Dead Men Left

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

More sound and sensible stuff from the Parliamentary Labour Party, this time courtesy of Tom Watson, MP for West Bromwich East, who (apropos of Lib Dem "dirty tricks") notes that:

They should stick to the issues - like why they don't want crack heads and junkies to go to jail.

A little later, he berates the Lib Dems for voting against the Anti-social Behaviour Bill, on the not unreasonable grounds of wanting to defend rather basic human rights. Obviously, I'm no great fan of the Liberal Democrats, but given the provisions of the Bill anyone with the vaguest concern for civil liberties would think that handing our racist, corrupt and incompetent police forces yet more powers is hardly sensible.

What is truly incredible, really sit up and gawp shocking is that a Labour MP - a Labour MP - is shamelessly, indeed proudly, appropriating the language of the Right; and not a comparatively pleasant one-nation sort of Tory rhetoric, either; more the spitting, hissing Norman Tebbit mode of proceeding. We're all well used, by now, to New Labour pilfering the policies of the Right, but to steal also their bovver boots and skinheads (as it were) is disturbing. The slogan "YOUNG THUGS MUST BE CAGED" - as coined by a group of terribly clever young Blairites for the 1997 election campaign - was rejected by the Labour Party leadership as being just a little off. And yet here we are, seven long years of ill-government later, Blunkett apoplectic about immigrants and this monstrous creature, Watson, spouting the sort of vitriol once fermented at Tory party conference platforms and distributed at saloon-bars the length of "Middle England".

Found a decentish Markov generator that uses famous texts for its sources. Here's a huge list of computer-generated writing resources, for them as are interested.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Sociologists! No more fretting about essay deadlines - technology has the answer. (Hat tip to Harry at Chase Me Ladies, I'm In the Cavalry. I seem to remember seeing a similar - if slightly cruder and more nonsensical - text generator somewhere; that one relied on absorbing Markov chains indexing blocks of text, this is a bit more cunningly recursive, incorporating a rules for dealing with grammar. Details at The Dada Engine. If I can find the Markov generator I'll stick a link to it somewhere.)

Fingers not in till: Galloway innocent

In an unsurprisingly underplayed announcement, the Charities Commission has cleared George Galloway of inappropriately using funds donated to his Mariam Appeal.

The Charity Commission today published the final report of its inquiry into the Mariam Appeal, sparked by a complaint by a member of the public to the attorney general's office in April last year, alleging that money donated to the appeal had been used to pay for Mr Galloway's travel expenses.

But the commission's director of operations, Simon Gillespie, said today: "The commission's thorough inquiry found no evidence to suggest that the large amounts of money given to the Mariam Appeal were not properly used."

The full report is available here. There is a peculiar pattern to this, as with the other Galloway non-crimes: with great fanfare, his latest misdemeanours are announced; denunciations are issued from all quarters; and then, a few months later, the truth dribbles out and the terrible sins transpire to be non-existent. Strange, that, isn't it?

Respect shaping up nicely; two Parliamentary by-elections are coming up - Birmingham Hodge Hill and Leicester South - in areas where the party polled very well in the Euro-elections. More indicative of its future, however, is the development of credible, left-opposition policies to New Labour: check out the Birmingham leaflet in particular for a set of local bread-and-butter demands placed in the context of opposing a far broader neoliberal policy agenda. I also hear the press conferences today were a success, the local media especially starting to pick up on Respect's pivotal role in both elections. The decisive test for Respect is in turning credible protest votes into credible Parliamentary votes; not an easy task by any means. (New Labour, I suppose, must be simply hoping that sneaking through the "handover" in Iraq will make everyone stop grouching about the war, and think of all the wonderful work Blair has done for, erm, gosh, er... PriceWaterhouse? The Princess Diana memorial? Bernie Ecclestone?)

Monday, June 28, 2004

Will Self has a blog. (Or, erm, probably not. Though it made me snigger.)

Sunday, June 27, 2004

Now this is pretty damn good. Collages! Music! Silvio Berlusconi!


Resolute Cynic has a brief piece on some of the craziness nuclear weapons induce. Re-reading Philip Mirowski's Machine Dreams: economics becomes a cyborg science, a highly recommended account (and critique) of modern economics, its relationship to the US military, and its misplaced idealisation of a peculiar model of human interaction, I came across this quote, from R.W. Hamming, a computer scientist involved with devising simulations at Los Alamos in the 1940s to assess the effects of exploding a nuclear bomb:

The Los Alamos experience had a great effect on me... there was a computation of whether or not the test bomb would ignite the atmosphere. Thus the test risked, on the basis of a computation, all of life in the known universe.

Something about this worries me, somehow.

Friday, June 25, 2004

Apologies, again, for a delay in posting: either Blogger, or my internet connection, has been playing up.

But no apologies for merely reprinting a chunk of John Rees' article on Respect from Socialist Worker. He makes what ought to be a simple and obvious point, but one which those "socialists" too enamoured of Samuel Huntington seem unable to grasp:

Muslims have been on the receiving end of an ideological offensive since 11 September 2001. Hundreds have been arrested. They have been abused and scapegoated by a spectrum of political figures that runs from New Labour ministers to the leaders of the BNP. Respect is proud that many Muslims stood as Respect candidates, worked for the campaign and voted for Respect.

"Labour used to be proud of the support it got from Asians in the inner cities," said one Respect supporter in Birmingham recently. "But now Asians are voting for other parties Labour calls it a 'Muslim vote'."

The truth is that there is no "Muslim communalist vote", as one Green Party candidate suggested at an election hustings in Birmingham. Muslims voted for Respect in equal numbers whether our candidate was a white socialist, an Asian trade unionist, a Jewish radical, an Afro-Caribbean campaigner or a white or Asian Muslim. Muslims are politically divided. Most still voted either Labour or Liberal Democrat at these elections. There is now a battle on to secure and extend the vote that Muslims gave to Respect in the inner cities.

Muslims cannot only be seen in their religious dimension. This perspective is one forced on us by the "clash of civilisations" view of the world that pro-war politicians have adopted. It is vitally necessary that Respect defends Muslims from these attacks. But this is not the whole story.

Most Muslims are working people with exactly the same fears and concerns as every other working person-over education for their children, pensions, job security, the NHS or student tuition fees.

Muslims are also, crucially, trade unionists. Oliur Rahman, our candidate in the City & East constituency in London, is both a Muslim and a PCS civil servants' union branch secretary.

Among the 400 Asian Euro Packaging strikers in Birmingham there were some people who Respect first met at the mosque. They are also now the victorious members of a recognised GPMU union branch.

The man who got Respect to speak at a local mosque in the West Midlands is a lifelong worker at the GKN engineering factory. The people who run the Islamic centre in Coventry are former postal workers who still have close CWU union connections.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Christopher Hitchens has reviewed Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11. I say "reviewed": his piece is more of a long, drawn-out hissy fit, a vitriolic rant that seems just a little too emphatic. Not having seen the film, I'm disinclined to comment further, except to say:

1. Didn't Christopher Hitchens oppose the 1991 Gulf War? Good lord, so he did, as Tariq Ali's postscript to Bush in Babylon makes embarrassingly clear; and yet here is Bush Snr's war, drafted in support of an argument that Michael Moore displays "'let's have it both ways' opportunism".

2. These are Hitchens' concluding sentences:

You might hope that a retrospective awareness of this kind [aware of how great bombing Kosovo, Iraq, etc etc was] would induce a little modesty. To the contrary, it is employed to pump air into one of the great sagging blimps of our sorry, mediocre, celeb-rotten culture. Rock the vote, indeed.

After accusing Moore of making unwarranted personal attacks upon the saintly figure of George W. Bush, Hitchens concludes with, erm, a personal attack on Moore. "[G]reat sagging blimps"! Pardon me for indulging likewise, but has Hitchens looked in a mirror recently?

3. Pot, kettle, black, anyone?

From this Ha'aretz survey, a majority of Israel's population support the "encouraged" emigration of Israeli Arabs. All a bit depressing.

Monday, June 21, 2004

A rant against the absurdity of modern politics

It's been sitting in my list of blogs next door for some time, but A rant against the absurdity of modern politics really is well worth checking out. Well-informed and concise posts, particularly on Iraq, plus the ocassional amusing diatribe.

And, after the inordinate and unbecoming length of the previous post, here's Harry Hutton on the pressing issue of football fans.

Sunday, June 20, 2004

"Honest marxists"

After berating Peter Tatchell for his sectarianism in the last posting, readers may find it a little peculiar that I now devote so much time to the seriously misnamed "Alliance for Workers' Liberty" (AWL). Tiny and confined to irrelevance, increasingly squeezed out from whatever marginal influence it enjoyed in union politics - whether the NUS or the RMT - the AWL has taken an dangerous turn in recent years towards a populist "left" Islamophobia. This has earned it the accolades of Nick Cohen, if few others, who - after praising the "respectability" of UKIP - recently described the AWL in a national newspaper as a group of "honest marxists", raising the AWL's profile slightly above the other fragments of the British far left. For this reason alone, it would seem well within the remit allowed by the imprecation against sectarianism in scrutinising what the AWL has to say for itself. More pertinently, the AWL could be described as somewhat vociferous critics of the Respect initiative; whilst this usual rises little above a smear campaign against Galloway (over-reliance upon which is earning Nick Cohen's publishers a writ for defamation), their latest "open letter to SWP members" attempts to pose a serious and reasonable set of arguments against Respect, acting as a useful summary of the anti-Respect position. With my apologies to all those who remain blissfully unaware of the AWL's existence, time spent upon their "open letter" may not be wholly wasted. It opens:

Dear Comrades,

In the 10 June Euro elections, the Respect coalition scored an average of 1.65% across England and Wales. The Socialist Alliance average score was 1.69%...

The best that can be said for the Respect score is that if it were for a renewed Socialist Alliance campaign, then getting essentially the same percentage across all England and Wales, rather than in selected constituencies, could be claimed as another step in steady, slow progress...

"[E]ssentially the same percentage". Interesting phrasing, since of course the two votes are incomparable. First, the Socialist Alliance stood in 98 seats in England and Wales in 2001. There are 569 constituencies in England and Wales; the Socialist Alliance thus covered only 17% of the two regions, compared to 100% for Respect. Second, the Socialist Alliance polled just 57,553 votes. Respect achieved over four times that figure: an absolutely clear advance. If we want to attempt the sort of comparison the AWL make, we should compare the Socialist Alliance's vote to the total vote in 2001: on this reckoning, 57,553 votes in 26,365,192 is just over 0.2% of the total vote. Around one voter in every 500 voted for the Socialist Alliance; around one voter in every 60 voted Respect.

This is, obviously, somewhat unfair: Euro-constituencies are multi-member, as are some local council seats. In both cases, there are greater opportunities for credible minority candidates to emerge. When dealing with local councils results, however, the AWL's peculiar psephological traits work in the other direction. Later in the leaflet, they state

...Alliance for Workers' Liberty member Alison Brown, standing in a heavily-Muslim ward in the Sheffield council election, tripled her vote on 10 June, winning 11%...

In 2003, Alison Brown, standing for the Socialist Alliance, polled 203 votes, 8.08% of the total ballot of 2,512. In 2004, when all three seats in the same Burngreave ward were available, Brown, standing for the Democratic Socialist Alliance, polled 610 votes. This is 4.3% of a total ballot of 13,920; or, to follow the AWL's procedure, 10.8% of voters cast their vote for Brown. Whilst only one vote is cast by each voter in the Euro-elections, making comparisons with general elections at least roughly legitimate, the AWL are here attempting to compare a multiple-vote, multiple-seat ballot with a single-vote, multiple-seat ballot.

A far more accurate assessment is to compare the relative increase in total ballots cast to the relative increase in ballots cast for Brown, since this allows us to see what proportion of potential new votes created by the move to a multiple-member election went to the Democratic Socialist Alliance. The total ballot grew 5.5 times; Brown's vote increased three times. To maintain equivalent levels of support in both elections, given that she was the only candidate standing in a three-member ward, Brown's vote would need to increase by a factor of two-thirds relative to the total ballot's improvement, reflecting the fact that her voters could also choose two other candidates; if they voted solely for Brown, as they did in 2003, their votes would contribute less towards the increase in total ballots than those cast for other parties standing three candidates. Were two SA candidates to stand, the critical ratio need only be one-third improvement in their total vote; were three to stand, the ratio would obviously be one-to-one. A ratio of Brown's increase to total increased vote greater than two-thirds suggests improved support; less than a two-third ratio, however, implies that voters were proportionately less willing to vote for her than a year ago.

This is exactly what happened: Brown's vote increased by a factor one-half relative to the total increase. In fairness to Brown, voters seemed slightly more inclined to use her as a protest: her vote increased by more than the 1:3 ratio relative to the increase in total ballots cast that would suggest no improvement in absolute terms, and one of the Labour candidates (the deputy council leader)performed significantly less well than the other two. However, compared to Respect results in single vote elections - in local or Euro-constituencies - it is clear that Brown's vote is less committed.

A certain confusion in the complications of electoral statistics might be allowed, though. Where the AWL "open letter" causes more concern is in the political claims made throughout. Respect allegedly promoted "downright right-wing politics" and that left-wing politics did not "define" the Respect campaign. For the record, pasted below are the core demands of Respect's founding declaration:

We stand for:

* An end to the war and occupation in Iraq. We will not join any further imperialist wars.
* An end to all privatisation and the bringing back into democratic public ownership of the railways and other public services.
* An education system that is not dependent on the ability to pay, that is comprehensive and gives an equal chance in life to every child no matter how wealthy or poor their parents, from nursery to university.
* A publicly owned and funded, democratically controlled NHS, free to all users.
* Pensions that are linked to average earnings.
* Raising the minimum wage to the European Union Decency threshold of £7.40 an hour.
* Tax the rich to fund welfare and to close the growing gap between the poor and the wealthy few.
* The repeal of the Tory anti-union laws.
* Opposition to all forms of discrimination based on race, gender, ethnicity, religious beliefs (or lack of them), sexual orientation, disabilities, national origin or citizenship.
* The right to self-determination of every individual in relation to their religious (or non-religious) beliefs, as well as sexual choices.
* The defence of the rights of refugees and asylum seekers. Opposition to the European Union's 'Fortress Europe' policies.
* We will strongly oppose the anti-European xenophobic right wing in any Euro referendum. But we oppose the 'stability pact' that the European Union seeks to impose on all those who join the euro. This pact would outlaw government deficit spending and reinforce the drive to privatise and deregulate the economy
and we will therefore vote 'No' in any referendum on this issue.
* Support for the people of Palestine and opposition to the apartheid system that oppresses them.
* An end to the destruction of the environment by states and corporations for whom profit is more important than sustaining the natural world on which all life depends.

It could be criticised as vague. It might be considered a minimal sort of a socialist programme. I am certain many people would disagree with some, most or perhaps all of it. But I would defy them to claim it is not "left wing", or promotes "right wing politics". In condensed form, it was printed on every Respect election leaflet; it was presented in the election broadcast; it was argued for on stalls, on the buses, and outside polling stations. To argue that Respect promoted "downright right-wing politics", the AWL make three points: one evasive, one racist, and one libelous. It is an unimpressive spectacle.

Evasiveness: "Respect chimed in with nationalism by denouncing the European Union... Respect's 'anti-capitalist' excuse for Europhobia is no better than the 'democratic' excuse of UKIP." Having seen the mess of the new constitution - and our own dear Prime Minister's successful attempts to exclude basic workers' rights - this position looks rather odd for an "Alliance for Worker's Liberty". It fails to address the points - as covered recently by Lenin's Tomb, in discussing Larry Elliot - that a left-wing criticism of the EU is available, and should be promoted; just as it is on the mainland, in counterposing a "social Europe" to a "bosses' Europe". AWL fall decidely short of raising the argument above the playground level it generally attains in Britain, hiding behind the lax claim of "little Englandism"; they fail entirely to suggest how, precisely, the Euro, the stability pact, and the European Central Bank benefit workers anywhere.

Racism: "Respect appealed to Muslims to vote as Muslims for 'George Galloway - a fighter for Muslims...' ...This is as reactionary as asking Catholics to vote for a candidate because he was a 'fighter for Catholics'." Leaving aside the vexed question of how a Muslim can vote as anything other than a Muslim - as if identity, and beliefs, can be switched on and off at a stroke; or maybe Muslims shouldn't be allowed to vote at all? - and, of course, Respect's socialist platform as clearly stated on the leaflet they quote, this is a dubious claim. If Catholics were a gravely oppressed group in society, suffering slanders and depredations - as, indeed, Catholics have suffered in recent memory - I would insist on anyone claiming a "progressive" mantle to fight for their rights, as a fundamental part of their radical politics. This is - or should be - elementary stuff for "socialists": for those liking to present themselves in a grand Enlightenment tradition, the fight for freedom of worship should be recognised as a constituent part of the struggle for what liberties we currently enjoy. That is to leave aside the struggle against the overtly racist discrimination Muslims (or "suspected" Muslims) currently face. It is quite distinct from whatever other disagreements I may have with individual Catholics, or Muslims, about any number of other questions.

It is as if Dreyfus were sentenced once more: in defence of "secular" values, certain sections of the French "Left" refused to support a Jewish officer imprisoned on a concocted charge of treason - Jews, you see, with their "alien" traditions, could simply not be trusted to fight properly for a "secular" republic. Emile Zola penned his "J'Accuse" in criticism of precisely this attitude; today, sections of the French Left refuse to argue against - indeed, some actively support - a discriminatory attack on Muslims made through the hijab ban in the name of "secular" values. Thankfully, their nearest equivalent in the UK is tiny and isolated, confining itself to sniping at all suggestions that lining up with one's own ruling class in kicking a particular minority is barely compatible with any form of socialist politics. It would be wrong to describe the AWL as a racist organisation but they are playing an extraordinarily dangerous game with racist politics: the appeals to an liberal Islamophobic discourse, through the unwarranted assertions of "communalism", and the hints that - because Respect is supported by Muslims - it must be weak in defence of gay rights, are quite shameful for a supposedly "socialist" organisation.

The same could equally be said for the AWL's suggestion that Respect's principled (and increasingly popular) position of immediate UK troop withdrawal from Iraq is to solidarise "with the Iraqi 'resistance' - with the Islamist militias who are currently against the Americans... and against Iraq's reviving labour movement, and who would if they could impose a religious dictatorship on Iraq." Or, in other words, the AWL support a continued occupation, on the grounds that (doubtless) brutal, backward Muslims cannot be trusted to run their country for the benefit of properly "progressive" forces. On another flyer, AWL approvingly quote the "Union of the Unemployed of Iraq" as stating:

the 'resistance' of the ethnocentric and Islamist groups is reactionary... 'Occupation' and 'resistance' are two poles of the same reactionary camp...

This is a very old-fashioned species of liberal imperialism. Far from the right to self-determination being - guess what - a right, to be enjoyed by all regardless of their individual proclivities, the AWL seek to deprive Iraqis of this right on the spurious grounds that a continued US/UK occupation is somehow beneficial for the workers' movement: and this at a time when the US/UK is attempting to ban trade unions. More generally, whilst the occupation entirely determines the political situation in Iraq, it is the job of socialists to help end this latter-day colonialism at the same time as arguing for the kinds of politics that can do the job most effectively: the politics that stress international solidarity, in piling on the pressure against US and UK governments, against those that seek to separate the "Islamic" world from the rest.

For those in the imperial power, the advice for socialists is well-known. Karl Liebknecht, faced with "progressive" arguments at the start of the First World War to support German imperialism against the decidedly regressive despotic imperialism of the Czar, noted that for socialists the "main enemy is at home". One's own ruling class is one's first target, especially so if they are indulging in imperialist adventures. Leon Trotsky was even more blunt, apparently advising that those "socialists" in Britain arguing against the independence of India should be "branded with a bullet". Trotsky had never come across the AWL, so we have to presume he was joking; but it is a thoroughly appalling state of affairs for a supposedly "Trotskyist" organisation to be arguing quite so cravenly in support of its own imperialist power.

Finally, mendacity. Whilst restraining themselves from the venomous personal attacks they usually save for Galloway - a creature evidently somewhere between Beelzebub and Ashtaroth in the AWL's compendium of Hell - they still manage to brazenly misquote him. Referring to his interview with Deborah Ross in the Independent, they write

Asked to described his general politics "in one word", Galloway chose to emphasise that he is "not as left-wing as you think... Strongly against abortion... I can't accept that [a woman's right to choose], because I believe in God."

They suggest that Galloway made this claim to appeal to the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB), and next claim

Having won that MAB endorsement, Galloway then told leftish Guardian readers [so different to those frothy-mouthed UKIP supporters at the Independent] that he was "not opposed to a woman's right to choose". This is the man John Rees told us all to trust, at the Respect launch conference. Regular newspaper readers would have known about Respect. But they would also have known not to trust it.

Galloway has a personal belief that abortion is wrong. He does not, however, oppose a woman's right to choose, preferring to make a distinction between his personal disagreement with abortion and the right of those to have an abortion if necessary. That's not an opinion I, nor many others in Respect, would take, and it is at odds with the party's stated position; it will perhaps be familiar to those, like Galloway, from Catholic backgrounds, as an attempted separation of personal belief from the state's activities. However, like Anas Altikriti, Galloway publicly stated he will do nothing to alter legislation regarding abortion rights if he were elected. The founding declaration is clear enough on self-determination in sexual choices, making a far clearer statement of principle than any other party standing in the recent elections.

What concerns me here are two things. First, MAB, contrary to the AWL's snide remarks elsewhere, are not part of the Respect coalition: in the London Mayoral elections, for example, the recommended a vote for Ken Livingstone, and elsewhere suggested Muslims should vote Green, supporting Respect only in four Euro-constituencies. Second, and more disconcertingly, the AWL have simply inserted words into his mouth: the phrase "a woman's right to choose" does not appear in the original interview, as indicated on the leaflet and above by the square brackets. At no point does Galloway say he opposes "a woman's right to choose" in the interview, confining himself to opposing abortion on personal grounds. It is only by assuming beforehand that he is lying that the AWL are able to add this allegedly "explanatory" phrase to the original text. Guilty, that is, until proven innocent. The original text in the Independent, April 5, 2004, reads:

I ask George to describe his politics in one word. "Socialist. Although I'm not as left wing as you think." Surprise me, George. "I'm strongly against abortion. I believe life begins at conception, and therefore unborn babies have rights. I think abortion is immoral." You can't be pro-choice? "Who is choosing for the child?"

Well, I say, better the unborn unwanted child than the born unwanted one. "I can't accept that, because I believe in God. I have to believe that the collection of cells has a soul."

Mysteriously, Galloway's claim that he is a "socialist" is ommitted in the AWL leaflet; though his "not as left wing as you think" quip, standing alone, hardly makes sense, given the question asked. Equally, it is clear he is expressing his own moral judgement, quite distinct from Respect and quite distinct from others' beliefs. At the end of this sorry "lash-up" of dubious elisions, statistical chicanery and appeals to the white man's burden, perhaps the best response to is in Galloway's own words:

Sacha Ismail manages three inaccuracies in 100 words (Letters, June 4). I am not opposed to a woman's right to choose and neither is the Respect coalition: we recognise people's right to express their own views and choices on this matter.

I never have had any kinds of links with the Ba'athist regime. My visits to Iraq were to express solidarity with the plight of the Iraqi people and to help prevent the calamitous war.

The Respect coalition is not engaged in a communalist appeal for Muslim votes. We recognise that many Muslims cannot bring themselves to vote Labour. We campaign to win their votes for a left alternative to Labour.

George Galloway MP

Respect, Glasgow Kelvin

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Beaten to it - Lenin's Tomb already gives Tatchell a grilling for his peculiar rant in the Guardian a couple of days back. I'd only add that, when the Tatchell hints that the "far left" cannot work with gays, he really ought to think back to his own experiences at the polls: as Labour candidate for Bermondsey in 1983, Tatchell faced a truly revolting homophobic campaign against him, led (of course) by the tabloid press, with the Lib Dems and the Labour right doing little to offer their support, the Labour right attempting initially to block his candidature, whilst the Lib Dems were eventually beneficiaries of this spectacularly revolting election, seeing Simon Hughes returned to a once-safe Labour seat with a campaign stressing his "Christianity". The "far left", within and without the Labour Party, stood by Tatchell as thousands upon thousands of anonymous leaflets were distributed through the constituency, denouncing Tatchell as a "traitor" and a "queer", and as Tatchell's home was attacked, as were those of his supporters. (The details are in Tatchell's own book, The Battle for Bermondsey. Personally, it's a terrible disappointment to see a man I have a great deal of admiration for managing to wallow in mindless sectarianism like this.)

Fresh red-baiting by the Green's more prominent members aside, Respect has selected its candidate for the Stepney Green by-election: Oliur Rahman, who polled so well in City and East. Having been outside of the constituency for much of the campaign, I attended the Lambeth and Southwark post-election meeting last night with a degree of trepidation. I was pleasantly surprised: the meetings was both well-attended, packing out the room, and a thorough and honest attempt to both account for the successes and failures of the campaign, as well as devise a plan for our next steps. The good-humoured seriousness of this discussion, the range of people involved, and the willingness to think ahead all make me think Respect has legs. We can establish oursevles as the left alternative to New Labour that is so desperately needed. We don't have any choice but to.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

East London rocks (Phil Piratin would be proud*)

(I should never have moved.) First the bad or infuriating stuff: so close on the GLA, with 100,000 spolit ballots acros the city; and I have no idea what went wrong in Wales: presumably the left vote was just deeply split between Greens, the Plaid, Forward Wales and Respect. All around, an exasperating example of how very hard it is to overcome media exclusion in the exceptional unevennes of the Respect poll: whilst the major urban areas granted Respect huge, unprecendented votes - 9% in Leicester, 7% across the whole of Birmingham - these disappeared into those great chunks of the country that our army of campaigners simply could not reach, quite distinct from the desert of "Middle England": the poorer suburbs, the smaller towns, the pockets of rural radicalism. Respect beat - actually topped the poll, actually won more votes than - Labour, Lib Dem, Tory and all the rest in Tower Hamlets, with 20% of the Euro-vote across the constituency. In Newham, always home to a staggeringly solid Labour vote, we came second on 21%. Waltham Forest and Hackney also scored dramatic votes. Lindsey German beat the BNP and the Green Party to come fifth on the mayoral poll. This wasn't simply an automatic "Muslim vote", as many wish to imply: people should remember the frantic efforts of both Greens and (particularly) Lib Dems to appeal to Muslim voters, with Respect fighting them every inch of the way - and those attempting to organise a Muslim boycott of the elections; whilst it is equally clear from campaigning that large numbers of the white, non-Muslim inhabitants of East London voted for Respect. Campaigning was incredible: I have never seen such a response - young men running out to cheer on Whitechapel Road, spontaneous, tooting cavalcades behind the bus through East Ham High Street...

Respect achieved a vote it took the Greens and UKIP a decade or more to achieve - and without the media encouragement. Across the country, it received 250,000 votes, far more than the Communist Party ever managed at the peak of its support; and received them with every expectation of advancing from this point. For the Greens appear to be hitting a glass ceiling, failing to advance across the country; as it says below, the current sectarian bellowing from certain prominent members aside, a Red-Green alliance is the obvious way forward for them, if they are to advance at all. Respect's current support in the inner-cities, and those areas with large ethnic minorities especially can be built upon: not least through the organisation's appeal to the trade unions and disillusioned Labour voters in a way that the Greens cannot match. The Stepney Green by-election, taking place in a previously solid Labour ward in the heart of Tower Hamlets, is the next obvious target.

More fundamental, though, is the steady collapse of the two (and a half) party system. A great degree of polarisation away from any of the major parties is currently taking place; in electoral terms, this has so far benefitted the right, aided and abetted by an astonishing media campaign for UKIP, but the non-Labour left vote was not too far behind. Of course, UKIP's prominence can be overstated: whilst the non-Labour left is evidently divided at present, UKIP is not a stable party formation, even as it appeals to a core, largely racist vote of disaffected Tories. Single-issue politics can take an organisation only so far, as the UK Greens found to their cost in 1989, whilst reinvention as a conventional political organisation imposes significant challenges; the recent tensions within UKIP, as shown by Alan Sked's defection, are one example of this. Kilroy-Silk is not enough to overcome these critical problems. Identified so closely as it is with the war on Iraq, Respect will face similar dilemmas, but I have two reasons for thinking it more likely to be overcome: first, because there are significant, ideologically-motivated left currents within Respect that have the political clarity to steer the organisation around the more obvious teething problems - where the Greens have been more successful, as in Germany, it has been at least partly through reliance on a core of dedicated ideologues of the generic left, generally former Maoists, with great organisational experience; and second, more significantly, because Respect has a strong appeal to a layer of deeply disillusioned former Labour voters and members.

Of course, this isn't easy: the demands of the election somewhat precluded assembling a thorough manifesto, beyond the broad statements Respect have already made; equally, clumps of new members need to be turned into new branches. Stepney awaits.

*except there would be one Trotskyist too many involved for his liking...

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Spencer Fitz-Gibbon

The London Green Party must be sorely disappointed. Coming in behind the BNP and Respect on the mayoral poll, as well as losing a GLA seat, are both significant defeats, elements of which can be explained by the party's attitude prior to polling day. Like everyone else in Respect, I would like to see the two organisations form some sort of electoral pact: the Greens have a well-established name, and an appeal to certain groups of voters; Respect can pull in quite different blocks of progressive opinion - so this talk of "splitting" the anti-war vote is not quite right - and the eminently logical thing to do would be to stand on a common platform. This option, when suggested by Respect, was rejected before the elections - without any consultation of their membership - by the Green's leadership, who appear to have concentrated their efforts on attacking those who should be their closest allies: both Respect and, in London, Ken Livingstone, failing to call for a second preference vote for him. It has to be hoped that self-defeating sectarianism dies a death in the Green Party before it strangles the entire organisation, but contributions like the statement on their website do not bode well. Spencer Fitz-Gibbon, the Green's "media chief" (apparently), offers a rather demented account of the Green's extremely poor London showing. Fitz-Gibbon's "media chief" role consists in a large part of penning sectarian, red-baiting letters to outposts of the liberal media like the Guardian; I don't think his attitude reflects the Green membership's, but let loose on their website, Fitz-Gibbon truly excels himself:

The (dis)Unity factor

Some Greens had been concerned about Respect: The Unity Coalition, which claimed to have arisen from the anti-war movement and was expected to split the anti-war vote. The Greens had expressed concerns that Respect may pick up votes from people who didn't realise either that the Green Party was a member of the Stop The War coalition with as strong an anti-war track record as anyone, or that Respect was dominated by the fundamentalist Socialist Workers Party, which had managed to make an alliance with a Muslim organisation which probably didn't realise it was aligning itself with hard-line communists. Spencer Fitz-Gibbon commented:

Oh yes! "Fundamentalist... hard-line communists." I do love the condescension of the Green Party presuming to lecture Muslim organisations on who they may or may not form alliances with: the poor, ignorant brutes just didn't realise what they were getting into.

"A quarter of Respect's votes came from one constituency alone, so I think we've witnessed the impact of some highly disciplined Muslim politics here, with what looks like a large block vote being given to Respect thanks to the efforts of the Muslim Association of Britain. Elsewhere in the country it seems Muslims have been as likely to vote LibDem, or in many cases Green.

So both politically ignorant, and "highly" politically organised. What devilry is this? Where Respect stood in the local council elections - and it was a very few wards - Muslim voters appear to have rejected the Greens in droves, but the situation may be different at the national level.

"I think Respect has had the counter-productive impact that a lot of Greens expected. I'm sure most of their voters didn't realise they were voting for the SWP's commitment to the Trotskyist "broad front" tradition. I'm sure also that many people who voted for Respect because they opposed the war would be disgusted to learn that Respect's policy on Iraq is simply to withdraw the troops and leave Iraq to its fate, which would almost certainly mean prolonged chaos and violence. It's hardly the sort of thing a supposedly anti-war party should advocate. The Green Party of course wants a UN peacekeeping force made of of troops from countries more likely to hold Iraqis' trust than the invading forces can hope to.

I've been a Trotskyist almost my entire political life and I have absolutely no idea what this "'broad front' tradition" refers to. A popular front? A united front? Who knows? Those quotation marks do make this innocuous (if ambiguous) phrase look very sinister, though. I'm sure the Greens were quite sensible in rejecting perfidious calls for unity from those allegedly professing to form "broad fronts". (Mysteriously, the Stop the War Coalition, established from an SWP initiative, is a perfectly acceptable "broad front", which the Greens eventually joined and membership of which they now claim as providing them with impeccable anti-war credentials.) Speaking of Iraq: quite why the Greens think an occupation by the UN would be any more popular than the current US/UK occupation is not made entirely clear. This is the organisation that - on its own count - killed more than 500,000 Iraqi children through its sanctions policy; which is a terrible shame, since dead children aren't able to throw flowers over heroic UN liberators in the approved fashion, though no doubt the Iraqis - a simple, innocent people, much like those poor Muslims in league with the SWP - would welcome the UN's help in running their country for them, once they'd got over a few minor issues.

Respect made it major point of differentiation - stressing it repeatedly on our literature - that we were in favour of immediate withdrawal of UK troops from Iraq, assuming it to be a popular and principled demand. Having earlier and not unreasonably berated the Liberal Democrats for their lack of anti-war credibility, the Greens end up by adopting a near-identical pro-occupation stance. Take up the white man's burden... and keep away from the nasty Trots.

"It's very unfortunate, but the (dis)Unity factor may have caused the London Assembly to lose an anti-war seat while allowing a far-right UKIP gain for no better reason than to satisfy the ego of George Galloway and the SWP's opportunistic desire to advance the shady politics of Trotskyism.

"When I say shady, I'm referring to that part of the Trotskyist tradition that encourages the communists to use and manipulate more moderate elements. When you consider how the SWP took over the more diverse Socialist Alliance, then prevented it from contested seats this year because the same SWP had now set up a new party called Respect, you'll see what I mean."

"Diverse" is used in the Fitz-Gibbon sense of "fragmented" or "fissiparous", rather than as in "representative of London's diverse communities", for example, though it is possible he confuses the one with the other. This might explain quite why the Greens chose to field so many all-white candidate lists. The Socialist Alliance was fifty-two breeds of Trot squabbling like cats in a bag: a turgid, depressing organisation with the smell of the 1980s and defeat clinging to it like the dredgings of a stagnant pond. This internal culture was reflected by its external achievements: notwithstanding the efforts of large numbers of SWP members, who provided the bulk of the Alliance's membership, the SA received average votes of 1% (if we were lucky) on the back of frequently dour campaign material and campaign slogans that seemed more designed to appease those dearly-held and decidedly bourgeois ideas about proletarian "virtue" nourished by some comrades than it did to produce a credible left-of-Labour electoral alternative. Such fleetings successes as it enjoyed - the election of a solitary councillor, Michael Lavalette in Preston - was based largely on the strategic line and efforts of SWP members like Lavalette himself, who now sits happily as a Respect councillor for his ward. All those who yearn for the Judean People's Front/People's Front of Judea glory days of the Socialist Alliance now have the option of joining the Democratic Socialist Alliance; this consists of those who demand the fulfilment of their historic destiny to lose deposits by continuining to stand in unwinnable elections to the indifference, if not derision, of all. Particularly noticeable when campaigning for Respect has been the absence of such unpleasant sectarianism, amongst people of nominally far more "diverse" political backgrounds: ex-Labour members, ex-Greens, left Muslims, longstanding Labour voters, SWP members, anti-capitalists - a broader spread of political opinion than the Socialist Alliance ever managed to contain, yet with a greater willingness to discuss disagreements amicably, and with a much greater sense of common purpose.

Spencer Fitz-Gibbon concluded: "In the circumstances the London Greens have done very well. Darren Johnson has been an excellent mayoral candidate, whose vote was squeezed by the fact that the Tories were doing well. I think a lot of people who prefer Green policies have voted for Ken simply to help make sure they wouldn't have a Tory mayor. If anything, this highlights the point the Greens have always made, that the office of mayor has far too much power compared with the more broadly representative Assembly."

If the Greens had been a little clearer about second preferencing Ken, it is just about possible that - like Lindsey German - many of their supporters would have voted Darren Johnson first, Ken second, significantly improving their result. As it is, they adopted a ludicrous position of being indifferent between Ken Livingstone (improved public transport, congestion charging, appointed Green Deputy Mayor, etc) and the Tory Steve Norris (Jarvis, Jarvis and Jarvis); this decidedly infantile posturing may have cost them dearly. All things considered, the elections ought to give the Greens a major wake-up call: despite the favourable press, despite the explicit calls in the national media for their vote, despite their anti-war credentials, the Greens have signally failed to make the advances they could have done, and have even fallen back a little in London. Dump Fitz-Gibbon for the crazed sectarian he is, and we'll see if we can't get a proper Red-Green alliance up and running by Christmas.

Apologies for the delay in posting anything at all - been in the midst of a frenzied last few days campaigining - and this is only brief because I've got a splitting headache. Just 4,000 votes short of Lindsey German getting elected to the Greater London Assembly - and 500,000 spoilt ballots across London, mostly in the mayoral race, but significantly distributed with our major votes. Understandably, given the shocking number of spoilt papers, appeals are being made by a few of the parties standing: and there's certainly more than enough evidence of dirty tricks in City and East to cause significant concern - voters being asked for unnecessary ID, polling booths closing early... I don't hold out much hope from it, though we'll see what happens. Eighty-four thousands votes city-wide, representing 4.5% of the total, is fantastic, given the virtual media blackout Respect enjoyed - broken only by a recommendations not to vote for us from the predictable liberal media. Twenty thousand in my old East London stamping ground - 15%, pushing Lib Dems into fourth place - is just staggering; likewise Lindsey beating the Greens and the BNP in the mayoral race. "Hurrah!" seems reasonable, though the infuriating absence of a GLA seat makes our work rather more difficult over the next few months. Roll on the Euro-results - though I don't know quite what to expect from them - and the Leicester by-election.

However, enough of this. Edward Staines, a regular lurker in the DML comment boxes, now has a blog to act as forum for his addled thoughts.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Balls (crystal)

I had an almost completed and very nearly eloquent piece all lined up on Resepct, the collapse of the two-party system, participation vs. command, the role of the media, etc etc, but it's gone midnight and I have to be up at 6am tomorrow to catch the big green Respect bus. (Maybe some other time.) Wandered back from the eve-of-poll rally in Friends' Meeting House via some more leafletting, all of which made think, first, hurrah for Lindsey German (she really is rather good at this sort of thing), and second, "at what point should a brand spanking new political organisation be making an impact on the opinion polls?", to which the answer is obviously "not until after the election, matey."

The distance between the Socialist Alliance-style vote Respect is apparently polling, and the non-Socialist Alliance response on the ground is so vast as to be embarrassing. I stand to be corrected on this (and if people can, please do), but I don't think the Green's 1989 Euro result was predicted by any major polling organisation. The Greens received 2.2m votes - 15% of the total - apparently out of nowhere, pushing the newly-formed Liberal Democrats into fourth place. I don't expect Respect to perform anywhere near as well; however, I think our results will be some way above what the polls are predicting. There is, of course, a huge amount resting upon this, and the assorted undead of the so-called left would doubtless be first to pounce on a weak Respect result. I've vaguely mentioned before some of the reasons why opinon polls consistently fail to predict minor parties' votes; suffice to say, it will be genuinely disconcerting if we do not pick up seats tomorrow across the different elections. Most likely is Lindsey German onto the GLA; next is George Galloway to Brussels; after that - who knows?

(Just get out there and vote, you buggers.)

Further comment seems almost superfluous:

Acknowledging Labour's vulnerability to protest votes, the foreign office minister Mike O'Brien said: "Michael Howard as prime minister for five years could be the painful price of a protest vote."

He even reminded Muslim voters that more MPs speaking and voting against the war in March last year - 139 of them - had come from Labour than from any other party.

"True, a majority, including me, voted to remove Saddam," he said. But the debate in the country had been led by Labour MPs such as Robin Cook, John Denham and later Clare Short, who all resigned from the government.


Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Can this be true? How did I miss it? The mind boggles.

UKIP: rich man's BNP?

The only point of agreement I have with Nick Cohen over UKIP is that neither of us think they are Nazis. There is a worrying tendency to pronounce UKIP to be a "fascist" organisation, on a par with the BNP. The differences ought to be clear enough: to pick just one: the BNP is led by a Holocaust denier; UKIP eventually took some (admittedly limited) action against a Holocaust denier in its leadership. UKIP are unpleasant populist reactionaries, but describing them as fascist has three unwanted consequences:

1) it weakens the general position of "no platform" specifically against fascist organisations like the BNP: this is a "guilty until proven innocent" rule, applied in exceptional circumstances in defence of rights to freedom of speech under threat by a particular form of organisation. If we attempt to "no platform" UKIP as well, we make the case for no platform policies against genuine fascists harder to argue for, since we create a genuine argument about "freedom of speech", in which UKIP's softer support are aligned with the BNP's.

2) it fails to address the nature of UKIP's core support and membership: the party is based almost entirely around a mass-media operation, centred on Kilroy-Silk and with substantial financial backing, to exploit a particular racist discourse in the media about asylum seekers, "terrorists" and Muslims in particular. It does not depend on, unlike the BNP, and has not created (as the BNP have done to some extent) a politically-motivated local membership. Moreover, UKIP's members are, I suspect, politically somewhat ill-defined: from Holocaust deniers to someone like Frank Maloney, their mayoral candidate, who quite genuinely does not consider himself to be a racist, barely mentions asylum in his election propaganda, and who detests the BNP. The BNP operation models itself on Le Pen's Front National: media exposure to gain members and support, followed by deliberate attempts by the leadership to harden up this support (witness Le Pen's sick jokes about gas-chambers, attacks on female deputies, and so on). UKIP does no such thing. Cohen's great error (amongst many) is to underestimate the nature of the BNP's local support and so gravely underestimate the threat they present.

3) it fails to address UKIP's wider support: those voting UKIP will do so because they are swayed by bigotry, within which discourse the issue of the EU has become inextricably linked. The great majority will be Tories, enjoying a probably fleeting protest vote. UKIP's principle challenge would be to turn this vote into firmer support, but they will be prevented from doing so by precisely the ill-defined nature of the organisation and the leadership's presumed lack of unanimity in the way to proceed, some of whom would rather piss their politics up the wall in Brussels than build a mass organisation (fine by me). They have already lost Alan Sked, a founding member, who appeared to think UKIP was simply a vehicle for applying pressure to the Tory Party. The model of working class=vote BNP, middle class=vote UKIP does not quite hold; the BNP have achieved their best results in wards with previously comparatively high Tory votes; UKIP make a direct appeal to the same crowd, but do so with greater media panache. What matters after the election is where that support goes next; I would hazard that BNP voters will be more likely to become BNP members than equivalent UKIP voters. There is little room for complacency.

Aaronovitch: I salute his indefatigability

Oh joy, the sun is shining, the birds are singing, my extensively rewritten first chapter is duly despatched... and yet here I am, dear reader, still sitting indoors farting about on t'internet.

David Aaronovitch! David Aaronovitch! What fresh bounty does he bring? Why, it's back to Respect. For an organisation apparently consisting of little more than "boring and potty" Trot misfits, a "tanned populist" (and his ego), and a few Muslims (who Respect "suck up to... by not caring about abortion or gay rights" -ah, "respectable" racism), Aaronovitch seems mightily concerned to repeatedly tell everyone how insignificant and irrelevant we are. But what devasting blow has this behemoth of liberal imperialism, this Dreadnought of Blairism, hurled at us today? He revels in a cutting attack on one Respect's Euro-candidates, Ann Thomas:

Does Ann [Thomas] even know where Sierra Leone is?

Nothing more, nothing less. No, really - that's pretty much his entire argument. (There's a windbagging sentence or so about how everyone now flocks back home - without any assistance from Mr Blunkett, obviously - after "Blair's wars" have made their respective countries all safe and happy, but I dismissed this lowly effort as falling short of Aaronovitch's usual standards of argumentation.)

So there you go. "Don't vote Respect - they couldn't pass GCSE Geography" is at least closer to the truth than "Don't vote Respect - they don't like gays (unlike UKIP)", though I really think we ought to get hold of Ann Thomas and ask her, just to settle this one.

The buffoonish, blustering Aaronovitch has always enjoyed the unalloyed pleasure of inserting his tongue upon the posterior of the world's more threatening imperialists. Back in his student years, Aaronovitch was an apologist for Russian imperialism, in the shape of the "progressive" USSR, indulging (I'm reliably informed) in furious arguments over the merits of the Russian invasion of Hungary against those who supported the "fascist uprising" (his words, naturally) of 1956. Today, Aaronovitch has swapped one "progressive" imperialism for another, accusing those who opposed the Iraq invasion of siding with the "fascist" Saddam regime, or siding with the "Islamofascist" resistance. In both cases, the net result is the same: Aaronovitch is perhaps the clearest example of what Orwell, in criticising ex=Trotskyist James Burnham, described as the debilitated intellectual's lust to appease the powerful. Aaronovitch is at least consistent. Cohen, like Hitchens, is merely an apostate by comparison, a sort of craven court jecter, dragged out to jibber and spit as ocassion demands.

Monday, June 07, 2004

Nick Cohen: At least they're not Muslims (pt.2)

Pressing chapter deadline notwithstanding, there was an interesting letter in this week's Socialist Worker.

Please note: I left UKIP

IN YOUR article '10 Things You Should Know About UKIP', you wrongly use the present tense. You say that I "write" for Third Way. In fact, I haven't written for it or had any contact with it since 1998. Also I did not co-author UKIP's 2004 manifesto, but their 2001 manifesto for the general election.

I have since left UKIP because, as a gay man, I found it institutionally homophobic. I now reject all forms of right wing politics. I also unequivocally oppose all forms of racism, and my position on the Iraq war is the same as Respect's.

Aidan Rankin, London

(In fairness to SW, UKIP still appear to be plugging their 2001 manifesto as a substantive policy document, as a visit to their website shows.) Fair play to Aidan, though, for apparently making the break with "all forms of right wing politics". What particularly interests me, however, is his description of UKIP as "institutionally homophobic". I don't imagine anyone out there will be surprised by this, but it strikes me as somewhat peculiar that Nick Cohen should write that Respect has "reach[ed] a pact with religious bigotry", citing an instance in which another, smaller organisation - not Respect - issued a homophobic leaflet in Birmingham, whilst calling for a Respect vote. Under pressure it then withdrew the leaflet. Respect's own position is (to quote again) to support "the right to self-determination for individual in relation to their... sexual choices," and it is significant that the Birmingham-based PJP was forced to remove the leaflet: it could be cited as an example of Respect's positive influence. Equally, it could be pointed out that Birmingham Respect was the only political organisation to turn out in numbers in support of the Gay Pride event in that city.

Nick Cohen thus claims that an allegedly "institutionally homophobic" organisation that permits known Holocuast deniers to hold leadership positions is more "respectable" - "whatever you think of their politics" - than an organisation actively campaigning against homophobia and racism. It is not beyond Cohen's wit as a journalist, one would hope, to notice that UKIP is vast distance from any variant of left politics, but Cohen scraped out and spent his last dregs of left credibility some time ago. He is reduced, in the final paragrpah of his miserable article, to leaning on the tiny, if grotesque (and grotesquely misnamed) "Alliance for Workers Liberty" for support. That, I suppose, just about sums his current position up: from biting critiques of New Labour's rightward drive to a slide into the gutter politics of Islamaphobia. A sad end.

Sunday, June 06, 2004

At least they're not Muslims, eh, Nick?

I'll deal with Nick Cohen in a minute. For the time being, let's take another look at his new pals in the UK Independence Party.

It would appear all is not well in this "respectable" (Cohen's word) organisation of the far-right. For, according to today's Mail on Sunday (unavailable online, the Luddites):

THE UK Independence Party is at the centre of an extraordinary race row after one of its leaders was accused of referring to black people as niggers and nig-nogs .

Nigel Farage, regarded as the driving force of the anti-EU party, also faces allegations of visiting sleazy sex clubs and missing crucial parliamentary votes after drinking sessions.

The claims come in the run-up to Thursday s European elections in which the UKIP is forecast to make a historic breakthrough, pushing the Liberal Democrats into fourth place and wrecking hopes of a Tory revival.

Dr Alan Sked, a lecturer in history, was amongst the committee of six who founded the UKIP back in 1993, as a single-issue, "no to Europe" organisation. He now claims the party, which he left some time ago, is in the hands of the far right.

Mr Farage is alleged to have made the racist outburst during an argument with former UKIP leader Alan Sked, a respected historian who has now left the party. He is alleged to have said: We will never win the nigger vote. The nig-nogs will never vote for us.

The alleged remark came during a row over the fine print of the UKIP s membership forms which stated it was not prejudiced against minorities .

"Respectable" it is, then. Equally respectable is Alastair McConnachie, a member of UKIP's Scottish Executive, who despatched an email to party members stating that: " I don't accept that gas chambers were used to execute Jews for the simple fact there is no direct physical evidence to show that such gas chambers ever existed... there are no photographs or film of execution gas chambers... Alleged eyewitness accounts are revealed as false or highly exaggerated."

Curiously, McConnachie had no such qualms about describing the foot-and-mouth livestock cull as a "Final Solution". UKIP's response to Holocaust denial by one of its leading Scottish members? A disciplinary hearing initially pronounced a five-year suspension of McConnachie's membership. This was then over-ruled by the party's national executive, who delivered a slap on the wrists - one year's suspension. UKIP only acted at all against a vociferous hardline antisemite occupying one of its leadership positions after a party member, disgusted by UKIP's inaction, resigned and went to the press. A few weeks later, Dr Richard North, the party's research director at the time, attended a small Roxburghshire anti-cull "Stop the Slaugher" protest largely organised by McConnachie. Good to see them maintaining a "respectable" distance, then.

Da Don't Ron Ron

Reagan's dead. Sob sob. I'd feel more like celebrating if his legacy - bozo President surrounded by sinister empire-builders - wasn't so obviously still with us. What if Thatcher goes with Blair still in charge?

Saturday, June 05, 2004

If Abu Hamza (sorry) is arrested for being an "al-Qaeda hero", and given that Osama Bin Laden supports Arsenal, shouldn't we arrest Arsene Wenger?

Another reason to sleep soundly in my bed tonight: the police are rounding up tribute bands on terrorism charges. Only one guitarist from a Clash tribute at the moment, who in traditional anti-terrorism fashion actually they released without charge, but I wish them godspeed in fighting this scourge.

David Aaronovitch goes all soft and flabby

That was disappointing. After receiving prior warning via the Respect website that the inestimable David Aaronovitch, Blair's broadsheet attack-dog, was planning an expose of Respect's nefarious activities I was waiting with bated breath for a terrifying display of verbal savagery, along the lines of Nick Cohen's New Statesman rant. (Although, in the manner of US planes attacking wedding ceremonies, Cohen's article managed to brutally assault sufficiently misplaced targets as to earn his publication a writ for defamation. It's fun having Galloway on your side.)

Alas, we got neither. Aaronovitch attended a small Respect meeting in Walthamstow on a rainy Wednesday evening, earning "the Trots" a few jeers for being "potty and boring", Galloway a snide remark about his "wasalaam alaikum" greeting, and Muslims the now traditional liberal racist slurs about homophobia. (Note to all: you will find homophobic Muslims. You are more likely, in Britain, to find homophobic Christians. You will also find that Respect, including its Muslim candidates, supports the "right to self-determination... in sexual choices", a stronger declaration of principles in the matter - I'd wager - than any other party standing in the Euro-elections.) And that, I'm afraid, is pretty much that. There is, I suppose, a hint that all those in Respect might be indulging in some systematic deception about the numbers attending its meetings or joining the organisation, but Aaronovitch lacks Cohen's nerve and so doesn't really follow through on this conspiracy theory.

(Cohen's article is taken apart by Lenin over at Lenin's Tomb, though if anything he underplays just how dire it is: based on false rumour, old myth and personal bile, it is a fine tribute to Cohen's collapse as a journalist.)

Added bit:
It was Mahatma Gandhi who suggested this typology for the development of protest movements, corresponding to their effectiveness:

1. they ignore you
2. they laugh at you
3. they attack you

There seems to be some confusion between Aaronovitch and Cohen as to whether Respect merits treatment (2) or (3) but since the approaches are mutually exclusive, I'm more than happy for this state of affairs to continue: either we're too irrelevant to be taken seriously, or we're so important that we must be taken very seriously indeed, but not both at once. Maybe they're trying to cover all the bases, or perhaps we're moving from stage (2) to (3) and Aaronovitch is just a bit slow. The impression throughout his piece is that he was desperately hoping the audience would all be chanting "Death to America! Viva Saddam!" at the end of Galloway's speech, but as they weren't - strangely enough - in his disappointment he's had to resort to playground taunts. He's going to look damn silly if Respect receives anything like a credible vote on June 10.

Friday, June 04, 2004

This arrives from Chase Me Ladies, I'm in the Cavalry, run by one Harry Hutton. I stumbled across it via Normblog, so ta very much to him; Norman may be completely wrong about the war, but at least we can both agree that this Harry chap is jolly amusing. Continuing Dead Men Left's inappropriate fixation with Al-Qaeda's top funnyman, Harry says:

I was leafing through Abu Hamza’s sermons on the beach this afternoon. OK, he’s not everyone’s cup of tea, and I wouldn’t vote for him myself. I disagree with him about the need to blow up London; nor do we see eye to eye on the subject of flying airliners into buildings (he’s for, I’m against.) But in his wider argument that the UK is a moral cesspit and that the British are filthy drunken animals, I thought he made some valid points.

"They want only to look at nude pictures, go to football matches, have a few pints and go to sleep." This is not an ignorant ill-informed caricature; it is actually quite accurate, and the only riposte I can think of is that it beats chopping people’s heads off.

Neither George Bush nor Sacha Ismail

I mysteriously failed to spot John Denham's Respect-bashing in yesterday's Guardian. The letters in response are mainly excellent: five in defence of an anti-Labour vote by the left, and one supporting Denham's stand, a two-paragraph smear from Sacha Ismail:

Since George Galloway cannot seriously believe Respect is going to win any election, his desire to "defenestrate" Blair implies a silent coalition with the Tories, Lib Dems and all other anti-Labour forces (Mea culpa, June 2).

A vote for Respect is not at all "unambiguous": it is a vote not only against the occupation of Iraq, but for its leader's shameful links with Ba'athist Iraq; for his opposition to a woman's right to choose; for a communalist appeal to the "Muslim vote" in place of principled working-class politics. The left needs to emblazon "Neither Blair nor Galloway" on its banner.
Sacha Ismail

Sacha, for those who don't know him, is a leading apparatchik in the tiny (and seriously misnamed) Alliance for Workers' Liberty. I mention this biographical detail as those familiar with the AWL's frenzied red-baiting style will recognise it instantly in his letter, and obviously naming and shaming Sacha as an AWL member hardly qualifies any longer for "red-baiting". Galloway's personal views on abortion are not Respect's, and he has issued a public statement to that effect, saying he will do nothing to restrict or impede access to abortion rights; his "shameful" links with Ba'athist Iraq consist of malicious forgeries circulated to the media - and I never, ever see Tony Benn criticised for meeting Saddam; and, for an alleged Trotskyist, Sacha appears to have forgotten the revolutionary's role as "tribune of the oppressed". I cannot think of a more oppressed group in this country than the Muslim community, though Sacha's snide remarks about the supposedly "communalist" appeal of claiming to defend a community against state-led racism does its own little bit to put the boot in.

Of course, I was being a little disingenuous earlier. To be fair to Sacha, he does not explicitly state he supports John Denham's position. Explicitly calling for a Labour vote would rather spoil the fun the AWL have in pretending to oppose Blair. Sacha merely suggests that a serious attempt to "defenestrate" Blair (find me a window, and quickly) "implies a silent coalition with Tories, Lib Dems and other anti-Labour forces." Unless the AWL now supports a vote for those well-known exponents of "principled working-class politics", the Green Party - principled, yes; working-class, no - the clear implication is that only those within the Labour Party are entitled to doing anything much about its leadership. For the rest of us - what? There will be no "Labour, but opposing the war" box on June 10. A vote for Labour is as good as a vote for Blair, and he will certainly interpret it as such. Do we perhaps stay at home, and let the BNP in? The entire thrust of Sacha's miserable letter is to demand not a break with Labour on the solid anti-imperialist basis Respect provides, but to troop back into the polls and demand another seven years of Blairism.

Respect is an unambiguous vote: you vote Respect, you oppose the invasion, the occupation, and the war on terror. You vote Labour, and you may or may not support the invasion; you may or may not support the occupation; you may or may not support the war on terror - but you can rest assured that Blair will claim your vote to his credit.

Thursday, June 03, 2004


Mike Burn, lovely man, has a blog. This will be good. Go there once he's up to speed. (Rather than limping along in the style I am perfecting.)

UAF gig cancelled

With guitarist Pete Doherty still in rehab, The Libertines have had to pull out of this Sunday's Love Music - Hate Racism festival in London, leading to its cancellation. It's a terrible shame, although the event seemed ill-starred from the off: between the awful Metropolitan Police and The Libertines' continuing woes, fate had rather conspired against it. We will discover after June 10 how successful UAF has been in promoting an anti-BNP message. It would be awful to discover that London cannot host an anti-fascist music festival, but can allow a BNP member onto the GLA.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Bob Crow vs Simon Huges (pt. 2)

The spat continues; RMT members on the Underground have voted overwhelmingly to strike over pay and conditions, and - god bless him - Bob Crow's decided the brothers and sisters are going to walk out on June 10. A faultless negotiation tactic; always good to turn your sectional demands into as big a political problem as possible. Looks like I'll be walking in that day, but do you know what? I don't give a damn. May the RMT's example spread widely. The one element, the sole factor that can decisively reshape politics here in the UK has lain dormant for too long. The simple truth is that without a trade union movement able to take on the government - any government - over pensions, or working hours, let alone the war - progressive forces in Britain will remain constrained. The anti-war movement has opened a space, for sure; with any luck, Respect will go some of the way towards filling it. But to shape the space vacated by New Labour's destruction of Labour's mass support requires something more than an electoral challenge.

Not everyone agrees. Predictably, Simon Hughes, Liberal Democrat candidate for mayor, "unequivocal lover of Israel" and, alas, my MP, thinks differently.

Liberal Democrat London mayoral candidate Simon Hughes renewed his calls for Mr Crow to be removed from the Transport for London board.

Mr Hughes said: "This sort of industrial action does nobody in London any good. It is no good for passengers, no good for London Underground and no good for the unions.

"Of course, employees are justified in raising concerns over any number of issues with their employers, but to threaten strike action every time they are dissatisfied with negotiations is bad for business, bad for the travelling public and bad for London.

"The right to strike is a sound principle when used correctly, but the RMT threat to strike at the drop of a hat abuses this right.

"If anything, the TGWU bus drivers have a far greater right to be on the board rather than the RMT. Bus drivers have been instrumental in improving London's transport, while the RMT have done very little to help London and Londoners.

"If elected as mayor, I will remove the RMT from the board of Transport for London and appoint people who owe their allegiance to Londoners rather than the unions, so we can get on with making the transport system work for the capital, and stop Londoners from yet again being held to ransom."

Pause awhile, and ponder upon that statement. The call to expel Bob Crow from the Transport for London was the one Hughes earlier made, based on the lie that Bob hadn't attended TfL meetings whilst pocketing a TfL salary. Instead of lying about him, Hughes is now calling for Bob's expulsion because he observed the results of a legal ballot of his members, conducted under trade union laws of which Hughes is a supporter - indeed, an enthusiast. What intrigues me most, however, is the claim that

The right to strike is a sound principle when used correctly...

How, I wonder, can a "right" be a "right" only when used "correctly"? If it's possible to use it "incorrectly", it's not a right. If the T&G had a leadership with slightly more backbone, Hughes would stop being the Friend of the Bus-Driver he pretends to be now. For Hughes to claim he supports trade unions is only slightly more ridiculous than his claim to have opposed the invasion of Iraq. Fortunately, barring the truly untoward, he's not going to become mayor of London, and I maintain the hope that Respect will pick up enough of the anti-war vote to deny these shameless opportunists a Euro-seat or two.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Another one: who or what are the English Democratic Party? (I'm hesitant to provide them with a link, as they seem rather unpleasant - but I think you're all grown up enough to make your own minds up, aren't you?) Any information gratefully received, particularly as to where on earth all the money for all those candidates (and that flash website) is coming from.

This was surprisingly worthwhile: yay for corporate research.

Bob Crow sues Simon Hughes

Why hasn't this received more attention? Hurrah for Mr Crow, I say.

The leader of the Rail Maritime and Transport (RMT) union has launched libel proceedings against the Lib Dem's London mayoral candidate.

Bob Crow is taking the action after Simon Hughes accused him of not attending Transport for London meetings for over a year despite being paid to.

Mr Crow said it was a "damaging slur" and is also taking libel action against the Evening Standard newspaper.

The union leader said he had attended 10 meetings since March 2003.

He added his salary for the role - which he claimed was less than half the £23,000 quoted by Mr Hughes - was donated to the RMT's orphans fund.

The claims were made in a press release by Mr Hughes who said he would remove Mr Crow from the Transport for London (TfL) board and replace him with an official from the Transport and General Workers Union if he wins the mayoral election on 10 June.

The claims were included in an article in the London Evening Standard.

Mr Crow said: "The statement that I have not attended a single TfL meeting since March 2003 is simply untrue."

The claim was later removed from the press release.

A spokesman for Simon Hughes said: "Mr Hughes has no further comment to make at this stage."

And the Evening Standard! Fantastic.