Simon Fletcher: A Trot He’s Not: notes on an old comrade


I was intrigued and amused to read the story in The Guardian today that a Channel4 Dispatches report had uncovered that our noble mayor had “links to a Trotskyite faction conspiring to transform London into a “socialist city state”.
If only.
I also used to know one of these alleged Trotskyites conspiring to Sovietise the capital of Capitalism as I was in the Labour Students with Simon Fletcher at City Poly back in the early nineties, when he was President of The Students Union and I was on the Executive and Chaired the Labour Club. If he is now a wild-eyed Trot then that would be quite a transformation – particularly for a fella now drawing a nice fat council tax subsidised salary that another old comrade speculated was in the region of 70-odd grand.
Lovely chap Simon as I remember him and I’d never want to been seen to besmirch his character in any way. But I sniggered into my coffee when I read the following beside a photo of a demonic looking Simon (he was a skinny lad at Poly, like an extra in a Smiths video – see photo, I’m on the right there and haven’t aged much better myself).
“The reports described how his chief-of-staff, Simon Fletcher, began his career working for Tony Benn and won a seat on Camden council in 1993 before becoming involved in Socialist Action. The faction, which sprang from a split in the International Marxist Group, aimed to reconcile its revolutionary programme with cooperation with the Labour party. Its critics claim Socialist Action decided to extend its influence by placing its members in positions of power in a number of organisations.”
Well surely the total failure of any kind of Left-wing influence in the Labour Party today at any level would be testament to the fact that Socialist Action have resolutely failed in their ambition. Hey, maybe they are running London after all, might explain the utter ineptitude of the GLA.

Simon the raging £70k-a-year Trot, was the fella that as President of the S.U. vehemently opposed the student protests that led to us occupying the Poly buildings for two weeks. He ironically viewed it as a Trotskyist manoeuvre and hated the Socialist Workers Party. He was a Bennite like many in the Labour Party at that time, myself included, but more than anything he gave the impression of being a careerist, and why not for a very bright bloke who got a First in Politics and lived and breathed the Labour Party.
I last saw him around the time of the last Mayoral elections looking only mildly embarrassed by Ken’s return to Party that he’d left along with thousands of other activists but who couldn’t bring themselves to rejoin the War Party.

I sense a good old fashioned smear campaign here – a return to Thatcherite style attacks on the Left, ‘Reds Under The Bed’ and all that. And it must just be over the limp Congestion Charge, because otherwise Ken is a model Quisling of the City corporations.

Old Father Thames on Film


I haven’t been listening to my audiobook of Peter Ackroyd’s ‘Thames’. It was sitting down to watch the ‘Fantastic 4’ (2007) with my kids that prompted me to think our glorious river. There is an incredible (or should that be ‘fantastic’) scene where the Silver Surfer drains the Thames dry. One of the finest apocalyptic visions of London I’ve seen on film and actually one of the finest visions of London.
The Thames is a key image for establishing London as the setting of a film so pretty much any London-set movie will have its ‘Thames shot’.

I started to have a quick rummage amongst my dvds for other key images of the river that gave us the city, shots that show us a how its representation has evolved.


This scene from the Lavender Hill Mob (1951) really struck me when I first saw it (along with Blitzed views from Holborn Viaduct) just for how accessible the working river of the 1950’s was. I’m guessing that this scene was shot somewhere between Waterloo and Blackfriars Bridges, judging from the city spires in the background, now a moribund stretch of managed footpath.

 The Sandwich Man (1966) surely has one of the best sequences ever shot on the Thames starting with lead actor Michael Bentine joining a queue for the river taxi (somewhere up west past Westminster) and then witnessing as a fashionable party set out on a punt which is set into a vortex by a careering water-skier sending them into the path of a practising rowing team coxed by Eric Idle who are then sunk, which causes the team’s coach to fling himself off a bridge with a life-belt around his waist resulting on the water-skier being splayed across the front of a pleasure cruiser. It is rounded off by Bentine cadging a lift in a car that converts to a boat and carries him home along the river to a pre-yuppified docklands.

The stills from The Flipside of Dominick Hide (1980) are not so much in for the distinctiveness but the fact that they are the views from a time-travelling flying saucer – the only such scenario I can think of involving an aerial view of the Thames.

And Keiller’s opening image of Tower Bridge from London (1994) with Paul Schofield’s dryly camp narration is one of the river’s definitive cinematic appearances.
That was as far as I got as I then got drawn into re-watching ‘The Flipside of Dominick Hide’.

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Have you seen London?

I found this passage in HV Morton’s ‘In Search of England’ which expresses a common refrain of the topographical writers of his time – that London is no longer London but a metropolis built over the real thing, maybe that’s what people such as myself and Nick and countless others are attempting, to see or at least feel London: ” Of course, no living man has seen London. London has ceased to be visible since Stuart days. It was then possible for the last time in history to stand among the water meadows at Westminster and to see London riding on Ludgate Hill escorted by her church towers and spires. Plantagenet London must have been the best of all the London’s for the purpose of a farewell speech: a city behind its walls, something definite to see and to address. To-day, even if you climb to the dome of St Paul’s you see not London the City State but London the Labyrinth.”

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The Virgin of Aldermanbury

Here’s an image to savour when stuck in the traffic choked City shoulder to shoulder with pin-striped city boys scuttling between the towers of glass and steel:

“There was a time just after the great fire of December 1940 when all the land between St Mary-le-Bow in Cheapside and St Paul’s Cathedral was wasteland. On sunny days office girls in summer frocks sat talking or reading in the long grass, which was criss-crossed by paths bearing such famous names as Old Change, Friday Street, Bread Street, and Watling Street. Traffic continued to run, of course, along Cheapside and Cannon Street, but everywhere between these two thoroughfares grew long grass and wild flowers. Occasionally one would come across a mason chipping stone as peacefully as if he were in the middle of a Yorkshire moor, and he would have made a very pretty subject for a seventeenth-century print. The only landmark to remain standing was the tower of St Augustine’s, Watling Street, which nestles up against the gardens of St Paul’s Churchyard.”

This is from ‘The Virgin of Aldermanbury’ by Mrs Robert Henrey (1958). The book opens with this description of the City of London during the second world war:

“From the bastion of the Roman Wall at Cripplegate, to Moorgate, are patches of bracken as tough stalked and as delicately leafed as you will find in Richmond Park…Take a deep breath, for ragwort scents the air, and from the walled and suspended gardens come breezes laden with the perfume of white and mauve lilac in full bloom.”

I was out on Sunday with the New Lammas Lands Defence Committee to protest at the proposed digging up of a corner of this Marsh Lane Fields to make way for the Hackey allotments being concreted over for the London Olympics. The logistics of the move would see the shady Marsh Lane widened to make way for earth-movers and tipper trucks, and the fencing off of land that has been held in common since it was drained by Alfred the Great in the 9th Century. By the time of the Olympics in 2012 the wild flower haven where horses graze beneath the pylons would seem as exotic as Mrs Henrey’s description of the City.
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Catrin Glyndwr memorial

In an attempt to escape the South Bank crowds I headed over Blackfriars Bridge, up along Queen Victoria Street and found solitude. I ended up on Canon Street and drawn into Salters Hall Court. There I found the Catrin Glyndwr – St. Swithin’s Memorial, a small raised garden well kept, tranquil with a curved statue in the corner dedicated to Catrin’s memory. A Corporation of London plaque told the story of Catrin – taken to the Tower of London in 1409 with her children during Owain’s Welsh uprising due to her children’s potential claim to the throne through her marriage to the rebellious Edmund Mortimer. Four years later both her and two of her children were dead and she was buried in St. Swithin’s churchyard. The garden is dedicated not just to Catrin but to all women and children who suffer in war. It was a poignant find on the day when people marched in London calling for a ceasefire in Lebanon. Hundreds of empty children’s shoes were laid in front of 10 Downing Street to symbolise shocking scale of child victims of the conflict.

Jake Arnott short story about St. Swithin’s Churchyard

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