Just one week off, please, one week where nothing happens to get my goat, one week where I can post something nice and positive of a Saturday morning. That’s all I ask.
But no. Here I am, banging on yet again about the latest injustice and trying desperately to justify it by tagging a tune or two on at the end.
We’ll get on to the biggie soon enough, but let’s start with some good news for a change.
This week, taxi/private hire company Uber finally gave in to a recent Supreme Court ruling that their drivers were not, as Uber had previously contested, self-employed but were employees, and as such entitled to the normal “perks” other employees were entitled to: a minimum hourly wage, sick pay, pensions.
It comes to something when it takes a Supreme Court ruling before companies will give their workers what they are entitled to, and is indicative of how some companies will try and bend the rules, squirm through as many loop-holes as possible, to try to exploit their staff and maximise their own profits. (Take) That’s Capitalism, folks!
But this isn’t just about the exploitation of your working man (or woman): research by Citizens Advice has suggested that as many as 460,000 people in the UK could be falsely classified as self-employed, costing up to £314m a year in lost tax and employer national insurance contributions. That’s £314m which the Government could be passing on to their mates, so I’m struggling to see why the fight was so hard, the original ruling having been handed down in 2016, but then contested by Uber. Surely Johnson or Hancock or Raab could have waded in, insisting they accept the ruling, hand over the cash in a brown envelope to be swiftly popped into the pocket of old Spewy Dickson – seriously, he was such a laugh at college – who swears he knows how to rattle up a few Covid-compliant face masks or aprons or something?
Uber operates around the world, with the company valued at more than £50bn.
I often wonder: just how rich do you have to be, before you stop being a greedy arsehole?
And then I think of “Sir” Philip Green, his love of other people’s money, and yachts, and conclude: well, richer than him, apparently.
Some of the people I went to school with have ended up being far wealthier than me. And that’s fine, I’m comfortable with that. I rarely meet up with them these days, but on the occasions that I do, I always feel them looking down on me, wondering where things went wrong for me. I was a fairly bright, if lazy, pupil when at school, I could have made money like they did, why haven’t I?
Because I have no desire to be wealthy, that’s why. I’m quite happy, bobbing along in my moderately-paid job, paying my taxes, my rent, my bills, and enjoying whatever I have left after doing so; eking out my monthly salary until the next payday is part of the rollercoaster of life for me, safe in the knowledge that whilst I am certainly not as well off as some, I’m definitely better off than many.
Will I make it to the end of the month without resorting to beans on toast as a staple meal? Yes, usually. Will I have any money left over at the end of the month to pop away in a savings account? No, not usually, for I am far more likely, with a few days to go until payday, to splash out on a takeaway or a bottle or two of something to make my Friday night a go with a whizz.
I can’t think of much worse than being so wealthy the question of whether I can afford something or not never enters my head. How dull their lives must be! To misquote Joe Fagin’s 1984 hit and theme tune to Auf Weidersehen, Pet!: That’s Not Living, Alright?
But I digress: the action against Uber had originally been brought by the ADCU, the App Driver and Couriers Union, on behalf of two of its members, Yaseen Aslam and James Farrar, which leads me to the first tune of the morning.
As mentioned last weekend, I am a huge Billy Bragg fan, although generally I prefer his (unrequited) love songs to the political songs with which he’s most associated by those who don’t really know anything much about him.
This song first appeared on his “difficult third album”, Talking With The Taxman About Poetry, but that’s not a version I’m fond of – it’s a bit too Billy-By-Numbers, if that makes sense. Somewhere I used to have a full band version, all fiddles and folk, but frustratingly I cannot lay my hands on it right now (it popped up on a B-side somewhere, I’m sure….I may be thinking of the instrumental version on Greetings to the New Brunette, but I don’t think so….), so instead here are two versions which I found on YouTube when frantically searching for the lost-Billy version.
The first is what YouTube insists is lifted from the closing credits of the wonderful movie Pride, although, whilst I recall the song being used, I don’t recall it having a choir and a brass band on it, as this does. I’ll have to revisit, which will be an absolute joy as Pride is one of my favourite films from the last twenty tears, telling the true story of a London based group of gays and lesbians (before they would have been called LBGT+) supporting a Welsh mining village during the strike of the mid-1980s. If you’ve never seen it, put that right as soon as possible.
The second version I found is a bluegrass version performed by a collective called Pickers’ Local 608. It’s rather good:
As a disclaimer, I’ve not had chance to do due diligence and look into Picker’s Local 608, so I do hope they don’t turn out to be of the redneck Confederate breed.
And so to the grim stuff.
Remember last year, when we watched how Trump dealt with the BLM protests, how multiple examples of police brutality were caught on camera? And remember how, whilst we condemned it, we, privately, breathed a sigh of relief and thought: “Well, that could never happen here”…?
Well, last weekend, it did.
And here too, many disturbing photographs were taken, as the police waded in to break up what was, to all intents and purposes, a vigil, not a protest, in memory of Sarah Everard, the woman murdered as she walked home alone one night.
Around the world these images flowed, none more evocative and widely shared than this one:
Over the course of the day, mourners had left flowers around the bandstand of Clapham Common, close to where Everard vanished. One such mourner was Princess Cathy, the Duchess of Cambridge, who was seen paying her respects:
Not wearing a mask, I notice.
Funny how the police didn’t wade in when she was there, right? You’d think the Royal Family would have welcomed a change in focus after the couple of weeks they’ve had.
But no, it was much later that evening that the trouble started. And by trouble, from everything I’ve seen, I mean the actions of the police who suddenly decided that the crowd needed to be broken up.
Now, it would not be entirely truthful to say that this was simply a vigil, with no protest aspect attached. Placards were displayed, songs were sung. But what protest took place was, again from what I’ve seen, 100% peaceful, until PC Law decided enough was enough.
And, to my eyes, its important to note that both were going on at the same time, but neither vigil nor protest was worthy of the attention the police gave them. Peaceful protest, even in these times of Covid restrictions is permitted. Indeed, the activities of the day, whilst originally blocked by the Courts, were ultimately allowed to take place.
What followed was an upsurge in real life stories from women about occasions that they have felt scared, threatened, or, on far too many occasions, actually been assaulted by men as they made their way home after a night out.
The #MeToo movement over the past couple of years shocked many of us, but I still think a large amount of people considered the hashtag related exclusively to the famous, the celebrities who had been abused or forced to the euphemistically referred to “casting couch”. Referring to it as such allows you to escape the horror of what that actually means, in a way that the victim was unable to.
Personally, I know of at least two of my female friends who have been assaulted as they travelled home. Both in London, but that doesn’t mean it’s a London problem.
This is a male problem.
And I pray that, reading all of the stories women have posted on social media, men finally learn to change their behaviour.
We all need to reassess our actions. I’ve never assaulted anyone, never taken advantage of anyone when they were drunk or alone or vulnerable, but even I can look back at certain incidents in my life and think: “I could have behaved better there”.
The protest which ran parallel with the vigil was, largely, from the Reclaim The Night movement. Put very simply, all this movement asks is that women be allowed to travel safely at night in the same way as men do. It’s such a basic request, that it saddens me to my very core that they even have to exist. Here. Now. In 2021, when we’re all supposed to be equal, except we’re clearly not.
I pray, but I’m an atheist, so I’m not confident anything will happen as a result of my prayers.
I’m certain that the man who wrote this song didn’t do so in order that it might be included in a blogpost about how women should be able to walk the streets without fear of intimidation or assault, but at first blush it seems to fit. It’s the “Because the night belongs to us”, I’m thinking of here as making this appropriate.
I could have posted any number of versions of this song, but I’ve gone for my very favourite:
By way of a reaction, the Metropolitan Police have announced that once COVID lockdown measures are lifted, they plan to employ more plain clothes officers to frequent bars and clubs, in an effort to stamp down on offences of the nature mentioned.
Which rather overlooks the fact that the person arrested and charged with Sarah Everard’s murder is…a serving policeman from the Metropolitan Police.
Yeh, nice one. I’m sure that will put many people’s concerns to rest.
Now, you know when something seismic has happened, where public opinion and sympathy lies in a particular way, because politicians suddenly leap into action and want to be seen to be doing the right thing.
And so it was that our Home Secretary, old Smirky McSmirkface herself, Priti Patel, criticised pictures of officers manhandling women at the vigil, rebuked the Met commissioner, Cressida Dick, and ordered an inquiry.
Quite right too, until it emerged later in the week that Patel had sent a memo to all police chiefs making her position clear: she wanted them to stop people gathering at vigils. (She also promised she would personally urge people not to gather – but she never did.)
And this shouldn’t be much of a surprise to those who had followed a bill which passed it’s second reading at almost the same time Patel was feigning outrage, a bill which written by Patel, further restricts the ability to protest and increases police powers.
What is interesting is that in the debate about the bill on Monday she said this: “On Friday my views were know and they were based on the fact that people who wanted to pay tribute within the locality… laying flowers was the right thing to do.” Which rather implies the opposite of the leaked memo, that she encouraged the Met to let the vigil go ahead, but ho hum, lying to Parliament seems to be acceptable these days, just ask our PM.
Now, permission to protest is one of the cornerstones of democracy; remove it, as this bill seeks to do, and we are sleepwalking into a territory where dissenting voices can no longer be heard in public.
One of the problems with this Bill is that it allows Patel to change the meaning of the phrase “serious disruption” whenever she likes:
In other words, this Bill seeks, amongst other things, to limit the power and ability to protest, whilst also giving Patel the power to decide what is and isn’t acceptable. What the bill should do is lay down the terms, rather than leave it in the hands of someone who has a proven record of being a duplicitous bully to decide.
The Bill attacks, on a permanent basis the fundamental human right of peaceful assembly.
For example, under this Bill, the Home Secretary (Patel, as it stands) could decide that one person protesting in a vocal manner in public should be shut down and imprisoned.
Netpol analysis of BLM demos found that “black-led protests disproportionately faced excessive interventions by police”. This Bill radically increases police power and discretion to impose restrictions on protests. It allows them to impose them not for disruption, but for “impact”, and on the broadest, vaguest and lowest possible basis. It allows police to impose restrictions if they believe a single passer-by will experience “serious unease” from the noise.
These aren’t flashers we’re talking about, likely to cause offence by wanging their wongers in the general direction of some schoolgirls; they’re people exercising their democratic right to protest. Make no mistake about it, this is the most violent attack on our civil liberties we’ve seen since Thatcher blocked flying pickets during the miner’s strike.
I’ll end by quoting the words of Nadia Whittome, MP, as part of the debate on the bill: “There is so much wrong with this bill that three minutes couldn’t possibly cover it. We’re debating it today because the home secretary despised Extinction Rebellion and Black Lives Matter…[The Bill] expands police powers to levels that should not be seen in a modern democracy. If we were debating this legislation in another country, I’m sure members of this House would be condemning that country as an authoritarian regime…We’re sick of male violence. We’re sick of male violence whether it’s at the hands of the state, our partners, our family members, or strangers. And we march because some people don’t survive that violence. The public realm belongs to women too…[The Bill] hands unaccountable power to the police. The same police that were forcing women to the ground on Saturday night.”
The same police which includes the man charged with the murder of Sarah Everard.
It’s cheesy, I know, but there’s only one song which can illustrate this properly:
Ayes: 359 Noes: 263 The bill passed it’s second reading.
There’s still the Committee stage, where the Bill is given a right good going over, so there’s hope.
And there’s still the House of Lords, who might well kick this back for further review and amendment.
Pray this bill doesn’t get passed in its current format, so your voice can still be heard.