A march – 999 Call for the NHS

Reposted and lightly amended with permission from Barkingside21.

People's March for the NHSStarting off from Jarrow early today, a group of local mums from Darlington known as the #Darlomums are beginning the 999 March for the NHS. They’ll make their way 300 miles to London entirely on foot.

They’re trying to draw attention to the critical condition of the NHS as it is gradually eroded by privatisation. Following the route of the Jarrow hunger march, they’ll pass through 23 towns and cities over 21 days. On each stretch they’ll be joined by NHS workers, NHS users, and other supporters of all stripes. It looks like it’s going to be big and bold. After all, there’s so much at stake.

They’ll be in this neck of the woods on Saturday 6th September leaving Edmonton at 10am and arriving in Westminster at 3pm for a rally which is likely to be a landmark event in the campaign to keep the NHS public.

They want us to join them. Here is a day-by-day route and a place to let them know you’re coming. Being volunteers with a lot to organise, they need funds too – you can help by buying a T-Shirt and/or donating. If you use Twitter, big up @999CallforNHS with the hashtag #march4nhs . If you use Facebook, they’re here.

Here is why:

What UKIP supporters say

Searching the web for the phrase “UKIP supporters say” reveals how poorly UKIP serves the interests of its supporters, and the difference between what they want and what UKIP offers.

80% of UKIP supporters say that tackling the gap between rich and poor should be a government priority, according to the High Pay Centre. In contrast UKIP’s commitment to flat taxes and abolishing inheritance tax would benefit only rich families. One critical response from the left-leaning Tax Research Centre points out that, since the top 10% of earners currently pay 59% of all income tax, collapsing National Insurance and Income Tax into a single fixed rate for all would only serve to reduce the overall tax-take available to spend on public services while also preventing the rich from making a proportionate contribution. Moreover, the vast majority of UKIP supporters who responded to 3 months of YouGov polls in 2014 said that parents were right to “call in favours” to advance their children’s job prospects. That’s commonly known as nepotism, and it’s generally considered bad for morale, trust and equal opportunities. All of which is the opposite of tackling the gap between rich and poor.

UKIP positions itself as a party for working class people. See above for why this is doubtful. Tangentially, some according to a Populus survey for the Financial Times earlier this year reported in the Daily Mail, 4 in 10 UKIP supporters voted Conservative in the 2010 general election, the next largest proportion did not vote or chose a smaller party, while 15% chose the Liberal Democrats and only 7% voted Labour.

UKIP supporters are less likely than other EU opponents to appreciate the quality of the UK’s public services, according to Prospect. But UKIP is well-known for taxation policies which, while incoherent, lean strongly towards reducing public spending on these services.

61% of UKIP supporters say they will definitely vote in the European Elections, The Mirror reports, based on the . This is more than any other party’s supporters. And yet on working for their constituents, UKIP MEPs have a very poor track record

91% of UKIP supporters want to cut the 1.5% of government spending which is allocated to overseas aid, reports The Mirror. But pollution and climate change do not respect borders.

57% of UKIP supporters say they would like to live in mainland Europe, according to Prospect Magazine. However, if UKIP succeeding in withdrawing the UK from the European Union they would be far less free to do so, particularly if the UK’s influence continues to become more proportionate with its place in the world (i.e. less of an empire-wielding bully).

UKIP supporters are most likely of any party’s to drive every day and least likely to ride a bicycle, The Mirror reports. There is no discrepancy here between what UKIP supporters seem to want and UKIP’s policies. Nevertheless it’s worth saying that, to weigh against their obvious benefits, cars emit poisonous substances which have a negative impact on human health and ecosystems. National Atmospheric Emissions Inventory records state that road transport contributes about one fifth of air pollutants – and DEFRA’s summary of the effects of air pollution make grim reading – cardiovascular problems, lung disease including cancer, breathing difficulties and asthma. Environmental Protection UK points out that the UK is struggling to keep some areas within the limits set by the European Union. A 2012 coalition government policy reports that 55% of car journeys are less than 5 miles. According to Sustrans “a depressingly high proportion of short trips are made by car, 23% under a mile, 33% 1–2 miles, and 79% 2-5 miles (only 20% of these journeys are for work – shopping and school runs are a sizeable proportion). Motivated by health and well-being, there is a consensus on reducing short journeys by car to protect children (not least children who are car passengers), ill people, and people with respiratory problems. So, are UKIP local government candidates campaigning for better cycle routes and public transport? There is no mention of public transport in UKIP’s local manifesto! A search for UKIP “public transport” reveals that in the Forest of Dean UKIP candidates make one passing reference to public transport is overshadowed by promises of free parking and road maintenance. Telford and Wrekin UKIP insist that “Telford was designed for the car and would make the town driver friendly once again.” In Dudley a UKIP candidate attempts to fight private providers’ cuts to local public transport, but doesn’t mention a strategy. And most surprisingly, although outside London transport is the preserve of local government, UKIP’s 2014 local manifesto contains no reference to public transport and one reference to reducing parking charges.

UKIP supporters cheer on UKIP as a maverick plucky alternative to the established political parties. But like the Conservatives they are bankrolled by millionaires seeking influence to further business interests. Then there’s the growing catalogue of hypocrisies. According to a former UKIP MEP (though of doubtful standing) writing in the Daily Mail, Farage is known for muscling through policy changes through force of character rather than democratic deliberation among party members. Only days after Farage commented on his advertising campaign that “Most parties use actors. We use Ukippers“, UKIP’s poster campaign was exposed as improperly featuring Irish actor Dave O’Rourke posing as an unemployed UK voter. Farage was taken to task for employing his German wife (whom he does not pay minimum wage) and then claiming that no Briton could work as hard. UKIP has nothing to say to the millions of UK expats living abroad about integration and not taking jobs from the local citizens. So it’s unsurprising that UKIP donor Paul Sykes employs workers from mainland EU in jobs that UK workers could do just as well, and that the enormous fortune of UKIP Housing spokesperson Andrew Charalambous includes three quarters of a million from housing benefit, including that paid by migrant tenants. Hypocrisy and incoherence, all the way. And by the way I don’t think the problem is the hypocrisy – I am relieved that the UKIP millionaires are taking money from and giving money to migrants on the same terms. The hypocrisy is only a symptom which shows up the bad policies.

UKIP supporters are eager to emphasise that UKIP is not racist. But despite spectacular attempts at ‘weeding’ out the racists UKIP has attracted, they just seem to keep on coming. When Enfield candidate William Henry recently stated that Dudley-born actor, broadcaster and comedian Lenny Henry should emigrate to a “black country”, senior UKIP officials closed ranks. Farage has obliquely defended Henry by changing the subject, while the deputy chair Neil Hamilton tried to distract us by calling the matter a distraction. it is understandable that most people assume that UKIP favours discriminating against minorities in Britain. Its 2010 manifesto was disproportionately concerned with British Muslims (93% of supporters think it is acceptable to single out ultra-orthodox Muslim women about their attire), its 2014 manifesto overtly associates Romanians with crime as if national identity could be a cause, and its recently-launched poster campaign is generally thought reminiscent of the British National Party (BNP leader Nick Griffin also claims this).  It is inadequate simply to claim not to be racist – anti-racism is something which needs to be evidenced in policy and demonstrated through action. UKIP are not taking these measures, because to do so would interfere with their activity in the European Parliament where they are the largest party in the Europe of Freedom and Democracy grouping of extreme right-wing MEPs. The leader of the next largest party, Italy’s Lega Nord is on record suggesting opening fire on boats of Africans who wanted to migrate to Italy, while another of its MEPs called for segregation between immigrants and native Italians. There’s far worse to worry about with the Europe of Freedom and Democracy, but I’ll stop there. (Only, is it any wonder, with gangs of MEPs like those, that the EU struggles to get things done?).

Two thirds of UKIP supporters say that they will even vote UKIP if it is likely to be a wasted vote, reports the Daily Mail. This means that Labour, pro-EU and one of the last parties most UKIP supporters want to see in power, is most likely to prevail in the 2015 general election.

And lastly here’s a curious thing. According to Prospect 4% of UKIP supporters would vote to stay in the EU. Perhaps they are the truly disaffected.

Omitted: housing, defence, countryside, and climate change, among many other things.

 

On immigration, hit the nasty party where it hurts

The migration fairy story:

“Once upon a time, a poor woodcutter, of no great skill, decided go in search of work. He left behind his family and his home in the forest, with promises that he would one day return with wealth and comfort. ‘Here, food is scarce and life is hard’, he told his wife, ‘but I have heard tell of other places where there are chances for a man like me to make my fortune’. After much hardship and long days of travel, he reached the edge of the forest where he found the borders of a wealthy kingdom. There he found his way barred by guards. ‘Who are you and why do you seek to enter?’ they asked. ‘Please let me in’, he replied, ‘I am a poor man, but I work hard. I promise through my labour I will make your kingdom even greater and richer than it already is’. The guards agreed to let him in saying that they would give him five years and a day to prove his worth. So the poor man entered and worked hard, digging, scrubbing, and labouring for the Kings’ subjects. And the longer he stayed the more his affection for the kingdom and its people grew. After five years and one day, the guards acknowledged he had proved his worth and welcomed him as a true subject of the kingdom. ‘But may I ask for one thing more?’ said the man. ‘I have a wife and children at home. They are poor and have nothing. If you value all I have done, would you permit them to come to your kingdom and make their life with me?’ And the guards, being wise and fair, and recognizing his endeavours agreed. His family, overjoyed when he sent for them, came at once, and they all lived happily ever after.”

Anti-Raids Network 'know your rights' poster

Anti-Raids Network ‘know your rights’ poster

Further to my previous post on the anti-immigrant Go Home campaign, news of civil-liberty-defying spot checks on immigration status (these aren’t new and I’m not sure if they’re intensifying – but they are now newsworthy in the light of the government’s Go Home campaign against migrants). Dark-skinned people in particular have been subjected to stop-and-checks by Border Agency officials on the transport system. Southall Black Sisters (a domestic abuse support network) have reported that police summoned to crime scenes have taken the opportunity to conduct inappropriate checks of immigration. British Transport Police are inviting the Border Agency along. And then there are the vans with the pictures of handcuffs on them and the phrase, Go Home. There is no convincing defence of that. Always worth reading, Rafael Behr gets better and better:

“This is an old problem. Not everyone who wants less immigration is a racist but every racist wants less immigration. So it is hard to craft a message for the concerned non-racist without earning unwanted nods of approval from the racist. Hard. Not impossible. Clarity of intent is vital. The vans fail this test because they are unlikely to have a discernible impact on numbers, while certain to reinforce the impression that the nation is overrun with illicit foreigners. The government accepts the view of many voters that Britain is full to the brim with people who don’t deserve to be here. That assertion doesn’t always recognise a difference between legal and illegal status, nor between economic migration and political asylum. For the Home Office to drive around brandishing a pair of handcuffs is to abet the suspicion that there is something generically illegitimate about being foreign-born in the UK.”

David Cameron has given the campaign his continued approval. His election strategist Lynton Crosby once viewed it as a promising political wedge – but now reportedly believes it gave UKIP a leg up. Some commentators have observed that the alarmed publicity about the Go Home campaign will confound analysis of whether it is ‘working’. I’m not sure which indicators of success the government is using – that seems to be the fundamental question. In their absence, I’m assuming the proof of the pudding with votes – a swing from UKIP to the Conservatives in elections, set against a reduction in voters of migrant background who vote Conservative. Is that reasonable, if crude?

But what about the government’s short-term decision about whether to carry on along this tack? Will it be numbers of voluntary repatriations, or will pollsters will tell them? A YouGov poll for The Sun (pdf) found that 31% of respondents thought the campaign racist, with 39% considering it in poor taste but necessary. As far as I can see, that’s without the pollsters showing them the handcuff imagery, telling them about the National Front resonance, or pointing out that the boroughs targeted have a certain ethnic profile.

Constrast that with the reaction of local politicians of all political stripes. Here in the pilot boroughs we know that this initiative will kill support for the Conservatives in the local elections. That’s why it is a good idea for prominent Conservatives working at a local level to join the general condemnation as they have (though I’m sure they’re genuinely incensed too).

Another thing the YouGov pollsters omitted to mention was that the Home Office Twitter feed is trying to pass off arrests of suspected undocumented migrants as success of their war on illegal immigration. David Allen Green pointed out that  “For the @ukhomeoffice to say those arrested are already #immigrationoffenders is to prejudge their cases and possibly contempt”. Several commentators have noted that the Home Office neglects to mention how many they subsequently released. I think the approach the Home Office is taking is simply dreadful – the Twitter feed is exclusively anti-immigration, as if the Home Office had no other function. And I feel worried because they do actually think we’re prejudiced enough to maintain our own ignorance about what is going on here, and not ask too many questions.

What about the junior coalition partner in government? The Liberal Democrats don’t seem to have been consulted either and I don’t know of any defending the campaign – Vince Cable’s verdict: “stupid and offensive”, I’ve heard that Clegg disapproves. He apparently called it ‘not clever’ or something mild like that. Lib Dem activist Caron Lindsay is stronger:

“They’re not just trolling us, they are trying to toxify us. If they can get our voters thinking that we have abandoned our belief in civil liberties, then that’s a job well done for them … Nick’s done quite well in the past few days saying what sorts of things need to happen on immigration, like exit checks and spoken out against these god awful vans. However, the language he’s using is still a little too “crackdown” rather than “fairness” for me. When things like the vans or the tube station checks happen, every liberal collectively retches. However, you’ll get a part of the electorate, and some of them might vote for us, feeling in some way reassured that something is being done. We talk of the importance of policing by consent. What happens if a good proportion of people consent to policing of others by intimidation? For me, it’s back to first principles every time. We’re liberals, and we don’t agree with that sort of thing.”

She points to advice from politics.co.uk editor Ian Dunt (who seems to have been reading Anti-Raids Network advice) on what to do if you are stopped. Of course, it would be a lucky undocumented migrant who got to read a blog, but perhaps some potential witnesses and advocates… He quotes the UK Border Agency’s own guidance for its officials and points out that it stipulates a high standard.

“Before seeking to question someone, an IO [immigration officer] will need to have information in his possession which suggests that the person may be of immigration interest (that is there are doubts about that person’s leave status). The information in the IO’s possession should be sufficient to constitute a reasonable suspicion that that particular person may be an immigration offender. Any IO stopping and questioning an individual will need to be in a position to justify the reasons why they considered that threshold to be satisfied in that particular case. Any questioning must be consensual. The paragraph 2 power to examine does not include a power to compel someone to stop or to require someone to comply with that examination. Should a person seek to exercise their right not to answer questions and leave, there is no power to arrest that person purely on suspicion of committing an immigration offence.”

That is pretty conclusive: speculative checks of the kind we have seen on the transport system this week are illegal. It looks as if the Home Office has broken British law – which justifies UKIP calling the activity un-British. If you’re not worried by the hostile environment for legal and illegal immigrants alike, hopefully you find the attacks on civil liberties more of a problem. Today, immigrants. Tomorrow, any other group the government calculates could earn them votes. The next day, goodbye democracy.

So in short we have a campaign which targets darker skinned people with accents, fomenting mistrust between them and more established communities, which the government reckons speaks for itself – “Tough on immigration!” – without their having to communicate how they identify success – arrests of “suspected #immigrationoffenders” are supposed to suffice. So, objecting to this campaign is not about whether or not it’s racist to impose limits on immigration – it’s about resisting government attempts to flout civil liberties and conduct an aggressive campaign within these borders, exclusively for political reasons rather than because it works.

What can be done?

  • Prospective Conservative voters, don’t vote Conservative – and mention the Go Home campaign when you tell them why you didn’t. Or failing that, criticise them in public – they’ll probably take it more seriously from their own (good for you, Derek Laud).
  • Be prepared to be an advocate if you witness a spot check – see the Anti-Raids Network.
  • Unite is making legal objections.
  • Labour Peer Lord Lipsey referred the posters to the Advertising Standards Authority.
  • According to The Independent, the Equality and Human Rights Commission is examining the campaign for “unlawful discrimination”.
  • There are some petitions to sign, including this one from RAMFEL.
  • The campaign needs close scrutiny, and to be discussed with friends and family.
  • We need to sufficiently educate ourselves about migration to recognise when politicians and sections of the media try to divert us with tough talk and publicity stunts. Us and Them, a new book by Bridget Anderson quoted at the top, looks helpful here. Her colleague from COMPAS Ben Gidley has a good piece in The Conversation on assessing the real impact of migration. We need evidence, impact assessments and – for pity’s sake – a little efficiency once in a while.
  • Have a laugh – follow the #immigrationoffenders hashtag on Twitter. David Scheider calls the Home Office campaign a “preliminary rounds of the UK Hunger Games”.
  • We need to demand fairness, for example targeting employers – there’s at least one group of likely Conservative voters which probably has its head down right now.
  • And incidentally, an important kind of fairness is global prosperity where nobody is driven from their place of origin by lack of livelihood. In desperate circumstances, people’s choices narrow to nothing. How about that side of things?
A revised Go Home van

A revised Go Home van

Have you seen this van in Redbridge?

You work when there’s work to be had. You can’t afford a new outfit for your brother’s wedding – let alone a present. Let alone a stag do. You’re angry and two things make you even angrier. One is people on benefits who look like they shouldn’t be. Another is people who don’t come from this country who live 5 to a room, work for their uncles, price your employer out of the market and you out of a job.

The Conservative-led coalition government is pretty sure you’ll fall into line behind their latest initiative.

Exacerbating community relations, by van

Exacerbating community relations, by van

The initiative is led by Mark Harper, Minister of State for Immigration and Conservative MP for the Forest of Dean – he’s @mark_j_harper on Twitter. The Government says:

“Over the next week, two vans will be driven around Hounslow, Barking & Dagenham, Ealing, Barnet, Brent and Redbridge and will show residents how many illegal migrants have recently been arrested in their area. They will also show a text number that migrants can message to arrange their return.”

Sometimes I’m afraid of the Conservatives and this is one of those times. Why would migrants abandon everything that is familiar, make a long, arduous and often treacherous journey to the UK only to then live in frankly dreadful conditions and work without rights or proper pay? Because they have nothing to lose where they were before. Perhaps their lives were under threat back home. Perhaps there was no work and no social security. Perhaps there was a war, or a mafia.

Make no mistake, you would do the same. That’s not to say that you have to put up with the situation. Like everybody else I want a working NHS and working public services – and those things depend on maintaining the proportion of taxpayers to service users. But nevertheless, you would do the same – and you would deserve compassion and assistance. Not for your neighbours to start associating you with images of handcuffs.

The trouble for me is that these poor, desperate people, who have moved here to become poor, lonely, exploited, desperate people, are the last people who should be targeted by the government. They are being treated as culprits when in fact they are victims. In some ways they are being treated as vermin to be cleared away.

The first question is, who is profiting from these people? Who is selling – and buying – goods and services at a price so low that the people working to deliver them cannot be paid a decent wage? Who is transporting the migrants, who is employing them, who are their slum landlords? These are the ones who need to be brought into line with the law. And if they keep within the law and there is still a problem, then the next question to ask is, why do migrants feel it would be better to nearly destitute themselves in Britain rather than remain where they were born? And then you will discover stories which make your heart heavy, which bring out the generosity of spirit that this government has given up on. And you will realise why the International Development budget exists.

It may well be that these vans form only part of wider government initiatives to make it hard for undocumented migrants to set up home here. As it is, though, these vans are on the streets of Redbridge and other London boroughs and they are the only part of the action that most people will ever see or hear about. And the message these vans are sending out is potentially a very damaging one. They make it seem as if the people who are here without permission are culprits and criminals who need to be taken away in handcuffs. The mixed message of the handcuffs and the “Let us help you” will bring out the worst fears of most migrants, I’d imagine – because my hunch is that the picture will speak louder than the words. And for the rest of us, whose right to be here isn’t under question, what are we supposed to think? To me, this is somewhere further along the line to official incitement against migrants than this country has seen for a long time.

This government thinks it is appropriate to try to gain support by turning us against some of the poorest and most vulnerable amongst us. I think the Conservatives are trying to make fools of us.

Preliminary thoughts about what to do next:

  • Ramfel (Refugee and Migrant Forum for East London – their Facebook page seems to be most recently updated) is concerned with community relations. If you spot the van, contact them so that they can take action to monitor the repercussions, and counter any misinformation about illegal immigrants. If you don’t use Facebook, then try info@ramfel.org.uk – there you can also offer help leafleting.
  • Write you your MP
  • Write to Mark Harper.
  • As usual keep your criticism sharp and grounded, don’t rant, don’t exaggerate, don’t insult our public servants, and don’t forget that there is a massive fight for the scraps at the bottom of this society which is ripe for exploitation. Just make the best arguments possible.

Updates

  • The Twitter hashtag (shared with a bunch of random stuff) is #GoHome
  • The leader of Brent Council has made short statement of protest.
  • More from him on the BBC.
  • And here’s a video of Minister Mark Harper misrepresenting undocumented migration as a kind of anti-social petty crime, cut with shots of that nasty van.
  • @The_UK_Migrant points or that this new policy is likely to amount to stop and search.
  • Why shouldn’t London be less like Operation Wetback and more like New York?
  • Even the Daily Mail – bastion of anti-immigration sentiment – thinks the Go Home vans are ridiculous.
  • PICUM – the Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants – is a good resource.
  • Nigel Farage is crowing about the Go Home Vans, rightly assuming that this is the Conservative response to the UKIP threat. When he then proceeds to call the campaign ‘nasty’ he fails to grasp the irony of this recognition.
  • It’s Saturday night and via Barkingside21 on Twitter I know of two reported sightings. Just two, in Kilburn and Willesden Green. Not a very busy or comprehensive tour, then. Perhaps the Go Home Van is feeling a little outlandish? Good.
  • The campaign has united leaders from all parties on Redbridge Council. They have sent Teresa May a unanimous message. It goes: 1) not about us without us and 2) fuck off with your rabble rousing.

Clifton Mansions – home was where the house is

As far as the residents of Clifton Mansions, Coldharbour Lane, Brixton, were concerned, Lambeth Council left 22 beautiful flats to rot. Squatters – families, friends –  moved in and took care of it, pretty well by all accounts. They formed a community of long standing and that deserved some respect.

By the time they were evicted onto a closed-off street this morning by many riot police, it was clear that Lambeth ‘zero-tolerance-on-squatting’ Council wasn’t intending to renovate Clifton Mansions for social housing. Worse, it opted to pay Camelot to prevent the building being reoccupied while a buyer is found at auction. There’s a general supposition they’ll soon be luxury flats, though the Estates Gazette wonders if an earlier idea of a creative industries cluster might happen. I guess the council would have been happy enough to announce that if it had still been on the cards.

Balthazar writes on his photo blog, “People were so upset. Evictions are terrible. Lives dumped on the pavement like rubbish.” OK, so the council suddenly woke up to an unexploited asset – certainly it should take control of it. But even if they couldn’t respect these homes and offer the Clifton Mansion residents their flats for a reasonable rent (and I’m not sure how these things work, how council housing places are allocated), why couldn’t they be added to Brixton’s drastically under-numbered social housing stock?

  • Carl Loben cross-posted on the Squash Campaign lists celebrity former squatters including Richard Branson (where are they when you need them?)
  • Shelter on the shortfall in affordable, secure housing, and what it means for some of the 1.8 million people on the waiting list in England alone.
  • Inside Housing, a very good site with a forum to ask landlord-related questions, interviews with people on social housing waiting lists, and a petition to free up land to build social housing
  • Defend Council Housing
  • The Independent on some of the Clifton Mansions residents.
  • Demotix, with photographs of the eviction
  • Urban75 on how the era ended not with a whimper but a shower of piss.
  • Squatted – a blogging project to counter the bad media publicity of squatters.

Thanks to my other half I have a spacious home, and there isn’t a night goes by when I get into my comfortable bed that it doesn’t occur to me how fortunate I am.

Fighting, fallen, virtual undergrowth

Paul Mason’s twenty reasons why it’s kicking off everywhere piece is one of the reasons he’s a stand-out candidate on the Orwell Prize shortlist:

“9. The specifics of economic failure: the rise of mass access to university-level education is a given. Maybe soon even 50% in higher education will be not enough. In most of the world this is being funded by personal indebtedess – so people are making a rational judgement to go into debt so they will be better paid later. However the prospect of ten years of fiscal retrenchment in some countries means they now know they will be poorer than their parents. And the effect has been like throwing a light switch; the prosperity story is replaced with the doom story, even if for individuals reality will be more complex, and not as bad as they expect.

10.This evaporation of a promise is compounded in the more repressive societies and emerging markets because – even where you get rapid economic growth – it cannot absorb the demographic bulge of young people fast enough to deliver rising living standards for enough of them.

I can’t find the quote but one of the historians of the French Revolution of 1789 wrote that it was not the product of poor people but of poor lawyers. You can have political/economic setups that disappoint the poor for generations – but if lawyers, teachers and doctors are sitting in their garrets freezing and starving you get revolution. Now, in their garrets, they have a laptop and broadband connection.

12.The weakness of organised labour means there’s a changed relationship between the radicalized middle class, the poor and the organised workforce. The world looks more like 19th century Paris – heavy predomination of the “progressive” intelligentsia, intermixing with the slum-dwellers at numerous social interfaces (cabarets in the 19C, raves now); huge social fear of the excluded poor but also many rags to riches stories celebrated in the media (Fifty Cent etc); meanwhile the solidaristic culture and respectability of organized labour is still there but, as in Egypt, they find themselves a “stage army” to be marched on and off the scene of history.

13.This leads to a loss of fear among the young radicals of any movement: they can pick and choose; there is no confrontation they can’t retreat from. They can “have a day off” from protesting, occupying: whereas twith he old working-class based movements, their place in the ranks of battle was determined and they couldn’t retreat once things started. You couldn’t “have a day off” from the miners’ strike if you lived in a pit village.

14.In addition to a day off, you can “mix and match”: I have met people who do community organizing one day, and the next are on a flotilla to Gaza; then they pop up working for a think tank on sustainable energy; then they’re writing a book about something completely different. I was astonished to find people I had interviewed inside the UCL occupation blogging from Tahrir Square this week.

15. People just know more than they used to. Dictatorships rely not just on the suppression of news but on the suppression of narratives and truth. More or less everything you need to know to make sense of the world is available as freely downloadable content on the internet: and it’s not pre-digested for you by your teachers, parents, priests, imams. For example there are huge numbers of facts available to me now about the subjects I studied at university that were not known when I was there in the 1980s. Then whole academic terms would be spent disputing basic facts, or trying to research them. Now that is still true but the plane of reasoning can be more complex because people have an instant reference source for the undisputed premises of arguments. It’s as if physics has been replaced by quantum physics, but in every discipline.”

I recommend reading 1-8 and 16-20. Find some of it hard to fit with what I already know and very thought provoking.

Worth reading, this International Socialism piece by Jonny Jones on Social Media and Social Movements (HT Evgeny Morozov) – I haven’t read it properly the following excerpt seems to contrast with the picture Paul Mason paints of the ‘mix and match’ activist – the ‘mix and match’ activist utlimately depends on an infrastructure of protest:

“The 10 November protest—organised by the NUS and the University and College Union under the name “Demolition”—saw over 50,000 protesters take to the streets. This turnout could not have been achieved without the structures of the NUS, which invested time and money promoting the demonstration and laying on coaches. But within days of Millbank the mainstream media had picked up on the Day X protests. The newspapers highlighted the role of student activists such as EAN spokesperson and NUS executive member Mark Bergfeld, picking up on his comments about the use of “legitimate force” to “bring down the government”.35 In an echo of the G20 mobilisations, there was a reciprocal relationship between the bourgeois media, student activists and social media. In the absence of official NUS structures (or, indeed, of left wing student organisation in many parts of the country), Facebook became a way for students in disparate areas of the country to find out about what was going on, who in their area was going to protest. It was able to give school students with little or no experience of protest the confidence to get large numbers to walk out of school.

It would be a serious mistake, however, to think that the walkouts and university occupations simply emerged from horizontal networks. The schools and colleges that saw the biggest walkouts, such as Chiswick Community School and Le Swap in London, and Bury and Holy Cross Colleges near Manchester, were driven and built by socialists and radical activists. Over 30 universities went into occupation, but the “first wave” of occupations—from “University College London, School of Oriental and African Studies and King’s College, to universities like Bradford, Bristol, Nottingham, York, Leeds, Edinburgh, Manchester Metropolitan University, Dundee, Sheffield and the University of East London”—were all marked by the presence of organised left wing activists and socialists.”

And on horizontalism:

“It conducts meetings via Twitter and is avowedly “non-hierarchical”. But when one member tried to set up an event in praise of the anti-union “cooperative” John Lewis, an argument ensued which was only resolved through long arguments among small numbers of people who had the time to debate the issues over multiple online mediums. The idea of unstructured online decision-making may seem inclusive and democratic: it is actually unaccountable and exclusive.”

That is food for thought.

There is also the issue of how information and communication technologies are used. For example, as Charles Shaar Murray puts it:

“Old-fashioned totalitarian societies control information by suppressing what they consider inconvenient for their people to hear, while the more sophisticated capitalist democracies control information by swamping the truth in a deluge of disinformation, through which it is virtually a full-time job to sift.”

Paul Mason gets to the 20th reason then proceeds to list complications, including reference to the Chinese state model for hiring social networkers to generate pro-government memes. Egyptian blogger Dalia Ziada is quick to admit that US Government-aided social networking strategies catalysed revolution across the Middle East; I assume that they were generating memes of their own. I can’t find a reference, but there are artificially intelligent software agents out there which will create accounts on social network sites, befriend a feasible number of people there, and then manufacture political blog comments on a theme. So I’m not sure about Paul Mason’s confidence in incontrovertible facts.

I know that pessimism is a luxury for when things are going well, but we’re currently in another financial bubble related to Web 2.0 and when that bursts you also have to anticipate a scenario where a few very powerful companies are left and there’s a great enclosure of the open web, as happened with telephone, television, and many other things which started off open. I was also unable to tweet for a period during the March 16th demo, because of network overload. How do the masses organise themselves to accommodate this?

And, more fundamentally, you have to anticipate the lights going off during the great bloody struggle for resources to come. Enough people I know with advanced knowledge of computer systems administration have an interest in survivalism – morse code, self-sufficiency, that kind of thing – to catch my attention. It’s an anecdote I know, but coming from them I take it seriously. They know about systems vulnerabilities, and they understand the extent to which we rely on computer networks to exist. And I’ve got somewhat far from my point now, but when you hear a usually sober economist say that during the crash of 2008 she not only withdrew as much cash as she could, but also bought in as much food as she could, you do wonder how securely the technocracy is perched.

I think the right thing to do is to treat the speculation about the power of social media as contingent, and prepare contingencies accordingly.

Back to Paul Mason’s complications:

“…what happens to this new, fluffy global zeitgeist when it runs up against the old-style hierarchical dictatorship in a death match, where the latter has about 300 Abrams tanks? We may be about to find out.”

From my Observer today (where the Middle East uprisings are now relegated to p27):

“Egypt’s deepening political crisis, which has followed the ousting of President Hosni Mubarak, took a dangerous new turn yesterday as soldiers armed with clubs and rifles stormed protesters occupying Cairo’s Tahrir Square in a pre-dawn raid, killing at least two.”

And in Yemen:

“…about 100,000 marched in the city of Taiz, where four protesters were killed and about 400 injured on Friday … More than 12people have been killed since protests against Yemen’s president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, began in February.”

In Syria:

“More than 170 people have been killed since the protests began, human rights groups say. But the rallying cry was met with a warning by Syrian authorities that they would crush further unrest, raising the risk of further bloodshed.”

For more on Syria, Al Jazeera’s silence, and Bashar Al Assad’s free pass to murder his own people, read DaveM on Harry’s Place. We-the-people’ will never get a UN resolution to go in there and rout that bastard.

In Bahrain:

“Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, 50, who formerly worked for Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, was detained in a pre-dawn raid. His daughter, Zainab, said armed and masked men stormed her house aoutside the capital, Manama, and beat her father unconscious before taking him into custody.”

More on Abdulhadi al-Khawaja on the BBC site.

And elsewhere I read that in Zimbabwe:

“Forty-six people in Zimbabwe have been charged with treason, and some allegedly beaten by police, after watching videos of the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia

The activists, trade unionists and students were at a meeting on Saturday titled Revolt in Egypt and Tunisia: What lessons can be learnt by Zimbabwe and Africa?, when it was raided by police who seized a video projector, two DVDs and a laptop.”

Fluffy will be flattened.