Sunday, September 30, 2012

Poshboys, Plebs and the Police

Last week I passed on the opportunity to blog about Andrew Mitchell's outburst of snob tourettes mistakenly believing that the story wouldn't last all that long. Roll on a week and the bloody thing still hasn't gone away. Instead it's started to resemble a Jeffrey Archer novel: a frankly ridiculous storyline populated by a series of detestable characters that hasn't reached a conclusion nearly quickly enough. Still, since it rumbles on, it gives me a chance to put in my two pennies worth. Hurrah!

Let's re-cap quickly for anyone not paying attention. Andrew Mitchell, Tory MP and Chief Whip, attempted to leave Downing Street on a bicycle before being told by a copper that he was not allowed to use the main entrance, and should instead use the side gate. Such provocation prompted Mitchell, a former UN peacekeeper, to lose his rag and launch a foul mouthed tirade against this uppity oik, and you get the impression that the affronted Tory was on the verge of giving the officer a Basil Fawlty-style damn good thrashing.

The police account of the event ended up on the front page of The Sun, which claimed Mitchell had called the officer a pleb. Mitchell himself denies that he said 'pleb' but admits to be abusive. I must confess that there was a brief moment when I thought Mitchell might actually be telling the truth. As a Liverpool fan I immediately become sceptical any time I see the police report an incident and The Sun regurgitate it assuring us that it is an accurate version of events ("a.k.a. The Truth").

The trouble for Mitchell is that the idea of a member of Cameron's Bullingdon Club Cabinet having nothing but contempt for us poor people is eminently plausible. The police officer at the centre of the saga alledges Mitchell told him:
"Best you learn your fucking place... you don't run this fucking government. You're all fucking plebs."
There can't be a trade union member in the country who doesn't think that the Tories talk about us in these terms every single day. It is afterall the subtext to every Coalition cut and piece of legislation. Three hundred years ago we were the swinish multitude, today we're still plebs. How far we've come.

But it is the context rather than the specifics that are most interesting. The past few months have seen the police come under increased scrutiny and continued vilification - and with good cause. The corruption and brutality of the force, long apparent but so often deniable, has played out centre stage, most notably with the high profile inquests into the deaths of Mark Duggan and Ian Tomlinson, and the release of the independent report into the Hillsborough tragedy. A central plank of ruling class ideology - the rule of law and the use of the police to enforce it - has come under sustained attack.

The events of the last two weeks, however, have enabled the attack dogs of the status quo to go on the counter offensive. Almost as soon as the news of two female police officers being killed in Manchester hit the headlines we had Norman Tebbit calling for the re-introduction of the death penalty, while an assortment of Conservative backbench non-entities made noises about arming the police. Crticisms of the force are being sidelined in the mainstream at a time when so much evidence points to its political nature and institutional dishonesty and violence. Andrew Mitchell calling a pig a pleb may have been a moment of embarrassment for Cameron, but it has helped to create a flurry of uncritical and unthinking media commentary favourable to the police. It has played its own small part in ensuring that the questions being asked of the old bill are framed purely in terms of how much respect we have for them. As such Mitchell's rant has proved as much a gift as a gaffe for the establishment.

For anyone in Portsmouth who might be interested: I'll be speaking on "Hillsborough, the police and the Tories" at Southsea Community Centre, Wednesday 3rd October, 8pm.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

John Terry - The Guilty Verdict

Guest post: Back in July Richie Moran - anti-racist activist and ex-professional footballer - wrote a piece for Inside Left assessing the levels of racism in the beautiful game following John Terry's acquittal from charges of racially abusing Anton Ferdinand.
This week the Football Association found the Chelsea captain guilty of the same charge, banning him for four games and fining him £220,000. Before the verdict was revealed Terry called time on his England career. In this guest post Richie returns to put the case and its result into perspective.

As ever with football related matters, the breathtaking arrogance of many of those involved leaves me almost apoplectic with rage. Luckily as ever the simplicity with which most of the arguments can be shot down with just a few seconds thought gives me some sustenance.
The simple fact. John Terry was guilty of aiming a disgusting racist remark at Anton Ferdinand. I predicted before the case that he would be found not guilty. Before writing an article on the matter I read Judge Riddles summing up. He fully accepted that Terry called Ferdinand a "fucking black cunt", but that it could not be proven that it was meant in a derogatory or insulting manner.As someone who has heard similar terms far too many times in my 49 years, I was not aware that there were any other ways to say it! As I stated in the article, having heard one of the players in my sons Under 15 side called a "dirty nigger" by an opposition member last season, Riddle has merely given carte blanche for anyone to now get away with such language.I would go so far to say that Riddles conclusion perhaps speaks volumes for his (and the white establishments) views on race!!!

So Teflon John was judged not guilty in a court of law. So what. Policeman Simon Harwood was (again wholly predictably) found not guilty of the manslaughter of Ian Tomlinson, despite a coroners verdict of unlawful killing. Some years ago I gave a speech at New Scotland Yard where in front of the top policemen in London, I read out a list of black men who had died in police custody. I then read an adjoining list of those who had found to be unlawfully killed by a coroner, yet no policeman had ever been charged with murder or manslaughter.The Birmingham Six, Guildford Four, Cardiff Three and so many more, all found guilty in a court of law, but subsequently found to be innocent. There are innumerable members of the Commons and Lords who in the last couple of years have been guilty of fraud, deception and perjury (the Prime Minister had to repay 10k in 'expenses'), yet how many of them such as the odious Peter Viggers even had to face trial?

From articles I have written, research I have done and conversations I have had, there are many men walking the streets of this country who have committed rape. Alternatively there are still many innocent people serving time in prison. So is it entirely inconceivable that a racist can be found not guilty of using the aforementioned term?

Again the FA are quite happy to have as the national team manager a man who quite happily took the money of one of history's most racist regimes and has form for dismissing anti-semitic slurs, claimed by Eyal Berkovic, when he was manager at Blackburn. Likewise was the Under 21's manager, not once found to have racially abused Paul Ince? As I have stated before the fact that these and the likes of Ashley Cole and the Chelsea and Liverpool players who defended Terry and Suarez (and the English transcript of what he actually said to Evra is far worse than the sanitised so called cultural misunderstanding) were pictured at Auschwitz and Oskar Schindlers factory during Euro 2012 makes me sick to my stomach.
Just in case people don't get any of this and especially for Mr. Cole. When you and Ashley Young missed penalties in Euro 2012, most of the tweets I read did not refer to you being unable to hit the target from 12 yards did they? Furthermore when Jon Obi Mikel's mistake led to a Juventus equaliser in the Champions League the fact that he may not be a Xavi or Iniesta was not the premier concern.

It was obvious again for football to retain the minuscule shred of credibility that it still has that Terry would be found guilty (I sincerely hope that Ferdinand brings a civil case against him) and also equally predictable that his ban would be shorter than that of Suarez and only one game longer than the tackle by Jonjo Shelvey, whose momentum carried him into Johnny Evans, who went in two footed in last weekend's Liverpool v Manchester United fixture. I'm sure that the non-racist multi-millionaire will be extremely troubled by the 200k fine!

It would be nice for once if some of the leading black players and commentators such as Garth Crooks (surely the most sycophantic man in history) actually spoke out and condemned Terry. John Barnes comments about Terry being an unconscious racist (although it's a nice thought) are, again, wholly predictable and having shared a speakers platform with him as risible as one might expect.

All of you, stop repeating the mantra that it is time to move on and draw a line under such events.It is 2012 and indeed we should have moved on, but someone tell me how we can when a man who is supposed to as a (former of course) captain of your national side and therefore someone who one might reasonably expect to be some sort of role model is arrogant enough to insist he has done nothing wrong, backed up by not only his black team mates (who are suitably bereft of shame) and a moronic racist element of his club and country supporters.

I will be at the opening of a Black History Month event on Monday and will be getting together with people to try and take some sort of action against those who perpetrate, condone and support the continuation of racism and racist behaviour.
The beautiful game (like the appropriate acronym FA), is as much an oxymoron as honour killing or American intelligence.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Summer Of Sport I Missed

Like a tabloid pull-out supplement at the start of a new Premiership season, I’m back! Bigger, better and with smaller words than ever before! But, sports fans, before normal service is resumed it’s time to break out the world’s tiniest violin. As sure as egotism goes hand-in-hand with insecurity, so my story of heartache, misery and woe rivals anything Kevin Pieterson has had to endure over the past few months. All sorts of personal trials and tribulations have been behind my blogging hiatus: homelessness, a relationship breakup, no TV, no internet! It’s been a summer to forget for Inside Left, which is a shame because it’s been the most extraordinary summer of sport.

The break has of course meant that I’ve written nowt about the Olympics. It’s a silence interpreted by some – such as those cheeky, contrarian monkeys over at Spiked - as a mea culpa in the face of the “Greatest Games Ever™”. (And, FYI, if your radicalism sounds a little like a Seb Coe press release, then, really, you ain’t that radical.) So it’s time to put that right. Let’s start with a look at the sport itself. Since I saw almost sod all of the Games I’ll restrict myself to a few words on the one sport I did manage to catch a glimpse of – the athletics.

When Michael Johnson, the former Olympic champion turned BBC pundit, concluded that we had witnessed the greatest ever athletic meet, I couldn’t help but agree, even if the quality of the track far outweighed that of the field. Usain Bolt was spectacularly and unsurprisingly glorious. David Rudisha produced the most complete middle-distance race ever witnessed. Mo Farah completed a historic long-distance double (“typical, bloody asylum seekers, coming over here, winning ‘our’ gold medals, becoming national heroes…”).  In the women’s events Caster Semenya upset the form book to claim a wonderful silver medal behind Mariya Savinova in the 800m and in the process prompted Colin Jackson into an unexpected but most welcome insight. Semenya, hounded by the press and the athletics establishment, has contended with slights, insinuation and intrusion since her magical run in the 2009 World Championships. (Dave Zirin talks a lot of sense about Semenya in this interview.) Jackson, sartorially elegant but not known as a sports psychologist, suggested that Semenya had been capable of winning the race but on a subconscious level would rather finish second so as to avoid the media spotlight. It was a genuinely intelligent reading in television coverage that amounted to little more jingoism, pun making and track side reporter Phil Jones constantly asking athletes: “What did you think of this crowd?!”

But my problem with the Olympics was never the sport in and of itself. I could hardly blog about sport if I were not a sports fan. What irks me is the way sports are packaged, the accoutrements they inevitably bring. The price of the Games is still an appalling waste during a recession. I still find the nationalism and the corporate sponsorship distasteful. The myth of legacy – jobs, economic growth and regeneration – remains a series of untruths and hyperbole.

In fact the people who have emerged with the greatest Olympic legacies – athletes aside – have been Seb Coe and Boris Johnson. Coe, as I previously predicted, is heading for the IOC, while Johnson, who attached himself like a limpet to the Games, is now seriously considered as a challenger to David Cameron’s leadership of the Tories. Perhaps Boris and Dave could square off in a battle to the death in a new sport: Toff Fight! Now there’s a pay-per-view I’d happily shell out for… Otherwise the legacy is looking a little shaky.

It was only a week into the Olympics before Larry Elliot could write of how “expectations of a major boost to [economic] growth are rapidly being downgraded”. It seems that these fears have been borne out in the past few days as figures show that retail sales took a dip during the Games. Although the true impact - both the costs and benefits - of staging the Olympics will only become apparent in the years to come, there remains significant doubt as to quite how much London 2012 has affected such things as the long term unemployment figures. As Richard Anderson, the BBC’s business producer, reminds us: “Most economists agree major sporting events rarely bring lasting financial reward. The government will have its work cut out to buck the trend.” Still, we can always be thankful that, according to Lloyds Bank, we accrued £165 worth of happiness thanks to the Games!

And, of course, the inquest is beginning into the shambolic security operation of the firm G4S. They now top a ‘black-list’ of companies who even the government won’t trust to run public services. With G4S redefining the phrase ‘fit for purpose’, thousands of troops were drafted in to supplement the private security force – and everyone agreed that the armed forces were incredibly friendly and helpful. No shit, Sherlock. Who would have guessed that a bunch of people whose job it is normally to kill and be shot at would be happy and smiley whilst on a two week jolly working tourist information? Besides, some of their time was spent filling in for the corporate schmucks who happily took free tickets for the Games but failed to show up. It turns out that empty seats are as embarrassing for Olympic boosters as they are unappealing for the TV cameras.

Still they all claimed that the London 2012 security operation had been a success. This is true if you ignore the fact that there was never really the threat of a terrorist attack – no matter how much organisers and politicians may otherwise have hinted. It was a little like putting extra locks on your front door and then claiming that this was the reason Mark Thatcher hadn’t organised a coup d’état in your living room. The government flitted between constructing false syllogisms and mealy-mouthed hypocrisy. A cross-party consensus soon emerged urging that children be encouraged to take up sport. Yet in less time than it takes Boris Johnson to complete a zip-wire descent, news was leaked that Michael Gove, MP for child-catching, was caught selling off even more playing fields.

The opening and closing ceremonies were lauded as exemplary celebrations of the Olympic ideal, fusing national pride and razzamatazz. This wasn’t really a surprise though, since combined they cost in the region of half a billion quid. What did people expect? An hour of stand up from Russ Abbott followed by Tony Blackburn picking his favourite songs from Spotify? Far more interesting to note was the reaction of those Tories driven to a state of apoplexy by Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony. Aidan Bailey took time out from attending Nazi-themed fancy dress stag-do’s to denounce the show as “leftie multi-cultural crap”.

Even I let loose a chuckle as Eric Idle fell out of a cannon during the closing ceremony, before he urged us to look on the bright side of life. In weirdly portentous fashion the former Python hinted at the post-Olympic comedown and return to austerity-ridden normality we were in for, reminding us that “life’s a piece of shit, when you look at it”. It was a sentiment that may well have chimed with those people volunteering at the Games. Channel 4 news ran interviews with the volunteers, all of whom spoke of the joyous experience of the past weeks, the friends they had made and the memories they would carry with them. Yet there was genuine anguish in the words of one volunteer who said, “I really don’t know what I will do now.” And there, my friends, is the rub.

In keeping with previous Olympiads the Games did indeed win over many of the doubters, and provided that ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ buzz of excitement for millions. Endless anecdotal (although clichéd) accounts say that people found themselves happily chatting with strangers on tubes and buses about the event, rather than avoiding eye-contact at all cost, or, at a push, making small talk about the weather. It seems that London 2012 did invoke feelings of companionship and togetherness amongst many people.

This was to be expected – and it’s exactly the point that I argued in my piece on the Olympics for the Irish Marxist Review and elsewhere on this blog. In a world of pain and powerlessness the Olympics (and their purported values) can feel like an oasis of humanity. For a month, the Games and the ensuing Paralympics hinted at a world where people were drawn together rather than divided. But that feeling of solidarity is transitory, ephemeral, and ultimately undermined by the national constructs that contest the medal table. To acknowledge this in no way delegitimises the critique of the Olympics developed by academics and activists alike. Similar to the day after a fantastic party we’re left with a hangover of Olympic proportions, forced to return to the real world of cutbacks and uncertainty, all the time staring into our wallets and wondering where all the money has gone.

Does it have to be this way? Imagine a world where those feelings of shared enjoyment and experience were not fleeting but rather permanent. What if human solidarity was life’s raison d'être rather than merely the by-product of a quadrennial corporate love-in? What if we could have sport but without the hype, the commercialism, and the nationalism? In short, what if we could have sport but not capitalism?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Justice For The 96

Finally we have truth. Soon, I hope, we will have justice. In April 1989 a tragedy claimed the lives of 96 football fans. An incompetent police force, under the direction of uncaring and idiotic superiors, combined with football’s refusal to take seriously the genuine (but costly) safety needs of fans. The result was that so many supporters were allowed into the Hillsborough stadium during the FA Cup semi-final match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest that 96 people would die, crushed between their fellow fans and the cages that held them. In the aftermath the police asserted their innocence, politicians wrung their hands, and the media vilified working class people.

For more than twenty years the families of those who died have fought a remarkable fight to clear the names of the dead, football fans and the people of Liverpool.  Today, with the publication of a report of an independent review into the events of that day, David Cameron issued a profound apology. I doubt the PM gives a toss about football fans or working class people, so the unequivocal nature of his statement suggests that the police are absolutely banged to rights.

The aftermath of the tragedy saw the police launch a campaign to blame the victims. It wasn’t their fault, they claimed, but that of the dirty Scousers who had beaten them into submission. The report says otherwise. Not only were the police at fault, but they had doctored 164 witness statements to absolve themselves of guilt. They went on to remove 116 criticisms of police action from the same testimonies. So began a massive cover-up, the likes of which we have never seen before. At least not one that the police have ever been forced to eventually acknowledge.

Just as with the deaths of Mark Duggan and Ian Tomlinson, the role of the coroner in the Hillsborough case was key.  Every single person who died on that tragic day, adult or child, had a blood sample taken. The purpose was to determine drunkenness in the dead – and thereby protect the culpable police force from criticism or blame. They failed. Subsequently, every faceless fatality was subjected (illegally?) to a background check as the pigs looked for criminal records that would excuse their murderous mistakes.

The search for scientific evidence merely helped to legitimise the pursuit of a witch-hunt. After a decade or more of ‘hooliganism’ – and the media were quick to remember the deaths of Italian fans at the 1986 European Cup final between Liverpool and Juventus – it was both a sensationalist and easy piece of copy to write. Nobody in the establishment cared that working class football fans had died. Surely it must be their own fault?

At the time the then editor of The Sun, Kelvin MacKenzie, wrote an infamous headline: The Truth. It was claimed that Liverpool fans themselves were responsible for the deaths that day. Furthermore it asserted that they then fought the emergency services, pickpocketed the dead, and urinated over the deceased. It was all bullshit; every single word a lie. After Cameron made his apology, Mackenzie issued his own. It was, as campaigner Trevor Hicks said, “Too little, too late.”  Hicks’ temperance is extraordinary given that he himself lost two daughters on that fateful day. I myself am not bound by such respectfulness as bereavement brings. McKenzie, like the paper he used to edit, is pure scum.

Today’s report represents the closest approximation of the truth in more than two decades. Why only the closest approximation and not the whole truth? Well… I have not yet had chance to read the whole report but it seems that little judgement is made of a possible conspiracy between the coroner’s office and the police force. It seems likely that this will become one focus amongst many of any potential future prosecution. Equally, I for one remain sceptical that no government has played a part in conspiring to cover up the available evidence. I have heard it said that initial reports into the Hillsborough disaster landed in the office of Margaret Thatcher, where a personal secretary commented that the police accounts had been “defensive bordering on deceitful”. This was, they said, a familiar story. Can we really believe that successive governments knew nothing of the truth? Or is it more like that they hoped the campaign for justice would simply go away?

To the incredible credit of the families of those who died the campaign refused to disappear. Instead it pestered, probed and persevered. Thanks to their amazing fortitude, battling lies and calumnies and poverty, they brought the state to an unlikely admission of guilt. The 140,000 signatures of an online petition calling for an independent inquiry and the full disclosure of unseen documents also played a part. It was a heart breaking and inspiring example of how pressure from below can triumph against the forces of the state. Finally we have a detailed report that exonerates the victims of Hillsborough and blames those with genuine responsibility. It dispels the dirty lies of the media filth and shamed coppers. Today has seen us arrive at truth, after twenty-three long, painful years of campaigning. Tomorrow we see the campaign for justice begin.