Meet the arrestables

I’m getting used to the jet-set life of a Green politician. This weekend it was the National Express

I’m getting used to the jet-set life of a Green politician. This weekend it was the National Express up to Scotland to protest at the Faslane naval base against the renewal of the UK’s Trident nuclear missile system.

After a very short night’s sleep in Edinburgh, our group from the English and Welsh Greens set off at 4am on the Sunday with members of the Scottish Green Party, including Mark Ballard MSP. After picking up more people and another MSP in Glasgow, we arrived just before dawn near the base, which sits at the top of a spectacular sea loch on the west coast of Scotland.

We made on foot for the south gate of the base, which is easiest to block as it lies at the end of a narrow road running along the edge of the loch. There we found two friendly policemen - it turned out that on Sundays the South gate isn’t actually used so, after a short picnic breakfast, we set off again for the North gate, which is next to a busy roundabout.

Unfurling our banners - one 6 metres long - we arranged ourselves dressed in black into the vague shape of a nuclear submarine in front of the entrance to the base. True to the rumours we had heard, the Scottish police were very nice and tolerated this for a while, before sending their friendliest officer to warn us we would be arrested if we didn’t move out of the way. A few delaying tactics disguised as meetings between the organisers later, all of us not keen to spend 24 hours in a Glasgow jail moved aside, leaving our ‘arrestables’ (some very charming women) sitting in the road.

This remained the situation for the rest of the day. We lost count of the number of times the police gave our ladies their absolute final warnings, but they never carried out their promise to take them away, instead steering the base traffic carefully around them. So we kept them supplied with tea and cakes and settled down to enjoy the convivial atmosphere that has developed around the base since the start of the campaign on 1st October.

After a few hours about 30 young Finns and Swedes joined us, bringing more cakes, as well as hula-hoops and footballs to play with and a book of rock song lyrics which they had doctored on the ferry to produce a range of funky peace songs. The Scandinavians were due to blockade the following day - likely to be a bit more lively being a Monday. Later on, a group of Quakers arrived at the other side of the road to hold a meeting, which several of our group joined and more Glasgow Greens turned up with a big tub of soup for us all.

Other visitors included Angie Zelter, the instigator of the Faslane 365 campaign, who came down from the permanent peace camp up the road and filled us in on progress so far. Arrests have varied on different days (clearly the Green Party isn’t seen as a serious threat) – with a total of 118 people taken into custody, all of whom have been warned but not charged. Entry to the base has been seriously disrupted on 12 of the 16 days so far.

Angie set up Faslane 365 this year to apply pressure for the disarmament of our current nuclear missiles and to raise opposition to a replacement for Trident – a decision on which is likely to be taken by the government early in 2007.

This isn’t your usual issue of right versus wrong, or even of ‘real world’ practicalities versus ‘nice idea’ moral imperatives. The groups taking part in Faslane 365 are, in fact, enforcing the law. The UK is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), under which we have promised to negotiate in good faith towards nuclear disarmament. With North Korea’s exit from the NPT and development of nuclear weapons, and with the current scrutiny of Iran’s nuclear power programme, it is more important than ever that we stick to both the letter and the spirit of our commitments.

By keeping Trident and planning a replacement, the government is failing to do this in two ways, hence our slogan, ‘What part of non-proliferation don’t you understand?’ (and hence the 6m length of the banner!).

Greens will be back at Faslane over the next few months with other blockading groups. These groups are an eclectic mix, ranging from clowns to Nobel Peace Prize recipients, and including authors, musicians, elected representatives and geographically based groups of campaigners from across the UK and Europe.

Sian Berry lives in Kentish Town and was previously a principal speaker and campaigns co-ordinator for the Green Party. She was also their London mayoral candidate in 2008. She works as a writer and is a founder of the Alliance Against Urban 4x4s
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Theresa May’s stage-managed election campaign keeps the public at bay

Jeremy Corbyn’s approach may be chaotic, but at least it’s more authentic.

The worst part about running an election campaign for a politician? Having to meet the general public. Those ordinary folk can be a tricky lot, with their lack of regard for being on-message, and their pesky real-life concerns.

But it looks like Theresa May has decided to avoid this inconvenience altogether during this snap general election campaign, as it turns out her visit to Leeds last night was so stage-managed that she barely had to face the public.

Accusations have been whizzing around online that at a campaign event at the Shine building in Leeds, the Prime Minister spoke to a room full of guests invited by the party, rather than local people or people who work in the building’s office space.

The Telegraph’s Chris Hope tweeted a picture of the room in which May was addressing her audience yesterday evening a little before 7pm. He pointed out that, being in Leeds, she was in “Labour territory”:

But a few locals who spied this picture online claimed that the audience did not look like who you’d expect to see congregated at Shine – a grade II-listed Victorian school that has been renovated into a community project housing office space and meeting rooms.

“Ask why she didn’t meet any of the people at the business who work in that beautiful building. Everyone there was an invite-only Tory,” tweeted Rik Kendell, a Leeds-based developer and designer who says he works in the Shine building. “She didn’t arrive until we’d all left for the day. Everyone in the building past 6pm was invite-only . . . They seemed to seek out the most clinical corner for their PR photos. Such a beautiful building to work in.”

Other tweeters also found the snapshot jarring:

Shine’s founders have pointed out that they didn’t host or invite Theresa May – rather the party hired out the space for a private event: “All visitors pay for meeting space in Shine and we do not seek out, bid for, or otherwise host any political parties,” wrote managing director Dawn O'Keefe. The guestlist was not down to Shine, but to the Tory party.

The audience consisted of journalists and around 150 Tory activists, according to the Guardian. This was instead of employees from the 16 offices housed in the building. I have asked the Conservative Party for clarification of who was in the audience and whether it was invite-only and am awaiting its response.

Jeremy Corbyn accused May of “hiding from the public”, and local Labour MP Richard Burgon commented that, “like a medieval monarch, she simply briefly relocated her travelling court of admirers to town and then moved on without so much as a nod to the people she considers to be her lowly subjects”.

But it doesn’t look like the Tories’ painstaking stage-management is a fool-proof plan. Having uniform audiences of the party faithful on the campaign trail seems to be confusing the Prime Minister somewhat. During a visit to a (rather sparsely populated) factory in Clay Cross, Derbyshire, yesterday, she appeared to forget where exactly on the campaign trail she was:

The management of Corbyn’s campaign has also resulted in gaffes – but for opposite reasons. A slightly more chaotic approach has led to him facing the wrong way, with his back to the cameras.

Corbyn’s blunder is born out of his instinct to address the crowd rather than the cameras – May’s problem is the other way round. Both, however, seem far more comfortable talking to the party faithful, even if they are venturing out of safe seat territory.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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