Some people are born to be troublemakers – in the best possible sense of that word. The veteran Labour politican Tony Benn, who died yesterday at the age of 88, was certainly one such. The kind of trouble he made was the kind of trouble many more of us should make in this life: he was prepared to stand up and say what needed to be said, usually in no uncertain terms, and often much to the discomfort of the government of the day (and even his own party, at times).
While reading the many tributes that have been made to this principled man in the immediate aftermath of his death, I was reminded of the role he played in paying tribute to someone else, another determined and impassioned individual who stood up for what they believed in – the suffragette Emily Wilding Davison, who is remembered by an unusual memorial plaque in the House of Commons (see text below). I first encountered the story of this once secret plaque and Benn’s part in it from the MP and ex-Green Party leader Caroline Lucas, who told it at a Climate Rush event commemorating the suffragettes in 2010, and it has intrigued me ever since:
IN LOVING MEMORY OF
EMILY WILDING DAVISON
IN THIS BROOM CUPBOARD EMILY WILDING DAVISON HID HERSELF, ILLEGALLY, DURING THE NIGHT OF THE 1911 CENSUS.
SHE WAS A BRAVE SUFFRAGETTE CAMPAIGNING FOR VOTES FOR WOMEN AT A TIME WHEN PARLIAMENT DENIED THEM THAT RIGHT.
IN THIS WAY SHE WAS ABLE TO RECORD HER ADDRESS, ON THE NIGHT OF THE CENSUS, AS BEING “THE HOUSE OF COMMONS”, THUS MAKING HER CLAIM TO THE SAME POLITICAL RIGHTS AS MEN.
EMILY WILDING DAVISON DIED IN JUNE 1913 FROM INJURIES SUSTAINED WHEN SHE THREW HERSELF UNDER THE KING’S HORSE AT THE DERBY TO DRAW PUBLIC ATTENTION TO THE INJUSTICE SUFFERED BY WOMEN.
BY SUCH MEANS WAS DEMOCRACY WON FOR THE PEOPLE OF BRITAIN.
Notice placed here by Tony Benn MP.
“I must tell you, Mr Speaker, that I am going to put a plaque in the House. I shall have it made myself and screwed on the door of the broom cupboard in the Crypt.”
It’s a great story, but it’s more than that. It says a great deal about the kind of person Tony Benn was. A tenacious and principled man who was happy to speak his mind, as the very fact that he was so determined to commemorate this event (even secretly) – and that he considered it to be important enough to memorialise – shows. Like many from across the political spectrum, I have long admired the principled stance he maintained all the way through his political life – and this memorial to Emily Wilding Davison is but one example of the way his democratic and socialist principles were so important to him.
I never met the man himself, but I saw and heard him speak at countless rallies and he was always fascinating. I suspect we might not always have agreed on everything had we ever met, but, quite frankly, that really doesn’t matter. The accounts I have read over the last twenty four hours from those who did meet him all point to a man who was fascinated by people and who would always find time to speak to those who buttonholed him – and, unlike most modern politicians, who would really listen to and absorb what he was being told, whether he agreed or not.
Tony Benn was the kind of politician you just don’t see any more. Writing in The Guardian yesterday, Gary Younge points out exactly what it was that made Benn the kind of politican we should see more of:
He advocated for the weak against the strong, the poor against the rich and labour against capital. He believed that we were more effective as human beings when we worked together collectively than when we worked against each other as individuals. Such principles have long been threatened with extinction in British politics. Benn did a great deal to keep them alive.
And it’s now our job to continue to keep these principles alive in the face of the current political climate…
We all know he’s a gobby little so-and-so, but sometimes he’s spot on…
The Tories just want to squash every working-class person up in one bedroom, lock the door and throw away the key.
I was in the library today. While flicking through the pages of a book on the 1832 Reform Act, I found this little story. You can imagine my reaction (and yes, I did get a dirty look from the librarian for laughing…):
[A] little girl asked her mother, ‘Mamma, are Tories born wicked, or do they grow wicked afterwards?’ To which the mother replied, ‘They are born wicked and grow worse.’
Whether this parental exchange really happened is immaterial – the story obviously struck a chord at the time. And, not far off two centuries later, absolutely nothing has changed…
No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin or his background or his religion. People learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.
Nelson Mandela 1918-2013
A remarkable, inspirational life well lived.
Rest In Peace.
To absolutely no-one’s surprise, the controversial badger cull trial is in trouble. There appears to be confusion over how many badgers there actually are in the trial area to begin with, and the government’s targets for killing these beautiful creatures have not, it seems, been met – leading to an extension to this pilot cull being requested in order to do so. The Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, who is very much in favour of the cull, was asked about this in a BBC interview today:
BBC News Interviewer: What you describe there as success, the critics will argue has been a failure on all levels. You didn’t estimate the number of badgers in the area correctly in the first place, you haven’t reached the 70% target of killing badgers that you set yourself at the beginning of this and now the trial has to be extended. You’re moving the goalposts on all fronts.
Owen Paterson: No, that’s not right at all. The badgers moved the goalposts. We’re dealing with a wild animal, subject to the vagaries of the weather and disease and breeding patterns.
BBC News Interviewer: Well, doesn’t that make the cull ridiculous in itself then?
Well, yes. Yes, it does. But the cull has always been ridiculous in itself. And Paterson is quite right when he points out that badgers are wild animals, although I’m not sure how that would make them responsible for changing the rules of football – let alone a basic human inability to count correctly or shoot straight. Indeed, I suspect the badgers are probably less on the wild side and more like absolutely livid over all this stupidity. So livid, in fact, that I like to think they’ve run away with the goalposts so poor Mr Paterson can’t play football…
Seems I wasn’t the only one amused by the possibilities of this mental image – over at usvsth3m.com, they’ve got a fun Owen Paterson’s Badger Penalty Shoot-Out game where you can try to get the ball past a group of sneaky goalpost-moving badgers. It’s not as easy as it looks – the badgers beat me every time!
Last Saturday, I headed off to Sipson to wish the wonderful Grow Heathrow project a very happy third birthday. Although they have the possibility of a legal judgement looming over them that could – sadly – lead to their eviction from this fantastic site, they still know how to throw a great birthday party – and I hope they have many more!
Here’s something I’m really excited about. This is the trailer for Grasp The Nettle, the brand new film from some of the team behind the successful indie remix mash-up documentary The Crisis of Civilization (2011). Filmed during the immediate aftermath of the 2008 banking collapse and beyond, Grasp The Nettle follows the lives and experiences of an eclectic group of activists involved in two radical social projects in London – the Kew Bridge Eco-Village and the controversial Democracy Village in Parliament Square.
Not a week appears to go by without a new scandal of some kind emanating from our jawdroppingly incompetent and greedy government. The latest, as I am sure you will have noticed, involves the chief whip, Andrew Mitchell, who decided one evening last week that the rules of the road around Downing Street didn’t actually apply to him (well, obviously. He is chief whip after all. *sarcasm*).
Having had his collar felt by the Downing Street cops for cycling where he didn’t ought to cycle, Mitchell apparently let fly with a mouthful of abuse at the police, an altercation that was seemingly witnessed by members of the public too. Ironically, the incident was picked up by The Sun (regular readers will know how I feel about that rag), whose reporting of the story last Friday broke the scandal and forced a response from Mitchell.
Claiming that he was “very clear about what I said and what I didn’t say. And I want to make it absolutely clear that I did not use the words that have been attributed to me”, Mitchell issued an ‘apology’ on Monday which provoked a media debate as to who was actually telling the truth about the incident. In response to that, the Met police released the full log of the altercation, part of which I reproduce here:
In March last year, I wrote about the impending cuts to our library services and why it’s just so important to save these vital community resources from closure and ‘rationalisation’. Recently, I was interested to note that the Public Libraries News had put together a list of library closures – and of those libraries still under threat from government policy.
[W]e are seeing a reduction in opening hours, book stock spending and staff in many library services. Local communities, families and individuals are more than ever facing a postcode lottery when it comes to the quality of library services they can expect to receive.
And good quality library services are a crucial aspect of any healthy community. I’m a regular user of my local library – and not just in order to borrow books, although I do that frequently. The libraries in my local area also offer everything from local history services and access to education information, newspapers and the internet, to storytime sessions for the little ones and book groups, family history tutorials and craft workshops for the grown ups.
Good evening ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the July 2012 edition of the Another Kind Of Mind Stupid Awards. All those nominated for a Stupid Award tonight have been chosen for their spectacular demonstrations of pure, unadulterated idiocy and their inability to function with any sense even in the glaring face of reality. July has been a vintage month for such complete and utter fuckwittery, what with all of tonight’s candidates showing off their not inconsiderable skills over the last week – so, without further ado, here are the nominees…
Aidan Burley MP:
Nominated for: Being a racist Tory bigot in charge of a computer.
Oh look. Yet another Tory MP has opened his mouth and stuffed his foot firmly inside it in a very public fashion. There is something to be said for politicians being on Twitter – I follow several who are actually very interesting and very human tweeters. I may not always agree with them but they mostly understand the concept of when to shut up – unlike Mr Burley, who is (for the time being, anyway) still somehow MP for the marginal constituency Cannock Chase after some really nasty comments.