From Messina to Rome sixty years ago: much ado about nothing said Britain

From Messina to Rome sixty years ago: much ado about nothing said Britain

Speaking to the BBC today, the president of the European commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, described Brexit as ‘a failure and a tragedy.’ The scale of the tragedy will be underlined this weekend when EU leaders – minus the British PM – will gather in Rome to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the signing of the founding treaty of European integration and add their signatures to the Rome Declaration, a two-page summary of EU achievements and the challenges which the organisation now faces.
Continue reading “From Messina to Rome sixty years ago: much ado about nothing said Britain”

Populism, tyranny, and the lessons of the past

Populism, tyranny, and the lessons of the past

In the opinion pages of this morning’s Guardian there’s an article by Timothy Garton-Ash on the worsening situation for free speech and human rights in Turkey as Erdoğan’s increasingly authoritarian regime tightens the screw. ‘To travel to Turkey today is to journey into darkness,’ writes Garton-Ash; ‘tens of thousands of state employees and thousands of academics dismissed, more journalists locked up than in any other country, and a chilly mist of fear.’

Erdoğan crops up in Jan-Werner Müller’s concise guide, What Is Populism? which I read recently. For the epigraph to his book Muller chose the words of Bertolt Brecht: ‘All power comes from the people. But where does it go?’  It’s a good question, and Muller provides a readable analysis of populism, a term that’s been bandied about a great deal post-Trump, post-Brexit, and in the context of fears of what might happen in Europe in 2017. Even more timely and urgent is On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, a brand-new, slim volume by Holocaust historian Timothy Snyder. Continue reading “Populism, tyranny, and the lessons of the past”

Ian McKellen reads a passionate speech by Shakespeare, written in defence of immigrants (reblog)

Ian McKellen reads a passionate speech by Shakespeare, written in defence of immigrants (reblog)

I’m re-blogging this item from Open Culture because it deserves wide circulation in these times when migrants are told they’re unwelcome, when borders are manned and walls are being built, when the Dutch prime minister says, ‘Behave normally or go away‘, and when outsiders are attacked or vilified. And because today is Holocaust Memorial Day.

Little Englanders, Brexiters, Daily Mail keep them out and send them home types: these are the words of Shakespeare, our national poet and treasure. Worth a listen? Continue reading “Ian McKellen reads a passionate speech by Shakespeare, written in defence of immigrants (reblog)”

‘Change has come to America’: how I saw the Obama inauguration

‘Change has come to America’: how I saw the Obama inauguration

I wrote these posts on 20 and 21 January 2009. No further comment required, I think. Continue reading “‘Change has come to America’: how I saw the Obama inauguration”

Ava DuVernay’s 13th: from slavery to the mass incarceration of African-Americans in privatised prisons

Ava DuVernay’s <em>13th</em>: from slavery to the mass incarceration of African-Americans in privatised prisons

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
–Thirteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution

Ava DuVernay makes documentaries, though her most celebrated film is Selma, a dramatisation of the story of the historic 1965 marches from Selma to Montgomery and their place in the struggle for black voting rights. Last night I watched her most recent film, a Netflix documentary about the American prison system that goes under the title, 13th.

The film takes its title from the 13th amendment, which outlawed slavery but left a significant loophole which continues to permit involuntary servitude when used as punishment for crime. In meticulous detail, DuVernay shows how this loophole was exploited in the aftermath of the abolition of slavery at the end of the Civil War and continues to be abused to this day.

In Selma, Stephan James portrayed John Lewis, the SNCC activist whose skull was fractured by police who attacked the marchers on the Edmund Pettus bridge on ‘Bloody Sunday’, 7 March 1965.

That’s the same John Lewis whose reputation was besmirched in a tweet by Donald Trump the other day, and it’s the same Donald Trump to whom DuVernay devotes a powerful sequence in 13th. Continue reading “Ava DuVernay’s 13th: from slavery to the mass incarceration of African-Americans in privatised prisons”

Remembering Liverpool’s anti-slavery campaigner Edward Rushton: ‘Sometimes silence is not an option’

Remembering Liverpool’s anti-slavery campaigner Edward Rushton: ‘Sometimes silence is not an option’

When I first arrived in Liverpool half a century ago, the large white stone building opposite the Philharmonic pub at the top of Hardman Street served as the Merseyside Police headquarters. Then, for a decade or so its function changed dramatically when it became the Merseyside Trade Union and Unemployed Centre. Now, reflecting the social and economic changes of the past decade, the building houses a swanky hotel and several popular restaurants, one of which is called The Old Blind School.

Because that was what the building was originally, when erected in 1851. The Liverpool School for the Indigent Blind had been founded in 1791 by Edward Rushton, one of Liverpool’s great radicals. He was not only a founder of the first school for the blind in the country, but also a campaigner against slavery and poverty.  He wrote poetry, and became a tireless campaigner against slavery and against the press gangs. He was a revolutionary republican, supported the American War for Independence, the French Revolution, and the struggles of the Polish and Irish people for self-rule. Recently I was lent a copy (thanks, Pete!) of what is, I think, the only book dedicated to this remarkable man – Forgotten Hero by Bill Hunter, published in 2002. Continue reading “Remembering Liverpool’s anti-slavery campaigner Edward Rushton: ‘Sometimes silence is not an option’”

Brexit: What the Hell Happens Now? Essential reading that will scare your socks off

<em>Brexit: What the Hell Happens Now?</em> Essential reading that will scare your socks off

Now that Jeremy Corbyn’s radical new populist approach is revealed – agreeing with the Conservatives on Brexit and immigration and promising that Labour would give the £350m of EU payments that never existed to the NHS – whether one of the 48% or the 52% all of us need clear answers to the question we’ve been asking since last June: What the hell happens now?

Set aside a couple hours to read Ian Dunt’s analysis of the Brexit mess in his aptly-titled book Brexit: What the Hell Happens Now? and you’ll get some answers. Unfortunately, they’ll scare the living daylights out of you. The question of whether we (that is, the government) know what we want, and whether we have enough people with the degree of negotiating skills to get it are key questions explored in Dunt’s book which ought to be required reading for everyone. The issues he raises are ones that should have been uppermost during the referendum, but which were hardly voiced by the lacklustre Remain campaign. Continue reading Brexit: What the Hell Happens Now? Essential reading that will scare your socks off”