Author: Daniel Margrain

I graduated in 2001 with an Upper Second Class Honours degree in Human Geography and Social Policy. I then successfully completed my masters in Globalisation, Culture and the City at Goldsmiths, London. I am a massive fan of the musician Neil Young. My favourite book is Murder In Samarkand by Craig Murray. My favourite album is Van Morrison's Astral Weeks and my favourite film is Giuseppe Tornatore's Cinema Paradiso. I have traveled widely and fell in love with Cuba and Madagascar. My other interests include politics and current affairs and social and urban theory.

Theresa May’s Mansion House speeches: Is Putin an agent of the British state?

By Daniel Margrain

In Alfred Hitchcock’s classic 1959 film, North By Northwest, Cary Grant plays the part of an advertising executive who inadvertently gets caught up in a web of espionage after he is mistaken for “George Kaplan”, a fictional persona created by a government agency in order to thwart the nefarious activities of a spy, Phillip Vandamm (James Mason).

After reading the transcript of Theresa May’s recent Mansion House speech in which she alluded to the alleged nefarious activities of Vladimir Putin, one might reasonably conclude that real life imitates art and that the Russian leader is a creation of Britain’s secret services.

Hard power

Resplendent with cliches and insubstantial rhetorical flourishes low on substance, May’s projection of hard power harked back to the days of the British Empire in which, as George Galloway famously remarked, “the sun never set because God would never trust the English in the dark”.

May’s vision of a post-Brexit Britain in a globalized world, is marked by ‘humanitarian interventionism’ predicated on military pre-emption, or as one US administration official put it, “pre-emptive retaliation”. Such a foreign policy strategy is one in which the ‘responsibility to protect’ is informed by a notion of imperialist exceptionalism couched in the language of economic liberalism and free markets. This is regarded by the political establishment as the best way to counter (largely imaginary) military threats.

Last years Mansion House speech

Thus, in the tradition of Kipling, May emphasized that the historic role of Britain was to nurture ‘less enlightened’ societies by invoking in them the virtues of neoliberal ‘trickle-down’ economics. This sentiment echoes the substantive part of the Mansion House speech May made this time last year:

“Over our long history, this country has set the template for others to follow”, said May.

The PM continued:

“We demonstrate to the world that we can be the strongest global advocate for free markets and free trade.”

But as income inequality has continued to increase inexorably since last years Mansion House speech, the PM has been left to ponder as to whether ‘trickle-down’ is not really a case of ‘gushing-up’. Regardless, there is scant evidence she intends to do anything about it, preferring instead to regurgitate the requisite caveats:

“There have been downsides to globalisation in recent years, and that – in our zeal and enthusiasm to promote this agenda as the answer to all our ills – we have on occasion overlooked the impact on those closer to home who see these forces in a different light”, said the PM.

May added:

“If we take a step back and look at the world around us, one of the most important drivers becomes clear – the forces of liberalism and globalisation which have held sway in Britain, America and across the Western world for years have left too many people behind.”

But rather than acknowledge that neoliberal ideology is the catalyst for growing inequality, May persists with the illusion that the rules-based international capitalist system on which it is based, represents the solution to the problem:

“Liberalism and globalisation…underpin the rules-based international system that is key to global prosperity and security and which I am clear we must protect and seek to strengthen,” claimed May.

White man’s burden

The alleged merits of a 19th century rules-based liberal system rooted in the Kipling-esque “white man’s burden” notion of modern international relations, was a topic May returned to during her November 13, 2017 speech:

“So as we reach out into the world and write this new chapter in our national history, the task of a global Britain is clear – to defend the rules based international order against irresponsible states that seek to erode it”, said May.

Clearly, the PM had one country in mind as one of the more significant of the worlds “irresponsible states” who she regards as potentially undermining neoliberalism’s global reach:

“The comprehensive new economic partnership we seek will underpin our shared commitment to open economies and free societies in the face of those who seek to undermine them. Chief among those today, of course, is Russia”, said May.

Ratcheting-up

Ratcheting-up Russia’s imaginary threat to Western civilization, May remarked:

“Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea was the first time since the Second World War that one sovereign nation has forcibly taken territory from another in Europe.”

This simplistic analysis conveniently overlooks the subversive actions of the US in the Ukraine and broader geopolitical and strategic contextual objectives of the Western-led alliance which meant that Putin was left with little option other than to incorporate Crimea in order to attempt to fend off an encroaching NATO.

Also, by limiting her critique to Europe, May ignored the attempts by Britain, France, the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia among others, to destabilize Syria in addition to the US-led coalitions decades-long illegal wars of aggression against the sovereign nations of Iraq and Libya.

May stepped-up the anti-Russian line by reproducing unsubstantiated soundbites against the country. The PM falsely inferred that Russia’s supposed state-run media propaganda is unique to a country whose official enemies constantly use the rhetoric of war against it.

May’s anti-Russian tirade during the latter part of her speech culminated in what were clear threats against Putin – an arrogance akin to that of a 19th century imperial overseer. Seemingly eager to continue justifying the reinforcing of the British industrial-military complex, May added to the fear mongering rhetoric:

“The UK will do what is necessary to protect ourselves, and work with our allies to do likewise”, she said.

That it’s Britain and it’s NATO allies, not Russia, that represents the greatest potential threat to world peace, is unmentionable in mass corporate media parlance.

Weaponising information

Ironically, the Russian state broadcaster, RT, who Theresa May in her speech alluded seeks to “weaponise information…in an attempt to sow discord in the West and undermine our institutions”, revealed the collusion between the Western powers and ISIS. This was a fact that the BBC only began to belatedly acknowledge many years later.

So, as Patrick Henningsen astutely pointed out with an air of sarcasm, using May’s logic, the much maligned Vladimir Putin – who the PM effectively accused of ‘weaponising information’ – is presumably meddling in the BBC?

Another possibility is that he is a double agent, who like the Cary Grant character in North By Northwest, is unknowingly working for the British government. The third, and most likely possibility, is that Theresa May is a hypocrite and liar.

If you’ve enjoyed reading this or another posting, please consider making a donation, no matter how small. I don’t make any money from my work, and I’m not funded. You can help continue my research and write independently.… Thanks!


Donate Button with Credit Cards

Thoughts on the sacking of Slaven Bilic

By Daniel Margrain

So yet another sacrificial lamb has been put to slaughter. The decision by the board of West Ham United Club to sack manager Slaven Bilic, is one of the most shameful episodes in the history of the club I have supported for 45 years. I’m really angry and disappointed by the reaction of the club and our “fans” to Bilic in the months leading up to his dismissal.

Many of these baying supporters that were calling for his blood, are the same people who two seasons ago were praising his abilities and asserting he was one of the most hard-working, committed and inspirational figures to be associated with the club in its history. Competent football managers do not become bad football managers overnight.

There is no evidence, whatsoever, that a change of manager improves the fortunes of a team in terms of results on the pitch. Although it’s tempting to believe that the appointment of a Sam Allardyce or any other manager with a reputation of keeping clubs in the Premier League is based on hard evidence, empirically this is not supported by the facts. There is a zero line of causality between the fortunes, or otherwise, of a football club and the figure who happens to be at the helm of said club at any given time – none, zilch, zero, nada.

I find it incredulous that football fans and pundits alike continue to place so much emphasis on the supposed significance a manager makes in relation to the respective success or failure of a club. It is no coincidence that almost every season, the same big clubs – Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal etc – with the greatest resources at their disposal, challenge for the league title.

These clubs invariably win silverware not because of the manager but in spite of the individual who sits at the helm. That explains, why Avram Grant, for example, holds the worst win percentage of league games of all permanent managers (18.92%) in the clubs recent history, but also, conversely, came within a whisker of winning the Champions League with Chelsea.

Yes, there are anomalies – Leicester winning the league under Ranieri and Clough’s numerous successes with limited resources come immediately to mind. But that’s all they are – exceptions to the rule. It has always seemed peculiar to me that in all other walks of life, we apply the law of probability to our reasoning but somehow professional football always appears to get a free pass.

Football managers who work at the highest level are a bit like politician’s – both come and go with frequent regularity, but the fans and the voting public respectively are invariably the ones who end up picking up the pieces of the failed decisions made by others bigger than them.

If the board at West Ham end up appointing David Moyes as the replacement for Bilic, as has been widely reported, and the club start to pick up valuable points, that will not be because of the new-found “innate genius” of the former. On the contrary, as I alluded to above, the evidence would seem to suggest that a similar set of results would – given a combination of time and luck – have happened under Bilic’s watch anyway.

Moyes’ recent managerial record has been appalling and yet nobody in the media appears neither to want to point that fact out, or why a proven failure is regarded as a suitable replacement for somebody who knows the club inside out. In no other walk of life is failure rewarded to the extent it is in professional football at the highest level.

The management merry-go-round in the high echelons of the game amounts to one of the greatest protection rackets going – that if we were to apply the same reasoning to say, banking – people would rightly condemn. But somehow this scandal, when attributed to the professional game, gets conveniently overlooked by media pundits and the wider public alike.

How have we managed to arrive at a situation in which fans exult an extremely passionate, capable, committed and loyal manager like Bilic as a genius one minute, but at the next are baying for his blood? What kind of society are we living in that regards that kind of behaviour and mind-set as being in any way acceptable, never mind rational?

Why is it apparently beyond the capability of football supporters to accept that there is a correlation between the financial resources clubs have at their disposal and the success of the said clubs on the field of play? The appointment by the West Ham United board of Champions League finalist, Avram Grant, is proof positive that managers do not make a blind bit of difference to the success of a club.

But West Ham fans and fans of other medium sized clubs of the Hammers stature, continue to place what are clearly unrealistic expectations upon the shoulders of their managers. Slaven Bilic is clearly a sincere and passionate man who is devoted to the Hammers. It’s about time, the board and fans alike begin to get a grip on reality and put an end to this ridiculous game of managerial merry-go-round that is plaguing professional football.

If you’ve enjoyed reading this or another posting, please consider making a donation, no matter how small. I don’t make any money from my work, and I’m not funded. You can help continue my research and write independently.… Thanks!

 


Donate Button with Credit Cards

Review of Fiende Fatale live at The Horn, St. Albans

By Daniel Margrain

In Steven Shea’s 2013 cult horror-adventure parody, Fiende Fatale, an assortment of DNA-cloned monsters and weirdos reconfigured from the carcasses of vampires, zombies, demons and others, find themselves confronting government and terrorist forces in a dystopian world devoid of meaning whose citizens are out of control.

As well as working at the level of a spoof, the short film mainly succeeds as a metaphor for a world spiraling ever-deeper, both spiritually and figuratively, into decay. With the enemy as much internalized as a result of the tactics of divide and rule, and brute force increasingly becoming the norm, the urban proletariat see violence as their only form of salvation against the tyranny of government – a kind of subterranean ‘fight club’ for lost souls.

The dark and claustrophobic venue, ‘The Horn’ in St. Albans fits neatly into this cinematic narrative. When headline band, Fiende Fatale, took to the venues small stage last Saturday evening, against a backdrop of the ever-present sight of ghouls, vampires and zombies in the run up to Halloween, the scene was set perfectly.

From two songs in, it was clear that the band are not easy to pigeon-hole. This is a testament to their creative and musical flair. Attending the same school, the north London ensemble have clearly imbued a multitude of influences – Lou Reed, Stooges, Sex Pistols, Roxy Music – among them.

The groups defining aesthetic is nevertheless one that is reminiscent of the art-rock and post-punk scenes of the early 1970s and early 1980s respectively. Indeed, the manner with which the group merge these influences seamlessly into their work is extremely impressive.

From the opening chords, the bands music, to this critics ears, doesn’t sound derivative, contrived or forced but rather discombobulating which is a mark of their distinctive musicality and artistic creative impulses.

Underneath the clever and often witty lyrics given free expressive reign by lead singer and guitarist, Matthew Magee – whose intensity is equal to Ian Curtis, and whose theatrics are reminiscent of Dave Vanian – is a band that musically, as a unit, are as tight as The Fall without Mark E Smith.

All the while, guitarist, Rolph Edwards regularly skews the formal structure of the groups sound to the point of cacophonous informality rooted in Captain Beefheart and the post-punk of say, the Gang of Four, while Alex Wright’s meaty bass and Dom Bowmans manic but disciplined drumming ensures that the spine of the sound remains intact.

Unfortunately my close friend and me had to leave during the bands rendition of the catchy ‘My Own Worst Enemy’ in order to catch the last train back to London so we missed all of the set. My one criticism is that the group do perhaps veer at times too much towards pop for my taste, but regardless they are talented musician’s who are keeping the spirit of rock and roll very much alive.

Fiende Fatale play The Fiddler’s Elbow, Camden, Thursday, 30th November.

 

Please make a small donation

If you’ve enjoyed reading this or another posting, please consider making a donation, no matter how small. I don’t make any money from my work, and I’m not funded. You can help continue my research and write independently.… Thanks!


Donate Button with Credit Cards

Why the corporate media continue to obfuscate in relation to Assad sarin attack claims

By Daniel Margrain

“A new report from the UN has found that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces are to blame for a deadly chemical attack that killed more than 90 people in a rebel village earlier this year”, proclaimed a recent Independent article.

Contradicting what the paper alluded was a definitive statement of fact, the article continued:

“The investigation from the UN and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), released on Thursday [October 26], said that experts are confident that the Syrian Arab Republic is responsible for the release of sarin at Khan Sheikhoun on 4 April 2017”.

UK Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, was quick to emphasize the former interpretation when he stated:

“The independent [OPCW] report from expert investigators reach a clear conclusion: the Assad regime used sarin nerve gas against the people of Khan Sheikhoun in Syria on 4 April with tragic consequences for hundreds of victims.”

However, Russian officials claimed that the reports methodology, that included the sequence and storage of material evidence, the use of fake evidence and biased sources, was flawed.

The Russian claims appear to be credible. Details outlined by Moon of Alabama indicate that the alleged gas attack was used by the US government as their justification to launch an illegal missile strike on Syria’s al-Shayrat airbase on April 7, three days later. The decision to attack the airbase, in other words, had already been made; that it preceded the justification, which was being retrofitted to an act of aggression.

It’s a measure of the extent to which the mass media have become embedded within the deep state of government that president Trump, with near-unanimous journalistic support, was able to launch the April 7 attack on the airbase. Cathy Newman on Channel 4 News (April 10, 2017), for example, stated without evidence to support her assertion, that the US attack was “in retaliation to a sarin gas attack by president Assad”.

We’ve been here before

The release of the latest OPCW-UN report follows on the heels of another similarly flawed August, 2015 OPCW-UN report in connection with Security Council resolution 2235. The report which was aimed at introducing new sanctions against Syria didn’t make the claims subsequently attributed to it by the corporate media, namely that between April, 2014 and August, 2015 the Assad government was definitively responsible for three chemical attacks using chlorine.

Referring to the August, 2015 reports many caveats and reservations, security analyst Charles Shoebridge argued that the evidence “wasn’t sufficiently good to declare that Syria had dropped chlorine to a standard that could be considered “strong”, or “overwhelming”, adding that “investigators were largely reliant on reports from the [pro-rebel terror organisation] the White Helmets.”

Furthermore, independent journalist Gareth Porter inferred that U.N. investigators increasingly make their conclusions fall in line with Western propaganda after he exposed distortions contained in a March 1, 2017 report by the United Nations’ “Independent International Commission of Inquiry which claimed that an airstrike on a humanitarian aid convoy in the west of Aleppo City on September. 19, 2016, was undertaken by Syrian government planes. Porter revealed that the reports findings, also based on White Helmets testimonies, were “full of internal contradictions.”

Purveyor of propaganda

Despite the reservations as to the veracity of previous UN reports outlined, Boris Johnson’s eagerness to uncritically promote the latest OPCW offering is indicative of his role as a purveyor of UK government propaganda.

He has form in this regard. In September last year, for example, Johnson engaged in a piece of foreign office-produced theatre. The UK foreign secretary claimed the government had earmarked £2.3 billion towards supporting human rights organisations in Syria.

The money, however, was almost certainly channeled into promoting sophisticated propaganda campaigns and the funding of mercenary forces. The ultimate objective, as French foreign minister Roland Dumas admitted, is regime change in Syria that the UK government have “prepared, conceived and organised.”

However, impending defeat for the West in Syria prompted rhetorical flourishes from mainstream reporters and politicians alike that have shifted from the surreal to the absurd. Labour MP Ben Bradshaw, for example, described the liberation of Aleppo as a “tragedy”.

Donate Button with Credit Cards

Hard Times On Benefit Mall

By Daniel Margrain

For many years the media have portrayed the lifestyles of what they have termed the undeserving rich who inhabit Britain’s Benefit Malls, as feckless wasters and a burden on the tax-paying public. There have been signs over recent months that their attacks on this largely invisible minority in society are beginning to take their toll.

So extreme have these attacks on some of Britain’s most privileged elite been, that many within the gold-vaulted communities of Knightsbridge, Mayfair and Kensington, often under the cloak of anonymity, have decided to fight back. One such individual is a young woman called Beatrice Ferguson, 28, who some have alleged is a princess.

Claiming that her lifestyle has been regularly vilified in the media, and following in the footsteps of her father, Beatrice has recently starred in the Channel Five reality show, ‘Benefit Mall’ where, among other things, she has been filmed getting drunk on gin and tonics in her local public house, the Duke of York, named after him.

Allegations

The allegations that Ms Ferguson has consistently abused the benefit system continue to be stringently denied by the alleged princess. One of the most serious accusations relates to the claim that Beatrice set herself up as a business matchmaker after having secured a high-profile client in the shape of would-be stock market debutant Afiniti.

It was reported that a member of the Zia Chishti entourage, who is said to have accompanied Ferguson to meetings and parties at the World Economic Forum in Davos, including to a lunch for many of the most senior figures in British business, phoned the DWP in the UK anonymously.

Undercover

When challenged by undercover journalists, Beatrice was reported as having said that she informed her local Job Centre Plus in London’s Bayswater Road that she intended to take a week’s holiday abroad to which she claims she was entitled:

“I phoned the DWP three days in advance informing them that I would be taking a foreign holiday for a week which was agreed at the time by my work coach. This was not a working holiday”, she said.

But this version of events was contradicted by what has been claimed are her clients, the advisory board members of the company that is headquartered in Washington DC, comprising no fewer than 21 senior figures. An account relayed to investigators by one of these figures, BP chief executive Lord Browne, however, appears to support the benefit claimants version of events:

“The notion this young lady owns a company called Afiniti or that I am one of her clients is absurd. I recall that she was at a party I attended as a guest. The fact that Mr Chishti, who previously co-founded and brought to market a company that makes transparent braces for teeth straightening, is merely coincidental”, he said.

Spotted

Beatrice, who some in the media have dubbed Britain’s version of a Kardashian, has in previous years also been spotted taking to the water on Roman Abramovich’s £1 billion super yacht, Eclipse, which is docked off the Spanish coast near Ibiza. Asked by reporters how the alleged penniless royal could afford to rack up seventeen holidays in eight months on a weekly Job Seeker’s Allowance of £73.40 since giving up her 20k a year role at Sony, Beatrice claimed the trips were paid for using savings accumulated in her Barclays Instant Saver account.

Responding to accusations that her lifestyle is excessive, Beatrice snapped back at the media by saying that Channel Five’s Benefits Mall programme was a cheap attempt at smearing people like her on benefits which she claimed was indicative of a culture that “treated elites like me as though we are animals in a zoo.” The reality star added, “If I knew then, what I know now, I would never have agreed to do this show.”

Beatrice exclaimed that chalking up three skiing holidays on top of multiple hot weather breaks and repeated trips to New York, “is my human right”. She continued: “People are jealous that I have saved up some money that funds a lifestyle to which I’m entitled and that I regard as being normal. When I visited New York, it was to see my sister, Eugenie”, said the streetwise hustler from downtown Belgravia.

Last November, the DWP claimed she visited the United Arab Emirates for a “business engagement” with her father, the Duke of York, which she categorically denies. She also claims that people driven by jealously conspired against her by falsely claiming she subsequently attended a lavish party on board a Polynesian themed party yacht.

Private jet

Later that week, Beatrice admitted to investigators she flew on a private jet with her mother, Sarah Ferguson, to Beijing for a wedding, paid for by her father which she claims didn’t break DWP rules since she was able to sign-on the following week. Moreover, she claimed she was able to prove to her job coach that she had spent a sufficient amount of time actively seeking work. She put her late attendance that day down to heavy traffic along the Bayswater Road and that the 148 bus she was travelling on had broken down.

Serious questions, however, remain with regards to Beatrice’s whereabouts during Christmas 2016. Having failed to turn up to a 2pm appointment previously arranged with her work coach who had planned to run through her CV with her, Beatrice claimed she phoned Job Centre Plus saying that she was too sick to attend.

However, I was subsequently contacted by a member of Beatrice’s entourage who alleged that after enjoying Christmas lunch with the Queen at Sandringham, the Benefit Mall star jetted off to Verbier to stay at her parents £13m ski chalet. My source then alleges she flew off to the Caribbean where she saw in 2017 relaxing on a yacht belonging to billionaire Lakshmi Mittal.

Jimmy Carr

Having made a quick trip back to London to sign on, it is claimed she spent time on another yacht in the company of, among others, comedian Jimmy Carr. After a double holiday in the Caribbean, she then took a trip to New York.

With the authorities becoming suspicious of her increasingly erratic lifestyle depicted on Benefit Mall, the DWP finally made the decision to suspend the reality TV stars Job Seekers Allowance. The suspension of her housing and council tax benefits swiftly followed. After complaining vociferously to TV executives at Channel Five about the manner in which the programme-makers had characterized her, and by extension, their demonizing of her class in Benefit Mall, Beatrice flew back to her parents place in Verbier.

After spending a short time with them, she clearly felt that she needed another break from all the stress. So she decided to fly out to Florida for her twelfth holiday in five months. Beatrice was subsequently spotted in the Gulf State of Bahrain as a guest of it’s Prince whose father helped put down pro-democracy protests. Clearly, Ms Ferguson loves to hang out with nice people.

Great Guana Cay

In September, Beatrice flew to Florence before jetting off for her third Caribbean jaunt where she was photographed lounging on a beach in Great Guana Cay that’s home to just 150 people. It is also blessed with a five and a half mile stretch of sandy white beach, virgin forest and pristine coral reefs.

With Ms Ferguson having apparently set up home in Great Guana Cay, the authorities back in London are keen to interview the reality TV star regarding unanswered questions that reportedly involve her failure to report a change in her circumstances. Some other independent journalists are also seeking answers to similar questions.

Isn’t it about time the mainstream corporate media also began asking searching questions about the activities of royal benefit scroungers like Beatrice? They might begin by asking how her father, who has a modest naval pension, can afford a £13m property and pay for regular private jet flights?

“The Royal Family is still guarding secrets that we the people should know about”, says the Guardian. These secrets include how the royal benefit spongers manage to screw the British tax payers of their hard earned cash to the extent they do in order to fund their extravagant lifestyles without serious challenge in the media?

Answers on a post card to Daniel Margrain, c/o the Palm Fringe Savoy, Bahamas.

Please make a small donation

If you’ve enjoyed reading this or another posting, please consider making a donation, no matter how small. I don’t make any money from my work, and I’m not funded. You can help continue my research and write independently.… Thanks!


Donate Button with Credit Cards

The Penniless Philanthropist

By Daniel Margrain

Sculptor Drew Edwards (second right) unveiled his moving work Children of the Mediterranean on campus with the help of Syrian refugees now studying at MDX

Actor and sculptor, Andrew Edwards, has been dubbed the ‘penniless philanthropist’. The 51 year old’s life-affirming sculptures, mainly created from tonnes of granite, are a labour of love for Edwards who neither receives, nor asks, for a penny in return for his efforts.

I’ve witnessed the artist toil for hours on end in our communal garden sculpting his creations with a hand grinder. The man often suffers for his art – sometimes, in the physical sense, literally. Last summer he nearly lost a finger and more recently he suffered a deep wound to his leg – the hand tool almost severing a tendon.

The rewards for Edwards is the knowledge that he is making a difference – no matter how small – to help shift the public’s consciousness in terms of bringing to their attention the plight of the some of the most desperate souls on the planet – refugee children driven from their homes by the ravages of imperialist wars who are then exploited by criminal gangs.

Edward’s remarkable story culminated in the recent unveiling of his latest creation, a 91-piece installation entitled ‘Children of the Mediterranean’ – dedicated by the artist in memory of refugee children who were drowned or have been trafficked crossing the Mediterranean sea.

The 91 figures represent the percentage of children who have made the perilous journey unaccompanied. It is the first major piece of art to be erected on the Ritterman plinth in the centre of the new prestigious £18m Ritterman building at Middlesex University’s north London campus.

Edwards began his two year long ‘Children of the Mediterranean’ project after seeing the lifeless body of a small Syrian boy washed up on a beach. The image was captured by the corporate press and printed on many of their front pages, It was subsequently used by Western governments as justification for implementing their regime change agenda in the country.

The image of the dead child brought back disturbing childhood memories for Edwards. At the age of eight, the artist remembered watching the TV documentary series, ‘The World At War’. Edwards was haunted by the image of small children imprisoned in a concentration camp. The nightmare of this experience and the terror on the faces of the children and those who had survived the Mediterranean sea journey, are represented in the faceless stone figures that comprise his most recent creation.

“I didn’t want these children to be forgotten”, said Edwards in his statement to those who attended the recent unveiling of the piece. He added: “This is my way of ensuring this doesn’t happen. News coverage of these kinds of tragic events are often transient in the minds of the public. Hopefully, my work offers a sense of permanence. I think the piece is self-explanatory.”

The logistics involved in moving 7 tonnes of granite into a relatively small outdoor space in the university campus space where the plinth is located was a feat in itself. But having done so, with minimal support, is a testament to the artists commitment to his work.

All the effort was worth it. It’s a stunning piece. The clamor of various sizes of granite stone pieces are packed together in close proximity to one another – a community of lost souls bound together metaphorically and literally by their shared sense of resilience to survive against the odds.

Among them is a solitary figure of white marble, and hidden amid the bodies, is one of the sculptors trademark angels – perhaps symbolizing hope for the future. The entire piece is enmeshed in rusted encased chains that invoke in the viewer an emotional connection to the helplessness of human beings imprisoned by an endless ocean.

Invited by the event organiser to say a few more words during the unveiling, a self-effacing Edwards continued:

“I feel the piece will now have a life of its own. I can’t say for sure where it will be next or where, if ever, it will end up.”

Edwards has other pieces of his dotted around the capital city. Two months ago, the artist was so moved by the Grenfell Tower fire disaster, he donated a statue to the shrine in memory of the victims. It now stands among the flames and tributes at the entrance to Notting Hill Methodist church. Entitled, ‘Grieving Figure In Stone’, it was gratefully accepted by the minister of the church, Rev. Mark Long. and it is hoped it will become a centrepiece in a future garden of remembrance.

Edwards, who is dyslexic and suffers from Grave’s disease, turned to sculpting three years ago as a means of remaining creative between acting jobs. He left school at 15, and at the age of 24, paid to go through drama school and become an actor. Unfortunately, he also became an alcoholic and drug addict but has been clean and sober for the last 20 years.

The artist, whose last role was in the Meryl Streep film, Suffragette, began sculpting by creating angels. Largely inspired by the paintings of William Blake, Edward’s creations have a contemplative and ethereal quality to them. Much of his work seems to hint at themes of spiritual yearning and of the vulnerability of the human condition in a world that is seemingly spiraling out of control.

His first major work was a 20-foot high ‘Memorial Angel’ of recycled wind-blown oak and stainless steel that he donated to the Finchley Memorial Hospital. It stands outside the children’s cancer unit and attracts a great deal of attention from children and passers by.

He donated the sculpture as a thank you to the doctors and nursing staff at the hospital that saved his life when he developed septicemia 18 years ago. He has also donated another sculpture – ‘Mother and Child’ – to the Memorial hospital. It is carved from recycled granite and stands on the approach to the reception area. A third, almost finished piece, is in memory of a nurse at the hospital who worked in the cancer ward and sadly died of cancer herself.

Edwards has a further five granite angels ready to be donated or auctioned off for worthy causes and is presently working on a huge sculpture to be donated to the London Borough of Barnet – a 40-foot high piece entitled ‘Angel of North London’. The council have been extremely supportive of the sculptors work by allowing him the use of a work yard, and local builders have made it possible by supplying granite.

The artist wouldn’t have been able to create his work had it not been for those who assisted with transport and equipment. “They all knew I had very little money and it was the drivers bringing the granite who gave me the nickname of the penniless philanthropist”, he said. “I never thought of myself that way, but I do take it as a compliment.”

Edwards has previously said that he will consider at some point in the future to move ‘Children of the Mediterranean’ to a safe stretch of the Thames where, as the tidal water recedes, the ghostly stone figures will appear. “I would like the installation to remind commuters on their way across the Thames that children are the most vulnerable and defenceless members of society. With the ongoing conflict in Syria, and also beyond in a myriad of other places, it’s vital we don’t forget them”, he said.

Edwards concluded:

“The more we see clips of children drowning and fleeing conflict zones throughout the world, the more numb we become. It’s media fatigue. The unforgivable has become palatable. I hope it will make people ponder for a moment how privileged we are to live in one of the richest and safest democracies on earth, and perhaps consider how they can help more.”

‘Children of the Mediterranean’ will be on view at the Ritterman plinth, Middlesex University, for six months after which Edwards hopes it will be bought and the money donated to a children’s charity of the sculptors choice. If not, Edwards will probably relocate it to the banks of the Thames, although he hasn’t ruled out the possibility of it being moved abroad providing he receives the required funding.

Further information from Andrew Edwards:
E mail drewedwards@hotmail.co.uk
Tel: 07957234346

Why Are Public Libraries Closing?

By Daniel Margrain

Today (Monday, October 9-14) marks the beginning of Libraries Week, “the annual showcase of all the creative, innovative and diverse activities that UK libraries have to offer.”

In a city like London where the wealth gap between the top and bottom of society  continues to widen inexorably, and where public space appears to be at a premium, it’s becoming harder for people with a minimal income at their disposal to access modes of information and entertainment outside of the home.

With an increase in the level of in-work poverty over the last decade due largely to the normalizing culture of zero-hours contracts and part-time work, access to the paid cultural aspects of a city like London is fast becoming the domain of the few as opposed to the right of the many.

Highly inflated costs during a sustained period in which wages have stagnated, not only means that more people are being priced out of corporate-controlled spaces, but they are also denied the socialized interaction that are analogous to them.

Infotainment/infoadvertising

But this not the whole story. It’s perhaps tempting to believe that the corporate world of learning is diverse and the flow of information wide-ranging. But this is an illusion. Entertainment, like TV news, is increasingly ideological and uniform in nature, the purpose of which is to satisfy the financial demands of advertisers.

What in the corporate world of information and entertainment is purported to be reality, in other words, often merges seamlessly into overt propagandized fiction. In what John Pilger describes as a media age as opposed to an information age where lines are deliberately blurred and diversity and creativity restricted, “the available information is repetitive, safe and limited by invisible boundaries.”

This is where public libraries, as alternative spaces, come into their own. Many people regard libraries as the most valued and trusted resources at the heart of communities because they foster not only learning but social, cultural and economic well-being.

Public libraries are one of the few spaces where people can enter a world devoid of the dominant ‘infotainment’ and ‘infoadvertising’ forms of corporate culture. But in addition to offering an alternative to the increasingly atomizing space of the home, they provide people with the opportunity to temporarily escape from a ‘brainwashing’ narrative that portrays them as “a corrupting, anti-social group that exist outside of society.” Think of shows like Jeremy Kyle and Benefits Street.

More than just books

In that sense, public libraries are more than just books. Not only do they provide a space for people to escape, they are also beneficial in terms of the health and well-being of society. They help to foment children’s literacy and encourage them to become active during term-time and holidays.

They are used by parents and nurseries. They offer access to the internet to those that don’t have access. They provide space for people to read and study in peace that is not always possible in their homes. They are places to host community events, training and education.

They provide respite for the mentally ill and a space for people with physical disabilities who perhaps feel isolated in the home, as well as offering a temporary sanctuary to the homeless. They are, in other words, the embodiment of community spirit. And, of course, they are free. Indeed, there are many reasons for arguing that the library is the most important place in town.

So the question is, why is the government seemingly intent on getting rid of them?

Freedom of Information (FOI) figures show that since 2010, 575 council-run public libraries have either been closed, transferred to community groups or outsourced. This is a trend that is set to continue into 2018 as a further 111 are due to be closed within a year.

The main reason for this asset-stripping of a public utility is ideological. Public libraries represent notions of community and collective values. Many sit on prime value land. But the shift in government attitudes goes deeper than that. In part, it’s also that libraries represent the very antithesis of the fast-paced rhythm of modern life.

The process of reading books is a slow-burning aesthetic pleasure that cannot be reduced to a soundbite phrase or snappy commercial. Furthermore, books are tangible things, not abstractions that exist in ‘clouds’ and can be taken away for free, a system paid for through taxation based on the concept of reciprocity. These are the kinds of values the Tories detest.

The ‘cowardly new world’ of Barnet

The Tory-controlled London Borough of Barnet appears to be the model testing-ground for a future government-planned country-wide closure of libraries as part of a broader programme of austerity-driven measures. Cuts to library services in Barnet are severe and their impacts will come down hardest on children.

A 2016 study by brain specialist and child development expert, Dr Aric Sigman is said to reveal concerns about the permanent damage to health, development and achievement the prolonged and repeated reading from screens, as an alternative to reading books, has on children.

Sigman ‘s findings are consistent with Barnet’s own ‘Risk Assessment’. But despite this, the council urges young people to adopt an even more sedentary lifestyle and spend up to four-times the safe limit staring at computer screens.

Barnet’s own documents show that children aged 10-15 account for 12 per cent of library use and they do so independently after school. Massive closures will almost certainly impact negatively on their levels of literacy and, as a result of the increase in the lack of study space, will likely damage older children’s exam pass-rate potential.

Protester Ralph Vincent summed up the bewilderment and fury of local children when he said:.

“Dystopia should be confined to works of fiction rather than the very real actions of our local government. We simply want the proper educational and cultural access that is our right. When the council is happy to spend more to lock us out of our libraries than to simply let us have a usable service that promotes learning and happiness, we are entering very dark and scary times indeed. I guess we could call it “A Cowardly New World.”

Slash and burn

To mark the 20th celebration of World Book Day, schoolchildren gathered locally to denounce the council’s plan to shut down two-thirds of Barnet’s libraries. Despite several consultations and pending legal action, the council approved 12 separate planning applications to spend more than £14m in an attempt to save less than £2.3m (a massive 2177.5% increase in cost per user resulting from these drastic cuts). This highlights that the decision to cut services is ideological rather than economically pragmatic.

Barnet’s ‘Risk Mitigation’ and ‘Equal Opportunities Assessment’ states that of the 64 per cent of disabled people who visit a library on a weekly basis who can no longer physically enter them, should instead stay at home and use the mobile service. Last year the mobile service in Barnet catered to barely 3,000 or 1.6 per cent of users.

The decision by the council to go ahead with these drastic cuts to services clearly contravenes the 1964 Museums and Public Libraries Act which was introduced in order to ensure council’s didn’t renege on their duty to encourage use of library services. The Act legally requires local authorities to provide comprehensive and efficient library services.

The campaigning group Save Barnet Libraries have called on the Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport, Karen Bradley, to intervene but this has been disregarded. One anonymous disgruntled local resident remarked on the government’s failure to adhere to its responsibilities:

“Has the disregard for the Libraries and Museums Act been a willful collusion with the ‘fake news’ agenda to dismantle cheap and easy access to legitimate information for all? Or, like so much pride before the fall, are we seeing a spirit of complacency that has led us to the shuttering of refuges of truth?  Will the disregard for the Libraries and Museums Act of 1964 prove as disastrous for democracy and literacy as the arrogant repealing of the Glass-Steighel Act to separate Wall Street from Main Street was for financial stability?”

Barnet council’s slashing of libraries is a policy that has also been adopted by Wirral council. It looks set to be repeated throughout the country. Author Michael Rosen wrote of the importance of maintaining a comprehensive library service and implored Wirral council and, by extension all council’s, not to undermine this endeavour:

“It is vital for the lives of us all that [libraries] are supported, expanded, enriched and diversified. If we let them close, we are in effect consigning huge sections of the population to a world either without books, or a world with only the books that the giant corporations want us to read. This is an appalling prospect and I urge the councillors of the Wirral to fight every attempt to destroy your local library service.”

But more than that, on the basis of protecting our children’s health, well-being and education attainment levels, Tory plans to cut library services throughout the rest of the country must be resisted at every turn. Organizations like the NHS, and local public services like libraries, are too important to lose.