Posts Tagged ‘Greenham Common’

The Schoolboy Sexism and Snobbery of Toby Young

January 5, 2019

Leafing through an old copy of Private Eye, for 1st – 14th April 2011, I found an article in their ‘Street of Shame’ column about Spectator columnist Toby Young and his friend and ally, Harry Phibbs. Young was then trying to set up his free school in Hammersmith and Fulham, where Phibbs was a councilor. To show the strong relationship between them and just how extreme and noxious their right-wing views were, the magazine published and commented on a letter written by Young to Phibbs when he was a sixth form student nearly 30 years previously. The article, ‘Tory Boys’, ran

Spectator columnist Toby Young has no doughtier ally in his campaign to set up a west London Free School than the booming-voiced freelance hack Harry Phibbs, Hammersmith and Fulham’s council’s “cabinet member for community engagement”.

Phibbs represents the ward in which the school will be sited, and threw his considerable weight behind the council’s decision to sell off a building occupied by voluntary groups so Toby could have it. Phibbs’s current partner, Caroline Ffiske, sits on the school’s steering committee.

But the relationship between these two likely lads goes back much further. The Eye has somehow obtained a fan-letter sent to Harry Phibbs 29 years ago, when as a noisy Tory schoolboy he was attracting media attention. The author, a sixth-former at William Ellis School in north London, professed himself “very amused” by an Eye report of Phibbs’s antics.

“Here is a brief history of my political career [sic],” wrote Toby Young (for it was he). “having been a victim of a bohemian upbringing, and living in a small, socialist community in Devon surrounded by feminists and hippies of every (unspeakable) description. I decided to set up a provocative organization which I suitably named ‘Combat Communism’.”

After several paragraphs recounting how he’d tried to disrupt a protest by CND (“this band of idiots”), Toby made his pitch. “Recently I started up a political group called ‘the Young Apostles’, and we hold regular meetings where topics such as disarmament, feminism, culture, education, the media, the constitution and international finance are discussed. I originally banned females from taking part, partly because I don’t believe them equipped with the ability to discuss things and partly because I don’t know any bright females. Much to my horror some local saggy-titted feminists (Greenham Gremlins) found out about this discussion group and its high membership standards, and picketed the first meeting. Naturally they weren’t prepared to listen to my arguments about the genetic character traits of women and just ranted and raved… so I was forced to enlist the services of the local constabulary in order to dispose of them.

“Anyway, to get to the point, I was wondering whether you (and perhaps one or two of your brighter friends) would be interested in attending any of these meetings. I can promise that no members of the (un)fair sex will halt you on your way in Currently we have the sons of several ’eminent’ men among our ranks… Our next meeting is on Sunday 6 March at 2pm (whisky and cigars provided).” Using the courtesy title deriving from his dad’s peerage, he signed himself: “Yours sincerely, Honourable Toby D.M. Young.” Who’d have guessed that three decades later this comical duo would be collaborating to set up a co-ed school? (p. 5).

Okay, a lot of children and young people have obnoxious views, which they later grow out of. And Young wrote the letter back in the early 1980s, when attitudes towards gender and feminism were rather different. The women protesting against American nuclear weapons at Greenham Common were vilified in the right-wing press, and by Auberon Waugh, one of the columnists in Private Eye. I can remember Waugh appearing on the late Terry Wogan’s chat show one evening to sneer at them. It was at that time there was a comedy on BBC 2, Comrade Dad, starring George Cole, set in a future Communist Britain. This not only satirized the Soviet Union, but also the supposed far-left politics of Labour politicians like Ken Livingstone and the GLC in London. Just as women performed traditionally masculine jobs, like engineers and construction workers in the USSR, so they were shown doing such jobs in the Britain of the time. The lead character, played by Cole, was a firm believer in this system, and in line with avoiding sexist speech used to refer to everyone as ‘persons’. Women were ‘female persons’. Even so, Young’s view were horrendously reactionary at the time. As for Waugh, his humour largely consisted of writing outrageously opinionated right-wing pieces against groups like the Greenham women, teachers, and everyone else who offended his Thatcherite sensibilities in order to upset the left. Looking back at him, he could probably be described as a kind of privileged literary troll.

Regarding Young’s claim that he didn’t know any intelligent females, that can probably be explained by him being too opinionated and stupid to recognize the intelligence of the young women around him. On the other hand, he probably attended a boys’ school, in which case he may not have known many girls. It’s also possible that the girls and women with brains recognized immediately how stupid Young was, and took care to avoid him.

Young has, however, continued to have extreme right-wing views, and indeed has made a career out of it. I think he was the author of the book, How To Lose Friends And Alienate People was based. He last notable appearance in the news was a few years ago, when the Tories made him the official responsible for looking after the interests of students at university. Private Eye, amongst others, revealed that Young had been one of those attending a eugenics conference at University College London along with others on the far right. These included people, who believed that Blacks were intellectually inferior to Whites, and out and out Nazis. In this company, his remark in the letter that his youthful study group also discussed international finance could sound sinister, like a coded reference to the stupid and murderous conspiracy theory about the world being run by Jewish bankers. I doubt that is how he meant it at the time, but undoubtedly that is how it would be presented if Young was a member of the Labour left rather than extreme right-wing Tory.

I don’t know how Young got on with his plans to found the free school, and he probably has changed his views on women. But otherwise he seems to have remained extremely right-wing and bigoted. He definitely doesn’t support or defend the interests of people from lower income backgrounds, regardless of their gender. And indeed he, like the other hacks on the Spectator and in the right-wing press genuinely, are fiercely opposed to them.

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BBC Reluctantly Admits Lying about Anti-War Protest

September 12, 2016

Mike also put up today a piece from EvolvePolitics, which reports that the BBC on its Feedback page on its website, has admitted misleading the public about the anti-war demonstration it claimed in December last year had been staged outside Labour MP Stella Creasy’s home. The protests were aimed against MPs supporting further airstrikes against Syria. The Beeb’s report claimed that the protesters were ‘far left’, and the demonstration was bullying and intimidatory. Neither of these details were true. The protest was a peaceful vigil. It was not held outside the Walthamstow MP’s home, but her constituency office at a time when no-one was there. The Beeb’s retraction of the distorted report states that it ultimately came from a single Facebook post, that was picked up by a number of other social media commenters and reputable news sources, including the Independent and the Guardian. A few days later, the Beeb issued a partial correction, which changed the location of the story, but still retained the falsehood about the mood of the protesters.

Mike states

So the BBC had decided to run with the inaccuracy because other “reputable” news outlets had done so – and even misled the shadow chancellor into believing the lie.

It had allowed listeners to go on believing the lie that the demonstration was violent and intimidating, even after broadcasting a correction that only revised the location of the event – and not the mood.

Most damning of all is the fact that the full correction appeared – on a little-visited feedback page – on July 8 this year, and has only just been picked up (by the EvolvePolitics site – I had no idea this BBC page even existed).

It seems clear the BBC is quite happy to mislead the public in order to help the Conservative Government. This is not the behaviour of a reputable news outlet.

My advice: Stick to social media sites like Vox Political. We may not always have the full facts but we don’t actively lie to you.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/09/11/post-truth-bbc-quietly-admits-lying-about-anti-war-demonstration-over-syria/

Mike’s statement that the BBC is quite willing to mislead the public to support the Tory government should no longer be a surprise to anyone. A few years ago Mike’s blog, along with, I think, Johnny Void and the Angry Yorkshireman, reported that Scots academics at Glasgow and Edinburgh universities had found that there was a pronounced right-wing bias at the Beeb. They found that the Corporation was something like three times more likely to interview Conservative politicians and businessmen than Labour MPs and trade unionists. My feeling is that the Beeb sees itself as part of the establishment, and interprets its duty as the state broadcaster to produce programming, or at least news reporting, that broadly supports the status quo. Its managers and senior staff come from the same social class as those in industry and the civil service, and many of its journalists and programme makers are part of the same social circle as the Conservative leadership. At least they were during David Cameron’s tenure at No. 10 with the Chipping Norton set. I don’t believe things have changed since Theresa May took over.

I also found it interesting that the Beeb should partly try to excuse itself by stating that it came from other reputable news sources, explicitly naming the Independent and the Guardian. This looks like the Beeb is trying to head off any claims of Conservative bias by citing two supposedly liberal papers. Except when it comes to Jeremy Corbyn, they’re not. Both papers, like the rest of the press, are strongly biased against him. Moreover, there have been reviews of books in Lobster, which have shown that the so-called left-wing press in Britain actually isn’t terribly left-wing at all. In the 1990s, the Guardian regularly used to appear in Private Eye’s ‘Street of Shame’ column for the way it promoted various brutal dictatorships, from Nigeria to Indonesia, praising them as excellent places to do business while ignoring these nation’s appalling human rights records. Some of the articles written in praise of these countries were straightforward PR pieces written by companies specially set up to promote them abroad.

And the excuse that others were following the same line really doesn’t excuse the BBC. Newspapers and the news media are supposed to check their stories. There are even specialist media organisation in America which do so. The Beeb, as the state broadcaster, surely should have had the sense and the resources to check that story as well. But it didn’t. This shows that either the Beeb was simply being lazy, or that the repeated purges of its journalism and newsgathering staff in favour of cutting costs, and boosting the salaries and expanding the jobs available in senior management, has had a detrimental effect on the Corporation’s ability to provide reliable news. Which is exactly what Private Eye has been saying every time more redundancies have been announced at the Beeb of the people, who actually make programmes and produce the news.

The BBC isn’t the sole culprit in this regard. The newspapers have also been shedding large numbers of journalists in order to remain afloat, and give their senior executives, proprietors and shareholders the bloated salaries and dividends they’re accustomed to expect. And several times their journos have been similarly caught out using entirely spurious reports on Wikipedia, posted as pranks, as their sources. For example, when Ronnie Hazlehurst, the composer of a number of well-remembered signature tunes for the BBC, such as that for 80 comedy series To the Manor Born, passed away a few years ago, someone altered his Wikipedia page so that it read that he had composed one of the Spice Girls’ hits. He hadn’t, as presumably any one of the Girls’ fans could have told them. But that didn’t stop the journo, and others in the rest of the press, repeating the story. They were also caught out during the World Cup one year, when someone altered the entry for one of the football teams from the Greek islands. This claimed that its supporters had a special name for themselves, wore discarded shoes on their heads, and had a song about a potato. All rubbish, but the journos decided it had to be true, ’cause it was on Wikipedia. Now it seems that Facebook is being used in the same way for journalists too stressed or too lazy to check their facts.

Of course, the other possibility is that they didn’t bother checking the details, and dragged their heels about correcting the statement that the protesters were out to threaten and intimidate, because the Facebook story told them exactly what they wanted to hear. All the prejudice about peace protesters and ‘hard left’ trade unionists – like the miners at Orgreave colliery, presumably – being violent thugs came flooding back, just like they had from Fleet Street during the 1980s. One of the daftest stories to come out about the peace movement then was a report that the Greenham Common women had managed to knock ‘Tarzan’ Heseltine to the ground, when he visited the base. Heseltine’s a big fellow – 6’3″, and so not easy to deck. He did fall over, but even he admitted that it was an accident. I think he fell over a guy rope or something. But whatever was the cause, he wasn’t pushed, shoved, punched, knocked or anything else. But Fleet Street published the story, ’cause as radical protesters, clearly the Greenham women had to be pathologically violent. Even when they said they weren’t, and gave interviews saying that they didn’t want men at the camp because they were afraid that any men present would start a violent confrontation.

As for hiding the correction on an obscure webpage, this seems to be part of common journalistic practice. Whenever a newspaper or magazine is forced to make a correction, it’s always tucked away in an obscure corner of the publication. The Beeb in this instance is no different. But their does seem to be a change of policy involved. I recall several previous instances, where the regulatory authorities had ruled that one of the Beeb’s programmes had misled the public. The ruling was announced on television or the radio itself. I can remember hearing such rulings on the 7.15 pm slot, or thereabouts, just after The Archers on the radio. For television, they used to issue the notifications of such rulings on Sunday evening just after Points of View and before Songs of Praise. This is a time slot when there would be relatively few people watching, but it’s still not as obscure as a very obscure webpage. Perhaps this is the new way the Beeb hopes to bury the news when its caught bending the facts.

Benn, Livingstone, Tatchell and Scargill, Popular Socialists Not Communist Dictators

June 5, 2016

One of the aspects of press policy that comes across most strongly in Mark Hollingworth’s book on the hounding and vilification of left-wing politicians, the Greenham women and the miners in the 1980sThe Press and Political Dissent: A Question of Censorship, is the repeated tactic of concentrating on a particular politician, and trying to present them as crazed and dictatorial. I’ve described in a previous post yesterday how Tony Benn was compared to Adolf Hitler, complete with a retouched photo to show him with Adolf’s toothbrush moustache. This was very much despite the fact that Tony Benn had served as an RAF pilot during the War. The same tactic of smearing a brave man, who had fought for his country as a traitor was repeated a few years ago by the Daily Heil on Ed Miliband’s father, Ralph. They ran an article denouncing Ralph Miliband as ‘the man who hated Britain’. Miliband was indeed a Marxist intellectual, who hated the capitalist system and therefore much of the class-based structure and institutions of British society. But he also fought in the British army against Fascism during the Second World War.

Scargill and the Miners

Arthur Scargill was another working-class political figure the press smeared with comparisons to Hitler, and claimed was a dictatorial monster during the Miner’s Strike.

Maggie Thatcher in one of her rants had described Scargill and the NUM as ‘Red Fascists’, and so the press followed suit. On 19th April 1984 the Daily Express ran a piece by Prof. Hans Eysenck comparing Scargill and the striking miner’s to Hitler and the Nazis, entitled ‘Scargill and the Fascists of the Left – from the Man who Witnessed the Rise of Hitler: A Warning We Must Not Ignore’. The Sunday Express under its editor, John Junor, ran a similar piece.

Mr Arthur Scargill has clearly been flicked in the raw by suggestions that he has been acting like Hitler. But isn’t he? Hitler used his thugs to terrorise into submission people disagreed with him. Isn’t that precisely what is happening now at night in Nottinghamshire mining villages? Hitler had an utter contempt for the ballot box. By refusing the miners a right to vote, hasn’t Mr Scargill against invited comparison? There the serious similarity ends. For although Mr Scargill may be a stupid man, I do not think he is an evil one.
(pp. 275-6).

Peregrine Worsthorne, the editor of the Torygraph, compared Scargill to Oswald Mosley of the British Union of Fascists. The Daily Heil on the 1st April 1984 ran a piece with the headline, ‘Coal Boss Hits Out at Union ‘Nazis”. But it was the Scum that really went overboard with the accusations of Nazism. It ran headlines like, ‘Mods in Fury at “Adolf” Arthur’, showed a photo of Scargill with his right arm raised, greeting other miners, with the headline, ‘Mine Fuhrer’, and then ran another piece comparing Scargill’s determination to fight to the bitter end with Adolf Hitler in his bunker.

But Scargill personally was far from a dictator. Hollingworth points out that Scargill did not start the strike, but was simply following the directions of the union’s members quite democratically. Hollingworth writes

In fact, the dispute began in Yorkshire when mass pithead meetings were held at every colliery to decide whether to support the fight to oppose the closure of Cottonwood. A Yorkshire NUM Area Council meeting was then arranged which took the decision to sanction all-out industrial action. Scargill didn’t attend or speak at any of these meetings. Nor does he have a vote on the miners’ National Executive Committee. (pp. 272-3).

The miners themselves repeatedly told the press that they weren’t blindly following Scargill, and that the situation was in fact the reverse: he was doing what they told him. This was repeated by the Coal Board’s Industrial Relations director general, Ned Smith, stated ‘I don’t think Scargill has kept them out. That is nonsense. A lot of the areas have a great deal of autonomy. It’s simply not true to say it’s Scargill’s strike.’ (p. 273).

Hollingworth also notes that the press had a personal obsession with Red Ken. When he took over the GLC, the Scum declared ‘Red Ken Crowned King of London’. Hollingworth, however, describes how Leninspart was again, very far from a bullying egotist monopolising power. Bob Quaif in a published letter to the Evening Standard stated that he was a Liberal/SDP, supporter, but he was impressed with the pluralist and democratic terms in which Livingstone expressed his opinions. Moreover, the Labour group when it took power removed some of the patronage powers from the leader, and gave them to elected committees. Ken controlled overall policy, but real power was held by the Labour group which met every Monday. Livingstone himself said of his role

I act more like a chief whip, co-ordinator and publicist of the group. I go out and try to sell the message and to hold the group together… people really only come to me when there is a problem. I never know anything that’s going right. I only get involved in all the things that are going wrong. Committees run into problems with the bureaucracy and I come along and stamp on it. (p. 84).

Hollingworth goes to state that if Livingstone had been personally ousted from power in the Autumn of 1981, the council would still have had much the same policies under the leadership of Andy Harris or John McDonnell.

Livingstone, Scargill and Tatchell Smeared as Communists

Throughout all this, Livingstone, Arthur Scargill and Peter Tatchell were all smeared as Marxists and Communists. The Sunset Times described the miner’s strike as ‘Marxist inspired’, with Hugo Young declaring ‘Call Scargill a Marxist, and correctly identify members of the NUM executive as Communists, and you seem to have solved the entire analytical problem’. The Daily Express even published a piece entitled ‘Scargill’s Red Army Moves In’, ranting about the miner’s had been infiltrated by militant Marxists, determined to prevent changes to union rules which would make striking more difficult. The piece, written by Michael Brown, stated

The militant Red Guards responsible for most of the pit strike violence will attack against today when Arthur Scargill attempts to rewrite his union’s rules. A rabble of political activists plan to invade the streets of Sheffield to browbeat any opposition to a delegates conference designed to reduce the majority needed for strike action … It will be orchestrated by a ‘5th Column’ of political activists who have taken over the running of the miners’ strike. All are handpicked men, some with university training who have Communist, Marxist or Trotskyist backgrounds. They run the flying pickets and handle funds for paying them. (p. 266). There was absolutely no evidence for this, and the papers didn’t provide any.

The Sunday Express and the Scum also claimed that Livingstone was a Marxist, an accusation that lives on in Private Eye’s nickname for him as ‘Leninspart’. But again, Hollingworth states that there’s no evidence that he is either a Communist or Trotskyite. Roy Shaw, the moderate Labour leader of Camden council, who did not share Ken’s left-wing views and opposed him on many issues, stated of ‘Red’ Ken ‘He embraces Marxism if he thinks it will be of advantage to him. But he is certainly not a Marxist. He plays along with them and uses a lot of their methods, but he certainly is not one of them.’

The press also claimed that Peter Tatchell was a member of Militant Tendency, the Marxist group was that was allegedly trying to take over the Labour party. The Daily Mirror claimed Tatchell was linked to Militant and Tariq Ali. The Torygraph also claimed he was a member, as did the Daily Star, while the BBC on 2nd August 1982 on a late-night news bulletin called him ‘the Militant Tendency candidate for Bermondsey’. To their credit, both the Graun and the Absurder published interviews with members of the local Labour party, who said that Tatchell was most definitely not a member of Militant.

Hollingworth describes Tatchell’s politics views and how they differed, at times very dramatically from Militant, and states that he was merely part of the Bennite Left of the Labour party. Indeed, Militant itself did not like Tatchell, and backed him only reluctantly. Hollingworth writes

But Militant’s stance towards Tatchell’s candidature was based on clear ideological differences. On many issues, the two were diametrically opposed. Broadly speaking, Tatchell belonged to the radical Left of the Labour party which rallied round Tony Benn’s banner during the 1981 deputy leadership campaign. According to Michael Crick’s excellent book on Militant. The ‘Bennite Left’ are often described as ‘petty bourgeois reformists by Militant supporters. For Tatchell one of the major differences was on the structure of a socialist society:

I see socialism as being essentially about the extension and enhancement of democracy, particularly in the economic realm. Militant have a very centralised vision of command socialism. Mine is more decentralised and concerned with empowerment. In other words, giving people the power to do things for themselves. Militant take a Leninist view based on a vanguard centre.

On specific policies the discrepancies between Tatchell and Militant are also stark. For several years the Alternative Economic Strategy (AES) was Labour Party and TUC policy and Tatchell supported it fully. Import controls, one of the main proposals of the AES, was seen by Militant as ‘nationalistic’ and ‘exporting unemployment’. Other policies on wealth tax, planning agreements and industrial democracy are rejected by Militant as not going far enough.

When it came to social issues, Tatchell and Militant may as well have been in different parties. Tatchell supports ‘Troops Out’ of Northern Ireland, while Militant is against withdrawal. Positive action for women and ethnic minorities, backed by Tatchell, are seen as ‘bourgeois deviations from the class struggle’ by Militant. The issue of gay rights has only one been raised at the Labour Party Young Socialists conference since Militant took over Labour’s youth section in 1970. According to Michael Crick, Militant supporters are often hostile to gay Party members. (pp.158-9).

So while Scargill, Livingstone and Tatchell were certainly left-wing Labour, they weren’t dictators and definitely not Communists. It was all a smear. But it shows how the press and political establishment were convinced that any serious left-wing Socialist attack on the establishment had to be connected to Moscow. Hence Frederick Forsythe’s wretched little book, which has the British intelligence services battling a Communist plot to infiltrate the Labour party, ready to turn Britain into a Soviet satellite when Labour win the election. It’s says everything about Thatcher that she declared he was her favourite writer.

And Now Corbyn

And this type of abuse hasn’t stopped, either. The most recent victim is Jeremy Corbyn, who is again being smeared as a Communist. Hollingworth writes that it is an old tactic used against the radical Left – to single out a leader, and then go for the jugular. They couldn’t use it against the Greenham women, as they had a very decentralised and non-hierarchical ideology. There were no leaders, and those women, who did speak to the press, made it clear they were only articulating their own views. If they spoke to the press more than a certain number of times, they then refused to speak any more and directed the press to talk to someone else. In extreme cases they even left the camp.

They are, however, determined to use again and again. I found a book on Militant in the politics section of Waterstones recently, and on the back, with the usual approving quotes, was someone stating that the lessons from Militant were relevant once again with the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour party. This is just a smear, along with all the baseless smears against Livingstone, Scargill and Tatchell before him. It shows how little the tactics of the Tory press change in their campaign to discredit genuinely principled and democratic radicals.

Book Review: The Press and Political Dissent: A Question of Censorship

June 4, 2016

By Mark Hollingsworth (London: Pluto Press Ltd 1986).

Press Dissent Pic

I found this in one of the second-hand bookshops in Cheltenham. Although it came out thirty years ago, and covers the major issues of that decade, it’s still acutely relevant. The press and media is still overwhelmingly right-wing, and bitterly hostile to anything like genuine Socialism. This is shown by their refusal to cover Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour party, the uncritical support given to farcical and frankly libellous accusations of anti-Semitism, and its complete and utter failure to give to proper coverage to protests and demonstrations against the government’s austerity programme. One of the most flagrantly biased in this campaign is the Beeb’s political editor, Laura Kuenssberg, who has been booed and hissed by audiences at speaking events because of her blatant Tory bias, as recently covered in several of Mike’s posts over at Vox Political.

Individual chapters deal with the press’ attacks on and vilification of Tony Benn, Ken Livingstone and the GLC, press racism, Peter Tatchell and the Bermondsey bye-election, the Greenham women’s peace camp, the 1983 General Election, and the miner’s strike. The conclusion considers what may be done to alter this terrible situation. There are also four appendices. The first gives the commercial interests of the companies owning the British press. The second give the circulation figures for the national papers. The third lists the Fleet Street editors, and the fourth gives the NUJ code of professional conduct.

I remember many of these controversies from when I was growing up in the 1980s, but reading through the book I was shocked and amazed at the sheer venom and bile poured out on the people and causes featured in the book. Many of the ad hominem attacks sound like the kind of personal vilification Stalin meted out to his political opponents just before sending them to the gulags. It also shows how times have changed that the homophobia that was so prevalent in the 1980s, and which comes out particularly strongly in the press’ attacks on Peter Tatchell, is probably even more shocking now. And then there’s the attempts by the press to play down and demonise the women’s peace camp at Greenham common, which is shocking in its bias and repeated spiking of any positive articles or discussions of what they were doing. And if the press couldn’t simply distort the truth, they made it up, as shown in their articles about Black criminality and racist aggression against Whites, and the Miner’s Strike. There they fabricated a story about how the miners were all Communists – a standard line of attack on most of the left-wingers featured in the book – but were also being given paramilitary training by the IRA in Ireland.

Tony Benn

The book states that the businessmen, who worked with Benn had a high opinion of him. They found him clear and rational. John Shore, the chief executive of the Bristol Chamber of Commerce, who dealt with Benn as the local MP for 14 years, says of him ‘I certainly never found him bonkers. He always presented in all his dealings with us a well-reasoned response to anything that we put to him.’ The Evening News, however, discussing Benn’s supposed political ambitions at the time of the EEC referendum in 1975, screamed that ‘Benn has gone too far to be treated as a joke… now he is seen in some quarters as a vampire, a fanatic and a bully.’ (p. 47). The Sunday Express ran a photograph of Benn, adding a Hitler moustache under the headline ‘Frightening Sketch of Wedgie’. It then went on to portray him very much as a traitor. It said, ‘In 1940 we knew we had no enemies within our own shores, that we were all united against Hitler. Can we say the same thing now? Could you, for example, be absolutely positively sure on whose side you would find people like Anthony Wedgwood Benn?’ Benn, the book notes, had volunteered and served as an RAF pilot during the War.

Ralph Miliband

This kind of smear was repeated a few years ago against Ed Miliband’s father, Ralph. Ralph Miliband was a Jewish immigrant from Belgium, and a committed and respected Marxist intellectual. He also fought for Britain in the Second World War. Nevertheless, the Mail denounced him in a long, ranting column as ‘The Man Who Hated Britain’.

Ken Livingstone

On the 27th September 1981, the Sunday Express denounced Red Ken as ‘The IRA-loving, poof-loving, Marxist leader of the GLC Mr Ken Livingstone’. The papers hated him for subsidizing gay and feminist organisations, and for championing the Nationalist cause in Northern Ireland. In their attacks, they published a series of articles by psychiatrists and psychologists supposedly diagnosing Leninspart as a clinical maniac. This was a gross misrepresentation of what the doctors had actually said. They made clear that they were discussing a type of personality, and not specific individuals, and duly complained.

Peter Tatchell

As for Peter Tatchell, not only did he suffer because of his sexuality, they also tried linking, spuriously and unfairly, with Militant Tendency. One reported told Tatchell that ‘We’re going to dig up everything you have ever said or done from the day you were born’. Questions were asked whether he ever visited gay brothels. They also turned up outside one of his neighbours, claiming to be officers from Southwark Council, claiming that they were investigating complaints that he had been holding loud, all-male parties during the night. They went away disappointed when the neighbour told them otherwise.

Fleet Street Racism

The book also shows how prevalent and pernicious was the racism in Fleet Street. Newspaper editors frankly said that aspiring Black journos shouldn’t try getting into journalism, because they wouldn’t be valued and would find their careers blocked, no matter how good or respected they were in their countries of origin. A Sun editor, discussing what kind of image they should put on the front page to show happy folk winning the Scum lottery, said that they should put ‘darkies’ on it, as no-one wanted to see that. And the Dirty Digger, Rupert Murdoch, himself said to Harold Evans, the editor of the Times, regarding a Black protest march, that there was nothing that couldn’t be solved by a crack over the head with a police baton. Asians were more than 50 times likely to suffer a racial attack than Whites, and Blacks more than 35 times. But there was absolutely no interest in reporting these racist attacks. One journo said that the newspapers were not interested in crimes and tragedies where the victims were either working class or Black. And while they claimed that Whites were being racially attacked by Blacks at every opportunity, they were keen to do the complete opposite involving racial attacks on Blacks and Asians. This was shown in the press’ treatment of an arson attack on a Black household, that killed 13 people. The press described it merely as arson, and did not interview any of the grieving relatives, even when it was clear that it was a racial attack, and members of the British Movement were jailed for violence and making firebombs. The statistics were also flagrantly manipulated, with non-violent crimes included with violent robberies to produce a grossly inflated picture of violent Black criminality responsible for drug-dealing and mugging, and ample space given to extreme right-wingers like Harvey Proctor and Enoch Powell demanding their repatriation.

Greenham Common Women

The Greenham women were repeatedly ignored. One female editor on the Times, responsible for ‘Look’, the newspaper’s women’s supplement, tried to have a sympathetic article on them published. Despite having successfully edited the women’s sections for the Grauniad and Observer, she was sacked. There were repeated attempts to uncover violent incidents committed by them, and they were accused of being agents of Moscow and supporters of the IRA.

The Miners

This was also one of the accusations aimed at the miners. One of their organisers had gone to Dublin seeking funding from sympathetic trade unionists in Eire. The papers claimed he had gone off to get the IRA to train them in paramilitary tactics they could use against the police. Someone, however, took the trouble of actually interviewing the Irish mining union, which had given its support to the British miners. They stated very clearly that they weren’t connected to the IRA, and not only weren’t providing any kind of ‘paramilitary training’, they didn’t even know how.

Dealing with the Press in the Age of the Internet

The picture given is of a frankly out of control press, that lies as easily as most people breathe. It is corrupt and deeply mendacious. But the book also gives clues on how it can be dealt with. Apart from its own suggestions in the final chapter, Hollingsworth notes that at one point the coverage of Tony Benn became markedly less hysterical, more level and less biased, because Benn took control of the situation. Instead of letting the mainstream press set the agenda, Benn was refusing to give interviews to them, preferring instead to talk to other magazines and journals.

This might give a clue on how to handle the latest biased reporting by the Beeb and the press, including not just right-wing papers, but also the Graon and Indie. The net now provides an alternative outlet for news, one that is actually preferred by the younger generation. The old, lamestream media like the Beeb are under threat, and they know it. Hence the rants by Beeb hacks in the Radio Times lamenting the fact that the political consensus previously created through everyone in the nation getting their news from the same sources, is vanishing. There are, of course, negative aspects to this. Mike says one of the problems is the decline in investigative reporting. But people are turning to the alternative media – the internet with its blogs and vlogs, because the mainstream press and the BBC have shown themselves consistently uninterested in anything like objective, unbiased reporting.

This is a crisis in journalism, but it also presents new opportunities for better reporting from a media not quite so dominated by the old media giants. And if people are abandoning the Beeb and the dead tree press, then they can only blame themselves. More and more people are sick and tired of their bias, and their hounding and vilification of those they despise as enemies of capitalism and the Tory party. If they want to regain some of the public trust they’ve lost, they can do so by redressing the issue of balance. In fact, as their readerships decline despite them becoming more extreme and opinionated, their survival depends on it.

Another Angry Voice on Cameron’s Failure to Honour Nuclear Test Victims

February 20, 2014

David Cameron Divisiveness Nuclear Test Veterans

The Angry Yorkshireman has posted up another excellent article, ‘David Cameron and Divisiveness’, on Cameron’s refusal to recognise and honour the sacrifice and suffering endured by the thousands of British servicemen, who took part in nuclear tests. The article begins

In February 2014 David Cameron outright refused to recognise the sacrifices made by some 10,000 British military personnel that were exposed to intense levels of radiation during the 1950s and 1960s.

These men were ordered to do things like watch nuclear detonations at close range, fly aircraft through mushroom clouds, handle radioactive materials and explore blast zones, all with no protective gear.

Many hundreds have died of cancer and other radiation related illnesses but this isn’t even the most horrifying legacy. Due to the genetic damage these men sustained, the families of many of these men have been affected by birth defects, meaning that the legacy of suffering is continuing down the generations.

Many other countries have begun to recognise the suffering inflicted on their military personnel due to radiation exposure, but the United Kingdom steadfastly refuses to offer recompense to our nuclear veterans.

A pressure group of victims and their families called Fallout has been calling for some recognition for the nuclear veterans and their families, but their concerns have been stonewalled by the government.

The Fallout campaign group have asked for the creation of a £25 million benevolent fund to help descendents that are born with genetic illnesses, a campaign medal for nuclear test veterans and a “thank you” from the Prime Minister.
The government have refused to engage with the group, and David Cameron has refused to even publicly thank the surviving veterans, perhaps out of fear that the the slightest hint of recognition would be the first step on the path to awarding these men compensation, which would hardly be unprecidented given that the United States government have been compensating their nuclear test veterans.

David Cameron’s excuse for refusing to acknowledge the nuclear test victims is teeth grindingly bad, even by his appalling standards. Here’s what he said:

“It would be divisive to offer nuclear test veterans this level of recognition for being involved in this project, when those who have undertaken other specialist duties would not be receiving the same.

The full article is at http://anotherangryvoice.blogspot.co.uk/2014/02/david-cameron-and-divisiveness.html. It’s well worth reading.

This clearly is less of a reason than an excuse. The Irate Yorkshireman then goes on to show how it would not stop other servicemen, who have performed equally dangerous duties, from also demanding fair recognition for their sacrifices. He also states that Cameron’s statement is based on the same logic that saw the members of the Arctic Convoys to the Soviet Union during the War denied a medal for their great contribution to the war effort.

The Yorkshireman concluded:

The refusal to even thank these men, and David Cameron’s ludicrous “divisiveness” narrative are yet more demonstrations of the absolute contempt the Tories and the establishment classes have for the disposable “lower orders”.

This is undoubtedly at the heart of Cameron’s refusal to acknowledge their suffering – an aristocratic contempt for ‘commoners’ that sees them purely as cannon fodder, whose purpose is to obey without question their superiors, who must not be criticised for their mistakes, incompetence or indifference to the suffering of the men and women they command.

I also think there’s slightly more to it than that.

Opposition to Nuclear Power

Firstly, it strikes me that Cameron is probably afraid of reviving the remaining, smouldering anti-nuclear feelings. The nuclear industry is, after all, big business, and Cameron’s government has done its best to encourage further investment in nuclear energy and the construction of nuclear power stations. The French nuclear power company, that has been strongly supported by the British government in this, is due to start building another power stations at Hinckley point in Somerset, for example. The last thing the government wants is more protestors standing outside parliament, their council office and the power plants themselves waving placards and pointing to the possible health risks and dangers of nuclear power.

Fears of a CND Revival

Similarly, it also seems to me that Cameron is afraid of the lingering shadow cast by CND in the 1980s and 1950s, and the legacy of the women’s peace camp at Greenham Common. There is still considerable opposition to nuclear weapons despite the reduction in nuclear arms after the collapse of Communism and the ending of the Cold War. A little while ago there was some controversy when the government decided that it was going to acquire a few more, upgraded nuclear missiles for Britain’s defence. I doubt very much if Cameron and the rest of the Coalition want a revival of CND and more protestors camped outside British military bases.

Damage to Reputation and Wallets of British Government, Military and Civil Servants

Most of all, I suspect that what Dave and his party really fear is the possible damage to the reputation of past politicians and civil servants, and claims for compensation from the victims of the tests and their families. British officialdom’s culture of secrecy always appeared to me to have a very strong element of the ruling classes trying to protect themselves and their pensions from criticism and attack from the people their decisions have harmed. By acknowledging the sacrifice and suffering of these servicemen, it strikes me that Cameron is also afraid this would mean that the government accepts, if only partly, its responsibility for their legacy of health problems and the congenital diseases passed on to their children. This could lead to claims for compensation, possible prosecution of the politicians, civil servants and senior military staff behind the policy.

Polynesian Victims of Nuclear Tests

Such dissatisfaction and litigation would not just be confined to British servicemen. I believe that some of the Polynesian islands, where the British tested their nuclear bombs were inhabited before the tests. Their indigenous peoples were forcible removed from their homes. The intense levels of radioactivity left by the tests has meant that they cannot return. They are permanently exiled from their native soil and the land of their ancestors. It is possible that Cameron fears that if he acknowledges the debt the government owes its servicemen for their part in the nuclear tests, these indigenous peoples would also raise embarrassing and expensive demands from the British government for the suffering they have endured through displacement and exile from their destroyed island homes.

Unethical Nuclear Testing on Civilians in America and Possibly Oz

I also wonder if Cameron is also afraid that questions about the activities of the British military for experimentation on its servicemen would stop there. IN the 1990s when the American files on nuclear testing were fully opened to the public under the Freedom of Information Act, it also revealed some highly unethical and monstrous experiments by the American armed forces and their civilian masters on the poor and disadvantaged, including those from ethnic minorities. I remember reading an article in New Scientist about this, circa 1995. The article reported the case where an Indian woman was taken into what she believed was a specialist hospital for treatment for her condition. In fact it was a secret nuclear facility, and the scientists were actually injecting her with radioactive material in order to test its effect on the human body. I’ve also got a feeling that some of those involved in this project may, like so many other scientist, have come from the Third Reich. There were also allegations a little while ago in Australia that the British and Aussie authorities used severely mentally retarded people as test subjects during nuclear bomb tests Down Under. Others have looked into this and found that there is absolutely no evidence that these people were used in this way. Nevertheless, there is the lingering question of whether the British civilian and military authorities also carried on similar, unethical experiments in the general British population.

Germ Warfare at Porton Down

And not just nuclear experiments. Questions have also been raised about the biological warfare experiments conducted by Porton Down. These have included injecting servicemen with a potentially lethal disease, which the troops were told was merely influenza, in order to test the possible results of biological warfare. They have also released various strains of ‘flu into the general population in order to research the progress of germ weapons through the British population. At least one person may have died as a result. As with the victims of the nuclear tests, this raises issues of the morality of the experiments themselves, the ethical culpability of the scientists administering the tests and the military and civilian authorities responsible for them. The victims of these tests may also possibly be liable for compensation in the same way as the victims of the nuclear tests. They also raise the same questions about what other experiments went on under secrecy at Porton Down.

Acknowledgement of Soldier’s Role in Nuclear Tests Raises Doubts about Culpability of Entire Establishment in Nuclear and Biological Experimentation

This is what Cameron clearly fears is divisive: the possibility that, simply by acknowledging the sacrifice and suffering of the military victims of British nuclear testing and their families, he could be opening the door for further questions about the government’s wider nuclear policy for defence and energy, questions and possible claims for compensation and prosecution by the Polynesian peoples, whose homes and traditional way of life has been destroyed by imperialist militarism, as well as possible demands for the investigation of germ warfare experiments by Porton Down. And behind those is the issue of whether even further, darker, and completely immoral nuclear and biological experimentation has been carried out by the British government on its poor, disabled and non-White, as was done in America.

And worst of all, there would be immense damage to the reputation, careers and pensions of the senior military officers, civil servants and MPs responsible for this, as well as the commercial damage to the firms that manufactured these weapons. And in Cameron’s rarefied world of aristocratic and upper middle class privilege, that’s the real threat. We really can’t have the proles questioning their superiors and putting them on trial, can we?

Radical Voices from History to Today

December 18, 2013

People Speak

The People Speak: Democracy Is Not A Spectator Sport (Colin Firth and Anthony Arnove with David Horspool (Edinburgh: Canongate 2012) is a collection of radical and anti-authoritarian texts from British history from 1066 to the present, collected and edited by the actor, Colin Firth, and Anthony Arnove. It was partly inspired by Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. Arnove had worked with Zinn translating the book into a series of stage readings of American radical and democratic texts, which toured the US. Realising that Firth was one of the book’s fans, Arnove approached him to do a British version. Firth, Arnove, and a number of their friends and other performers they admired did indeed stage a reading of some of the texts collected in The People Speak in 2010. This was filmed and broadcast by the History Channel. The two authors state that they hope a DVD of this reading will eventually be released to accompany the film of the same name made the year previously (2010) by Zinn and Arnove, with Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, and Chris Moore. Firth and Arnove rejected any claim that this was the ‘actorly activism’ attacked by critics such as Marina Hyde. Rather, they were simply doing what actors are paid to do – to act, and interpret other’s voices.

Firth states that the book is not an attack on history teachers or the history curriculum, noting that his own father is a history teacher. It comes from his feeling, dating from when he was studying history at school, that the kind of history we are taught is incomplete. It concentrates on kings and queens and politicians to the exclusion of everyone else, who are presented as a faceless, homogenous mass. This is his and Arnove’s attempt to put back into history the voice of the excluded, the Socialists, Anarchists, agitators, Chartists, suffragists, Lollards, Levellers, in short, the trouble-makers, like Zinn himself. Firth makes the point that democracy works from the bottom up, and that it’s protagonists are real trouble-makers. He also makes the point that the rights we now take for granted and accept as civilised and decent were at one point considered treason. The people, who fought for and won them were those without political power, and were hanged, transported, tortured and imprisoned, until their ideas were eventually adopted and adapted. Their continued existence is, however, precarious, and we need to defend them. ‘These freedoms are now in our care. And unless we act on them and continue to fight for them, they will be lost more easily that they were won.’

Firth and Arnove freely acknowledge that in covering two millennia, they have let much important material out. They hope, however, that their readers will feel rightly indignant about that, and be compelled to point it out, or, even better, write another the book, which will be the first of many. Firth hopes most of all it will inspire their readers to speak out, and make their voice heard on the issues they feel is important, ‘As Howard reminds us, democracy is not a spectator sport, and history is not something on a library shelf, but something in which each of us has a potentially critical role’.

Chronologically, the book has divided into five chapters, ‘1066-1450: Commoners and Kings’, ‘1642-1789: Representing the People’, ‘1790-1860: One Man, One Vote’, 1890-1945: Equal Rights’, and ‘1945-2012: Battling the State’ collecting some of the radical texts from these periods. Between these are other chapters covering particular political, constitutional, religious, national and economic issues and struggles. These include:

‘Disunited Kingdoms: ‘Our English Enemies’,
‘Freedom of Worship: ‘Touching our Faith’,
‘Land and Liberty: ‘The Earth is a Common Treasury’,
‘Empire and Race: All Slaves Want to Be Free’,,
‘Money and Class: ‘The Rank is But the Guinea’s Stamp’,
‘Workers United: Labour’s “No” into Action’,
‘War and Peace: ‘What People Have Your Battles Slain?’,
‘Gender and Sexual Equality: ‘A Human Being, Regardless of the Distinction of Sex’.

The chapter on the 400 or so years from 1066 to 1450 contains the following texts:

Ordericus Vitalis on the Norman Conquest of 1066,
The Liber Eliensis on Hereward the Wake,
Extracts from the Magna Carta,
Extracts from the Song of Lewes; written by a Franciscan monk in 1264, this sets out some early examples of the doctrine of resistance and popular rights.
It also contains a section devoted to the voice of the Peasant’s Revolt, including
Wat Tyler’s address to Richard II,
John Ball, ‘Until Everything Shall Be in Common’ (1381),
and William Grindcobbe, ‘I shall die in the Cause of Gaining our Liberty’.

The chapter on ‘Disunited Kingdoms – Our English Enemies’, includes the following pieces:
The declaration of Scottish independence at Arbroath, 6th April 1320,
Owain Glyn Dwr’s letter to another Welsh noble, Henry Don,
The Complaynt of Scotland of 1549,
Jonathan Swift’s bitterly satirical ‘A Modest Proposal’ of 1729,
The Speech from the Dock of the Irish Nationalist leader, Theobald Wolfe Tone,
The Speech from the Dock of Tone’s successor in the United Irishmen, Robert Emmet,
Rev. John Blackwell’s Eisteddfod Address in Beaumaris in 1832, stressing the importance of literature in Welsh,
Letters from the Rebecca Riots’,
The Letter from Nicholas M. Cummins to the Times attacking the English for refusing to supply the Irish with food during the Potato Famine,
The Speech from the Dock of the Irish American Fenian Leader, Captain John McClure, of 1867,
Padraig Pearse’s Eulogy for the Fenian Leader Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa of 1915,
An extract from the Scots writer Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s Sunset Song of 1932,
Bernadette Devlin’s Speech in Draperstown when she stood as the candidate for the Nationalist Independent Unity Party in Northern Ireland,
Silvester Gordon Boswell’s Address to Travellers on Appleby Hill of 1967, and Boswell’s The Book of Boswell: Autobiography of a Gypsy of 1970,
The Dubliners’ Luke Kelly’s lyric, ‘For What died the Sons of Roisin?’ of 1970,
Pauline M.’s description of the events of Bloody Sunday,
An editorial on the Tax-Dodgers on the Isle of Man by the Manx Marxist group, Fo Halloo,
Bobby Sands’ prison diary for 1-2 March 1981,
and an extract from Gwyn Alf Williams’ history of the Welsh, ‘The Dragon Has Two Tongues’ from 1985.

The section on Freedom of Worship, begins with a section on the Pilgrimage of Grace, which includes
The examination of Nicholas Leche of 1536,
The Pontefract Articles of 2-4 December 1536,
The Examination of Robert Aske, 1537,
John Foxe, ‘The Mart6yrdom and Suffering of Cicelie Ormes, Burnt at Norwich the Testimonie and Witnes of Christes Gospell’ of 1557,
Matthew Hamont’s Trial for Heresy,
John Mush, the Life of Margaret Clitherow, 1586,
Daniel Defoe’s satirical ‘The Shortest Way with Dissenters:, Or, Proposals for the Establishment of the Church of 1702,
Ignatius Samcho’s Letter on the Gordon Riots of 1780,
William Blake’s ‘America’ of 1793, his Preface to Milton of (1804) and Preface to Book Two of ‘Jerusalem’ of the same year.
Grace Aguilar’s History of the Jews in England of 1847,
George Jacob Holyoake, Exchange with his Caplain on Atheism (1850),
An anonymous account of the Basingstoke Riots against the Salvation Army of 1881,
and Victoria Brittain’s ‘The Meaning of Waiting’, using the words of eight Muslim women married to prisoners in Guantanamo Bay.

The section on the period 1642-1749 contains
Elizabeth Lilburne’s Appeal against the arrest of her husband, the leveller leader John Lilburne,
Richard Overton’s An Arrow Against All Tyrants of 1646,
The Putney Debates of 1647,
John Lilburne’s Appeal to Cromwellian Soldiers of 1649,
The last speech of Richard Rumbold at the Market Cross in Edinburgh,
Reports of torture in prison from 1721,
The frontispiece to the anonymous pamphlet ‘Idol Worship, Or, the Way to Preferment, showing that the way to political power to was kiss your superiors’ rear ends,
Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, 1776,
The American Declaration of Independence,
Paine’s Rights of Man, 1791,
Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s ‘Destruction of the Bastille’,
An Advertisement for Commemoration of the French Revolution by Dissenters in Birmingham in 1791,
and An Anonymous Birmingham handbill to Commemorate the French Revolution, 1791.

The section ‘Land and Liberty’ contains
Robert Kett, ‘Kett’s Demands Being in Rebellion’, 1549, against the Enclosures in Kent,
Gerard Winstanley, ‘A Declaration from the Poor Oppressed People of England’, 1649,
The 1650 Declaration of the Wellingborough Diggers,
The ballad ‘Bonny Portmore’ of 1690, lamenting the destruction of the forest around Lough Beg,
Thomas Spence’s ‘Spence’s Plan for Parochial Partnerships in the Land of 1816), an early Utopian Socialist precursor,
John Clare, ‘The mores’, c. 1821-4,
W.G. Ward’s ‘The Battle, the Struggle and the Victory’ of 1873, on a battle between the National Agricultural Labourers’ Union and the employers and landowners, who refused to employ their members,
Richard Barlow-Kennett’s ‘Address to the Working Classes’ on Vivisection of 1883,
Henry S. Salts’ Animal Rights Considered in Relation to Social Progress (1892),
Ernest a Baker, The Forbidden Land of 1924 on the landowners’ denial of the right of access to land around the Peak District and the Yorkshire moors due to grouse shooting,
Benny Rothman on the Kinder Trespass in 1932 by ramblers,
and Voices from the Kingsnorth 6 Greenpeace protesters of 2007.

The section on Empire and Race has the above extracts,
William Cecil’s Speech in Parliament of 1588, against a bill against Strangers and Aliens Selling Wares by Retail, 1588,
William Shakespeare’s Sir Thomas More, Act II, Scene 4, c. 1593,
Anna Barbauld, Sins of Government, Sins of of the Nation; Or, A Discourse for the Fast, of 1793, against imperialism and war with revolutionary France,
Robert Wedderbu5rn’s The Axe Laid to the Root or A Fatal Blow to Oppressors, Being an Address to the Planters and Negroes of the Island of Jamaica, 1817,
Mary Prince, The History of Mary Prince, A West Indian Slave, 1831,
Louis Asa-Asa, ‘How Cruelly We Are Used’, 1831,
Joseph Sturge, Speech at the Baptist Missionary Society of Birmingham, 1836,
An Anonymous Member of the Walthamstow Free Produce or Anti-Slavery Association, Conscience Versus Cotton: Or, the Preference of Free Labour Produce, 1851,
Ernest Jones’, ‘The Indian Struggle’, 1857, supporting Indian independence during the Mutiny,
Richard Cobden’s Letter to John Bright on Indian independence, 1857,
Celestine Edwards, a Black Methodist preacher from Dominica, The British Empire, attacking imperialism,
‘A Voice from the Aliens about the Anti-Alien Resolution of the Cardiff Trades Union Congress of 1893, by Jewish worker protesting at a motion by William Inskip and Charles Freak to ban immigrant workers from joining trades unions,
Henry Woodd Nevinson, ‘The Slave Trade of Today’, 1906, against the cultivation of cocoa by Angolan slaves,
The Indian nationalist Ghadar Movement’s ‘An Open letter to the People of India’, 1913,
The satirical, ‘In Praise of the Empire’ by the Irish nationalist and founder of the Independent Labour Party of Ireland, James Connolly,
B.R. Ambedkar’s ‘India on the Eve of the Crown Government’, 1915,
John Archer’s Presidential Address to the Inaugural Meeting of the African Progress Union, 1918,
Manifesto of Bhagwati Charan Vohra, a Punjabi revolutionary Indian nationalist, 1928,
Gandhi’s Quit India Speech of 1942,
C.L.R. James’ Beyond a Boundary, on cricket and his experiences growing up in Trinidad, 1963,
Peter Hain, Defence in Trial from Picketing Apartheid South African Cricket and Rugby, 1972,
Linton Kwesi Johnson, ‘Inglan Is a Bitch’, 1980,
Sinead O’Connor, ‘Black Boys on Mopeds’, 1990,
The account of his own incarceration by an anonymous Tanzanian Asylum Seeker, 2000,
Benjuamin Zephaniah, ‘What Stephen Lawrence has Taught Us’, 2001,
Roger Huddle and Lee Billingham’s Reflections on Rock against Racism and Love Music Hate Racism, 2004,
The People’s Navy Protest on the eviction of the indigenous islanders from the islands, 2008,
and Mark Steel’s ‘The Poles Might be Leaving but the Prejudice Remains’, 2009.

The section on the period 1790-1860 has the following extracts and pieces
An Account of the Seizure of Citizen Thomas Hardy, Secretary to the London Corresponding Society, 1794,
‘Rules and Resolutions of the Political Protestants’, 1818. Political Protestants was the name adopted by a number of northern working class radical organisations demanding universal suffrage.
There is a subsection devoted to the Peterloo Massacre of 1819, in which the local militia and then a detachment of Hussars attacked and broke up a peaceful meeting in Manchester of protesters campaigning for an extension of the franchise. This section has
The Letter from Mr W.R. Hay to Lord Sidmouth regarding Peterloo, 1819,
extracts from Shelley’s The Masque of Anarchy
and William Hone’s The Political House that Jack Built.

The chapter also has following pieces
William Davidson, Speech to the Court in the Cato Street Conspiracy Trial, 1820,
and Mr Crawshay Recounts the Merthyr Uprising, 1831.
This is followed by a section on Chartism, including
Henry Vincent, Chartists in Wales, 1839,
Edward Hamer, ‘The Chartist Outbreak in Llanidloes, 1839,
and Chartist Protests in Newcastle, 1839.
Charles Dickens,’The Fine Old English Gentleman: New Version’, 1841, bitterly attack Tory feudalism and massacres of radicals,
and the Bilston, South Staffordshire Chartist Rally.

The section on money and class has a piece on the rebellion of William Fitz-Osbert against the way the Anglo-Normans barons shifted their tax burden onto the poor,
George Manley’s speech from the gallows at Wicklow, where he was hanged for murder, against the murder and plunder of the rich and general such as Marlborough,
Thomas Gray’s Elegy Written in Country Churchyard,
Robert Burns’ A Man’s A Man for A’ That,
and John Grimswaw’s ‘The Handloom Weaver’s Lament’.
This is followed by a section on Luddism, which contains
John Sykes’ account of machine-breaking at Linthwaite, Yorkshire, 1812,
An Anonymous ‘Address to Cotton Weavers and Others’, 1812,
The poem ‘Hunting a Loaf’,
The poet Byron’s speech on the Frame-Work Bill in the House of Lords, and his ‘Ode to the Framers of the Frame Bill’,
The ballad, ‘The Tradesman’s Complaint’,
An extract from Carlisle’s Past and Present in which he questioned the benefits of unrestrained economic growth,
Frederick Engels, The Condition of the Working Class in England,
An extract from Marx and Engels’ The Communist Manifesto,
Henry Mayhew’s ‘Labour and the Poor’,
‘The Last Sark’ by the radical working class poet, Ellen Johnston,
Thomas Hardy’s ‘To An Unborn Pauper Child’,
The Invasion of the Ritz Hotel in 1938, by Jack Dash, a Member of the National Unemployed Workers’ Union,
George Orwell’s ‘England, Your England’,
John Lennon’s ‘Working Class Hero’,
Jimmy Reid’s Inaugural Speech as Rector of Glasgow University in 1972,
and Dick Gaughan’s ‘Call It Freedom’.

The section ‘Workers United’ contains the following

An Address to the Inhabitants of Great Britain and Ireland by the Glasgow Weavers, 1820,
Richard Oastler’s Letter to the Leeds Mercury on Slavery, denouncing the harsh conditions endured by children working in the factories and mines,
George Loveless, the Tolpuddle Martyr,
Patience Kerr’s Testimony before the Children’s Employment Commission, 1842,
Thomas Kerr’s ‘Aw’s Glad the Strike’s Duin’, 1880,
William Morris’ The Depression of Trade and Socialism: Ends and Means, 1886,
Annie Besant on White Slavery in London,
Samuel Webber’s Memories of the Matchgirl’s Strike,
Ben Tillett on the Dock Strike, 1911,
The Speech, ‘I am here as the Accuser’ by John Maclean, a Revolutionary Glaswegian Socialist tried for sedition for trying to dissuade soldiers from fighting in the First World War,
An account of the General Strike of 1926 by an Ashton Sheet Metal Worker,
Hamish Henderson’s ‘The John Maclean March’,
Frank Higgins’ ‘The Testimony of Patience Kershaw’,
An account of the Miners’ Strike by Bobby Girvan and Christine Mahoney,
And Mark Serwotka’s ‘Imagine Not Only Marching Together, but Striking Together’, of 2011 against the Coalition.

The section on Equal Rights has an extract from Oscar Wilde’s The Soul of Man under Socialism,
Emmeline Pankhursts’ Kill Me or Give Me My Freedom,
George Orwell’s ‘A Hanging’,
and a section for the voices of those involved in the Battle of Cable Street against Mosely’s Blackshirts.
This section includes the testimony of William J. Fishman, a Stepney Labour activist, the then secretary of the Communist Party, Phil Piratin, Joe Jacobs, another member of the Communist Party, also from Stepney, Julie Gershon, a Stepney resident, Mr Ginsburg, from Cable Street, and Mrs Beresford, of Lascombe’s fish and chip shop.
These are followed by an extract from Aneurin Bevan’s ‘In Place of Fear’.

The section and war and piece begins with Thomas Hoccleve’s An Appeal for Peace with France of 1412,
a Handbill from the Weavers of Royton, 1808,
John Bright’s Speech against the Crimean War,
Bertrand Russell’s Letter to the Nation, 1914,
Siegfried Sassoon’s Declaration against War, 1917,
Wilfred Owen’s ‘Disabled’,
The section answering the question, ‘How Should War be Prevented?’ from Virginia Woolf’s Three Guineas,
James Maxton’s Speech Against War,
Charlie Chaplin’s Final Speech from The Great Dictator,
Phil Piratin on the Invasion of the Savoy Hotel, 1940,
Denis Knight, The Aldermaston Anti-Nuclear March, 1958,
Hamish Henderson’s ‘Freedom Come-All-Ye’, dedicated to Scots anti-Nuclear marchers,
and Adrian Mitchell’s ‘To Whom It May Concern (Tell Me Lies about Vietnam)’, 1964.

There is also a section of voices from the women involved in the Greenham Common Peace Protest, containing testimony and memories from Kim Besly, Sarah Hipperson,Ann Pettitt, and Thalia Campbell.
This is followed by Mary Compton’s speech at the Stop the War Coalition, and Robin Cook’s resignation speech to parliament against the invasion of Iraq.

The section and gender and sexual equality begins with an anonymous sixteenth century Song on the Labour of Women,
The Petition of Divers Well-Affected Women, 1649, against the imprisonment of four of the Levellers,
An anonymous article from the Saint James Chronicle from 1790, recording the ‘Extraordinary Female Affection’ between the ‘Ladies of Llangollen, Lady Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby,
Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, 1792,
Anna Wheeler and William Thompson’s ‘Address to Women’, an extract from their pamphlet, Appeal of One Half of the Human Race, Women, against the Pretensions of the Other Half, Men, to Retain them in Political, and thence in Civil and Domestic Slavery, 1825,
A letter by an anonymous prostitute from the Times, 1858,
Josephine Butler’s An Appeal to the People of England, on the Recognition and Superintendence of Prostitution by Governments,
Edmund Kell, ‘Effects of the Acts Upon the ‘Subjected’ Women, against the humiliation endured by women through the examinations under the Contagious Diseases Act,
Oscar Wilde’s Second Trial for ‘Gross Indecency’,
Helen Gordon Liddle’s The Prisoner, an account of the force-feeding of the Suffragettes under the ‘Cat and Mouse’ Act,
Two passages from Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own,
Against the Law, by Peter Wildeblood, a journalist and TV producer arrested for conspiracy to incite acts of gross indecency,
The memories of Vicky and Janice of Lesbian Life in Brighton in the 1950s and ’60s,
Selma James and the Women’s Liberation Workshop, ‘Women against the Industrial Relations Act’, 1971,
Tom Robinson’s ‘Glad to be Gay’,
Quentin Crisp’s How to Become a Virgin,
and Ian McKellen’s Keynote Speech at the 2008 Stonewall Equality Dinner.

The section, ‘Battling the State’, has pieces and extracts from
Tariq Ali’s ‘The Street is Our Medium’, from Black Dwarf, the newspaper of the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign, with a copy of Mick Jagger’s handwritten lyrics to Street Fighting Man.
Paul Foot’s Speech on the Murder of Blair Peach, 1979,
The Clash, ‘Know Your Rights’, 1982,
Elvis Costello, ‘Shipbuilding’, against the Falkland’s War,
Pensioner Nellie discussing the Poll Tax revolt,
Jeremy Hardy, ‘How to Be Truly Free’, 1993,
‘Catching Buses’ by the Bristolian disabled rights activist, Liz Crow,
Harold Pinter’s ‘Art, Truth and Politics’, 2005,
Mark Thomas’ ‘Put People First G20 Protest of 2009,
Euan Booth’s ‘Subversively Move Tony Blair’s Memoirs to the Crime Section in Bookshops’,
The Speech on Student Protests by the fifteen-year old schoolboy, Barnaby Raine, to the Coalition of Resistance Conference.
The book ends with Zadie Smith’s piece attacking library closures in 2011.

As well as notes and a normal index, the book also has a chronological index, placing the pieces in order according to the dates they were written.

The book is indeed encyclopaedic and comprehensive in the range of its selected texts through two millennia of history. Firth is quite right when he says that much has been necessarily left out. Whole can and have been written about some of the subjects he has touched on, such as popular protest in history, the Enclosures, Chartism, the development of British Socialism, Irish, Scots and Welsh history and nationalism, Socialism in Britain, opposition to the workhouse, to name but a few. There are a number of works on gay, gender and women’s history. E.P. Thompson himself wrote a history of the English working class, which remains one of the standard texts on the subject. Labour history-writing goes further back than Thompson, however. The Fabians, Sidney and Beatrice Webb wrote two books on the country and town labourers respectively. A number of the first Labour MPs to be voted into parliament have also left their autobiographies, describing their rise from manual labourer to Member of Parliament.

The book does an important service by showing just how old some of the issues and techniques raised and used by today’s protesters actually are. Hoccleve’s appeal for peace with France shows that peace protests go right back to the Middle Ages. Indeed, in the Tenth Century the Church led a peace movement to establish God’s Truce. This was the ban on fighting by the knights and the aristocracy on certain days of the week, so that the peasants, their crops and livestock were harmed as little as possible. And some of the 19th century popular protests are surprisingly modern in flavour. I was struck in the 1980s by how similar Cobden and Bright’s peace meetings demanding an end to the Crimean War were to contemporary anti-Nuclear peace marches and protests. An earlier generation would doubtless be struck by the similarity to the anti-Vietnam protests. The various articles, pamphlets, books and letters written attacking British imperialism are a reminder that, even during the intensely patriotic Victorian age imperialism and colonial expansion were the subjects of criticism. One of Gladstone’s ministers was privately strongly anti-imperial, and wrote articles for the Liberal press denouncing imperialism. ‘A love of empire’, he wrote, ‘is the love of war’. It’s as true now as it was then.

The Anti-Saccherist League is another example of a startlingly modern Victorian protest. It was an early example of ethical consumption. It aimed to attack slavery by destroying the profits from sugar produced by slaves. Instead of buying sugar from the Caribbean, it instead promoted Indian sugar, which it believed was produced by free people. The book doesn’t mention it, but there were also feminist campaigns to end slavery. One of the petitions against slavery compiled by anti-Slavery activists, was by women, attacking the brutality experienced by enslaved women, and addressed to the Queen herself, Victoria. It was felt that she, as a woman, would have more sympathy to the sufferings of the other members of her gender in slavery than men. Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman is justly famous, and has been published in Penguin Classics. It, and the 19th century pamphlet similarly protesting women’s subordination and exploitation are a reminder that feminism did not begin with the suffragettes or was a product of ’60s radicalism.

Some of the older, more ancient texts from the book could easily be reprinted today as an indictment of modern conditions and attitudes under the Coalition. The descriptions of the government and employers’ opposition to the dock and matchgirls’ strikes sound very modern indeed, and Annie Besant’s denunciation of white slavery in London – the gruelling work performed in factories by poorly paid and exploited workers, sounds exactly like the world Cameron, Clegg and the rest of the whole foul crew would like to drag us back to.

I do, however, have problems with some of the material included in the book. It’s true that the United Kingdom was largely created through military expansion and conquest, as the Anglo-Norman barons first took Wales, and then established the English pale and suzerainty over the Gaelic clans in Ireland. They tried to conquer Scotland, but England and Scotland were only politically united after the failure of the Darien colony in the early 18th century. The history of the British control of Ireland is one of repeated misgovernment and oppression, as well as missed opportunities for reform and improvement. If some of George III’s ministers had succeeded in enfranchising Roman Catholics, so that they had at least some of the same rights as Protestants, or Gladstone, himself very much a member of the Anglican Church, had succeeded in granting ‘Home Rule all round’ to the ‘Celtic Fringe’, then some of the sectarian and political violence could possibly have been avoided. Discrimination against Roman Catholics was widespread and resulted in the Civil Rights demonstrations by Ulster Catholics in the 1960s. It also produced the Nationalist terrorist groups, who, like the Loyalist terrorists, which opposed them, have been responsible for some truly horrific atrocities, including the mass murder of civilians. I do have strong reservations of parts of the Irish folk scene, because of the way folk songs describing and denouncing historic atrocities by the British, were used by Nationalist paramilitaries to drum up hatred and support for their murderous campaigns. I am certainly not accusing any of the modern folk groups included in the book, whose lyrics denounce what they see as the continuing oppression of the Irish people, of supporting terrorism. Firth and Arnove appear to have deliberately avoided choosing the contemporary folk songs that do glamorise terrorism. Nevertheless, there is a problem in that some of the Irish folk songs about the suffering of their country and its people can be so abused. I am also definitely not impressed with Protestant, Loyalist sectarianism and its vilification of and celebration of violence against Roman Catholics.

It’s also the case that historically at least, many Protestants did support the aspirations of their Roman Catholic fellow-countrymen for freedom and emancipation. A few years ago Mapping the Town, BBC Radio 4’s urban history programme, broadcast an edition from Belfast. This noted that one of the first Roman Catholic churches built in the town in the late 18th or early 19th century was half funded by the town’s Protestants. Although there denominations were recognised and permitted by the Anglican establishment, unlike Roman Catholicism, which was rigorously prohibited, they also suffered serious legal disabilities and were prevented from holding political office. They shared the resentment their Roman Catholic friends and fellow Irishmen felt, and so sometimes, as here, made common cause with them. The book does include some of the speeches from Wolfe Tone’s United Irishmen, the 18th century militant Nationalist organisation that included both Roman Catholics and Protestants. This makes the point that the struggle for an independent Ireland has historically included Protestants as well as Roman Catholics. Nevertheless, possibly some further Irish Protestant texts supporting independence or Roman Catholic emancipation would have been useful, to show such issues can and did transcend the religious divide.

Another problem with the section on Ireland is that in Northern Ireland the majority of the inhabitants were Protestants, who wished to remain part of the United Kingdom. Indeed, the province was created through an uprising against the possibility that it would become part of Eire. While the oppression of Roman Catholics in Ulster is definitely undemocratic, it also has to be recognised that Ulster has remained part of the UK through the wishes of a majority of its people. This has been implemented through democratic politics, which is something that needs to be recognised. Unfortunately, the exclusive focus on Irish nationalism in the book obscures the fact that the province’s inclusion in the UK does have a popular democratic mandate.

A further issue is the exclusion of a modern, working class Ulster Protestant voice. Nearly a decade ago now the Independent reviewed a play by a working class Ulster Protestant playwright about the Troubles. The play was about a family reacting to the rioting occurring outside. I’ve unfortunately forgotten, who the playwright was. What I do remember was his comment that working class Protestants in Ulster were disenfranchised, as there were no organisations representing them. It’s a controversial claim, but there’s more than a little truth in it. Many of the working class political parties in Northern Ireland, such as the SDLP, are more or less Nationalist. The Unionist party, on the other hand, was formed from the merger of the Conservative and right-wing parts of the Liberal party. There has therefore been little in the way of working-class Protestant political parties, although some of the militant Protestant paramilitaries did adopt a radical Socialist agenda in the 1970s. Again, it would have been good to have a text or so examining this aspect of Northern Irish politics, though one which would not support the Protestant paramilitaries and their violence.

Equally problematic is the inclusion in the book of the voices of the womenfolk of the men imprisoned in Guatanamo Bay, collected by Victoria Brittain. Now Gitmo is indeed a human rights abuse. The prisoners there are held without trial or sentencing. The reasoning behind this is that, while they are guilty of terrorism offences, wartime conditions and the pressures of battle mean that it has been impossible to obtain the level of evidence required to secure a conviction under civilian law. If they were tried, they would be acquitted, and disappear to continue their terrorist campaigns against the US. Hence, for national security they must be detained outside the law. It’s a dangerous argument, as it sets up a precedent for the kind of ‘Nacht und Nebel’ disappearances and incarceration without trial of domestic opponents that was ruthlessly used by the Nazis on their political opponents in Germany.

This does not mean that the men held without trial in Gitmo are democrats. Far from it. Those that fought for the Taliban supported a vehemently anti-democratic regime. It was a violently repressive theocracy, which rejected ‘man-made law’ in favour of the Sharia. Under the Taliban, no forms of religious belief or unbelief were tolerated apart from Islam. Women were prevented from going out in public except when clad in the chador. As they were supposed to be silent and not draw attention to themselves when in public, they were beaten if they made a sound. This included the noises made by the artificial limbs of women, who had been mutilated by the mines and ordnance used in the fighting. There was also an active campaign against female education. This situation has been challenged by the presence of the Coalition forces in Afghanistan. Jeremy Hardy in the News Quiz derided this as ‘collateral feminism’. He has a point. The war was not fought to liberate or improve the conditions of Afghan women. This is very much a side effect. However, if the Western occupation of Afghanistan does raise their status and give them more freedom, then it will have done some good.

As for the occupation of Afghanistan itself, I’ve read material that has argued that the real reason the Western forces are there is to secure access to and appropriate the country’s oil pipelines. There’s possibly something in that. However, the immediate reason for the invasion was al-Qaeda’s attack on the US on 9/11. The destruction of the Twin Towers and parallel attacks on the Pentagon and the White House were acts of war. There is simply no two ways about this, and the West’s counter-attack and invasion of Afghanistan was an entirely appropriate response. It is therefore somewhat disingenuous to include the piece of on the suffering of the wives of the men imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay, when the men themselves were the militant, murderous supporters of an oppressive regime that itself had absolute contempt for democracy and Western notions of human rights.

If many of the texts in this volume seem surprisingly modern, the extracts on the Ladies of Llangollen can be somewhat misleading in that historically British society has recognised a number of intense same-sex relationships, that were not at the time regarded as homosexual, or which included a homosexual element that was nevertheless seen in context as part of a wider relationship. There has been a book published within the last year or so on the homosocial relationship between medieval knights, which examined the all-male camaraderie and loyalty between them. The chivalrous concept of campiognage, which was the extreme friendship and loyalty between two knights, could be described in homosexual terms, even when one knight was helping his comrade in arms to escape with his lady love. In the 19th century there was the ‘romantic friendship’. This was a devoted friendship between two members of the same sex. These now can strike us as definitely gay, but at the time these were not seen as being necessarily homosexual or particularly extraordinary. Cardinal Newman’s request to be buried next to another priest, with whom he shared a profound friendship, was almost certainly such a Victorian romantic friendship, rather than a straightforward gay relationship. Although the ladies of Llangollen described themselves as having eloped, they always maintained that they devoted themselves to artistic and intellectual pursuits. They were celebrated at the time for their devotion to each other, and visitors to their home included many of the 19th century’s great and good, including the Duke of Wellington. It seems to me therefore that there relationship was seen as another romantic friendship, rather than a lesbian relationship.

It is also the case that the Victorians were aware of the existence of lesbianism. The story that when they were formulating the laws against homosexuality, Queen Victoria and her ministers did not outlaw female homosexuality because they didn’t believe it existed is a myth. They knew that it did. They just didn’t see it as a particular threat. The historian Martin Pugh makes this point in his book, British Fascism between the Wars. He argues that lesbianism was only perceived as a threat to British society after the First World War, when there was a ‘crisis of masculinity’. It was widely believed that the cream of British manhood had all been carried off by the War, and that only inferior men had been left behind. This created the atmosphere of sexual panic in which arose Pemberton Billing and his notorious black book. Billing was an extreme Right-wing Tory MP, who believed that the Germans were blackmailing British homosexuals into betraying their country. He claimed to have a little book containing the names of 50,000 ‘devotees of Sodom and Lesbia’, and regularly attacked other public figures with accusations that they were gay. At least one of his victims sued for libel, but the trial was called off when Billing accused the presiding judge of being another gay, whose name was in his book. I’m no legal expert, but it has struck me that the judge would have grounds for jailing him for contempt. Moral fears and legislation against gay women arguably date from this period, rather than the Victorian age.

These reservations aside, this is a powerful, inspiring book, that should encourage and empower anyone with an interest in radical history and who is determined to defend freedom and dignity today from the increasing attacks on it by the Coalition, the most reactionary regime this country has endured since the election of Mrs Thatcher in 1979.