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On Blair Peach

Though sometimes I have tried, I've been unable to forget.

If not unexpectedly in-between-times, then every 23 April (St George’s, of all days) he’s there in my mind: the jesting, stammering, mesmerizing good friend from New Zealand; the skillful, dedicated teacher of reading who found me a job in his school; the instinctive activist; a blurred, iconic image holding, unseen in his lap, my vagrant tomcat; Blair frozen in his early 30s by a brutal killing, almost a public execution, in Southall, an Asian community on the western fringes of London, that spring day of hailstones in 1979, by the Metropolitan Police.

He was there to oppose the racism of the National Front, which was being stolen from them quite neatly by Margaret Thatcher as her first electoral triumph approached. Blair was, they said, ‘outsider’ who got what he was looking for.

Shortly it will be 30 years on, and some of us will be commemorating his life again. What could he have expected to find, had he awoken today?

Scarcely, I suspect, his name with that of Ian Tomlinson, the street newspaper-seller who died during the G20 demonstrations in the City of London on 1 April, Financial Fools’ Day.

More probably, perhaps, of the same falsifying fiction spun by criminal novelists working out of New Scotland Yard. Tomlinson had died of natural causes, they said, untouched by the police, who came to his aid under a shower of bottles from hooligan demonstrators. Nothing special. And they should know.

In 1979 you could fix public opinion just by getting in first with a ‘press release’ from the novelists at the Met, certain enough as they could be that the corporate media would plagiarize it as their own story.

Today, little has changed in the corporate media. But, if you had known, you could have read a first-hand account of the kind of things that actually happened in the City of London on 1 April, blogged right here by my colleague Jess shortly afterwards, before the Tomlinson affair blew up.

And now it’s not just the police who are filming; others are at it too.

In this way, with the dreadful death of Ian Tomlinson, the Metropolitan Police have, quite by chance, been caught out: you can watch film of a masked officer striking down an ambling man, unprotected by hands sunk deep in his pockets, from behind; young demonstrators come to his aid while the police look on.

In April 1979, like now, we were at the fag end of a dismal Labour government in Britain. Then, as now, resistance was on the rise. Then, as now, roaming ‘élite’ squads of thugs (known then as the Special Patrol Group or SPG, now as one Territorial Support Group or another) were injecting a dose of official intimidation, provocation and violence. Then the target was anti-racists and trade unions, eventually, the miners. Today it might be anyone who openly defies the establishment in the deepening catastrophe it has caused.

Or someone else, like Jean Charles de Menezes, or Ian Tomlinson, more or less at random.

Then, as now, complacent, half-conscious myopia about what the British police can get up to prevailed, and so it goes on.

Well, Blair, my old mucker, what you discovered first opened then closed your eyes for good.

After all, no-one ever killed you.

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