Leicester – a smarter city

June 13, 2018

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To create a smarter city:
Signs are installed,
to attract exhaust fumes
and be daubed with graffiti.

In this smarter city,
the address points forlornly
to Page Not Found.
Your search did not find any results.

To create a smarter city:
The council chops down trees,
holding them responsible
for ‘anti-social behaviour’.

Create a smarter city.
Protect our few wild sanctuaries.
Don’t try to improve on Nature.
Living things should be left
to flourish in peace.

In this smarter city,
we will build cycle paths, not link roads.
We will take our buses back.
We will re-open closed libraries,
use empty offices for housing.

In this smarter city,
people will no longer sleep on streets;
ordinary people will regain their voice
and demand what should be theirs.
We can provide for all.

 

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Bathbombing

June 4, 2018

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Soap suds wash away our cares,
bombs in our bath allay our fears.
Cannot cleanse minds of those
damaged by abuse. Plain clothes
masked their true intent.

Under covers, undercover cops lie.
Working with victims, Lush bravely try
to expose police brutality,
the real casualty is democracy;
bruised and battered and bent.

Listen to those who were spied on,
who were raped, lied to. The baton
raised against those who dared
raise a dissenting voice, who aired
concerns for the environment.

Ordinary folk, who put up a fight,
for basic justice, human rights,
to freely express their legitimate view
without fear of the boys in blue.
Relax, pause; breathe in the scent.

Time to reflect on hidden oppression,
fifty years of state’s secret obsession
still lingers on. The racist Prevent agenda,
unsubtle government propaganda.
Burst blue bubble, smug and complacent.

 

This poem is dedicated to those campaigners whose lives were ruined by police oppression. There has been a brave and timely campaign by Lush to expose 50 years of secret police interference with the lives of protestors, environmental campaigners, trade unionists, socialists. Many victims were deceived into relationships with those they thought they could trust.

More information – https://tombfowler.wixsite.com/spycops

Please sign the petition – https://www.change.org/p/sajid-javid-support-victims-of-police-spying-get-access-to-justice

 

Divine Interference

May 29, 2018

To our so-called Superiors, and their “god-given” right,
To abuse power and profit, while hidden from sight.
To those who would question how we live our life,
To pass judgement on doctors for using the knife.

Their medieval morality no longer holds sway.
Their perseverance and courage at last won the day.
Their banner said ROSA, and true was their cause;
Their vision: freedom, end to outdated laws.

The women of Ireland, no longer enslaved;
The millions of people, who battled and paved
The way forward to victory in historic vote,
The thousands returning by plane and by boat.

Who abolished dark memories of Magdalene Laundries,
Who cleansed those captive, communal memories.
Who were determined the world must at last hear their voice,
Who campaigned for a new, generational choice.

As we sing, voices carry cross ocean’s blue swell,
As our demands for equality will one day surely tell.
As we challenge authority’s hypocritical boast,
As it is always the poor, who suffer the most.

Another royal wedding . . .

May 20, 2018

Windsor council should install a bright, brand-new, blue plaque
To commemorate the homeless bus, sadly given the sack.
That marvellous day they cleared the streets of anyone not draped in Union Jack.
Our noble flag, the blood-stained butcher’s apron,
Citizens of Empire – commodities, not a person
With feelings, loves and honesty, someone to depend on.

So why all the fuss about this royal family?
They are just another couple, the same as you or me.
Footmen, flags, and frippery cannot mask the simple fact:
While were living in austerity, ruling class puts on a tired, old act.
To make us forget about our problems, and cuts to the NHS,
Us commoners, up to our necks in a right royal Eton mess.

But Royals bring tourism to Britain’s white-cliffed shores
And you lefties are such moaning, whinging bores
Bleating on about equality, rubbing salt into old sores.
Forget about public health, forget about community,
Goodbye to socialist ideas that block free opportunity.

We face the power of the one percent under this rotten system
The bosses drive down wages, let’s get rid of this fiefdom.
Time that we all progress, end corrupt lineage;
Time for us to mobilise, end class privilege.
Time to build socialism, and real democracy
Time for you to get involved, to change society.

Attempt at communication

May 19, 2018

Connection lost. Background static,
Footprints of big bang. Space-time:
Expansive, easy to lose ourselves.
The random hiss speaks volumes
Of long-vanished nebulae,
Impressions of bare-footed runners,
Distant smoke signals,
Hooves of stagecoach thundering,
Telegram’s staccato flourishes.
Tesla’s Wardenclyffe Tower
Sparked with potential.
Wireless, an invisible tight-rope walker
Tries to bridge the gap . . . but falls.

Fragile signal is drowned in white noise.

Should Ken Livingstone be expelled from the Labour Party?

May 14, 2018

The furore over alleged “anti-semitism” in the Labour Party stems from accusations following Labour MP Naz Shah sharing a facebook post, suggesting that Israel be relocated to the United States, as this would save the US billions in defence expenditure, in other words pointing out that Israel is a client state of the US. Shah apologised for any offence caused and after a period of suspension she was readmitted to Labour.

Ken Livingstone stepped into her defence in a radio interview with Vanessa Feltz. After this interview, John Mann, a Blairite Labour MP, angrily confronted Livingstone, hectoring and bullying him. If you watch the televised coverage of their argument, Livingstone is admirably restrained in his response. He says “it is a matter of historical fact”, “should I apologise for saying that the Normans invaded England in 1066?” and he does not deny that the Holocaust happened. Yet, he is accused of being mentally ill, “you have lost the plot”, “you need some help”; of being a Nazi apologist and of being a conspiracy theorist – he is guilty by association!

Livingstone claimed that there was a secret meeting between Nazis and Zionists, at the time of the Nazis coming to power, to discuss the removal of Jews from Germany. He points out, in a later interview, in 1935, Hitler banned flags from flying in Germany, except the Zionist blue and white flag and the swastika. He said that Naz Shah was “over the top”, but she was not being anti-semitic, adding that, in over 40 years of membership of Labour, he personally had not encountered anti-semitism. There is a medal with a Nazi insignia on one side and the star of David on the other:- http://northshorenumismaticsociety.org/little-known-medal-marks-nazi-zionist-co-operation-in-1933/

Livingstone explained, “Hitler was a monster from start to finish”. But, however unpalatable it may be to the Labour right, there is strong evidence that the Nazis engaged in secretive deals to relocate German Jews to Palestine (the Haavara agreement of 1933). You can argue that this may have not been the most diplomatic argument for Livingstone to pursue, but he has facts on his side, even if he was slightly muddled in the details, having being pounced on by Mann. Hitler was not above accommodating those who he vehemently disagreed with; the infamous Hitler – Stalin pact is clear evidence of this.

For pointing out these links, Livingstone was accused of not knowing his historical facts, being anti-semitic, a holocaust denier, believing in conspiracy theories and being a Nazi apologist. Who is behaving like a school bully, bringing the Labour Party into disrepute here? Isn’t this a calculated effort by a Blairite MP to bring down one of Corbyn’s most articulate allies?

This is an important attack, not just on Corbyn, Livingstone and the Labour left, but also on freedom of speech. It is not anti-semitic to criticise the Israeli government’s policies, to point out the American defence budget contributions, and the way that the state has attacked unarmed Palestinian protestors.

Ken Livingstone should be reinstated as a Labour party member. John Mann and the other Blairite MPs, who have constantly sought to undermine Corbyn at every opportunity, are the ones who should be subject to deselection, as they have “brought Labour into disrepute”.

You are being lied to about Syria.

April 16, 2018

syriaAs we slide inexorably into renewed conflict in the Middle East, it might be worth revisiting some of the lies, fabrications and half-truths that took us to a decade of war in Iraq. These are worth remembering, as you watch a politician on the news decry the Assad regime in Syria for using chemical weapons, while not mentioning inconvenient truths: precursors to chemical weapons were sold to Syria by the UK in the 1980s, the attack by Israel on Gaza using white phosphorous or the use of depleted uranium shells in Iraq by the US.

We see a tendency by commentators to oversimplify, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”; the logical fallacy of the excluded middle. Socialists oppose individual acts of terrorism. Instead of mass action to remove dictators, the actions of a few “heroic” individuals or suicide bombers (depending on your viewpoint), are supposed to bring down those in power. There is nothing progressive about terrorism. It destroys innocent lives, it does not empower the working class and rather than an attack on the establishment, it only strengthens racism. It divides rather than unites us.

It is worth re-reading Trotsky’s articles Marxism opposes Individual Terrorism and the Bankruptcy of Terrorism. In place of individual action, socialists propose mass action through the organised working class, to transform the lives of millions and end this brutal, warmongering, uncaring system of capitalism. We propose a rationally planned society, worldwide, in which the collective productive forces of humanity can be used for the good of all, rather than killing people. “If we can find the money to kill people, we can find the money to help people”, as Tony Benn argued.

Just as Theresa May is ignoring the democratic process now, so Tony Blair refused to acknowledge the mass demands in 2003 to Stop the War, the biggest demonstration in British history. Just as then, the conflict in Syria is not about chemical weapons, it is not about bringing democracy or peace, but it is about US prestige, the “special relationship” between the US and UK and a struggle with Russia for control over proposed oil pipelines in Syria. The destruction and casualties of war in the Middle East go back a long way, to British imperialism, the carving up of the Middle East by Britian and France, with the Sykes – Picot agreement in 1916, to carve up the spoils of the First World War, and the advocacy of mustard gas by Churchill to attack Kurds in Mesopotamia (Iraq).  The US is not without its own hypocrisy; as in the 1980s they supported Saddam Hussein’s Baathist regime in Iraq, as a bulwark against the USSR.

What was lacking in 2003, and what is urgently needed now, is a call to action on the part of the left. Tony Benn was the leading figure of the Labour left in those days, but he mistakenly put his faith in the UN and bringing Bush and Blair to task through legal and Parliamentary channels. This is wholly insufficient. We need to hit the capitalist powers where it hurts, in their wallets. Mass strike action is necessary to bring down Theresa May and Donald Trump. The working class alone has the power to end war and austerity. What is lacking is the political leadership and will to see the struggle through to its logical end. I hope Corbyn, as leader of the Labour movement in the UK, will call mass demonstrations, and use these as a platform to enthuse mass opposition to this war.

During the Iraq conflict, in Motherwell, the actions of a few, determined train drivers organised by the ASLEF trade union caused delays to the plans of the US, when they refused to carry munitions destined for the war zone.  If this spirit had spread to other unions, and mass resistance was shown – like the student walkouts, and if the trade unions had the necessary leadership – Britain’s involvement in the war could have ended. There would not have been years of needless suffering. Worldwide there were also similar actions – In Italy, people blocked trains carrying American weapons and personnel, and dockers refused to load arms shipments. US military bases were blockaded in Germany. Unfortunately, such examples were all too few – too little, too late to stop that bloody conflict.

There is also the question of what happens when, with the military might of the Western superpowers, they “win” the war. There were lies about carefully targeted “precision bombing” in Kuwait and Iraq, there were lies about “shock and awe” and “mission accomplished” – in reality the war dragged on year after year, millions of people died through sanctions and warfare, and millions more became displaced refugees.

During the Iraq War a central slogan of the anti-war movement was “No War for Oil” – this latest conflict is no different, it is not about the use of chemical weapons. It is more about who controls the oil supply, as pipelines are planned to run through Syria by Russia and the US.

The Socialist Party, to which I belong, does not support undemocratic, despotic regimes. We denounce terrorism. Our enemy are not innocent people in the Middle East who are caught up in a brutal, sectarian civil war. We point out that bombing will only intensify and risk further conflict – even the spectre of a Third World War and war with Russia is raised. We do not support imperialist Western powers imposing military might on people in an effort to impose freedom and democracy, as if that was possible – clearly the wars in Vietnam, Iraq, Korea and Kuwait have taught them nothing. The only beneficiaries of further conflict are private security companies, the arms industry, and the oil companies, whose donations help fund the Democratic and Republican parties in the US.

We need to build a mass movement to bring down those in power, and we need to do it now.

A World Where News Travelled Slowly

April 15, 2018

I have just been reading Lavinia Greenlaw’s collection  A World Where News Travelled Slowly – and must recommend her poetry wholeheartedly. Her poems are an overheard conversation, conspiratory and private. She beckons us into a private, old-school world of Greek myths, apothecaries, alchemy and subtle eroticism.

The title poem is probably her most famous. A World Where News Travels Slowly harks back to the stagecoach and calligraphy, the human connection with the message, the act of delivery. We travel forward in time to “the clattering mechanics of the six-shutter telegraph”, beautifully mirrored in the rhythm of the line, to the present day. Now we take for granted the ability to connect with each other – but “we’re almost talking in each other’s arms” – the contemporaneous nature of news makes everything immediate – “nets tighten across the sky” – we are too close, trapped by proximity.

“Acquisitions” explores origins and the appropriation of artefacts, in relation to marriage, traditionally the possession of a spouse. “Is marriage by capture, exchange or purchase?” It alludes to American imperialism, Fordism and a denial of history.

One thing that stands out in this collection is Greenlaw’s shatteringly confident ability to make us see things afresh. “Reading Akhmatova in Midwinter” is an incredibly precise, measured description of the cold. Nature hangs in a cryogenic state, “each leaf carries itself in glass / each stem is a fuse in a transparent flex”. Always she harks back to the specific – in Last Summer, she reminisces of “the housemartins that flew semicircles / over the garage eaves, building or feeding”, while in a broken-down car with her daughter; “the thing’s running on fresh air!”. A snapshot of a commonplace incident, becomes a rhapsody on the freedom of nature vs. mechanism, her daughter’s childish exuberance trapped inside the car, “her fables, her wolf-dance”.

If there is a common theme to these poems, it is that humanity triumphs. In What We Can See of the Sky Has Fallen, a paean to Luke Howard, a Quaker who came up with the names we use for clouds, “somewhere between Income Tax and the Battle of Trafalgar”. He finds himself “skybound, abstracted”, striving to classify the unclassifiable. We impose our way of seeing on the world, it is interpreted through our eyes.

There is a tension between the abstract and the specific throughout this collection, the snapshot and the timeless, hot and cold, romantic and scientific. It does not provide you with easy answers, as in the ironically titled poem, “Guidebook to the Alhambra”, but it will introduce you to unfamiliar ideas, make you think anew and reconsider our position in the world. Isn’t that what poetry should be about?

 

On Fat Cat Thursday

January 5, 2018

Fat Cat Thursday,
Boss gets more pay.
Let’s change the way
Things run. Equality.

The fifth of January
Should not be a black day.
Senseless ignominy,
Fat cats’ gluttony.

Slaving for obscene wealth.
Stop this evil cult of self,
Question this mad belief,
Overthrow the thieves.

Their citadels we can tear
Down. We fight for our share,
A fresh start, morning.
A new world dawning.

A celebration,
Bold expression,
Our liberation.
End oppression.

Fascism

September 26, 2017

A heavy word. Not one to be tossed easily,
Grenade-like into polite conversation.
A threat, a lie, a swindle to
Set us against each other.

But tyrants are mortal.
You cannot set in stone,
When wind erodes,
Time crumbles to dust.

National pride wrapped in bundles of sticks.
Together we are strong, individuals can be broken.
In basements, under spotlights, in gas chambers.

The Roman salute, Hail Caesar!
Mussolini stole such
Patriotic guff. Clothed his men in uniform
To inspire fear, to stand aside from
Crowds of unbelievers.

For fascism to take hold
It first has to rid itself
Of opposition. Crush resistance
From those who conspire and
Dream of freedom, democracy.
Label others with stigmata.

Hitler failed at art.
If only his school teachers
Praised his scribblings,
Galleries showed his work,
His ego may not have found
Such an outlet.

He was also a thief.
Cloaked distasteful ideas, at first,
In talk of socialism,
Freedom from wage tyranny.
But hate and terror prevailed,
The world blazed in agony.

Together, humanity defeated such ideas:
Or so we may talk ourselves into believing,
Sitting here, discussing politics and struggle.
Yet still there are people

Who swallow lies of superiority,
Deceit of supremacy.
Visions, of returning to
Non-existent golden era.

Rome taught them the art of carving up
Ruling supreme. Keep tribes squabbling
With petty concerns,
Or if revolt threatened,
Throw their chieftain a juicy bone.

Corruption still gnaws at our society.
But there is human solidarity,
Kindness, and comradeship,
Which, if it stands firm,
Can overcome racism and division.

When we realise that we are all just
Part of a fragile, blue bauble in space.