently missing in President Assad’s detention centres. It is a humanitarian crisis, hidden from view.
Survivors tell of horrific torture in detention and are haunted by those they left behind. Mansour al Omari says:
I still remember their last words to me: ‘Please don’t forget us’. This rings in my ears every day like church bells, like a daily call for prayer.
Monday, 5 September 2016
Earlier this year Out of Joint presented a collection of short political plays at the Arts Theatre in London. The texts are now freely available online and make stimulating reading.
David Hare’s offering, Ayn Rand Takes a Stand, imagines a conversation between the philosopher novelist and George Osborne, whom Rand calls Gideon (that being his original name). It’s a playful meditation on the serious contradiction at the heart of the Tory party right now – the idea that you can have a free market without the free movement of labour.
Alistair Beaton’s The Accidental Leader is a brilliant romp through the internal arguments animating the Labour Party today. It presciently imagines a group of Blairites plotting a coup against their current leader – and it was written before the mass resignation of Corbyn’s shadow cabinet following the Brexit vote.
In it, Nina, a representative of ‘Impetus’ (it’s a thinly veiled satire) says:
Oh, I do love your centre ground. Sounds so reasonable, doesn’t it? The centre ground. But does the centre ground stay in the same place? I don’t think so. Blink and you miss it as it shifts to the right. Whoosh whoosh whoosh, there it goes.
There are too many good lines to quote. It’s better than all the op-eds I’ve read about the split within the Labour Party.
Friday, 3 June 2016
Take thirty minutes to watch this Vice documentary which follows Jeremy Corbyn and his team behind-the-scenes for eight weeks.
Reporter Ben Ferguson says from the outset that he’s a Labour Party member who voted for Corbyn in the leadership election. This makes the film a more sobering watch.
Will Self’s impression after viewing the documentary was that Corbyn lacks sophistication and acumen and is ineffectual. He also said:
the astonishing thing about Corbyn is that he’s managing to cock things up entirely on his own terms.
Corbyn has many virtues, including his firm principles, decent values, and a genuine ease when meeting the public which he says keeps him ‘humble’. However it is excruciating to watch him miss the opportunity to attack Cameron when Duncan Smith resigns.
Wednesday, 1 June 2016
This essay/talk by Klein applies Edward Said’s thinking to a warming world. It’s a worthwhile read. Here’s just one nugget:
We often hear climate change blamed on ‘human nature’, on the inherent greed and short-sightedness of our species. Or we are told we have altered the earth so much and on such a planetary scale that we are now living in the Anthropocene – the age of humans. These ways of explaining our current circumstances have a very specific, if unspoken meaning: that humans are a single type, that human nature can be essentialised to the traits that created this crisis. In this way, the systems that certain humans created, and other humans powerfully resisted, are completely let off the hook. Capitalism, colonialism, patriarchy – those sorts of system. Diagnoses like this erase the very existence of human systems that organised life differently: systems that insist that humans must think seven generations in the future; must be not only good citizens but also good ancestors; must take no more than they need and give back to the land in order to protect and augment the cycles of regeneration. These systems existed and still exist, but they are erased every time we say that the climate crisis is a crisis of ‘human nature’ and that we are living in the ‘age of man’.
Friday, 8 April 2016
After days spent dodging the question (avoidance runs in the family), David Cameron finally admitted that he had benefitted from his father’s offshore trust and sold his shares for just over £30,000 before he became Prime Minister in 2010. He also acknowledged that some of the £300,000 he inherited from his father may have come from offshore sources.
Robert Peston has stressed that the sins of the father should not be borne by the son, and perhaps his sympathetic stance is why Cameron granted him an exclusive interview on the subject. Peston makes a fair point but only if Cameron takes the opportunity to distance himself from his father’s choices.
Richard Murphy deftly summarised the answer he hoped Cameron might give:
He could have said that much as he respects his father, much as he loves him and much as he is grateful for what he did for him he has to disagree with him on the use of offshore. This is what mature, responsible, children sometimes have to do: they have to say that they disagree with their parents. But Cameron has not done this. And now we know he won’t.
Cameron made a point of stressing the legality of his father’s offshore trust in his interview with Peston. But that avoids the issue. These offshore trusts are legal but they’re not moral. They help institutions avoid paying their fair share of tax. We need the law to change in order to clamp down on them and that requires the commitment of governments. This should be the role of our Prime Minister but for all his warm words on the subject, his actions speak louder.
In 2013 Cameron personally lobbied against EU efforts to reveal the beneficiaries of trusts. Other European politicians feared this left a loophole for tax avoidance. Why didn’t Peston ask Cameron about that?
Tuesday, 8 March 2016
One of my favourite things about International Women’s Day is the comedian Richard Herring’s Twitter feed. He replies to every tweet he sees which asks why there is no International Men’s Day and explains that there is one and it’s on November 19th.
Whilst one person in the world assumes that there can’t be an international men’s day due to inverse sexism my work will not be done.
I salute his tireless and hilarious efforts. I’m sure Caitlin Moran would approve. She published a brilliant piece at the weekend offering advice for winning arguments online. She pointed out that one of the key hindrances to getting things done on the internet is the idea that if you talk about something then you must talk about everything. This is patently impractical; the most effective campaigners and change-makers tend to specialise.
When you get accosted by someone going, “You cannot talk about BLAH unless you also talk about BLAH”, the best response is, “I know – you do BLAH and I’ll do BLAH, and then the world will be twice as improved! Thanks for volunteering! You’re a total mensch. On behalf of the rest of the world – thank you!”
Kudos to The Telegraph for reporting the incredible demonstrations that flourished across Syria on Friday when people took advantage of a rare ceasefire to resume peaceful protests with the tagline ‘The Revolution Continues’.
Before talks resume in Geneva, this is a timely reminder to the world that Syria’s five year war started with a popular uprising calling for political reforms, inspired by the Arab Spring.
Despite nearly five years of conflict involving unimaginable brutality, these peaceful demonstrations show that civil opposition to the regime continues. The indefatigable bravery, courage and determination of the protestors should be major international news.
Time quoted a human rights advocate called Fadi al-Qadi:
War kills political space, but now there are no guns, why should it continue to kill political space? And I think the masses on the streets in these cities and towns and villages are proving this theory correct. No gun can take the place of the will of the people.
Reem Salahi, a human rights attorney, also wrote a personal piece for the Huffington Post which puts these protests in context and expresses their significance – well worth reading.
Wednesday, 24 February 2016
Dr Bob Gill, part of the Save Our NHS campaign, told George Galloway’s Sputnik programme on RT:
Simon Stevens, he needs to become a household name. He served the Blair government, he then went on to work for UnitedHealth – one of the biggest private insurers for healthcare in America. While he was there he campaigned against Obamacare – Obama’s reforms – then he went on to campaign for TTIP to include healthcare. And now he’s in charge of the NHS.
Simon Stevens, in my view, is one of the most dangerous men in public office.
This isn’t the first time that someone has raised concerns about Simon Stevens being responsible for the NHS after playing a key role in opening up the NHS to the market and working for one of the largest private healthcare firms in the world, but it’s an eloquent distillation of those concerns.
Here is a quick summary of Stevens’ career:
1997 – 2001: Senior policy adviser at the Department of Health. Co-author of the NHS Plan.
2001 – 2004: Tony Blair’s senior health adviser.
2004 – 2014: Senior executive for UnitedHealth Group in the US. Started off as European President of UnitedHealth and became their President of Global Health in 2009. UnitedHealth helped found the ‘Alliance for Healthcare Competitiveness’ (AHC) and Stevens was one of the group’s press spokesmen. The AHC views healthcare providers like the NHS as an unwanted ‘market distortion’.
- 2014: Became CEO of NHS England.
Wednesday, 13 January 2016
After months of hard work the Special Branch Files Project website is live, publishing hundreds of Special Branch documents detailing the secret police surveillance of protest groups in Britain since 1968.
The provocation for the project was the fact that the Met Police refused to release documents under the Freedom of Information Act which they had released to another journalist (Solomon Hughes) in the past. I couldn’t believe that they could ‘unrelease’ information which they’d previously disclosed – but apparently they could.
Considering the fact that information released under the FOI Act is purportedly ‘released to the world’, the idea formed to get these documents from the journalists who received them originally and publish them in the public interest. I am so grateful to all of the journalists who shared their files.
It seems fitting to gather together some intelligence on the workings of the intelligence-gatherers.
I’ve written an article for OpenDemocracy introducing the project.
The website already has documents which show how the police spied upon protestors against the Vietnam War in 1968, the Anti-Apartheid Movement, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the Wapping industrial dispute. There are also documents regarding the welfare policy for undercover police officers suffering from mental health problems resulting from their deployment.
The great thing about the website is that readers can view the original documents for themselves and read overviews analysing each set of files. We want to keep expanding the site, so if you know of files that we haven’t published yet, then please do let us know.
Friday, 4 December 2015
The Economist reports that the Stop the War coalition have been marginalising Syrian voices and accuses the organisation of being:
not anti-war so much as anti-West.
Labour MP Jo Cox wrote this week that the Stop the War coalition:
don’t seem to know or care that there is already a war in Syria and has been for many years. If they were really the ‘Stop the War’ coalition they would have been actively campaigning for resolute international action to protect civilians and end the war in Syria for many years.
Syria Solidarity UK released a statement explaining why they would not support the recent Stop the War demonstration, even though both organisations oppose airstrikes. They stated:
Syria Solidarity UK and Stop the War have very different concerns regarding Syria: Syria Solidarity is concerned with ending the suffering of Syrians under the Assad dictatorship; Stop the War with opposing any UK military involvement regardless of consequences for Syrians.
We oppose the British government’s proposal to merely mimic the American ISIS-only counter-terrorism war; not only do we believe it is immoral to fly missions in Syria against ISIS while leaving the even greater killer, Assad, free to bomb civilians en masse, we also believe that any war against ISIS that doesn’t put the needs of the Syrian people first will be a failure that can only prolong their suffering.
Stop the War similarly oppose British government proposals to bomb ISIS, but not because they would leave Assad alone; for Stop the War also oppose any action against Assad. This puts Stop the War against Syrians who are being bombed by Assad.
If Stop the War’s slogan “Don’t bomb Syria” is to have any meaning, let them demand the end of the regime whose bombs have killed so many.
If Stop the War oppose imperialism let them demonstrate their sincerity outside the Russian Embassy. Let them demonstrate with placards calling for Russia to stop bombing Syrian hospitals.
It’s right that Stop the War, as a western organisation, submits western propaganda to close scrutiny. Britain has done great harm in the world as well as good. But Stop the War should apply this same scrutiny, alongside its humanitarian values, to all people in all countries.
Tuesday, 1 December 2015
I’m utterly confounded by the media’s focus on the internal divisions within the Labour party, rather than on the critical decision that parliament will vote on tomorrow.
All our energy should be spent questioning the Prime Minister about his plan. What is the logic of bombing ISIS and what will it achieve? Paul Mason wrote that the key questions are:
What is the world going to look like when we win?
What do we want at the peace conference, and what will our own society look like after the struggle is over?
Where is the long-term political plan for Syria? Why isn’t this the question dominating the airwaves? What do the Syrian people want?
Labour party politics may be an interesting side-story, but its a dangerous distraction.
Considering the fact that David Cameron looks likely to win the vote tomorrow in favour of military action, why aren’t his arguments being subjected to maximum scrutiny? Everyone seems to be interrogating Corbyn who is currently looking to be the weaker force. A bizarre misuse of press power.
It’s not only Labour MPs that are divided by this issue. Conservative MP David Davis, for one, has argued that he’s not yet convinced by the case for war because he doesn’t know the political endgame or the full military strategy. Peter Hitchens pointed out that the Mail on Sunday and the Daily Mail have taken contrary for and against positions.
Wednesday, 25 November 2015
The journalist and screenwriter Peter Jukes is seeking crowdfunding for a podcast series about the notorious unsolved murder of Daniel Morgan, a private investigator who was killed with an axe to his head in a pub car park in London in 1987.
The case is mired in allegations of police corruption, cover-up and press collusion. There is currently an independent panel investigating the murder and associated scandals.
I’m looking forward to seeing what a Serial-style podcast can do for this infamous case. Hopefully it will bring the long-suffering Morgan family closer to obtaining justice.
On the 20th November the Met Police finally issued an official apology to seven women who had been deceived into relationships with undercover police officers. A landmark moment.
Assistant Commissioner Martin Hewitt stated that the relationships were ‘abusive, deceitful, manipulative and wrong’. He also said:
I acknowledge that these relationships were a violation of the women’s human rights, an abuse of police power and caused significant trauma. I unreservedly apologise on behalf of the Metropolitan Police Service. I am aware that money alone cannot compensate the loss of time, their hurt or the feelings of abuse caused by these relationships.
Most importantly, relationships like these should never have happened. They were wrong and were a gross violation of personal dignity and integrity.
I can state that sexual relationships between undercover police officers and members of the public should not happen.
This apology has been hard-fought and represents significant progress. These relationships were not the product of rogue officers, they were systemic. The Met recognised in their statement that there had been ‘failures of supervision and management’. This apology states that such relationships won’t be allowed to happen again in the future.
However, this is just the end of the beginning. There are still many unanswered questions. One of the women, Kate Wilson, is continuing her case against the Metropolitan Police. She told Channel 4 News that she was demanding more information about the police officer that she had a relationship with, particularly how he accounted for his time when, for example, she was on holiday with him:
Were they targeting me? Were they using me to get to the people they were targeting? Was I just a perk of the job?
These questions can really keep you awake at night. The police have made no effort whatsoever to provide any kind of answers to those questions. They’ve apologised but they haven’t answered any of the unanswered questions that people have.
The Undercover Policing Inquiry led by Lord Justice Pitchford is an opportunity to obtain further disclosure and uncover the truth about how undercover police officers spied upon political activists. The Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance has called for the police to publish the cover names of all the police officers who have spied on political activists, in order to identify all groups and individuals affected and give them the opportunity to hold the police to account.
Thursday, 29 October 2015
Anthropologist David Graeber:
I’d like to talk today about the greatest taboo of all. Let’s call it the Peter-Paul principle: the less the government is in debt, the more everybody else is.
You may be objecting at this point: but why does anybody have to be in debt? Why can’t everybody just balance their budgets? Governments, households, corporations … Everyone lives within their means and nobody ends up owing anything. Why can’t we just do that?
Well there’s an answer to that too: then there wouldn’t be any money.
Money is debt.
Pounds are either circulating government debt, or they’re created by banks by making loans. That’s where money comes from. Obviously if nobody took out any loans at all, there wouldn’t be any money. The economy would collapse.
The whole article is worth reading in full. If you’re familiar with these facts then you’ll be delighted to see them so clearly expressed. If these ideas are new to you, then I recommend reading Graeber’s book Debt: The First 5000 years. I’ve previously written about the Bank of England explaining how money is created and what was said when parliament debated the topic.
Tuesday, 27 October 2015
Some politicians and commentators are claiming that the House of Lords’ refusal last night to pass the government’s planned cuts to tax credits amounts to a ‘constitutional crisis’.
That is nonsense for a number of reasons.
Firstly, as the journalist Peter Jukes observed on Twitter:
Osborne’s line about “unelected Lords” stopping #taxcredits is fatuous. Had he got his way “unelected Lords” would have approved them.
The real constitutional outrage here is the abuse of Statutory Instruments. As I reported back in 2013, the government used a Statutory Instrument to open up England’s NHS to unprecedented levels of competition through its Section 75 regulations. It’s a devious tactic to avoid proper parliamentary scrutiny. I’m glad the House of Lords called the government out on it this time.
It is also a bit rich for the government to cry foul on democratic process when they’ve gone about implementing this policy in such an undemocratic fashion.
Lords generally respect manifesto commitments, but these cuts to tax credits weren’t in the Conservative manifesto before the election. Furthermore, David Cameron said that he had no plans for such cuts when challenged on the subject.
This point was forcefully made in the Lords debate yesterday by Labour peer Lord Campbell-Savours when he said that Cameron:
deliberately misled the British public and the British public would regard what he said now as a lie. A lie to win a general election. The British public are fed up with politicians who tell lies on that scale.
I believe that those lies trump all the constitutional niceties, whether they be financial privilege or the fatality of amendments.
The Daily Mail have published harrowing photographs of a pig farm that show pigs crammed into tiny wire cages and pregnant sows trapped in small farrowing crates where they don’t even have space to turn around.
Pork produced from this farm displays the Red Tractor logo.
As George Monbiot has previously pointed out, the Red Tractor logo shouldn’t assure any consumers that they’re buying quality meat products. The animal welfare standards required are minimal.
Viva’s website has filmed footage from the pig farm which makes distressing viewing. Yet the key point is that these nightmarish conditions are completely legal.
As Monbiot asked:
How is it that we, who regard ourselves as a nation of animal lovers, accept such terrible standards of meat production?
David Cameron’s former adviser Steve Hilton took issue with consumers of meat and dairy products being misled on a daily basis. Writing in his book More Human, he asked:
Why is it acceptable for my milk carton to feature images of cows meandering on grassy hills when they’re actually confined inside and fed unhealthy diets of corn and soy? Why is it acceptable for chickens certified as ‘free-range’ to be held captive indoors for half of their lives?
He proposed the following policy as a solution:
Any food product must have a reasonable proportion of its packaging devoted to showing the precise conditions it was made in. A pack of frozen chicken nuggets would have a photo of the actual farm the chicken came from.
He added the requirement that:
Every part of every facility of every factory farm and every food factory be live-streamed on the internet so people can see exactly what’s going on and track their food if they want to.
It’s only our blindness to the horrors of factory farming, and our disconnection from its reality, that allows the horror to continue. Honest and clear labelling could kickstart a consumer revolution.
Monday, 26 October 2015
While media headlines have concentrated on the idea of a sugar tax, it’s Jamie Oliver’s proposed sugar labels that should really command our attention.
The most powerful part of Oliver’s presentation to the Health Committee last week was when he passed around bottles of soft drinks with his own clear labels attached showing how many teaspoons full of sugar were in each bottle. A 500ml bottle of Ribena? 13 teaspoons. Pepsi? 14 teaspoons.
You can see Oliver’s excellent stickers on this Instagram post.
Oliver’s argument to the committee was simple – if you present people with clear, honest information, then they tend to make good choices, or at least better choices. If parents could quickly and easily see how much sugar was in soft drinks, they’d probably change how many they bought for their kids.
As Oliver said to the Committee:
If that was on every pack in the country, you wouldn’t need a tax!
The British public understand teaspoons. They’re a tangible measurement. As Oliver argued:
If you want something that gives you good, clear information in half a second that is the only way to do it on sugary sweetened drinks.
When I talk to the general public at large I have not yet met anyone who does not want that information now.
Oliver acknowledged that the industry hates the idea, which in itself ‘paints the clearest picture that clarity is something that they don’t wish us to have.’
Information is essential for markets to work properly. The power of consumer choice only works when informed.
Talking to my own friends and family, I haven’t spoken to anyone who isn’t shocked by the sugar content of the Ribena bottle. Nobody has guessed it correctly.
We deserve decent information. Let’s implement Oliver’s labels. Much change would flow from that.
It’s been ten years since the Freedom of Information Act came into force and the government currently has an Independent Commission reviewing it.
I share the fears of many journalists that the commission might lay the groundwork for the government adding new restrictions on the release of information, strengthening the ministerial veto and adding charges for requests.
Anticipating this threat, Press Gazette and others have launched a petition calling on the government not to weaken the FOI Act.
Press Gazette editor Dominic Ponsford said:
The FOI commission seems intent on seriously weakening the act dealing a blow to the public’s right to know. This is not about saving money, or reducing the ‘burden’ on local authorities as has been suggested. It is about turning the clock back and putting us back in the dark. That’s why Press Gazette will be fighting against what appears to be a government plot to water down FoI.
Everyone who believes that we have a right to know what public bodies do in our name, and with our money, should sign the petition.
Lest we forget, Tony Blair said that bringing in the Freedom of Information Act was one of his biggest regrets. Heroic FOI campaigner Maurice Frankel wrote an excellent piece dissecting Blair’s thinking which is well-worth reading.
Wednesday, 21 October 2015
Solomon Hughes has spotted that former Health Secretary Andrew Lansley – who pushed through the Health and Social Care Act and its pro-market reforms – has quietly taken a job with Bain & Company, a firm which promotes privatisation in the health service.
Documents released by the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments state that Lansley’s new job involves:
leading a discussion on innovation in healthcare with Bain’s clients and consultants.
There goes the revolving door again. Another ex-minister profits as our health service gets sold off piece by piece.
Thursday, 15 October 2015
Lyse Doucet honours Lloyd-Roberts’ courageous journalism, praising her ‘critical eye and compassionate heart’. Another colleague describes her as ‘fearless, like a teenager’.
BBC journalist Ian O’Reilly believed that Lloyd-Roberts was driven by:
her rage against the oppressor and the unjust and her absolute determination to expose and if possible humiliate the villain.
Newsnight also broadcast a short film showcasing some of her finest work.
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