Tuesday, 20 April 2021

Flashman Johnson


“The meanest people are the weakest people, for they do not even have the strength to believe in goodness.” ―Sean Patrick Brennan

It’s like we are all living inside Tom Brown’s School Days with Flashman Johnson replacing Sleazy Dave as head prefect. While we are all being bullied Flashman and his mate are enriching themselves. Their delight at popping champagne escalates to Mafia levels of personal, political and economic corruption.

 


 

Sunday, 11 April 2021

Off With Their Heads

 

After The Guardian asked its readers to “share your tributes and memories of the Duke of Edinburgh, I blogged this:I am proud to say I turned down an invitation to meet him and his wife. In 1994, and as a Director of War Child, I was invited to a reception at Buckingham Palace for NGOs involved in the Bosnian war. We were operating a mobile bakery to feed hungry families in Mostar and delivering insulin for diabetic children in Sarajevo. Others at War Child didn't share my Republican values and did attend. When the Duke asked them what War Child was doing he was told about the bakery. He quipped, "I bet they steal the bread." He was then told about the insulin deliveries to Sarajevo and added, "I bet they steal that as well."

 

That was all I wanted to say, but then a friend sent me this in response to my words, “Just think if he’d lived to 100. We’d have had all this and then repeated when he died. Every cloud.” 

 

Social media were now full of “We are North Korea” comments and the BBC had to issue a special complaints form after so much public anger over the corporation pulling its TV schedules for Friday 9 April.

 

The media and politicians, from Boris Johnson to Sir Keir Starmer, went into overdrive to explain away the Prince’s racist, sexist and other abusive comments as ‘gaffes’, as off-the-cuff’, and as ‘well-intended’. 

 

The obsequious, forelock-tugging, was  now on the defensive and the door has been opened to those of us who are opposed to the ‘cap-doffing’ offered up to the remaining vestiges of feudalism in this country. That stretches from the royal family to the unelected House of Lords, to wealth and land ownership.

 

It is time to resurrect the Commonwealth of Britain Bill first introduced to Parliament 30 years ago by Tony Benn and seconded by Jeremy Corbyn. It proposed a “democratic, federal and secular Commonwealth of Britain”. The monarchy would be abolished, the Royal Family pensioned off, the honours system disbanded, and the Crown Estates nationalised. Supremacy would rest in two democratically elected chambers.

 

Off with their heads’ has a royal origin, since it was made by the Queen of Hearts in Lewis Carroll's ‘Alice's Adventures in Wonderland’. She went on to say, “Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” 

 

I used to think a Republic was an impossible thing both before and after breakfast, but after the last few days I am not so sure. Tony Benn’s Bill needs to return. 

 

It will be difficult since the only person who has come closest to having his head removed is Benn’s seconder and the official Opposition is led by the ennobled. But perhaps it’s an impossible thing we have to believe in if we want to see who won Masterchef.


Friday, 9 April 2021

Who is the real Prince?

 

 

The Guardian asks its readers to “share your tributes and memorie of the Duke of Edinburgh … Did you meet him? What effect did he have on your life?”

 

I am proud to say I turned down an invitation to meet him and his wife. In 1994, and as a Director of War Child, I was invited to a reception at Buckingham Palace  for NGOs involved in the Bosnian war. We were operating a mobile bakery to feed hungry families in Mostar and delivering insulin for diabetic children in Sarajevo. Others at War Child didn't share my republican values and did attend. When the Duke asked them what War Child was doing he was told about the bakery. He quipoped, "I bet they steal the bread." He was then told about the insulin deliveries to Sarajevo and added, "I bet they steal that as well."

 

No tears for him. I keep them for yesterday’s sad departure of Jovan Divjak

 



Monday, 5 April 2021

An ineffective Protestor

 


Jeremy Corbyn’s speech at the London Kill the Bill rally the other day was a poweful rebuttal to his detractors who claim that he has spent his life protesting ineffectively and that protests never change anything.

 

He gave a summary of a long history of protests, from the Tolpuddle Martyrs in the 1830s to the Chartists in the 1840s, to the Suffragettes in the 1920s, to Cable Street in the 1930s, to the fight against anti-trade union legislation in the 1970s, to the ongoing anti-racism protests of Black Lives Matter and the climate change activism of Extinction Rebellion. 

 

The current protests against the government’s Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which seeks to outlaw protests altogether, fits into this history and as Jeremy reminds us - not only does protest work, but without protest things don’t change.


Tuesday, 30 March 2021

Unravelling a Scandal

 

Last night I watched Alexander Nanau’s award-winning documentary, Unravelling a Scandal.


On 30 October 2015 a fire broke out at a rock concert at the Colectiv nightclub in Bucharest, Romania. There were inadequate fire exits and 27 people were killed, with 37 dying later as burn victims.


There were massive street demonstrations across Romania and the government resigned. Not only had there been negligence at corporate and state level regarding inadequate fire protection, but the post-fire deaths were found to have been due to contaminated disinfectants supplied to hospitals.


All this was exposed by Catalin Tolontan, Mirela Neag and a team of journalists at Gazeta Sporturilo (Sports Gazette) who meticulously uncovered a world of political and corporate corruption, bribery, offshore accounts and mysterious ‘suicides’.


The state media and major news outlets remained quiet or joined in attacks on them as they exposed the scandal.


Of course nothing like this could take place in this country. Oh wait a minute …...



Wednesday, 24 March 2021

Whose Disorder?

 

 



"This was people intent on causing serious disorder," Chief Constable Andy Marsh

 

The Guardian is now publishing press releases from the police and presenting them as ‘news’. The latest is “Police in Bristol feel under siege after second night of unrest." The Guardian, 24 March 2021.


The ‘article’ consists of nothing but quotes from John Apter of the Police Federation, Chief Superintendent Claire Armes, an unnamed source at ‘Avon and Somerset police’ and ‘a police spokesperson’.


It concludes with this comment about injured officers after the weekend disturbances - ‘They said neither of the officers taken to hospital were found to have suffered broken bones.’ Well that’s a relief since we had been told that the force had suffered multiple injuries.


If you turn to The Canary, Tribune and eye-witness accounts you can find the truth cannot be hidden behind a press release. This is from a demonstrator, Kieran Denman … “people were being peaceful, people were sat in front of the police station, as in literally sat. Police kicked people, pushed people on the floor. People pushed back. Police in riot gear battoned people in the head, sent in attack dogs and horsesEvery step of the way the police escalated. Every step of the way they knew that was what they were doing, but were perhaps just a bit surprised at how many of the crowd were willing to go from a sit down protest to fighting back rather than allowing the police to attack them with impunity."

 


Sunday, 21 March 2021

David Hencke - thank you

 

 

David Hencke is the Guardian journalist who wrote my War Child story 20 years ago. Thanks to him I managed to recover my life and go on to have my account of those years published. 

 

I recently received an email from him saying: “I have finally managed to find the time to read your book from cover to cover. Just a note to say what a great book and what an amazing and brave life you have had. Obviously I knew about the Pavarotti Centre because I was so closely involved in reporting it all. But your descriptions of life in Bosnia and the vivid descriptions of all the characters plus your recollections of vile public school life made great reading. What also comes out is your great love of music and how important music is to you. Just thought I would drop you a line to say how much I enjoyed it.” 

 

Thank you David and you can now read "Left Field" online and free here.