Saturday 30 May 2015

From Baltimore to Waco: folk-devils and paranoid cops

A couple of weeks ago there was the 'biker shoot out' at Waco Texas. Predictably stories of the shootings that left nine dead and 170 arrested were accompanied in the media by regurgitated 'layman's guides' to the workings of outlaw MC's. The implication was that the events has just scratched the surface, and that hordes of lawless and nihilistic folk-devils were lurking not far beneath. 

Now that the dust has settled a different story is starting to emerge: The biker meeting at the Twin Peaks diner was not some pre-arranged stand-off lifted from the script of a B-movie, but a regional meeting of the Coalition of Clubs - a riders' rights organisation the like of which we have in this country. Eyewitnesses say that most of the shots fired came not from bikers but from the police. Video footage mostly shows unarmed bikers diving for cover once shooting from a distance starts. One of those killed has since revealed to have been not an outlaw but a member of of a veterans' club who was  decorated with a Purple Heart in Vietnam. In fact many of the 170 arrested are not 1%-ers,  but members of what in the states are called mom-and-pop clubs -  or MCCs over here in the UK - with no criminal records. 

It's an all too-familiar picture of an overly-empowered police force with a culture of gung-ho machismo fuelled by a paranoid fear of 'the other. And it's worth remembering at this point that the  Waco bikers were largely blue-collar whites - or in other words the same demographic as most of the redneck law-enforcement. Throw in a large dose of not-so latent racism too, and as we have seen in Fergusson, Baltimore and in fact all over the US in the past year, there is something very rotten in the state of America. 

Saturday 9 May 2015

Eight elections - don't moan organise

I can't believe that I have now lived through EIGHT general elections. 

1983 - the Falklands election and the first time I voted. I still have my copy of the much derided 'suicide note' manifesto. Thirty years on it seems like a pretty decent programme

1987 - and Kinnock had already started the rot in Labour with his notorious conference speech attacking Liverpool Council. I was fully immersed in Johnny Bryan's election campaign in Bermondsey. Ironically the constituency covered Labour HQ at Walworth Road,  and so whilst we were campaigning against Thatcher, the party appratchiks were  pre-occuied snooping on us.

1992, having seen off the poll tax and got kicked out of Labour in the process,  I was  riding up to Coventry most weekends to help out there with Dave Nellist's 'Real Labour' campaign. Somehow Kinnock managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory

1997 - and  everyone was getting excited with a landslide for 'New' Labour, but I was left out in the cold. Even so,  whilst Blair repelled me,  seeing the humiliation of the Tories gave me a brief frisson of pleasure .  I got briefly excited about the possibility of a new formation called 'Socialist Labour' but was this was then swiftly dispelled when  Scargill's ego strangled the new party at birth. '

2001- and a new formation had emerged  - The Socialist Alliance. But by the time of the  election, sectarian squabbling had ensured that this had imploded. Even so, with no alternative in my own area, I ended up voting for them - actually the first time that I had voted anything other than Labour.

2005  - by then even my dad who had joined the Labour Party in 1946 after hearing Nye  Bevan, had  resigned in protest over the Iraq war. Locally, I had no choice but to hold my nose and vote for Respect despite the stench of their opportunist cozy-ing up to religious 'mentalists. 

2010 - and the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition TUSC was off to a fragile stuttering start. It was a great campaign in my area and we genuinely managed to transcend the sectarian nonsense that had always cursed the Left. In Tottenham Labour voters stayed at home, and elsewhere many simply didn't see the difference between Tories and Labour, and so chose the former because they had the good fortune not to have presided over the banking crisis and an unpopular war 

2015 - again a very healthy local TUSC campaign was a breath of fresh air in a depressing atmosphere of austerity-acceptance. In this part of London,  despite a totally invisible local campaign, Labour bucked the trend and significantly increased its vote. Elsewhere ... well again the Turkeys have voted for Christmas and even more have chosen to stay indoors and hope it all goes away.

Monday 4 May 2015

The many ages of Russell Brand

When a  lot of people thought that Russell Brand was a twat I was inclined to stick up for him. He may have been  overly-pleased with his own smart-arsery and indulged this egotistically with a painfully self-conscious verbosity,  but I still had a soft spot for him. 

Perhaps because as a teacher, I am used to clever and precocious sixth formers who want to show off that they have swallowed a dictionary, and are using it to pass off ideas that have been bleeding obvious to everyone else for many years. As if they were rare insights that they alone have just discovered. And when you're 17 or 18, that's ok. In fact it can be quite sweet. 

But of course if you're a grown man with a minor celebrity status which allows you to  market the bleeding obvious as some sort of original revolutionary manifesto,  it's rather less sweet. However, despite the fact that he is actually only 10years younger than me, I regarded  Russell as some sort of hyper-active man-child, so  I was still willing to indulge him. 

But  in his latest about-face call for a Labour vote it seems that Russell has now moved on from being the precocious sixth former to the rather nauseating trusti-farian brat who having spent a summer working at daddy's firm and been taken to lunch with the grown ups, has now decided that he must change the system from the inside.