Tuesday, 30 November 2010

A very British cable

A gilded goose seems to have laid 250,000 golden eggs for investigative journalists at The Guardian, the London-based daily newspaper. 
   The United States Embassy in London's Grosvenor Square is the source of just 1,083 of the leaked classified cables sent from US embassies around the world. 
   Curiously, one of the leaked cables, reported by The Guardian's Robert Booth, harks all the way back to London's troubled summer and autumn of 1985. The then US Ambassador to Britain, Raymond George Hardenbergh Seitz, warned President's Reagan's administration in Washington about the violence erupting on the streets of London and other cities.
   Honolulu-born Seitz warned Washington that Britain might see further urban unrest in 1986. "We are likely to see more rioting ahead," wrote Seitz. "Dickens described the squalor, overcrowding and poverty in Britain's cities over a century ago," added Seitz. "What has changed is that the people affected are increasingly likely to be members of minority groups. "There are only 1 million blacks and browns in Britain...and by now half of these are British born. But their outsider status persists," cabled Seitz.
  At that time, I was a young journalist on the Caribbean Times weekly newspaper. I remember the tension of that period very well. Police relations with local Black people had reached an all-time low in the Handsworth and Lozells areas of Birmingham. 
Serious rioting and violence occurred on the ninth and tenth of September 1985. 
Two men died in a fire at a post office during the disorder.
   On 28th September, police raided a house in Brixton, south London. Mrs Cherry Groce, a Black mother, was shot and paralysed inside her home by a police officer. Violence between young people and police flared on Brixton's streets. I personally witnessed some of this violence and looting. Photo-journalist David Hodges, aged 29, died of injuries sustained during the rioting.  
   Just days later, on 5th October, four Tottenham police officers entered and searched the home of Mrs Cynthia Jarrett. During the search, Mrs Jarrett, also a Black woman, collapsed and died soon after. 
   Ferocious violence between police and young people erupted on Tottenham's sprawling Broadwater Farm Estate during the following night, 6th October. 
PC Keith Blakelock was killed. 
Police armed with plastic bullets and CS gas were deployed.
  Although Seitz's prediction of further violence in 1986 proved incorrect, his cable offers an enticing peek at a deep vat of US government fear and paranoia about Britain's internal class warfare and racism. Seitz knew the so-called 'special relationship' between the US and the UK had already been weakened by persistently popular protests against the siting of nuclear missiles at US Air Forces bases in Britain.
   Many working people in Britain perceived US industry mogul Ian MacGregor, appointed by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as the chairman of Britain's National Coal Board in 1983, as the "American butcher of British industry", particularly for his role in the bitter miners' strike of 1984-85. Ironically, although MacGregor cut his business teeth in US industry, he was born in Scotland.
   Yesterday (Monday, 29th November) I asked Alan Rusbridger, editor-in-chief at The Guardian, 'if Seitz's secret cable from London to Washington indicated a responsibility dutifully carried out by Thatcher's government to keep the US government closely informed about urban unrest and protests in Britain?'
We shouldn't hold our breath for his reply; no doubt, Rusbridger and his colleagues are very busy checking those cables.

Wikileaks, a 'whistleblowers website', leaked more than 251,287 classified 'secret' documents sent from US embassies around the world to The Guardian and other selected international media.

Paul Coleman, London, November 2010.

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