Apr 192015

Arriving at Finsbury Park station I came across a group of men people in high vis vests. Their vests read ‘Business and Community Warden’. I’ve

'Volunteers' in photo shoot with Police VIPs

‘Volunteers’ in photo shoot with Police VIPs

learned to be suspicious of people who claim to be ‘public officers’ or ‘wardens’ so I went up to one to ask what they do. My mistrust quickly

melted to sympathy. The man I was speaking to walked with a heavy head, sagging eyes and a narked expression.  His colleagues also looked seriously bored and disaffected.

He told me he is on a six month, 30 hour per week Workfare placement. The work is a compulsory condition for receiving his Job Seekers Allowance –  a meagre £240 a month to live off. Of this he has to pay his own travel (£88 a month) to get to and from his  unpaid work. That leaves him a grand total of £152 a month (or £38 a week) for food, bills, and any other services or contingencies needed to maintain his home and his health. I don’t imagine his weekends are particularly lively.

The frown on his face crept over my own as he told me that he they do not provide food so many days he can’t afford to eat at work. One day he was ill with a virus and needed to miss a day. He was told that “that wasn’t good enough” so he worked through his illness. If he misses a day of work he loses 1 month pay. If he misses 3 days he loses months of pay.

I was left wondering how much time he and his fellow unemployed colleagues  were able to look for work while they stood motionlessly and reluctantly outside the station waiting for members of the public to ask them directions. They told me that they “have a list of things to do” including patrolling local supermarkets (they have been dealing with shoplifters for both Sainsburys and Tesco) but mostly they have to just stand there. Why do these supermarkets (who have already dodged so much tax) get free forced labour from some of the borough’s most vulnerable involuntarily unemployed? Was it not these same corporations who lobbied so hard against the minimum wage and are now cutting costs on their own security? If they are benefiting from this labour then why don’t they, and not the tax payer, pay the Job Seekers Allowance ?

“How do I complain?” I asked the Warden.

“Phone the number on my vest and speak to Courtney Bailey, he’s the boss”

When I phoned I got through to The Finsbury Park Business Forum. This is an odd place to be directing a complaint about a body of public wardens, regularly briefed by the MET to carry out low level police patrol and ‘counter terrorism’ duties as a kind of forced volunteer unit of para- police. The Business forum’s website says that one of their duties is to ‘lower the perception of crime’ at the station. In helping the police clear the area of ASBOs this can be seen as the civilianisation of social cleansing. Poor people forced to police poor people on behalf of business.

Courtney Bailey met my complaint by quickly becoming loud, aggressive and insulting. When I pressed him on the scheme he accused me of being “wrong in the head”, “full of it” and “one of those anarchists” (he was at least right about that last point).

Wardens 2

Finsbury Park Station, London

“Name me one person who is has no choice to work for us?!” he shouted.

“I’m not going to name them because you might report them to the Job Centre and they could lose their benefits” I replied.

He hung up.

Kerry- Anne Mendoza, in her fantastic new book: ‘Austerity: The Demolition of the Welfare State and the Rise of the Zombie Economy’ points out:

‘Article 4 of the European Convention of Human Rights clearly states: ‘No-one shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labour.’ If the government threatens to withdraw a person’s sole lifeline unless they supply their labour, then it can clearly be argues that this labour has been obtained forcibly. The labour is also clearly compulsory.’

She goes on to point out that benefits such as the JSA are a safety net that help citizens ‘live in dignity’ and are a ‘foundation stone of social democracy’. Why are we now submitting people to compulsory work in order to get it?

I don’t envision Courtney Bailey has much affinity with his unpaid workforce. As well as being the Chair of Finsbury Park Business Forum he is also the chair of an energy company and the executive director of four other companies. On their website I learn that, in collaboration with Job Centre Plus, the Business Forum are providing ‘opportunities for people to gain work experience, educational and police training’. On digging a little deeper I found that the ‘training’ consisted of a one day visit from the Duncan Greenhalgh of the Metropolitan Police in ‘SELF



CONFIDENCE’ (their italics).

The Forum describes the Wardens as ‘volunteers’.

‘This is truly a community coming together as one team for a safer neighbourhoods in   Islington…Our aim is to promote community solidarity and encourage neighbourhoods to identify and solve problems and be a trusted friend for Business and the Community.’

The newsletter thanks VIPs in the police, local businesses and stakeholders. Not a word of thanks  goes to the Wardens themselves, who will be working without pay outside Finsbury Park station for the next six months.  The scheme is soon set to be rolled out to Drayton Park, Arsenal, Highbury & Islington, Holloway Road, Angel, Camden, Kings Cross – tube and train stations.


Mar 312015

Last weekend I went  to visit a community of families who, until a month ago, never considered themselves activists. They are now political squatters, staging an occupation of the soon to be demolished estate of Sweets Way in Barnett, North London. The tenants, many of whom were previously homeless, have lived there for 6 years.  Some are being forced to move out of London to Wolverhampton if they want to be re-housed.

Courtesy of https://www.facebook.com/SweetsWayResists/info?tab=page_info

Courtesy of https://www.facebook.com/SweetsWayResists/info?tab=page_info

If you dont live in Barnett, if you are not in need of housing and if you are not a squatter you may think this has nothing to do with you. Think again.

Barnet has become a ‘test borough’ for the sell-off of the functions of local government to a corporation called Capita. Unless resisted, what is happening here in Margaret Thatcher’s old constituency, will be rolled out across the country.

When they privatised Barnett’s planning department (yes you did read that correctly), developers started “rubbing their hands” says Mark, an activist at Sweets Way who works in a local nursery due for demolition. “They have started selling off public facilities for private development, including schools, community centres, libraries and care for the elderly and disabled.

The company redeveloping the estate, Annington (part owned by tax exile Guy Hands worth an estimated £250 million) looks set to make a killing on the London property market. Only 20% of the new properties are being leased as ‘affordable rent’ (80% of market rates).

Yesterday  Barnet County Court judge decided to rule against our protest and social centre occupation on the Sweets Way estate. They grant Annington possession over the 160 or so homes of the Sweets Way estate, they even gave them an injunction against future protests taking place anywhere on the site! This is worrying for all involved in housing justice work and political protest.  A statement from the community reads:

Upon our return from court, we found that the social centre at 60 Sweets Way had been emptied of all the things that made

Courtesy of https://www.facebook.com/SweetsWayResists/info?tab=page_info

Courtesy of https://www.facebook.com/SweetsWayResists/info?tab=page_info

it beautiful. Meanwhile a new property – a five bedroom at 76 Oakleigh Road North, owned by Annington as well, but just beyond the injunction and possession zones – had been occupied and filled with all the makings of a new social centre!

As somebody who spent two years living in squats, occupations and social centres, I have to admit that we never achieved the same level of popular support that the families of Sweets Way, and their sister project the E15 Mums in Newham have enjoyed.

As with E15, the occupation was made in alliance with squatters. Some of the squatters have been occupying places in Barnett for a number of years. Many will remember the famous Friern Barnett Library which was saved from closure by an unlikely alliance of squatters from Occupy London and conservative voters. Then there was the encampment on the front yard of local MP Mike Freer MP who helped spearhead the criminalisation of squatting in residential buildings. Later there was Our Bohemia, in which the closed Bohemia pub was reopened by squatters and turned into  a thriving community hub. I had the pleasure of playing there two years ago.

These sort of alliances of direct action are now popping up all over London, many under the banner of the Radical Housing Network. The spirit of resistance taking place in Barnett deserves all our support. They are the test case we can roll out across the country.




Courtesy of https://www.facebook.com/SweetsWayResists/info?tab=page_info

Courtesy of https://www.facebook.com/SweetsWayResists/info?tab=page_info

Jan 152015

It is very likely that this blog, as well as Facebook posts, emails and text messages of mine, will have been read by the police. In the two years I lived in protest camps social centres and political squats in London it is almost inconceivable that I did not work with, live with and befriend an undercover officer. At Occupy London (as we terrorised the nation with our public assemblies, workshops and polythene tents) it was widely understood that the place was heavily infiltrated by police, private spies and agent provocateurs. The police will have a file on me, small fry though I am, as well as most of my friends involved in non violent campaigns relating to housing, environmentalism, Occupy and squatting.

Undercover Image 1

A must read for any activist

The recent book ‘Undercover: The True Story of Britain’s Secret Police’, by Rob Evans and Paul Lewis is a chilling account of how hundreds of millions of public funds is being used to fund the routine abuse of peaceful activists, sexually and otherwise. Of the ten undercover police operatives outed so far, nine have had sex with their targets. One is known to have had a child who never got to know his real father. Eleven women are now sueing the Met for psychological trauma.

Public enquiries (that have not been made public) have been met with ‘official obstruction’ the book informs us. In 2012 when the spy Mark Kennedy was famously exposed. He was shown to have withheld evidence from court that would have supported the defendants (ironically subverting the course of justice). Kennedy has now moved to private sector spying. Corporate espionage is big business and private spies outnumber those of the police. Like the police’s National Public Order Inteligence Unit (NPOIU) the sector is ‘completely unregulated’. It is believed that hundreds of thousands of activists have had at some point a friend who is a spy. Given that activism in this country can only number in the hundreds of thousands we should all be outraged.

It is documented to be routine for the swelling undercover apparatus to monitor and subvert organisations and individuals looking into police misconduct. This includes the family of murdered black teen Steven Lawrence and the police watchdog the Newham Monitoring Project.

The stunts I have been involved in at demonstrations, the time I have spent behind megaphones and microphones and my outspoken advocacy of direct action though my work as “public figure” will be of interest to the police. I have been warned by fellow campaigners involved in legal work about the frequency with which my face has appeared in photographs at court cases relating to demonstrations.

I have never acted violently toward another person through my activism. Yet according to the police, myself and my fellow activists are “domestic extremists”. As such we can be infiltrated by paid spies who file detailed reports on our lives, and thousands of others. The days when this was limited to ‘violent extremists’ is long gone. All you need to qualify to be profiled it seems is to speak out against corporate misdoings.

Something needs to be done. If civil society cannot organise safely and effectively then we have no civil society. If we have no civil society then we risk sliding into a corporate security state. Do we need to wait?

But there are reasons to be positive. This situation is symptomatic of state that is scared of the reaction and instability caused by a regime of bank

Click on image for link to Occupy Democracy Jan 24th

Click on image for link to Occupy Democracy Jan 24th

bailouts and public cuts, where inequality and social deprivation is reaching record highs. The UK has the second highest concentration of land ownership in the world (second only to Argentina). Current political incentives to extend the squatting ban to commercial properties is in part fuelled by an agenda of political cleansing that attacks autonomous spaces of organisation and self education. It is the same paranoia behind police press appeals for members of the public to report any known anarchists. In 2011 the Occupy Movement, which spread across the world, received huge public approval. I have personally witnessed the extent of the apparatus of police repression used to infiltrate and forcibly remove the camps, including the recent snatch squads and fences used to stop pro democracy demonstrators peaceful protests at Parliament Square. The movement against cuts and fracking is seeing massive grass roots mobilisation across the country. It is now widely understood my most people that Government rules only for the rich. In the words of

Victor Hugo, ‘no army can stop an idea who’s time has come’. If our public servants are treating us like this, is there any reason why we should not all take part in mass movement of non-violent civil disobedience. Now there’s an idea.





Sep 292014

Outside the E15 Squatted Social Centre

“Did you hear the water’s been cut off?”
“Newham Council say it wasn’t them, but they were photographed out there with their van. They have broken the water mains”

This was the news I was met with when I arrived yesterday to visit the E15 Mums in a squatted social centre in the Carpenters Estate, Newham. Sprawling onto the streets is a hive of activities: kids painting, a free shop, free food and banners that read ‘social housing not social cleansing’. People are chatting, planning meetings, attending workshops, playing guitars and discussing community issues. Why would the local council try to sabotage a property occupied by a community of vulnerable single mothers?

Last week the E15 Mums squatted some homes that had been left empty by the council for up to eight years. They live in a hostel which is being closed down to make way for one of the many luxury high rise developments springing up in the area as part of the ‘Olympic Legacy’ (aka giant corporate land grab). Excuse the emotive language, I’m being

One of thousands of decent homes left empty in Newham

unfair – there is some provision in the developments for existing residents in Newham (one of the poorest corners of Europe)… it’s not “social housing”, granted but it is “affordable housing” only 80% of market rate! Now you can’t say fairer than that… No you cant… now move to Birmingham, or Manchester.

The hostel residents are being relocated out of London one-by-one so they don’t get together and kick up a stink. Some have ended up on the streets. Many are there because they are fleeing domestic violence or are very young Mums. They don’t have family networks to support them. They are each other’s lifeline and their fragile community is being broken up. Or is it?

The Mums saw that their estate was being purposefully turned into a ghost town by the Council. They saw how thousands of perfectly good properties were being left empty (often with windows left open to accelerate weather damage) to justify demolition and sell off. So they went into a semi detached house and squatted it.

This is a brave move. It is a residential property, so they are now committing a criminal, rather than civil offence under new squatting legislation (one of the Tories’ latest acts of compassion). The E15 Mums desperation could land them in jail.

No wonder they had their water cut off! Not only are they single mums they are also now squatters! Why should they be afforded basic human rights like a temporary shelter or access to water? I guess I should hate these people, but try as I might, I just can’t.

One mother told me she had been moved into temporary private rented accommodation that costs £900 a month (for which she is being supported by Housing Benefit). She is trying to skill herself by doing an apprenticeship, but that only brings in £400 p/month.

“What can I do? If I’m on twelve month contract and I’m forced to move every twelve months that means I have to pull

Dirty squatter! Throw them in jail!

my daughter out of school. Then she doesn’t get a proper education, and then she can’t get a job and the whole vicious cycle keeps repeating!”

Danny Dorling, in his landmark book about the Housing Crisis, ‘All that is Solid’ (2014) demonstrates how housing benefit is effectively the tax payer being used to subsidise the private sector by covering grossly inflated rent prices. Clever work private sector! There is no public housing left because you bought it all!

Dorling also describes squatting as ‘entrepreneurial’. Is that not what these mothers are? Are they not finding their own solution to the crisis in affordable housing by taking direct action to provide for themselves and their family? So why has the Newham Mayor, Robin Wales, attacked what they’re doing as “disgusting”, saying it’s not his fault if they can’t afford to live in Newham? Would that not mean the only qualification for you being able to live in an area is a financial one?

Surely not, that would mean that the rich from around the world could just buy up thousands of properties as market

When people get shut out...

investments and leave them empty, making hundreds of thousands homeless. He can’t mean that. He wouldn’t say that working class families who’s families are here, who’s children are being schooled here, who’s grandparents were sent to fight fascism (in disproportionate numbers from Newham) who’s grandparents were brought from the West Indies to rebuild the borough after the War, have no right to be here. The Mayor cant mean that. He is a labour man after all.

I work in a primary school around the corner as a part time spoken word educator. I’m quickly learning that I’m surrounded by spoken word experts. There are speakers of over one hundred languages in Curwen Primary School. Newham is one of the world’s most diverse boroughs in the world. Its cultural capital is immense. I know! Lets destroy its communities and bleach the area with more unaffordable gated communities for white, middle class, privately educated professionals! That’s what has made London the cultural capital of the world. That’s what we need more of!

Show your solidarity with the E15 Mums who have captured the nations imagination and shown that laws and developments to benefit private wealth become meaningless when we take direct action, working together in solidarity.

– Visit them, bring, clothes, food, bottled water
– Share their action online https://www.facebook.com/pages/Focus-E15-Mothers/602860129757343?ref=br_tf @FocusE15 #E15SocialCentre
– Complain to and disgrace the Newham Mayor @NewhamMayor @NewhamLondon and Council
– Occupy a long term empty building and use it house people provide a space to about housing.

Having been shut out of dialogue with the Mayor some mothers went to embarrass him and were met with a violent reaction from him

Sep 012014


Occupy London Environment Group




Tour Dates 2014



‘Poetry’s answer to Mark Thomas…expert performance skills…able to make the depressing enjoyable.’


‘Timely, funny, intelligent, refreshingly angry and often moving. A professional show from a real activist, not just a show about them. Pete The Temp versus Climate Change has us leave the theatre wanting change – and feeling there is serious fun to be had by joining those making it happen.’

[Cockpit Theatre]

‘Poetry and politics have been estranged for a decade or two, but Pete Bearder has persuaded them to share a bed once again. He’s a man on a mission – and with a just cause and a cannonade of verbally astute poems, how can he fail? His show ‘Pete the Temp Verses Climate Change’ is informative, fun and inspiring.’

[Apples and Snakes]


About the show:

Pete the Temp is a poet, a lover and a damn fine administrator! Watch him solve the climate change using only his mouth!

In this multimedia, theatrical, stand up poetry show, Pete tells the story of some of the sticky situations he gets into on his quest to stop climate chaos. Will he succeed? A personal tale of temp jobs, bank sieges, oil orgies and arrest.

Mr The Temp has featured on BBC Newsnight, Wold Service and Radio 4. He is the former Hammer & Tongue National Poetry Slam Champion on BBC Radio 4 South of England Slam Winner.

Produced by – renaissance one www.renaissanceone.co.uk

Dramaturgical support and outside eye – Leo Kay

Extra Direction – Simon Munnery


Jul 292014

Vacuous advertising?

‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty – That is all

Ye know on earth and all ye need to know’

(John Keats)



It is truly easy to find beauty in language. Advertising executives know this better than anyone. They have found out that techniques of allusion, metaphor and veiled suggestion can be used to infiltrate our desire. They have worked out how to join this with musical poetic devices like rhythm, alliteration, assonance and rhyme, to make us remember and repeat what they say. They know that poetry is great for creating associations and linking up different bits of the universe in peoples’ minds. They make poetry that is ‘multi modal’, meshing poetic elements with other mediums collaboratively to create intense desire and emotion within very short spaces of time. Shit. Can anyone truthfully claim they have not been moved and influenced by them?

Is it Art?

Saying one thing is ‘art’ and another is not is always dangerous territory. One of the reasons that most people believe that poetry doesn’t belong to them is because our educational and cultural institutional have traditionally told everyone that the ‘British Canon’ should be studied and (if creative practice ever came into it) emulated.  Many of those who are held up as ‘our’ great poets often belong to a different era, class, race, culture and cosmology to modern Britain, with all its shades, tongues and tastes. Most of our most celebrated poets have almost unrecognisable dialects and cultural references to the students I have been teaching in East London this last year in my position as a full time, embedded, Spoken

Vladamir Mayakovsky

Word Educator.

There is no qualitative difference between the slogans and cartoons that poet Vladimir Mayakovsky banged out for the Bolshevic propaganda effort and modern cereal boxes artwork.

Now in Hackney, trendy cafes can be seen adorned by 1950’s Hollywood posters and 1920’s grocery advertising.


Poetry for poetry’s sake

Poetry for poetry’s sake is a small part of our innate human capacity to use language beautifully, creatively, musically and metaphorically. Poetry (whatever that is) can be playful and throw-away, like Lewis Carol, Roald Dahl or John Hegley, epic like Dante, and esoteric like T.S Elliot. It can be yelled at an audience of thousands of festival munters, or cryptically encoded like a crossword. It can be written on a toilet door, whispered in a moment of post coital improvisation or spray painted onto a bridge.  Indeed, there are so many manifestations and features to this art form that few people can agree on what it is.  One thing is certain – it doesn’t belong to ‘poets’.

Sometimes poetry sells play play-doh, banana holders and baby wipes.  Often it is crap, truly crap. But then, allot of what is written and spoken by people who identify as poets is crap. I say this as someone who spent many years writing and performing crap poetry.


Selling Out?

So why is it that artists who “sell out” receive such sustained criticism? I think it is because art cannot be separated from its who, where, when and how. The motivations, the financing and the dissemination of art is intensely political, and for good reason.  Ideas are powerful, and every dictatorship and social movement has had its own aesthetic and artistic genre. Even if art does not consider itself “political”, art has agency in the world and can perpetuate and validate social norms and behaviours that can have good or bad consequences. So much art (including poetry) produced in large scale commercial advertising is nefarious for the sake of profit. Much of it is a danger to public and environmental and mental health. We have marketing specialists and sloganist to thanks for the obesity epidemic, arms fairs, public complicity on illegal wars, suicides and eating disorders. Almost none of it fundamentally challenges the the dominant capitalist – materialist paradigm that we have to blame for the

Poetry advertising planetary health

ecological, economic and social collapse humanity is now facing. These moral arguments are valid and are part of the truth that give artists integrity.

Little of what is produced in commercial advertising will be remembered for capturing the human experience in a new way or articulating great moments of history, large or small. That’s fine, it’s not trying to. Its producing a product fit for purpose – and it does so very well. What is more, it will continue to do so as long as we keep buying it.


Firing the Canon

The challenge for us is to switch off from it and find ways to spread ideas worth sharing in creative ways. We have no choice and there is little time. Spoken word artists in this country have been particularly successful in recent years in reigniting imaginations and mobilising hearts and minds – see Kate Tempest, Danny Chivers, Holly McNish to scratch just the skin of it. Poetic communities are spaces where ideas are shared, voices cultivated and critical thinking exercised. None of it involves sitting in front of a TV. In the words of spoken word poet, and modern day orator, David Lee Morgan: ‘Poetry is part of the cultural mix that keeps that the spirit of freedom and the desire to fight against injustice burning in all our hearts’. Now is the time to reclaim our language and revivify it as something insightful, questioning and positively inspiring. That would be truly beautiful.