Improv(e) Your Mental Health

The last few weeks have been rough at a personal level. I was already sliding into another depressive episode over the monumental detachment of various global crises as the Amazon burned, Alaska ran out of ice, another kind of ICE was running concentration camps and diseases we had once conquered were returning due to our own ignorance.

As the UK government shut down its own Parliament, I realised “At last! This is an issue in which I can actually be involved, and lend some effort to solving!” And so I took up that cause with a vain zealotry, thinking I might make an impact.

That cause was not without emotional cost for me and a few friends. You can read about why here! But the short version is that it turns out that being surrounded by people who are deliberately hostile and threatening can have a powerful effect on your state of mind.

Fortunately, it turns out that being surrounded by people who are deliberately supportive and encouraging can also have a powerful effect on the way you feel.

Please note that in this article I’ll be talking about a lot of emotional “stuff”. And also please note that I am in no way advocating going on an Improv retreat as a substitute for actual clinical therapy or counselling. It just so happened that an Improv retreat really helped me right when I needed it to.


On a Saturday, five days before heading off to the Mayday’s Annual September Improv Retreat, I was hungover and failing to deal with my own state of mind following a horrible incident with a group of racists in London a week earlier. So I spent all day on the sofa watching first ‘The Dark Crystal’, and then the newly-released ‘The Dark Crystal: Age Of Resistance’ on Netflix.

Both are excellent, the new series especially, and highly recommended. I connected strongly with the themes of the show and ended up crying so much that the next day, the muscles in my face literally hurt with DOMS.

Over the next few days I just sank further into a depressive state, not really wanting to leave the flat and quietly debating if I even wanted to go to a five-day Improv retreat in an isolated rural location with dozens of strangers, or whether I’d rather just stay at home and vaguely dissolve into the sofa.

I ended up choosing to go to the retreat, and that ended up being a smart choice.


The Maydays are a company of professional improvisers (and actors, musicians and singers) in the UK who run classes, workshops and courses teaching people how to improvise. They also run their own shows (one of which I reviewed here) and are involved in a variety of other projects at an individual level.

Their September retreat is a five-day event based in a large country house in Dorset. Each day (except the first) features a programme of classes that you can choose from, each led by a Mayday and each covering different topics. Some cover basic techniques, others cover longform, or narrative techniques, and there’s a strong selection of musical improv classes, where you can learn to improvise songs. (A review of Baron Sternlook, a musical group in Birmingham, can be found here.)

Whilst you may have many opportunities to join Improv workshops depending on where you live, it’s rare to be able to devote days at a time to learning Improv without travelling to the Uunited States. As such, the Maydays’ Retreat is an incredible opportunity for new and experienced improvisers alike to simply immerse themselves in the art, uninterrupted.


The first evening after I arrived was mixed. Everyone was friendly, and I managed to enjoy a few social interactions, particularly a round of frisbee in the evening sun. However, I felt awkward through every conversation, and felt a little more tired and foolish and uncertain after every interaction. After the evening show I retreated to bed early.

The first full day, Thursday, was worse. A headache set in, social anxiety ramped up, and I was incapable of getting through a single scene in workshops without feeling horrendously clumsy and by turns domineering and completely passive. Scenes and exercises I would normally breeze through felt stilted and jarring. I tried to spend every moment out of class away from people, as far away as possible. I ended up skipping the final class of the day to hide in the fields around the house and lie quietly on the grass pretending that the Sun might somehow, in a Superman-ish fashion, restore some of my strength. It sadly didn’t, and I went to bed as soon as I could.

Everyone was still lovely and friendly, and I really wanted to be in the thick of things, chatting with people and getting to know them. But the periods of self-inflicted isolation left me feeling like I was missing out, and that frustration then made me feel more anxious, making me retreat into deeper isolation.

The Maydays freely offer to speak to anyone feeling overwhelmed during the retreat, and encourage participants to do so. But the feedback loop is real, and every little cycle of anxiety and depression makes reaching out even harder. Which is stupid and self-destructive.


Friday was a strange day.

I woke up feeling a little more intact, and in a moment of Lovecraftian delirium I put my name forwards for all three musical classes being run that day, one after the other. I expected that the Algorithm which assigned classes based on listed preferences might allocate me to one of those sessions. Instead, it allocated me to all three.

I started Improv classes almost exactly two years ago, in September 2017, and since then have sworn blind that I would never even attempt musical improvisation. Improvised has been my nightmare, mostly because I’ve spent most of my life aware of the particular quality of my voice that manages to somehow be simultaneously nasal and shrill with a mucky Scouse accent to boot. Indeed, I can’t think of a fear greather than having to sing in public. Except maybe for spiders.

Why I chose to do even one musical class, never mind three, is beyond reason, but it’s probably rooted somewhere between being repeatedly told that I should “face my fears,” and my refusal to lose an argument to anybody. I think the internal logic was that if I tried it once, I could confidently tell people that it was not for me and they wouldn’t be able to respond with “but you need to try the things you’re afraid of.”

The first session, group singing, was painful. I couldn’t keep a note (as expected) and my nerves kept my knees shaking and the rest of me sweating like a Tory in a state school. It was about as rough as I thought it would be.

However our teacher, Heather, maintained such a warm and supportive atmosphere that the impulse to stay seated and refuse to participate, or even to leave the class, never got the better of me. No matter how uncertain the performer, every performance was met with encouragement and praise from the whole class, and regardless of how terrified I felt every time I stood up to take my turn, I sat back down feeling like I had just succeeded alongside all my scene partners, regardless of how out of tune I was or how much I stumbled through improvised lyrics.

The most surprising thing is that by the end of the session, I was actually looking forward to the next musical class rather than dreading it.

By the start of the next session, focusing on lyrics, anxiety had taken hold again and I didn’t feel much more confident than at the beginning of the first class. This was a pattern that seemed persistent for me with musical classes: start out extremely nervous, build confidence over the lesson, and lose most of that confidence before the next lesson. All the same, Heather kept supporting and encouraging, and by the end of the second class I was feeling triumphant – having managed to sing on my own (although still as tunelessly).

My mood had improved enough that I even spent a good portion of the lunch break with other people, just relaxing and chatting in the sunshine, without feeling the desperate, clawing need to escape to solitary self-confinement.

The third class of the day was folk singing, led by Rhiannon. Despite my enjoyment of the earlier classes, the nerves once again hit hard as the reality of more public singing set in. But Rhiannon was just as supportive as Heather, and by the time the folk singing was done I was again feeling heroic.

All three lessons were supported – if not carried – by Joe, the Mayday’s incredibly talented pianist. Joe’s fantastic ability to not just play beautifully but also to adjust his playing to the tone and tempo of whoever was singing made every exercise and performance feel like a tightly-rehearsed Broadway musical.

Most of all, every group of students in each class was as encouraging as the teachers, and being in such a positive environment had a powerful effect. Feeling as though no matter what you do you won’t be judged or criticised leaves you feeling dangerously empowered and emboldened to take risks and to reach outside of your comfort zone, and I’m grateful to everyone with whom I shared those classes for being so completely supportive.

When I first saw that I was booked in for three musical sessions in a row, I genuinely believed I might end the day completely miserable. But the combined efforts and good natures of three Maydays and a whole host of enthusiastic improvisers saw me finishing the day feeling absolutely unafraid of anything. Except maybe for spiders.

After one more none-singing lesson, Friday was rounded off with an incredible long-form show put on by the Maydays – the best example of an Armando I’ve ever seen, in fact, and if you don’t know what that means… well, it’s an Improv thing. Finally, there was an insanely fun space-themed Jam hosted by Katy and Chris wearing wonderful spacepunk outfits.

Later, a handful of us wandered out in the dark to do a little stargazing. After that, a friend and I headed back out into the fields to sit under stars and discuss all manner of in-depth topics. We went back inside well past midnight to find a few indefatigable and impressively flexible stragglers picking strips of cardboard off the flaw using only their teeth (we were assurred that this was some kind of party game). I went to bed very late, and peacefully happy.


On Saturday I was booked into two more musical sessions, and I didn’t feel quite as worried as I had been the day before.

The first was “Musical Living Room” with Lloydie.. The Living Room is a casual long-form format, and Lloydie took us through its structure with as much love and support and Heather and Rhiannon. My nerves had returned, but I found it easier to push them aside this time, particularly as there was more group singing – and group singing offers many more opportunities to hide.

The second musical class was all about “truth in song”, led by Katy. Right from the start we were singing lines on our own, and my nerves suddenly blossomed once more. But as before they subsided more quickly, and once again this was helped by the universally supportive environment.

I think it was this point that I realised that I pretty much had the musical improv “bug”. The thought of singing solo was still scary, but one thing nobody had really told me before was that singing in a group, or even just as part of a group song, makes you feel connected to that group more than anything else I’ve ever experienced. Joining your voice with others. supporting them as they support you, is a unique and lovely experience that was completely new to me, and it occurred to me that I would like to keep doing it.

This notion of mutual support was crystalised in the third Saturday class, “Narrative Ensemble”, with Heather. Here, she said something that was probably more profound than it seemed in the moment. As a group of us stood up in front of the rest of the class to attempt a specific exercise, she said:

“Just go through the exercise, and whatever you do, we’ll all clap like idiots.”

This is a concept that I adore. The simple notion of “whatever you do, we’ll treat it like it’s the best fucking thing we’ve ever seen.” It’s not even a new concept particularly – Jon Trevor has always maintained that the mantra of every improviser should be “I am average, my partner is a genius and a poet.” But the “we’ll clap like idiots” version applies off the stage, too.

I’ve been conscious for a while that you can practice your improv skills even as an audience member – that just by attending shows you’re showing support, but by paying attention, laughing along and making your enjoyment as clear as possible, you’re supporting those people who are brave enough to get on stage and perform in public in a very vulnerable, very exposed manner.

There’s an in-joke of saying “Improv Is Not A Cult,” implying that it actually can be a fairly cult-like environment. I don’t necessarily think that’s true, but if it is, I’d like to think it’s a cult of ethos, and that the ethos is “We Support Each Other Mutually And Unconditionally.” I’d like to think that, unless you’re a proper arsehole, the Improv community will always have your back.

I also know I don’t live up to this ethos myself. I’ll have a moan about other groups and performers if I don’t think they measure up, likely a residual trait from years spent whinging about TV and movies on this very blog. But it’s something I’m going to work on going forwards – I want to be a better improviser, and part of that is being a better part of the community.

I spent the fourth session of Saturday skipping class and sitting in what will likely by the last bit of warm, sunny weather I’ll experience in 2019. But I did this not because I was scared or craving isolation, but rather simply because I knew I would enjoy it, and felt confident going back to the social hubbub later on. Two amazing days in a possitive, loving environment had left me feeling confident enough to make that choice freely.


Saturday night was one of the greatest nights of my life.

The day before, the Maydays had requested suggestions for a show they would perform completely off the cuff – something they had never tried before and that would allow them to take the same kind of risks that they asked of their students.

I wrote “Rock Opera Journey Through Hell” on a slip of paper and put it in the hat. I wrote that it could be a lost soul’s journey through the afterlife, and that it could be a rock opera because “fuck yeah.”

Well, that’s the one that the Maydays picked.

Once I realised what they were doing, I sat in the audience grinning from ear to ear for the entire performance.

The show started off with modestly dressed accountants sharing a bottle of prosecco on a work night out. One of them said she had actually stolen the bottle from the restaurant, and then she unfortunately died from a heart attack.

The lights dropped.

When the lights came back on, everyone was in rock band attire, including Joe in a huge wig and aviators.

FUCKYEAH2
Fuck yeah.

What followed was genuinely one of the most incredible live performances I’ve ever seen in my life. That’s… I mean, I may be biased, but it was absiolutely fucking flawless. It’s actually difficult to describe because I’d basically just end up writing “It was amazing” 1,500 times in a row. When it finished, there was a standing ovation.

I need to take a moment to explain that none of it was prepared – to the best of my knowledge, “rock opera” wasn’t even a style of music the Maydays had ever tried before. The preparation they got was being told by Liz and Katy an hour before the show what the theme of the show would be, being told “It will start with a normal scene, one character will die, then it will be set in Hell.” They spent five minutes rumaging through a costume box to pull together some suitable outfits that they then hid under baggy jumpers and hoodies.

There were so many amazing choices throughout the whole show. Wonderful little touches and details. And so much energy! The only scene that didn’t draw unstoppable laughter from the audience was a touching encounter between the main character and the ghost of her mother.

The whole thing was a testament to what can be achieved from an improvised performance with enough style, gusto and courage. From start to finish the performers had the momentum of a tidal wave, and the audience got pulled right along with them.

Even now, I think back to various moments from the show and get a little rush of happiness in the back of my head. Indeed, I’m almost sad that I may never get to see anything like it ever again. But I’m thrilled I got to see it at all.

It was amazing. It was amazing. It was amazing. (x 500).

fuckyeah
FUCK YEAH

The Rock Opera Journey Through Hell was followed by a great little disco where those of us so inclined danced ourselves silly through a selection of “celebrity guest” DJs who took turns to play us their favourite songs. In another room there were board games, whilst outside there was a bonfire, and it was essentially a perfect evening to spend with new friends.


Sunday was exactly as sedate as it needed to be.

I had one more musical class, with Rhiannon, where we practiced “scenes into song.” By now, my nerves were more under control, and I felt better able to just enjoy this class for what it was, rather than having to wrestle with my own insecurities. An hour and a half singing and harmonising with friends is a beautiful way to spend a rainy Sunday morning.

I also took part in ‘Cuckoo’s Nest’ with John Cremer.

If you’re an experiened improviser and you ever have chance to take part in ‘Cuckoo’s Nest’ with John Cremer, you should do so. And that’s all I can say about that.

Following a lovely little afternoon showcase and many heartfelt goodbyes, we all headed home. In the sky overhead was an enormous rainbow, and I don’t know if there’s a better visual to represent such an incredble event than that.

rainbow


Improv will always be a very personal experience, hence the very personal nature of this article. Attempting to sum up events objectively will always be a misrepresentation, because subjectivity kind of the essence of the art of improvisation.

Throughout the entire five days away, I got a better understanding of the term “impostor syndrome.” Every time I felt a little more confident or bold or sociable, I’d mentally slap myself down, thinking “No, you’re not meant to be confident, you’re feeling anxious and scared and isolated.” If I did something I was proud of in a scene, or managed to sing an improvised line without scrunching up my face in embarrassment, I’d feel dishonest and manipulative, like some kind of weird reverse-fraudster.

But facing a room full of people who were just happy and smiling and clapping and laughing helped fight that self-loathing. Spending time outside of classes with buoyant, joyful people who were simply happy to be spending time with one another helped to build a foundation of confidence and self-assurredness.

I met many amazing people at the Maydays’ September Retreat 2019. I hope I will see them again. Even if I do, I may not have chance to explain to them how much they helped me out at a time when I really needed a little help. The fact that I started crying again as I wrote this paragraph is probably testament to that.

I didn’t have to ask for any help. Most people there probably didn’t realise that I was struggling, but they didn’t have to. They simply demonstrated that by being universally supportive and encouraging, as all improvisers should be, you can make it easier for people to find a little happiness.

My experience a couple of weeks earlier with a bunch of racist thugs in London taught me that I was far more susceptible to threatening, aggressive behaviour than I had previously thought. But my experience at the Maydays’ retreat taught me that I’m also more susceptible to friendliness and compassion thanI had previously thought.

I’m still not okay. I still struggle with controlling the depression and anxiety that follows a distressing experience, as well as anger and even resentment. I probably still need to get some actual clinical treatment at some point.

But I know that I can overcome it, and that I can be helped. I better understand the power of mutual support both on and off the stage, and it’s something I want to work on and become better at. It’s given me a new life goal, which is to bring that Improviser’s ethos to my wider life, and try and be that supportive person who helps other people feel happier and more confident. To find ways to “clap like an idiot” whenever a person has the courage to express themselves. And it probably won’t be easy, because we all have a bit of a tendency to be cynical and negative when we’re confronted with the kind of problems we’re all facing these days.

That’s the intention, in any case. I’ve already been angry once today over the latest political bullshit-nightmare, and that anger was almost immediately followed by depression and hopelessness. I’m feeling more and more like I’m not equipped to fight in this great messy ideological war, so I’m instead going to try and equip myself to just make people around me a little happier, if possible.

Because I know that it worked for me. I know that it helped me out right when I needed help. I know that I went into that five-day retreat feeling hurt, and alone, and frightened. And I left it feeling loved, supported, and not afraid of anything.

Except maybe for spiders.

A Review Of The Maydays’ Improvised Rock Opera Journey Through Hell

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A Very British Dictatorship

On Saturday 7th September, thousands of people gathered in London, the capital city of Great Britain.

Most were tourists and sightseers, or shop workers and customers. A few were drivers, or security guards, or servers and diners, or police and hospital workers.

A tiny percentage were protestors.

There may have been as many as two thousand protestors in total. Maybe more, maybe less.

Of these protestors, a good 90% were protesting against the current government.


Prime Minister Johnson’s decision to prorogue, i.e. suspend, the British Parliament for over a month during a critical phase in Britain’s history was unprecedented. It was widely condemned as anti-democratic, particularly by members of Johnson’s own cabinet barely three months earlier, when Johnson’s now-Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab suggested prorogue as a means to force through a No-Deal Brexit.

What followed the prorogue announcement was a lot of behind-closed-doors maneouvring and scheming by politicians on both sides of the debate, as well as mass protests across the country. Pretty much every major city in the United Kingdom (and some outside of it) played host to anti-Prorogue, pro-democracy, #StopTheCoup demonstrations.

The protestors who attended were not universally anti-Brexit. Many were in favour of Britain leaving the EU, but they, as did so many of Johnson’s own party, found this manner of politics, of shutting down a representative democracy, completely unacceptable. And so they took to the streets.

Many protests were immediate, taking place on the evening of the announcement on the 28th of August. They continued over the following days, culminating in the largest protest on Saturday 31st August, in London, outside Downing Street, the home of the Prime Minister.

The protest on the 31st August saw thousands and thousands of pro-democracy protestors fill the roadway of Whitehall outside of Downing Street, carrying placards and chanting and singing and declaring, in one voice, their opposition to Prime Minister Johnson’s plans. A stage and sound system was erected at short notice, and speakers took turns to tell their stories and make themselves heard.

signs
Pro-Democracy protests on Saturday 31st August. Photo taken from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/06/world/europe/brexit-politicians-voters-johnson.html.

The heart of London, one of the world’s major financial hubs, birthplace of Parliamentary democracy, common law and Kiefer Sutherland, echoed with the unified chants of “Stop the coup!” and “You shut down our Parliament, we shut down your streets!” and “Boris! You liar! Get back on your zipwire!”

The atmosphere was simultaneously electric, joyous, familial, and fierce.

It was also safe.

Police presence was minimal. Police arrived in numbers from around 4pm onwards, as protestors peacefully yet defiantly occupied Trafalgar Square roundabout and shut down traffic. However, interactions with officers remained cordial. Three arrests were made, to chants of “Boo!” from the crowd.

I spoke to the first person to be arrested, a woman I’ll call Rebecca for the sake of her privacy. She was an education professional. She had joined the protest despite her moderate views on Brexit – having been willing to accept leaving the EU with a deal. What brought her onto the streets that day was her outrage and disgust at the use of a lengthy suspension of Parliament to shut down the democratic process.

On the Trafalgar Square roundabout, Rebecca stood in the roadway, blocking the passage of traffic along with hundreds of other protestors.

“If you shut down our Parliament, we shut down your streets.”

The police moved in and asked the protestors to clear the roadway. Rebecca refused, but instead sat down.

A female police officer approached Rebecca and told her that if she did not move, she would be arrested. Rebecca informed the police officer that she understood, but that her place was on that roundabout, in an act of civil disobedience, fighting for her democracy.

The police officer told Rebecca that Prime Minister Johnson was not going to change his mind if Rebecca was arrested. That an arrest record would have lasting repercussions on Rebecca’s life and on her career. The police officer told Rebecca that she could either choose to remain and be arrested, or to leave freely without consequence.

Rebecca asked if she could think about it.

The police officer gave Rebecca a few minutes to consider her situation. When the police officer returned, Rebecca informed her “I’m sorry, but I need to stay here.”

She was then arrested, and released a few hours later without charge.

There was no violence. No threats. No blood fell on the pavements of Whitehall.


On Saturday 7th September, thousands of people gathered in in London, the capital city of Great Britain.

A tiny percentage were protestors.

There may have been as many as two thousand protestors in total. Maybe more, maybe less.

Of these protestors, a good 90% were protesting against the current government.

A bad 10% were protesting against the other 90%.

The pro-democracy, anti-prorogue protests were scheduled for 2.30pm on Saturday. By 11.30am, Whitehall was dominated by a heavy police presence. Over a dozen police vans and probably more than 200 police officers were present well before noon. This was in stark contrast to the previous week, where police presence was barely visible except around the gate to Downing Street, and eventually towards the end of the day.

police1
Police vans on Whitehall at 11.30am, three hours before the pro-Democracy protests.

In the run-up to the anti-prorogue demonstration, at around 2pm, opposing pro-Brexit, anti-EU protestors were gathered at the exits to tube stations, shouting and screaming at those they identified as being on their way to the anti-prorogue rally. The targets of their aggression included individuals, groups, and families with children. They typically had half-empty glasses of beer in their hands, though according to one police officer, the beer was mostly for show. These were not drunk hooligans.

Turnout for the anti-prorogue demonstration outside Downing Street was low. As the clock neared 2.30pm, pro-Brexit agitators had already infiltrated the pro-democracy crowd. Some had attempted to disrupt proceedings already, others lingered until later.

At 2.35pm, it was announced that the start of the protest was being pushed back to 3.00pm, due to blockages at both end of the road preventing protestors from reaching the gathering point. These blockages were caused by pro-Brexit agitators disturbing the peace, continuing their harassment of pro-democracy protestors and causing the police to intervene, slowing down entry onto Whitehall. Many pro-democracy protestors were turned away and went home in the face of pro-Brexit aggression and intimidation.

At around 2.45pm, pro-Brexit antagonists began hurrying down Whitehall from Trafalgar Square. They chanted “Tommy Robinson” as they went – referencing the far-right founder of the racist organisation the English Defence League. Robinson is also a former member of the fascist British National Party.

These antagonists headed straight down Whitehall towards the pro-Democracy protest, but were intercepted and blocked by a line of police, as can be seen in the video above. They clashed with police for a few moments as, outside Downing Street, pro-Democracy protestors relaxed to the sound of ‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart’.

After a short span of time, the Tommy Robinson supporters Brexited from their clash with the Metropolitan Police as more officers reinforced the police line. Not long after, speakers at the pro-Democracy rally began their speeches. As can be seen in the video above, pro-Brexit antagonists already in place near the rally began their attempts to agitate the crowd. Police intervened, but not before one Tommy Robinson fan got a literal bloody nose.

Police set up a loose line around the pro-Democracy rally as they opened up Whitehall to traffic, to serve as a barrier between pro-Brexit agitators on the sidelines and the rally in the middle of the road. One antagonist was already inside the crowd and attempted to disrupt proceedings, and was pulled out by police before matters escalated (and before anyone else was hurt).

Speeches continued. Pro-Brexit thugs lingered around the rally talking on their phones, presumably relaying information to other thugs at either end of Whitehall.

The pro-Democracy rally continued undisrupted. Speakers including Diane Abbott, Owen Jones and other prominent pro-Remain voices addressed the crowd passionately. And yes, my language is biased, because I believed in what they were saying. Topics ranged from immigrant rights, anti-racism and anti-hatred, to condemnation of the Tory party and mockery of Boris Johnson, whose short term as Prime Minister had just been marked by successive failures in the Parliament he was about to suspend.

One of the speakers was to be Anna Soubry MP, a Tory rebel who had left her party earlier in 2019 in protest at the Tories’ dedication to Brexit. She did not speak, in the end, or appear at all, and it later emerged that she had cancelled her appearance at the last minute due to threats and intimidation from the same pro-Brexit aggressors who were attempting to shut down the pro-Democracy rally.

It was also made clear that these aggressors were part of the “Democratic Football Lads Alliance” or DFLA – a hard-right, Islamophobic, racist, intolerant splinter gang from the equally appalling Football Lads Alliance (FLA), themselves an offshoot of Tommy Robinson’s English Defence League (EDL), with connections to the militant fascist group Combat 18 and the British National Party.

It’s worth taking that in for a moment. A Member of Parliament and critic of the government was silenced, intentionally, by far-right supporters of that same government.

The same supporters who harassed families on their way to a peaceful rally and who hurled railings at police and who made death threats at pro-Democracy protestors. The same supporters who surrounded and outnumbered small groups of peaceful demonstrators and screamed in the faces of men and women alike.

Even if there is no provable connection between the Tory Party, Boris Johnson, or Dominic Cummings to the DFLA, these thugs were clearly acting to suppress criticism of Johnson and his cabal. And if there is one characteristic of a dictatorship, it is of far-right street gangs intimidating, harassing and silencing opposing political movements.


A few speeches later, further down Whitehall, police officers were hurriedly armouring up. They were pulling on full body armour, legs, arms and torso, and doing so as quickly as they could manage. They then began running down towards Parliament Square, where another group of pro-Brexit, Tommy Robinson-supporting DFLA gang members had broken through the police cordon around their own protest and were now trying to reach the pro-Democracy rally.

They ran as fast as their pasty white legs would carry them, but were again blocked by police a few yards past the Cenotaph – a poignant monument to the cost of hatred and antagonism between European states.

The police formed two lines, one facing down towards Parliament Square, and the other facing the opposite direction, and between these lines the racist assailants were trapped. A handful of DFLA racists attempted to sideline the police and darted down the pavement behind the stone barriers that line the footpath, but were foiled by the heavily-barriered and policed entrance to Downing Street which stood in their way. They sheepishly returned to between the police lines.

Police allowed passage back towards Parliament Square – many tourists and bystanders were also caught between the two lines – but refused access towards Downing Street and the pro-Democracy rally, which, to the best of my knowledge, continued. The pro-Brexit aggressors quickly lost interest as the police further reinforced their lines with more heavily-armoured officers, and they realised that voicing their intolerance mattered less to them than did a few baton-shaped dents in their skulls.

This is where I met Rebecca – sandwiched between the police and surrounded by confused tourists and impotent racists. After her experience last Saturday, Rebecca’s husband had made her promise not to get arrested today, and in a bid to avoid both another another arrest and harassment by bigots, we exited together through the police line towards Parliament Square.

We turned off towards St. James’ Park and then looped back around to Trafalgar Square and the top of Whitehall. Here, the police had formed another line blocking access back down towards Downing Street, and were holding at bay more DFLA gang members.

As Rebecca and I looked on, and debated parting ways and heading home, Max and Nicola, two friends I had met at the previous Saturday’s protest, emerged from the police line, with their friend James in tow. We embraced and reminisced for a moment. I admired Max’s red London Bus body placard and Nicola’s “Dicktator” sign, both decrying Johnson’s anti democratic actions.

The five of us talked quietly with one another, with the police line 40 or 50 yards away, and no other unoccupied police in sight.

With hindsight, this turned out to be an act of negligence on our part.

As we chatted, we suddenly found ourselves surrounded and outnumbered by 8 or 9 DFLA bullies. The circled us and began chanting “Nazi Scum”, along with homophobic and sexist slurs. They screamed in Nicola’s face, berated James continuously and drew attention from other gang members as they did so.

We remained calm. James and Nicola particularly bore the brunt of the harassment, and remained composed despite it all.

One thug came up close behind me and muttered in my ear “I’d move along if I were you, or you’ll end up cut with a stanley knife.”

Another nodded towards my phone as I recorded the incident and said “You know, that won’t protect you.”

Eventually, two police officers intervened and broke the group up. The DFLA attempted to paint us as the instigators, but were broadly ignored.

Nicola and Max headed back towards the police line, followed and harassed and threatened further by the DFLA, and were permitted down Whitehall back towards the pro-Democracy rally. James remained where he was as he spoke with the police. Rebecca made her way back to the tube station as quickly as she could.

Before I left, one DFLA gang member took a photo of me, and said “I’ll bet my network is faster than your network at finding out who you are.”

I left a few moments later.

What struck me later was that at no point did I feel scared during the incident. Uncertain, absolutely, but fear and anxiety didn’t set in until a few minutes later. Immediately, I was more concerned that my phone would run out of battery. As I sat in a Pret to get a drink and recharge my phone, adrenaline faded and fear took a stronger hold.

Max told me that he and Nicola remained with the pro-Democracy rally as they marched up towards Leicester Square. The march was harassed by pro-Brexiters along the way, attempting to circumvent the police escort and start more fights, and spread more terror. The march eventually disbanded, and police advised the protestors to return home in groups to stay safe.

whitehall1


I was shaken after the incident. I was hit with anxiety and depression. It wasn’t even the threats that were made which upset me. I broke into tears a few times on Sunday as I processed what had happened, and what affected me most was the sheer unfiltered aggression that the DFLA had displayed towards us.

These were not drunkards trying to compensate for their insecurities, and neither were they cornered victims lashing out. They saw that we were vulnerable, saw an opportunity to hurt us, and they took it, for no reason other than the fact that they know nothing but violence. And in the naivety of an extremely sheltered life, I had never really come face-to-face with that kind of bankruptcy of compassion. TV and movies had taught me that villains had complexity and depth – Saturday taught me that there are people, many, many people, who are terrifyingly incapable of anything but hatred, and that disturbed me more than any of the violence I saw that day.

And our experience was not even the most extreme encounter of that day. Many people were hurt, others were terrified into retreat and hiding.

At the end of it all, the headlines all seemed to paint it as though there was violence from both sides. There seemed almost deliberate vagueness on behalf of the media over who was the source of the violence.

But we knew. We were there. We watched as the pro-Brexit cowards inflicted their hatred and their intolerance wherever they could. At parents and children, at police and civilians, at politicians and protestors.


What really hit home was the fact that this collection of white, middle-aged men – and they were all white, middle-aged men – were acting in the interests of other, much wealthier white middle-aged men in government.

The disruption caused by the racists in London that day served only the interests of the Prime Minister, who was in the middle of his attempts to shut down Parliament and circumvent Democracy.

In so many ways, this mirrored aspects of the rise of fascism in Western history, with Brownshirts silencing critics of Hitler’s Nazis, the Squadristi suppressing Mussolini’s socialist opponents, and Moseley’s Blackshirts violently turning on anti-Fascists at the 1934 Olympia rally.

But that is not the picture the media paints.

Neither Prime Minister Johnson nor any of his cabinet have, to the best of my knowledge, condemned the far-right fearmongers on Saturday. If they do, it seems likely it will be a Trumpian “very fine people on both sides.” Although that may just be my cynicism creeping in.


It’s difficult to be sure exactly why Saturday 7th September was so much more violent and disruptive than Saturday 31st August, there are some events which are linked:

  • Prime Minister Johnson’s government refused to rule out breaking the law themselves to force a no-deal Brexit.
  • Prime Minister Johnson defied police impartiality conventions and gave a widely-broadcast political speech in front of a wall of police officers. (The speech was supposed to be about police recruitment.)
borispolice1
Johnson giving a political speech in front of police recruits, taken from https://www.politicshome.com/news/uk/political-parties/conservative-party/news/106331/boris-johnson-under-fire-using-police

Symbolism is everything. Johnson, in effect, made two dramatic statements:

  • “I am willing to break the law, and the police are on my side.”
  • “The police are on my side, and by extension, on the side of everyone who is politically aligned with me.”

It is unquestionable that these implied statements serve to embolden violent, far-right antagonists who are aligned with Johnson’s public record of racism, misogyny and his determination to force through a no-deal Brexit.

And even if there is no tenable connection between the far-right DFLA and the Conservative Party, they were nonetheless acting in Johnson’s interests by silencing his opposition, deterring opposing protestors and even opposition Members of Parliament.

As I write, the government is broadly announcing its increased funding to the police.

As I write, the Conservative Party twitter feed is full of posts characterising all opposition parties and MPs as “enemies of the people”.

As I write, footage is being shared of Dominic Raab declaring the government’s intent to “test the limits”, i.e. ignore, a law enacted by this Parliament to prevent a No-Deal Brexit.

When Ministers and Prime Ministers proudly announce their intent to break the law, use the police as a political tool, paint their opposition as traitors and allow fascists to bully their opponents into silence…

Well, there’s a word for that.

The word is “Authoritarianism.”

And Authorianism means dictatorship. A system of governance where a posh blonde toff speaks, and the rest of us must obey out of fear.

This may all sound dramatic after just one bad Saturday afternoon in London. But we have an election looming, an election in which turnout will be pivotal, and where the winners will be decided likely by just a handful of contested Parliamentary seats.

And those contested seats could be swung by the kind of localised intimidation and harassment around polling stations that we saw outside Downing Street.

If the DFLA and other far-right groups are willing to suppress critics of the government on behalf of the government, would they not also be willing to suppress the vote in favour of the same government?

I am genuinely concerned that, no matter how many defeats Johnson suffers on the green benches of the Commons, no matter how many legal battles his government loses in the British courts, he will nonetheless do as well as he needs to and retain power past the next election.

And if he does, then he suddenly has a mandate for all of the proroguing, the manipulation of the democratic process, and the silencing of his opposition.

Worse would be a Tory coalition with the Brexit party, and the barefaced racism of Nigel Farage and his benighted followers.

Sadly, I can think of nothing more cynically British than an Etonian dictator, propped up by a lager-swilling Eurosceptic, their will enforced by violent football hooligans.

Suspending Parliament Takes Away Your Right To Vote – What Prorogue Means

What even is a prorogue? What happens when Parliament is suspended? How does any of this affect me?

It’s simpler than you might think.

When you vote during a General Election, you’re not really voting for a party, you’re voting for a Member of Parliament (MP) to represent you.

Your MP may belong to a party, and that might be why you voted for them. But the reality is that your MP has their own mind and will to vote on issues as they see fit.

Your MP joins hundreds of other MPs in casting votes on which laws are made. Every law we live by today, from environmental protections to dealing with organised crime, has been decided by MPs in Parliament.

Theoretically, the party currently in government will have the most MPs. However, if that party is not behaving itself, its MPs may “rebel”, and vote against the Government on key matters.

In this way, Parliament is what limits the Government, and what prevents it from doing things that are clearly immoral and damaging to the country.

Or at least it should be.

On September 9th, Prime Minister Johnson will be “proroguing” Parliament. This is another word for “suspending”, or “shutting down”. What it means is that, from September 9th through to October 15th, Parliament will be unable to create any new laws, debate any topics, or act in any way.

This is not normal.

Parliament is occasionally prorogued, or suspended, in this manner, but usually only for a few days. Johnson’s current plan is to shut Parliament down for 37 days – more than a month.

What’s more, is that even after October 15th, there will still be a few days where Parliament is unable to vote on new laws, as they will be debating the Queen’s Speech – the agenda which lays out Government priorities. This means, in reality, Parliament will not be back to its normal functionality until the 21st or 22nd of October, so the shutdown will really last for closer to 43 or 44 days.

This is not normal.

Another term you will hear is “precedent.” This simply means that, in British law, and in Parliament, things that have happened before are more likely to happen again.

When Prime Minister Johnson shuts down Parliament for this long, he will be setting the precedent for it to happen again. He will be making it easier for himself, and future Prime Ministers, to shut down Parliament when it is politically convenient for him to do so.

Prime Minister Johnson wants to prevent Parliament from creating laws which block his political agenda. Because he knows enough of his own party’s MPs will rebel and vote against him, he is therefore shutting down Parliament before they have the chance to challenge him.

If he is allowed to do it this time, he will do it again.


In the big picture, what this does is take away Parliament’s power. By proroguing, or suspending, Parliament, Johnson is removing any power MPs have to challenge the Government in any way. And he is making it easier to repeat this trick in the future.

If your MP cannot vote on laws, and cannot challenge the government, then your vote in a General Election is effectively meaningless. You may draw a cross in a box on a sheet of paper, but it will carry no more meaning or power than an online petition, or even a Twitter poll.

You have a right to vote. Your grandparents fought for this right during the Second World War. Great Britain fought a war to preserve your right to a vote. Your right to a democracy.

Now, Prime Minister Johnson is trying to take that vote away, and break down the democratic process.

But you can help to stop this from happening!

Talk to your friends and your colleagues. Bring up the fact that your right to vote is being taken from you, in a very sneaky way. You might still vote, but the power and meaning of that vote will be completely gone.

You can also write to your MP and urge them to take immediate action via the website below – but you need to be quick about it, because very soon they might not be able to take action for you.

https://www.writetothem.com/

Finally, you can join protests and demonstrations. There will be protests all across the country over the next few weeks.

Protesting doesn’t mean getting arrested or causing a riot. It just means being present in a place with a lot of other people who feel the same way as you, and making your presence known. You can protest completely peacefully. You can join in chants, even lead chants, and you can make new friends. Most of all, you can feel powerful, because you really are making a difference.

You can find protest events near you on social media.


Britain is a great country, but only because of the people in it. And our rights will be taken away if we don’t have the courage to stand up for ourselves.

Britain’s Parliament has served as a model for other countries all around the world. Our legal system has inspired other nations’ legal systems. We are a powerful, influential country, but Britain is only as powerful as its people, and there are some very clever, very selfish people in Government right now who want to take away your power.

Don’t let them. Defend your democracy. Save your right to vote.

YOUR RIGHT TO VOTE

I Am A Hypocrite And My Cowardice Is Killing My Country

It’s 9:25 in the evening I have just walked back into my flat in Birmingham. At 8:15 this morning I left my flat to get the 8:30 train to London.

I took three placards, and a rucksack full of bottled water, painkillers and a change of clothes.

I took all of that stuff because I had no idea what was going to happen, or what I might get involved in.

And I still managed to disappoint myself.

IMG_20190831_013534

I met a friend at London Euston, and we walked together to Green Park, where we met another three friends. We then all walked to Whiteall to join a crowd of thousands of others at the entrance to Downing Street, on which sits No. 10 Downing Street, the home and office of the Prime Minister, Alexander ‘Boris’ de Pfeffel Johnson.

Together, we chanted and sand our protests against Prime Minister Johnson’s decision to suspend Parliament for more than a month in the lead-up to the Brexit departure date of 31st October.

Our chants weren’t always in sync, nor were they always very loud or very polite, but we chanted and sang our anger through the air, above the barrier railings and through the metal gate which kept us out of sight of the door to No. 10.

A few of my friends left a little after 1pm. Others joined later and stayed for an hour or two. Soon, they had all left, and I remained in the crowd, with a placard in each hand. I led a few chants, joined in many more, sang along to songs like “No one voted for Boris” to the tune of ‘Seven Nation Army’.

Pretty heroic, eh?

I followed the crowd as we started marching down Whitehall, to outside Westminster Palace, Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament. We out-chanted an embarrassingly small (less than twenty?) pro-Brexit counter-protest. We danced and swayed and chanted some more to the improvised drumming of a musical protest group.

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Tourists, mostly unconcerned with the dwindling numbers of protestors.

We felt powerful.

I felt powerful.

I felt like I was part of something, something huge and vital and full of furious passion. I felt like we might make a difference, My knees shook with nerves as I led a hundred people in a chant of “When I say ‘Boris’, you say ‘Liar'” but it was exhilirating and intoxicating, especially because everybody had a go at chant leading, at hitting the rhythm of call-and-response. My voice was already hoarse, but I did what I could to keep up, still holding those placards high.

So heroic, right?

By 4pm, that gathering petered out and dispersed. I sat down for the first time in six hours to eat a Boots Meal-Deal wrap, the first food I’d had all day. I took a couple of touristy photos, then got back on my feet and wandered down to the other end of Whitehall.

So goddamn heroic. It’s okay to feel attracted to me right now because of my heroism. You’re only human.

Whitehall was mostly empty by this point. There were a few protestors still standing, but most were wandering home.

At Trafalgar Square, something else was happening. Maybe a couple of hundred protestors were in the roadway of the roundabout, defying the orders of surrounding police to move. I watched for a moment. I was shattered, so I just watched.

Then, as the police started closing in, so did I.

So, so fucking heroic.

 

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Helicopters over Nelson’s Column, as police vans gradually close in from the side, putting the squeeze quite literally on the illegal protest.

I stood with the protestors, held my placards high, and joined in the chant. Stood in the roadway, high-visibility police on all sides, telling us to move or else be arrested. I watched as a middle-aged woman was pulled out of the crowd by eight arresting police officers. I was jostled as the police closed in futher, putting pressure on the protestors to clear the road.

Uuunnng, so, just, so, huh, so heroic.

So anyway, I made a decision that I didn’t want to be arrested and quietly moved back when I was able, to watch from a less criminal distance. I handed my placards over to people who were planning to capitulate a little less than I was, and then I stood and chatted with some other protestors, and chanted a little from the sidelines, as maybe thirty or forty more committed invididuals sat down in the entrance to Whitechapel as the police lined up and looked on.

After around an hour, I handed my remaining drinking water and wandered down Northumberland Avenue looking for a tube station, couldn’t find one, chilled on one of the Golden Jubilee Bridges for a few minutes and gave my parents a ring.

I’m not trying to be macho when I say this, but I genuinely wasn’t worried about violence. I didn’t fear being arrested in the physical capacity. I wasn’t looking forwards to handcuffs, but the police were calm and polite, the protestors were loud but peaceful, and I never felt any kind of fear response.

It’s simply that I calmly, rationally decided that getting arrested would pose too much of a threat to my job, since a criminal record would likely see me fired from the financial institution that currently employs me.

skynews-trafalgar-square-london_4760867
Taken from Sky News. This was a small police presence compared to later on.

So I left. I left the actual protesting, the civil disobedience, to people who either had less to lose than I had, or who cared enough to lose more than I was willing to sacrifice.

Because I’m not a hero. I’m an arsehole, and a hypocrite, and my cowardice is destroying my own country.

On the way to Downing Street and outside of it, my friends and I chatted about how the really wasn’t going to change things, most likely. We discussed that, by turning up, staying for a bit, then going home and leaving the place exactly as we found it, we were essentially giving permission to the Government to ignore us.

And they will ignore us.

IMG_20190831_170243
This is Sam. Sam is a writer. He led a lot of chants whilst dressed as a London bus. He and his friends stayed behind after I left. He and his friends are better than I am.

I knew, and have said before, that peaceful, obedient protest in the legally-prescribed protesting areas is not going to force any kind of change. It will not end Parliament’s suspension, it will not force a General Election, and it won’t even force Prime Minister to pass comment on the protest itself.

“Mr Johnson, what are your thoughts on the protest outside today?”

“Well, it’s a shame they’re upset.”

“Thank you, Prime Minister.”

I knew this. I knew this, and I knew that I had been saying for years that nobody in this country will fight for change whilst their wi-fi still works and they can still eat crisps and whilst they can still watch the football.

I knew this, and yet at crunch time, I still decided to rationalise and excuse and justify my political cowardice. “Well, I’ve got a job I need to keep. And I’m tired, and self-care is important. And I need to get back to post on social media and write a blog post talking about how important protesting is.”

And I wasn’t even that scared. I just didn’t want the hassle, or the inconvenience of having to notify my workplace about an arrest record.

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One of the last things I saw before I left. Here, you can see that the police vans have completely closed in, and officers are lining the border between the “legal” protest area on Whitechapel and the Trafalgar Square roundabout.

I walked back from the bridge to Trafalgar Square again. Took some photos of the police presence. Explained to two Australian tourists why the protest was occurring. Explained that it had been bigger a few hours ago, even if it was less than a hundred people now. Took some video as the police moved in, the 6pm cutoff for protesting in Whitechapel having come and gone. Then I entered the Charing Cross tube station with my tail between my legs and my dick receeding back inside my body and I headed back to Euston.

Parliament will still be suspended in a week.

Democracy is still going to fail.

But hey, at least my job is safe.

I’m such a hero.


This is what the arseholes want. They want us angry and frustrated, but distracted, and cautious.

Did you go out today? Did you protest? Did you get some neat selfies of yourself and your friends? Did you get a few “likes” and “loves” when you posted them online?

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This post of mine got so many reacts. Like, at least 30. I’m such a hero. Hey guys, I totally took part in an illegal protest for exactly as long as it was convenient, shower me with praise, please!

Did you have a nice day out, being all political and whatnot?

Great. Good. Glad you had a nice time. I did too. I got to see Big Ben covered in scaffolding.

Did you get back in time for Derek’s birthday meal at Nando’s? Weren’t too late, I hope, to join him and his twenty mates who spent the afternoon watching the Villa game?

Hey, the new ‘Dark Crystal’ show is out, you should probably watch that. And you still have the last season of ‘Orange Is The New Black’ to finish off. Shall we get a pizza in? I’m soooo tired after spending an hour outside the council building today, I don’t feel like cooking.

Hey, and I guess one of you had to stay in, to look after the kids or whatever.

Seriously, it’s fine, you need to look after yourself, I get it. Radical self-care and all that. Super important. Me too, that’s why I left the protest. Got to look after yourself.

Here’s the twist, though. Radical self-care is great because day-to-day concerns should never be more important than your health.

And I hate to be the angry voice in the room, but Johnson shutting down Parliament is not a fucking day-to-day concern.

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The last few protestors, sitting down and refusing to move along.

You think your health is important? Correct, it is, and your health will get an awful lot fucking worse when we run out of medicine post-No-Deal Brexit. And it will get worse again when the bastards sell off the NHS to American healthcare companies and you can’t afford medical insurance that you’ve never had to pay before.

Yeah, your job is important, your salary is vital to you getting the next consumer product you really like. You can think back fondly to the days of having a salary after the economy nose-dives and we become a tax haven for the ultra wealthy.

Fighting for democracy is not a nice day out with a few friends. And it’s not a damn selfie. It’s whole-hearted and determined and it requires more from us than a stroll into the city centre and an “angry” react.

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A bronze lion at the base of Nelson’s Column, devouring a devious, lying Prime Minister. Maybe this will be enough to save Parliament.

What We Need To Do

There were fewer protestors in London today than there were at the Aston Villa / Crystal Palace game. On the train home, I heard multiple conversations about a bad referee decision, and none about the fucking shutting down of our Parliament.

Johnson and his cabal of disaster-capitalists can ignore a few thousand people calling him names in the legal protest areas.

They cannot ignore hundreds of thousands clogging up the entire road network.

We don’t need to kick in windows and tear down bus stops and tip over parked cars to make our voices heard, we just need to get enough of us together often enough to have a material impact.

And right now, there aren’t enough of us.

Here’s how we get more.

Tell people in person, people that you work with or socialise with, how important the suspension of Parliament is to you. Don’t play into Johnson’s hands by “not discussing politics” out of politeness.

Tell them how important the suspension of Parliament is, and explain why. Explain in simple terms. Don’t talk about Brexit, don’t talk about the Tories, don’t talk about anything except this:

Shutting down Parliament takes away our right to vote.

Why? Because when we vote in elections, we vote for MPs to represent us. If Johnson can make our MPs completely powerless, then we’re not voting, we’re just drawing a cross on a meaningless piece of paper.

If the 2016 Brexit Referendum comes up, don’t talk about “non-binding results” or “Cambridge Analytica”. Talk about the fact that a single referendum can’t be used to shut down other forms of democracy, no matter the result.

Talk about the fact that even if we voted to leave the EU, we never voted to shut down Parliament. We never voted to lose our representation.

Ask your friends and colleagues if they think voting is important. If they do, find a way to convince them that shutting down Parliament is the same as taking away their vote. If the referendum is important to them, make them understand that they may never get another referendum on any subject because, with the ability to suspend Parliament, governments no longer need to worry about being held accountable for anything.

If they say that Johnson’s following through on his promises, point them to his Wikipedia page, point out all the times he’s been sacked for lying, been caught out on his lies. Ask them if they really think he’s suddenly started telling the truth.

And don’t play into his hand by portraying him as a clown. Don’t call him “Bojo”, don’t call him an idiot, or a fool. These things make him harmless, and approachable, and he knows this. Johnson is a smart, calculating and manipulative operator. We all ought to be a lot more scared of him than we are.

The same goes with Rees-Mogg, and the rest of them. Destroy their image. Break the glass. Scrape away the veneer. The current cabinet is a scary bunch of liars motivated solely by self-interest. Rees-Mogg is not a dorky public schoolboy in a top hat – he is a shrewd investor who has made millions off of Brexit already.

Don’t allow the current government to seem harmless, or bumbling, or stupid. They are determined, and intelligent, and motivated.

And whilst you’re doing all this, do it with kindess. Don’t put your colleagues and friends on the defensive. Don’t make this about political issues beyond the matter of our democratic rights. Don’t force them to account for their action, or lack of action – just give them reasons to care, as though you’re doing them a favour. Give them reasons to doubt their own apathy, to talk to their partners about it, spread the doubt a little further.

And don’t engage with detractors. If a rowdy white male football fan tries to stick is oafish oar in, ignore it. Just move on. Don’t argue, because you won’t win, because he’s not trying to win an argument – he’s trying to derail it. Brexiteers want us to get bogged down in statistics, voter turnouts, vote shares. They want technical terms like “prorogue” and “non-binding” and fucking “backstop” to be sticking points. They want us continually explaining these things over, and over, and over.

Don’t.

Stick to the message.

Suspending Parliament takes away our right to vote.

Be friendly. Be nice. Be helpful.

Stick to the message.

Be passionate, but not outraged.

Stick to the message.

The next step is to talk about the positive experiences you’ve had protesting. Talk about the festival-like atmosphere, the feeling of power, of conviction. Be honest. Relate how you really felt, and the reasons you would want to go back again.

Talk about feeling part of something. Of making a difference. And talk about how easy you found it, if you found it easy. If your experience at a protest was in any way rewarding, relay how rewarding it was.

Because we may not win people over solely with our cause. We may need to appeal to their ego, too.


The Next Steps

I thought I had done enough when I walked away today. But I will never have done enough until the suspension of Parliament is cancelled. Because if it goes ahead, and if it lasts, then I clearly could not have done “enough”. By, like, definition.

So there will be more protests, and marches. I will need to make more placards. I will need to keep working on my message, refining it. I’ll need to keep writing, and I’ll need to keep making sacrifices. For now, just sacrifices of my free time, my energy, and my money.

Will I have the courage to risk arrest? To fully engage in civil disobedience? Even revolt?

I hope so. But right now, I’m a coward and a hypocrite, trying to convince you to be better than me. To realise that every day we decide to rationalise away our uncertainty and our dislike of inconvenience, we hand over a little more power to Johnson and his cabal.

They don’t fear a militant oppostion. They fear a militarised one. Not militarised with weapons, but with unity, determination and coordination. They’ve never had to face anything like that before, so let’s make it an appealling prospect to as many people as possible.

If you end up being “that person in the office who’s always talking about politics,” well, a few social connections is honestly a fairly small price to pay for liberty. Hell, my career is a small price to pay for liberty. The protestors in Hong Kong are showing us exactly what they’re willing to pay for liberty, and honestly, they’re putting us to shame.

Make it normal to be political. Make it normal to be proactive. Make people feel like they can make a difference.

And if someone says they feel ashamed for not doing more, don’t rush to correct them. Just tell them “Yeah, it would have been good if you had been there.”

Because we are genuinely running out of time.

Proroguing Parliament

https://www.facebook.com/events/2403783296367975/

The suspension of Parliament in September 2019 is not a matter of party politics.

Many of Boris Johnson’s current Tory cabinet were vocally opposed to the suspension of Parliament when it was proposed by Dominic Raab in June 2019 as a means to force a No-Deal Brexit.

https://www.lbc.co.uk/radio/presenters/eddie-mair/eddie-mair-cabinet-silence-suspend-parliament/

This is not a matter of Labour vs. Conservative or of Left Wing vs. Right Wing.

This is a matter of democracy (rule of the many) vs. oligarchy (rule of the few).

sajid
This tweet has since been deleted.

As citizens of a democratic state, the people of the United Kingdom have a fundamental right to a functioning Parliament of representative MPs.

Boris Johnson’s government is attempting to take that fundamental right away.

If Johnson succeeds, then Britain will be forced through a No-Deal Brexit without any Parliamentary oversight.

If Johnson succeeds, then he will have established a precedent by which a Prime Minister can suspend Parliament at will to shut down the democratic process of the United Kingdom during times of national crisis, when Parliament oversight is at its most vital.

Boris Johnson claims that the parliamentary suspension is because the current session has gone on for too long, and that he wants to “bring forward a new bold and ambitious domestic legislative agenda for the renewal of our country after Brexit.”

This is a lie. We know it is a lie because Dominic Raab suggested suspending Parliament specifically to exclude MPs from legislating against Brexit.

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/jun/08/suspending-parliament-should-not-be-ruled-out-says-dominic-raab

Boris Johnson has been sacked by newspapers for lying in his articles.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boris_Johnson#Early_career

Boris Johnson used the “Brexit Bus” to lie to the public, and later lied to the public again about his involvement in the original lie, as well as manipulating search engine algorithms to cover his tracks.

https://www.gizmodo.co.uk/2019/06/did-boris-johnson-ramble-about-model-buses-to-manipulate-googles-search-results/

Boris Johnson has not suddenly started telling the truth. He has not suddenly ended his career-long trend of lying to suit his own agenda just in time to suspend Parliament for legitimate reasons.

Boris Johnson is using Parliament’s own rules to do all of this. These rules have been used in the past. These rules must be changed. The fact that Boris Johnson can do this does not excuse him from blame for actually doing it.

Arguments that “this is how British government works” are made in bad faith. This should not be how any democracy works. Our system of government must be changed

The suspension of Parliament is being done for dishonest reasons, to deliver a disastrous outcome based on a dishonest referendum campaign.

The suspension of Parliament costs the British People their democratic rights and serves only the agenda of a few wealthy British oligarchs.

Anyone who claims that the suspension of Parliament is anything other than an attempt to shut down democracy is promoting a false narrative.

Any member of the media who does not immediately call out such claims as the lies they are is effectively collaborating with an anti-democratic regime.


The Good News

You can fight the anti-democratic agenda by getting out and joining some protests and marches.

https://www.facebook.com/events/2403783296367975/

If you can’t physically join a protest, share the details of the protests on social media. If you hear people complaining about the suspension of Parliament, encourage them to go to protests themselves. Share articles which call out Johnson and his government on their lies. Write your own posts explaining how you feel, and why.

If you’re going to a protest, be sensible:

  • Take plenty of drinking water.
  • Take suntan lotion.
  • Take a snack.
  • Wear shoes you can comfortably stand around in all day.
  • Bring chalk, so you can make non-permanent graffiti.
  • Make sure you know your message. Practice explaining what you believe in, whilst you’re on the way to the protest.
  • Take photos showing how many people are attending the protest with you. Share those photos on social media. Make everyone see how much opposition there is to the plans of Johnson’s government.

We need to make our presence known, and we need to make our convictions irrefutable. We need to drown out the government’s lies with our combined voices.

We need to force them to abandon their selfish agenda and, for once, put the people first.

Three Facts

These are some facts I’m going to be repeating a lot over the next few days. Or weeks.

Or months.

I’m putting them here as a handy reference, both for myself and for anyone else who may find them useful.


1 – The Tories Talked About Suspending Parliament To Force Brexit Months Ago

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/jun/08/suspending-parliament-should-not-be-ruled-out-says-dominic-raab

The suspension of Parliament in September 2019 is not about ending the current session because it has “gone on for too long.”

Dominic Raab suggested suspending Parliament in order to force through Brexit in early June 2019:

The Tory leadership contender Dominic Raab has said the possibility of sidelining parliament to force through Brexit should not be ruled out, as to do so would weaken the UK’s negotiating position in Brussels.

“I think it’s wrong to rule out any tool to make sure that we leave by the end of October,” Raab told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, as the Conservative party reels from its disastrous results in the European election, in which Eurosceptic voters flocked to the Brexit party.

Any claims that the suspension of Parliament serves any other purpose are untrue.


2 – A No-Deal Brexit Will Harm The NHS, Despite Johnson’s Pledges To Support The Health Service

https://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/CBP-7783

Boris Johnson has pledged to support the NHS, but by forcing through a No-Deal Brexit and removing the rights of EU nationals to remain in the UK, he is putting at risk 9.5% of the NHS’s doctors.

9.5% of doctors and 6.4% of nurses are EU nationals

Nationals of other EU countries make up 9.5% of doctors in England’s hospital and community health services. They also make up 6.4% of all nurses and 5.7% of scientific, therapeutic and technical staff. The percentage of doctors and nurses with EU nationality grew between 2009 and 2016. Since 2016, the percentage of EU nurses has fallen.

A No-Deal Brexit will make the already-understaffed NHS unsupportable, despite Johnson’s claims that he wishes to support it. As the NHS struggles more and more to provide adequate levels of service, it becomes easier to characterise it as being unfit for purpose.


3 – There Is Still Hope

https://www.facebook.com/events/2403783296367975/

I’m really tired. I wanted to spend my free time after work this week making plans for a new Improv show I’m putting together. I wanted to play Kerbal Space Program, and finally finish my massively complex mission to Duna. I wanted to finish Season 2 of ‘Mindhunter’ and whinge some more on Twitter about Rey’s flip-phone lightsaber in the new Star Wars trailer. I wanted to finish another couple of chapters of the trash sci-fi book I’m writing.

Instead, I’m writing letters to my MP. I’m sharing links to organised protest events on Reddit. I’m trying to get as many of my friends as possible onto a train down to London at the weekend. I’m trying to work out how I’m going to make a placard and what to put on it. I’m trying to figure out how I can do all this, and take part in a possible general strike, whilst also keeping the full-time job I need to maintain my vegan cheese addiction.

And I’m barely making 1% of the effort that other people have been making for months to try and end the horrible political mess we’re currently in.

There is still hope that we can stop Johnson’s government from abusing its power, deminishing our democracy and dragging us through a disastrous No-Deal Brexit. We might be able to make a difference.

But sadly, we’re going to have to put ourselves through hell for the next few weeks. We’re all going to have to spend a lot of our free time feeling miserable and tired and angry.

We’re going to have to learn the talking points, we’re going to have stand around for hours in a lot of protests, and we’re going to have to sacrifice a lot of our free time. We may have to make ourselves vulnerable to arrest, to attack from Brexiteers, to abuse and denigration.

We have to make our voices heard. We now have to affect the change that we want for ourselves. We have to support each other, and be strong for one another, and fight twice as hard for every person who is unable to join us.

We have to be resolute and fearless.

I will be at local Midlands protests over the next few days. I will be joining the Downing Street protest on Saturday. I will be doing whatever I can, whilst hopefully not losing my job or getting arrested, to defend our democracy and defeat the ambitions of a few wealthy men in London.

And if we succeed, I may do some of the stuff I actually wanted to do.

An Open Letter To Shabhana Mahmood MP

Dear Shabhana Mahmood MP,

You have failed us.

I have written to you previously about Dominic Raab’s suggestion of proroguing Parliament, which he made during the Tory Leadership campaign.

That suggestion is now government policy.

You and your colleagues in Parliament have failed us, the actual people of Britain.

You failed us when you allowed David Cameron to hold a divisive referendum, purely to quiet the dissenting voices of the European Research Group in his own party and thereby secure his position of power.

You failed us when the Tories lost their Parliamentary majority in 2017, and went on to bribe their way back into power unchallenged with a £1billion fee to the DUP.

You failed us when Boris Johnson became an unelected Prime Minister days before your weeks-long Parliamentary break, allowing his unelected government to plot and plan and enact their No-Deal Brexit agenda unchecked.

On 1st November, when we leave the EU without a deal, and freedom of movement is taken away from the EU citizens who are our doctors and nurses, the NHS will shut down overnight and you will have failed millions of vulnerable people whose lives depend on nationalised healthcare.

If you feel that you were unable to stop any of these things because they are simply symptons of the way our political system works, then you should have been working with other elected representatives to change that system.

No system of democracy should permit a few wealthy men in positions of power to further their own selfish agenda at the expense of the people. By not challenging this system, and by allowing matters to escalate to the point that we now face a suspended Parliament, you have failed absolutely in your duties as a representative of the people, along with every other Member of Parliament.

I will be going into London in a few days time to protest this government, the parliamentary suspension and, for once, to make my voice heard. There is no election in which I can vote, and if there were, there is still nothing to prevent the Government from spending public money to bribe its way back into power, as it did last time.

Boris Johnson and his government are unquestionably to blame for this, but so are all the politicians such as yourself who took so little action to reform our democratic system and prevent the abuses of power by which we are currently being held hostage.

You, your party and your colleagues should be ashamed of your failures.

Dominic Raab: Britain’s Champion Of Democracy

The Tory leadership contender Dominic Raab has said the possibility of sidelining parliament to force through Brexit should not be ruled out, as to do so would weaken the UK’s negotiating position in Brussels.

“I think it’s wrong to rule out any tool to make sure that we leave by the end of October,” Raab told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, as the Conservative party reels from its disastrous results in the European election, in which Eurosceptic voters flocked to the Brexit party.

Brexit: suspending parliament should not be ruled out, says Dominic Raab – theguardian.com

Dominic Raab is the champion of democracy in modern-day Britain.

Specifically, he has just been appointed as Foreign Secretary in Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s new cabinet. This means it is his duty to act as Britain’s chief diplomat, negotiating with foreign powers and, theoretically, bringing the good word of democracy to those states which are yet to fully adopt it. The foreign secretary must represent the United Kingdom and its ideals, such as parliamentary sovereignty and a principled belief in representative democracy.

He sits in the cabinet alongside notable and well-respected politicians such as:

In the passage quoted at the beginning of this article, Raab, in his role as a candidate for leadership of the Tory party, discusses the proroguing of parliament in order to prevent British MPs from taking any action to block a “No-Deal” Brexit.

Put another way, Raab suggested that Britain’s democratic government should be temporarily suspended, so that Britain would automatically leave the EU on October 31st, regardless of the effects that this would have on the country.

Given that one of the key arguments in favour of Brexit was because “[Britain’s] laws should be made by people we can elect and kick out – that’s more democratic”, it may seem hypocritical for a Leave campaigner and lead Brexiteer to suggest crippling the British parliament. And that’s because it is hypocritical.

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In 2017, during the UK General Election, the Conservative Party secured 42% of the votes cast, and 317 parliamentary seats. This meant they were unable to form a government. As such, the leader of the Tories, Theresa May, bribed the Irish DUP party with £1 billion of public money to form a government with them. The DUP held 0.9% of the votes cast.

Which means the Conservative Party was able to seize control of the Government with just 43% of the popular vote – and it only cost them £1 billion of public funds to do so.

When Theresa May resigned in 2019, her successor was chosen from among Tory Party MPs. First the Tory MPs themselves – all 312 of them – voted to narrow the selection down to just two candidates – Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt.

This was followed by a vote of the Tory Party as a whole. Here, the winner of the two candidates was decided by a vote of 138,809 Tory Party members, i.e. 0.3% of the country’s general electorate, or 1 out of every 330 people eligible to vote in a general election.

Boris Johnson won with 66% of that vote, or 92,153 votes.

Nearly 46 million people are eligible to vote in the UK, of a population of over 66 million.

Which means that Raab, an elected MP holding an unelected ministerial position, appointed by an undemocratically-selected Prime Minister of an undemocratic government which bought its way into power, wished to further restrict the role of democracy in British politics by suspending a body of elected lawmakers.

To Dominic Raab, democracy is useful only to the barest extent that it puts him in a position of power, and is seemingly disposable at any point thereafter.

And this is the Foreign Secretary who is expected to represent Britain overseas, championing our way of life.

It is worth stating, and re-stating, that the proroguing of Parliament is unlikely to ever occur. But the issue is less the likelihood of it occurring, and rather the fact that it is seen as a legitimate option by members of our current government, possibly including the Prime Minister himself.

Shortly after Mr Raab’s comments, I wrote to my MP, Shabana Mahmood, to raise my concerns. You can read this letter, and her response, here.

Given more recent developments, it seems important that we all put pressure on our parliamentary representatives to take a stronger stand against the kind of anti-democratic sentiment which seems to prevalent within the current government.

As matters stand currently, the Boris Johnson-led government is set to remain in power until May of 2022 – nearly three years of rule by a Prime Minister and cabinet who hold power due to a history bribery, lies and a broken electoral system.

This is the same government which, by all indicators, is intending to force the UK to leave the EU with no departure deal in place, and in just three months, on the 31st of October.

This is a government made up primarily of wealthy politicians of privileged backgrounds, at least one of whom has demonstrably already profited personally from the results of the Brexit referendum. It seems unlikely that Rees-Mogg is alone in having financial interests in a departure from the EU.

Should the best possible legal outcome prevail, and a successful vote of No Confidence in the current government force a General Election, the country would still be vulnerable to the same kind of back-room deals that saw the Tory Party retain power in the 2017 election, and we would then be in a worse position than we are now.

Once again, I’m writing about British politics and telling tales of doom and gloom, with no real suggestions to offer as to what to do. It feels like an impossible situation, where our right to vote seems meaningless, where our connection as private citizens to our own government seems non-existent.

We are staring down the barrel of a No Deal EU departure, and we have virtually no legal means to affect this course of action. We are being led by Prime Minister and a government who hold the population in contempt, who are flagrantly placing their own interests ahead of the interests of the country, and we had no say in their appointment.

This piece opened with a critique of Dominic Raab, but he is merely symptomatic of the disease. His appointment as foreign secretary is a result of a deeper, darker plague for which the cures are quickly eroding. By any objective measure, our system of government has failed us, and has been failing us for some time, and it seems there is still scope for matters to worsen.

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Letter To Shabana Mahmood

11 June 2019

 

Dear Shabana Mahmood,

I am writing to you regarding the conduct of Mr Dominic Raab, MP for Esher and Walton, and his comments concerning the suspension of Parliament in order to prevent the House of Commons from blocking a “No Deal” Brexit, as outlined in the below article:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-48541352

That Mr Raab would be so willing to subvert the United Kingdom’s democratic process in this manner is appalling. Beyond the stark irony of diminishing Parliamentary sovereignty over an issue intended to “restore” sovereignty to the British Isles in the first place, his callous disregard for democracy is unacceptable for a Member of Parliament, and especially for someone with ambitions to hold the office of Prime Minister.

A single-issue referendum cannot be wielded as a weapon with which to hold a nation to ransom. One vote cannot be an excuse for abandoning the basic principles of a representative democracy. If Mr Raab and his fellow Brexiteers truly value democracy, and the sovereignty of the United Kingdom, then the thought of suspending Parliament to further their agenda should never enter their heads, and certainly never given voice in a public forum.

Put more briefly – suspending a democratically elected body of lawmakers is, by definition, an act of authoritarianism, and Mr Raab has demonstrated his openness to the kind of extreme and undemocratic governance against which we have fought so many wars.

I feel this also brings into question the true motives of Mr Raab. It would be interesting to understand the full extent of his financial interests, particularly any foreign sources of revenue, and whether any of these financial interests conflict with the best interests of the nation he claims to serve.

I understand, and am grateful for, the fact that actually suspending Parliament would not be feasible by Mr Raab’s actions alone, but I would ask that you raise in Parliament the notion of creating new laws to prevent and criminalise any such attempt to subvert of the proper course of democracy. We have laws against acts of physical terror – we ought also to have laws against acts of political terror.

To summarise, I feel that Mr Raab has betrayed the British people with his comments, and has betrayed his duties as a Member of Parliament, and I hope you will take a firm stance and support firm action against Mr Raab’s particular brand of political banditry.

Kind regards,

[personal information removed]


24 June 2019

Dear [personal information removed]

Thank you for contacting me regarding the conduct of Mr Dominic Raab, MP for Esher and Walton.

I also believe that his comments were irresponsible, the suggestion of Parliament being suspended is wrong and will not be tolerated.

Rest assured that I will continue to monitor the conduct of the remaining Tory leadership candidates and will hold them to account for their actions.

Thank you again for writing to me. Please do not hesitate to contact me again regarding this or any other issue.

Yours sincerely

Shabana Mahmood MP
Member of Parliament for Birmingham Ladywood