Michael Chanan's video blog: A Tale of Two Demos

FILM: What the mainstream media didn't show you on Saturday.

 

On Saturday I saw and filmed two demonstrations: the official march called by the TUC, culminating with a rally in Hyde Park, and the unofficial alternative, which spread out across the West End, comprising multiple autonomous groups and blocs.

This is what I saw on the streets, and then in the rushes (there were three of us filming: Philippa Daniel on the Embankment, Kaveh Abbasian in the West End, and myself, starting with the rally, thence to Oxford Street and down to Picadilly. This visible evidence is what has determined the shape of my editing. What emerges is not at all the picture seen in the mainstream media, which highlighted what they called violence (of which there was very little) and failed to report the positions taken by the speakers at the rally.

The difference between the two demonstrations as our cameras captured them is both cultural and political. The vast majority - what Ed Miliband at the rally dubbed the "mainstream majority of Britain" - are trade unionists who retain allegiance to parliamentary democracy. The alternative protestors, a very sizeable minority, are unorganised, disorganised, or self-organised, depending on your point of view, whose politics are a mixture of green, anti-capitalist and anarchist. On the fringes of the former are the old-style Marxists calling for a general strike. Among the latter are the practitioners of direct action, and what they call "creative civil disobedience".

The numbers were impressively huge -- a figure of half a million has been talked of -- and Philippa's Embankment scenes are colourful and vibrant. Hyde Park was thronging. So was the West End, but here the ambience was different. The rally was noisy but relaxed, the streets were noisy and carnivalesque. The common factor was mass noise-making as a form of taking over the space. This video is noisy - but it has to be.

Leaving the rally and walking down Oxford Street, I met a couple of young clowns who unbidden, told my camera why they were there. I missed the Artspace outside BHS, but Kaveh had been there. For my part, I saw a police snatch squad in action, and the big "Trojan horse" in Oxford Circus (which Kaveh also filmed a little later).

I am still trying to work out the symbolism of a Trojan horse carrying the legend 'TUC Armed Wing' being put to the flame, but this isn't violence, it's performance -- a form of street theatre that reclaims public space from the police and the surveillance cameras. If the official event was also of course a reclamation of the public commons, then what we see in the contrast between the two demonstrations, in their different ways of using space, is the state under pressure from different directions at the same time. Wedged in between are the police, who are now also a target for the cuts. What are they to think when a snatch squad provokes chants of "Protect Police Jobs"?

Marching down Regent Street alongside a well-drilled troupe of drummers, their beat echoing off the shopfronts on either side, made me momentarily think that Buenos Aires had come to London (except for the weather). In Piccadilly Circus, single lines of police were surrounded on both sides and didn't know which way to turn. (There's a video on YouTube which shows a bunch of them being kettled in a side street by protestors.) Walking down Picadilly, I reached Fortnum & Mason's just as it was being taken. It was shortly after this that the day turned nasty, as police in riot gear went into action.

What I saw raises a crucial question, and points to a political problem. First, the question of who makes up Miliband's "mainstream" -- does it include the potential voters not in the park but on the streets? In other words, those mainly young people who are not in trade unions and owe no allegiance to parliamentary politics, for whom insouciance and civil disobedience are a cultural as much as a political predilection. But they also have the vote.

Second, the problem of where the Labour Party stands in relation to the TUC, and the positions now being argued within the latter. Brendan Barber spoke of a Robin Hood tax on the banks, Ed Miliband of a bonus tax -- there's a difference. Len McCluskey asked for Labour MPs to join the trade unionists "on the barricades". Mark Serwotka called for "no cuts whatsoever" -- because the cuts are divisive, forcing us to choose between young and old, public sector and private sector, those on welfare and those in work. And he concluded with a call: "Imagine if we didn't only march together, we took strike action together across all of our public services."

This is what I saw and heard and this video tries to reflect, without prejudging the answers that will emerge over the coming weeks. Richard Leacock, the great documentarist and pioneer of direct cinema, who died last week, spoke of documentary as gathering data to try to figure out what the hell was going on. This is what I've tried to do here. I dedicate this little film to his memory.

Michael Chanan is professor of film at Roehampton University. His video blog documents the emerging anti-cuts movement and will lead to a full-length film. You can watch previous instalments here.

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Brexit will hike energy prices - progressive campaigners should seize the opportunity

Winter is Coming. 

Friday 24th June 2016 was a beautiful day. Blue sky and highs of 22 degrees greeted Londoners as they awoke to the news that Britain had voted to leave the EU.  

Yet the sunny weather was at odds with the mood of the capital, which was largely in favour of Remain. And even more so with the prospect of an expensive, uncertain and potentially dirty energy future. 

For not only are prominent members of the Leave leadership well known climate sceptics - with Boris Johnson playing down human impact upon the weather, Nigel Farage admitting he doesn’t “have a clue” about global warming, and Owen Paterson advocating scrapping the Climate Change Act altogether - but Brexit looks set to harm more than just our plans to reduce emissions.

Far from delivering the Leave campaign’s promise of a cheaper and more secure energy supply, it is likely that the referendum’s outcome will cause bills to rise and investment in new infrastructure to delay -  regardless of whether or not we opt to stay within Europe’s internal energy market.

Here’s why: 

1. Rising cost of imports

With the UK importing around 50% of our gas supply, any fall in the value of sterling are likely to push up the wholesale price of fuel and drive up charges - offsetting Boris Johnson’s promise to remove VAT on energy bills.

2. Less funding for energy development

Pulling out of the EU will also require us to give up valuable funding. According to a Chatham House report, not only was the UK set to receive €1.9bn for climate change adaptation and risk prevention, but €1.6bn had also been earmarked to support the transition to a low carbon economy.

3.  Investment uncertainty & capital flight

EU countries currently account for over half of all foreign direct investment in UK energy infrastructure. And while the chairman of EDF energy, the French state giant that is building the planned nuclear plant at Hinkley Point, has said Brexit would have “no impact” on the project’s future, Angus Brendan MacNeil, chair of the energy and climate select committee, believes last week’s vote undermines all such certainty; “anything could happen”, he says.

4. Compromised security

According to a report by the Institute for European Environmental Policy (the IEEP), an independent UK stands less chance of securing favourable bilateral deals with non-EU countries. A situation that carries particular weight with regard to Russia, from whom the UK receives 16% of its energy imports.

5. A divided energy supply

Brexiteers have argued that leaving the EU will strengthen our indigenous energy sources. And is a belief supported by some industry officials: “leaving the EU could ultimately signal a more prosperous future for the UK North Sea”, said Peter Searle of Airswift, the global energy workforce provider, last Friday.

However, not only is North Sea oil and gas already a mature energy arena, but the renewed prospect of Scottish independence could yet throw the above optimism into free fall, with Scotland expected to secure the lion’s share of UK offshore reserves. On top of this, the prospect for protecting the UK’s nascent renewable industry is also looking rocky. “Dreadful” was the word Natalie Bennett used to describe the Conservative’s current record on green policy, while a special government audit committee agreed that UK environment policy was likely to be better off within the EU than without.

The Brexiteer’s promise to deliver, in Andrea Leadsom’s words, the “freedom to keep bills down”, thus looks likely to inflict financial pain on those least able to pay. And consumers could start to feel the effects by the Autumn, when the cold weather closes in and the Conservatives, perhaps appropriately, plan to begin Brexit negotiations in earnest.

Those pressing for full withdrawal from EU ties and trade, may write off price hikes as short term pain for long term gain. While those wishing to protect our place within EU markets may seize on them, as they did during referendum campaign, as an argument to maintain the status quo. Conservative secretary of state for energy and climate change, Amber Rudd, has already warned that leaving the internal energy market could cause energy costs “to rocket by at least half a billion pounds a year”.

But progressive forces might be able to use arguments on energy to do even more than this - to set out the case for an approach to energy policy in which economics is not automatically set against ideals.

Technological innovation could help. HSBC has predicted that plans for additional interconnectors to the continent and Ireland could lower the wholesale market price for baseload electricity by as much as 7% - a physical example of just how linked our international interests are. 

Closer to home, projects that prioritise reducing emission through tackling energy poverty -  from energy efficiency schemes to campaigns for publicly owned energy companies - may provide a means of helping heal the some of the deeper divides that the referendum campaign has exposed.

If the failure of Remain shows anything, it’s that economic arguments alone will not always win the day and that a sense of justice – or injustice – is still equally powerful. Luckily, if played right, the debate over energy and the environment might yet be able to win on both.

 

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.