Green politics, philosophy, history, paganism and a lot of self righteous grandstanding.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Speech to Manchester People's Climate March

We are all part of the largest mobilisation about Climate Change ever.

Believe me, there is nothing we could be doing that is more important than being right here, right now.

Five years ago, after the last UN meeting to discuss Climate Change in Copenhagen, the G77 described the outcome as “a suicide pact”. We must do better this time.

So today we make history, because otherwise our civilization becomes history.

Here, in the Northwest of England, the key battle in the fight against Climate Change is fracking. If we can win this we will have killed off a new fossil fuel before it has even got going. That will be something.

Photo Steven Speed
Those of us who were at Barton Moss last winter were in the front line of that battle. We did well. I don’t think Igas isn’t coming back to Manchester in a hurry. 
But the amazing thing to me about all this is that whilst we’ve had Direct Action like at Barton Moss, we’ve had rallies like this, we had people camping out through the worst weather imaginable, we had people in front of lorries every day for four months, we had an entire community rallying round to support the Protectors, we had the police bending the law in every way and apparently inventing a terrorist attack to frame us, but we have never had a political debate about fracking. Salford City council would not debate our petition. Trafford Council would not debate their motion. If you want to pay £350 for a ticket you can go along to Media City on Friday to meet the fracking industry, but they don’t really want to meet you.

Two thirds of the country is at risk of fracking whilst Climate Change will affect the whole world. The first step to beating the latter is to ban the former. The science is quite clear on this and we, the people are quite clear. But like so much of British politics, it seems we don't have a voice.
The Labour Party Conference will not decide the Party policy on fracking because that’s not what Party Conferences do any more. Wherever the meetings are being held to discuss the issue, you’re not invited. 

Frankly Britain, this is rubbish. You should not have to stand in front of a lorry or pay three hundred quid to make your voice heard in a debate of national…international importance. Politics should be more than just money talking to power. 

We have been locked out of the politics, and as Plato said the penalty for not being engaged with politics is that you end up governed by your inferiors.

So the Labour Party must listen to us on this one. You cannot bring a new fossil fuel online in the next decade and still keep our promises on Climate Change. You cannot condemn two thirds of Britain to air and water pollution and still pretend you are the same party that introduced National Parks and the Greenbelt.

Yes, that was the Labour Party. Clement Attlee’s 1945 Ministry.

Let me give you a bit more history, there’s plenty of it here in this, the first city of the Industrial Revolution, where the our first canal was dug, the world’s first railway station constructed, where the atom was first split and the first stored-program computer built.

The Midland Hotel, where the party conference is taking place, is where in 1904 Charles Rolls first met Henry Royce. Together they revolutionised the British car industry, something which barely exists today. 

It seems an unusual meeting now. Rolls, the money man, came up from London to meet Royce, the engineer with a factory in Trafford Park. I don’t think it would happen that way round today.

Today the City rules and manufacturing, which made this city great, has been liquidated executive bonuses. 

Today we have an economy that is prepared to sacrifice the climate in order to save the banks.
But today we make history. Today we stop saying what we don’t want and start to demand what we need to survive the future.

We need a new Industrial Revolution, one that will provide the wind turbines, the solar panel, the trains, the electric cars and the other technology that will give us a cleaner, brighter future.
We want an economy that will provide jobs, real jobs, not the temporary work for a few international contractors that the fracking industry offers, but jobs for Trade Union members like those who are supporting this march today.

To make that happen we need to reclaim politics for the people, because when you put a big decision like how to beat Climate Change in the hands of the many, there are many winners but if you let just a few decide, nobody wins. It just becomes a case who loses first. 

The first step in reclaiming the politics is reclaiming the Labour Party, the party that in 1945 really was the Greenest Government Ever. Climate Change is the issue that will tell us whether they have listened. When they agree to oppose Tory plans to frack under our homes without our permission, when they agree to ban fracking, and when they agree to give us One Million Climate jobs instead, then we will know we have reclaimed the power.

It will happen, because we are the people and when we use our voices in the right way we are unstoppable.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Frack Free Labour

'The greenest government ever'. How David Cameron must regret those words.

But if we all agreed that this government is a shade of mucky brown, who really was the Greenest Government Ever?

My vote is for Clement Attlee's 1945 Labour administration. His government built on the pre-war campaign for access to the countryside that had culminated in the 1932 Kinder Scout Mass Trespass and introduced the 1949 National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act. Our first National Park, the Peak District, appeared in April 1951 and appropriately included Kinder Scout.

The Attlee Ministry also brought in the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act, the legislation that
brought in the Greenbelt in order to hold back urban sprawl. The Greenbelt has been under attack ever since, but it is still holding in there, a lasting legacy of a government hat genuinely cared about the British countryside. 

Attlee also did a few other things too, such as create the Welfare State and give India its independence, and thanks to that their Green credentials get overlooked. As people, his Cabinet were anything but a Metropolitan elite. They were men who had come up from the Trade Unions or provincial universities, they were more likely to be seen on bikes than in the Granita.

And by contrast, what did New Labour do? The Right to Roam, I'll admit, but apart from that? Well, allowed BP to drill for new oil West of Shetland using the technology that failed in Gulf of Mexico, tried and fail to get us to grow GM crops and planned a new generation of coal fired power stations. And all this happened whilst Tony Blair flew round the world in his private jet asking us to take Climate Change seriously. Seriously.

Well Labour. You've got to do better.

You used to be the Party of the people, but on this on the people are far ahead of you. On Sunday 21st September people will march in Manchester to demand action on Climate Change. Two thirds of the country is at risk of fracking whilst Climate Change will affect the entire world. The first step to beating the latter is to ban the former. On this we are quite clear, the scientists are quite clear and the IPCC is quite clear.

But like so much of British politics, it seems the people don't matter. The party conference will not debate the Party policy on fracking because that has already been decided. Wherever the meeting was held, you weren't invited. The people with power met the people with money and agreed to do everything they said.

Local government is not much better. Salford council were presented with a petition asking them to debate fracking, but they wouldn't. Trafford Council were presented with a motion on fracking by their Labour group, but the debate was adjourned.

The nearest the people of Manchester will get to an actual debate is something called the Fracking North Conference which is happening in Media City the week after. At this, for a mere £350 a you can meet the movers and shakers in the industry and maybe have a chance to let them know what you think.

Frankly Britain, this is rubbish. You should not have to stand in front of a lorry or pay £350 to make
your voice heard in a national debate. As Ian Hislop might say, "if that's democracy I'm a banana".

So who benefits by keeping democracy out of this huge decision? In the long run, nobody.

There really is wisdom in a crowd. When   power is concentrated in the hands of the few, only a few people benefit, but when many people speak we all benefit. When money talks to power, both sides tend to only hear what they want to. The reason democracies still exist is because they make better decisions than oilgarchies. The Poll Tax, the invasion of Iraq; these were decisions taken by party leaders in defiance of the people, and ultimately both Thatcher and lair paid the price for not listening.

The Labour Party must listen on this one. You cannot being a new fossil fuel online in the next decade and still keep pour promises on Climate Change. You cannot condemn two thirds of Britain to air and water pollution and still pretend we are a Green and Pleasant land.

The Labour Party must oppose the government's plans to allow fracking under our homes without our consent. The must fight the next election with a manifesto pledge to ban fracking and build climate jobs instead.

We, the people, are telling them this, and if we use our voices in the right way they will listen.

Join Frack Free Greater Manchester's Lobby of the Labour Party

Friday, 12 September 2014

The Biggest Rock Band in the World

So summer is gone, the festival season over, and which band ruled?

Well for me it was the Australian Pink Floyd Show, who played a sublime set in at Cropredy where the rain made the lasers sparkle. Definitely the best band I've ever seen featuring a giant inflatable kangaroo.

However for the rest of the UK it was Thrash legends Metallica that dominated, playing Glastonbury and Knebworth. They also toured Poland and a few other places, and thanks to a gig last year in the Antarctic they entered the Guinness Book of Records as the only band to have toured all seven continents. Crowd surfing in the Antarctic is probably difficult.

It wasn't entirely clear what the Glastonbury audience made of thrash anthems such as For Whom The Bell Tolls, but they were certainly a hit with the critics. It was a pretty big year for a band that has had quite a few big years and confirmed that they are indeed The Biggest Rock Band in the World.

And in rock this is important. Jazz may have survived the last fifty years in dingy clubs and Folk has been a cottage industry as long as I've been alive, but Rock just has to have a Biggest Rock Band in the World.

It's an important accolade, awarded not just for popularity, earning power, critical acclaim and all that, but also for cars in swimming pools, TVs out of windows and other assorted mayhem. Indeed, excess all areas is pretty much essential if you are indeed to be The Biggest. And that's a funny thing about Rock too. Just as avowed Communists can turn a blind eye to wealth inequalities in football  those of us who declare war on Bankers bonuses just find it funny when Fleetwood Mac admit to blowing $3 million in three years but not being able to remember what on.

Size matters


The first Biggest Band in the World was probably the Beatles, then it was the Rolling Stones then possibly The Who as the Sixties ended. 

For most of the Seventies The was Led Zeppelin, although Deep Purple, Black Sabbath and The Eagles gave them a run for their money. Punk shook things up a bit, but by the end of the decade Pink Floyd were sitting pretty at the top of the heap thanks to The Wall.

Business as usual returned in the Eighties with Queen, Aerosmith, Bon Jovi and others all doing their best to live up to the accolade, however by the decade's end there was clearly only one band in town who could walk the walk and talk the talk, Guns 'n' Roses.

In the Nineties Guns 'n' Roses descended into silliness and the decade was dominated internationally by U2 and REM, Nirvana and the grunge in the USA and Oasis and Britpop in the UK.

Then the Noughties...well, that's were it all gets a bit hazy. Did we still have a Biggest Rock Band in the World? Surely it couldn't be..Limp Biskit?

Satan calling


Meanwhile Thrash had been doing its own thing. Thrash took the attitude and angry lyrics of the California hardcore punk scene, spliced in the dress code and guitar hero riffs of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal and played it all at 90mph to a double bass drum. Metallica were pioneers of the sound and were part of the Big Four of Thrash.

I remember their fans turning up for Thrash Hour at the start of the rock disco I used to help run in Leicester. Skinny teenagers who'd lied about their age to get in and who'd persuaded their mums to sew '666' into the back of their denim jackets. I was a skinny teenager myself at the time, but my mum had sewn Led Zeppelin's The Hermit onto my jacket indicating that I am deep and spiritual and not afraid of Blues and Folk influences in my music...and also that she didn't approve of that Satanic imagery on clothing.

These days Thrash has spawned more sub-genres than there used to be punters at our Thrash Hour and is listened to by aging bikers, scary Scandinavians and political rebels in Iran, where it is an underground protest music against the Mullahs, apparently.

But in 1990 Metallica transcended the genre - or sold out, depending on your point of view - with a untitled album known variously as 'Metallica' or 'The Black Album' and containing such tracks as Enter Sandman, Wherever I May Roam and the first Thrash ballad Nothing Else Matters.


Releasing an album with no cover art has been pretty much their only Spinal Tappism and, touring like it was going out of fashion, they started to popular with former Led Zep fans like me and eventually from the wider music community.

They played Donnington when it was Donnington and again when it was Download. Having headlined the big festivals across music it was only a matter of time before they came to Worthy Farm.


The result was a fantastic show which, if nothing else, postponed further moaning from the likes of me about the state of Rock.

As long as we have a Biggest Rock Band in the World then The Death of Rock has not happened. So keep thrashing please Metallica, at least until someone comes along to take your crown.

Talking of which, The Black Keys tour Europe next year....

Monday, 1 September 2014

Green Internationalists

An American, a German and Geordie walk into a bar.

Nope, not another rubbish joke, but just a night out with Greenpeace. Okay, maybe not a typical night out as we're in Germany with seven and a half other supporters as part of an international rally against an open cast lignite mine and a few of us are down the local pub enjoying the common language of beer...and Status Quo.

But Greenpeace is an international organisation and eco-warriors are a fairly international bunch. Our own UK party for example included representatives of most of the nationalities of the United Kingdom; English, Welsh, Cornish and, as I have already said, Geordie, as well as a UK resident Yank, a German, a South African, and a Swede.

Perhaps Greenpeace is a little unique amongst environmental groups. I don't expect a national gathering of the Campaign for the Preservation of Rural England is quite as diverse. However we were also a fairly cosmopolitan group on Barton Moss I remember, even though Boris now claims he is actually from Bolton and only picked up his accent on his travels.

There is a bit of a tension here though, is there not, given that these are the people holding up the building of Heathrow's Third Runway and trying ban short haul flights? Lets 'unpack' this a little as they say.

"Show me an environmentalist and I will show you a hypocrite"

As George Monbiot said, in the absence of government action, environmentalism is, and always will be, for other people.

Eco-warriors travel, some rather more than others. I've not been on a plane for thirteen years, but when I last flew it was from the runway I'd tried to stop the building of. I have driven over every road I ever protested against too, and done most of them in Greenpeace vehicle. A former Greenpeace ED used to take his holidays in the Pacific.

We may have travelled twenty hours on an overnight coach with the two most cheerful drivers in the Midlands in order to get to Germany, but the flying environmentalist is just as real as the anti-nuclear activist who'll tell you about the danger of getting cancer from Sellafield whilst smoking a roll up.

Streuth, with us trying to save the world we don't really need anyone trying to destroy it, do we?

The Anti-UKIP

But, as fans of bypasses and short haul flights tell us, travel isn't all bad. It broadens the mind, brings nations and cultures together and generally makes the world a better place all round. I think most of us would respect someone who's well travelled rather more than one who's never left home and spends his spare time knitting organic yoghurt, and with good reason.

I mean, the western nation whose citizens are least likely to travel abroad is the USA. Nuff said. 

And it seems Greens are generally pretty well travelled.

A survey by GlobalWebIndex in May this year revealed that people who'd vote for the Green Party were more likely to eat foreign food and more interested in other cultures and countries than people who would vote for any other party. At the opposite end of the spectrum were, surprise surprise, UKIP.

The survey has a pretty decent sample group of 7504 overall including 282 Greens and also reveals that we are less optimistic about the environment, less interested in personal financial investments and more interested in equality than voters for the other parties, which all makes sense.

Not that I can claim to be all that cosmopolitan myself. From my English breakfast to my pint of mild, my Elgar CDs to my Led Zeppelin records, my taste in food, drink and music would probably even be regarded as a bit conservative even by George Orwell, a man who was radical only in his politics. However I can claim friends in or from most of the EU, so maybe something is rubbing off even on me.

The world on your desktop

So how do we square this circle of wanting to part of the community of nations whilst cutting down our fossil fuel use? Electric trains, planes and automobiles doesn't entirely solve the problem, even if they were available now, which they mostly aren't.

One clue is in the GlobalWebIndex survey, which shows Green voters are more likely to use social media. However having facebook friends around the world is all very well, but eventually you're going to want to visit them.

The reality is there is no way round this. Our heads and our hearts are pulling us in different directions. Whether it's Tradable Energy Quotas or a Carbon tax, Acting Local will make the globetrotting that results from Thinking Global very difficult for us.

So I guess I should be very grateful that I was able to meet so many international friends in person. In years to come, when I'm sitting in the dark round the wood burner, pedalling hard to get enough power to work the internet and calculating how many more TEQs I'll have to save up to get a train to Germany I'll perhaps look back at these days of cheap travel and wonder why I didn't see more of the big wide world whilst I had the chance.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

The Human Chain

Land of the Dark Elves 


It is twilight, and I am swimming in cool waters. Never mind that an air force of mosquitoes is attacking any exposed flesh, I am in heaven. This is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. I am in a beautiful lake surrounded by tall pines silhouetted against the evening sky. The trees, the soil, the rolling countryside could be Norfolk, if Norfolk had lakes, and more trees.

But this isn't England. It is Deulowitzer See in Lusatia, a region of Germany near the Polish border; the east of the old East Germany, a place that for the whole of my childhood was invisible behind the Iron Curtain.

I am here with Greenpeace UK, part of an international camp that is hidden under the trees. We are here to help our colleagues in Greenpeace Germany because the lake, the nearby village of Kerkwitz, and the neighbouring villages of Atterwash and Grabko are all under threat from the Swedish energy company Vattenfall.
 
Heaven or Hell?

There is apparently a local saying "God made Lusatia, but the Devil put coal under the ground". Many environmentalists agree that what lies below the lake is indeed the work of Satan for the seam that lies below the lake is lignite, or brown coal, Europe's dirtiest fossil fuel.

During Communism its fumes made the East resemble Mordor. Burnt in power stations and made into ersatz petrol to power Trabants, it polluted the air and water and choked the lungs. Cancer, bronchitis, heart and respiratory conditions were the consequences for the local comrades. Acid rain and greenhouse gases were the consequences for the environment.

Marxist/Leninism may have gone, but the lignite remains in Germany, as it does in Poland, Bulgaria, Serbia, Kosovo and Greece, a dirty fuel from a different era.

The brown coal is bad


Lusatia and its lakes survived Communism, but they may not survive Capitalism. I'd seen what might be in store for the lake earlier in the day.

Photo: Hanno Bock Wikimedia Commons
Jänschwalde mine is an open cast pit the size of a city tended by machines size of skyscrapers. Giant bucket wheel excavators clear away the overburden to reveal the lignite lying a few metres below. 'Overburden' is a mining term. To the rest of us this means topsoil, trees, villages, and lakes.

The scale of Jänschwalde is hard to comprehend. From the coach the mine first appears as a wall of earth covering the entire horizon. Looking into the mine you see nothing of human scale.

To turn Deulowitzer Lake into this seems a crime against both God and Nature.

Decarbonising Europe


Ironicly the problem has partly come about because of the success of the German Greens. The country was home to an arsenal of nuclear weapons during the Cold War and dusted with fallout from Chernobyl in 1986. Anti-nuclear groups in Germany were popular and well organised and so when Fukushima went bang the country decided to phase out its nukes.

Although a world leader in renewable power, the German economy is as power hungry as any in the world and so the politicians looked to lignite to fill the gap. But turning to the brown coal threatens to blow the European Unions targets for tackling Climate Change out of the water. Lignite produces at least twice as much carbon dioxide per unit of electricity as gas, and nearly twenty times as much as wind power. The new mines would lock Germany into lignite use until 2050, meaning we can kiss goodbye to keeping Global Warming to two degrees by 2100.

Despite the support of local politicians, and despite a Greenpeace organised referendum in 2009 in which the population of Brandenburg rejected lignite, in April this year the state government approved the plans to expand Jänschwalde. Meanwhile, just across the river that marks the Polish border state owned energy company PGE also wants to start mining for the brown coal.

So the battle is on to save both the lakes and the climate. For Pastor Matthias Berndt of Atterwasch this is a spiritual war "We're not just fighting to save our property here in these three villages, we're fighting against the destruction of nature and for the preservation of God's creation."

The Human Chain


But the pastor and his flock are not the only people worried about dirty fuels.

Having failed to kill coal with their referendum, Greenpeace Germany organised the Menschenkette, or Human Chain. The plan was to get enough people to come together to make a line 8 kilometres long from Kerkwitz in Germany to Grabice in Poland spanning the width of the proposed mines.

Greenpeace groups from across Northern Europe are taking part, and so on the Thursday before the August Bank Holiday I was with 63 other people from Greenpeace UK on a coach.

We travelled through the night along the autobahns passing massive coal fired power stations, but also gigantic wind farms; onshore turbines the size of the largest offshore arrays in the UK.

Last time I passed through this area was more than twenty years ago. Then everyone drove Ladas and Warburgs and there were still Russian soldiers about. Now it is all BMWs and Mercedes and in the high-tech motorway services the toilet seats revolved.

Deposited in the woods by the lake, we pitched our tents next to French, Norwegians, Czechs, Belgians, Dutch and Germans from the west of the country. Our own party, being typically Greenpeace, included at least four other nationalities in addition to British. (Never confuse real Greens with Little Englanders; we are an internationalist bunch.) We were knocked out by the beauty of the forest, the quality of the beer and the warmth of the reception. Slightly less so by the lentil, admittedly, but you can't knock free food.

Standing in line with seven and a half thousand other people is a bit like being one yeast cell in barrel of beer; you know something great is happening, but it's kind of hard to tell what. This video clip gives some idea of the scale of the protest. I appear at 8 minutes and 42 seconds, which puts me more-or-less in the middle of the chain.

Without a doubt this is the biggest environmental demonstration I've every been on, five or six times bigger than our Manchester fracking rally. It is also one of the friendliest. A couple of die Bullen - as we're apparently supposed to call the police - are seen leaning on their squad cars smoking cigarettes, but basically we don't need anyone to tell us what to do.

Once we're unchained we head across the border into Poland for a gig headlined by our own Asian Dub Foundation. However we didn't drive for twenty hours from Islington in order a see a band from Hackney, so I don't see the set out and instead head back to Werkwitz.

Most people are chilling in the Climate Camp and the rest of the UK contingent are drinking the bar dry, but I head into the village to the meet the locals.

In the Biergarten of the local pub I meet a man who speaks fluent drunk, the parents of the German member of our party and a folk singer who seems to want to sing me a love song. The live musician struggles to play some English songs on his synthesiser and everyone is pleased to see us. Having spent most of the last decade wondering if their homes are going to disappear into a giant hole it's not surprising.

Tonight, at least, they seem hopeful for the future.

Old problems


It's been said before that environmentalist have been fairly successful in tackling the bad new things of the late twentieth century such as nuclear power, DDT, GM food and - in Germany at least - fracking. However we've been completely useless at stopping the bad old things of the early twentieth century such as cars, planes and most of all coal.

Hopefully The Human Chain has done something to redress the balance. Brown coal is bad no matter which way you look at it.

However although I came to Germany to save the climate, that's not why I want to stop the mine now. The truth is I am now in love with Deulowitzer See.

I've camped in some beautiful places in my life only to see them destroyed - the woods near Newbury and the Bollin Valley near Manchester Airport come to mind. This must not happen here.

For the sake of the climate, of the health of the people of Lausitz, but most of all for beauty's sake, let's unite against coal, the future is renewables.

Photo: Gordon Welters/Greenpeace

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Great Trees of Wales #2: Nevern's Bleeding Yew

Does a bleeding yew tree mark the grave on an ancient High King in a small Welsh churchyard?

Bleeding yew trees are actually common enough to be a readers problem on Gardner's World, but this one is the famous Bleeding Yew. It's a pity then that there isn't a better story about why blood red sap seeps from this 700 year old tree at certain times of the year, but maybe I can do something about that.

The main story is that a monk was hanged here for a crime he didn't commit, but there are also versions where it is empathy for Jesus or that it is waiting for an independent Wales or world peace, or something.

However the yew though is just the hook to lure you into the churchyard of this fascinating little hamlet.

Nevern is in an interesting part of the world. A few miles away is Castell Henllys, a reconstruction Iron Age village on the site of a genuine Iron Age village. The discovery of the post holes of the original huts in 1980 saved the place from becoming an Asterix theme park, and instead there are authentic Celtic roundhouses here, a reminder of a time when there were no Welsh or English, just Britons.

Also nearby is Pendre Ifan, possibly the finest dolmen in Wales.

The Church of St Brynach though is in its own way just as fascinating.

First of all there's St Brynach himself, who according to his chronicler was a bit of a lad until he converted to Christianity and cleaned up his act. At least one woman was apparently unimpressed with his new found chastity and attacked him with a spear when he wouldn't do the business with her.

The current church is a Norman one built on the site of St Brynach's original "clas". Apparently this was his third attempt at church building. The first failed when he was chased away by demons and the second when the locals stole his wood. (You know, I'm starting to think this chronicler was taking the piss.....).

What does remain though are some very curious stones. One is now the outside sill of a window and is inscribed with the seemingly random letters. Another is inside and has a rather stylised cross on it, but the most interesting has some curious upside down Ogham writign on it. It just says 'Maglocunos son of Clutarius' (was here?), but because it says it in Latin as well it helped scholars to decipher this ancient script.

Outside is a wonderful 10th century Celtic high cross, but the highlight of the churchyard is the
enigmatic Vitalianus Stone. This dates from about 500AD and is also inscribed in Ogham and Latin. Possibly this was here even before Brynach.

Now 500AD is right in the middle of the Age of Arthur. This is the year usually given for the Battle of Badon Hill, which is mentioned enough times in different sources to probably be a real defeat for the Anglo-Saxons, although it's far from clear if anyone called Arthur was ever involved in it.

Now Vitalani could just be some otherwise anonymous Roman who just happens to be buried in what subsequently became the home of a Celtic Saint, but he could also be someone much more interesting. The Latin inscription actually says "Vitalani Emerato" which is cod Latin, the second word should probably be Emeritus, meaning "of merit". This may be a spelling mistake, or it could be a local Celtic dialect.

But if the second word is wrong, what if the first word is too? Vitalani or Vitalinus is not a common Latin name. However the chronicler Nennius, who cobbled together a work called Historia Brittonum in the ninth century does have someone whose father and grandfather both have that name. After the brief mention of Arthur in the poem Y Goddodin, Nennius is our oldest primary source for the legendary chap, although Nennius actually calls him dux bellorum meaning Great Leader, not king. It is from Nennius that we get the famous list of Arthur's twelve battles.

Nennius also gives us the tale of Vortigern, who invited the Saxons over as mercenaries only to have them betray him. The story most people know about Vortigern is how his castle kept falling down until Merlin told him about the two dragons under the foundations. Merlin was added to this story in the twelfth century by Geoffrey of Monmouth, and in Nennius the boy who narrowly avoids becoming part of the castle is Ambosius Aurelianus, who is well attested enough to probably be real as well.

Meeting of Vortigern and Rowena by William Hamilton
What interesting though is that Nennius tells us
Vortigern's dad and granddad were both called Vitalinus. Now in Old Welsh Vortigern actually means Great King, so it could be a title rather than a name. In which case, what was he actually called? Well, the obvious answer is Vitalinus, the family name.

In which case do we have an ancient High King of Britain buried here?

We can't be sure, but both the Historia Brittonum and the Black Book of Carmarthen have Vortigern fleeing into the west from the victorious Saxons. With a church dedicated to a barely believable Celtic Saint along with some Ogham and bad Latin this is certainly the sort of place you'd expect to find someone like him.

Rutger Hauer as Vortigern in Merlin (1998)
So maybe what the yew is bleeding for is the last superbus tyrannus, the Romano-British ruler of old Roman Province of Britannia, who tried to hold together a Latin speaking Celtic kingdom to the very end, and who, before he died, saw his kingdom fracture into feuding tribal groups. Perhaps it bleeds because the process of putting it back together again is not yet complete? 

More on the possible Vortigern/Vitaninus link.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Five Questions On The Policing Of Barton Moss Protests

Igas have left Barton Moss and we don't know if they will be back. Another test drill is planned at nearby Davyhulme, but work hasn't started yet.

So whilst it is a bit of a phoney war situation for the moment in Manchester, many questions still remain about the policing of the protests over the winter. Greater Manchester Police and Crime Commissioner Tony Lloyd commissioned an Independent Panel to investigate Greater Manchester Police's operations, but whilst the report is apparently finished it has yet to see the light of day.

There are many questions that need answering. Why was it so violent, why were so many Protectors injured and why does GMP see noting wrong with one its officers arresting a man for drink driving whilst sober and on foot?

But five key points that we would like answers to are these.  

Did the police have arrest quotas?


The police started making arrests almost as soon as the 'slow walks' down Barton Moss Lane in front of the Igas convoys started. It appeared to be pretty random who was actually nicked, but it didn't take long for the Protectors to figure out that the number of people arrested was working out a a regular five a day. Officers were even overheard discussing that they needed "one more" or "two more" or however many it was. Usually these arrests occurred just after the ritual changeover from the black trousered ordinary plod to the blue trousered Tactical Assistance Unit half way down the lane.

As an arrest meant bail conditions being set which usually prevented a return to the Moss, with the prospect of remand if breached, the result was that soon most of the Protection Camp were in some sort of legal jeopardy. In the end the courts were very lenient with bail, with Protectors often released on open bail, even if arrested for breach of bail, but had they not been the tactic could have emptied the camp within a month.

Jibes to the police about whether they were getting their Five A Day though hid a rather worrying reality; that the police turned up every day to a peaceful protest with the intention of arresting five people regardless of whether or not there was a crime being committed. 

Did the police know Barton Moss Lane was a private road?


Whilst the police could arrest the Protectors without too much trouble - these were always peaceful people - prosecuting them proved rather more difficult.

Some people were arrested for Obstructing the Police, a crime for which conviction could depend on your exact choice of words when they collared you, but for the first twelve weeks of the campaign the usual charge was Obstruction of the Public Highway. This was a useful charge to hang on a bunch of impoverished eco-warriors as you can't claim Legal Aid for your defence. Fortunately Simon Pook of Robert Lizar solicitors was willing to represent them on a pro-bono basis.

With a solicitor on hand though, that defence was rather easy. When you stood at the top of Barton Moss Lane one sign clearly said that it was a Private Road and, until it was loaded into a police van and taken away, another said it was a Public Footpath. How you can be arrested for obstructing a Public Highway on a Private Road was a question that was asked of the Police Liaison Officers every day. Their usual answer was that it was public if the public had access to it. This information was sometimes handed out on a piece of A4 onto which the FLOs had obviously typed up themselves.

The hard working Mr Pook said in open court fairly early on in the campaign that this claim was, in legal terms, bollocks and this was not challenged. Nevertheless the police continued to arrest people for obstructing the non-existent highway.

When GMP's flush was eventually busted by Judge Khalid Qureshi in Manchester Magistrates Court in February the police went away for a few days to think about things before returning to arrest the protectors on the charge of Aggravated Trespass. This is an equally bogus charge as you can't trespass on a Public Footpath, and it can't be used if the work being disrupted in not 'lawful' - which Igas's drilling may not have been - but at least you can claim Legal Aid to defend yourself.

Did the police ignore this warning about the legality of the arrests because they already knew Barton Moss Lane was not a Public Highway? Was it the case that Protectors were being arrested on a charge the police knew would not stand up in court in the hope they would not be able to defend themselves?

Was covert intelligence shared with Igas? 


The regular chant as the Protectors were pushed down Barton Moss Lane every day was "GMP - Igas private army". How true was this?

The police obviously co-ordinated their operation with Igas. This was only to be expected. Similarly the the police would have been keeping a close eye on the Protectors. This too was only to be expected. However it remains a question to what extent the police shared their intelligence with Igas.

A report on the Balcombe protests released by Sussex police failed to completely black out some interesting lines.

"Once the operation moved into August it was apparent that an appropriate range of intelligence sources were being harnessed, including where appropriate European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) compliant covert means."

'Covert means' could include phone taps, bugging devices and undercover officers infiltrating the Protectors. Following the revelations that undercover officer Mark Kennedy infiltrated direct actions protest groups for years, and had a long term relationship with an activist, this news was not a surprise.  The report also states though that this intelligence was shared with Cuadrilla Resources, the company drilling in Balcombe.

The question for Greater Manchester police then is not did they spy on the Protectors - we know they did and also know they won't admit it - but was the product of covert intelligence gathering shared with a private company?

Did the police wage a propaganda war against the Protectors?


Throughout the protest Greater Manchester Police regularly complained that they were stuck in the middle of a dispute they wanted no part of. Their protests of neutrality though sound very hollow when compared to their actions, and their other public statements.

GMP put out a series of Press Releases during the campaign with a common theme of a "hard core of trouble makers" and "locals intimidated by protesters".  The BBC filmed an interview with a woman, her identity not being revealed, who apparently backed up these claims.

This was posted on Facebook on 23 January 2014 and is typical.

Chief Superintendent Mark Roberts said, “At the start of this protest the majority of protesters were peaceful and law abiding but over the past couple of weeks local residents and officers have seen a distinct change to this. It now seems that the majority of people who are arriving at the site are not there to protest against fracking but are there to disrupt and intimidate the local community and to antagonise police. We have seen offences of assaults, damage, harassment of residents and workers, a flare fired at the police helicopter and threats to kill.
“I attended a residents’ meeting last week and people there were close to tears and have had enough of this daily disruption to their lives. Locals, who initially supported the protesters, out walking their dogs and driving down Barton Moss Road have been approached by protesters in balaclavas and have been questioned by them which has been extremely intimidating. We have seen a huge increase in the calls to police from that area and this is continuing.
“Officers are verbally abused on a daily basis, one has even been spat at and another officer required stitches to his hand after trying to get a protester down from a fence. The police are there to do a job and that job is to facilitate peaceful protest and to balance the needs of all parties, the residents who live there, businesses who operate from there and the protesters themselves. It is not up to GMP who operates on this land and who has access to it – we are simply there to police it to ensure that everyone remains safe. We are increasingly seeing protesters trying to jump in front of HGVs or jump down from trees on top of moving lorries – it is only a matter of time before someone is seriously injured if they continue to act in a reckless manner.
“We are working very closely with many partner agencies to try and resolve this emerging threat and issue to try and reassure the local residents who feel intimidated in their own homes from people who have travelled from all parts of the country to set up camp in Barton Moss.

It can't be denied that when the convoys were blocked on Barton Moss Lane they often disrupted the traffic on the busy A57 or, despite the massive local support which kept the Protectors alive through the winter, there was a significant number of people who disliked the Protectors because of what they represented. An officer did cut his hand on a fence (whilst making an illegal arrest) and the police were regular accused (with some justification) of being fascists on a daily basis. But nothing else in this statement appears to be true.

Did the police actually believe the Protectors were threatening local people or trying to leap, Emily Davidson style, from trees into the path of lorries, or was this just propaganda, invented to attempt to discredit the anti-fracking cause?

Was the story of a flare being fired at a GMP helicopter invented?


Of the allegations made by Roberts, far and away the most serious was that the Protectors had tried to shoot down a GMP helicopter. The allegation, which first appeared on the GMP Facebook page, was that a police helicopter coming in to land at the nearby Manchester City Airport in the early hours of Saturday 5th January had a flare fired at it from the camp with the intention of bringing it down. This claim, which brought memories of the fatal crash of another police helicopter in Glasgow the previous November.

In the aftermath of the allegation the police descended on the camp in force to conduct a search of all the tents. The weather being typically inclement, this resulted in all the bedding in the camp being soaked by the Manchester rain. Local support, and a donation from ethical cosmetics company Lush, prevented anyone dying of hypothermia.

No evidence of anything sinister was found in the camp. Nor was there any trace of the flare on the airport's cameras, the helicopter's cameras (which were apparently turned off), the state-of-the-art cameras on the Igas site, the ones on the nearby Barton Moss Secure Children's Home nor the cameras on the M62 which, we subsequently found out in court, were able to monitor the movement of individual Protectors around the camp. No witnesses could be found in the nearby Irlam and Brookhouse Estates, no-one driving down the A57 saw anything and neither did anyone on the camp itself.

The only other evidence ever presented on the flare was a post on the activist website Indymedia. This is an unmoderated website on which anyone can post anything, under any name. A post credited to  'Rachel Thompson' appeared to confirm that someone in the camp had indeed fired something. The real Rachel Thompson denied posting this, and the language used - referring to 'protester' and 'the protest' rather than 'Protector' and 'the campaign' also suggested it wasn't her.

As things stand the only evidence that anything at all was fired into the air are the public statements of Greater Manchester Police. Even the officers who allegedly saw the flare have never been named and have never made any public or on-the-record statement. However this did not stop GMP mentioning the incident in almost every public statement they made about Barton Moss, such as the one by Mark Roberts above.

All of which raises the biggest question of all about the policing of Barton Moss; did the police invent the story of a potentially fatal attack on their own helicopter in order the discredit the campaign and justify repressive policing?

We are waiting for the answers.