Monthly Archives: August 2011


The Times Reviews Medea

Very happy with today’s review of Medea by Libby Purves in The Times. Can’t link to it because it is hidden behind the great firewall of Murdoch. Taking a risk that News International’s lawyers are rather too busy to sue me for copyright, here it is:

Nadira Janikova sprang to attention over her affair and marriage with the whistleblowing British envoy to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray. She told the story in her show The British Ambassador’s Belly Dancer, containing the famous admission that the first time she saw him she thought: “Who is this old foreigner, does he have any money?”
Seven years on, as an actress, she radiates an exile’s determined vigour: a steely, competent, wounded, potentially ruthless brand of feminine strength, which makes her ideal casting for Euripides’ Medea in a sinewy new version by Stella Duffy, directed by Sarah Chew.
Medea after all, though a royal granddaughter of the Sun-god Helios, is the foreign wife of an Establishment man, Jason. Far from her roots and rejected, she becomes the avenging demon who kills her rival and her own two small sons.
Because the horrible story is familiar — Duffy uses the traditional prophetic, worried chorus of women to signpost it — it is mainly a meditation on motive and provocation, with Medea’s pain at its heart. Uninhibited howls of “dark, wild grief” and rage greet us from behind the marbled slabs of the set even before we sit down: when she appears, exotically scarfed, she rages about being foreign, deceived, betrayed and as fierce as any man.
For all the high language and the sinuous, scarf-twisting writhing, Janikova is most real in the more colloquial lines, as she contemplates her dark intent and flirts deceitfully with Jason, who is played by Richard Fry in blokey and exasperated Cockney, like an EastEnders geezer telling his stroppy girlfriend to “leave it off, darling”. That actually works rather well, giving a sense of grounded realpolitik to counterbalance Medea’s primitive rage. As he says soothingly “I don’t blame you, you’re a woman”, her eyes hood with dark intention.
Sarah Berger, powerful as the nurse, relates the revolting details of the bride’s death; two sweet twin boys (the Pleasance director’s, I am told) are seen, although mercifully their throats only get slit offstage. A grim but gripping hour, but worth the ride.
Box office: 0131-623 3030; to Aug 29

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Revenge and Punishment

The country is in a mood for revenge. The BBC reports that 200,000 people have signed a petition for withdrawal of benefits from those involved in rioting, while housing associations and councils have started to initiate evictions.

This is madness. If you believe – as I do, and David Cameron claims to – that these lootings were nothing more than simple criminality, then surely they should be treated no differently to ordinary criminal procedure. Criminals do not receive benefits while in jail anyway, whatever the Daily Mail may wish its readers to believe. But deprivation beyond that appears to be the aim of politicians now, wiht those not jailed losing their benefits and loss to those jailed extending beyond their sentence.

I support custodial sentences for many of the looters. I have absolutely no time for gangster culture. Many of these criminals have shown that decent people do indeed need protection from them – in the case of murderers, muggers and arsonists, for a long time. But the custodial sentence for the man who pinched two bottles of water was a totally irrational over-reaction.

If we have learnt anything about punishment in modern times, it is that prison purely as punishment and isolation does not work long term. The purpose must be rehabilitation, training and a better understanding of society and its obligations. There is not enough of this in custodial centres already. To add to it the idea that people should be returned to society in a state of enforced homelessness and with no income, is absolutely mad. There is no other word for it. A more certain way of causing future crime could not be found.

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Broken Britain

Not sure where this came from, was sent to me by email. An excellent cartoon.

Where I differ from so many of my commenters is in seeing all three caricatures as representing a real type of deeply unpleasant person involved in what has gone so wrong in our ultra-materialist society. Most of my commenters view the first two that way and the third as a noble class warrior fulfilling a legitimate desire for material goods (and killing pensioners and burning families out of their homes). Or some such bollocks.

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The Roots of Conflict

There is an excellent article by Simon Hughes on response to the looting. He has in many ways the same position as me in seeking radical solutions to the malaise of our hugely unequal society, while in no way sympathising with criminal looters.

The direction of all of Hughes’ proposals is correct, but his proposed action does not go far enough and is not specific enough. In both public and private organisations, the earnings differential between the highest and lowest paid should be limited by law to a factor of four, including the effect of all non-salary perks and benefits. Hughes does not give specifics on his desire to limit this gap, but Will Hutton has been promoting a factor of ten in the public sector – that is far too wide an equality gap.

Similarly Hughes’ pious wish to promote worker partnership and cooperatives needs to be given concrete form by legislation forcing all companies to give truly significant – I am thinking around forty per cent – shareholdings to employees.

If Simon really wants to roll back the excesses of the last thirty years, then natural monopolies like the utilities companies and the railways need to be returned fully to public ownership. PFI should be discontinued and all PFI assets nationalised without compensation.

Housing Association properties should be taken over by local authorities as traditional council housing, and massive new public funded mixed home building programmes should be begun that include the demolition of the ghastly huge sink estates of sub-standard housing. That would help boost the economy out of recession.

Hughes’ diagnosis is correct. But the reversal of the incredible and dangerous expansion of the gulf between rich and poor requires truly radical use of the power of the state with measures along the lines of those above. Anything else is just tinkering.

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The Killing of Mark Duggan

The Guardian has an interesting piece today on Mark Duggan, whose death sparked the initial rioting. I want to try to approach this as objectively as possible.

The Guardian piece focuses, quite rightly, on the fact that the police yet again seem to have encouraged false information to come out in the immediate aftermath of the killing, particularly to the effect that Duggan fired first. This is part of a worrying pattern – the numerous lies about Jean Charles De Menezes, the false claim that demonstrators attacked police trying to resuscitate Ian Tomlinson.

This is extremely serious because it is part of the picture of the Met, like the rest of government, being much more interested in spin than fact when it comes to dealing with the media. This in turn comes back again to that incestuous web of bungs and consultancy contracts that characterises the Met/Murdoch relationship. The Duggan death shows the police instinct to lie and cover up is as fierce as ever.

But, on the death itself, we have to face the fact that Duggan was no Ian Tomlinson or Jean Charles De Menezes. They were both innocent and unarmed. Duggan was neither innocent nor unarmed. He was a hardened gangster carrying a loaded firearm. I understand the police believed he may have been actually on the way to carry out a “hit” and that is why they stooped him in a public street. I have no reason to disbelieve this.

From the Guardian report:

“Duggan’s family and friends have said that if he was carrying a loaded weapon, they did not believe he would have fired at police.”

That is a highly qualified statement. No doubt that he would carry a loaded weapon, or that he might fire it at somebody else.

Thankfully, being an armed gangster is not a capital offence in the UK and the circumstances described above do not give the police the right to carry out an execution. Obviously something went horribly wrong in the incident, and one possibility must be that the officers, or at least one officer, decided on just such an illegal execution.

But that is by no means the only possibility, and we must also note that this went so wrong that the police injured and could have killed one of their own. It seems most likely that the bullet which passed through Duggan’s bicep was the one that ended lodged in a police radio. How somebody came to open fire when one of his own colleagues was in harm’s way is another important question, and on the face of it would seem to indicate confusion.

The police have harmed their case, perhaps irretrievably in public opinion, by their lack of immediate honesty about whether Duggan fired. But that does not mean they have no case. Duggan was not an entirely innocent man. He is absolutely not, in that sense, in the category of De Menezes or Tomlinson.

I for one do actually want the police to arrest criminals carrying loaded firearms, and I realise that will always be a risky business.

Was this an execution, a botch, or a legitimate response to a leveled weapon? We do not know. The problem is, we can be pretty sure that the well-oiled protection mechanisms that always shield the police from genuine investigation, will kick in again.

The problem, of course, with exoneration of the police in appalling crimes like their execution of Jean Charles De Menezes, is that nobody will believe them when they are in fact in the right. There is a strong possibility they were in the right on this one. They have brought general disbelief upon themselves.

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Edinburgh

My family come from Edinburgh. I used to live and work here. It really is not an especially wet city. It gets hot in summer. But every time we come for the Festival, it is like spending an entire month in an ice cold shower. Emily is developing trench foot.

Reviews continue to be generally very good. This one came out in Three Weeks printed edition yesterday, though it has not gone up on their website yet:

Medea ****

Euripides’ tragic tale of betrayal and alienation is expertly given a modern edge in this production from Fraser Cannon. An adapted script from Stella Duffy sees much of the language transformed to give more of a contemporary feel, whilst still retaining the essence of the original Greek story. Nadira Janikova in her portrayal of Medea manages to brilliantly capture the agony of being ostracised and abandonned for another woman, and her subsequent thirst for revenge that follows, in a performance that is truly absorbing. With a well presented chorus that uses music to help capture the burning torment of the “barbarian”, this is a production that is well worth watching, regardless of one’s interest (or not) in Greek tragedy.

Qualified rapture from Lyn Gardner, theatre critic of the Guardian who tweeted:

Stella Duffy’s version of Medea at Assembly is just terrific, although some of the acting a trifle under-powered

Which of course leaves one rather wanting to know more, and points up the limitations of Twitter as a medium of theatrical criticism (or intelligent human communication full stop).

In the interests of strict honesty I should also reference this bad review from the British Theatre Guide. Mr Fisher is of course absolutely entitled to his view of the production and acting. But I find his claim not to be able to understand the casts’ accents wildly improbable, and it leads me to wonder whether he is (ahem) not entirely in harmony with our multicultural society.

Finally it is a great pleasure to keep meeting so many blog readers after the show. It was good to see John yesterday. I do have a number of things I have to do and people I have to juggle once the show finishes, so I am sorry if I seem preoccupied, but it really does cheer me up more than you can imagine when readers come up and introduce themselves. I am only sorry that Nextus slipped away without me seeing what he (or indeed she) looked like!!

UPDATE

Let me add this shocking video of Edinburgh Riots, which I think Vronsky posted to an earlier comment thread.

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The Limits of Debate

An organisation called Intelligence Squared recently sent me an email asking me to promote their next debate, on the War on Terror. Speakers are General Musharaff, Colleen Graffny (ex senior Bush diplomat), Jeremy Greenstock and Bernard Kouchner.

But who, I inquired, is on the other side? The rather surprising answer I received is that Musharaff and Graffny are speaking for the War on Terror, and Greenstock and Kouchner against.

Which just about sums up the current lack of political debate in this country. Jeremy Greenstock is the Ambassador who assisted Straw in presenting the lies about Iraqi WMD to the UN. Bernard Kouchner is the intellectual poster-boy of “liberal intervention” and fan of Tony Blair. “Liberal intervention” is the highly fashionable theory that bombing brown people is good for them, as currently on show in Libya and Afghanistan.

Now Jeremy is a good man, but if he was against the “War on Terror” he signally failed to do anything about it when he was UK Ambassador to the UN. He did in fact tell one of his staff morning meetings in New York that one of my telegrams from Tashkent, condemning US support for Karimov and other dictatorships, was just the kind of thinking and reporting we needed. But he received every one of my telegrams condemning the use of torture in the War on Terror, and did not join in to support me on any of them.

Like many in the FCO, Jeremy would not himself have instituted the attack on Iraq or extraordinary rendition, but did nothing serious to try to dissuade ministers from them either.

It is quite extraordinary that an organisation like Intelligence Squared, which is happy to invite along extremist neo-cons like Douglas Murray to participate in debates, cannot contemplate giving a platform to an actually anti-war, and anti-war on terror, speaker (like Ray McGovern, for example). I am of course reminded of the New Statesman’s refusal to allow any whistleblowers on the panel of their “debate” on whistleblowing.

These are small straws in the wind, but as our society becomes increasingly dysfunctional, the scope of “respectable” or “acceptable” thought ever narrows.

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Peter Oborne

An extremely good article on the riots by Peter Oborne in the Telegraph.

Indeed, I believe that the criminality in our streets cannot be dissociated from the moral disintegration in the highest ranks of modern British society. The last two decades have seen a terrifying decline in standards among the British governing elite. It has become acceptable for our politicians to lie and to cheat. An almost universal culture of selfishness and greed has grown up.

It is not just the feral youth of Tottenham who have forgotten they have duties as well as rights. So have the feral rich of Chelsea and Kensington

I really am quite a fan of Oborne, whose books are well worth reading.

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The Destruction of Higher Education

In our discussions of the riots, a commenter noted that while I had grown up in comparative material poverty, I had benefited from an environment which was socially and intellectually rich – by contrast with the looters. It was a very good point, and I don’t think I had thought of it that way before. I recall a survey of educational achievement by children which found the most significant of all correlations was to the simple number of books in the parental home.

But nevertheless, my own progress – and that of my siblings – was entirely due to the availability of public funded excellent education. I was not only given higher education free, but given a full maintenance grant I could actually live on. Without that, I would have had little more opportunity than my father, forced to leave school at 13 to work.

To me, it is the greatest betrayal in the modern history of Britain, that my generation, which benefited hugely from free public education, has destroyed it rather than pay for it for the next generation.

A betrayal instigated by one Tony Bliar, public school and Oxford.

Now a survey indicates that with new tuition fees, average graduate debt might soon reach a staggering £53,000. This is in fact already blindingly obvious to those of us who are parents.

The government has effectively withdrawn all public funding from university teaching in England and Wales, the finance for universities solely covering part of research costs. No other major country in the world has done this. It is an act of crass philistinism, from a government of millionaires who never needed public educational provision and whose social circles do not need it now.

It is an act of class war, pure and simple.

That level of existing debt as graduates launch their careers (those who can find one) is also going to contribute to the inevitable major collapse of the housing market. To add to the mountain of lunacy that this policy comprises, it is further evidence of the ludicrous fallacy to which this government is so attached, that it is only public debt which damages the economy.

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Ugly Competition

My detestation of the urban sub-culture which spawned the recent crime wave is longstanding. It is ugly, self-centred, materialistic and vicious, and in large part imported from the United States. Those who disliked my views on the looting, if surprised have not been paying attention in the past.

But the House of Commons debate is managing to look like a manifestation of a still uglier sub-culture. Fat-jowled smug men who look like that caricature of the yeomanry at Peterloo, and shrill unpleasant lean-faced women.

So far they want the revocation of the human rights act, powers to close down Twitter, censorship on the internet, tax allowances for married couples (sic), and have suggested that the killing of Ian Tomlinson was a good example to follow.

By comparison Cameron is coming over as almost sane. But he himself has said that convicted looters should lose their social housing. This is crazed populism. I am in favour of custodial sentences for looters. But the custodial sentence should be aimed at better equipping for participation in society. How on earth can you achieve rehabilitation if you deliberately force homelessness? Putting criminals homeless on the streets will reduce crime? Does anyone really believe that?

Presumably he does not intend to throw family dependants on the street too, or does he?

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These Are English Riots

The Guardian has a whole stream of articles, each under the heading “UK Riots”. Actually pretty well every mainstream media outlet is using the term “UK Riots”, as a simple google search affirms.

Bollocks. These are English riots. Glasgow is as poor as North London or Salford, but people up here are not burning out their neighbours. Newsnight Scotland last night had a discussion of what was happening in England, which it struck me could as well have been a discussion of Haiti.

I have the cheering thought that whether it is the sickening sight of the looters or the sickening sight of David Cameron, it must be crossing numerous Scottish minds that England is a liability best jettisoned.

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Hague in La La Land

The British foreign office looks more stupid than ever today after the Transitional National Council, which it has recognised as the Government of Libya, collapsed. Its entire executive committee has been sacked by its head, Mustafa Jalil. The committee had organised the murder of its own army commander, former pro-Gadaffi killer General Younes, and appears to have been dismissed for incompetence in organising the cover-up. Nobody really knows if Jalil has the authority to dismiss everybody else, but as neither he nor they were elected in the first place, it is a rather fine point.

What is for certain is that the “government” of the TNC is not recognised by the people doing the acutal fighting. The rebels of Misrata have actively repudiated the TNC, while the most succesful of the rebels in the field, to the south west of Tripoli, do not appear to have any firm links with other rebel groupings and are largely Tuareg particularists.

Anyway, all is well. The complete collapse of the self-murdering TNC is in fact a sign of strength. Hague’s Foreign Office issued the following yesterday:

“the dismissal of the executive committee demonstrates the strength and maturity of the NTC.”

Pick yourself off the floor, stop laughing and read it again:

the dismissal of the executive committee demonstrates the strength and maturity of the NTC.

As someone who used to work there, I find it deeply disturbing that large amounts of taxpayers’ money are being spent within the FCO to produce this surreal propaganda.

The truth, of course, is that for Hague and Clinton the TNC has to exist only as a numbered Swiss bank account for oil revenues and arms sales to flow through. As long as that account number exists, an actual physical opposition, self-appointed, blood-steeped or whatever, is an irrelevance to western governments.

The ever excellent Patrick Cockburn here.

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A Triumph For Nadira!

The first review of Medea:

But this show is Janikova’s triumph. Constantly on stage, and with vast swathes of classical text to pick her way though, she navigates the highs and lows, the drama and the lightness, the moral complexity, with charisma and aplomb.

– Craig Singer

I was, incidentally, quite wrong in my view that the show would be better simplified. Now it is working properly (within the technical limitations of the Edinburgh fringe) Matt Eaton’s soundscape adds tremendously to the atmosphere and experience of the play. I was bigoted in commenting adversely on something of which I was not qualified to judge the potential.

I am proud of Nadira – I am hoping that eventually, rather than allude to her as my wife, people will think of me as just her husband. Of course, not only is she working with an extremely complex classical text, she is working in her fourth language. The mind boggles. Nadira is marvellous, but so is the whole cast.

If I have one quibble with Craig Singer’s revue, it is that I don’t think either Euripides or Stella Duffy had me in mind at any stage! Nor have I ever claimed to be a statesman. So I don’t quite like the little dig at me over an allusion that is entirely in his own head.

Happily, the show is starting to find its audience. Attendances have crept up to around eighty a night, and still growing, largely by word of mouth and it looks like Edinburgh people rather than Festival visitors.

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The Good Delusion

Comments on my last post revealed many of the regular commenters here to be victims of what I might call “The Good Delusion” – a belief that anyone at odds with the political and economic establishment must be good, as the establishment is unjust and corrupt. But the sad truth is that vicious materialism and sociopathic behaviour is neither confined solely to the upper classes nor in all cases instigated by them.

I should for example be grateful for an explanation by some of the commenters on my last post as to why the following is an act of revolutionary vanguardism, constitutes a protest against government spending cuts or is a product of police stop and search powers:

The answer is that such claims are ludicrous. The idea that all thuggery is the fault of the bad example of the Bullingdon Club or of higher university tuition fees is an absolute nonsense. And I speak as somebody who is utterly opposed to any tuition fees paid by students, absolutely deplores the privilege that the Bullingdon Club represents, and is completely against stop and search.

The idea that no personal blame can be attached to the looters because of their background or of government policies, is one with which I have no sympathy. Strangely those who hold that the looters are blameless victims of oppression tend to be the same people who have no sympathy for the policemen who get injured, whatever their motives or circumstances that led them to join the police. Apparently all looters are innocent and all police are villains. What nonsense!

In direct answer to another critical commenter, you are quite wrong in stating that all my information came from the media. It did not. As far as I know, the store security guards badly beaten up in Newham have not been reported yet in the MSM, for example. How were the attacks on those people justified, who were just trying to earn a living? What about those leaping for their lives to escape fires, or who had their flats attacked with firebombs? What of the bus driver pulled from his bus and beaten up so the bus could be wrecked? The cabbie who had his arm broken trying to defend his takings?

There is a key fact here. The vast majority of those arrested have existing criminal records – many of them very long indeed. This is not a spontaneous uprising of a repressed class. This is a large number of existing criminals seeing an apparent opportunity to rob and mug with little chance of being caught as they temporarily overwhelmed the police. Anyone who believes these were frustrated would-be university students is so warped by ideology as to have descended into gibbering idiocy.

Frankly the idea that these were oppressed representatives of a suffering class is an insult to the very many decent people in low paid work and without work who struggle to get by and never burn down anyone’s home, mug anyone or loot electronic bling from shops.

Some commenters also have chosen to allude to my own middle class background. There are a very few people who frequent this site who have known me since childhood. I can guarantee you that I grew up in much greater material deprivation than almost any of the criminals out looting. It is a simple matter of fact that I owned no clothes which were not secondhand, other than underwear, until after I went to university. I never had a watch. But did that entitle me to go and loot a shop and burn out the people living above it?

I was brought up, with my siblings, by my mother and grandfather. He was a coalman from the genuine British working class tradition, a lifelong socialist, entirely-self taught. He used to read to me from Burns, Hazlitt and Tressell. When in doubt on any moral question, I always consider what old Henry would have done. If anywhere near, he would have been out there with his coal shovel defending people against the vicious looters trying to attack them, ruin their livelihoods and burn them out. Any of you who cannot see that that is the authentic tradition of the British people, are suffering a case of the good delusion which is beyond repair.

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Policing Criminality

I don’t think that I have seen anything like the widespread criminality sweeping England, in my lifetime. It may happen in LA or the Paris bainlieus, but not England. Watching it from the sanity of Scotland enhances the feeling of it happening somewhere I don’t know.

It is necessary to be plain about one thing. This is not, in any sense, a legitimate political protest. Nor is it a revolt of the deprived, homeless and starving. Few of those arrested are coming to the attention of the police for a first time. What is happening is that the burgeoning criminal underclass is realising that it is now large enough to defy society if it can concentrate its forces quickly in specific localities.

This is not a race issue. This is the social mileu from which Jade Goody, Amy Winehouse and Wayne Rooney (all of whom have had close associations with people imprisoned for violence) emerged just as much as it is gangs of Somalis and Nigerians – and it is indeed that too. It is a product of a contemptible urban sub-culture driven by a detestation of education and an avid materialism. That its devotees can argue that the corrupt bankers and politicians are morally no better is a perfectly valid point, but no justification.

They are not destroying the homes and livelihoods of politicians and bankers, but of ordinary decent people.

The policing does raise vital questions. The Met has 30,000 officers. Tonight it will have 16,000 out on the street, including reinforcement from elsewhere. Why on earth did it only have 6,000 out last night across the whole of London, when everyone knew what would happen? And why then did they simply watch looters? Senior officers had decreed that the “containment” tactics used to control political demonstrations should be used here. What arrant nonsense. You don’t just cordon off areas in which looters are allowed to loot.

There are root problems in society which have caused this, but the immediate cause is impunity. The criminally minded witnessed that they could loot what they wanted, while the police would merely stand and watch. As a result, more and more joined in and the situation has gone from bad to worse. One thing which has been under-reported is the amount of personal violence that has been used, with people mugged in the streets, cab and bus drivers attacked and people stoned as they ran from burning flats.

I have no problem at all with calling for the deployment of baton rounds, tear gas and water cannon. If nobody has been burnt to death so far, it is a miracle. If the odd looter gets killed by the police by accident by a baton round, I would view that as very sad but something they brought upon themselves. I would not bring in the army at the moment, but the force of society should be brought to bear by the immediate enlistment of any volunteer with no criminal record as a temporary special constable. They should look to enlist tens of thousands.

The resources of civilisation are not exhausted.

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Puzzled by Police

I have just been watching live BBC helicopter footage of a group of young criminals attempting over a long period to break into a bookmakers and other businesses in (I think) Hackney. Police in full riot gear were just down the street, watching and making no attempt to disperse them.

I have been on perfectly peaceful demonstrations and been pushed around by policemen acting far more aggressively – and in hugely greater numbers – against non-violent protestors than they are reacting against violent criminals against whom, frankly, the police should be reacting with force; proportionate, but force.

Very hard to understand this at all.

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The Tottenham Dynamic

I am not going to post much yet on events in North London, because I do not understand them. I have a strong urge to sympathise with those rioting as an oppressed underclass, but am well aware that they come from an urban sub-culture which I despise in virtually every aspect, and has no connection to working class tradition or ethics. Nor does this seem genuinely to relate to an embattled ethnic community feeling it is defending itself, as in Broadwater Farm or Bristol. You have to look back to events like the Gordon Riots to find parallels that seem to make any sense. The arson and looting is not justified, full stop.

On the other hand, it is impossible not to note that some of the key looting targets – Aldi, Lidl, JJB sports – are themselves emblematic of our deep, dark social divide. They are places Boris Johnson and David Cameron and most of the aspirant middle classes would not be seen dead in. That the looters come from a deeply ignorant, viciously materialistic, educationless sub-culture that ought to be despised, does not mean that the individuals themselves could never have been different, given opportunities they did not have. It is not to sympathise with the actions of the vicious, to ask how we created them in such numbers.

That police kill people too readily and with too much impunity is undoubtedly true. But that is only the spark. The existence of the gunpowder is the real problem. The existence of a society in which the gulf between rich and poor grows ever wider, and there is never even the remotest prospect of socially productive labour for a great many, was always likely to have these results.

These riots are not an isolated phenomenon; but together with the excesses of the banks and the collapse of public services, are all part of a much wider malaise as the capitalist engine has stalled in a vast mesh of corruption and croneyism.

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Nadira on Acting

I am blogging standing up and feeling very foolish. I did something very painful to my back on Saturday by napping in the afternoon tightly coiled in a leather chair. I now can’t bend at all.

I couldn’t go to the theatre yesterday, and everyone is telling me that Nadira’s performance was absolutely incredible, the best yet. Here is a piece Nadira penned on her approach to the role:

On Playing Medea – Nadira Janikova

Medea represents a huge challenge for an actress.

First, it is probably the greatest female part written before Shakespeare’s Cleopatra. Second, you have to convey on stage the power of somebody who is a demigod, or quarter god to be more precise – her grandfather is Helios, the sun. Most difficult of all, you have to find the human side of somebody who commits the most unnatural and terrible of all crimes – the murder of their own children.

I look inside myself to find those aspects of my own experience which relate to those of Medea. Like her, I am from Central Asia – she from Colchis, I from Samarkand. I grew up in a society where women’s roles are defined for them and where, whatever the law, the wealthy and powerful often have more than one wife. It helps that I have a sympathetic director, Sarah Chew, who has experience of living in Iran and of working in African cultures.

I can also relate to specific aspects of Medea’s dilemma. Like her, I am a political exile who cannot return to my homeland. She faces exile from her new home, Corinth, and nowhere to go. When I first came to the UK, I was in exactly this dilemma. My partner Craig Murray had been sacked as British Ambassador to Uzbekistan after whistleblowing on extraordinary rendition. I was on holiday with him in the UK, and suddenly I could never go back.

My visa expired, and the FCO organised for me to get a student visa to study drama, but said we had to leave the country to apply. We flew to Dublin, and there I was refused a British visa! I faced the prospect of having absolutely nowhere I could go. It was devastating. This is Medea’s acute problem at the start of the play.

Medea also complains of the gossip about her, exacerbated because she is a foreigner and because of her husband’s position. In my past I had to work in nightclubs to survive, and in Britain I suffered tabloid exposes and exaggerations of my past, the real aim of the press being to damage my partner.

My Uzbek passport expired in 2005 and I was refused a new one. I lived stateless for three years and I assure you it is a horrible feeling of insecurity, like you are not really a human being, especially as I was under tabloid attack at the same time. Eventually the President of Ghana, John Kuffour, took pity on me and granted me temporary citizenship – just as Ghana used to do for ANC exiles. There is a parallel there to Medea turning to the Athenian king for help. In 2010 I finally was given a British passport.

I have also come across the routine racism that immigrants suffer everywhere, and of which Medea complains.

Finally, of course, I am a mother and I understand the bonds that Medea breaks. But you must realise that unwanted royal children had little chance of survival in Ancient Greece, as potential rival claimants to the throne. When Philip died, to give just one example, Alexander the Great and his mother Olympias killed his half-siblings instantly.

In the play, Jason was contracting a new dynastic marriage. In killing her children, Medea was doing herself what she had lost the power to prevent. That would have been axiomatic to Ancient Greek audiences, but her terrible dilemma is less clear to modern British. I think that understanding is essential to the character and the play.

Audiences the last few days have hovered between forty and fifty. I do hope they will pick up, though I am not quite sure how that could be achieved. No reviews as yet – again, with so many things on in Edinburgh, it is difficult just to get noticed.

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Time for the Radicals

A financial system in which the face value flow of funds was vastly greater than the face value flow of goods traded is a bubble. The “bailout”, or payment of vast sums of ordinary people’s money to bankers to keep this crazed system going, could never make it sane.

Allowing bad banks to go to the wall was not just possible, it was essential. Instead the poor are in deep hock simply to maintain the lifestyles of awesome consumption led by the political and financial elites. That is the immediate cause of the services cuts and tax increases sweeping the Western world. The fact this is no solution at all to funny money explains why trillions were wiped off world stock markets last week. The explanation is simple; those trillions never existed in the first place.

There is some quite good analysis of the current situation by Will Hutton . But while his analysis of the problems is basically correct, he demands a radical solution and then proposes a sticking plaster. Reducing the stock of debt by deliberate inflation is not going to solve the problem for a decade, and is predicated on making part of the situation still worse by creating yet more, even more worthless, fictitious money.

Britain is not immune to this at all. UK debt is about 410% of GDP – worse than Italy. Crazed right wing ideologues believe that, as in the UK there is a much higher ratio of private sector to public sector debt, this does not matter. That is nonsense. It might have some validity if that private debt related to the purchase of capital machinery for manufacture, but actually the vast majority of it is related to consumption, and of course most of all to sustaining a housing market inflated to ludicrous prices. Much of the rest relates to credit card funded holidays in Ibiza.

A total collapse of the UK housing market is one of the necessary and highly desirable outcomes of the current crisis. The really radical action that is needed is a repudiation of debt by governments and by ordinary people.

Government could have paid individuals and companies their full bank deposits, and let the bad banks collapse, for less than a quarter of the cost of the bailout. That approach is needed now, with government repudiating debt while guaranteeing individual deposits as the banks fall. We should then make new banking institutions based on the financing of actual trade and investment projects, not on speculation in derivatives. There will be awful dislocation effects, but less extreme than the suffering over the next thirty years of everybody working for the bankers.

Governments, of course, will not be that radical. But people with time will see that they have been duped; a (in one sense) fortuitous series of events has done more in this last five years to improve the vision of the blinkered masses as to the true nature of their masters, than anything in the preceding six decades. I would dearly like to see a repudiation of private debt, with neighbourhood solidarity in physical resistance to throwing people on the streets, to bailiffs and to essential service cut-offs.

I think there is a serious possibility that this will not sound as improbable in a few years time as it does today.

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