my london diary index
 

May 2010

Pagan Pride Parade
Brian & Barbara Arrested
Democracy Camp Continues
EDL Patriot March in London
Save 6Music & Asian Network
Walk the City
Protest Against Executions in Iran
Purple Protest Demands Fair Votes
South African Right March in London
Nakba Protest For Free Palestine
Kingston Bus
Take Back Parliament - Fair Votes
Merrie England & London May Queen
Election Day in Parliament Square
People's Jury Condemns Arms Manufacturer
Ridgeway Walk
Rave Against The Machine
Spoil Your Vote Campaign Bus
May Day Election Carnival
Trade Union & Socialist May Day March

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Pagan Pride Parade at Beltane Bash

Holborn, London. Sunday 30 May 2010

Jeanette, carrying the stang, leads the procession into Russell Square
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Pagans of all persuasions from across Britain gathered in London and held a parade to celebrate their faith, dancing in the fountains at Russell Square and in the British Museum courtyard.

The Pagan Pride Parade is a part of a two day celebration of Beltane, a traditional festival, particularly in Ireland, which marked the start of the summer, when cows and sheep were moved to summer pastures on higher ground. Midway between the Spring Equinox and Summer Solstice it was usually celebrated in early or mid-May. Various rituals were carried out which it was hoped would lead to a good growing season and a fruitful harvest. Originally a Gaelic festival, it is clamed to be still celebrated in some rural areas, and similar festivals were also found among the Celts.

Contemporary pagan movements have revived the celebration of Beltane and the Beltane Bash, held at the late May bank holiday in London is a two day festival that brings together, according to it's web site, "Pagans of all traditions, whether they follow the Witch, Wiccan, Hedge witch, Druid, Heathen, Asatru, Shaman, Egyptian tradition." No one seems clear when the first Pagan Pride parade in London was held, but it seems to have been around ten years ago; I first photographed it in 2004, and have done so several times since.

Reliable figures are hard to come by and some put the number of Pagans in the UK as high as 250,000. At the 2001 census there were 42,262 who stated that they were Pagan, which they claim makes paganism the seventh largest religion in the country. Others might feel that the differences between the different groups are so wide it makes little sense to regard them as a single religion.

The parade gathered on Sunday morning in Red Lion Square, with the Pentacle drummers and several 'giants' including the Morrighan - a Celtic War goddess, accompanied by ravens. Leading the march was organiser Jeanette Ellis, a traditional witch and writer and lecturer on witchcraft (she also makes pagan jewellery) from Walthamstow carrying the stang, a pole decorated with coloured streamers, antlers and on its tip a model stag, and behind her were the Jack in the Green and banners.

Around a couple of hundred people followed in the parade to the fountain in Russell Square, where people danced holding hands at first around the circle of jets and then through them as the drummers played and the rest of the parade, along with a number of spectators including some rather suprised tourists, watched.

From there the parade went off to the courtyard in front of the British Museum where again some danced and others rested. From there the parade returned to Red Lion Square to continue with the two days of the Beltane Bash in private.
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Brian & Barbara Arrested

Parliament Square, London. Tuesday 25 May 2010

'Shame on the Police for Arresting Brian and Barbara' - but I was far too late to see it.
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Unfortunately I wasn't in Parliament Square when Brian and Barbara were arrested by police early in the morning. I got the news when I arrived there rather later in the day on my way to a meeting. There had been some other demonstrations scheduled to take place but everything was over by the time I got there.

But I was able to talk to some of those who had seen the arrest, and later saw the video. It looked as if the police had decided they would make an arrest to get them away from the square when the Queen arrived to read her speech in Parliament and where looking for the slightest pretext.

It was good to find that there had been photographers present, and to see the cover of the London evening newspaper which gave rather more prominence to Brian being roughly handled by police than to the Queen. And even though the story contained a lot of silly comment it did also give a decent idea of exactly what had happened - including the unnecessarily rough treatment given to Brian by some officers who obviously enjoy that aspect of their job and are not kept properly under control.
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Democracy Camp Continues

Parliament Square, London. Saturday 22 May 2010

'Be the Change You Wish to See'

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Just a few pictures from Parliament Square, which I walked through several times today. The Democracy Camp - or as the Parliament Square Peace Campagn refer to it, the Police Camp - is still there, despite some huffing and puffing from Boris and others, although there wasn't a lot happening when I was around.
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EDL In Patriot March in Central London

Westminster, London. Saturday 22 May 2010

EDL Kent Bulldog Company England Flag says 'No Surrender'
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The English Defence League marched through London today, paying respect to the war dead at the Cenotaph in Whitehall before a short rally. There none of the violence and counter demonstrations that have occurred at some previous EDL events around the country. Although not officially an EDL event, the majority of those taking part in what was described as a 'Patriot March to Challenge Parliament' organised by 'British Citizens Against Muslim Extremists' were from the EDL.

A couple of hundred people, including quite a few families with women and children, marched through the capital, many carrying St George's flags. I met them outside a pub in Westminster from where the march started, where there was a considerable amount of chanting in defence of some English values and singing of the first verse of the National Anthem.

When one man began a chant about Allah, he was immediately stopped by the stewards who made it clear both that the EDL was against such racist sentiments and also that the police had told them they would stop the march taking place if there were such racist chants. And when one of the demonstrators looked likely to attack one of the press photographers he was quickly led away and calmed down.

There are many things that the EDL opposes that many of use would also oppose, including any imposition of Sharia Law in this country. But although people kept telling us that the EDL was not racist, there were still chants about Muslim bombers that many of us find unacceptable. The vast majority of Muslims in the UK are also opposed to the bombers and we all should also be equally opposed to other bombers - including those from the extreme right.

It's just wrong to stigmatise a whole community for the action of a minute number of extremists, whose actions are thought by most to be inconsistent with Islam. The EDL keep saying that they have nothing against those Muslims who wish to become integrated into the British way of life, and they should make sure that their slogans and chants reflect this.

Unlike on other occasions, the UAF and other antifascists had chosen to ignore this event and there was no counter-demonstration. The march set off noisily, but as it turned into Whitehall and approached the Cenotaph it became a silent tribute to British troops, which was followed by applause, with the chanting resuming as they came past Downing St and on to Trafalgar Square. They continued along to Waterloo Place where the march ended.

Here I photographed a young man on the rally with a disturbing story about police harassment. He had been stopped on the street by police for wearing a t-shirt which combined an image of a St George's Cross with a skull and told that wearing was an offence under the Public Order act, and that he would be cautioned unless he removed it. He was wearing the same t-shirt today and it was hard to see any possible justification for the police action. I also heard stories about people being threatened by police for wearing England shirts and being refused entry to pubs, - said to be an urban myth, although many pubs do have a blanket 'no-sportswear' entry policy.

After a short break there was then a rally, addressed by a man who announced to cheers that he was the first EDL local councillor following the recent local elections. Again he stressed that the EDL was not a racist organisation but one that wanted to promote traditional British values and support the expression and valuation of our heritage.

Many of us who are not members of the EDL would like to see a proper celebration of traditional British culture and would certainly support the wider use of the English and other British flags and the proper celebration of our national Saints Days. And while parts of our history have involved the exploitation of other cultures, there are also many aspects of which we can justly be proud, particularly for example in the areas of science and technology. We can (and should) be proud of our heritage but not like this.

At this point a small minority of those present decided to prevent photographers, including myself from taking pictures. I protested to a couple of the stewards and after talking with me for some minutes one of them accompanied me and made sure I was not further prevented from reporting. By then I felt I had probably taken all the pictures I needed, but it was an indication that some at least of the EDL still need to become more open in their relations with the media and in the respect for our civil rights.
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Save BBC 6Music & Asian Network

Broadcasting House, Portland Place London. Saturday 22 May 2010

6 Balloon and Eric Gill's famous statue of Prospero and Ariel above the doorway of Broadcasting House
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More than 500 people came to the BBC in London to support 6 Music, certainly the best of the BBC's popular music programmes which, along with the Asian Network, is under threat of closure.

Listening figures for 6 Music are, as was pointed out, difficult to obtain, as the station is not even listed in the official method for collecting audience figures and official estimates are almost certainly a considerable underestimate. But current estimates are of over a million listeners each week, and the campaign against closure has seen a fairly dramatic rise, with more people discovering the station.

Radio 6 is perhaps the prime example currently of the BBC meeting its charter obligations and providing a real service that is not mirrored by commercial offerings. It would be hard to justify most of its other channels in that way, much though we may appreciate the quality and professionalism of some (though very much not all) of them. It isn't a station I listen too much - it isn't available on most of the radios I use which doesn't help, but it's certainly something I think should be there. If the BBC feel a need to get rid of something, I certainly wouldn't miss BBC1, Radio 1 or the Archers!

It was, as the man fronting the show (like other presenters from the station he made clear he was present as a listener and licence fee payer rather than in his role as a presenter) said, a very middle class protest, with some exceedingly polite slogans. But there are some very strong opionions behind these, and it seems that the campaign has a very good chance of success.

The protest also pointed out some of the problems of running events with live music, particularly over the need to get police permission. Liberal peer Lord Clement-Jones hopes that his bill, or the recent proposals by the Culture Media and Sport committee which wanted to bring back the old 'two in a bar' rule and allow unamplified performances by one or two musicians as well as giving exemptions for venues seating less than 200 people. At the moment we have the ludicrous situation where big screen broadcast entertainment can go ahead without needing a licence but live music of any kind requires one. There is an online petition to 'Number 10' from the Live Music Forum, although the new government is currently considering the future of e-petitions and it does not currently seem possible to add your signature.

It very much seems that the BBC made its suggestions for cuts on the basis of a plan which cannot be supported particularly with a new government in place, but that it was also one that showed a complete lack of appreciation (or even knowledge) of either 6 music or the Asian Network. Although the government should have rather less influence that some have tried to exert over BBC programming it might be useful for it to remind the BBC about its purposes and suggest that rather than concentrating on competing with commercial broadcasting it should be concentrating on providing those things that cannot be done well or at all by the market.

I left shortly after 1pm, when the demonstration was in full swing. There were a few Asian Network supporters who had arrived for the Worlds First Bhangra flash mob at 1pm, but most came later after I had left.
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Walk the City

City of London, Sunday 16 May

A Christian Aid Balloon in the Tate altarpiece, a Flemish masterpiece from around 1500 in All Hallows
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Linda was doing a sponsored walk around City churches for Christian Aid - as she has for quite a few years. And I went with her to make sure she didn't get lost! Although I've been in all the churches over the years it's still interesting to see them again, and there are always things I've not noticed before - like this kneeling man with his hand holding a red Christian Aid balloon as Linda looks at the picture. It's really a very fine work of art even without the balloon, although it could be better displayed. The was originally a larger centre panel which disappeared. The man holding the balloon is Sir Robert Tate and it was given to All Hallows by the Tower by Tate & Lyle - and the third panel is St Jerome with his lion, invisible in my picture thanks to a reflection, but I don't think much like the one on the syrup tin.

As well as some works of art inside them, the churches themselves are fine buildings, and there are also some other pictures of London as we made our way round a circuit which took in two cities (London and Southwark) and around 30 churches. It's a journey that starts and ends with an elephant, includes a yurt, a knight and a dragon as well as Adam and Eve, would you believe it?
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Protest Against Executions in Iran

Trafalgar Square & Iranian Embassy, London. Sat 15 May 2010

Protesters opposite the Iranian Embassy in Kensington
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Around a hundred people demonstrated in Trafalgar Square and then marched for a rally opposite the Iran Embassy following the execution last Sunday of 5 political activists, the latest of many such death sentences.

Iran Solidarity UK organises regular weekly demonstrations in Trafalgar Square against the continuing persecution of political activists and in support of human rights in Iran. They are a part orf an international movement to demonstrate solidarity with the Iranian people who live under a regime of tyranny.

Since June 2009, millions of Iranians have protested for greater freedom in Iran, and the protests hit the world headlines when Neda Agha-Soltan was shot dead during a street demonstration on 20 June 2009. Thousands have been arrested, tortured to make untrue confessions and then condemned in unfair trials and many have been executed.

The repression has hit particularly hard in the border areas of Iran where a large proportion of the population is Kurdish and where most of the mineral wealth of the country is located. A general strike took place there on Thursday May 13 closing down most shops and bazaars. Despite the possibly extreme consequences, many students, workers and others continue to protest and try to rid themselves of the dictatorship that has been in charge of the country for over 30 years.

Saturday's demonstration was in protest at the executions of five political activists - four men and a woman - on Sunday 9 May; Farzad Kamangar, Ali Heydarian, Farhad Vakili, Mehdi Eslamian and Shirin Alam-Houli. Protests have already taken place in Iran and at Iranian embassies in various cities around the world against these killings.

The protesters in London called for the media to report on what is happening on the streets of Iran and for people and organisations across the world to show their support for the struggle of the people of Iran.
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Purple Protest Demands Fair Votes

Westminster, London. Saturday 15 May 2010

Take Back Parliament - and it is reflected in her glasses

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More than a thousand people, mainly wearing purple, came to Westminster to demand a fair voting system, feeling cheated by the recent election results which failed to produce a government reflecting how people voted.

Old Palace Yard opposite the Houses of Parliament became fairly packed with people as the rally there called for "fair votes, fair choice" and demanded an end to the "first past the post system" which the feel they recent election demonstrated was broken and outdated.

The rally there was one of a dozen or so in towns and cities across the UK, in a movement that has sprung up rapidly through the Internet, using Twitter, Facebook, You Tube and other social networking sites, but has also attracted the backing of existing electoral campaigning groups such as the Electoral Reform Society, Unlock Democracy (incorporating Charter 88), 38 Degrees and Power2010.

Speakers from these and other organisations, politicians including MEP Jean Lambert and Martin Linton, former Labour MP for Battersea, radical comedian Mark Thomas, environmentalist George Monbiot and others from the Take Back Parliament movement all spoke to considerable applause from the crowd.

Crowd and speakers were united in finding the current proposals for a referendum on an alternative vote system failed to go far enough - and felt that they represented more an attempt to defuse the issue than to deal with it

At the end of the rally the crowd walked across the road and tied purple ribbons on the fence in front of the House of Commons before continuing to Downing St where the Take Back Parliament petition was taken into No 10, and the rally dispersed quietly.

To many mainstream commentators and politicians, the idea of a mass demonstration in favour of proportional representation came as an utter shock - and some continue to deride it as just a few extremists who have no popular support. Seeing it close to, both online and in person, they may well have completely misjudged the public mood. This really could be the start of a large and growing popular movement that in the longer term politicians will be unable to ignore. Proportional representation for the UK parliament may be an idea whose time has come.
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South African Right March in London

Trafalgar Square, London. Saturday 15 May 2010

The marchers left this display outside South African House at the end of the march
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Unfortunately I arrived too late to see the march by expatriate right-wingers, part of a campaign linked to persuading football supporters not to go to the World Cup in South Africa. South Africa is a country with a relatively high level of violence and around 18,000 murders a year - too many people of all races are being murdered. But unfortunately the murder and crime rate there is fairly typical of developing countries, and lower than in many of them.

By the time I arrived at Trafalgar Square there were just a few people in red shirts and a display of crosses and photographs, which they left to be taken away by the police.

A message to those wanting to take part in the march regretted that they were not allowed to bring Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) or other white nationalist flags (including that of the former Transvaal Republic also used by the AWB along with their own which resembles the Nazi emblem) to it, or the Met Police would stop the march. The AWB is an extreme right racist group whose founder and leader until his recent murder was Eugène Terre'Blanche and is committed to setting up an independent Volkstaat on parts of South Africa which they claim under various historical treaties.
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Nakba Protest For Free Palestine

Downing St, London. Saturday 15 May 2010

A woman in a Palestine football shirt leads some chanting
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Several hundred demonstrated opposite Downing St on the anniversary of the 1948 expulsion of Palestinians from their land, calling for an end to Israeli occupation and breaches of international law. London, UK.

Nakba (catastrophe) is the name given by Palestinians to the destruction of over 400 Palestinian villages and the creation of around 700,000 Palestinian refugees in the 1948 partition of Palestine to create the state of Israel. The annual commemoration is on May 15, the day after the anniversary of Israeli independence, and demonstrations take place around the world, calling for justice for Palestine.

The London protest was organised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, British Muslim Initiative, Stop the War Coalition, CND and the Palestinian Forum in Britain. A few of those taking part told me that they resented the presence of some political groups that seemed more interested in promoting their own organisations than the Palestinian cause, but others pointed out that these groups give a great deal of support to this as well as many other political causes.

The crowd filled a large section of the penned area on the opposite side of Whitehall with banners and placards and chanted slogans calling for an end to the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and an end to the seige on Gaza. They called on Israel to stop encouraging and building settlements on Palestinian land, and to close down existing ones. They also want Israeli war criminals to be brought to justice, and for international governments not to try to prevent warrants being served on them.

There were also calls for a boycott of Israeli goods, and for the enforcement of a ban on the illegal import of those produced on the settlements. The EU should end its association agreement with Israel and there should be a block on selling arms to Israel.

The protest took place only days after the Organisation for Economic Cooperation had voted unanimously to invite Israel to join this group of rich nations, despite the objection of the Palestinian Authority, whose Foeriegn Minister had written a letter to the 31 countries stating that to do so would mean "giving legitimacy to its policies and accepting its aggressive and racist practices against the Palestinian people" and pointing out that the restrictions that Israel imposes harm the economic development of Palestine and are contrary to the free trade principles of the OECD.

Among those demonstrating were a group of ultra-orthodox 'Neturei Karta' Jews who are opposed to Zionism and refuse to recognize the existence or authority of the so-called "State of Israel." They claim to be true followers of the Torah which prohibits the use of human force to establish a Jewish state before the coming of the Messiah. They support the right of the Palestinians to their land, which should be returned to them, and would like Jews such as themselves to be able to live in peace and harmony with their Muslim neighbours in Palestine as their ancestors did for many centuries.

The Neturei Karta had walked the roughly six miles from Stamford Hill to take part in the demonstration on the sabbath, and after it would have to walk back home. The demonstration remained peaceful and at the end of its scheduled two hours dispersed quietly, with some going on to join other nearby protests.
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Kingston Bus

Kingston, London. Friday 14 May 2010

I was on my way home, they were going out for the night to Kingston
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I'd had lunch with a couple of photographers and spent the afternoon and evening talking photography with them (and having a glass or two of wine.) So when I got on a crowded bus around 10.30pm and found lots of young guys just going out for the evening clubbing in Kingston I got out the Leica M8 and took a few snaps.

As you know I've found the M8 rather challenged when it comes to colour, and I've decided it makes a decent black and white camera, but when I want colour I'll use the Nikon. I should have used a wider aperture than the f5.6 the lens was set on, but if I'd been in a condition to think about things like that I probably wouldn't havwe been taking pictures anyway! But I this this is a nice picture, and a couple of others aren't bad.
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Take Back Parliament - Fair Votes

Palmer St, Westminster, London. Monday 10 May, 2010

A Liberal Democrat candidate holds up his rosette outside the talks

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As the political parties engage in horse-trading in closed sessions to argue about what will emerge from last Thursday's UK General Election, a powerful grass roots movement is emerging to challenge the cosy political domination of the major parties and press for an electoral system that puts power back to the people.

Take Back Parliament is a coalition of different groups and organisations in the call for fair votes, including POWER2010, Unlock Democracy, the Electoral Reform Society and Vote for a Change, and also many individuals who are disgusted at their lack of representation in the current political carve-up.

Events are developing fast in the negotiations between the Liberal Democrats and the other parties, and the demonstrations last Saturday, today in at the weekend appear to be playing a part in ensuring that reform of our political process stays at the head of the political agenda.

Approaching a thousand people, many wearing purple and some with purple marks on their faces or index fingers came to Palmer St in Westminster to demonstrate outside the building where the Liberal Democrats were meeting to discuss the progress in the negotiations. There they held placards and banners and chanted demanding a change to a fair voting system that would results in a Parliament that truly represents the votes of the British people.

Although many have felt for years that our current system was unsatisfactory, last Thursday's results underlined this, with a party getting only 36% of the overall vote claiming a mandate to form a government - although they don't quite have enough parliamentary seats to do so.

The two other main parties between them had 52% of the vote, but combined only got a few more members of parliament than the Tories, and at first seemed to be ruled out of the chance of forming a government, although the situation is currently changing fast, particularly following the decision of Gordon Brown to step down from the Labour leadership.

Many of us in the UK are now convinced that our political system encourages and rewards irresponsible political parties and that we need to move towards a system that works through coalition and agreement rather than the kind of polarised idiocy that is shown in some aspects of the current party manifestos. We need politicians who will work together in the national interest and a system that allows a wide range of views to be represented.

A number of those present also expressed disquiet at the way our present system - and all three major parties - is dominated by 'men in suits', overwhelmingly members of a few elite professions and those who have attended a small number of schools and universities and were calling for a radical change in our whole political system with the end of a political class and involving politicians more representative of the population as a whole.

The Take Back Parliament coalition represents not just the organisations backing it, but a wide movement among the people, many of whom are still incensed by the actions of politicians over the expenses scandal and for whom the election results were the last straw. The feelings were certainly reinforced by the scandal of thousands of would-be voters being denied the chance to vote on Thursday as polling stations ran out of ballot papers and long queues that formed in the last couple of hours of voting were not allowed to vote.

The colour purple chosen to stand for the movement is of course the colour of the suffragettes who fought for the last major change in our voting system when women were given the vote around 80 years ago - and is also conveniently not used by any of the major parties. One of the people walking openly into the Liberal Democrat meeting though the clear pathway left to the entrance of the building was wearing a purple tie, and several TV presenters have appeared in them today. But many of those attending the meeting didn't take the clear path in, but barged their way rudely through the crowd to try and get in without being seen by the demonstrators, which was perhaps not a good omen.

But despite this, the demonstration remained peaceful and good-natured, although determined to get their point across. There was a jazz group providing some fine music in the gaps between chanting and speeches, and among the speakers was Billy Bragg, whose high-profile campaigning in Dagenham helped the borough see off the BNP.

Much of the discussion now taking place on the media about our future government seems not to have caught up on the public mood, being still based entirely on the number of parliamentary seats won under the now discredited electoral system. But a significant part of the electorate has moved on, and for them the most significant aspect are the votes cast - under which a coalition of any two of the major political parties has a majority.
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Merrie England and London May Queen Festival

Hayes, Kent. Saturday 8 May 2010

The 2010 London May Queen is crowned

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The day was cold and wet, and the procession around Hayes had to be abandoned with the ceremonies taking place in a packed Hayes Village Hall. Although the queens from the 26 realms around south-east London and Kent were there for the event, most had only a small group of their attendants as there was simply not room for everyone.

The ceremonies, first written by Joseph Deedy who founded the Merrie England Society in 1911, went ahead as normally as possible in the hall. Before they started, there was a short addition as the Hayes Village May Queen had missed her crowning ceremony at the end of last month, trapped abroad by the ban on flights due to volcanic ash. Once she was crowned in a side hall the main events could continue.

The bagpiper lead a short procession up and down the hall and then the members of the London May Queen group took the stage, in front of the Sea Cadets.

'Little Sanctum' is a short service usually held outside the parish church next door to the hall, but this year took place on the stage. After a short introduction by the curate, the London May Queen made a short speech and introduced the Joy Bells, each giving thanks for a different gift - Flowers, Music, Life etc. You can read some of the texts of this ceremony here, were there are also pictures of the 2008 May Queen festival, and of the 2005 event here, both in fine weather. This part of the proceedings ended with prayers by the curate.

Next this year's London May Queen took the throne and there were the traditional series of short readings - The Month of May, Woodland Call, the Invocation, The Quest, The Choice and The Challenge - read by various members of the London May Queen group including the Fairy Queen, Bo-Peep and Robin Hood, before the Prince of Merrie England crowns the London May Queen who then reads her Royal Speech.

In the crowded hall I found it hard to hear much of these readings; unfortunately the public address system had been set up on Hayes Common and the girls were not used to having to project their voices.The texts have a certain period charm and give form to the event but its attractions are mainly visual.

Each of the May Queen realms - and there were three more at this year's event than when I last photographed it - has their own colour and flower, and also their own ideas about costumes and crowns, with a lot of work being put into these by mothers and grandmothers, many of whom were May Queens in their day.

It took some time for all of the Queens to individually come up on stage and be presented to the London May Queen, and then the stage was packed as all 26 came up together and were photographed. There wasn't any way I could take a picture that showed everyone at the same time, though I did my best.

Finally there was another procession by members of the London May Queen, lead by Bo-Peep and then the London May Queen "as Flora" scattered flowers around the hall. Usually the event ends with dancing around the maypole on the common, but unfortunately this could not be done in the hall.

I was pleased to have been asked by one of the mothers involved to come and photograph the event again, and it was good to meet some of those I'd photographed in previous years. I'm still hoping at some time to produce a book and an exhibition about May Queens at some time - an exhibition almost happened a year or so ago but was cancelled at the last minute. 2012 would be an ideal year for it as it will be the year of the 100th London May Queen.
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Election Day in Parliament Square

Parliament Square, London. Thursday 6 May 2010

Protesters from the Democracy Camp visit the media village on College Green
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On Election Day, the Democracy Camp in Parliament Square, which was urging people to spoil their ballot papers, turned out to be surprisingly controversial with bitter arguments with long-term peace protester Brian Haw and supporters.

Brian Haw began his peace campaign in Parliament Square 3260 days ago on 2 June 2001, very nearly nine years ago. Over the years he has faced a continous harassment by police, had an Act of Parliament passed to get rid of him and faced numerous attacks by individuals, some of whom appear to have had connections with the police and security services, and from which the police have failed to protect him.

The most serious attack came on May 23, 2006, when an illegal police raid involving 78 officers and costing £28,000 took away and destroyed most of his display, and three of his supporters were arrested. The raid took place seven days before a court hearing that was due to decide on the whether or not the conditions imposed on his display were reasonable or not, and happened despite there being no power under the Act concerned to seize possessions. In Jan 2007 a judge ruled that the conditions that had been imposed were unlawful, and in the same month artist Mark Wallinger installed 'State Britain', a complete replica of his removed display at Tate Britain.

I was present on 12 Jan 2008 at Downing St when Haw was assaulted in an unprovoked attack by a police officer while filming a demonstration there, and saw him arrested for protesting at having been assaulted. I was also in Parliament Square on the evening of 30th October 2009 when police arrested Brian Haw again, holding him at Belgravia Police Station overnight but was then released on the order of the court.

In April 2009, Haw dissociated his Parliament Square Peace Campaign (PSPC) from the 'Peace Strike' protest in the adjoining area of the square led by Maria Gallestegui "by mutual consent", wanting to end any confusion between the two campaigns. For reasons that are not clear, the 'Peace Strike' has been allowed a considerably larger physical presence in the square and has not been the subject of the same campaign of police harassment as the PSPC.

The election has increased the pressure on Haw and his small group of supporters at the PSPC, including Barbara Tucker who has also been in Parliament Square full-time for some years. David Cameron has gone on record as saying that he would have cleared out their protest long ago, and a Conservative government is likely to both increase the pressure on the police to take action and to have an even blinder eye towards illegal police harassment and further vigilante action against them. The protesters are particularly worred that action may be taken in the days leading up to the state opening of Parliament on May 25th, possibly on the anniversary of the 2006 raid, which happened on May 23.

Those in the Democracy camp see themselves as reinforcing the long term protest by the peace campaign, and hope that their presence there will make it harder for the incoming government to get rid of the protests in the square.

The PSPC regard the activities of the 'Peace Strike' and of this week's 'Democracy Camp' organised in conjunction with it as providing a pretext for more draconian police action against them, and have suggested that some at least of those involved may well be agent provocateurs in police pay. Several individuals in the wider anti-capitalist movement have indeed been identified as being police undercover agents, and evidence showed at least one such person involved in provoking violent activities during the G20 demonstrations - which were used to justify violent attacks by riot police on largely peaceful demonstrators.

The Democracy Camp has been in Parliament Square since the May Day demonstration there last Saturday, and police appear to have taken no action over various irregularities. Drinking alcohol for example is prohibited in Parliament Square - and the Democracy Camp has a notice telling people not to do so, but on both occasions I've visited there were people openly drinking, and the people from the PSPC have been protesting to the campers about this.

At one point the dispute between the camp and the PSPC deteriorated with a man on the camp's sound system making what were possibly intended as humorous put-downs of Barbara Tucker who was then attacking the Tory Party for the backing it receives from the oil giants. Clearly some of the campers were distressed by this and he was asked to desist, and some of those present tried to calm the situation.
But generally the camp's activities were more positive, and while I was there considerable work was taking place making banners and placards, as well as people discussing and dancing.

Brian Haw too was continuing his campaign, and gave a spirited rendering of the poem 'Kabullshit', written this February, one of a number of war related poems from the Freedomlite site.

Shortly before 6pm, a procession set out from the camp towards the media village opposite the Houses of Parliament on College Green with these banners. The TV crews largely looked rather bored and mostly pointedly ignored the protest but a few did bother to point a camera in their direction.

After a few minutes of music and dancing and some short speeches, the campers turned around and made their way back to Parliament Square. As they arrived several police vans drove up, apparently worried that the protesters might disrupt media coverage of the election. Police stopped and talked to a few of the campers, and one young man drinking from a can of beer was warned that it was an offence to drink alcohol in public there.
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People's Jury Condemns Arms Manufacturer

Victoria St, Westminster. Wednesday 5 May, 2010

Dick Olver, BAE Chairman with a judge on Victoria St

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Around 30 Campaign Against Arms Trade protesters, many of them dressed as Judges in wigs and gowns, carried a 12 foot high effigy of the chairman of BAE, the world's second largest arms producer to protest outside the BAE Annual General Meeting taking place in the QEII Conference Centre.

In January the Serious Fraud Office agreed a plea bargain with BAE over the alleged bribery and corruption the company had been involved with over arms deals. CAAT decided to set up a 'People's Jury' to try them over this and other arms dealing crimes.

They began their protest outside the Victoria St offices of the government's arms sales department, and after a few short messages and handing out leaflets there, chased the giant puppet Dick Olver (Chairman of BAE Systems plc since 2004) down the street to the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre where BAE was holding its Annual General Meeting, with cries of "BAE can’t you see: corruption is your legacy".

Outside the QEII centre, the people's jury gave it's unanimous 'GUILTY' verdict. At the short trial, various people gave evidence alleging that BAE were guilty of corruption, selling weapons to oppressive regimes, perversely influecning university reseach programmes, misleading the British public over its commitment to British jobs, the undermining of South Africa's democracy, stealing from the Tanzanian people and support of the DSEi arms fair in East London.

According to CAAT the company's recent focus has been specifically on the supply of arms to the US for use in Iraq and Afghanistan. Other exports include Eurofighters to the Saudi regime, systems for Israeli fighter aircraft and sales to both India and Pakistan

Inside the BAE AGM, CAAT supporters were also asking questions about the companies activities, which Chairman Dick Olver failed to answer, brushing off charges of corruption and a call to resign, claiming that BAE could be relied upon to police themselves, despite the past evidence to the contrary.
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Ridgeway Walk

Tring, Aldbury and Ivinghoe Beacon. Monday 3 May
The track up Ivinghoe Beacon
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It was a Bank Holiday, so we went for a walk in the country, taking the train to Tring. The journey was slightly enlivened by our station selling us tickets via Kensington Olympia, as that line was closed for engineering works (though not according to the online enquiry service we accessed by mobile phone.) We had to do a lot of showing tickets to people at barriers on the underground and at Euston that weren't valid for travel on that route.

But the walk was fine, though despite the blue sky there was a biting wind up on the Ridgeway, and too many steps to climb up on the monument near Aldbury, where the May festival was unfortunately just coming to an end by the time we got there.
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Rave Against The Machine

Leake St, Waterloo, London.
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Street band 'Rhythms of Resistance' kicked off the May Day 'Rave Against The Machine' street rave in Leake St, under Waterloo Station with some powerful samba drumming.

After appearing at the May Day Mutiny Carnival in Parliament Square, the street band made its way across Waterloo Bridge with a police escort. I was held up photographing the carnival and only caught up with it as it came into Leake Street, an street width underground tunnel that runs under the 22 platform tracks of Waterloo station. The event had been due to start at 4pm, but everthing was running around 25 minutes late as the Black Horse procession coming from Clerkenwell had been held up.

Leake Street is best known as one of London's major venues for graffiti, and in its time has had pieces by many of the UK's best-known artists. Although I recognised some of the work from my previous visits, I think some of the more interesting painting had gone, but it was still colourful and made an ideal setting for a rave. The arched brick roof above the street throws the sound back down and the samba drumming was impressive indeed.

The street is entirely under cover, which was just as well, as the sky had for some time been a deep threatening black and a few drops of rain were falling as we entered the tunnel, and by the time I left to catch my train around 20 minutes later a torrential hail-storm was starting.


Rave Against the Machine was advertised as a way to get away from the election, 'street soundclash' with the strap-line 'Reclaim the Streets! F**k the Election!' but although it was almost certainly technically an illegal event it was probably causing little or no inconvenience or annoyance as Leake St is fairly isolated and also rather well insulated by the station above. And unlike the 1990s 'Reclaim the Streets' protests on busy roads and motorways it would not disrupt traffic, as apart from the graffiti artists it is only used by the occasional pedestrian as a short cut to Lower March. The only connection with the earlier movement is really the use of the name.
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Spoil Your Vote Campaign Bus

Westminster, London. Saturday 1 May 2010
The bus passing the Houses of Parliament
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The Space Hijackers, noted for their challenging political interventions today drove around London in their General Election Battle Bus urging people to "reject the lot of 'em and spoil your ballot".

The 'Spoil Your Ballot Battle Bus' left Limehouse to tour London at 1pm, but its progress around the city was slowed by various events including the May Day march which had brought the city close to gridlock, with traffic on many major streets slower than walking pace. It was a quarter to four before the red open-topped vehicle, its upper deck full of Space Hijacker 'agents' waving and shouting at the crowds on the pavement drove slowly past the Houses of Parliament. Some held up the series of four 'Class War' produced posters with large head and shoulders portraits of Brown, Cameron, Clegg and Griffin each with a simple one-word slogan - 'W*NKER', while others on the lower deck were at the rather small opening windows handing out leaflets.

The Space Hijackers message was clearly spelt out in large banners on both sides of the bus, Spoil For Choice, Voting Only Encourages Them, Reject The Lot Of 'Em!, Spoil Your Ballot. On their web site they say:
"If voting actually changed anything they would ban it. Did you get to vote on the Iraq war? Did you get to vote about regulations on banking? Did you get to vote on MP's expenses? Is this a democracy or a bad joke?

Why play by the rules in this farce of an election?

Every spoilt ballot gets counted and shown to the candidates in that constituency, so why not reject the lot of them and tell them what you think with your ballot paper?"

Many find it hard not to at least sympathize with their views, with a Labour party that has clearly abandoned its socialist ideas and lost the ability to govern, a conservative party that clearly denies both its traditions and its policies by promising change and the liberal democrats who are still unable to overcome the obstacles put in their way by an unfair electoral system.

Locally I attended the so-called "hustings", a tame election meeting modelled on the TV debates and felt that it made a very good argument for having a "none of the above is suitable" box on the ballot paper. We do actually have a "Best of a Bad Lot" candidate among the several independents also standing but he seems even less convincing.

I've met and photographed all three main party leaders and many other politicians, and there are among them quite a few I admire across various parties but none of whom are ever likely to become prime minister. Being thoughtful, sensible, honest and straightforward is seldom if ever a way to be successful in our current political system. It really is time for a change and along with many voters my conclusion is not that one shouldn't vote, but that a parliament in which no party has an overall majority is our only hope of getting it.
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May Day Election Carnival

Westminster & Parliament Square. Saturday 1 May 2010

The three main party leaders and Big Ben

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Protesters against Parliament and the political parties converged on Parliament Square on May Day afternoon to execute effigies of George Brown, David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Nick Griffin and hold a May Day Party.

Four processions made their way to Parliament Square, each led by one of the 'Four Horses of the Apocalypse' following the pattern of last year's demonstration at Bank on April 1st. This year however the demonstrators were not "kettled" or attacked by police and although involving the same groups of demonstrators it was - as intended last year - an afternoon of carnival and street theatre.

The Black Horse of Anarchy had come all the way from Clerkenwell with the trade union and socialist march to Trafalgar Square, but the other three Horses had made shorter journeys from the Westminster campaign headquarters of the three political parties, bringing with them effigies of Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg.

Amid considerable glee, David Cameron and Nick Clegg were hung from a specially erected gibbet and Gordon Brown beheaded rather gorily and then disembowelled. Nick Griffin was simply thrown to the mob who rapidly tore him to pieces.

A samba band from Rhythms of Resistance played and people danced on the street in front of Parliament and a colourful dragon danced around the square while a large maypole was erected. A few people climbed up on the statues of Churchill and Lloyd George and stuck stickers or draped banners on them, and a couple of people climbed up a tree and staged a nude protest with a peace flag.

The weather too provided considerable drama, with bright sun in the square and on the Houses of Parliament but some of the darkest black clouds I've seen behind them - and later, as I was going home there was a hailstorm.

But before that there was time for some more partying, and for a maypole dance in which both the executioner and a mermaid took part. I narrowly escaped being bound to the pole by the ribbons as they danced around.
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Trade Union & Socialist May Day March

Clerkenwell Green. Saturday 1 May 2010
Turkish communists put on their usual display in the march
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Thousands of trade unionists, socialists, communists and others came together to celebrate May Day, internationally recognised as a worker's day, with a march from Clerkenwell Green to a rally at Trafalgar Square.

The now traditional May Day march in London from Clerkenwell Green to Trafalgar Square was as usual dominated by Turkish groups, with Kurds. Iranians, Latin Americans and others representing refugee and migrant groups in London also taking part behind a main banner calling for 'Trade Union Rights, Human Rights and International Solidarity.'

There were a bewildering number of socialist groups including many that I've photographed before, including the International Union of Sex Workers, the National Pensioners Convention and Gate Gourmet Strikers. It always surprises me to find that a number of groups still seem to include Stalin in their pantheon of communist leaders alongside Marx, Engels, Lenin and Mao.

One of the banners was carried by two Turkish women with tabards - one in English reading 'Stop the Deaths' and the banner was covered with over 120 named portraits under the heading 'Heroes Do Not Die The People Are Not Defeated.'

Towards the rear of the procession of several thousand people were several groups of anti-capitalists and anarchists, mainly in black and many wearing face masks (and despite this some were not happy to be photographed.) Along with them was the 'Black Horse of Anarchy', one of the four horses of the Apocalypse on its way to the Mayday election carnival in Parliament Square, accompanied by an executioner with a large plastic axe and a shopping trolley containing a dummy with a rather small head and the face of Nick Griffin.

May 1 was first established as an International Worker's Day by the Communist Second International in the 1880s, in commemoration of the killing of strikers in the 1886 Chicago General Strike. It is celebrated in many countries around the world, and is in some known as Labour Day. As a cold war gesture, the USA in 1958 re-designated May 1 as Loyalty Day, and Labor Day is celebrated there on the first Monday in September.

The march ended at Trafalgar Square where there was a trade union rally, but many of the marchers went elsewhere, and so did I.
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