Tomlinson-Ryan Trust? An Open Letter to Louis Tomlinson and John Ryan

Dear John/Direction of the “Tomlinson Ryan Trust,”

As a lifelong Doncaster Rovers supporter, it’s an unspoken, unwritten rule that when you are about to express any opinion about the club’s ownership, you must add the caveat that you are forever grateful for the way John Ryan bought and revolutionised Doncaster Rovers back in 1998 and saved it from all its troubles I briefly touched upon in my documentary Escape from Doncatraz.

428204_277417518997041_100001863851835_655193_690828094_nPhew. Now that’s over with, let’s talk about real things that are happening these days.

Obviously, looking back at those dark days again – and remembering a crook who tried to profit from our club to the extent of hiring a mob to burn down what was left of our old stadium – it’s easy to understand why the supporters themselves formed the Viking Supporters Cooperative from the ashes of the whole miserable episode.

Last season, you, John, decided to resign as Chairman of Doncaster Rovers right before the kick-off of our local derby over at Barnsley – which might have been good for maximum impact of publicity, if not at all helpful for team morale, but resign you did, frustrated over the refusal of co-owners Dick Watson and philanthropist Terry Bramall to agree with your accepted takeover over from the mysterious consortium known as Sequentia Capital, known only through Kevin Phelan, who, in 2000, happened to have been banned for eight years from ever being a company director.

What followed were bitter statements from you, often via your daughter’s Facebook page, taking shots at the Viking Supporters Cooperative itself for daring to question the judgement of the great John Ryan himself when he wanted to sell to Sequentia Capital. The fair-weather fans who infrequently attended games and had less knowledge of goings-on, much less critical thought, meanwhile, protested, and – as Bramall and Watson kept the club ticking over albeit below mid-table – carried banners with the words “Bramall Watson the Table” (get it?) then phoned BBC Radio Sheffield to claim the banner was snatched from them by security who also threw out the rebels including one man in a wheelchair. Listeners were shocked and appalled, and the anti-owners sentiment was boosted. There was just one problem:

None of that actually happened.1403262428604

At a Meet the Owners event I attended, chief executive Gavin Baldwin explained that the banner – which was paraded along the front of the stand – had to be removed, like all others that are held there, because it was obstructive and violated long-standing policy, while the fans – including the one in a wheelchair – who were supposedly kicked out had in fact already exited of the stadium before trying to get back in when the doors were closed. That’s like saying I’ve been kicked out of North America even though I haven’t even renewed my passport and can’t travel anywhere.

The owners told us that all of this was propaganda from someone designed to increase opposition to their remaining in control of the club. And I’m sure, John, you had nothing to do with that, just like you had nothing to do with the stories appearing in the press claiming the club was so very close to going into administration, with the small print adding that this could happen if you were to demand immediate full repayment of loans you’d given to the club over the years. Of course, because you care about the club, you were never actually going to make such a request and plunge the club into administration, right?

A divisive atmosphere polluted some games I attended with my dad, who’s been a supporter since 1947. At one game, the giant oversized Doncaster Rovers shirt that youngsters pull across the field before kick-off prompted one fan to wittily ask, “Who’s going to wear that one?!” to which my dad quipped, “Not John Ryan – it wouldn’t fit over his f***ing head!” Sorry, John. But if it makes you feel any better, our refusal to worship you kept us in the minority there.

At least for a little while.

Sequentia Capital faded away, as did the calls for you to return at the expense of Bramall and Watson, who reiterated that they would happily sell but only to parties who had the best interests of the club and the town at heart. Bless ‘em. Manager Paul Dickov stood right by them, and Gavin Baldwin.2962414739

I’ll be the first to admit the inexperienced manager Paul Dickov wasn’t my first choice as successor to Brian Flynn after Dean Saunders stupidly and greedily jumped to Wolverhampton Wanderers while he was worth more, only to then relegate them as well rather than seeing through the successful return to the Championship for Doncaster Rovers – making Deano, instead, now a manager with nothing more than two successive relegations on his record.

But Paul Dickov was appointed, and I got behind him, and I wanted him to succeed and prove wrong any doubts I had. He did, I think. But last summer the questions about Sequentia Capital made for a tumultuous pre-season preparation for him, and no doubt that didn’t help our chances in a Championship where we were, yet again, bookmakers’ odds-on favourites for certain relegation (we were actually relegated on nothing more than goal difference, as you know).

direction23n-4-webSo this summer, John, you came back on the scene – with all the media-courting public relations savvy we’ve come to know you for, and instead of the anonymous Sequentia Capital, this time you came with someone millions of people knew: Doncaster’s own Louis Tomlinson, from the pop group One Direction. At a posh location in London, you declared your intentions to buy out Bramall and Watson and take back control of the club along with the 1D star, and just happened to also announce the newly-formed Tomlinson-Ryan Trust, which would utilise a crowdfunding project to raise the profile of Doncaster Rovers, while raising extra bonus money, too. When asked, you clarified that the takeover was not dependent on the crowdfunding reaching its target of £2,000,000.

This week, days before the Football League were to examine your takeover bid for approval, the crowdfunding campaign’s all-or-nothing target failed to be met, so not a penny was successfully raised despite pledges to the tune of three-quarters of a million pounds. Today, I learnt that the Football League rejected your takeover bid, and the Tomlinson-Ryan Trust issued a statement that this was due to the failed crowdfunding campaign meaning there were fewer funds to complete the takeover.BswuVlfCEAE7Qbs

You then went on BBC Radio Sheffield and said that a rogue element inside the Tomlinson-Ryan Trust had actually issued that statement, which was, you told us, unauthorised and incorrect. Instead, you claimed the Football League wanted evidence you had £5,000,000 to spare on Doncaster Rovers, you showed them evidence of assets worth £5,000,000, and they rejected you because of a vendetta, a conspiracy, and a fondness for convicted criminals and oligarchs rather than the old guard of local businessmen who cared about their town’s team.

So, John, I guess we’re wrong to wonder why the crowdfunding campaign was set up in the first place if you already had all the funds needed, and certainly wrong to suggest that you wooed Louis because it would cost him little more than his image in order to raise funds through his One Direction fan base of millions of enthusiastic youngsters. It’s just all a conspiracy against the great saviour of Doncaster Rovers himself.

You even made a point of using your radio airtime to attack the “keyboard warriors” – you know, the ones who go on the forum of the Viking Supporters Cooperative you so resent for ushering in your era, printing huge banners referring to you as the man who revolutionised our club, and yet daring to insist on asking questions about groups like Sequentia Capital because they never, ever want their beloved club to be owned by another scoundrel like the one who tried to burn their club to the ground.

Well now you say you’re done with it all, because you’ve been mistreated and maligned, and it’s the second summer in a row that Paul Dickov has been in limbo. Would it really be his fault if we ended up in another relegation battle? You’d reassured him that he could get verbal agreements with top players this summer because they’d, after all, be signed with “the second-biggest budget in League One” come July 18th. Now what does he tell these players? And what about the more affordable ones? They’ve surely already been snapped up while our manager was waiting. So this whole mess has ruined yet another pre-season preparation for him – and for us – and you’re gone again. “Done,” apparently.

But I don’t want this to be one of those “Dear John” letters. I still have something to say to Louis.

_72485468_018835988-1Louis, if you ever intended to put any of your millions into a “pub team” from your hometown, by all means, do it anyway. Terry Bramall and Dick Watson – as even John Ryan has been forced to concede – are good guys, and would welcome the investment. And if you don’t want to part with any money, and you do another crowdfunding campaign ever again, let it keep whatever little it makes, and for goodness sake, please let it go to the Viking Supporters Cooperative – because the more membership subscriptions and funds that it has, the greater its shares in Doncaster Rovers. And at this rate, surely true fan ownership is the best hope we have, because if I’m truly “Rovers Till I Die” and we all agree that “In Rovers We Trust,” we’re prepared to trust ourselves with the thing we care so much about. And I have a feeling we’re not about to let each other down now.

Yours,

Jay Baker, “keyboard warrior.”

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How He-Man Got Me Into Feminism

When I was in kindergarten, I was very rarely found playing cops and robbers or war games. Instead – my mother today confirms – I was with my female friend at the time putting baby dolls into prams. Other mothers asked her if she was at all concerned about my behaviour. “Why would I be?” she replied. “If anything, he’s learning about the responsibilities of parenthood!”

I credit my mother with giving me a good start in life, despite the fact my arrival into our family marked the first time she’d quit working – she had held down multiple jobs while raising my brother and sister and my father was kept busy adhering to his expected role as manual labourer, working shifts as long as twelve hours. Of course, my mother’s ‘shift’ was always twice as long.

d31563dadd516dc224ee86135d724f1bDespite the impact of popular culture taking over our family living room – He-Man being one of my favourite mindless cartoons as a child – the difficulties didn’t end with kindergarten. When He-Man’s twin sister She-Ra was given her own spin-off television series, perhaps oblivious to the fact He-Man was ‘for boys’ and She-Ra was ‘for girls,’ I simply followed She-Ra over on to her own show that, at least for the mid-1980′s, was a refreshing departure from the plethora of programmes featuring muscle men rescuing damsels in distress, a theme even my nine year-old brain found tedious.

But that wasn’t the real problem. No, the trouble began when I not only watched He-Man as well as She-Ra too, but also bought all the toys. And I mean all of them.

mOMoar70CkrXjcNKxkSwJjwSo there I was, walking into school one day carrying what I thought was my fabulous She-Ra action figure, complete with weapons and, admittedly, a hair comb. “Ha, he’s brought a girl’s doll in to class!” shouted the other boys, mockingly. In my oblivious naïvety, I simply showed them the action figure more closely in order to demonstrate how much fun it was, especially when the other figurine – She-Ra’s ‘special friend,’ Bow, a moustachioed man whom she rescued on more than one occasion – was brought out to enact scenes from the series. Suffice to say, I was informed that I should take my ‘doll’ and go comb its long golden locks (although admittedly a little less politely than I paraphrase here).

This may or may not have contributed to my mother’s decision to pull me from school entirely and teach me at home herself. Some people may think that’s when matters got worse for me, but I happen to think it’s when things got much better. My working class heroine – far better than She-Ra ever was, and the polar opposite to our female Prime Minister at the time who was actually attacking women’s rights – my mother fought with local authorities to win her right to teach me herself, in her own way, and suffice to say it spared me the influence of high school macho culture that I have been fortunate enough to only ever experience via anecdotes from those I speak to who experienced it themselves first-hand. It sounds horrific.

My awareness and corresponding activism only grew stronger with my mother’s influence – my first-ever political demonstration was as a teenager marching through Sheffield in opposition to its university’s animal testing activities. My mother and I were already vegetarians then. Today, we are both vegans.

So many issues intertwine and overlap, and while Malcolm X in his younger, angrier years reportedly responded to a young white woman asking how she could help him by simply telling her she couldn’t possibly, he later realised that plenty of enlightened Caucasians stood beside him and those like him in marching for civil rights. And as someone who was born in Northern England with no great expectations of being anything other than a ‘White, Anglo-Saxon Protestant Male,’ instead I have fought for many causes, one of them being for women to be afforded the same opportunities – rights and responsibilities – as men.

Yes, despite the allegations of my poor ignorant school classmates, I am a man, and yet I happen to think that doesn’t make me any better – at anything in particular, or at all – than a woman. And in the spirit of that young woman who unsuccessfully offered her hand of help to Malcolm X and his cause, I’ll be there offering mine to the cause of feminism any time. As I’ve explained to many male friends over the years, it’s better for all of us in the long run. If I ever have a son, may he take his own ‘doll’ into class, along with all the others.

Originally written for The Scavenger.

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Some Warm Comfort in Rip-Off Britain

POLITICS-Energy-104808_355-6252114I’ve talked about the Conservative-induced culture of self-loathing in Great Britain today. And part of that is the widespread view across the British population that ordinary people are being “ripped off” by large corporations – specifically the energy companies.

As part of my role managing non-profit company SilenceBreaker Media, I’ve worked a lot in my birthplace of Doncaster, and lately, specifically Edlington, an area once home to coal mining, which was of course wiped out in Margaret Thatcher’s attack on unionised industry. Edlington’s since declined, ranking high on the indices of deprivation and hitting national news headlines only for criminal incidents. What SilenceBreaker Media have tried to do is tackle digital exclusion, as a lack of internet access is more prominent in disadvantaged areas, who thus have less access to information and no voice of their own to counter the negative perceptions that in turn breed negative activity.

Beyond the interest in internet activity, there’s also the whole wider issue of telecommunications companies monopolising the market as part of “Rip-Off Britain” – one of the great tragic ironies of Thatcher’s privatisation agenda that was supposed to offer “freedom of choice.” If the internet is supposed to be a human right, why is it costing a bloody bomb?

But the energy companies really take the cake. Edlington’s own Labour MP, Caroline Flint, has long crusaded against the rising energy prices hurting ordinary, decent people like her constituents, already struggling as it is. Of course, the Tories conveniently ignored Thatcher’s work and instead blamed even this on Labour, like they do everything else (the global economic crisis, unemployment, bad weather, venereal disease…)

Having been a customer of Utility Warehouse – the new kid on the block that offers the provision of phone, internet, gas and electricity all on one monthly bill – I was impressed by their price promise that Utility Warehouse would cost less than other providers – and if they were proved wrong, they’d pay me double the difference.

As Utility Warehouse save money by relying on individual, entrepreneurial “distributors” rather than mass advertising, a lot of people were unaware of this provider, and I decided to sign up as a distributor myself just to be backed up with all the facts, stats, and information to convince them how good a deal it is (and I’m still a customer myself).

Meanwhile, after leading on the challenge to Rupert Murdoch’s News International, Labour leader Ed Miliband struck a chord with the British population when he vowed that a Labour government would forcibly freeze energy prices for around a couple of years when they came to power. With Labour’s popularity increasing, the Tories had to do something, and do something fast; drastic, even.

“When an offer sounds too good to be true it usually is,” they scoffed, as they entered Damage Control mode and quickly announced a cutback on the green levies on the massive profit-making energy companies so that these “savings” could apparently be passed on to the consumer…even though the consumers in the most deprived areas would lose out on the energy-efficiency measures, thus pay more. “Too good to be true”? They’d know about that, I guess.

You can sign up or find out more about the Utility Warehouse through my own personal distributor page – or ask me about it.

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I Hate Myself, & I Hate You Too

http://earthstation1.simplenet.com

Great Britain, eh? What a country.

They used to say the sun never set on the British Empire, so vast and wide did our violent oppressive imperialist power influence reach around the world.

In fairness – though we didn’t invent it (the Greeks take credit for that) – we did export modern democracy to the four corners of the globe, and after the Second World War that saw communities pull together, we dealt with the rebuilding process through setting people to work – with a welfare safety net for those who weren’t able to find work, and even universal health care for the sick. Incredible.

Yet when, a few years ago, I first came back to the UK after living overseas, a man on Sheffield’s Supertram saw my suitcase, asked me about my circumstances, and then posed the question: “Why would you want to come back to Britain? It’s shit.”

So what happened?

Today, under the most right-wing government we’ve had since the above-mentioned war, we have an economically frail country with a culture full of self-loathing and cynicism. Britain really doesn’t feel so “Great” any more. It seems we’re a sad little island with nothing going for us, only appealing to people desperate and devious enough to come here for what they can get out of it. What Ed Miliband called “A miserable, pessimistic view.”

You only have to skim the daily newspapers to see it: welfare claimants are lazy scroungers, immigrants come here to exploit and drain our services, there’s no money left in the country’s coffers, and things are only going to get worse, so bloody get used to it…

Job Centres – originally set up so that those unfortunate enough to not have a job can have enough cash to get by – are now almost entirely staffed by bouncers at the entrances, stopping just short of frisking us for weapons because, insanely, over a quarter of us are only there to rob and scam the state for a whopping fifty or sixty quid a week while the nation’s treasury is skint.

Muslims – apparently once part of our nation’s rich diversity and ethos of religious freedom – are now one of the epic threats of our time, with the Islamification of our culture, to the point where mosques are being built in every town, on nearly every street, white women are being veiled, and you can’t even give someone a good old-fashioned colonialist insult like “Paki” anymore; it’s going the way of “Chinky” down in the history books.

Immigrants – once the backbone of our country during wartime – are such a big deal that they dominate the news, both in print and on television, the media’s own polls reflecting the concerns of their audience, because these immigrants pick on us, to walk in and easily access our strained welfare state and healthcare services, driving our country to the brink of economic collapse.

The Conservative government even recently decided to actually push propaganda in lands as far away as Romania and Bulgaria showing what a shit-hole Britain now is, so as to discourage their citizens from ever wanting to come here. To add insult to injury, many of these foreigners suggested we were flattering ourselves even by doing that, because not many of them actually had any desire to visit in the first place. Ouch.

What a crappy little island, eh? No money left! No jobs going! People getting money for nothing, and a better life for those foreigners when we’ve worked so hard here for so long! Poor us!

But don’t kill yourself just yet. Wait a moment! Please! Just give me a minute here.

Let’s try and imagine a different kind of Britain…

Imagine a Britain where literally billions of pounds have gone unclaimed in welfare benefits, just sat there in the state bank account.

Let’s fantasise about a Britain where even though there are millions of people without a job, the mass majority of these desperately want their lives to be fulfilled and valued in work where they can have a good home and enjoy travelling to other countries to see how piss-poor those places are when compared to the UK.

Maybe we can dream of a Britain where, while Christianity remains the dominant faith, our multicultural society promotes religious freedom, and other religions such as Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism all account for around 8% of the population…combined.

Or how about thinking of Britain as a country of rich history, democracy, diplomacy, decency – a good, wealthy western country full of good people where hardly any of us would even contemplate anything other than handing a quid each to a hundred hungry people if we had to get rid of £100.

Just imagine a truly Great Britain.

The strange thing is, this alternate reality is the reality.

Britain is signed up to Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, so stands for religious freedom; the welfare system is very rarely ever abused; billions of pounds of benefits go unclaimed due to ignorance or fear of stigma. Yes, what we think is the myth is real, and what we think is real is the myth, because Margaret Thatcher’s Britain has successfully become a country where doormen stand at the entrances of job centres, the Hitler-loving BNP, mosque-burning EDL, and the xenophobic UKIP have us believing in the threat of “outsiders,” and we’re told to swallow our pride as we’re forced-fed the Credit Crunch™ breakfast cereal to start our day of daily lies in our daily lives.

All this while all that private debt the bankers racked up to the tune of a trillion is now made our public burden, and – with that excuse – the richness of public services can be cut off and sold off to private interests for profits, as the state is shrunken so that we can be a country run by brokers and suits, rather than an industrial nation – a nation supposed to be the envy of the world, a nation proud to be a beacon of human rights and democracy, and a nation full of good intentions, seeing the best in others, and welcoming diversity, having fought a war to end fascism.

But this is now David Cameron’s Britain.

I don’t hate myself. And I don’t hate you, either. Of course I don’t. But David Cameron does.

David Cameron hates you, the same way he hates this country, and everything that made it great. And in order for him to keep doing what he’s doing, he needs you to hate yourself, too. Feel bad, save yourself, watch your back, and hate yourself, hate your neighbours, hate welfare claimants, hate immigrants, hate Muslims. Just don’t hate him or his cabinet, whatever you do. At all costs, you must hate yourself and absolutely everyone and everything else.

Just don’t hate them, because they’ve got a job to finish – rolling back human rights, eroding workers’ rights; dividing and conquering, while selling off the state to their privileged pals. Keep living the dream, and it’ll become instead a self-fulfilling prophecy.

A miserable, pessimistic view indeed.

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What Happened to My Town?

JaySchool

Yep, that’s me. A kid in Doncaster, once home to The Good Woman pub on St Sepulchre Gate, where railway worker Thomas R Steels drafted up the proposal to the Trades Union Congress for the formation of a political party to represent the labour workforce: the Labour Party. The rest is history.

By the time I was growing up there just under a century later, things had already gone into reverse: a key railway town that shifted coal from its mining pits full of unionised workers to all parts of Britain, Doncaster had been a key battleground in Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s attack on workers’ rights – and the villages around me had the bloodstains on the streets to show for it, since Thatcher utilised her Ridley Plan that required mobile squadrons of police to abuse and even flout the law and use brute force against miners trying to protect their livelihoods and the communities fuelled by them.

Thatcher’s dream was one of right-wing neoliberal disaster capitalism: Selling off huge portions of the state through privatisation of steel, shipbuilding, aerospace, telecommunications, gas – taking key operation and ownership from the public into private profit-making interests.

This dream included buying whatever ideology the United States were selling. The rampant individualism and ideology of “survival of the fittest” – Social Darwinism – was packaged and sold to us all as opportunity to make it, regardless of anyone else.

Having dropped out of university, travelled, gained real world media experience in disadvantaged communities, and lived in another post-industrial town – Kitchener, Ontario, Canada – I returned to Doncaster in 2009 to find my town had changed quite a bit: the unionised industries were long gone, of course; women overtaking men in subregional employment yet in short-term, part-time, low-paid, unstable, non-unionised jobs in the service sector, a Frenchgate Centre shopping mall expanded and incorporating the transport interchange, full of American multinational chains. But there was something else: ultra right-wing Peter Davies of the “English Democrats” had, indeed, been democratically elected as Mayor of Doncaster, capitalising on voter disenchantment after the worst series of scandals in the history of local government.

I’d looked at Doncaster with my last documentary, Escape from Doncatraz, which took me to Doncaster, briefly, to document Doncaster Prison (nicknamed “Doncatraz”) – oh yes, the prisons had been sold off and privatised as well.

Now is the time for a Return to Doncatraz. Because the vested interests weren’t sated with all of the above: they wanted more, and they made sure the Conservatives – who enjoy half of all their proceeds from the banking sector that triggered the recent economic crisis – got into power to claim “there’s no money left” as simply an excuse to sell off what was left: £1bn of our cherished and proud National Health Service has already been privatised, and everything else that can be sold off to their mates, will be…if they can get away with it.

Now comes the challenge of financing a film no one in power wants to be seen, much less made at all.

Strangely, I was recently refused funding from the banks. It didn’t help that when I founded SilenceBreaker Media at the School for Social Entrepreneurs that was courting banker types for corporate sponsorship, I actually took shots at them in my graduation speech after they had, before me, admitted “corporates too often think communities need things doing to them”:

The video doesn’t do justice to the level of awkwardness in the room. But what the heck.

One thing that can’t be broken in Doncaster is the spirit of the people – the same people who recently ousted Peter Davies as Mayor, and who donate their hard earned cash they’re strapped for just because they feel their voices aren’t heard.

I want to tell my story and make this film as though it’ll be my last. From my childhood growing up in Doncaster, my upbringing, the destruction of communities my family held dear, to the (51st) state of the country we find ourselves in today. Let’s get to the bottom of it, before we’re all driven there by this government.

The film will premiere in early 2015, and proceeds from cinema screenings will then help take it around disadvantaged areas and marginals where we can actually stop the nasty, cynical, miserable Tories getting in.

If you’d like to support Return to Doncatraz, you can visit the official website here, and donate or just spread the word here.

Because we need alternative media, and different narratives to the ones Sky, ITV and even the BBC have long since stopped resisting; they’re perpetuating the same myths while people are being thrown off welfare and millionaires are seeing their bank balances balloon.

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Left Out of View: Why a Labour Leader Can’t Spout Left-wing Rhetoric

Many of us are familiar with the viewpoint that Britain’s postwar era really arrived at its tragic conclusion with Thatcherism: gone was the postwar consensus, as citizenship was replaced by consumerism, a commercialised media opened up for Rupert Murdoch’s dominance.

With that, of course, came New Labour: Neil Kinnock kept enough distance from Arthur Scargill and the National Union of Mineworkers that the backbone of Britain’s unions was broken, setting the stage for Tony Blair to instead woo Rupert Murdoch himself, his tabloid “news”paper The Sun switching its seemingly acceptable biased support to Blair’s New Labour project, seeing him elected.

As a working class guy from a Labour family, I raged against New Labour; believing it was betraying its core values of standing up for the working class mass majority and protecting them from greedy corporate interests, I protested outside Labour Party conferences, marched for miles in opposition to the illegal invasion of Iraq, and even made a full feature-length low-budget documentary about Blair’s Britain, here shown as a surveillance state in enclosed borders, keeping a population trapped and afraid:

Of course, aside from the sexy stories of closed-circuit television cameras, identity cards, and illegal oil wars, there were the bread-and-butter issues, as a pro-Europe Labour Party oversaw an influx of European funding poured into disadvantaged communities, in addition to introducing Sure Start centres, Working Tax Credits, the Minimum Wage, and built brand-new schools, albeit no doubt with about as much enthusiasm from High Chancellor Blair as he had when bringing in the Human Rights Act. The difference was the Labour Party base: radical, grassroots workers who stood firm in the party to pin it to its founding principles in the face of vested interests.

So, when the little good Labour did became genuinely under threat from the Conservatives in a 2010 election under the usual primitive pro wrestling-style no holds barred rules known as First Past the Post, I swallowed my pride and vowed to hold on to the few things we’d gained by casting a red vote to protect the most vulnerable in British society as best I could in this faux democracy – such a faux democracy that Tory leader David Cameron went into 10 Downing Street with only 36% of the vote from a turnout of 65%, and, with help from the Liberal Democrats, set about putting together the most right-wing government in British postwar history.

When Ed Miliband, MP for my hometown of Doncaster, emerged as a Labour leadership candidate following the resignation of Gordon Brown (who had inherited an absolute mess of affairs from a Tony Blair who had long since overstayed his welcome), I made the half-serious joke that I’d become a Labour campaigner if he were to be successful in his attempt. Of course, he did win, and the right-wing press quickly mobilised to portray his victory as one rigged by “union barons” – simply because a proportion of the leadership ballot included unionised workers, here supposedly having had guns put to their heads by these mysterious, ominous, omnipotent Union Barons™.

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I’ve since written at length about how Ed Miliband has been often abandoned by the progressive left in and around the party, leaving him alone to face the Blairites pounding on his door, and I even maintain a sub-blog called What Ed Said, since the right-wing press dismiss most of his arguments that make any sense, and the public miss any of his populist statements that would otherwise make an impact.

But for those of us who have seen A Very British Coup, about the fictional Benn-esque MP for Sheffield Central, Harry Perkins, we know how this system works: no Labour leader today can go to the press and stand up for Union Barons™, or demand softer immigration laws, or even defend welfare claimants: in this system, with an undemocratic media, controlled by an increasing amount of elite interests, it would be career suicide (you only have to look at this recent depressing news story to see the overwhelming majority of the British public favouring crackdowns on immigrants and lone parents, all while the banks fail to pay back the £1.6 trillion we gifted them to keep them in business.)

This is what a Labour leader – and any politician – is up against.

Without access to an alternative media – by the people, of the people, for the people – the vast majority will happily sleepwalk away from the founding values of Labour. The cleverly concocted hysteria over Union Barons™ now brings the Labour Party to a point where the post-Thatcher consensus suspicious of “all too powerful” unions has them looking at cutting union funding for a party actually called Labour – while 50% of Conservative Party funding comes from the City of London: Banker Bonus Central. And the press don’t mention a word of it.

That bigot you recently argued with in your local pub may well represent the greater ignorance of his town. And who could blame them? When people are being hammered over the head, every hour of every day, on TV news and non-news narratives, it’s even a miracle they’re not all burning down mosques while calling for closed borders and the closure of the entire welfare state. Where are the facts? Where are people repeatedly told that the banks are laughing all the way home, debt is being transferred from private hands into public hands, and wealth is being carried from the public sector into the private sector? Where are people being told that immigration is a non-issue, and that housing and workplace rights are the true issues of the day? Where are people being told that the NHS has faced strain due to outsourced services that takes their taxes over into the pockets of shareholders, as their government opens it up to greater privatisation? And where are people being told that their country is still one of the wealthiest in the world, with the wealth going to an ever-increasing number of millionaires and billionaires bankrolling the Conservative Party? Let’s admit it: they’re not being told a bloody thing.

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So, don’t expect a Labour leader with a marginalised group of progressives in his party to start spouting left-wing rhetoric. Why? Well, the arguments that are as yet unpopular would be counter-productive. Heck, even the arguments that are popular with the people but unpopular with the Media Barons would provoke a massive push of propaganda from the right-wing press to spread fear about, say, renationalising the railways with “money the country doesn’t have” (to tap into another very popular misconception there).

It makes no sense, and it won’t increase votes. Not yet. Not until we’ve successfully fought for and won an alternative media network of grassroots-based, not-for-profit initiatives. Until then, we’ll have to accept that even the red leader will speak shit from time to time and avoid the right-wing wrath of the Media Barons you never hear much about unless Red Ed’s attacking them. And if it works to get the reds in, after bringing us so many crumbs while in power before 2010, instead of the Social Darwinist blues we’ve had since – in a rigged two-party system? You might even see me smiling at that very shit…while everyone else around me, understandably fearful for their jobs, raises their pints and cheers.

Help me fight for alternative media: check out my social enterprise SilenceBreaker Media and join me in making what is unpopular, popular.

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You Can Only Be a Terrorist if You’re a Muslim

A hundred years ago, a certain group of people holding a specific religious faith were demonised, in this country and others; passports and border controls were introduced to limit their numbers, and people widely spoke of them, their beliefs, and their culture, in disgusted tones and mocking manners. They were so freely targeted as the cause of so many of our problems that this hatred was taken to its logical conclusion: more than any other minority group, including the disabled, or socialists, or vegetarians, Jews were incarcerated and exterminated in their millions by Adolf Hitler’s Nazis.

Of course, our fight in the Second World War was to end fascism, supposedly. And yet, while today fascists form political parties and even win a seat representing us and our flag in the European Parliament, we never really truly cared for the Jews, did we? No, we signposted them somewhere far, far away from here – over in the Middle East, where all the Muslims were, and we armed them and told them to do us a favour and make sure we didn’t have to endure another group like their lot ever again. And, LO!, Israel was created. And what else did we do? Ignored international law, illegally invaded Iraq, massacring up to hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians after the tyrant we supported no longer played by our rules. And for a decade, we essentially occupied Afghanistan, where tens of thousands of civilians have been killed because those Taliban types we funded for our anti-communist mission ran amok as well. And this state-sponsored terrorism is called “The War on Terror.”

“When you drop a bomb do you think it hits one person? Or rather your bomb wipes out a whole family? … Through Koran we must fight them as they fight us … I apologise that women had to witness this today but in our lands women have to see the same. You people will never be safe. Remove your governments; they don’t care about you. You think David Cameron is gonna get caught in the street when we start busting our guns? Do you think politicians are going to die? No, it’s going to be the average guy, like you and your children. So get rid of them. Tell them to bring our troops back … leave our lands and you will live in peace.”

I visited Norway a few weeks ago, days after the incident in Woolwich, London, where two men used a car to drive into a man in a hoodie, before stabbing him, hacking him to death with meat cleavers, and uttering the above words at cameraphones that captured them on record.

The news agencies ran with it. Footage was bought and sold; rights were shared. The Sun and ITN paid big money for the grainy video. The ITN news site that usually averages 860,000 unique visitors a day had been overwhelmed by 1.2 million people in panic and morbid curiosity, crashing the site. David Cameron, mentioned by one of the attackers, Michael Adebolajo, cut short his visit to Paris, France, to attend the second of two meetings of COBRA (no, not those of G.I. Joe fame, but rather the Cabinet Office Briefing Room committee) that had engaged Home Secretary Theresa May, London Mayor Boris Johnson, and Met Police Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, and other members of Britain’s intelligence agencies. Yes, kids, this was actually just like G.I. Joe: far from some random act of knife-related crime, this was an international incident, a terrorist attack, a matter of national security! It also whipped up fear, hatred, and racism like nothing else for a long time: in the following days and weeks, Muslims were assaulted, mosques were vandalised and set on fire, fascist groups marched in the streets, and anti-fascist demonstrators were promptly rounded up and arrested.

And yet, arriving in Norway, everything seemed pretty peaceful. Here in this model of social democracy, with the fourth-highest per capita income in the world, a strong welfare state, universal healthcare, free education, and the greatest well-being amongst its citizens, I could stroll right on up to the doors of their parliament building in the capital of Oslo, without any freak-out at all. No sign of armed guards. No watchful eye of CCTV cameras noticeable. No paranoia. This, from a country who had experienced such an horrific attack on its governing Labour Party youth group by Anders Breivik, killing 77 people and injuring 319, less than two years previous. I’m sure you remember it. I know I do. On July 22nd, 2011, my partner, Jane Watkinson, told me of the breaking news of a series of attacks, to which I replied, “Ah, it’ll probably be some nutty right-wing Christian extremist.” I was only half-serious, but it turned out to be true.

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And yet in Oslo, or anywhere else in Norway, I saw no mention of it. No memorials, no news, nothing. They certainly weren’t milking this thing American-style, but then many Norwegians, like us British, retain the memory in our collective consciousness from those of our population who are still alive today yet recall Nazi aggression – in our case, fascist bombs being dropped on our streets, schools and hospitals. But no, Norway’s Labour Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg didn’t decide to crank up domestic security, attack civil liberties, and invade some country that held a vague connection to the perpetrator. Instead, he called for “more democracy, more openness” and “love,” while the Labour youth group’s leader Eskil Pedersen echoed the Prime Minister’s call for “openness,” adding that Norway should continue its tradition of tolerance. Meanwhile, Anders Breivik, who gunned down children on his mission against this progressive politics, went to court amidst questions of his sanity. Later deemed sane, he simply claimed he knew what he was doing, had a plan, and in online exchanges with other extremists, told the English Defence League to “keep up the good work” over here in Britain. Yes, they’re all on the same page, singing from the exact same vile Christian fundamentalist hymn sheet. Which sounds like dinner’s late in a dog pound full of hungry bulldogs, in case you were wondering. Howl.

But how often did we see the press calling Anders Breivik a “Christian terrorist”? On 9/11, it was constantly called a “Muslim terrorist attack,” as was 7/7. Even the incident in Woolwich where two guys crazier than a bag of snakes killed one person in a “Help for Heroes” hoodie was described as a “Muslim terrorist attack,” with the soldier martyred while the hacks kept peddling fear and boosting support for the unjustifiable campaign of aggression in the Middle East, using and abusing our brave Ministry of Defence troops for their own offensive agenda and offering them a hoodie and a few lousy quid upon their return.

In 1999, an ex-BNP member with connections to Christian fundamentalist groups named David Copeland targeted ethnic and gay communities in London, killing three people, including a pregnant woman, and injured 139 others, four of whom lost limbs. Yet again, press coverage didn’t instantly call him a “Christian terrorist,” either. In fact, they barely ever even mentioned the word “terrorism.” They just blamed entertainment media instead.

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Keep in mind, in Woolwich, one man was killed. David Copeland killed 3, if we’re keeping a morbid count of bodies here. And of course, Anders Breivik killed 77. But the first incident is supposedly a clear “act of terrorism,” the others being examples of people with questionable sanity running amok with weapons. Weren’t the two killers in Woolwich of questionable sanity? Even if their sick attempt at rationalising their violence seen at the top of this post makes me feel uneasy because in many ways it has a point, I think we’d all agree it’s not normal to go around the streets with a meat cleaver, or drive a car into someone because to you they represent oppressive forces overseas. Gandhi said “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” That’s why these kinds of things are irrational. But “an eye for an eye” is as much Christianity’s Old Testament as it is the ramblings of a self-proclaimed Muslim criminal wielding a weapon.

Yet for some reason, if you blow up a government building, gun down peaceful progressive activists, or explode a device that fires nails into a baby’s skull on a mission to kill people who aren’t white or straight, you’re still not committing an act of “terrorism,” regardless of your declarations. Even if you’re their friends in the BNP or EDL, and you’re attacking people and their places of worship and given a platform on unchallenged airtime on the “objective” BBC, don’t worry, you won’t be branded a “terrorist.” No, apparently, if you commit a crime, and you go around claiming you’re a Muslim, then you’re a “terrorist.” Then and only then.

I dread the day when a Muslim player scores a goal that knocks England’s national soccer team from the World Cup. The next morning, even the sports pages will bear the headline “ACT OF TERRORISM.”

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The Wicked Witch is Dead: Why the Right is Wrong

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You know, I never believed the death of any human being should be celebrated. And I’m not saying the death of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher should be, either.

But nor should it be mourned.

We can only hope her draconian anti-society ideology now dies with her. As her Conservatives dominate a coalition after receiving a minority of votes in 2010 from an electorate that, in fact, overwhelmingly voted for progressive politics (as they usually do), the media obituaries may or may not include her appalling track record that I’ll address in a moment. Sure, too often Adolf Hitler is used as a comparison to any politician any of us dislike, but we did celebrate the ruthless dictator’s death, and few would have ever objected to such jubilation. So why the offence at applause to the news of Thatcher’s death?

You see, Thatcher the Milk Snatcher didn’t just remove free milk drinks from our schoolchildren. She sided with and befriended General Augusto Pinochet, the Chicago Boys’ own poster boy dictator of Chile after U.S.-backed forces successfully removed democratically-elected socialist leader Salvador Allende and, from September 11th of 1973, slaughtered three thousand people and tortured many more under Pinochet. And Thatcher loved him, and his regime. She wholeheartedly supported it. Maggie may have had dementia, but no Meryl Streep movie will make Chileans forget that.

At home though, Thatcher also launched an all-out and at times illegal attack on workers’ rights, and deregulated not only the media sector for the likes of Rupert Murdoch to come closer to monopolizing, but also the financial sector – embracing the Chicago Boys doctrine that let the bankers run amok, ultimately leading to the current economic crisis.

But perhaps worst of all, Maggie decimated communities through removing their local industries, and declared a Social Darwinist free-for-all where it was survival of the fittest, stating, “There’s no such thing as society” – dividing and compartmentalizing people. By focusing on individuals, differences began to overtake commonalities, and, as a result, increased prejudices. It was a society being divided and conquered. But hey, that’s what Right-wingers thrive on. It’s what they rely on; they’d never get elected otherwise.

Thatcher was merely representative of the Right-wingers she was supposedly leading in the Conservative Party, wielding her handbag and using her “Iron Lady” image to intimidate and at times seduce the populace that read Murdoch’s press that provided her with further propaganda. But racist, sexist, homophobic views have all predominantly been supported or perpetuated by the Right – they opposed suffrage, opposed gay rights, opposed the anti-war movement, and even opposed the fox-hunting ban. They protected the filthy rich time and again while launching assaults on the disadvantaged and chinking their champagne glasses together.

As the decades become centuries, time tells us again and again that they are to be damned by history as not only being “Conservatives” trying to “conserve” things but, beyond that, actually prevent progression. They should change their name to The Anti-Progression Party, perhaps with the slogan “We’re Behind You – And The Times.” These bastards have been wrong about almost everything ever, with the people blasting back against them to forcibly have them change, because they won’t do it without persuasion. Thatcher’s Milton Friedman economics are already now widely regarded as absolutely grotesque, and dangerous, let alone passé.

It’s an obvious equation. The Right = oppression and exploitation; anything to the Left is an improvement. Hell, even Stalin – the crackpot that he was – had a death count half that of Hitler’s. And who did the corporations support?

Thatcher was damaging to our society. She decimated communities and destroyed the lives of generations. She rolled back rights at home and endorsed death and torture abroad. Unfortunately Britain’s current Prime Minister embraces much of what she stood for, and is taking things even further.

The corporate mainstream media ensures we have short memories. So let her demise bring back to the collective consciousness all she did from the perspective of the people’s history – not just a Hollywood portrayal distributed by her old friend Rupert Murdoch. Instead, ask for the opinion of people in Swansea, or Newcastle, or Liverpool, or Sheffield. If Hollywood doesn’t give them a voice, my next film hopefully will.
Without alternative media not fueled by a simple profit motive, though, much of this is likely to be washed away in the sands of time by the waves of radio, television and print that presents us with cleansed obituaries.

When democratically-elected Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was on his death bed – despite being an albeit controversial figure who fought against US oppression and attempted coups, to alleviate pain on millions of working class Venezuelan lives – millions more right-wingers in the UK and US tweeted their celebratory remarks in all their glorious sickness; it was all over Twitter, unashamedly posted for all to see:

Now though, Thatcher’s death is already being covered by the press with sensitivity, even tenderness. Beyond Hugo Chavez, if Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden or Muammar Gaddafi had been reported on in the same way Thatcher is following death, there’d have been outrage. No, people were cheering and throwing parties when those guys were shot, or dumped in the sea, or dragged through the streets, or hanged on television.

Yet when more people in our streets choose to instead celebrate the death of a true homegrown tyrant who did nothing but harm to poorer people, the media condemns it. Reject the hypocrisy, think critically, and you find it’s all actually quite understandable, perhaps even patriotic. Yet the media will cleverly demonise demonstrators as “sick” for protesting a funeral. But looking at the actual reasons why, it becomes perfectly acceptable: they’re not picketing a funeral as perhaps Thatcher’s anti-gay followers might have following the demise of an AIDS victim – they’re angry because even now, Thatcher is empowered to steal money from poor people despite being dead…

Thatcher represented the 1980s rise of unabated capitalism and mass private ownership. The only insult to her, then, is to actually give her a state funeral. As has been argued for a while now, the entire ceremony should be privatized. If she’s the darling of the greedy corporate world, let them show their support, and fund it.

Britain’s greatest ever Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, never received a state funeral, despite helping to give us welfare and free universal health care, and save the country from total financial collapse thanks to his Keynesian economic policies.

Not only is Thatcher undeserving of a state funeral, she’s undeserving of any grief from a nation she so badly damaged, and which is still struggling to recover from her decisions to this day. Let her death be instead a time to remember what the Right are really all about, and why she shouldn’t be mourned. The wicked witch is dead. We lost another oppressive piece of wretched refuse; a cancer on our society, preying on the weak and vulnerable. The world just got a little lighter.

Not just here, but perhaps somewhere in Chile, cheers are being heard after the thousands of deaths there that Thatcher herself celebrated. Yes, karma is often like Thatcher herself.

In the words of Mark Twain, “I didn’t attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it.”

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Feminism: Why Having a Dick and Being a Dick Aren’t the Same Thing

Wow! Three weeks, two universities, one city: It’s been quite a tour de force for the feminist movement here in Sheffield! And if you know me, you’ll be aware of the fact I’m a feminist. We can get into Pop Psychology 101 and talk about how I was taught at home by my mother, but the fact remains the same: I’m simply for equal rights and responsibilities and will continue to campaign for these things…thus, I’m a feminist. It’s pretty simple, really.

The 1 Billion Rising movement has been phenomenal. Founded by no less than The Vagina Monologues writer Eve Ensler, it’s a campaign to raise awareness on violence and oppression against women worldwide, strategised in an empowering, rather than sympathetic way – its slogan is “Strike, Dance, Rise!” And indeed the dancing is a major part of it. (Even I busted a few moves)

I had the pleasure of attending one event – A Memory, A Monologue, A Rant, and A Prayer – at Sheffield Hallam University on February 15th, featuring a collection of monologues spoken by various figures from the Sheffield arts and politics scene. It was both moving and funny, but most of all, it was powerful. It was also interesting to witness the screening of this video of Patrick Stewart in the pre-show:

I was impressed by this inclusion, as it was important to demonstrate how men can be affected and changed by their awareness of violence against women, experienced first-hand or otherwise.

It was also refreshing to take part in a 1 Billion Rising event, as many of them took place on Valentine’s Day – a clever co-opting of what’s usually little more than a Hallmark bonanza of annual token commercial gestures of “love.”

Then came March 8th, International Women’s Day, and a University of Sheffield screening of a Persepolis, an animated movie adapted from a graphic novel about a young woman growing up through the Iranian Revolution. Feminist MP Paul Blomfield gave a a nice introductory speech about the importance of the occasion.

What disturbed me, though, were the words of the otherwise excellent Student Union Women’s Officer Amy Masson, who found fault with the film, she said, because it featured the voice of Sean Penn. That’s right: the actor who’s spent so much time in his recent years supporting same-sex marriage, personally helping to rescue victims of Hurricane Katrina, travelling to countries like Venezuela and Cuba to support progressive causes, condemning the invasion of Iraq, and questioning British colonialism. But, here he was damned by the Women’s Officer because – way, way back in 1987 – he assaulted then-wife Madonna…with a baseball bat, no less, in one of his drunken rages. Admittedly horrific.

“I was an angry young man,” Sean’s since said. “I had a lot of demons and I don’t really know who could’ve lived with me at the time.” Madonna, meanwhile, reportedly still admires Penn, who last year attended one of her concerts. They consider each other good friends, and the violence seems to have been forgiven and put behind them as ancient history, included in context, with the actor maintaining good behaviour ever since, as he ought to.

But that doesn’t seem to be enough for some. While Amy Masson made a really good point about celebrity culture failing to condemn stars at the time – even rewarding them, as is evidenced by Chris Brown’s continued success after his high-profile beating of Rihanna -  I’d put a 1987 incident pretty low on my list, to be honest, and definitely way lower than the more recent actions of scumbag Mel Gibson, who’s pretty much sustained in Hollywood by feminist Jodie Foster (how’s about that then, eh?)

I’m guessing that every crew member of the film ought to have first been screened in case any one of them had ever committed any one indiscretion at any one time in their entire lives, and then been removed from the project because of it (by which rationale you might as well just support the death penalty or other forms of punishment as opposed to rehabilitation since this is based on viewing human life in the most cynical way possibly).

When I tweeted Masson about her remarks, myself comparing Sean Penn to another reformed domestic abuser, feminist singer John Lennon, she claimed he had hit Yoko Ono too, so couldn’t possibly be a feminist. And what was incredible was the additional trolling on Twitter I received from anonymous individuals mockingly sniggering “Oh, artists can’t do any wrong because they made a good song,” as the radical troops were rallied.

Speaking of which, I realise Amy is a radical feminist, as she states on her Twitter bio – which may mean both Patrick Stewart and myself are wasting our time because we have our sexual organs on the outside of our body so are inherently evil – but here’s an interesting blog post by another self-proclaimed radical feminist who says:

“When you think of John Lennon today, please remember the man who learned how to stop being violent to women in his life. Remember the man who chose to spend time with a woman who sparked his imagination more than three guys he’d spent the prior several years with and how this choice of his outraged so many men, who believe there is nothing more sacred than male bonding and that women “get in the way”. Remember the quote that begins this post, about how hurt they each were that so many people said such ignorant and insensitive things about their love for one another, and about Yoko Ono specifically. Remember the man who understood that Yoko Ono was not beneath him or above him–she was with him, as an equal: a partner in love and life. And please don’t forget that he was her love too. The love story isn’t just about what she gave to him.”

To suggest that men can never learn from their mistakes is to give up on them. Maybe that conveniently goes along with the extremist view that men are pure evil and can’t be feminists and so we have to utilise all-women shortlists to get the job done (by which token I assume we require shortlists for token gay people, token black people, token disabled people…none of which would tackle the root causes of socio-economic oppression in the first place). But no, I disagree that men can’t campaign for women’s rights, just as I disagree with the view that middle class intellectuals can’t fight for workers, or that white folks can’t oppose racism, or that straight people can’t support gay marriage.

Anyone can fight for anything if they believe in it enough. And past indiscretions don’t doom those people any more than they did for Vietnam veterans who had gunned down Vietnamese citizens and torched villages full of children, only to go on to oppose the American campaign there, tossing away their medals and marching with peace campaigners.

Over the years, I have been close to women who had been subjected to both assault and rape, but while I’ve never hit a woman, I myself have been subjected to assault from women in the past – yet even though I deserved it no more than any women who’ve been subjected to violence by men, I don’t think they’re sexist because of that. People make mistakes, and people can change. Or do we just hold onto memories of what people once were?

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Look at that photograph of Charlton Heston. You remember: the right-wing NRA guy who tastelessly visited towns that had experienced mass shootings, to further promote gun ownership. But here, further back before his years as a gun nut, you can see him marching for civil rights. Conveniently, we don’t remember him for that much, though. Should we? Or should we accept what he later became? Because I happen to think he changed his mind, and made up his mind. And, yes, he died a bit of a racist douchebag.

It’s important to remember what people are, and to hold faith in what people can become. As a young man myself, though admittedly a feminist, I had all sorts of stupid ignorant views and acted in all kinds of idiotic ways that I’m far from proud of. But while raised and educated by a woman, I’ve also seen many men in my life change for the better, and to have never afforded them that chance would have been utterly tragic, I can tell you: society would’ve been the loser.

Funnily enough, while I participated in International Women’s Day – and will continue to do so until women are truly liberated from oppression – I didn’t take part in Mother’s Day. Whether to you it is religious or commercial or simply peer pressure, I can’t bring myself to allow my subjective, personal relationship with my own mother – or father – to become reduced to token gestures once a year; these relationships are ours to remember and celebrate and grieve at times convenient to us as individuals. Every day ought to be Mother’s Day. Sadly, mothers will never enjoy such a true reality as that without such things as International Women’s Day. Free the woman, and you free the mother!

Penis:

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Hacking’s Just Fine (If You’re Rich)

Sheffield’s own Hallam University student Richard O’Dwyer this year faced extradition to the United States where he could have faced up to five years in prison for copyright infringement. His crime? He dared to use his entrepreneurial spirit to create the TVShack.net website, which allowed people to search for and share links to television shows and films available, in full, across the web. Quite a clever idea, I’m sure we all agree, since he was simply providing a resource for people to access the pirate sites, not pirating anything himself, nor hosting torrents for these to be downloaded. But this kind of entrepreneurship is frowned upon because O’Dwyer was a Sheffield lad exploiting a chink in the armour of the entertainment industry, and not the entertainment industry itself.

British Home Secretary Theresa May actually approved the U.S. request for extradition, after rejecting a similar request over Gary McKinnon, a London man with Asperger’s syndrome and depression who hacked into U.S. military systems ten years ago to try and find information on UFO’s.

I guess there isn’t much corporate sponsorship from the U.S. military for British politicians, eh? Because if you run a television show, film and video game company like Dreamworks – as David Geffen does – you might want to spend some time with a high-ranking New Labour bigwig like Lord Peter Mandelson at the Rothschild villa in Corfu, Greece, just before the introduction of the Digital Economy Act, one of the last gasp works of the New Labour project, in 2010, before it was killed off by the general election aftermath. The Digital Britain report had recommended that copyright infringements online should not result in such drastic measures as internet disconnection. But after a chat with Universal Music Group chief Lucian Grainge and his little vacation in Corfu, Lord Mandelson decided to suddenly take a firm stance in rejecting the recommendations of the Digital Britain report and call for harsh technical measures as proposed punishments, though adopting this position two months before public consultation had even been completed. As my partner Jane Watkinson recently pointed out to me, it’s something the Tories have done since: hold a consultation, listen, and then do what you wanted to do, anyway. Lord Mandelson might as well have holidayed in Llamedos. Never heard of it? Read it backwards.

So, as Britain suffers an economic depression partially thanks to cuts following a £1.5 trillion bail-out of the banking companies, and people lose jobs, seek what’s left of welfare benefits, and stay home finding cheap or free entertainment, they meanwhile face severe consequences of downloading programming, movies and music. Well now of course this media activist would never dream of doing it myself, but if I were ever to download music or movies, it might be because the expansive collection I’d accumulated over the years was never returned to me from my time in Canada, so if there’s ever a complaint from authorities, I’ll be sure to forward it over there…’kay?

Beyond people replacing or replenishing their stockpile of entertainment, folk rock legend Neil Young calls torrents “the new radio.” “I look at the radio as gone,” he said. “Piracy is the new radio. That’s how music gets around.” His point that the weakness of audio file-sharing online means lower qualities than what vinyl offered “in 1978” also supports the argument for artists to become true performers, making their money from the ability to sing and play well live while gigging prolifically. Radical concept, eh? This could mean that acts have to hold a more personal relationship with their audience while proving they’re as good as their tracks suggest they are, possibly cutting out middle-men via merchandise sales at shows…a dangerous concept to major entertainment companies like Dreamworks and Universal who want so much control of the contrived crap that fills most of the airtime.

Then there’s News Corporation, the second-largest media organisation and third-largest entertainment group on the planet that in 2010 contributed £1 million to the Republican effort in the States while supporting the Conservatives here in Britain. It is, of course, controlled by Rupert Murdoch – the tycoon who backed Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, Tony Blair and George W. Bush, and largely ensures all of his “news” ventures perpetuate his political perspective, whether they be Fox News, Sky News, The Wall Street Journal, New York Post, The Sun, The Times, or The Australian.

A thorn in the side of Rupert Murdoch, Tom Watson MP spoke here in Sheffield this week as News Corporation have been submerged by an avalanche of allegations of hacking attempts – into accessing Gordon Brown’s private legal files, medical records, and bank account, as well as the into phones of NewsCorp media rivals, in addition to celebrities, soldiers’ families, even victims of crime and the 9/11 and 7/7 terrorism attacks, all for the benefit of their “news” outlets. Sickening as this is, the subsequent investigations and even the recommendations from the Leveson Inquiry often lack the same momentum of pursuit as those targeting lowly hackers in basements, file-sharers, or drunken kids on Facebook.

Yes, in the wake of the 2011 summer riots in Britain, 20 year-old Jordan Blackshaw and 22 year-old Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan created Facebook events organising “riots” of their own as, essentially, nothing more than a practical joke. Now, nobody turned up, and the pages were deleted with apologies. Yet the judge, Elgan Edwards QC, called this harmless and hilarious epic social media fail an “evil act,” adding, “Your conduct was quite disgraceful and the message you posted on Facebook chills the blood.” The obnoxious old fart then claimed that the only reason no one showed up to start a riot was entirely due to “the prompt and efficient actions of police,” – not, in fact, that people just aren’t inclined to start smashing shit up because of a Facebook status posted in a drunken stupor. The two lads were jailed for four years. Yes: four years. For creating and deleting a Facebook page that caused no harm to anybody.

I don’t know about you, but the judge’s words chill my blood, and his absolutely irrational, irresponsible claims seem provocative enough to instigate real riots. It’s a wonder hundreds of us aren’t going and creating all kinds of Facebook events to incite riots. Would they arrest us all? I guess the pages Facebook refuse to ban – such as those calling for violence against women – are just fine. This kind of attitude and wanton desire to destroy the lives of two otherwise harmless young people while revering the police is everything that’s wrong with Britain. To subject these lads to such misleading, melodramatic vitriolic scorn is absolutely vile, and the fact they’ve been sent down is an injustice and an affront to the very values and laws Elgan Edwards is supposed to stand up for. He should be ashamed, he should be sacked, and – if there was any actual justice – he’d be the one in the nick, preferably with all the blokes he sentenced over the years. Attacking and punishing innocent people who committed no crime is a crime itself – so by that rationale, this judge should be locked up.

The riots of 2011 saw many people take leave of their senses. Jane Watkinson and I, even amongst the Left, seemed like lone voices amongst the reactionary rants of so many people who bought into the demonisation of youth that Murdoch’s media, and most other media, took part in. The fall-out from Thatcherism’s Big Bang and subsequent rampant materialist individualism as a Tory government abolished the Future Jobs Fund and Education Maintenance Allowance, the riots were merely sparked by the latest in a long line of Met Police injustices, the social conditions ideal kindling for the raging rioting of the summer heat. When the bankers cost our country £1.5 trillion, no one is held to account; when young people damage private property, and steal sneakers and big screen television sets and the latest “must-have” gadgets, they’re punished even more than they already were by the terror of government policy.

This is today’s right-wing Britain – where costing your country money or stealing secrets is just fine, so long as you’re rich and powerful.

I wonder if I’ll get four years for posting this?

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