Cuts, protests and the spirit of Ari Up

Cuts, cuts, cuts. Fair or unfair? I’m no economist (neither are Osborne, Alexander or Johnson!) and wouldn’t claim to be able to judge it properly. But – like many others – I can’t help worrying about the damage the spending review may do to the social fabric of the country.

The Fawcett Society, for example, is saying the cuts amount to a big hit on women and gender equality. The World Tonight was yesterday reporting that the group sees gender equality in Britain “being set back by a generation”. Scary stuff, if true.

But however you interpret the measures, large-scale job losses and cuts in benefits are almost inevitably going to lead to opposition, including protests on the streets. Or are they?

Well-known left-leaning columnists like Mark Steel and Tariq Ali express amazement at the quiescence of the British response compared to people in countries like France, Greece and Belgium. Actually there have been protests in Britain – just yesterday outside Downing Street and in Leeds, for example – and the Guardian’s Tom Clark presses a few pop-reference buttons when he jokily says he “predicts a riot” and even “anarchy in the UK” as the implications of the cuts begins to sink in around the country.

On the Today programme yesterday Mark Steel made the point that while protesting in places like Zimbabwe or North Korea is self-evidently dangerous, in Britain it’s (generally) not.

Actually, as I said on the comment thread of Steel’s Independent article, it’s not just in “obvious” places like Harare or Pyongyang where public protest is perilous. In Tunisia, for example, there’s a 40-year-old TV journalist called Fahem Boukadous (pictured) who’s in prison simply for reporting on popular protests against the cost of living and unemployment. (It’s a bit like Faisal Islam or Robert Peston getting jailed here).  In 2008 Fahem worked on reports for the Tunisian TV channel Al-Hiwar Ettounsi, which showed people protesting in the Gafsa region of south-west Tunisia.

The Tunisian authorities responded with a violent crackdown and mass arrests. Fahem Boukadous and 37 trade unionists and protesters were jailed for allegedly leading the unrest. The investigating judge said that though Fahem hadn’t participated directly in the protests, he was an active member of the group that led the unrest as he'd spread information in Tunisia and abroad for “propaganda”. He’s currently serving a four-year sentence. He suffers from serious health problems – including chronic asthma – and Amnesty is concerned he’s not getting medical treatment and his life is at risk. Please take action here.

Finally, let me bid a sad farewell to Ari Up, singer from the great punk-dub band The Slits, who died yesterday. Friends of John Lydon and an important part of the first-wave UK punk movement, The Slits embodied the spirit of protest in their music and bearing (see Ari Up’s lovely skanking in this video, for example). And The Slits’ first LP was called …. Cut.

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