Eighteen months, one government and two Brexit secretaries ago, David Davis promised that a post-Brexit Britain wouldn’t gut agricultural standards or workers’ rights: we were not entering ‘an Anglo-Saxon race to the bottom, a Britain plunged into a Mad Max-style world borrowed from dystopian fiction’. Last Sunday, details were leaked from Operation Yellowhammer, outlining the Civil Service’s ‘base scenario’ for a No Deal Brexit: port and border chaos is expected, along with food and fuel shortages and disruption to medical supplies; there is a ‘plan to evacuate the queen’ in case of civil unrest. Priti Patel, the home secretary, has promised the immediate end of free movement on the first day of a No Deal Brexit, threatening the status of EU nationals resident in Britain and British nationals abroad, but tickling the bellies of the Tory base. Lobbying from the backbenches, Iain Duncan Smith praised thinktank proposals to raise the state pension age to 75 as ‘removing barriers’ to work.

23 August 2019

At the Department for Business

Fran Spawls

Cleaning and catering staff at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy have been on indefinite strike since 15 July, having taken selective action over the preceding months. They are not employed by BEIS: the cleaners work for one private facilities management company, ISS; the catering staff for another, Aramark. What was once an integral part of the business of government delivered by civil servants, all entitled to the same terms and conditions fought for and won by trade unions, is now a complicated patchwork of contracts, often owned by large international corporations, with workers on vastly differing rates of pay, entitlement to holiday and sick leave, and other benefits.

21 August 2019

Mind the Gap

Gillian Darley

I can’t explain why, in the face of all the seductive images and lyrical descriptions of the new Tintagel footbridge, I’ve become fixated on a small incision slashed through the surface of the walkway in the middle of the bridge. I know it’s technically the meeting point between the two cantilevered segments, a 40 mm expansion joint in an impeccably engineered structure. But it struck me forcibly that the seemingly reassuring surface connecting clifftop to clifftop, strung in tension over the dizzying void below, had been cut. It gave me a nervous charge. Was this an actual moment of the sublime?

19 August 2019

Like wearing a raincoat when it rains

Alex Abramovich

Chicago’s Black Monument Ensemble started to form in summer 2014, after Michael Brown was killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri. Damon Locks was teaching art at a prison in Illinois, and feeling less than hopeful, when he heard the Pointer Sisters’ cover of Lee Dorsey’s ‘Yes We Can Can’ come over the radio. Locks had trained as a visual artist in Manhattan and Chicago and performed, for much of the 1990s, as the singer in a post-punk band called Trenchmouth. But the music that he began making now sounded nothing like punk. Inspired by Public Enemy, by that Pointer Sisters recording, by Archie Shepp’s Attica Blues, Phil Cohran’s Artistic Heritage Ensemble, Eddie Gale’s Black Rhythm Happening, and by a performance the Voices of East Harlem gave at Sing Sing in 1972, Locks started to layer beats over snippets of Civil Rights era speeches.

16 August 2019

Peterloo and After

Harry Stopes

Eighteen people were killed when soldiers charged the meeting at Saint Peter’s Fields, Manchester, on 16 August 1819. Elizabeth Gaunt tried to hide in a hackney coach. She was grabbed by special constables who beat her with their truncheons. Covered with blood, she was dragged to a house nearby and flung before the magistrates. She spent a day and a half in jail without food, before being remanded on a charge of high treason. She was eventually released without charge after eleven days, during which time she had miscarried.

15 August 2019

Occupying Kashmir

Ankita Chakraborty

The news came like a declaration of war: Article 370 of the Indian Constitution is gone. It gave the people of Jammu and Kashmir a measure of autonomy: a separate assembly, a separate flag, the exclusive right to residency and property-ownership in the state. On the morning of 5 August, the Indian home minister, Amit Shah, scrapped it. No Kashmiris had been consulted; none of them were informed in advance. No debate or deliberation took place. The next day the Indian Express, a supposedly anti-establishment newspaper, published a giant picture of Narendra Modi congratulating Shah under the headline: ‘History, in one stroke.’

14 August 2019

Red Meat for the Faragists

James Butler

Boris Johnson is on a law-and-order kick. Since coming to power, he has promised to recruit 20,000 new police officers, create 10,000 new prison places, and restore blanket stop-and-search powers. It’s a headline-grabbing reversal of the cuts to police numbers made by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, and continued under May; it also does away with May’s reforms to stop-and-search, one of the few unalloyed goods to have come from her otherwise authoritarian Home Office, though already substantially reversed under Sajid Javid. Alongside his new home secretary, Priti Patel, who spent a significant part of her early career agitating for the return of the death penalty, Johnson promises a culture of fear for criminals.

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