The unfeeling toffs

SO NOW it’s London, Glasgow and Belfast. There were massive demonstrations on Saturday against the Cameron government’s austerity measures – 100,000 people took to the streets in the capital alone.  Called by the Trade Union Congress (TUC), the day was a significant show of strength.

At the rally, though there were signs that the TUC will struggle to keep the lid on protests. During the speech by Labour Party opposition leader Ed Miliband, ever eager to show himself to be a good manager for capitalism, he was roundly booed for saying that cuts of some kind were inevitable.

While Miliband fails to go for the government’s jugular, even old warhorses of the Tory party are restive about PM David Cameron’s leadership. Norman Tebbit, of all people, wrote in The Guardian this weekend complaining that the present “dog of a coalition government … has let itself be called a government of unfeeling toffs”. Tebbit was Thatcher’s employment secretary, notorious for telling the jobless to get on their bikes and look for work.

A footnote on the demonstration: As the marchers passed a Starbucks, they shouted “Pay your taxes”. Notoriously, the American chain, which has hundreds of shops across the country selling a brown liquid they describe as coffee, has paid only £8m in UK tax on sales of £3 billion over the past 14 years.

Greece out of cash

In Greece, meanwhile, the bitterness marking demonstrations during last Thursday’s 24-hour general strike is set to get worse if the government runs out of cash next month. This seems highly likely after the Troika of bankers and unelected European Union officials walked out of talks with the Samaras coalition last week on the eve of the EU summit. The two-day Brussels meeting resolved precisely nothing. It was notable only for UK Prime Minister Cameron’s threat to veto increases in EU spending and for growing division between French President François Hollande who is pressing for more “stimulus”, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel whose favourite word now appears to be “no”. With the main players locked in stalemate, none of them seemed to be paying too much attention to the desperate plight of workers and professionals in Spain and Greece.

US “justice” strikes again

Anyone still questioning why Julian Assange should be so concerned about extradition to the United States would be well advised to look at the case of Yemeni citizen Adnan Latif.

Latif was a young man heading to Pakistan for medical treatment in December 2001 when he was caught up in a border sweep for 9/11 suspects and sold into custody for a bounty of $5,000. Within weeks he was in the US detention/torture centre at Guantanamo where in the course of 10 years he was repeatedly beaten, drugged and put in isolation. Last month, never having been found guilty of anything, he was taken out of there in a box.

His appalling story is told by Jason Leopold on the Truthout website: It makes you wonder how David Hicks survived.

Australia and Palestine

Australia has a dreadful record on Palestinian rights and last year voted against admitting the country to UNESCO, so it’s of some concern to see how PM Julia Gillard and Foreign Minister Bob Carr will use Australia’s new seat on the UN Security Council.

The Australia Palestine Advocacy Network has launched a petition to tell the government to say yes to UN recognition, and they aim to collect thousands of signatures to deliver to Carr in a month’s time. You can sign online at

How not to cull books

I’m trying to have a clear-out of books, which constantly threaten to overrun the place – but more than once some unread gem has stopped me in my tracks and brought the project to a grinding halt.

The latest culprit is the first novel by Truman Capote, famous for the best true crime book ever, In Cold Blood, and for Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Other Voices, Other Rooms was completed in 1948 when he was just 24, but he was already writing brilliantly. It’s the story, with decidedly autobiographical elements, of a young boy in an isolated part of the American south, on the brink of an adult world of love and desertion. Its cast of southern characters is memorable; and its haunting descriptions of place seem to foreshadow the development of magical realism. Capote, who died in 1984, later wrote that he was startled on revisiting it years later to find that it had “a certain anguished, pleading intensity like the message of a shipwrecked sailor stuffed into a bottle and thrown into the sea”.

I’m glad it bobbed to the top of my ocean of books.

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