Monthly Archives: November 2016

Say No to the Poppy

poppychild

The annual poppy stramash shows no signs of abating. My own position has been expressed perhaps less clearly (yes, really) than I’d have liked. Given that, for me, the poppy is about much more than some would have us believe, I’m taking the opportunity to address some of the many objections fired my way, recently. So, without further ado, buckle up…

“You insult our brave forces who have consistently fought for freedom”

I am genuinely incensed at the general view that soldiers – at least ‘our boys’ not those nasty foreign ones – somehow represent freedom, democracy and decency. They absolutely don’t.

WW1 was an imperial bloodbath. An orgy of death regarding markets and territory.  Whole generations of working-class conscripts fired out of trenches like so much human confetti. It was futile and every dead soldier was a wasted life. Their deaths meant nothing, achieved nothing and changed nothing. How heart-breakingly dreadful is that?

Sometimes, like WW2, they find themselves on the side of moral virtue. But that’s an accident of history. Soldiers are first, last and always there to protect, defend and consolidate the state and the establishment’s privilege and power.

Soldiers chasing down striking miners in Tonypandy, tanks rolling into George Square in Glasgow or bludgeoning trade unionists during the General Strike, to give just three examples, show exactly where our standing army ends up when freedom really does become an issue. They’ll turn on their own at the twitch of an officer’s eyebrow because that’s their job. And let’s not bother discussing the Six Counties, Aden, Cyprus or any of the former Colonies who actually did dare to fight for freedom. Their own. Free from British subjugation. We all know how they were treated…

As for Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria, only the cerebrally challenged would seriously posit that these grubby ‘interventions’ were even within touching distance of freedom or democracy.

Instead, every (comparative) freedom we enjoy today, women having the vote, political protest, joining a trade union and much, much more, were all won by working class men and women facing down the army. In reality, soldiers’ default setting is to be the enemy of freedom; at home and abroad.

“They’re just doing their job and you don’t get to pick and choose which orders you obey”

Conscription ended in the UK in 1960. Thereafter, anyone who died while killing Irish civilians in Derry, teenage Argentinean conscripts in the South Atlantic or Iraqi wedding guests in Basra did so as a result of a free and conscious choice. I will not be bullied or emotionally blackmailed into supporting such people or mourning their passing. And if you really want to talk about insulting the dead, you expect me to draw equivalence between the terrified, conscripted kids butchered in the Somme; the heroic men and women of WW2 who fought fascism and really did defend Britain and today’s squaddies ?Who choose, consciously and deliberately, to join up, invade other peoples’ countries and kill Arabs on behalf of the Brit state? Now that’s insulting.

“You lefty scum don’t know anything. The poppy is remembrance for the people not the politics.”

I wouldn’t piss on one if it was on fire. It isn’t about solely remembrance or respect anymore. Or have you folks, somehow, failed to notice the fetishisation of the military, over recent years? The attempts to cultivate and then co-opt the hideous mawkishness surrounding ‘our boys’? The poppy cult is a powerful plank in the establishment’s propaganda arsenal and like so much of their class offensive, is about the here and now and the future; not the past.

Linking the revolting slaughter of millions of wasted, pointless deaths during WW1 to the UK’s post-imperial adventures today –  in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria – is an attempt to confer legitimacy on the latter. It’s disgusting, frankly. Cynical and inhumane.

It’s about as subtle as a punch in the face. It’s screamingly apparent that it’s a thinly-veiled disguise to justify and glorify war. Fostered by the establishment who stand to profit from the lives squandered by those who have to fight them.

We continue to glorify and sentimentalise imperial slaughter so yet more young men and women will be willing to get their legs blown off. Along with lots of brown people, of course. Who I added as an afterthought to keep this piece in line with Brit liberal values.

I want to see an end to this sick and grotesque cult of soldier worship, of which the poppy is now a central plank. It’s macabre, dangerous and hideous.

They tell you the poppy isn’t celebrating war. That it’s just a symbol of family, friends and comrades remembering those who did not come home. Try being a TV presenter and not wearing one, then. The poor bastards get virtually lynched. Try being James McLean.

No, the poppy, these days, is a kind of patriot litmus-test. A barometer of how staunchly one stands behind the troops. I mean, don’t take my word for it; the British Legion are telling you! Christ, how much clearer does that image need to be? An official British Legion PR photo with a child holding a giant poppy while wearing a t-shirt that reads ‘future soldier.’

Grotesque.
Immoral.
Obscene.

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Orgreave: “The fact is that it was a set-up and it worked brilliantly.”

otjcThe Tories can whitewash and cover up with all the energy they can muster but the fight goes on. Please support the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign http://otjc.org.uk/

Here’s an excerpt from my book Look Back in Anger; the Miners’ Strike in Nottingham, published by Five Leaves 2014.

In a dispute filled with violence, the final showdown at Orgreave produced the most appalling scenes thus far. Even thirty years later, the footage has the power to shock. Pickets in trainers and t-shirts, some entirely shirtless on that beautiful summer’s day, were mercilessly battered by police officers in full riot-gear, flailing away indiscriminately with truncheons, while mounted officers charged fleeing bands of men, desperate to escape. On the miners’ side, barricades were erected and bricks and stones were hurled into the mêlée. A car from a nearby scrap-yard was dragged into the middle of the road and set alight and police pursued the miners into the nearby village, through gardens and houses, hammering down all they caught.

The numbers were formidable. Accounts vary but around 8000 pickets to 9,000 police is a generally accepted figure. The police deployed around sixty mounted officers, sixty attack-dogs and several thousand officers with short-shield riot-gear and the remainder sporting long-shield issue.

There remains little doubt that the violence meted out to the miners was pre-planned, deliberate and sanctioned at the highest level of the South Yorkshire force. Miners, en route to the plant, were amazed to see signs directing them to convenient car parks, smiling officers helpfully pointing the way and guiding them in with no attempts whatsoever to dissuade or turn back the thousands of pickets who had heeded Scargill’s call. Such behaviour stood in contrast to the manner in which all police forces had handled flying pickets up to that point.

For the Nottinghamshire miners, their experiences confirmed suspicions that ‘The Battle of Orgreave’ was a set-up orchestrated by the police. Years later, in a 1993 interview, Thatcher’s adviser and strike fixer David Hart would confirm  that view: “The coke was of no interest whatsoever. We didn’t need it. It was a set-up by us on a battle ground of our choosing .  The fact is that it was a set-up and it worked brilliantly.”

The fall-out from Orgreave was considerable although it would be many years before its full truth was revealed. TV viewers were treated to scenes of mobs of violent thugs hurling bricks and stones before embattled mounted police moved in to disperse the offenders. Only it wasn’t like that at all. As Red Pepper reported, nearly thirty years after the event, “When broadcasting footage of Orgreave, the BBC, incredibly, transposed the sequence of events, making it appear that police cavalry charges had been a defensive response to antagonism by stone-throwing pickets rather than an act of aggression. Only in 1991 did the BBC issue an apology for this, claiming that its action footage had been “inadvertently reversed.” The publicly-funded, ‘neutral’ state broadcaster had reversed footage which, in its original form, showed cowering pickets with nowhere to run, desperately fending off charging police with whatever they had to hand. Given the pre-digital era of 1984, with physical tape being used for filming, which required conscious human cutting, splicing and chopping for editing purposes, one can view the BBC’s claims of the footage being “inadvertently reversed” with a degree of contempt.

The South Yorkshire Police didn’t stop at merely bludgeoning defenceless men, either. Ninety five pickets were arrested and charged with a number of offences. The most serious being charges of rioting and affray which carried sentences of upwards of ten years. In 1987 the trials soon collapsed in a welter of conflicting police evidence, fabricated statements and embarrassing inconsistencies. Although described by renowned QC, Michael Mansfield, as “the biggest frame-up ever,” no officers were ever investigated or charged. This was despite South Yorkshire Police being forced to hand over nearly half-a-million pounds in compensation to thirty nine of the arrested pickets and incurring costs of over £100,000.

In light of the Hillsborough cover-up, it’s possible that an independent enquiry into Orgreave might yet bring further humiliation to a force that was institutionally corrupt. The Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign, Justice for Mineworkers and other organisations continue to press the case.