Dead Men Left

Monday, September 27, 2004

As the sporadic posting of late probably indicates, I've been immersed up to my eyeballs in dangerous real-world activities; irritatingly, this has included an attempt at getting my computer fixed. I'm also in Germany over the next week, to plug this thoroughly excellent event in a series of meetings: actually, if you're not booked up for the European Social Forum (14-17 October) in London, do so now on the website. Tens of thousands of will be attending this vast gathering of the social movements, and I promise you that you will kick yourself if you're not amongst them.

Right then, Frankfurt or bust. Normal service resumed when I get back.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Know thine enemy: Kinnock's revenge

I now realise that comparing Democrat candidate John Kerry to former Labour leader Neil Kinnock was unfair. Kinnock only lost by a small margin in 1992; Kerry, on the other hand, is seeing his support free-fall. George Bush, from scraping an ill-gotten victory in 2000, is looking likely to be returned by a significant margin.

And yet... whilst Democrats have been prepared to overlook electoral law to ensure Bush was on the Florida ballot, Nader's successful campaign to offer Floridian voters the choice of an anti-war candidate drew this response from Democrat supporters desperate to keep him off the poll:

The decision came after weeks of legal tussling as Democrats sought to prevent Nader from standing in Florida as the Reform Party candidate. However, the state's Supreme Court voted six to one to allow him to participate. The move angered Democrats who say that Nader is now helping the Republican cause. 'In state after state, Nader has become an extension of the Republican party and their corporate backers,' said Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe.

The spineless liberals at the Guardian go on to claim that there "appeared to be some truth to the charge", on the grounds that "[o]ne survey found one in ten of Nader's biggest campaign contributors were Republicans who had also given money to Bush." Applying the same logic, we must also assume Democrats are an "extension of the Republican party and their corporate backers", since these Republican backers have given more money to the Democrats than to Nader: between them, that's $54,000 to Nader, just 4% of his total donations, and $66,000 to the Democrats. The "charge" of Republican backing Nader's supporters rightly label the "Big Lie", especially when set beside the collosal amounts Kerry's "corporate backers" donate.

Equally, it seems to be hoped that repeating a Bush-is-bad, Bush-is-bad, Bush-is-bad mantra will be enough to summon up a Kerry vote. "Repentant Nader Voter" is pretty typical of rash of websites in its mixture of whinging about Bush's peculiar awfulness, cliched abuse, and clear evidence of political degeneration:

When Ralph Nader speaks in downtown Denver Saturday, Sept. 18, he'll be greeted by beggars—but not the homeless variety.

Protestors will drop to their knees and beg Nader to drop out of the Presidential race.

The “beg-in” protest will take place Sat., Sept. 18, at 4 p.m. in front of Tattered Cover in Lodo, 1628 16th Street (Wynkoop and the 16th Street Mall) where Nader will be doing a book signing.

“If I thought Mr. Nader had a prayer of winning this election, I'd work for him and vote for him,” said Ken Seaman, who ran as a Green for Denver 's First Congressional Seat in 2000. “But since that's not possible, I would ask that he withdraw from this race and improve the chances of Mr. Kerry becoming President. When you consider what this country might be like if Mr. Kerry were to lose this election, I think Nader has no choice but to withdraw and to throw his support to the Democrat.”

Unanswered throughout is the critical question of what the US will look like if Kerry were to win, and what any of us might do about it, though I suppose on current poll showing this is to pose an increasingly hypothetical question. It's not worth speculating, to pick one example, what former Nader voters would make of President Kerry's "New Army of Patriots" programme. Presumably they would be queuing up to enlist.

It is Kerry's desperate slide in the polls, from which little recovery seems possible, that so badly indicates the necessity of Nader standing: when 200,000 registered Democrats voted George Bush in 2000, against a comparatively stronger Democratic candidate, there is a serious problem not with those wishing to expose the lie of "choice" in the corporate duopoly of Republicrat and Democan, but in the Democrats failing to motivate their own supporters. Eighty per cent of Democrats now say the invasion of Iraq was a mistake; yet Kerry claims he would still have voted for the war. Without a credible challenge from the Left, the Democrats will constantly attempt to play a game of beggar-thy-neighbour with the Republican Right, from which they are sure to come off worse.

(In passing, it seems that a small flicker of light has dawned in the Democrat campaign. John Kerry is now "talking tough" on Iraq, expressing a few mild criticisms only six months too late for it to make any difference.)

Friday, September 17, 2004

Three cheers for Iain Duncan Smith

All those who think that cheerleading for a gang of latter-day colonialists somehow places them in the democratic Left needed reminding:

Had the Conservative Party not supported the Blair government in voting to invade Iraq, there would have been no Parliamentary majority for war.

Is this clear enough? When Blairites and their caterwauling apologists start bewailing an "oddball" alliance of the Left and the Right in opposing the war on Iraq - on the solitary evidence of a) John Laughland and b) Corelli Barnett - I just hope they remember who rescued Blair's sorry arse when it was on the line. Step forward a quiet man, and Tory leader at the time, Mr Iain Duncan Smith. Your place in history is assured.

Appropriately enough, I'm off to the countryside for a few days, there to engage in all manner of traditional rural pursuits, like badger-baiting and heroin abuse. (It makes a change from petty theft and crack.) Tally ho!

"The Surrey branch of Class War"

I'm disgusted: I've been beaten, manhandled, roughed up and generally shoved around by the Metropolitan Police (a fine upstanding bunch) in Parliament Square on numerous ocassions and every single time for a vastly more worthwhile cause than opposing a ban on fox-hunting. But not once has the Telegraph asked me how I felt about it, the callous bastards.

Come to think of it, I've also tried blocking roads a few times now, and if you really are going to blockade a high security site like Chequers for "several hours" you'll need more than 150 people to do it with if the police haven't all dozed off for the afternoon.

How stange all this is.

Particularly since, the last time anyone seems to have bothered to ask, most people in rural areas want to ban hunting.

Still, Harry Hutton summed up what all true Englishmen feel in his eloquent letter to the Times:

The threat posed to human life by foxes is minimal. These days you are more likely to be crapped on by a parrot than you are to be eaten by a fox. Kind of puts it into perspective, doesn't it?

But if I were on my own in a lonely place and a tribe of slavering foxes came to bite my family and eat my chickens I would shoot first, and ask questions later. And d*** and f*** the communists to whom foxes are more important than the family unit and happy chickens. They are c***s sir, they are c***s.

(The quote at the top is from Alister at Perspective.)

Why voting Kerry is so very, very important

For four years Bill received regular kicks to the balls by Sam's right boot. At the end of the four years he was given a choice: four more years of getting booted in the groin by the right foot, or four years by the left. Bill could have said he'd accept neither. If he was going to get booted in the balls anyway, no matter which boot he chose, he wouldn't choose either. Why should he be a party to his own ball-crushing? Instead, so angry was he at Sam's right boot for four years of intolerable blows -- and charmed by the argument that the left boot was the only realistic alternative, and that the right boot really needed to be sent a message -- he decided he'd get even by choosing Sam's left boot this time. Maybe it would be marginally better. Today, crouched over in pain, he feebly raises his right fist in victory. "I showed that right boot a thing or two!"

(From this Counterpunch article. For boot-free alternatives, try here.)

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Tories "not very nice" shock

Every so often, when nothing more pressing is about, it seems worth taking a look at the Conservative Party. Whilst a Countryside Alliance mob besieges Parliament, and some pillock in tights climbs up Buckingham Palace, goings-on in the official Right opposition seem to have been equally peculiar.*

Item 1: Iain Duncan Smith, if people can remember him, apparently banned Tory members from also belonging to the far-right Monday Club whilst he was leader. "Far-right", in this instance, means exactly that: the Monday Club has historically supported "voluntary repatriation" of "immigrants" from the UK. It had affected a slightly cleaner image in recent years, but essentially still acted as bastion of the hard-right within the Conservative Party. Following this ban, three Tory MPs left the Monday Club: Andrew Hunter, Angela Watkinson and Andrew Rosindell. Rosindell oversaw the sole Conservative gain in the 2001 general election, winning Romford in south Essex from Labour on a 9% swing, after fighting an aggressive campaign featuring his pet bulldog, his Union Jack waistcoat and his strident views on asylum seekers.

All terribly admirable on Duncan Smith's part. Boo hiss to nasty far-right loons, hurrah for modern sensible tolerant Conservatism. Except...

Item 2: After making these announcements at the Tories' 2001 party conference, a small report appeared in the Telegraph at the end of 2002:

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH has been forced to reinstate a member of the Conservative Party expelled in a crackdown on alleged extremism.

Mike Smith had his membership "terminated" in May after he clashed with Mr Duncan Smith over the leader's ban on Tory MPs belonging to the far-Right Monday Club.

A High Court settlement last week, however, saw the Right-wing activist reinstated to the party, which has also agreed to pay his legal costs.


The case was settled after the Conservatives agreed to sign a document acknowledging Mr Smith "is a member of the Conservative Party".

Item 3: Both the Independent and Sunday Express reported on a firebomb attack on Andrew Rosindell's Romford Party headquarters in March this year. Rosindell is described by the Sunday Express, March 28th (not online) as follows:

Mr Rosindell has been outspoken on issues from asylum to the European Union. A member of the right wing Monday Club, he is in favour of the death penalty and firearm ownership.

The Independent (March 27th) also highlights his Monday Club membership:

The flamboyant member, who campaigned in 2001 with his bulldog Spike dressed in a union flag waistcoat, has criticised Government policy on asylum seekers, saying most should be kept under lock and key. He is also a member of the rightwing Monday Club and in favour of the death penalty and firearm ownership.

Andrew Rosindell is vice-chair of the Conservative Party. Is this shockingly poor reporting on the part of two national newspapers, or has the Tory far-right been neatly and speedily rehabilitated?

Poplar and Populism

Daniel Brett has very quickly responded to my comments on his extrapolation of Respect's election results. He suggests voter registration may not be quite such an issue amongst the large, well-established Asian populations in Tower Hamlets, East London. I'm not so sure; my suspicion is that registration is still lower than it might be amongst well-settled ethnic miorities, and that amongst recent migrants it is a serious issue. However, a cursory bit of research - on Google, the lazy blogger's favourite - doesn't bring up anything more substantial on the topic.

Daniel also makes this point:

I think the South Asian Muslim population in particular will be vital to RESPECT's capacity building in Bethnal Green. Once a party has gained the loyalty of a significant part of the Asian population, it has a strong base for building support. George Galloway is a politician who suits the Asian style of tough street politics, strong rhetoric and energetic campaigning. Unlike many scruffy beard-and-sandal left-wing types, he is also presentable, successful and clever - qualities that Bangladeshis and Pakistanis admire. At the same time, the white community will not feel alienated by him. Like it or hate it, white people in the East End are more likely to vote for a white candidate than an Asian candidate.

The first part I broadly agree with: the anger with New Labour in Bethnal Green (one of the Parliamentary constituencies in Tower Hamlets) amongst long-standing Asian supporters is palpable. This is a large, overwhelmingly working-class community that has been betrayed by both national and local Labour governments, and they have every right to demand an alternative. Equally, I think the white working-class in Bethnal Green have been thoroughly messed around by New Labour, locally and nationally: as they do not bear the brunt of "war on terror" racism, the break with Labour has been less dramatic, but it has emerged nonetheless. A socialist appeal such as that made by Respect, focusing on the inadequacies of local services and placing it in the context of the "war on terror" - money to bomb Iraq, no money for hospitals and schools - has a great resonance. I am particularly glad that we stood up to the three-party consensus on crime that demanded yet more (ineffective) authoritarianism: more ASBOs, more police, tougher sentences. We talked instead about being tough on what Blair once used to call the "causes of crime": the absence of opportunities for young people locally in particular.

Where I do not think Daniel is quite right is in the second part. Galloway's appeal to white East End residents is not boosted simply because he is white: Oona King, a black Jewish woman, was elected by a large majority in 1997 (with, it seems, Daniel's help) and without an obnoxious, racist campaign against her in 2001 having any noticeable effect on either Asian or white voters. Rather, I think Galloway's appeal is because he is "not a politician": the cigars and flash suits are one part of this wide-boy image, but more importantly he encapsulates a set of political beliefs in a way the classic machine politician does not. Galloway stands for something, and stands out because of it: there are few unaware of his opinons on the Iraq war, for instance. This is a comparison I make very warily, but Robert Kilroy-Silk, a UK Independence Party MEP, is also "not a politician" and summed up a set of political beliefs: in his case, too many refugees and too many Muslims. Both are placed in opposition to the "political class", Galloway to the left, Kilroy-Silk to the hard right. The decisive difference is the nature of the organisation around them: UKIP exists as an example of what Gramsci once described as "populism", of a very pure variety: a "non-political" political organisation that, since it has so few active members, exists solely in the ephemeral zone between the approved dialogue of the "political class" and a popular dialogue it has helped foster. It floats on a miasma of media hype, bouyed up by continual attacks on refugees, Europe and Muslims.

Respect is something different: lacking the media attention, and placed in direct opposition to the racist discourse the British media has promoted, it has of necessity relied on, first, a principled and relatively comprehensive alternative programme to neoliberalism of a classic socialist type; and second, the rapid creation of effective local organisations. Neither would have been possible without the anti-war movement, the breach with Labour it forced open, and the new networks it has thrown up; the first would have been very difficult without a clear figurehead like Galloway. The classic model for building successful left organisations in opposition to Labour is provided by Phil Piratin, Communist MP for Stepney (also in Tower Hamlets), in his Our Flag Stays Red. Piratin, a well-known local campaigner, was elected on the back of assidious work in the community performed by the Communist Party before WW2, for which they reaped the rewards afterwards. He helped organise rent strikes, campaigns against Mosley's fascists and all the rest of it. There are far greater demands placed on political organisations outside the big three: voters are much less inclined to be taken for a ride by smaller parties, and Piratin's book makes it clear just how much effort went it building and sustaining the Stepney Green organisation. Respect faces a similar challenge.

(Daniel ends with an appeal to bloggers in India and Bangladesh for their thoughts on voting in South Asia. I'd particularly like to know what the CPI and CPM did to build their - it seems unexpected - recent election successes, if
anybody has any information.)

(I'd further add that Piratin's account has been challenged by others: Joe Jacobs' Out of the Ghetto is one autobiographical description of the Communist Party's pre-war work that disagrees Piratin's on a number points; a more recent historical narrative explicitly argues that the Communist Party played up to "communalist" politics in the East End's large Jewish community, though its title temporarily escapes me.)

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

I blame the postmodernists pt. 3

In partial response to some comments offered on pt.2 of what is rapidly turning into an epic series, here are a few thoughts.

There's a necessary distinction to be made between post-structuralist thought, as a system of philosophy, and postmodernism, as something far bigger: a cultural movement, a set of political programmes, a series of very broad claims about society. There's a (often deliberate) vagueness about what "postmodernism" is trying to say, or achieve. To criticise the worst excesses of postmodernist thinking - Lyotard's The Postmodern Condition, for example - is not necessarily to also dismiss a good deal of post-structuralist work, like that of Foucault. In practice, it is postmodernism as a generic cloud of attitudes that has had the impact on politics: manifesting itself as the excision of class from radical politics, or at least its redcuction to a category of oppression: sexism, racism, "classism". To lose the organising principle of class was for radicals a grave mistake; at its extreme, it removed the possibility of breaking or merely effectively challenging oppression within society towards its accomodation as a manifestation of "identity".

Of course, the "old left" (even the old "New Left") often was very bad on issues of oppression, and it took the "new social movements" to kick it - and the rest of society - up the arse. But if the support of London gay organisations for striking miners in 1984-85 was a positive example of this process, Bea Campbell's claim that miners' pickets were simply a manifestation of "macho", patriarchical culture was entirely negative. That's not to say that macho elements were not present in the dispute (see Arthur Scargill's demand to "fight like men"); but Campbell's response removes any possibility of challenging them, and separates a struggle for women's liberation from the miner's fight against a deeply reactionary, sexist government. Most glaringly, it glosses over the transformative and active role of women in the strike. Campbell later went on to argue for the "opposition" of men and women in the workplace, demanding an end to collective bargaining procedures that allegedly reinforced patriarchical wage differences.

This is just one example of how badly astray such politics could go. A distant echo of it could be found in the veiled response from New Labour to the recent firefighters' strikes, as Blood and Treasure noted: because firefighters were white, straight men - it was hinted - they must be denied any sympathy. (This is to stereotype firefighters and their union, which has a decent record in combatting racism, sexism and homophobia.) The idea of working-class agency, of working people being actively able to transform the conditions of their existence has been lost entirely, replaced by an appeal to that old embodiment of liberal virtue, the authoritarian state: ban firefighters' strikes, bomb Iraq.

Entrail-reading and divination

Daniel Brett has assembled a small pile of voting statistics into a digestible form, with a view to looking at the potential impact of the "Muslim vote" in the 2005 election. He thinks it may prove critical in a few constituencies. (It should be noted that it may prove equally decisive in the US Presidential elections: from a majority, Bush's support has collapsed to almost negligible proportions whilst around 15% of US Muslims were undecided as of June.)

Below is a list of constituencies with a high Muslim population (based on 2001 census data) and the previous election result. In my very imperfect and unscientific forecast, I have assumed that Muslim support for Labour has halved and that the support for Labour has dropped by around 5 per cent for the rest of the population. The RESPECT vote is based on 20 per cent Muslim vote swing from the Muslim community plus a very generous 5 per cent support from the general population and most of the People's Justice Party vote. The Liberal Democrat forecast is based on 25 per cent Muslim vote swing from the Labour Party, a 2 per cent national swing towards the party and a 5 per cent increase in its vote if it was in second place in 2001. The Conservative forecast is based on a 5 per cent Muslim vote swing, a 3 per cent swing within the general population and a 5 per cent increase in its vote if it was in second place in 2001. Other parties have been ignored, with a certain percentage of their vote redistributed to the main parties.

Five Labour MPs with constituencies with a Muslim population over 25%
My forecast (+/- 4%) assuming a Muslim backlash against Labour

Birmingham Sparkbrook: Roger Godsiff
Muslim voters: 28,000
2001 result: Labour - 57.5%; Lib Dem - 13.2%; People's Justice Party - 13.0%; Conservative - 10.8%
Forecast: Labour - 37%; Lib Dem - 22%; Respect - 19%; Conservative - 12%
Labour hold with 15% majority

Bradford West: Marsha Singh
Muslim voters: 22,000
2001 result: Labour - 48.0%; Conservative - 37.1%; Green - 7.0%; Lib Dem - 6.4%
Forecast: Labour - 36%; Conservative - 42%; Lib Dem - 11%; Respect - 11%
Conservative gain with 6% majority

Bethnal Green and Bow: Oona King
Muslim voters: 18,000
2001 result: Labour - 50.5%; Conservative - 24.3%; Lib Dem - 15.5%
Forecast: Labour - 35%; Conservative - 28%; Lib Dem - 14%; Respect - 10%
Labour hold with 7% majority

Birmingham Ladywood: Clare Short
Muslim voters: 15,000
2001 result: Labour - 68.9%; Conservative - 11.3%; Lib Dem - 8.2%; People's Justice Party - 6.7%
Forecast: Labour - 52%; Conservative - 18%; Respect - 14%; Lib Dem - 11%
Labour hold with 34% majority

Blackburn: Jack Straw
Muslim voters: 12,000
2001 result: Labour - 54.1%; Conservative - 31.5%; Lib Dem - 8.1%
Forecast: Labour - 44%; Conservative - 38%; Lib Dem - 11%; Respect - 8%
Labour hold with 14% majority

Now, as Daniel says, this is "unscientific and imperfect", but it provides a good start for a little amatuer psephology. Respect has now stood in six separate rounds of elections, to many different bodies, and a variety of different areas - in the case of the Euro-election, across the whole country. Six different results from many different elections does not make a very good base for predictions; and, even if it did, the voting dynamics of general elections are quite different: most obviously in this case, there is less inclination to use a "protest vote". With that significant caveat, I would make the following suggestions:

1. It is not quite clear from Daniel's statistics if he is taking Muslim residents, Muslim voters, or Muslims on the electoral register as the basis for his swing calculations. I think he is using Muslim residents, given that he refers to the 2001 census. These three figures are not the same, and nor do they necessarily vary in a predictable fashion: not all Muslims are entitled to vote - some are under 18; not all entitled Muslims are registered to vote; and not all registered Muslims will vote. The last two factors are potentially significant: it has become clear, during campaigning, that there is a significant problem with voter registration amongst ethnic minorities in the UK. One of Respect's major tasks in some of its target areas will be to run registration drives. (So much for our "undemocratic" tendencies.) In marginal elections, this can make a big difference.

The turnout is also important; UK Muslims are "known to have fairly low turnouts" in elections. General voter turnouts, after reaching a nadir of 19% for the election of Labour MP Hilary Benn in 1999, appear to have started rising again: the trend is slight, but there nontheless. It could be suggested that this is due to both the perception of elections as increasingly competitive, boosting the value of each vote; and that elections are being fought on the basis of anti-Labour mobilisation, with higher turnouts linked to major setbacks for Labour.

Both these factors unsettle Daniel's predictions. If registration is linked to definite support for Respect, then the swing towards Respect becomes comparatively greater. With general election turnout sliding precipitously between 1997 and 2001, the ability to mobilise the otherwise passive may prove the most important factor in elections. If previously disenfranchised Respect supporters can vote, and if registered but disillusioned voters can be persuaded to vote Respect, the apparent swing to Respect would be far larger.

2. Continuing this point, the collapse of support for Labour has generally manifested itself as much reduced turnouts in the absence of effective opposition. This has created a space in previously safe Labour seats for other organisations to develop: the clearest electoral manifestation of this so far has been the rise of a pronounced localism, as seen in the election of H'Angus the Monkey to mayor of Hartlepool, the Kidderminster hospital campaigners, and the Wigan-based Community Action Party. Only the Kidderminster campaign has (as yet) had wider-reaching effects, in Dr Richard Taylor's dramatic election to Parliament in 2001, though the Community Action Party are planning to stand a candidate. None of these organisations are particularly well-defined on a left-right spectrum, and often defiantly so.

Respect's challenge, by standing in the Euro-elections, was to break out of this pattern. Whilst electorally an organised opposition to Labour has emerged often on localist lines, the anti-war movement is national in scope and, at its height, pulled millions into activity. The gamble was that anger against the war had generalised - both politically and geographically - anger against the Labour government, particularly so amongst formerly solidly-Labour British Muslims: where this willingness to break with Labour was backed up by local organisation, Respect achieved some impressive results, most notably in London and Birmingham.

What this has indicated is that, in conditions where Respect does not receive UKIP-style boosting, it is critically dependent on local organisation. In Tower Hamlets, the run of election successes have established an organisational momentum. The Millwall result was highly significant: in largely white area which had one of Respect's worst Euro results in the borough. Respect moved from fourth place (behind the main parties) to second, beating Labour. This strongly suggests that many white voters - in addition to those Asian voters who had previously broken with Labour in the Euro ballot - voted Respect in the by-election.

Daniel implies Respect has established a "protest-plus" dynamic: left-Labour protest votes, plus a significant Muslim block. Assuming the "Muslim block" was established in the Euro-elections June 10, as it was across Tower Hamlets as a whole, to achieve this result required more than just a smallish left protest. (It is also possible Respect benefitted from a non-existent Lib Dem campaign.) The movement was from a determinedly anti-Labour left vote from many Asians, through the creation of local organisations, to persuading many equally disillusioned white former Labour voters to come out and support Respect. The critical element is then carrying that new dynamic through to the general election; I think this is possible, but only on the basis of consistent organisational work. Achieving that puts the election of George Galloway in Bethnal Green and Bow, for example, well within the bounds of possibility: and certainly both pro-war Oona King and pro-war Jim Fitzpatrick should fear for their political futures.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

On picking the right targets

Fresh evidence that the Democrats really are more concerned about smashing Ralph Nader than about beating George Bush arrives from the St Petersburg Times:

The latest effort to disqualify Ralph Nader as a presidential candidate in Florida has led to renewed scrutiny of papers filed by other candidates - including President Bush.

State law sets a Sept. 1 deadline for the governor to certify a list of presidential electors for each party's candidates.

But Sept. 1 was also the day President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were being nominated at their party' convention in New York. Consequently, some of their paperwork did not arrive at state elections headquarters until Sept. 2, a day after Gov. Jeb Bush certified the candidates for president.

At the same time as the Florida Democratic Party has bent over backwards to keep Ralph Nader off the state's ballot, they are refusing to challenge George Bush's late nomination:

Florida Democratic Party chairman Scott Maddox said he knew the president's certificate of nomination did not reach the state until Sept. 2, but he said he decided not to make an issue of it.

"To keep an incumbent president off the ballot in a swing state the size of Florida because of a technicality, I just don't think would be right," Maddox said.

Such support for fair elections is heartening, naturally. It's a pity, then, that whilst the same Republican Party that adopted such a flexible approach to electoral law in 2000 is once more indulged by the Democrats, a minor party candidate is harried through the courts. In Illinois, Nader's campaign have alleged that the Democrats have broken electoral law by using state employees on party political work to challenge Nader's nomination:

"We've already identified no less than 10 Democrat state employees working on this challenge, most coming directly from Speaker Michael Madigan's staff," states Christina Tobin, a local coordinator for the Nader for President campaign. "I've requested the relevant payroll records to verify these state employees are not on the clock, but Madigan's staff is acting like they've got something to hide. If that isn't enough, Madigan is sending over his 16 year old interns that have no business being put into the middle of this legal process."

Sunday, September 12, 2004

I blame the postmodernists pt.2

Mark at Charlotte Street picks up on Nick Cohen in the Observer, noting that whilst Cohen berates those who remove critical questions of economic justice from the "political debate", his cack-handed and parochial attempt to announce the "death of the Left" suffered from a similar flaw. Nowhere in his premature threnody does Cohen attempt to deal with class: no mention of the battering even the British working class has received over the last thirty years, just Cohen's usual whinge about the awfulness of opposing imperialism.

That other Observer habitue, David Aaronovitch, Oliver Hardy to Cohen's Stan Laurel, is wont to harp on the same theme, though with more swaggering bluster and notably less finesse. Again, class, as a serious category of analysis, has all but disappeared; Lenin (he of the Tomb) briskly dissects Aaronovitch's sophistical attack on former Living Marxism stalwart, Frank Furedi. Whilst Aaronovitch engages in a spot of "dialectical foreplay", luring his readers on with a contradiction strip-tease, Lenin rightly highlights Furedi's fleeting encounter with telling social criticism:

Furedi is right about postmodernism... The abandonment of universalism, the levelling of all theories into so many narratives of equal validity has had a pernicious impact on intellectual culture. Not to bore anyone with Marxist argot, but this has a specific class dimension (that dirty 'c' word), or so it seems to me... It is simply that the reduction of class to just one more aspect of the multiculturalist mantra (race, class, sexuality, gender, ethnicity) and then, perhaps, its ultimate exclusion leaves us with a set of concerns that are wholly compatible with those of the upper-middle class yuppie who wishes to affirm his liberal (even anti-capitalist) credentials...

The point about class qua universalism is that it structures the whole way in which racism, womens' oppression etc. works. For instance, why should it be that 70% of the 1.2 billion people living on less than a dollar a day happen to be women?


What is fake about postmodernism is precisely what is wrong with liberal universalism, the universalism of global capitalism. Insofar as it maintains that everyone has the right to their specific cultural enjoyment, their religious rituals, their shopping experience, their dumbed-down books and television, it misses the underlying class dimension of such questions.

Lenin goes on to note the way the Right (from Blunkett to the BNP) have assidiuously adopted the language of "multiculturalism" to promote profoundly reactionary politics: at its very crudest, Nick Griffin, BNP Fuehrer, claims to enjoy curries; more sophisitcated fascist propaganda relies on the denunciation of Islam as "un-Western", or opposed to "our" values. Those tightly bound to the language and politics of acceptable liberal discourse, expecting their fascists to arrive - if not red in tooth and claw - at least shaven-headed and bovver-booted are entirely thrown by this new tack. (Anyone who was unfortunate enough to see supposedly tough interviewer Jeremy Paxman's floundering before Griffin's "multicultural" rhetoric will have seen just how inadequate the left-liberal language of identity can be before incipent threats of this sort.)

I would add to Lenin's notes the indication that the twin principals of "tolerance" and "identity", around which left-liberal politics are supposedly conducted, have provided the high road to the most intolerant of politics. Communtarianism, perhaps the most sophisticated attempt to fix left-liberal political practice ideologically, has mutated with remarkable speed into a simple conservatism. By renouncing class, the floating categories of "tolerance" and "identity" can become moored to an overtly conservative project, even if couched in fine phrases; whereas the most elementary understanding of economic class - even on the level of "it's all about oil" - would have prevented small sections of the British "Left" cheerleading the invasion of Iraq, these conservatives in fancy dress have simply to indicate their desire to extend the liberal order internationally to justify their pro-war stance. (Such a manoeuvre has been couched as "cosmopolitan" thought. I dealt, briefly, with one of its theorists, Mary Kaldor, some time ago.) The slide is, as Habermas suggested, built upon the instability and in-built conservatism of postmodern thought: once explicit uiversality is abandoned, as in either grand liberal claims or Marxist analysis, it asserts its necessity in emerging by stealth in a reactionary guise: the demands of irrationalism, or of simple power-play become the structuring principle. There is a mute acceptance of existing social structures, and the failure to advance any criticism beyond that allowed by those structures.

So what should a radical Left do instead? I would suggest that Respect, through its evolving political practice, is moving in the right direction: our watchword is not "tolerance" but "self-determination" (check the founding declaration on sexual choices, for example); at every step, a systematic - if sometimes crude - attempt has been made to interrogate social problems in Britain through class, and to create solutions phrased in those terms. The need is to stress both autonomy - of individuals, groups, whole social categories - and to provide the universalising means to bring about that autonomy. It is not a smooth or easy process, but it mirrors precisely that taking place within the anti-capitalist movement. This tension is one factor that has provided that movement with its immense dynamism: some of that will be on display at the European Social Forum; Respect has reproduced that dynamism, and it is one of the reasons for being hopeful for its future.

"If..." revisted: Malcolm X and Diane Abbott

Trevor Philips, chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, showing his contempt for the Man:

Phillips and [Garth] Crooks both defended [Diane] Abbott's decision to take her son out of the state system and send him to the exclusive City of London boys' school.

Phillips invoked the words of black civil rights leader Malcolm X by saying black parents had to fight for the survival of their children 'by any means necessary'.

Diane Abbott's decision was amongst the most noxious examples, in the last few years, of shameless, self-serving hypocrisy served up with the greatest possible dollops of sickly, self-righteous histrionics. (Here she is defending her decision in more bearable fashion, responding to Mike Rosen.)

Malcolm X was not a man to mince his words, even if unscrupulous epigones like Phillips mince them for him. In a 1964 speech at the Audubon Ballroom, Malcom said this:

I read a story once where someone asked some group of people how many of them wanted freedom. They all put up their hand. Think there were about 300 of them. Then the person says, "Well how many of you are prepared to kill anybody who gets in your way for freedom?" About fifty put up their hand. And he told those fifty, "You stand over there." That left 250 who wanted freedom, but weren't prepared to kill for it. So he told this fifty, "Now you said you wanted freedom and you'd kill anybody who'd get in your way. You see those 250? You get them first. Some of them are your own brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers. But they're the ones who stand in the way of your freedom. They're afraid to do whatever is necessary to get it and they'll stop you from doing it. Get rid of them and freedom will come naturally." ("I Don't Mean Bananas", reprinted in Carl Oglevsky, ed., The New Left Reader, 1969: pp.221-222)

Friday, September 10, 2004

I blame the postmodernists

I added Jonathan Derbyshire's site to my blogroll the other day for the simple reason that, much as I (pretty significantly) disagree with the man, unlike the tabloid journalist whose blog format he consciously copies, he does at least seem concerned to engage in an honest debate in a reasonably fair-minded fashion. It is, in short, a desire to avoid (as Harry Hutton put it) being a "twerp" by going through life "only talking to people who shared your politics."

Derbyshire recently offered an interesting variant of that old Cold War stalwart, the theory of "totalitarianism", in which left and right end up converging in a grand anti-liberal conspiracy against free markets and Western democracy. Following up a theme he introduced on Kamm's blog, he writes:

One of Cohen's main claims is that the alliance between the revolutionary left, or what remains of it, and political Islamism is unprecedented. I'm not sure that's right. There seems to me to be an essential continuity between the stance adopted towards radical Islam by the intellectual left broadly conceived (and not just the SWP), and certain of the attitudes that characterised the so-called 'New Left' in the 1960s, and which were brilliantly diagnosed by Irving Howe in a wonderful 1965 essay entitled 'New Styles in "Leftism"'...

Howe specified seven "characteristic attitudes" of the then-nascent New Left, at least five of which are prevalent in leftist discourse today. These are:

- 'An extreme, sometimes unwarranted, hostility towards liberalism.'
- 'A vicarious indulgence in violence, often merely theoretic and thereby all the more irresponsible.'
- 'An ... unreflective belief in "the decline of the West".
- 'A crude, unqualified anti-Americanism, drawing from every possible source, even if one contradicts another: the aristocratic bias of Eliot and Ortega, Communist propaganda, the speculations of Tocqueville, the ressentiment of postwar Europe, and so on.'
- 'An increasing identification with that sector of the "third world" in which "radical" nationalism and Communist authoritarianism merge.'

This is, of course, a supreme example of Cold War liberal political theory, as applied to its radical critique; the sort of "liberal" theory, mind you, that manages to give genuine liberals a rather bad name: stressing, instead of human freedom supported by a passive state, the active enforcement of "correct" values by a strong and aggressive state.

Elsewhere, Jeffrey Ketland has suggested that there are precedents for "irrationalism" on the Left:

One can find examples in the postmodernist literature, and the most obvious example is Michel Foucault, once a member of the French communist party and main source of much recent postmodernist and social constructivist philosophy. Foucault visited Iran around the time of the revolution. He enthusiastically described the revolution as a new kind of "political spirituality", and was very impressed with its characteristically anti-Enlightenment aspects.

Some time ago, the German social theorist Jurgen Habermas suggested a typology of reactionary, anti-Enlightenment thinkers, summarised as ("Modernity versus Postmodernity", New German Critique 22, 1981):

1. Old Conservatives, "those who do not allow themselves to be contaminated by cultural modernism. They observe the decline of substantive reason, the differentiation of science, morality and art, the modern world view... with sadness and recommend a whithdrawal to a position anterior to modernity." This is the familiar strain of conservatism that John Major's much-ridiculed appeal to Orwell's England played upon: "...the country of long shadows on county [cricket] grounds, warm beer, invincible green suburbs, dog lovers and old maids bicycling to Holy Communion through the morning mist."

2. Neoconservatives, who Habermas defines precisely as accepting the economic advances of capitalism, but who advocate that "politics must be kept as far aloof as possible from the demands of moral-political justification." Thatcher, claiming that "there is no such thing as society" exemplified the attitude.

3. Young Conservatives: the postmodernists. They, as Derbyshire suggested, abandon the universalising and rational elements of the Enlightenment, to preach the virtues of "diversity", or the "polyvocal real" as two influential poststructuralists, Deleuze and Guattari, phrased it. Habermas, in line with the classical Marxist tradition of Georg Luckacs and Vladimir Lenin, insisted that the Enlightenment contains within itself the possibility of its own self-criticism, correction and renewal: that, as he claimed elsewhere, "there is no cure for the wounds of the Enlightenment but the radicalised Enlightenment itself." By abandoning these possibilities to a total critique of the Enlightenment, the postmodernists reverted to a pre-Enlightenment conception of the world, however fashionably phrased.

Ketland and Derbyshire charge the anti-war left with indulging in a faddish celebration of difference so overwhelming as to tear it from its Enlightenment roots, and replant itself in the seed-bed of reaction: it is the latter-day embodiement of Habermas' type (3), aligned with type (2), the neo-realist opposition to the "war on terror", formed upon the debased claims of "sovereignty", and the blunt denials of decrepit tillers of Green and Pleasant lands: type (1).

This is suggestive, but not for the reasons they think. We leave aside the exceptionally cutting criticisms those on the Marxist left have made of postmodernism (Callinicos' Against Postmodernism (Polity: 1989) stands out), and the deliberate disavowal of anti-war opposition founded upon "state sovereignty": I may be wrong, but I doubt if the presumably paradigmatic Socialist Worker has ever opposed war on these lines. The grand mystery here is why those self-defined as "on the left" should support war principally waged at the behest of conservative types (2) and (1): the alliance of avowed Labour Party supporters with fundamentalist Christians and Washington neo-conservatives requires explanation.

That I won't attempt here; but the deliberate disavowal of "class" by the Labour Left in the 1980s for the looser categories of "identity" played a part in establishing the ideological preconditions for this unholy matrimony. This process was well-documented in Andy McSmith's Faces of Labour (Verso: 1997), where he describes it as the rise of concern with "consumption" over "production": the same tendency in the US is devastatingly critiqued in Naomi Klein's No Logo. The narrow focuses of "identity politics" are something that the global justice movement has learned to abandon, and to brilliant effect; Klein's book was a harbinger of the practical critique of identity politics on display in Seattle, November 1999. But a section of the British "left" has remained glued to a rhetoric and political practice assembled in conditions of utter defeat by an aggressively resurgent Conservatism: a quiescent, passive attitude that largely accepts this defeat - the working class is "irrelevant" in what the influential magazine, Marxism Today, labelled "New Times" - and, in so doing, increasingly adopts the attitudes of the victor. After twenty years, the process was complete: "women's liberation" arriving via Daisycutter bomb in Afghanistan; "democracy" at the point of a bayonet in Iraq. Such are the new conservatives: (3) meeting (2) and (1) to cheer on global reaction.

On "letting the Tories in"

Results from yesterday's Millwall ward by-election, in Tower Hamlets, East London:

Simon Paul Rouse - The Conservative Party Candidate 828
Paul Robert Louis McGarr - Respect - The Unity Coalition 635
John Christian Cray - The Labour Party Candidate 571
Andrew Peter Sweeney - Independent 195
Barry Alfred Blandford - Liberal Democrats (Focus Team) 150

After years of "redevelopment", the ward has become split between a solidly affluent selection of riverside apartment dwellers, and a group solidly working-class estates. The Tories' victory is not the "breakthrough" the PA report suggests, being based on a fairly fundamental shift in the demography of the area, rather than a great desire of former Labour voters to support a gang of crooks and bigots even more unpleasantly committed to privatisation and the free market than New Labour. I just hope Tower Hamlets Labour Party has learned a valuable lesson: they can't afford to carry on splitting the anti-Tory vote like this, since it's quite clear only one organisation in the East End can stop the right.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Test post. Blogger is playing up something chronic.

Wait 'til they see who's coming...

And so it begins. The London Evening Standard, yesterday:

Mayor gives activists free travel on the Tube

Ken Livingstone is to give free travelcards worth up to £400,000 to Left-wing activists attending a conference in the capital next month. Less than a week after announcing that Tube and bus fares will rise next year, the Mayor has decided that up to 20,000 delegates at the "global justice" event will get three days of unlimited travel in zones 1-6.

Backers of the plan say it will cost a fraction of the headline cost as no extra Tube or bus services will be laid on. But the Mayor's office admits the bill will be "in the low tens of thousands of pounds". The Tory group on the London Assembly today attacked the move as "a scandalous waste of money".

The European Social Forum conference, to debate capitalism's impact on human rights, is already costing the Greater London Authority about £400,000.

Redmond O'Neill, one of the Mayor's advisers, said: "A lot of people will not be able to come if we don't reduce their costs."

If the MoD cansubsidise an arms fair in the East End to the tune of £400,000, I don't see why the Mayor shouldn't support an anti-capitalist, anti-war conference, particularly when this nominal amount is set aside all the effort and expense going into the (doomed) London Olympics bid.

Still, it's all good publicity for the ESF, and there will be plenty more of it once the Tory press cotton on to who is being invited to speak. I was proud, just over a week ago, that amongst representatives from NGOs, protest organisations, faith groups, trade unions and non-aligned activists thrashing out the list of headline speakers for the event, there was total unanimity on the necessity of bringing Tariq Ramadan to London.

The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS), however, is less keen on the man. Quite why they chose to deny him a visa to teach at Notre Dame University has not yet been made clear to Ramadan himself, let alone the rest of us. However, Daniel Pipes, a well-known defender of academic freedom, has helpfully compiled a list of complaints: Ramadan supports terrorism, has probably met Osama Bin Laden, secretly promotes jihad... he is, in short, just the sort of person liable to inspire Catholic seminarians to charge upon the White House screaming "Death to America!"

Unfortunately, every single one of his allegations turned out to be demonstrably false; and more than just false, based often on extraordinary misreadings of the French, as shown by A Fistful of Euros. (Ramadan has also pertintently responded to refute Pipes' allegations.) Scrub "terrorist" or even "supporter of terrorists" from the list of DHS complaints.

Accusations of "antisemitism" have been made on Ramadan's part. They were thrown at him by some in France, following the wide circulation of one of Ramadan's short commentaries. MWU! deals with it well:

Which leaves the infamous email (here's the original posting in French) which his critics make sound like a wild diatribe but which was in actuality a sober and rather cerebral critique of the politics of a rival ideological faction within French policy circles. In it, Ramadan argued that a specific group of mostly Jewish intellectuals—whom he listed by name, along with his reasons for including them under this rubric—had been inconsistent in supporting the US war in Iraq after having passionately opposed the US on principle in so many other recent conflicts. Seems like pretty tame stuff, especially compared to the noxious "commentary" on Islam that one regularly encounters in the mainstream media these days—the patriotism and/or objectivity of Muslims Americans are routinely questioned in American political life today. In fact, the worst epithet that he used—and only in France can these be considered fighting words—was that these individuals—he did not generalize about all Jews—had been "communal" rather than "universal" in advocating Israel's interests in the conflict.

Ramadan has consistently opposed antisemitism, saving a particularly withering scorn for that occuring in the Muslim community. The charge, frankly, is pretty absurd; I do not agree with Ramadan's analysis, and I think he is treading a fine line with this one statement - but if set against the entirety of his public output, it is plainly daft to accuse Ramadan of anti-Jewish hatred. He denounces it in the email at the centre of the row. Interviewed by the liberal Israeli daily, Ha'aretz, Ramadan said:

"To my regret, anti-Semitic utterances have been heard not only from frustrated and confused young Muslims, but also from certain Muslim intellectuals and imams," he says, "who in every crisis or political backsliding see the hand of the `Jewish lobby.' There is nothing in Islam that gives legitimization to Judeophobia, xenophobia and the rejection of any human being because of his religion or the group to which he belongs. Anti-Semitism has no justification in Islam, the message of which demands respect for the Jewish religion and spirit, which are considered a noble expression of the People of the Book."


"Despite what is happening today in Israel and Palestine, despite [Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon's policy, despite the feelings of anger and frustration - those responsible for all the Muslim political and social organizations must open a clear dialogue that distinguishes between criticism of Israel's policy, and anti-Semitic and Judeophobic statements and actions. This is lacking today and this is a great responsibility."

Scrub, too, "antisemitism". We are left with what must be the Department for Homeland Security's trump card: Ramadan's grandad, Hasan el-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood. Here is Foaud Ajami, "the bigot's favourite native", defending Ramadan's exclusion in the Wall Street Journal (subscription needed):

The genealogy of Tariq Ramadan was fundamental to his ascendancy to power and prominence: Nasab (acquired merit through one's ancestors) is one of the pillars of Arab-Islamic society.

Devastating. The Daily Mail will have a fit.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Tweedledum and Tweedledumber: why voting Nader is vital

Lenin of the Tomb produces a point-by-point rebuttal for all those Anybody But Bush arguments that will no doubt increase in volume and passion given Kerry's steady, Kinnock-like slide to ignominy.

Not one stands up to serious scutiny. Anybody But Bush appeals to a good instinct, and uses it for a terrible end. When Michael Moore (a fervent ABB convert) is down on his knees begging Nader not to stand on a prime-time talk show, it's clear little else can be said. For what good arguments are there in favour of Kerry? I don't just apply this to the left; I mean from any position not placed in the peculiar fundamentalist Christian/old industry/neo-con bloc around the Republicans - why should anyone positively support Kerry?

Once again, a feeble Democrat campaign is relying on an subservient left to give it the semblance of life.Sadly, it doesn't work; few, in all but the most clear-cut of referenda, vote negatively. In an election where around half the voting age population are likely not to turn up (and only two-thirds of registered voters), negative campaigning - especially conducted in the half-cocked fashion conducted by the ABB gang - will have no impact. Facing a polarising candidate, a "love him or hate him" figure like Bush, few of those intending to vote will be undecided and susceptible to negative pressure. But still fewer of those habitual non-voters will bother.

As I put it elsewhere (it's lazy blogging, but hey):

Behind the Anybody But Bush argument is the assumption that those who vote for Nader would otherwise automatically vote for the Democrat. The truth is quite different. Standing in 2000 on an anti-corporate ticket, Nader was able to mobilise a mass of those disenfranchised by the two-party system, winning over 2 million votes. Exit polls suggested that under half of Nader's support came from those who would otherwise have voted Democrat. Nearly a quarter was from Republican voters, and the remainder from those who, without Nader, would not have voted at all. Only 2 percent of registered Democrats nationwide supported Nader. In the crucial Florida ballot 200,000 registered Democrats - 12 percent of Floridian Democrats - voted for Bush. Gore, after a Supreme Court ruling, lost Florida by 543 votes, and hence the presidential election. If Gore had better propped up his own support, he would have won. Nader cannot be scapegoated for the inadequacies of the Democratic Party and the injustices of the US election system. Nader did not 'steal' Democratic votes - the Democrats failed to win them.

Nader ensures that the Democrats cannot take a 'left' vote for granted. As Nader put it, 'When you are taken for granted, you are taken': by disabling itself politically, and supporting the Democrats come what may, the US left's Lesser Evilism has allowed the Democrats to tail-end the Republicans' drive to the right, which removes any serious pressure on the Republicans from the left. It has created a vicious circle, in which the sort of radical politics that could appeal to millions of US workers - of taxing the rich to fund public services, or of defending the environment - are excluded. But the need to fight for progressive politics becomes more, not less, important when the space to do so becomes constrained. Nader has been a vociferous critic of the Tweedledee and Tweedledum system of Republicans or Democrats. 'We are trying to destroy the two-party corporate system,' he said in a recent interview. 'Both parties are pro-war, pro Patriot Act; both parties are pro-WTO.' Nader also supports a public works programme to create jobs; the creation of a universal healthcare system; and the adoption of a sustainable energy policy. He has spoken firmly and courageously in support of Palestinian rights, breaching a taboo subject in a way that no Republican or Democratic politician would dare.

The left must use Nader's principled stand as the opportunity to prise open the Republicrat consensus and speak to the millions disenfranchised or disillusioned with US politics. The need for such alternative becomes all the greater when the space to create becomes more restricted.

Monday, September 06, 2004

Burnley Lib Dems and the BNP

Burnley, near Manchester, has six BNP councillors. The Labour Party there had previously formed the majority on the council, but had been forced into running a minority administration after the June local elections. This arrangement collapsed when the Liberal Democrats on Burnely staged a "coup", passing a motion of no confidence in the Labour administration that relied on BNP support. The Labour group were understandably angry, charging the Lib Dems with forming a "deeply shady alliance", which provoked this peculiar response (as reported in The Guardian):

The Lib Dem leader, Gordon Birtwistle, angrily rejected all charges of deals.

"My involvement with the BNP was nil," he said. "I made one phone call to the leader of the BNP before the council meeting out of courtesy to tell him that we were putting a motion to the council.

"The BNP voted for a motion which defeated Labour. They are a totally independent party [whose councillors] vote whichever way they wish. I don't speak to any of them."

Presumably Gordon Birtwistle means "leader of the BNP" group on Burnley council, rather than Nick Griffin; no doubt Burnley's top fascist thanked Birtwistle for his "courtesy", before courteously voting with his Nazi colleagues for the Lib Dem motion. Birtwistle, presumably, would have been aware that the BNP group held the casting votes on the council; without their support, the motion would have fallen, 21 to 18 at least. His protests here are disingenuous, and it is more than a little strange that he considers it necessary to both "courteously" inform Burnley's BNP leader of his motion and to claim he does not speak to "any" BNP councillors.

It is unclear what advantage the Lib Dems could hope to gain from this manoeuvre. They hold 11 seats on the council, and so to form a majority administration would have to rely on all other non-Labour parties: including the BNP, with whom they have publicly claimed they will not work. It is either that, or work with Labour, rendering this little stunt particularly pointless. What are they playing at?

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Shaun Brady: management stooge

One of Blair's loyal underlings, Kim Howells, and the director of a train operating company have been accused of "meddling" in the rail union, Aslef, in support of right-wing union general secretary Shaun Brady, recently dismissed from his post following a disciplinary hearing. The Guardian:

In a handwritten message to the Aslef general secretary in April, Mr Howells, the minister of state responsible for the rail industry, said he was unable to attend the union's annual conference in Scarborough but he sought an urgent chat with Mr Brady, "so that you might fill me in on the situtation re the national executive".

Potentially more damaging to Mr Brady's hope of overturning last month's dismissal after a disciplinary hearing is the disclosure that the inaugural speech he was to have delivered to the conference in June was written by a senior manager.

Kevin Maguire reports that an internal memo, marked "private and confidential", shows Brady's inaugural address as union general secretary - a twelve-page attack on the left-leaning Aslef executive committee - was drafted by Stephen Hardwick, BAA's director of public affairs. BAA operate the Heathrow Express rail link, where Aslef drivers struck last year under Brady's predecessor, Mick Rix. Historically, British unions have been fiercely defensive of their independence from employers, even if not the government; Britain has had few examples of the nakedly "yellow" unions encountered elsewhere. Outright collusion of the sort Brady appears to have practiced is comparatively rare, and - as the secrecy here indicates - not generally considered acceptable.

Shaun Brady, one of Blair's most dogged loyalists within the union movement, has shown himself time and again to be, at best, a crapulent boor, and at worst driven solely by the typically-Blairite desire to silence the left, with scant regard to his members' wishes. Brady's brawling and bullying were deeply damaging to unions' image; and now it would seem he has secretly worked hand-in-glove with Aslef's supposed opponents.

Funny peculiar it is, then

Very quickly: Readers' Digest Top 20 Funniest Britons predictably awful - would the Dead Men Left Top 20 Funniest Britons be any better? Thanks to everyone who contributed. Carefully collating the responses, adding up votes for, taking away votes against, we have :

1. Chris Morris (splendid - see this excellent fan-site, hat tip to Nick Barlow)
2. Peter Kay
3. The sell-out, Ben Elton
4. Rowan bloody Atkinson equal with Richard Herring and Stewart Lee (how? how?)
5. John sodding Cleese

...followed by a rather mixed bag of Ricky Gervais, Jimmy Carr, Mark Thomas, Eddie Izzard, "everybody in Friday/Saturday Night Armstice", Freddie Frinton, Frank Skinner, John Majoir, Alexei Sayle, Rob Newman, Peter Baynham, Jennifer Saunders, Rik Mayall, Leonard Rossiter, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, Victoria Wood, Armando Iannucci and Peter Cook.

Needless to say, I am sorely disappointed...

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Genocide and "sardonic" laughter: it's that Kamm again

To be on the "civilised left" with the tabloid journalist Olver Kamm, it would seem necessary to not only maintain a thoroughgoing authoritarianism, but to issue near-apologetics for some the foulest crimes committed by the "civilised" West since World War Two. (This is, clearly, Western "civilisation" in the Gandhian sense of being a good idea if it actually existed.) Kamm has once again been indulging himself with the far-left press, happening on an interview with Noam Chomsky in the International Socialism Review. Chomsky remarks upon a recently printed New York Times article (unavailable without a fee), in which Henry Kissinger is quoted from a telephone transcript as relaying Richard Nixon's orders on a strategy to "win" the Vietnam war:

"A massive bombing campaign in Cambodia. Anything that flies on anything that moves.''

As Chomsky points out, this is pretty unequivocal: Nixon's National Security Advisor receives a direct instruction from the President, and proceeds accordingly. The US bombing campaign in Cambodia has been estimated as having killed 600,000 people. Christopher Hitchens quotes this figure on p. 35 of his excoriating The Trial of Henry Kissinger, claiming it is "not the highest estimate". It is highlighted to draw attention to a curious silence in Kamm's post.

What Kamm does consider worth mentioning, however, is a Washington Post article covering the same story. He quotes:

After talking to Nixon, Kissinger got on the phone with [General Alexander] Haig to pass on the president's orders for "a massive bombing campaign in Cambodia," using "anything that flies on anything that moves." The transcript then records an unintelligible comment that "sounded like Haig laughing."

(Kamm's emphasis.) The Washington Post also claims Kissinger adopted a "sardonic" tone amongst his assistants when dealing with Nixon. Note that the transcript - as presented in the Washington Post - unaccountably fails to record the degree of sarcasm with which Kissinger delivered his instructions. Haig may well be "laughing" but whether enjoying a quiet chortle at the amusing foibles of his President - bombing Cambodia! as if! - or indulging a far darker sense of humour is also mysteriously unrecorded. His amusement is, by itself, hardly grounds to clear Kissinger's good name.

That was a relatively minor point. Notice, more seriously, the peculiar gap in the Washington Times quote, where "using" is inserted by the journalist between " Cambodia" and "anything that flies..." A small, but - in our context - highly significant sentence has been dropped from the transcript. This is the unedited original, quoted by Chris Floyd:

"He wants a massive bombing campaign in Cambodia. It's an order, it's to be done. Anything that flies on anything that moves."

"It's an order, it's to be done." It is, in other words, not a merry little jape. The sentence does not appear in the NYT article, but since Kamm thinks it was "written by a correspondent either ignorant or oblivious", I am inclined to see its omission as an incorrectly-marked ellipsis - especially given the Washington Post's introduction of "using" between the two main sentences. I have no reason to doubt Floyd's citation of the transcript. The middle sentence adds nothing to the argument in his piece, and were he wishing to mislead, it would be easier to simply exclude than to invent new sentences.

It would appear Kamm has, ludicrously, built his case for Kissinger's innocence of war crimes on a journalistic excision for clarity.

(A small footnote: Kamm, when accusing Chomsky of being a "Mosleyite", included a web-link to a fascist site - a shrine to Oswald Mosley and the British Union of Fascists. If Kamm insists on indulging in cheap and nasty smears, he would be as well to avoid directing his readers to filth like this. Whilst constantly spotting "fascism" where it does not exist, he seems blind to the most elementary rule of anti-fascism: no platform for the vermin.)

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Funny ha ha or funny peculiar

It being a quiet moment on my return from a place so sickeningly pretty it probably ought to be razed to the ground, goaded on by a certain impossiblist, and noting the interest it has inspired over at Chase Me Ladies..., I've (probably unwisely) decided to offer my extended opinion on the screamingly foul Reader's Digest Top Twenty Funniest Britons list. This is alongside a brilliant opportunity, a little later, for you - yes, you, dear reader - to take part in a vital bit of social research, answering the much-needed question: do my visitors here, select as they are, have better taste than the Readers' Digest subscribers? (You can imagine how this has bothered me.)

The Readers' Digest list:

1. Tommy Cooper
2. Peter Kay
3. Billy Connolly
4. Morecambe and Wise
5. Bob Monkhouse
6. Ken Dodd
7. Roy 'Chubby' Brown
8. (equal) Norman Wisdom
8. (equal) Les Dawson
10. Lee Evans
11. (equal) David Jason
11. (equal) Dawn French
13. (equal) Jim Davidson
13. (equal) Rowan Atkinson
15. Benny Hill
16. Jasper Carrott
17. Lenny Henry
18. Spike Milligan
19. John Cleese
20. (equal) Eddie Izzard
20. (equal) Freddie Starr

The gnawingly unpleasant sensation I had on glancing down these twenty-plus names was that, if I was asked to compile a list of twenty people the Readers' Digest would vote for as the funniest Britons of all time, that's almost exactly the list I would have come up with. (I'd probably have missed Roy "Chubby" Brown, but otherwise... yep, that looks about right to me.) It disturbs me greatly that people should conform so precisely to a stereotype; there is nothing on that list that it was worth asking 2,000 Readers' Digest readers to find out about. Sickening, isn't it?

And this is exactly why I'm so loathe to pass judgement. The last thing I want to do is reveal my own conformity to smart-arse lefty/spoddy student stereotypes by telling you all how great The League of Gentlemen are. (NB: I do not think they are that great. I hardly ever repeat catchphrases from their TV series, for instance.) Not, I grant you, that Dead Men Left has done much to prevent anyone reaching this conclusion, beyond the occasional plug for Iggy Pop. Still, you can see how picking even five great British comics presents a major problem.

With that in mind, and in the interests of wild iconoclasm, I will venture to suggest that BILL HICKS WOULD NOT BE ON MY LIST. Yes, yes, obviously he's not actually British, but even if he was he wouldn't be on it. BILL HICKS IS SERIOUSLY OVER-RATED. His timing was poor, he muttered, his jokes dragged on forever and a day without reaching a punchline, damn and blast it I simply refuse to join the great lefty conspiracy that says Bill Hicks was the funniest thing since Freddie Engels' star-turn on open mic at the Three Compasses. Ha! So there.

In a similar, though probably more predictable vein, John Cleese is a definite no, and Monty Python does not get him off the hook. Fawlty Towers is the most hideously over-rated television series in history; it's cheap, it's nasty, it's predictable in the extreme, I cannot stand Fawlty Towers, grrr, I could get worked up about this. It manages to take an infuriatingly predictable, turgid premise - manic hotel owner! crazy guests! domineering wife! oh, the fun - and construct something even more abysmal. (Ok, ok, it's still better than much of the crap on television; but still, by virtue of the undeserving hysteria it seems to inspire, I have nothing but the deepest contempt for Fawlty fucking Towers .) Seriously - Fawlty Towers - why? Explanations would be appreciated. A Fish Called Wanda was crap, too. Ha ha! Americans! Ha ha! Perhaps this is a slight improvement on the "Germans! ha ha!" thing F. sodding T. did to such (apparently) comic effect, but I doubt it. Crap crap crap crap crap.

(Actually, whilst we're on the subject, I cannot stand anti-American humour. It is particularly irritating when coming from the miserablist faux-Left inhabitants of a wreck of a country whose sole achievement since administering an Empire of breathtaking brutality has been to roll around like a dog being tickled every time whichever gang of crooks and madmen currently sits in the White House decide to do something dirty and unpleasant to luckless former "natives"; on ocassion, the dog has managed to savage a defenceless innocent or two at the gang's request before settling back into its snooze and deluded dreams of grandeur; of all this, a defeatist "radicalism" concocts a charmless guffaw. Is this is a damning critique? Is this internationalism? Is this funny? Don't make me laugh; and, you know what, it really doesn't. Another Budweiser, thanks, and a brief nod at The Rights of Man whilst you're at it. That said, snide remarks about Americans are not nearly as bad as the miserablist faux-Left inhabitants of this aforesaid wreck who decide to actively encourage the crooks and the madmen. Woof woof!)

John Cleese is, of course, a notorious Liberal Democrat, as is Eddie Izzard, of whom my defeatist-Blairite Old Labour (you know the sort) A-level politics tutor remarked he would like to have as a friend. From that moment on, I have scowled at Mr Izzard and all his works. There is no place in the comedic pantheon for his brand of whimsical tomfoolery.

Exclusions are easy. Inclusions? I would probably include Peter Kay. He's good. He's very good. His appearance on the list above, in fact, is suspicious. I think he was planted to make it look, y'know, contemporary. With the kids. Either that or he does the kind of cheeky northern humour thing that befuddled McCarthyite grannies delight in. Oh god. Perhaps this should tell me something.

I'd also incline towards allowing Eric Morcambe on the list. Ah, come on - the guy was a genuis. I like the cheeky northern humour thing. Spike Milligan likewise, even if he is not Northern. Or cheeky. (Or, sometimes, even funny.)

But enough of this. Your turn. Those comments boxes need a workout - I want lists of names: funniest Britons ever, in that box below. I'll compile them later.