Guest blog from Plane Stupid
A major threat to political protests of all kinds is currently being consulted on by the government and hardly anyone knows anything about it.
Under new proposals to cut legal aid further, criminal legal aid will become pretty much non-existent. What the proposals mean is that criminal suspects will lose their rights to choose or dismiss a solicitor, and the number of accredited legal aid firms will drop from 1,600 to less than 400 – raising the inevitable outcome of hundreds of small high street firms being replaced by huge contractors like G4S and Eddie Stobart.
The government have labelled this process by the memorable name of 'competitive tendering'. In other words, privatisation by offering contracts to whoever can offer the cheapest rate, ie G4S and co. You would be better off representing yourself then being represented by G4S!
Nearly every lawyer in the country, except those working for companies such as G4S, have come out strongly against the proposals including The Law Society and The Criminal Bar Association. However, most people aren't taking any notice. The lawyers need supporting otherwise by the end of the year the make up and possibility for protests in this country will be seriously undermined.
Alfie Meadows, beaten up by the Police at a student protest would not have been acquitted without criminal legal aid. For Plane Stupid - many of us would probably be in jail by now without proper legal representation.
On Wednesday a demonstration will take place outside Parliament at Old Palace Yard from 10.30am. We urge you to go down there and make your voice heard.
To keep up to date with all the developments and resistance to the plans please visit: http://www.defendtherighttoprotest.org/
My Visit to Iain Duncan Smith's Country Mansion by Dom Aversano
On Saturday 13th April I joined UK Uncut and DPAC (Disabled People Against Cuts) in a visit to Iain Duncan Smith's country mansion.
I met a member of UK Uncut the morning of their planned action. "This is the target," he said passing me what he had just written "IDS Country Mansion". It was the destination that I had hoped for.
A few escalator and tube rides later I found myself on a train to Milton Keynes newly joined by DPAC.
I sat at a table opposite a blind man who was being interviewed by a video journalist. He complained about disabled people being referred to as vulnerable, arguing that since they were doing more than anyone else to fight the cuts, they were the strongest members of society. His words echoed through my mind for the rest of the day.
At Milton Keynes we waited for three taxis to take us the last part of the journey. Half of the group, who were previously unaware of the 'target', had it disclosed to them, which was then followed by a quick briefing on the planned action. Minutes later there was a gentle scolding, as more than one person had reflexively tweeted, risking the secrecy of the action.
The three taxis arrived.
On the journey I spoke to a woman who was having her benefits cut. She had been abused physically and sexually as a child; in her own words she had been "tortured". Now half way through a second degree, she described trying to make up for a lost youth, whilst struggling with regular hospitalisations, as previously repressed traumatic memories paralysed her mentally and physically. Despite the horror she had been through she was one of the most inspiring and uplifting people I have ever met.
We left the taxis and made our way to Iain Duncan Smith's residence. There was no sign that they knew we were coming since the gate to the driveway was open. Until then I was unaware that the plan involved entering private property; I spoke to the legal team about the implications, but their answers were difficult to unravel; it seemed like a legal blur.
Ordinarily this would be a step too far for me, but considering this was the house of the standard bearer for a movement currently driving people to suicide, stressing the sick to get sicker, and evicting poor people and the disabled from their homes, I thought it justified, but agreed to myself to go no further than the driveway following the footsteps of a normal visitor.
The long white gate was swiftly opened and we walked and wheeled up the gravel pathway. It appeared he was not home, but there was no real way to tell, since there were several acres and countless rooms to comfortably hide in. The entire grounds had an almost palatial feeling, perhaps amplified by being set in a picturesque slice of the countryside.
The two hours that followed involved putting up an eviction notice on the house, getting the message out into mainstream and non-mainstream media, and the usual speeches and rituals of a protest. We discussed the subtleties of welfare policy, the merits and downsides of the various petition websites, and the management and organisation of large scale actions.
I shared time with some of the most informed and experienced veterans of direct action, people set on making tangible changes to society, and challenging the collective psychological framework through which we perceive the world. As I stood in the driveway of a seemingly vacant mansion, the bodies around me began to shiver in the cooling air and newly falling drizzle. There was a gentle breeze of hope. The atmosphere was positive, friendly, and constructive, the movement had a sense of confidence.
So what drove us to such action?
For me it would be cases like that of Stephen Hill who died from a heart attack 39 days after being declared 'fit for work' (for the second time, the first having being successfully appealed against) by Atos Healthcare. His son said "I've lost my best friend, (the) person I could talk to."
Or 29 year old Colin Traynor, who was told he was fit to work but appealed against the decision. He died from an epileptic attack. Five weeks later his family learned the appeal verdict had been successful. His father said: "I firmly believe - 100% believe - that the system this government introduced has killed my son".
It is currently impossible to know the precise number of people whose deaths may be linked to welfare policies of this government, since there has been no formal enquiry. So we must demand for an enquiry into the deaths related to welfare, asking that they be counted and investigated.
With a few noble backbenchers excluded, Labour has acted with consistent cowardice in the face these welfare assaults, as if they were challenging the Liberal Democrats to a contest in unprincipledness. In the currently hostile atmosphere, born of a calculated souring in the attitude to welfare recipients, few institutional allies can be found, either political or charity, which helps to explains the prolific emergence of direct action groups, and the large number of internet protesters and dissenters, both of whom have chosen to act outside of the traditional forms of representation.
There are, however, exceptions that should be celebrated:
The British Medical Association voted unanimously that Atos's Work Capability Assessment "... should end with immediate effect and be replaced with a rigorous and safe system that does not cause avoidable harm to some of the weakest and most vulnerable in society".
Amnesty International UK has also recently stepped in, treating the welfare cuts as a human rights abuse. At its AGM on 14 April a resolution was passed saying "This AGM calls for urgent action to halt the abrogation of the human rights of sick and disabled people by the ruling Coalition government and its associated corporate contractors". It described the cuts as "(a) regressive & lethal assault on our rights".
But while valued and respected as allies, they do not yet comprise a large enough coalition to halt the government's policies, and this is why direct action is playing such a powerful role, and why UK Uncut and DPAC decided to take the matter, quite literally, to the doorstep of power.
The day came to an end, the drizzle had turned to rain, and it was time to leave. The police had come shortly after we had arrived and a mutually agreed departure time had been set. Perhaps it is my imagination, but as the cuts have gone deeper, the police have seemed more sympathetic, after all, they are suffering too.
Once back at the Milton Keynes Station I ran down the stairs and hopped onto my train, and in doing so completed a series of seemingly simple actions that would be the envy of many of my companions that day. I reflected on the words of the man on the train that morning, he was right, the vulnerable were being the strongest, for without any pretence they had risen to defend the hard won rights that our ancestors gifted us.
Despite the physical and mental barriers that many had to go through, they were surmounted them with strength and grace, and were doing more to protect the comfortable than the comfortable were doing to protect them.
That day had created an unsettling juxtaposition: the most disenfranchised and honourable people in society, taking the fight to the airy and vacuous house of a pious plutocrat, who repeatedly, and incredibly, refuses to engage with the people his policies affect.
In the years since the banking crash there has been endless talk about our economic crisis. Growth in economics, as in nature, cannot be limitless if it is to be sustainable. Our current resources if carefully and generously carved up are, for now, plentiful enough to go around. However beneath the economic crisis lurks a larger one, less often articulated: a moral crisis.
While much broader than this current government, their particular response to the recent economic problems highlights this perfectly: at the slightest hint of lessening materiality, the rich man's hand grasps at the poor woman's purse.
The situation is desperate, but reversible. It requires the comfortable to join hands with those who are vulnerable, if for nothing else, since if they do not, they will be next.
Follow Dom Aversano on Twitter: www.twitter.com/domaversano
Dom started a now famous petition calling on Iain Duncan Smith to live on £53 a week which gathered almost 500,000 signatures
Back in late 2010, UK Uncut began with a discussion between friends in a pub. Someone had brought a copy of that week’s Private Eye. Buried in the back of the satirical magazine was a short article about a deal that HMRC had recently made with Vodafone, settling an ongoing tax dispute. Although the rest of the media had ignored the complex deal, Private Eye had realized the significance: at the same time as the government was announcing unprecedented cuts to public services, they were letting Vodafone off paying a £6bn tax bill. It was an article that got us angry, inspired the first UK Uncut action and sparked a movement that eventually pushed tax avoidance by rich corporations and individuals to the top of the political agenda.
That initial article was written by investigative journalist Richard Brooks, who this week published his first book The Great Tax Robbery, a scathing attack on this government’s collusion with high level tax avoidance by the super wealthy. Brooks is better placed than anyone to expose the dodgy dealings at the top of HMRC – because he used to work there. A former tax inspector, Brooks personally knew Dave Hartnett (architect of the cosy deals with big companies) and understands from first hand experience the often torturously complicated wheezes that the super wealthy come up with to hide their money.
Tax is complicated and most journalists are too lazy to crunch numbers. Richard Brooks is different: he’s painstakingly followed the money to discover the dodgy deals HMRC are cutting with big businesses. He’s also savvy enough not to be fooled by George Osborne’s recent rhetoric about clamping down on tax avoidance. He understands that it’s a sleight of hand – as Osborne pretends to be getting tough on the tax dodgers, he’s actually making it much easier for his friends in industry to stash their fortunes offshore.
The Great Tax Robbery is a must-read expose of the grubby underbelly of the UK tax avoidance industry. It’s a world in which corporate barristers advertise offshore scams, where corporate CEOs devise entire business plans around tax dodging, where high level collusion between government and tax dodgers results in ‘business-friendly’ laws that cost the country billions. It’s a complicated subject but, as you’d expect from a Private Eye journalist, Brooks is never dull to read. He writes with pace and conviction, a wry sense of humour and a sharp eye for the dark absurdity of the tax avoiders’ desperate tricks.
The book is also a trenchant defense of taxation as a tool for ensuring a just society. Brooks begins his book with a quotation from Oliver Wendall Homes: “I like paying taxes. With them I buy civilization.” And Brooks is clear to outline just what a fantastic bargain this deal is: “For every pound I earn I will pay around 7 pence for immediate access to professional healthcare for my family, 5 pence for my children’s education, 2 pence for living in relative security and 11 pence for pensions and social security for my compatriots.” Brooks shows that tax represents a cheaper and more efficient way to provide basic services than any private system ever devised. “If it were a club,” he writes, “only a fool would not join.”
But the super wealthy are enjoying the benefits of the club without paying their membership fee. These spongers include not only rich individuals like Philip Green, Lord Rothermere (owner of the Daily Mail) and virtually every Premiership footballer, but also countless corporations that make money in our economy: Apple, Starbucks, Vodafone, Cadbury, Google, Boots, Nike, Barclays and too many others to name.
In an age of phone-hacking and tabloid celebrity obsession, Brooks' tireless work to expose some of the most scandalous corruption of our age is a beacon for what good investigative journalism can look like. It’s fair to say that without Brooks there would have been no UK Uncut and the secrets of the tax avoiders, and the government’s collusion with their mucky schemes, would have remained firmly in the shadows. The Great Tax Robbery is a call to arms for a tax system where we all pay our fair share: a reminder of what we’re fighting for, and who the enemy is.