Saturday, 19 February 2011

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VODO - The Yes Men Fix The World - P2P Edition (2010) — by The Yes Men


VODO - Zeitgeist: Moving Forward (2011) — by Peter Joseph


Libya and Bahrain protests – Saturday 19 February | World news |

Libya and Bahrain protests – Saturday 19 February

• Dozens reported killed in deadly crackdowns
• Video shows Libya protester shot in head
• Iran opposition calls for more demonstrations
• Follow the latest developments as they happen

Protesters run from teargas during a clash with Bahraini security forces near the Pearl roundabout Protesters run from a cloud of teargas during a clash with Bahraini security forces near the Pearl roundabout in Manama. Photograph: John Moore/Getty Images

9.52am: Good morning, this is David Batty with today's liveblog on the continuing unrest in the Arab world and Middle East. The death toll is spiralling as security forces in Libya and Bahrain crack down on popular protests.

Here are the main developments overnight and this morning:

• Libyan security forces killed 35 people in the eastern city of Benghazi last night, according to Human Rights Watch. This brings the death toll from three days of protests in the east of Libya to 84, according to the New York-based group. Eyewitness accounts given to news agencies suggest the total could be significantly higher.

• Libya's main internet service provider, General Post and Telecommunications Company, has largely cut off access to the internet. Al-Jazeera says its Arabic news channel is being jammed on several frequencies.

• Bahrain's main Shia opposition group has rejected King Hamad's offer of national dialogue to end the violent unrest in the Sunni-ruled Gulf state. At least 50 people were wounded on Friday in the capital, Manama, following the funerals for four protesters killed on Thursday.

10.05am, Libya:

Libyan special forces have stormed a protest camp in the eastern city of Benghazi, the Associated Press reports. At 5am special forces are said to have attacked hundreds of protesters, including lawyers and judges, who have been camped out for the past two days in front of the courthouse in city, which has been a focus for the anti-government unrest.

One protester who spoke to the news agency said he feared the security forces were stepping up their brutal crackdown:

They fired teargas on protesters in tents and cleared the areas after many fled carrying the dead and the injured. This is a ghost city; we are all afraid that something big is going to happen in Benghazi today.

10.17am, Libya: More on Human Rights Watch's estimate of the rising death toll in Libya. The group says at least 84 people were killed in several cities in the east of the country between 16-18 February. It bases the estimate on telephone interviews with hospital staff and witnesses.

Hospital sources have said security forces killed 35 people in Benghazi on Friday, almost all with live ammunition:

By 11pm on 18 February, al-Jalaa hospital in Benghazi had received the bodies of 35 people killed that day, a senior hospital official told Human Rights Watch. He said the deaths had been caused by gunshot wounds to the chest, neck, and head.

On Thursday 20 people were killed in Benghazi, 23 in Baida, three in Ajdabiya and three in Derna, according to reports.

10.21am, Libya:

Al-Jazeera English has posted a video on YouTube of a protest outside what appears to be a court building or a police station.

According to the news channel, the protesters are yelling "Oh, Benghazi, where are you! Come see the oppressed people" and "Shame on you, you lied to us."

10.39am, Libya: Moftah, a Libyan protester, has given an interview to CNN's Anderson Cooper describing how soldiers fired on thousands of demonstrators in Benghazi.

In this video, Moftah tells Cooper: "I don't know the numbers [of protesters] but we had [a demonstration] in the streets about 3km long and 30m wide. [The streets] were fully packed by demonstrators carrying the coffins of people who are dead and then we reach a place where the Revolutionary Guard and that's when they start shooting heavily at us with live ammunition. Later on I found out that four people died and that many other people were wounded, critically wounded."

10.50am: Access to the internet in Libya was cut off at 1.18am Libyan time (23.18 GMT Friday) but appears to have been partially restored by 8.01am, according to the internet monitoring service Renesys.

At the moment, spot checks of Libyan domains and traceroutes into affected networks indicate that connectivity has been restored and Libya is back on the internet.

Libya appears to be following the cue of the Egyptian authorities who cut off internet access during the protests that ousted Hosni Mubarak from the presidency.

11.08am, Libya: For Libyan anti-government activists, 17 February is a significant date. Five years ago on that date security forces killed at least a dozen protesters during a peaceful demonstration in Tripoli.

So it is not surprising that some of the most useful sources of information about the current protests in the country have taken that date as their name. For example, the feb17voices channel on audioboo has audio reports from eyewitnesses of the crackdown on anti-government demonstrators.

Most of the posts are in Arabic but a few are in English. In this interview a woman claims that Korean and African mercenaries have been flown in to combat the protesters in Benghazi. A spokesman for the South Korean embassy has contacted us to state that there are no South Korean mercenaries present in Libya or in Africa.


Meanwhile this man describes how the army has confronted protesters in Benghazi.


Here's an excerpt:

The army came out, OK, it was with tanks and they're telling us, seven people, protesters, that they're with them, and they're here to protect them and everything else. But we hear other things; in some other places of the city the army's shooting people, and also I heard that they're taking over the airport and there's some aeroplanes arriving with more army corps from outside, from the other cities.

11.15am, Bahrain: Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa has ordered the withdrawal of troops from the streets, AP reports.

Bahrain's police will "continue to oversee law and order", the government has added in a statement.

Police earlier attacked anti-government protesters in the capital, Manama, as they tried to reclaim Pearl Square after troops pulled out. Officers beat the demonstrators and fired teargas or smoke bombs into the crowd as tanks and armoured vehicles withdrew.

11.23am, Yemen: Riot police have opened fire on thousands of protesters marching through the Yemeni capital, Sana'a, according to AP, which says the shots kiled one and injured five.

Protesters began marching early in the morning from the University of Sana'a to the ministry of justice while chanting: "The people want the fall of the regime," until they were met by riot police.

Security forces backed by plainclothes elements opened fire on them and threw stones.
A medical official said one man was shot in the neck and killed.

Reuters is reporting that two people were seriously wounded.

Security forces have disappeared from the streets of Aden, where rioting has led to at least four deaths and threatened to plunge the city into chaos. AP is quoting residents as saying gangs are looting and burning government buildings, with no sign of police or armed forces.

11.43am, Libya: This YouTube channel has a collection of videos of protests from across the east of Libya. Please be warned, these videos are graphic.

Towards the end, this clip shows a man shot in the head and bleeding heavily - which recalls the footage of Neda Agha Soltan, killed on camera by a sniper's bullet during the protests against the Iranian regime last summer.

11.46am, Algeria and Bahrain: Algerian police in riot gear have surrounded about 500 protesters trying to stage a march through the capital, Algiers, Reuters reports.

A group chanting "Algeria - free and democratic" tried to reach the 1 May Square in the city centre to begin the protest march but was pushed back by police using batons who surrounded them in a courtyard of a residential block.

"If the authorities are democratic, why are they not allowing us to march?" a 52-year-old woman told the news agency.

In Bahrain the main trade union has called for a national strike from Monday, Reuters reports.

"The Gulf Air trade union has told its members that the General Union of Bahraini Workers has called for a strike from 20 February," a Gulf Air employee told the news agency.

11.50am: The British foreign secretary, William Hague, has condemned the use of "unacceptable and horrifying" violence by the Libyan authorities and called on governments across the Arab world to respond to the "legitimate aspirations" of their people.

"The British government is deeply concerned by continuing reports overnight of unacceptable violence used against protesters in Libya, Bahrain and Yemen, and the deaths of protesters.

"Governments must respond to legitimate aspirations of their people, rather than resort to the use of force, and must respect the right to peaceful protest.

"I condemn the violence in Libya, including reports of the use of heavy weapons fire and a unit of snipers against demonstrators. This is clearly unacceptable and horrifying. I call on the authorities to stop using force and to rein back the army in confronting the demonstrators."

The Foreign Office has already warned Britons against all but essential travel to the eastern cities of Benghazi, Ajdabiya, al-Bayda, al-Marj, Derna and Tobruk, which have been rocked by violent unrest in recent days.

12.40pm, Egypt: Egyptian businessmen have welcomed an order from the military for workers to stop strike action. Businessmen told AP that they thought the demand should have come sooner, but speculated the industrial action was tolerated in the light of the protests that brought down the former president, Hosni Mubarak.

"I think it is a very late decision. The army should have given a firm statement for all kinds of sit-ins to stop immediately after Mubarak stepped down," Sami Mahmoud, a board member of the Nile Company food distributor, said AP.

"Though this statement should have come way earlier, I think the army was just allowing people to take their chance to voice their demands and enjoy the spirit of freedom," said Walid Abdel-Sattar, a businessman in the power industry.

12.42pm, Algeria: AP has more detail on the protests in Algiers, which have been disrupted by the police.

The planned rally by thousands of pro-democracy activists was broken up into isolated groups in a bid to keep them from marching, the news agency reports.

Ali Yahia Abdenour, of the Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights, was undeterred by the police clampdown. He shouted: "We want democracy, the sovereignty of the people."

Another demonstrator, 23-year-old Khalifa Lahouazi, a university student from Tizi Ouzou, east of the capital, told the news agency he "came here to seek my legitimate rights".

"We're living an insupportable life with this system. It's the departure of the system, not just [President] Bouteflika, that we want."

12.48pm, Bahrain: Reuters is reporting a mixed reaction to the withdrawal of troops from the streets of Bahrain.

Jasim Hussain, a member of the main opposition Shia bloc known as Wefaq, described the order from the Gulf state's crown prince as "a very positive step".

"They're trying to ease the tensions. I don't know whether it will be sufficient."

Wefaq had earlier rejected a call by King Hamad for a national dialogue to end the unrest in the country. The group had said troops must be withdrawn and other conditions met before talks could go ahead.

Ibrahim Mattar, another Wefaq member, said the troop pullout was not enough to secure a dialogue with the regime as the police were still taking action against protesters.

There's no difference if people are killed by the military or by the security forces. We hope to hear a clear message from the government that it will stop killing people who are protesting peacefully.

Mattar said the king must also accept the concept of constitutional monarchy. "Then we can go for a temporary government of new faces that would not include the current interior or defence ministers."

He disputed the portrayal of the unrest as a sectarian dispute between Sunni and Shia people.

We are not going to enter a dialogue as Shi'ites. They try to put the issue in this frame. The dialogue should be with all people who were protesting. Some are liberal, non-Islamic. Some are Sunni and some Shi'ite.

1.08pm, Libya and Iran: Clashes are continuing with anti-government protesters in Libya between Benghazi and Al Bayda, Reuters reports a security source as saying. The area was "80% under control ... a lot of police stations have been set on fire or damaged", the source said.

Local people say security forces have killed dozens of people in the past 72 hours.

In Iran, the opposition has called for new street protests to commemorate the killing of two pro-democracy youths during anti-government rallies held last week.

Saane Zhaleh, 26 and Mohammad Mokhtari, 22, were killed in Tehran when security officials used teargas, batons and then gunfire to disperse the crowd. Dozens were injured and at least 250 arrested.

1.35pm, Bahrain: Now that the crown prince has ordered troops off the streets, thousands of protesters have retaken Pearl Square, which is where demonstrations in the country kicked off, AP is reporting.

Demonstrators carrying Bahraini flags, flowers and signs that said "Peaceful, peaceful" marched into the square chanting "We are victorious" as armoured vehicles and riot police withdrew.

1.42pm, Bahrain: Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa has called for a national day of mourning "for the sons we have lost" in the violent crackdown, Reuters reports.

In a statement put out by Bahrain's national news agency the prince called for calm, asking people to unite and co-operate with all political forces in the country.

I stress, once more, that our duty is to preserve security and stability, to ensure that there is no discord and that the situation does not worsen. Join us to calm the situation, so that we can announce a day of mourning for our lost sons.

3.07pm, Egypt and Morocco: An opposition party in Egypt has been allowed to register after 15 years trying, according to Reuters.

The Wasat party was founded by Abou Elela Mady, who broke away from the Muslim Brotherhood in the mid-1990s. Wasat means "centre". Mady had been trying to get the party licensed since 1996 but ended up in a military court accused of running it as an Islamist front.

Mady has told Reuters:

This decision is the fruit of the 25 January revolution. If it wasn't for the winds of freedom that blew with the revolution we would not have got this licence.

In Morocco, Reuters is reporting attacks on a police station and French firms in Tangier but says it is all about a utilities contract won by a French firm over a Moroccan one, and nothing to do with an upcoming rally for political reform.

3.32pm, Libya: Security forces in Benghazi have shot dead at least one person and injured a dozen after opening fire on mourners at a funeral for 35 protesters killed in the violent unrest.

A hospital official told Reuters that snipers were firing from the top of the Benghazi security headquarters.

They tried to attack the security forces but when they heard shots fired in the air they ran away.

Local cleric Abellah al-Warfali told al-Jazeera that he had a list of 16 people being buried, most with bullet wounds to the head and chest.

I saw with my own eyes a tank crushing two people in a car. They hadn't done any harm to anyone.

The private Quryna newspaper, which is based in Benghazi and has been linked to one of Gaddafi's sons, said 24 people were killed in Benghazi on Friday.

It said security forces "were forced to use bullets" to stop protesters attacking the police headquarters and a military base where weapons were stored.

4.09pm, Kuwait: Police fired teargas at 300 stateless Arabs demanding citizenship at a protest in a village outside Kuwait City, AP reports.

Maha al-Barjas, of the Kuwaiti Human Rights Society, told the news agency seven people were wounded.

4.35pm, Libya: Here's another video posted on YouTube showing at least five people killed in the unrest in Benghazi. Please be warned, these are graphic images of dead bodies.

Another YouTube clip purports to show the first footage of protests in the city of Mesrata, with people chanting, "The people want the toppling of the regime".

Here's an archive of video footage, including media reports and YouTube clips, of the unrest in Libya.

4.43pm, Libya : The Libya 17th February blog is showing a Google map of the pro-democracy protests across the country.

View Mapping Pro-Democracy Protests in Libya in a larger map

Meanwhile al-Jazeera television is investigating reports that its signal has been disrupted in countries including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt.

A spokesman said: "We are not sure of the cause but we are looking into it."

5.15pm: Russia Today has an interview with James Denselow, a Middle East expert from Kings College London and Guardian contributor, who says that the unrest across the Arab world has emerged from a combination of problems with the political structures of those states and the impact of the internet and social media on protest movements. He says:

The reverberations from what happened in Tunisia are now being felt in every state.

5.20pm: We're winding down today's liveblog but we'll have further coverage on Sunday, as well as in the Observer.

In the meantime, here's a roundup of today's main developments:

• Libya: Security forces in Benghazi have shot dead at least one person and injured a dozen after opening fire on mourners at a funeral for protesters killed in earlier demonstrations. Special forces stormed a protest camp in the eastern city at 5am.

• Bahrain: Thousands of protesters have retaken Pearl Square in the Bahraini capital after Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa ordered troops off the streets.

• Yemen: One protester was killed and seven were hurt in clashes with security forces in the capital, Sana'a.

• Algeria: Riot police in Algiers have broken up a planned march by thousands of pro-democracy campaigners.

The Power of Yes - David Hare - Productions - National Theatre

The Power of Yes

by David Hare

A dramatist seeks to understand the financial crisis.

'Devastating... a mesmerising dramatisation'
Daily Mail


‘‘Engrossing... Asks questions to which we all want to know the answers.' Guardian

‘A passionate political documentary' 
Evening Standard

'Riveting... an exhilarating lecture on the banking crisis.' Sunday Times

'If you want to understand the banking crisis, you should go to the theatre' Independent on Sunday

In retrospect is it fair to say that the idea that banks could manage risk was a total illusion?

In the wake of the financial crisis, the National Theatre commissioned David Hare to write an urgent and immediate work that sought to find out what had happened, and why.

Capitalism works when greed and fear are in the correct balance. This time they got out of balance. Too much greed, not enough fear.

Meeting with many of the key players from the financial world, David Hare, author of The Permanent Way and Stuff Happens, has created The Power of Yes: a compelling narrative, as enlightening as it is entertaining.

It’s like a ship which you’re being told is in apple-pie order, the decks are cleaned, the metal is burnished, the only thing nobody mentions: it’s being driven at full speed towards an iceberg.

Not so much a play as a jaw-dropping account of how, as the banks went bust, capitalism was replaced by a socialism that bailed out the rich alone.

Audio-Described performance: Saturday 17 April at 2.15pm (Touch Tour at 12.45pm)

Follow David Hare's new column David Hare's Election in The Guardian:

'Let's not just argue about efficiency savings

During the next four weeks, it is my intention to travel the country and to speak to people about subjects the election doesn't look like being about …' Read full article.

Read Money Saving Expert Martin Lewis's reaction to The Power of Yes in his blog (9 Feb 2010).

Following the BBC2 drama, The Last Days of the Lehman Brothers and Michael Moore's latest film, Capitalism: a Love Story, Michael Billington writes about current theatre pieces tackling the economic crisis.

‘The big story in the arts this autumn is the way the global financial system came close to collapse...' Read full article.

David Hare talks about the financial crisis in The Guardian, ‘the temptation is to treat the financial crisis as though it were an independent phenomenon, a freak event...' Read full article.

The Guardian's Mark Brown writes about Hare's latest work to be staged at the National. 'David Hare has tackled the Iraq war, political party funding and railway privatisation... Now, he is turning his attention to another weighty and pressing subject: the banking meltdown.' Read full article

The Independent writes about how "the credit crunch is reinvigorating British theatre..." and how playwrights are responding to the financial crisis.  Read full article.

Watch a video on our Archive site of Mark Thomas at the National Theatre performing his show Mark Thomas: A comic tries to understand the economic crisis on 12 October 2009.

Assisted Performances

Audio-Described Performance: Saturday 17 April at 2.15pm (Touch Tour at 12.45pm).

The Power of Yes finished on: 18 April 2010

David Hare (playwright) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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Jump to: navigation, search
"David Hare" redirects here. For other persons with the same name, see David Hare (disambiguation).
David Hare
Born David Hare
5 June 1947 (1947-06-05) (age 63)
St Leonards-on-Sea, Hastings, East Sussex
Occupation playwright, screenwriter, director
Notable work(s) Plenty
The Absence of War
Licking Hitler
The Blue Room
Stuff Happens
Notable award(s) BAFTA, Golden Bear, Olivier Award
Spouse(s) Nicole Farhi

Sir David Hare (born 5 June 1947) is an English playwright and theatre and film director.



[edit] Early life

Hare was born in St Leonards-on-Sea, Hastings, East Sussex, the son of Agnes (née Gilmour) and Clifford Hare, a sailor.[1]

[edit] Education

Hare was educated at Lancing College, an independent school for boys in the village of Lancing in West Sussex, and at Jesus College, Cambridge. While at Cambridge, he was the Hiring Manager on the Cambridge University Amateur Dramatic Club Committee, 1968.[2]

[edit] Life and career

Hare's first play, Slag, was produced in 1970.

He worked with the Portable Theatre Company from 1968 - 1971. He was Resident Dramatist at the Royal Court Theatre, London, from 1970-1971, and in 1973 became resident dramatist at the Nottingham Playhouse, a major provincial theatre. In 1975, Hare co-founded the Joint Stock Theatre Company with David Aukin and Max Stafford-Clark. Hare began writing for the National Theatre and in 1978 his play Plenty was produced at the National Theatre, followed by A Map of the World in 1983, and Pravda in 1985, co-written with Howard Brenton. David Hare became the Associate Director of the National Theatre in 1984, and has since seen many of his plays produced, such as his trilogy of plays Racing Demon, Murmuring Judges, and The Absence of War. Hare has also directed many other plays aside from his own works, such as The Pleasure Principle by Snoo Wilson, Weapons of Happiness by Howard Brenton, and King Lear by William Shakespeare for the National Theatre. He is also the author of a collection of lectures on the arts and politics called Obedience, Struggle, and Revolt (2005).[3]

Hare founded a film company called Greenpoint Films in 1982, and has written screenplays such as Plenty, Wetherby, Strapless, and Paris by Night. Aside from movies he has also written teleplays for the BBC such as Licking Hitler, and Saigon: The Year of the Cat. His career is examined in the Reputations strand on TheatreVoice.

Hare's awards include the BAFTA Award (1979), the New York Drama Critics Circle Award (1983), the Berlin Film Festival Golden Bear (1985), the Olivier Award (1990), and the London Theatre Critics' Award (1990). He was knighted in 1998.

Hare is married to the French fashion designer Nicole Farhi.

[edit] Plays

[edit] Television and film scripts

[edit] Directing credits

[edit] Bibliography

[edit] Books

  • Acting Up (A diary on his experiences of acting in his own play, the one-man-show on the topic of Israel/Palestine, Via Dolorosa.)
  • Obedience, Struggle and Revolt (Faber and Faber, 2005)
  • About Hare by Richard Boon (Faber and Faber, 2006)

[edit] Articles

[edit] Awards

[edit] References

[edit] External links

Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: David Hare (dramatist)
Name Hare, David
Alternative names
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Date of birth 5 June 1947
Place of birth St Leonards-on-Sea, Hastings, East Sussex
Date of death
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A Big Society that excludes the young

The Office for National Statistics has just published the latest unemployment figures. They make for depressing reading. Aside from general unemployment rising to 2.5 million, a figure that I thought was behind this country for good, what is particularly soul-destroying is the record figure of just under a million 16 to 24 year-olds unemployed. That is more than one in five.

The news comes hot on the heels of Imperial College being the first university to announce that they will be charging the maximum of £9,000 fees. This leaves an entire generation between a very real rock and a hard place. How does one take the decision of going into massive debt in order to achieve better qualifications, when there is a one-in-five chance that unemployment beckons at the other end? Who, other than banks, benefits from putting young people in huge debt right at the outset of their life? What does a youngster do upon the realisation (to quote Pratchett) that the light at the end of the tunnel is a flame-thrower? But there is hope for young people! If there is one message that shines forth from this government, it is that being completely unskilled to do a job, does not necessarily mean you won’t get it…

This arrogant, patronising, pantomime Prime Minister keeps playing the “it is all the last government’s fault” card – a card which is getting increasingly yellow and frayed. The deficit was inherited. But the current shrinking economy is a result of decisions made by this government. We are the only major economy in Europe not to be going into recovery. Cameron tries to plaster the cracks with high rhetoric that means nothing. The Big Society has become the all-purpose oil that is seeking to sooth increasingly troubled waters. Meanwhile, the kids of rich Tory supporters secure internships at auctions, the bankers keep making huge wads of cash – only now they are called salaries, not bonuses.

Perhaps the hope is that all these unemployed youngsters will take to the streets and volunteer to do the essential work that the state is unwilling to pay for. Only they will be young men and women with few skills and no experience. How will they replace the nurses, the bobbies, the librarians?

We have seen in the last few months what the reaction will be. An entire disillusioned generation will take to the streets to overthrow this miserable government. Let us join them.

It is time to start talking and making a revolution happen in a country designed for the rich - with the poor as volunteer cleaners and the like. One day it will be proved that the well off have been carrying on a pattern of Genocide based on killing off those who cannot afford proper health care etc. The UK is governed by patronising self blinded rich people who talk a form of talk that they think is truth whereas it is the bull shit that they want the poor to clean up after 'their' prize cattle have finished dumping in sycophantic obeisance to the Gods of Money - the God that is Money.

Already tired of Cameron’s BS « sturdyblog

Already tired of Cameron’s BS

I was walking down the Strand last night and out of a doorway came a voice, like increasing voices heard from increasing doorways lately: “Spare some change, mate?” I absent-mindedly patted my pockets and said “Sorry”. The voice from the darkness came back: “That’s not very Big Society of you, mate.” The comment touched a chord.

Only a few hours earlier I had watched David Cameron give his big relaunch speech on the subject. I dismissed it as more waffle. But it obviously bothered me more than I cared to admit. Why? I reflected. The truth is that at its core the speech had something unsavoury, something cynical and dark, but I could not quite put my finger on it. I went back to the BBC website and listened to the speech and the Nick Robinson interview that followed it again. And then, I had it!

In the midst of this time of crisis, uncertainty and fear, where millions like me don’t quite know how long the current job will last, when the next one will come, IF the next one will come, Mr Cameron stood there and told me that I was not a good enough citizen. That was the kernel of the sermon. I should be doing more to help other people. I should be doing more to help the country. I should be pulling my weight more. Not so much “we’re in this together” as “you’re in it and it’s your fault”. What followed was rage – and judging from the BBC message board it is a rage shared by a great many people.

So, what is the Big Society? I decided to go “back to basics” (ha! see what I did there?) and read the Conservative election manifesto. Pages 35 to 37 provide no clue. A lot of high rhetoric, but no tangible definition or explanation. Interestingly there is a clue to what it is not: “building the big Society is not just a question of the state stepping back and hoping for the best”. Sorry to interrupt the inspirational speech Mr Cameron, no need to come out from under your desk Mr Clegg, but isn’t that precisely what is happening right now? It certainly is what Liverpool council felt was happening when they withdrew from the pilot scheme a few days ago.

It is a striking paradox that at the core of this BS (and I use the initials quite deliberately) is the idea that local communities understand best how to do things; central government must listen to them; government does not have all the answers. And yet, as soon as a local community like Liverpool has said “Erm… You want us to do what with no money?” it is dismissed by central government as political posturing . When Manchester City Council makes the cuts required, government steps in and says MCC got it wrong.

When faced with dissenting voices the PM (in interview with Nick Robinson) remains resolute and beautifully eloquent: “Now, people that say ‘oh, that’s naive’ I don’t care, that’s what I think, that’s what I think government ought to be doing”. The contempt for reasonable debate – a lot of it from within his own party – is positively Mubarak-like. And things did not work out too well for him. Even The Daily Mail roundly condemned the scheme!

Still Cameron drones on with that rosy-cheeked, Look-Master-Geppetto-I’m-A-Real-Boy! expression: “in my own constituency, for example, there is a proposal to buy the local village pub”. Hold on – I think he’s on to something. This could be a winner where I live, in Bermondsey. True, banding together and buying The Ancient Foresters will not do anything to replace the hundreds of front-line services which are being cut, but perhaps we will all be too drunk to notice.

Flailing on, he accused Manchester council of cutting services instead of looking at savings. He held up the example of Hammersmith & Fulham, Kensington and Westminster councils merging into a super-council as the sensible way to go forward. Hold on one momentito – so, so sorry to be interrupting again. I thought the whole point of this BS was localism. So, how exactly is the merging of councils the right way to go forward to achieve this? Maybe all the councils should merge together – massive savings to be had there! Oh wait – that is called central government. Moving swiftly on.

Cameron continued “I blame the banks that got us into this mess… but I have a choice in this job. I could spend the next year kicking the banks, or do the responsible thing and say: look, we’re never going to get this economy to grow unless we have banks that are lending.” Pardon me Mr Cameron, and I know your response will probably be ‘I don’t care’, but banks do not lend as a favour to government. They assess the risk, lend on commercial terms and make piles of money out of lending. In the last few years the problem has been stopping them from lending too much.

And then the most laughable of all examples: crime. The idea that, as police numbers are being savagely cut, community organisations can step in to cover the gap. Join your local church’s vigilante group! Perhaps members of the RSPB could double up bird-watching with neighbourhood watch schemes. Better yet, after a good night out in the local pub, which we now own, let’s go out and patrol the streets as self-styled, inebriated, super-heroes.

Ultimately, the most damaging element of this risible fiasco is that it is in danger of making those of us who already volunteer, cynical and sceptical about continuing. I do not, after all, want the work that I do in the local shelter to be politicised and claimed as a victory by HM’s government. I do not want to be complicit in the Tories’ ideology-driven, public service cull. I want no part of your BS. The nature of volunteering is precisely that it is an extra, something that moves out of charity and humanity, not forced. Don’t believe me? Listen to the words of The Bard from the Merchant of Venice:

The quality of mercy is not strain’d,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath.

And still, having read all this and much more, I have no clues as to what is the BS and who is part of it. Different approach then –  let’s start from who is not part of it.

We know that the banks are not part of the Big Society – Barclays have just announced excellent profits and they are about to distribute billions worth of bonuses as we speak (also the recent revelation that last year it awarded its bankers three times as much in bonuses than it paid its investors in dividends). Banks have just received the tax break to end all tax breaks which will cost this country billions.

We know large corporations are not part of the Big Society – even Cameron’s own backbenchers are screaming blue murder over “sweetheart deals” done between the tax office and multinationals over tax already owed. Former Home Secretary David Davis MP’s question asking “how many companies have had outstanding tax liability of more than £100 million forgiven by HMRC in each of the last five years” remains unanswered. Corporation tax down from 28% to 24% from this April – nope definitely not part of it.

We know members of the Tory party are not part of it. Last week, at their Black and White Party, there was an auction for five trainee internships in large City banks. They were bought by wealthy Conservative supporters for their children. The £14,000 raised went to funding the Tory party.

We know that members of the cabinet are not part of the BS. Listen to this simultaneously infuriating and hilarious segment of a recent interview of Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude by Eddie Mair, where he is pressed to explain for what he volunteers.

And suddenly it dawns on me! Maybe it’s just me. Maybe the Big Society is just this one bloke in Bermondsey. Maybe it is up to me to pick up the pieces for the mistakes of the previous government and the disastrous choices of this one, the banker’s bonuses, the bail-out deals, global recession, Thatcher’s privatisation programme, tax cuts, MP expenses, the war we should never have entered. Maybe it is up to this one man to plug the gap that these savage and unwise cuts will leave in front-line services.

So, enough of this blogging lark. It seems I have A LOT to be getting on with.

And if any of you homeless bums dares to question my civic responsibility ever again, I will now be able to come back with something pithy, in Francis Maude’s fashion:

“I do… Golly!… What do I do? I do… all sorts… Gosh, that’s a really unfair question.”

One's new best friend: The Queen, Michelle and the new touchy-feely protocol | Mail Online

One's new best friend: The Queen, Michelle and the new touchy-feely protocol

By Michael Thornton
Last updated at 11:58 AM on 3rd April 2009

michelle obama and queen

Harmless gesture? Michelle Obama with her hand on the Queen's back as they met at Buckingham Palace

She is not renowned for public displays of affection. Which made the Queen's decision to put a friendly arm around Michelle Obama's waist at a Buckingham Palace G20 reception - prompting the U.S. President's wife to return the gesture - so utterly astonishing.

Finding herself next to Mrs Obama, the Queen remarked on their height difference. As she did so, her hand edged towards the small of Mrs Obama's back. Mrs Obama responded - and even rubbed the Queen's shoulder - before both women moved gently apart after about ten seconds.

The sight of the Queen publicly hugging another woman astonished other guests. An onlooker said: 'It was a pretty simultaneous gesture. We couldn't believe what we were seeing.'

It was an electrifying moment of palpable majesté: A breach of centuries-long protocol when the friendly and outgoing Michelle Obama put her arm round the Queen.

It now appears, however, that it may have been the Queen who made the initial move. In any case, it was the first time that anyone can remember in her long public life that she has put her arm around another woman.

'A mutual and spontaneous display of affection and appreciation,' was how a Buckingham Palace spokesman hastened to describe it.

But the protocol concerning the sovereign has been set in stone for generations. 'Whatever you do,' courtiers are apt to warn, 'don't touch the Queen.'

Who can forget the furore that erupted in 1992 when the then Australian prime minister, Paul Keating, put his arm round the Queen's waist at Canberra's Parliament House, and found himself lampooned as 'the Lizard of Oz' for his faux-pas.

And everyone remembers the expression of frozen distaste on the Queen's face at the opening of the Millennium Dome when Tony Blair seized hold of the royal hand and shook it up and down during the singing of Auld Lang Syne.

(scroll down to see video of the Queen and Michelle Obama's friendly chat)

Queen and Michelle Obama

Break from protocol: Michelle Obama puts her arm around the Queen, who reciprocates, as the pair chatted after a group picture of the G20 leaders was taken

Queen and Michelle Obama

After about ten seconds the Queen pulls her arm away

Mrs Obama gives the Queen's shoulder a gentle rub

Mrs Obama gives the Queen's shoulder a gentle rub

The two women move apart but continue their friendly conversation

The two women move apart but continue their friendly conversation

If ever there was a woman conspicuously not attuned to the touchy-feely nature of political correctness, it is surely Elizabeth II, who has inherited the essentially shy and aloof character of her grandmother, the imposing, ramrod-straight and awe-inspiring Queen Mary, who died in 1953, the year of this Queen's coronation.

The Queen has always possessed a highly-developed sense of the duties imposed by her constitutional position. Spin, however, has never been her bag. She always had distinct reservations about Tony Blair and his circle.

Because of this, she may well have had more than a few reservations about the wave of euphoria on which Barack Obama swept to power, hailed as 'the new Messiah'.

Enlarge   US President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle, pose with the Queen and Prince Philip

The First Families of England and America posed for photographs before enjoying a 20-minute chat over tea

Enlarge   Michelle Obama shakes hands with the Queen as they arrive at the Palace

Michelle Obama shakes hands with the Queen as they arrive at the Palace

Yet equally, she must have a shrewd appreciation of the historical and psychological significance of Obama's rise.

She knows that he represents the frustrated hopes and dreams of millions hitherto treated as an oppressed minority. Her ancestor George III, the last British ruler of the American colonies, presided over a society based on slavery and racial discrimination.

Elizabeth will have had no illusions about the importance and sensitivity of this week's meeting with the first African-American President of the United States.

She knew that the eyes of millions worldwide were upon her, and that any false move could have been disastrously misconstrued.

If Obama's unexpected gift of an iPod was reciprocated more formally by a silver-framed photograph of the Queen and Prince Philip, it should be remembered that, behind the scenes, Elizabeth, despite her restrained image, has been a moderniser in royal life.

This is the woman whom Nelson Mandela still calls 'my friend Elizabeth'. The woman who, when her mother objected to a lady-in-waiting cycling across the forecourt of Buckingham Palace in a headscarf, retorted: 'Oh Mummy, you're behind the times. These days, girls just don't wear hats.'

In 1976, when President Gerald Ford asked the Queen to dance at a White House dinner, she kept her cool and smiled serenely when the United States Marine Band launched into a loud rendition of The Lady Is A Tramp.

And when she heard that former American President and peanut farmer Jimmy Carter had once affronted the Queen Mother by kissing her full on the lips, she reportedly laughed out loud.

So while the embrace between the Queen and Michelle Obama has been, to put it mildly, a surprise, there is an exception to every rule, and this was surely one of them.

Enlarge   First meeting: President Obama and his First Lady Michelle talk with Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh at Buckingham Palace

First meeting: President Obama and his First Lady Michelle talk with Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh at Buckingham Palace

French President Nicolas Sarkozy gives a familiar greeting to U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, with the Queen listening in

French President Nicolas Sarkozy stares intently at U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, with the Queen listening in

Of course, the Windsors can, indeed, be very grand and swift to put down any attempt at over-familiarity.

When the former Labour minister Chris Mullin asked the Duke of Edinburgh if 'Charles' would approve of some ultramodern design, Philip swung round on him and snapped witheringly: "Charles who?'

And the Queen, on being told that the rabidly anti-monarchist MP the late Willie Hamilton was 'really a very kind man', responded glacially: 'He hides it well.'

Yet Elizabeth II has loosened her stays to a remarkable degree in the 57 years since she inherited a disintegrating Empire, and became the ruler of 32 individual nations, half of which have subsequently become republics.

Year after year, she processes to her throne in the Palace of Westminster for the Opening of Parliament, and reads aloud the Queen's Speech, not a single word of which is her own, and is forced to announce measures that must often be complete anathema to her.

She has come to accept, with remarkable equanimity, situations that would once have been unthinkable, like her eldest son's unmarried mistress holding court at Clarence House, the Queen Mother's former palace.

The Queen handled Prince Charles and Camilla's wedding with dignity and tact (pictured with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon)

The Queen handled Prince Charles and Camilla's wedding with dignity and tact (pictured with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon)

She then weathered the highly controversial wedding of Charles and Camilla in a Windsor register office - an event still regarded as illegal by many constitutional historians - though she had the wisdom, as a sovereign, to put public opinion first and to absent herself from the actual ceremony.

Of course, there are those who find the Queen dull, staid and unimaginative, but she is a complex character, and it is necessary to look beyond the rigid hairstyle, and the often unfashionable clothes and hats.

It is her faultless grasp of what is expedient that marks her as a great constitutional monarch.

As she advances in years - she will be 83 this month - there are those jockeying for position among the cronyist clique of the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall who continue to express the opinion that the Queen should abdicate.

But her impeccable handling this week of the inaugural visit to Britain of America's first black President and his wife demonstrates why this must never happen.

Her instinctive decision to break with stuffy royal protocol and to put her arm around Mrs Obama was somehow just right for this occasion.

Above all, it reminds us that the Queen is a safe pair of hands in what is possibly the world's most difficult job.

She must give no thought to making way for her infinitely less wise and far from well-advised son and heir.

The G20 line-up at Buckingham Palace

Enlarge   Queen Elizabeth II with all the delegates of the G20 London summit, posing in the lavish setting of the Throne Room at Buckingham Palace (click to enlarge)

Who's who
Back from left: Dominique Strauss-Kahn, managing director of the International Monetary Fund; Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations; Pascal Lamy, director-general of the World Trade Organisation; Abhisit Vejjajiva, chair of Asean and Prime Minister of Thailand; Silvio Berlusconi, Prime Minister of Italy; Taro Aso, Prime Minister of Japan; Mirek Topolanek, President of the European Council;Professor Mario Draghi, chairman of the Financial Stability Forum; Robert Zoellick, President of the World Bank

Middle from left: Kevin Rudd, Prime Minister of Australia; Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada; Dr Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany; Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, Prime Minister of Spain; Dr Jan Peter Balkenende, Prime Minister of the Netherlands; Kgalema Motlanthe, President of South Africa; Barack Obama, President of the United States of America; Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Prime Minister of Turkey; Dr Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India; Jose Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission; Meles Zenawi, chair of Nepad and Prime Minister of Ethiopia.

Front from left: Lee Myung-bak, President of Korea; Nicolas Sarkozy, President of France; King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud GCB GCMG, of Saudi Arabia; Hu Jintao, President of China; Gordon Brown, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom; Queen Elizabeth II; Luiz Innacio Lula da Silva, President of Brazil; General TNI (Ret) Dr H Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, President of Indonesia; Felipe Calderon Hinojosa, President of Mexico; Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, President of Argentina; Dmitry A Medvedev, President of Russia.


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