Tuesday, December 28, 2010

One way the SSP and Solidarity / TUSC could move forward after the Sheridan trial

Photo : Tommy Sheridan and Rosie Kane campaign together before the split in the SSP

One solution would be for Sheridan and Fox to both stand down as party leaders, allowing the members of both parties to choose a new leader acceptable to all of them, while Fox, Sheridan, Kane and Leckie could still stand for the Scottish Parliament in future.

My previous posts have probably been too strident in taking one side of the argument in the dispute between Sheridan and Solidarity / TUSC (Trade Union and Socialist Coalition) on the one hand and Colin Fox, Rosie Kane, Carolyn Leckie and the Scottish Socialist Party on the other.

Anyone with any sympathies towards the left in politics – or even for social justice or the poor even if not on the left – should have some admiration for Tommy Sheridan for managing to get fractious left wing splinter parties to join into a single party and for getting warrant sales abolished ; and many will share some pity for the Sheridans whether they share their political views or not.

However Rosie Kane did have a point when she implied that a ‘swinger’s club’ which only charges entrance to men might be a front for prostitution – and that that could included trafficked sex slaves for all that the men going there knew.

Even if Sheridan made that mistake though, no-one is perfect and he should have had another chance. If he demanded other party members lie about it, that is far less forgivable.

Jack of the SSP Youth Wing also responded to my argument that Solidarity could not be misogynists as they had given a woman candidate a winnable council seat by saying ‘of course it's possible to be a misogynist organisation and put up women for leading positions! By that reasoning the Tories are feminists for electing Thatcher.’

This is a fair point, although, from attending a couple of Solidarity meetings in the past I don’t believe all or even the majority of Solidarity are misogynists in any way.

I don’t know the truth of the matter one way or the other for certain, beyond that it seems unlikely that Alan McCombes, who founded the SSP along with Sheridan and co-wrote books and pamphlets with him, would have testified against Sheridan if there wasn’t at least some small kernel of truth to the News of the World’s claims - though it's still possible, as he, along with Colin Fox, was one of the candidates for 'Convenor' or leader of the SSP to replace Sheridan in 2004.

Equally the News of the World added many lies to their accounts of events, paying at least two people – George McNeilage and Anvar Khan. McNeilage admits taking money to provide his dodgy video and testimony. Khan admitted to adding lies about Sheridan to her book to increase sales and said the newspaper offered money to set Sheridan up (which she refused).

The question now though is how the SSP and Solidarity can move forward from what has been a disaster for them both electorally.

One solution could be for Sheridan to stand down as leader of Solidarity and Colin Fox to stand down as leader of the SSP. Then the members of the two parties could vote on a leader acceptable to both parties (which would rule out Rosie Kane or Carolyn Leckie or Alan McCombes as they, like Fox and Sheridan, have been too prominent in the bitter dispute between the parties).

Sheridan, Fox, Kane, Leckie and McCombes could still all be candidates for the Scottish Parliament in the future.

As for me I’ve joined the Green party, which is also progressive on reducing inequality and poverty but is not nearly so divided and (from my perspective) more balanced in it's policies.

I hope Solidarity and the SSP manage to overcome their differences and make some progress in future elections though, because we need a counter-weight to the constant shift to the right among the main parties over the decades.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Truth about Tommy Sheridan? - a reply to the SSP's claims

Click this link to see the Scottish Socialist Party Youth Wing's animation on the break with Sheridan - it seems to have had more work put into it than their self-contradictory 'The Truth about Tommy Sheridan' website post, discussed below

The youth wing of the Scottish Socialist Party have a long, rambling, self-contradictory diatribe against Tommy Sheridan and anyone who supports him as being supposedly “misogynists” and “patriarchs” and about how SSP members’ testimony has been completely vindicated, despite all the claims they made about Gail Sheridan lying and 6 of the 12 allegations many of them made against Tommy were thrown out of court. It's titled 'The Truth about Tommy Sheridan'.

Below I’ve responded to some of the main points made in it (the parts in italics). For sources for the claims I make in response to them (parts in normal text) see my previous blog post

In court some former SSP members said that Tommy was partly a victim of the faction fighting around 50/50 -- a proposal to make sure women made up half of the party’s candidates for election. The idea was to try and tackle the obstacles put up to women’s participation in politics by institutionalised sexism, by actively ensuring that women got to be SSP candidates. It was an idea which the majority of the party supported, but drove the old fashioned sexist men bananas, and some began to resent the active role that women were taking in the leadership and public profile of the party. But the reality is that during the crucial votes on 50/50 within the SSP, Tommy was on the SAME side as Rosie, Frances and Carolyn, who were in favour of the progressive move.

So in other words, by backing making half the candidates women, Sheridan proved he wasn’t a misogynist at all – yet you go on to claim he is one

Whilst those of us who are still in the SSP now decided to come to the May 28th meeting with a strategy of being completely reasonable and not losing our heads

Is that what you call claiming that going to a swinger’s club with other consenting adults (sleazy if he did it but no-one's business but his and theirs and his wife's) equals having sex with prostitutes and trafficked sex slaves? I’d hate to see you when you’re losing your heads then

We’ve since learned that when George McNeilage, upset and angered by Tommy’s defaming of honest socialists as “scabs” for refusing to lie for him, decided to sell the tape he’d made of Tommy confessing to being an odious wee troll and a lying scrota

That tape doesn’t even show the face of the speaker, has repeated and unexplained long gaps in it and you’re telling us the £200,000 McNeilage took for it had nothing to do with it? I doubt it.

Apart from not being keen on women, the other thing that was distinctive about Solidarity was being really really really keen on Tommy Sheridan. It was a political party composed of people who were betting their future careers on Tommy being re-elected to Parliament. They went on to reach the stunning electoral success of managing to not re-elect Tommy - but electing Ruth Black as a Glasgow City Councillor

Excuse me? Solidarity don’t like women, but give a woman the candidacy in a winnable council seat?
Or are you trying to claim Ruth’s a man? You’re tying yourself in knots here.

The fact remains however that we’re still here and still recruiting, with the knowledge that we did the right thing and that the truth is still the truth. That’s the difference between us and the confused bunch of losers who attempted a wrecking job on the SSP.

So if everything SSP members have testified in court to is true, how is it that Tommy not only won the defamation case, but even in the perjury trial all the allegations against Gail and 6 of the 12 allegations against Tommy were dropped – many of those allegations having been supported by SSP witnesses?

The votes they have received have dwindled (from their greatest height of not getting Tommy elected). Sadly, with the split in the Scottish Socialist Party and the unfortunate trashing of the Party’s reputation in all of the papers (with the charge being led by Tommy), the SSP’s votes have suffered badly too.

Hilarious spin there. Colin Fox, your party leader, only got 319 votes in the General Election , because he couldn’t even organise getting leaflets printed correctly and in time. Even I got more than twice that as an Independent – and Sheridan got significantly more. Sheridan was the only SSP or Solidarity candidate to come very close to being re-elected in the last Scottish Parliament election – none of the remaining SSP candidates even came close.

After Solidarity failed in its number one mission in 2007, it began to slowly disintegrate, because the only thing that had bound such a disparate group of people together was that Tommy Sheridan was an electoral asset who gave them all reason to live. Their numbers dwindled, their website is pish, and their only elected representative is now a Labour councillor under investigation for corruption

Strange you don’t say how many councillors the SSP have since the “United Left” decided to jump at the chance of getting rid of the person who got the left in Scotland to stop squabbling long enough to form a single party and won them 6 seats in the Scottish Parliament

Take feminism and women’s rights seriously and never let any fuckwit misogynist attempt to ‘put you in your place’. It’s not enough to say that you’re for equality for women. You have to consider the myriad ways in which patriarchy manifests itself, particularly within left-wing organisations -- what myths are we perpetuating within ourselves that patriarchy creates in wider society? The response of some “socialists” to Tommy’s behaviour shows just how powerful stereotypes like the jealous witch, desperate for money and power, are in even among the left. Tommy and his supporters were never afraid to use the most sexist language about the women who disagreed with them, calling them bitches, cunts, witches and whores.

Well I’ve been to Solidarity meetings and never heard any of those words used about any woman at them. I’ve also heard Rosie Kane imply, without any evidence or reason to think it, that Sheridan had sex with prostitutes including trafficked sex slaves, rather than consensual sex (you make a similar implication yourself).

That seems more like political opportunism than principle to me. You seem to have a stereotype of all male politicians as oppressive patriarchs – which is misandry (irrational hatred of men) and just as bad as misogyny - and I suspect you had it long before any of this happened.

Alan McCombes is the one of the few anti-Sheridan witnesses whose testimony I’d trust at all – and no, not because he’s a man, before you put that through your misandrist glasses , but because he was such a close ally of Sheridan for so long.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Selective Trial for Perjury - The Trial of Tommy Sheridan

photo: Murdo MacLeod, Guardian

Many people are now gloating over the conviction of Tommy Sheridan on perjury charges. There are a fair number of questions to be asked about that trial though. The first, as asked by a Scottish QC, is why it was Sheridan who was on trial and not those who testified against him in his previous defamation case against the News of the World, which he won. The answer, as the QC points out, is that it’s about placating the News of the World, who are part of Murdoch’s media empire which he uses to buy political influence (1). The fact that most police officers favour the establishment and were annoyed at having to police sit down protests against Trident at Faslane probably has something to do with it as well.

The vindictive nature of the police campaign against the Sheridans was shown by their attempt to charge airline hostess Gail Sheridan for having a handful of miniature drinks in her house – charges which the Procurator fiscal threw out because they were so trivial; their raids on the Sheridans’ house and their attempts to intimidate Gail Sheridan by asking her who had trained here in “terrorist” or “IRA techniques” (2).

Detective Stuart Harkness said to Gail SheridanGail, I must ask you at this time who has schooled you and asked you to focus on one point of the wall. I have interviewed people under the Terrorism Act and that is the kind of activity ... it’s recognised by the IRA, focus on the table, focus on the wall. Who has trained you? It’s a PIRA or IRA technique.” (3).

Bringing perjury charges is also extremely rare, even when it’s certain a witness or defendant has lied, as Ian Hamilton QC and many other lawyers have pointed out. The last perjury trial arising from a civil action in Scotland was over a decade ago. (4) – (5).

All the perjury charges against Gail Sheridan and six of the twelve allegations of perjury against Tommy were dropped during the trial (6) – (8). Does that mean we’ll see perjury charges against all the witnesses that testified in court that either Sheridan was guilty of those charges, including Andy Coulson, the former News of the World Editor (during the period of phone hacking by that paper) and now spin merchant for David Cameron, Andy Coulson? (9) – (10) If not, why not?

Another question is how much we can trust the word of many prosecution witnesses since we know from the testimony of prosecution witness George McNeilage that he accepted £200,000 from the newspaper for his dubious video – and that he had been convicted of burglary when he was 16 and again when he was 20 (11).

Anvar Khan testified that the News of the World and the publishers of a book she wrote (Black and White publishers, with business links to the News of the World) offered her money to lie about having ‘drunken sex’ with Sheridan and offered her more if she’d help entrap Sheridan in a phone conversation (she agreed to the former but refused the latter) (12).

So it’s extremely likely that the News of the World have bribed some other witnesses too.

If Sheridan did try to get his colleagues to lie in court, he was very seriously in the wrong, but there has been far too much News of the World money washing around on the one hand  - and far too many political rivals looking for a way to bring him down on the other - for it to be certain that he did.

Even if Sheridan really is guilty of the remaining charges of perjury he was convicted of I’d still take his side against the News of the World and much of the rest of the media – e.g the Sunday Mail with it’s ‘Shamed politican rallies supporters headline’. The reason is that Sheridan at worst lied by claiming he had had concensual sex when he had (though if he did and then tried to make colleagues lie in court about it that’s much worse)..

There were no ‘Shamed politician’ or ‘disgraced politician’ headlines in any of these newspapers after Tony Blair and half his cabinet lied repeatedly to the entire country and soldiers that they sent (many to their deaths) to a war that didn’t need to be fought against a country that posed no threat to them, helping Bush get enough domestic support for a war that has led to hundreds of thousands of un-necessary deaths.

Tommy Sheridan never broke an election pledge to anyone. Never promised not to cut the Educational Maintenance Allowance, then did it anyway, like David Cameron (who also, along with most of his party, voted to go to war on Iraq), nor broke a key election pledge on tuition fees, like Nick Clegg.

Instead Tommy Sheridan, while in opposition, not government, got warrant sales of the possessions of the poorest, abolished (13).

Four of the five former Scottish Socialist MSPs who were elected along with Sheridan based on his popularity and his achievement of getting the feuding left wing factions to form a single party turned against him, claiming he has done far more to damage the cause of socialism than to promote it. They were part of the ironically named “United Left” faction within the SSP, beginning factionalism again almost the moment a single party was formed . They should face facts. They would never have been elected at all if it hadn’t been for Sheridan and there would never have been a united SSP for long enough for them to be elected if it wasn’t for Sheridan. They all lost their seats when they stabbed him in the back and Sheridan was the only one of them that came close to winning a seat in the last Scottish Parliament elections.

They may well have turned on him mainly because they were jealous of his high profile in the media and leapt on the News of the World allegations as a club to beat him with. Former SSP MSP Rosie Kane went on to imply that Sheridan, accused of lying about having a consensual threesome in a ‘swingers club’, had had sex with trafficked sex slaves, or else that if he had been to a swingers club that that was equivalent to having sex with sex slaves. According to one blog (one which took her side, not Sheridan’s) she said in court that “It was disgusting. Tommy, it was traumatic. I was working with women who had been caught up in a trafficked situation. This flew in the face of everything that we stood for…” (14). I can understand her viewpoint and even see how a swinger's club might be used as a legitimate seeming front for a brothel, but she had no evidence that was the case, nor are the two things comparable.

Granted, if there was any even partial truth in the allegations made against him Sheridan would have been far wiser to ignore them or dismiss them rather than take a defamation action .

However Colin Fox, Rosie Kane, Caroline Leckie and the rest were most likely determined to use the allegations to take the leadership from Sheridan. This may have been one of the reasons he went to court in the first place, along with fears for his marriage and the fact that many of the claims made by the newspaper were clearly false (and found to be false in both the defamation case and in his perjury trial, in which he was found not guilty on the majority of the charges, though guilty of a minority of them).

No doubt Sheridan is far from perfect, but then that’s true of everyone. If asked to choose between someone who had an affair or lied about having sex, or politicians who lie to start a war that kills hundreds of thousands, I’ll choose the one with the sex scandal every time. Anyone who thinks sex scandals are more important than getting people killed has their priorities very wrong. If he was conclusively proven guilty of trying to make colleagues perjure themselves, that would be far more serious.

(1) = The Firm 23 Dec 2010 ‘Her Majesty’s Advocate against The Sheridans - Online Exclusive by Ian Hamilton QC’,

(2) = Herald 22 Mar 2008 ‘'No charges' for Gail Sheridan over drink miniatures’, http://www.heraldscotland.com/no-charges-for-gail-sheridan-over-drink-miniatures-1.877085

(3) = Herald 03 Dec 2010 ‘Crown drops more Sheridan perjury charges’, http://www.heraldscotland.com/mobile/news/crime-courts/crown-drops-more-sheridan-perjury-charges-1.1072224

(4) = See (1) above

(5) = BBC News 23 Dec 2010 ‘Should Sheridan's perjury trial have been prosecuted?’,http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-12068925

(6) = Guardian.co.uk 24 Nov 2010 ‘Tommy Sheridan trial: prosecution drops four perjury charges’,http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/nov/25/tommy-sheridan-trial-perjury-charges

(7) = BBC News 17 Dec 2010 ‘Gail Sheridan cleared of perjury charges’, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-glasgow-west-12020014

(8) = BBC News 20 Dec 2010 ‘Six perjury allegations against Tommy Sheridan dropped’,http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-glasgow-west-12040484

(9) = guardian.co.uk 14 Oct 2010 ‘Andy Coulson called as witness in Tommy Sheridan perjury trial’, http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/oct/14/andy-coulson-tommy-sheridan-trial

(10) = guardian.co.uk 1 Sep 2010 ‘Andy Coulson discussed phone hacking at News of the World, report claims’,http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2010/sep/01/andy-coulson-phone-hacking-allegations

(11) = Herald (Glasgow) 9 Nov 2010 ‘Witness paid to go on holiday by newspaper’,http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/crime-courts/witness-paid-to-go-on-holiday-by-newspaper-1.1066879

(12) = guardian.co.uk 29 Oct 2010 ‘Tommy Sheridan trial: columnist admits lying over sex claims’,http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/oct/29/tommy-sheridan-trial-sex-claims

(13) = BBC News 6 Dec 2000 ‘MSPs abolish warrant sales’,http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/1058426.stm

(14) = The Campaign for Human Rights at Glasgow Uni 16 Oct 2010 ‘Tommy Sheridan case produces a ‘new star’, former MSP Rosie Kane easily defeats Sheridan in mano-a-mano legal mental combat, Sheridan floundering’,http://glasgowunihumanrights.blogspot.com/2010/10/tommy-sheridan-case-produces-new-star.html

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Why welfare to work won't work in the UK

President Clinton signs the 1996 Responsibility and work opportunity act which gave federal approval to state 'welfare to work' laws which are the model for British 'welfare reforms'

Perhaps the greatest danger of our national life arises from the power of selfish and unscrupulous wealth
which influences public opinion largely through the press

Joseph Rowntree (1836 – 1925) , businessman and philanthropist, - one of the first people in Britain to do research proving poverty was not caused only by alcoholism or the laziness of those in poverty.

(What follows is a summary – to see the full version with contents links and sources on my website go here.)

Tabloid newspaper owners and the leaders of the main parties in both the US and the UK have promoted myths about the causes of unemployment and poverty and so the solutions to them. The ‘welfare reform’ narrative of the tabloids and the Labour, Conservative, Republican and Democratic parties has been that there are plenty of jobs for everyone but that the supposedly ‘out of control’ growth or expansion of the welfare state has led to generations of people in the same households deciding to live on benefits as this gives them a better and easier life than working would. This is portrayed as having placed an increasing burden on those who do work and as being the main cause of poverty. Just as US welfare to work from the 1990s on returned to a 19th century view of poverty as due to the moral failings of the poor (especially ‘laziness’ and being ‘unwilling to work’) the same has happened in theUK, with government adviser and Labour MP Frank Field  advising the Conservative-Liberal coalition that poverty is primarily caused by bad parenting rather than low incomes.

Labour MP and adviser to the Conservative-Liberal Coalition government - Frank Field - who believes poverty is primarily the result of bad parenting

This is coupled with political rhetoric about ‘social mobility’, ‘meritocracy’ (whether Labour or Conservative) ,‘equal opportunity for all’ and a ‘classless society’, in which politicians talk as though getting everyone into work will increase all of their incomes and get them out of poverty, as though there are enough jobs with a living income for everyone. The assumption is that as more people come off benefits and into work the welfare bill can be cut, the welfare state can be cut further or gradually phased out as the private sector takes over from it - and everyone will be better off.

Surveys show these claims have influenced British public opinion to become more hostile to those on benefits, with a majority now seeing them as lazy and opposed to increased redistribution of wealth through taxation and welfare.

The trouble is that even politically massaged Government figures, along with research by charities like the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and think tanks like the IPPR, shows that there are between hundreds of thousands and millions more people unemployed than there are job vacancies in the UK through recessions and economic booms over past decades to present.

Employers also told researchers that, far from the unemployed being unwilling to do the kind of jobs they used to do, most applicants were considered over-qualified by the employer

They also show that large numbers of people going into work remain in poverty (under 60% of median income or £119 per week for an adult or £288 for a couple with two children) or in deep poverty (a third or less lower income than that) – and that there are more people in work and in poverty than out of work and in poverty in the UK, with newly created jobs increasingly becoming part-time and/or low paid over the past two decades and over 1 million people who want full-time jobs only being able to get part-time ones.

Despite the tabloid myths this is not due to over-generous benefits, but due to low minimum wages, a lack of enough in-work benefits for those on low incomes. For instance unemployment benefit is only between £51.85 and £65.45 a week depending on age in theUK, just as it was under the previous Labour government.

While many of the measures of poverty used are relative to they are reliable indicators that many of those on these incomes are suffering some forms of absolute poverty – i.e are unable to afford some basic necessities and so suffering frequent hunger, cold and subsequent long term health problems for adults and developmental problems for children. For instance the JRF’s 2000 study found 9.5 million people in Britain could not afford to heat their homes adequately, 4 million couldn’t afford either two meals a day or fruit and vegetables to eat ; and 6.5 million people went without essential clothing such as a warm waterproof jacket or decent shoes (with 2% of children lacking a warm waterproof coat or properly fitting shoes and many unable to afford a healthy diet). One parent interviewed in a later report ate nothing but bread so their children could eat better diets, while another (in 2008) said being in poverty meant “Being hungry, only having enough food to give the children, hoping they would leave some leftovers on the plate, so I wouldn't be so hungry.”)

There are also absolute measures of poverty used, based on the number of people in any year whose income has fallen below 60% of what was the median for a chosen benchmark year. The British government used 60% of the median in financial year 1998/1999 as it’s measure of poverty until 2010, when 60% of the median in 2010 was chosen as the benchmark for the next decade (though the new government may well choose a different definition).

British Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor (finance minister) have claimed that under their Labour predecessors welfare spending was “out of control” - but the figures don't back their claims up

Treasury figures also show that welfare spending in the UK has actually fallen as a percentage of GDP (national wealth) between 1997 at 7.76% (during an economic boom with lower unemployment) and just over 7% in 2009 (during a deep recession with higher unemployment) – (credit to Duncan’s Economics blog for pointing this out). Despite the “there is no money” rhetoric the UK increased it’s GDP per capita (wealth per person) by around 67% over the same period on World Bank figures.

This is even more striking as 1997 was an economic boom year with relatively low numbers of unemployed people (and so a lower cost in unemployment benefit) while 2010 was a deep recession with relatively high unemployment levels and benefit costs.

If looking for unfair government spending going to those who neither need nor deserve it there are many better candidates for cut. These include Private Finance Initiatives or ‘Public Private Partnerships’, which the Conservatives began, Labour expanded and the Coalition are planning to expand again, leading to increased taxes for cut services; Export Credit Guarantees to British Aerospace for arms and dual use equipment going to dictatorships and human rights abusers (often including those who later become our enemies such as Saddam Hussein’s forces in the past); and military aid to dictatorships.

US government figures and independent studies show ‘welfare to work’ programmes in the US have led to greatly increased poverty and homelessness.

Cutting benefits and public sector jobs during a period of recession also risks further reducing demand in the economy and a spiral of falling demand and increased job losses in the private sector.

Cartoonist Steve Bell on British welfare minister Ian Duncan Smith MP's welfare to work plans

This may well lead to many of those persuaded to vote to punish those on benefits for supposedly all being workshy fraudsters suffering alongside many of them due to the reality that many are poor or unemployed through no fault of their own – and that even if everyone who isn’t working tried to get work there aren’t enough jobs.

This shows that the model of welfare reform adopted by the main parties in both countries is bound to lead to increasing levels of poverty for the unemployed and many in work alike unless it’s changed to expand the welfare state and public sector employment and government intervention to provide more in-work benefits for those on low incomes, along with increasing minimum wages and more public sector jobs

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that relative poverty for pensioners declined throughout New Labour’s period in government from 1997 to 2008/9 and relative and absolute child poverty fell too, but as out-of-work poverty fell, the numbers of people in work but in poverty rose.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies’ 2010 report estimates increases in the numbers of adults and children in poverty of hundreds of thousands each year as a result of the Coalition’s policies

This is not to deny that there are some people defrauding the benefit system or who are unwilling to work. It does show that there’s no evidence to suggest the tabloid rants claiming they are the majority of the unemployed or poor are true ; that ‘laziness’ is most definitely not the only cause of unemployment ; and that welfare spending and benefits are if anything too low and too hard to get in low income jobs. Any welfare reforms that would have a chance of reducing unemployment and poverty would have to provide more in work-benefitsm, or a higher minimum wage, or both, along with more public sector jobs.

(This post is a summary – to see the full version with contents links and sources on my website go here.)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Police violence against the peaceful majority of student protesters and passers-by should be punished too - they shouldn't be above the law

Student protesters have come in for a great deal of criticism in the media lately, but a lot of it has been less than balanced – with a ridiculous fixation on the relatively minor incident involving Prince Charles and Camilla. The minority of protesters who have made serious attacks on police, for instance throwing snooker balls, often causing serious injuries to officers, will get little sympathy and will likely get jail sentences. However the majority of non-violent protesters are not responsible for the actions of this minority – and, with a few exceptions, too little attention has been paid to the continuing and increasing instances of random police violence against non-violent protesters and passers-by, which so far follow a long established pattern of police being above the law. This too often turns the police uniform from what it should be – and still is when worn by many decent officers – a uniform whose wearers uphold the law and only act in self-defence or defence of others – to a shield which allows those who have let power go to their heads, or who want to be able to attack others without consequence, to be immune to prosecution for their actions.

 “Kettling” for short periods to identify and arrest those responsible for violence or serious criminal damage may be legitimate. However when extended for long periods - up to 7 hours in sub-zero temperatures in London recently and in the G20 protests, it becomes effectively illegal detention without trial (1).

Non-violent protesters like Alfie Meadows, seriously injured last week by a baton strike to the head, have been attacked by police for no apparent reason. Meadow’s life was only saved by an ambulance crew refusing to cave to police pressure and 3 hours of brain surgery. Meadow only survived because his mother was nearby and both had mobile phones. She said she remembered the Blair Peach death and knew he needed treatment fast. Meadows’ mother said that despite police claims that they would allow clearly peaceful protesters to leave the police were “The police had been very violent all day. Whoever was trying to get out, they weren't allowing them.”. Police initially refused to allow a Professor to accompany Meadow out of the “kettling” to get an ambulance; and tried to turn the ambulance carrying him away from the nearest hospital , as police were also being treated there (2) – (4).  This was illegal and suggests an unacceptable attitude among some police that all protesters, peaceful and violent, are the enemy in a war.

Passer-by Ian Tomlinson, who wasn’t even a protester but trying to go home from work, died after repeated assaults by the same police officer during “kettling” in the G20 protests, seen by witnesses and recorded on video, with his attacker never charged (5) – (6). The officer will face a disciplinary hearing held by the Metropolitan Police, but such hearings usually lead to all charges being dismissed (two examples later) (7). 

Police have continued to sweep up passers-by along with journalists and non-violent protesters in “kettling” the recent student protests in London and in many cases to attack them with batons and mounted charges and even refuse them medical treatment (8) – (10).

For instance Guardian journalist Caroline Davies emailed a colleague on the first day of the protests in London saying that another journalist, Shiv Malik, had told her the following

The crowd surged in an attempt to break through the police line, and I was caught on the same side as the police but facing towards them with the fence behind me. The fence came right up to the police line. The police started to push back then they started using their batons on protesters. I was caught then and pushed up towards the front. I ducked, my glasses were knocked off my face so I was trying to hold them. Then, basically, a baton strike came to the side of my face and then onto the top of my head. Directly onto the crown of my head.  I felt a big whacking thud and I heard it reverberating inside my head. I wasn't sure whether I was bleeding or not. I moved off to the side and asked a police officer if I was bleeding. But he just said 'Keep moving, keep moving". Then I put my hand to the top of my head and looked at my palm and I could see there was blood everywhere. I then asked another police officer, who was wearing a police medic badge, if he could help me. And he told me to move away as well and told me to go to another exit.’ (11).

Witnesses and a video also seem to show police dragged a disabled protester from his wheelchair and struck him and others trying to stop them with batons (12).

When some police are placed above the law public safety is lost. When police killed protester Blair Peach in 1979 through a baton strike to the head, no-one was ever tried. When a joint police and British military intelligence operation killed Brazilian electrician Jean Charles De Menezes due to stunning carelessness and disorganisation – and police spokespeople churned out a series of rapidly disproven lies to try to justify the action - no-one even lost their job. Metropolitan Police Chief Sir Ian Blair later resigned over a dispute with Mayor Boris Johnson (13) – (14).

When 6 foot plus, body armoured, police officer Sergeant Delroy Smellie was approached by 5 foot tall protester Nicola Fisher at a vigil for Ian Tomlinson, he turned, first told her to go away, then , as she continued to argue with him, hit her twice with his hand and then took out his baton and struck her hard across the leg with it twice – all caught on video (15). Whatever your view of whether Fisher was justified in haranguing or challenging him or not Smellie’s response was un-necessary, violent and in no way defence of himself or anyone else. Yet his force and a District Judge both decided he had no charges – criminal or disciplinary to face.

Another officer, caught on CCTV video dragging a female prisoner across the floor of a police station before picking her up and throwing her face down onto the floor of a cell, causing injuries and bleeding to her face, was similarly cleared of all charges on appeal after being convicted at his initial trial (16).

We can’t afford to let police forces, judges or politicians misguidedly protect a minority of thugs within police ranks the way the upper hierarchy of the Catholic Church has protected paedophile priests – and make no mistake, a minority of those who join the police do so in order to abuse that position and hurt people, just as with those paedophiles who become priests or teachers or nursery staff for the same reason. If we do the rot will spread and we will risk a police state. Police forces only enhance public safety when they are strictly required to obey the same laws they enforce.

There are police who uphold the law and only use force when there’s no other option, proportionate to that used by others - and only in self-defence or the defence of others, often in the face of provocation, threat, or attacks which can or have caused serious injuries. They deserve our full support and respect.

However those who lash out at random – or because they think they can make violent attacks themselves, shielded from prosecution by their uniform – should be charged, tried and sentenced like any other suspect– and expelled from the force if found guilty. The latter are unfortunately too common, largely because politicians, judges and senior police officers are often so biased or so fearful of being seen as “soft on crime” or as “not supporting the police” that they will not uphold the law when police officers break it – even when deaths result.

We should not always place the blame solely on the lowest ranks either. Politicians and senior police officers making strategic and tactical decisions must bear responsibility for some of the results of those decisions.

Governments and big parties also give seemingly unconditional support to police most of the time for another reason – they rely on the police to crush opposition to their policies, especially when, as is often the case, those policies benefit a minority at the expense of the majority or a larger minority (usually the poorest and those on middle incomes). The police, granted secure jobs by the state, have a traditional alliance with the government in crushing the poor and the newly unemployed when the government sacks public sector employees and cuts benefits for the poor, the unemployed and the disabled.  In the 1980s the main target were the miners. In the 1990s, poll tax resisters.

Many people who witnessed the trouble at the student protests at Millbank, when student protesters occupied Conservative Party headquarters and smashed windows, believe that either the police were hugely incompetent in their estimates of likely demonstrator numbers and so police numbers required ; or else they were sending the Coalition government a subtle message – don’t keep threatening us with cuts along with the rest, because you’ll need us to protect you from public anger against those cuts.

(Only a few dozen students cheered the idiot who dropped the fire extinguisher – with the majority on the ground booing at the dropping of it and chanting “stop throwing shit” (16))

Nor has the Coalition delivered on it’s claims to be restoring civil liberties. Instead anti-terrorism police, who might have been better focusing on actual threats, have questioned a 12 year old schoolboy for attempting to organise a picket of David Cameron’s constituency offices to protest the planned closure of their youth centre. It’s not clear whether the police were acting on the orders of some superior or member of government or on their own initiative.


(1) = guardian.co.uk 10 Dec 2010 ‘Being kettled was a shocking experience’, by Jaqui Karn,

(Karn is a researcher on crime ethnography whose work has been published by the London School of Economics –http://www.willanpublishing.co.uk/cgi-bin/indexer?product=1843921952 )

(2) = Kingston Guardian 10 Dec 2010 ‘Kingston professor says protester with serious injuries was "hit by police"’,

(3) = Independent 10 Dec 2010 ‘Police investigate truncheon attack’,

(4) = Observer 12 Dec 2010 ‘Police officers 'tried to stop hospital staff treating injured protester'’,http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/dec/12/police-injured-protester-hospital

(5) = Guardian 07 Apr 2009 ‘Video reveals G20 police assault on man who died’, http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/apr/07/video-g20-police-assault (also gives eye-witness statements contradicting the Metropolitan police’s initial version of events which was reproduced in many newspapers)

(6) = Guardian 22 Jul 2010 ‘Ian Tomlinson death: police officer will not face criminal charges’, http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/jul/22/ian-tomlinson-police-not-charged

(7) = guardian.co.uk 27 Jul 2010 ‘Ian Tomlinson death: police officer faces disciplinary hearing’, http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/jul/27/ian-tomlinson-death-paul-stephenson

(8) = Guardian 27 Nov 2010 ‘Letters : Police kettling stirs the pot of student unrest’,
http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2010/nov/27/police-kettling-stirs-student-unrest (see 1st, 3rd and 4th letters)

(9) = guardian.co.uk 10 Dec 2010 ‘Being kettled was a shocking experience’, by Jaqui Karn,http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/dec/10/kettled-shocking-experience

(Karn is a researcher on crime ethnography whose work has been published by the London School of Economics –http://www.willanpublishing.co.uk/cgi-bin/indexer?product=1843921952 )

(10) = Guardian 26 Nov 2010 ‘Student protests: Met under fire for charging at demonstrators’,

(11) = Guardian News Blog ‘Student protests – as they happened’, http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/blog/2010/dec/09/student-protests-live-coverage ; see entry for 4.31 p.m

(12) = East London Lines 10 Dec 2010 ‘Disabled journalist describes “violent” police as opponents of tuition fee rise vow to fight on’, http://www.eastlondonlines.co.uk/2010/12/disabled-journalist-speaks-out-about-violent-police-as-dust-settles-on-student-demonstration/

(13) = see this article on my website and the source links at the bottom of it, http://www.duncanmcfarlane.org/menezes

(14) = BBC News 17 Aug 2005 ‘Police shooting - the discrepancies’, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/4158832.stm

(15) = Independent 17 Jun 2009 ‘No disciplinary action for G20 assault case officer’, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/no-disciplinary-action-for-g20-assault-case-officer-2003173.html

(16) = guardian.co.uk 18 Nov 2010 ‘Police sergeant cleared of assaulting woman suspect in custody’,

(17) = New York Times 10 Nov 2010 ‘Video of Student Protests in London’,

Monday, December 06, 2010

The Lib Dems knew they wouldn’t form a single party government – the excuses on tuition fees are empty

The Lib Dems leadership have shown great ingenuity but no credibility in coming up for reasons why they made scrapping tuition fees for students a key election campaign pledge, then broke it the moment there was a chance of getting into government – and instead backed tripling the level of tuition fees.

We know from leaked party documents that Treasury Minister Danny Alexander MP and Nick Clegg were already planning to drop the policy two months before they made it a key pledge in their election campaign.

Alexander as a Treasury minister went on to support privatisation of forests in England and Wales and then campaign  against it in Scotland. Alexander explained, as if talking to very small and very easily tricked children, that this was due to the “devolved nature of British politics”. Utter hypocrisy. Devolution does not allow the same politician to reverse their views as they cross the border.

So presumably the fact that the Lib Dems made a high profile campaign promise which they then broke by failing to make it a condition of joining any coalition government is due to the hypocritical, dishonest, nature of British politics? No, it’s not. There are some honest people in politics. Nick Clegg and some of his MPs are apparently not among them – with Norman Baker MP one of the honourable exceptions.

The latest excuse which every Lib Dem MP is making in TV interviews is that this was a pledge made if the Lib Dems formed a single party government. The identical reply given by each shows this ingenious reply comes from the party leader’s office. The trouble is it’s a lie – everyone, the Lib Dems most definitely included, knew the Lib Dems could not possibly form a single party government. So they were cynically lying to the electorate.

Some Lib Dem spokespeople squirm and wriggle like would-be Houdinis, talking of the positive aspects of the new Coalition policy. That completely misses the point. To put any policy in your manifesto and then reverse it on being elected is bad enough, but to do so with a policy which you made a high profile plank of your campaign is a betrayal of the people who voted for you, many of whom may have been persuaded to do so on that specific policy.

Guardian columnist Simon Jenkins has attempted to defend this betrayal on the grounds that parties break their manifesto pledges all the time. This does happen and is wrong – that hardly justifies it.

Jenkins argues that to criticise the Lib Dems on this issue is to make the supposedly “ludicrous” claim that there are two types of campaign pledges. There are many though. There are those in the small print of the manifesto ; there are the ones that are never even discussed or mentioned except by small parties and independents (like PFIs/PPPs) and there are the high profile policies that a party makes a key part of it’s manifesto. The tuition fees pledge was the third kind – and even as it was being made the party leaders were discussing binning it. After making that pledge it should have been a condition of joining any coalition.

Vince Cable has said that there was no promise to keep tuition fees. You could have fooled me. Clegg claimed during the election that he was utterly opposed to tuition fees and he and many of his MPS signed a Pledge to vote them down. A pledge, in case you’ve forgotten Vince, is a very public and solemn promise – an oath. You can still read it as one of the party’s key education policies on their website.

Nick Clegg’s credibility is gone and Cable’s is fading. Clegg is only still leader because his rivals and opponents in the party are waiting for him to absorb the backlash against his blatant disregard for his own voters before they make their move. Whether the Lib Dems survive as a serious political party will depend on how many Lib Dem MPs defy Nick Clegg by voting against tuition fees in parliament.