A few thoughts for Saturday:
I think that of all the nauseating shit that various worthies have guffed re: free speech this week, David Cameron’s contribution probably made me hurl the furthest:
“We must be very clear about one thing, which is we should never give up the values that we believe in and defend as part of our democracy and civilisation and believing in a free press, in freedom of expression, in the right of people to write and say what they believe.”
Sounds absolutely fabulous. One thing, though. I wonder if this Free Speech largesse will now be permanently extended to people who want to write, protest and say what they believe about David Cameron. I wonder in particular if it extends to people who want to protest and write against Cameron’s austerity cuts. I know that we were all pleased to discover that the right to pen cartoons in other countries will from this point be defended by a liberal colossus like our leader. I’m just keen to confirm that those who protest and report a little closer to home have the full green light as well.
You’ll understand why doubt clouds this part of the picture for me. I don’t want to imply that we’re in totalitarian lockdown yet – I personally have a great deal of freedom and I don’t take it lightly – but things keep happening. They even happened at almost the exact same time that Cameron delivered the above ode to liberty. Here’s an anecdote for you. About 24 hours before Cameron came out with “the right of people to write and say what they believe,” I attended a lobby at parliament with a group of disabled people who’ve been engaged in a bitter three-year fight against a Cameron-government proposal to close the vital Independent Living Fund. This group of people use the ILF to pay for the extra carer hours they need to live independent lives. They can study, work, socialise and get out amongst it like everyone else. You might say that with that support, people have freedom. Without that money, these people will be in a very bad place indeed. It is not an exaggeration to say that some may die if they end up with inadequate care. We are most certainly talking a life and death situation here. We are talking about rights. We’re talking about the right of disabled people to live. That’s why so many people have fought so hard to get news of the ILF cut circulated. Nobody will let it go. Nobody can let it go.
Anyway, a journalist at the lobby started to livestream the event for the benefit of the many disabled people who weren’t able to attend, but who of course wanted to hear what MPs had to say about the future of the ILF. The ILF is due to close in just six months and people are naturally very worried. With a couple of honourable exceptions, the mainstream press has been utterly useless at reporting and campaigning on this funding cut. Livestreaming, protests and campaigner reports have been crucial to getting the news out.
Things were ticking along with the livestream and a number of people – one in tears – explained their concerns to MPs. Then suddenly, some worthy burst into the room and said You’re Not Allowed To Livestream From Parliament – Turn That Thing Off.
So. That’s freedom of expression and the right to get the news out for you, people. It’s not unusual to be told to stop filming, or to be given a raft of reasons to stop – security, privacy, etc, etc. Still, I get very angry about this sort of thing. I was actually so pissed off when officers told that journalist to stop livestreaming that I left the room (I like to think the journalist was allowed to start the livestreaming again, or did so without permission. UPDATE 13 January – apparently they did carry on filming. MPs backed down when called out on the access issue. Excellent). I left for another reason that has to do with free speech in a roundabout way. I was on the verge of saying something confrontational to the officer who closed the stream down, but I knew that saying what I believed in that instance would be ill-advised. I expect that at the very least, I would have be told to put a sock in it.
There’s freedom and freedom, you see. There are the freedoms that politicians are prepared to defend (you should always ask why that is, too) and then there are the freedoms that we must all kiss goodbye, because they are perceived as (or at least sold as) a threat to the great modern god that is Security. The freedom to draw cartoons Over There is defended. Livestreaming an event about a potentially fatal funding cut from your own seat of democracy, on the other hand, is a security threat (when I’m banned from recording or filming, I’m usually told the ban is made on security grounds. Security will pull any old bollocks out, though. One asshat on West Lancashire council once told me to stop recording a public council meeting, because he was worried I wouldn’t edit it “professionally.” God knows where he was going with that. I kept the recorder on, anyway. The hell with him). Protesting is also considered a threat. About an hour before livestreaming problem last week, I filmed a copper telling the same group of people that they’d be arrested if they didn’t end the protest that they were holding on Whitehall. Disabled people blocked Whitehall for half an hour or so on Tuesday, again to draw attention to their concerns about the ILF closure. You can hear the copper going on about arrest at about 0.20 in the video here:
Because it’s Saturday and because, as I say, I get queasy when Z-list, austerity-happy politicians stride the world stage blathering on about civilisation and rights in the interests of pointing the finger elsewhere, I thought I’d list a few of the events I’ve attended where Cameron’s police force and/or various security guards have tried to stop people protesting against austerity, or filming, or recording, or writing about it. For the record, I don’t wish to imply that the treatment handed out in these instances to journalists in particular equates to being shot. It doesn’t. It obviously doesn’t. I simply mean to say that reporting on and protesting against Cameron’s austerity cuts hasn’t quite been the picnic that the great man would have you believe. I also want to point out that Cameron certainly has a lot of coppers at his immediate disposal for someone who believes in free expression. You’ll see quite a few of these at protests in the videos below. For the record on the Charlie Hebdo story: I think a lot of things. I hate the racism. I hate the censorship. I hate the killing. Most of all, I hate a wildly hypocritical political class that takes any opportunity to stir and channel hatred while showing absolutely no evidence otherwise of giving a damn for anyone’s liberty, or life. Disability funding cuts have killed people, you know. If the ILF goes, that’ll likely lead to more illness and death, as will more social care cuts generally. We’re civilised here, though. Or something.
Je suis not Charlie, my friends. Je suis some old blogger who can’t stand a lot of what she sees these days. I think I know how all this will end.
Here are a few instances where people have struggled to express themselves in David Cameron’s free speech nirvana. I’ll probably upload more later:
Police standing on tents to stop disabled people setting up a protest camp at Westminster Abbey. People wanted to set the camp up as a protest at government plans to close the ILF:
Extraordinarily excessive policing at the Westminster Abbey protest (hundreds of police vs about 30 protestors):
Police forcibly break up an eviction protest at Camden: (two arrests):
Police refuse to recognise my press card and cross the police line at Abbey protest:
Security guards bar entrance into public Newham council meeting:
I’ll probably upload more later.