Dead Men Left

Monday, May 31, 2004

Polls (plus Latvians and "1.6m gypsies")

I muttered recently and obliquely about the failure of opinion polls to register much in the way of support for Respect. Their reports were wildly, wildly out of line with my experience, and what I hear from the rest of the country: last night, for example, 300 attended a Respect meeting in Tooting; all day today, stalls have been operating across London and if the reception they got was anything like the reception we received on the battle-bus, then we are manifestly having an impact. Having played a part in some Socialist Alliance election campaigns - a generally rather grim experience - with the slightest of slightest successes, the enthusiasm Respect is greeted with is simply off the scale in comparison. (I pity the few poor souls still chugging away in the "Democratic Socialist Alliance". People's Front of Judea/Judean People's Front - splitters!) This is the real "Baghdad bounce", I suppose; the invasion of Iraq has made solid all those vague resentments Blair has built up in his seven years at No 10, and turned them into a substantial social force. Campaigning for Respect just now is starting to feel something like campaigning against the war on Iraq in the build-up to Feb 15: not just polite agreement, but enthusiasm.

So why, then, the absence of this experience in the polls? The most obvious answer is that, despite appearances, Respect is not making a broad enough impact. There is a massive difference between enthusiasm on the stump, and votes turning out come election; and the numbers voting are so large that without a huge electoral machine and access to the mass media, nothing meaningful can be conveyed to them. It need not be that the message is unpopular: many potential votes will disappear through simple ignorance. Respect has been absolutely crippled by the virtual media blackout imposed, and has had to resort to extremely old-fashioned campaigning: relying on community organisations, street meetings, leafletting, and word-of-mouth. We will find out on June 10 whether this is enough to undermine the monolithic structure of the two-and-a-half party system in the barely three months of our existence. The gamble is that the networks established by the anti-war movement, alongside the breach in Labour support that the war has forced open, will be enough to deliver the 5-8% necessary to secure seats.

So it is possible that we have not created the momentum, nor allowed ourselves enough time, to inform enough of the electorate of our existence, let alone persuading them to vote for us. Galloway is a great asset, of course, since - love him or loathe him - everyone knows exactly where he stands, making establishing an identity and promoting a programme far easier; in addition, in a political climate deeply hostile to "establishment" politicians, Galloway - with his cigars, his suits, and his reputation - is clearly anything but, and this is significantly to his favour. Even so, this is a more plausible explanation than that we are failing to communicate an effective message. Aside from sneers coming out of the dustbin of history now inhabited by the fragments of what once passed for a "British left", Respect's message - we opposed the war, we oppose the occupation, we're not of the political class - is a popular one.

More to the point, however, is the flagrant abuse of opinion polls. Though presented as the very pinnacle of objective social research, they are anything but: the statistical guarantee of the central limit theorem means that except in times of significant social upheaval, in which the parameters of the system itself are in question, opinion pollsters can be quite staggeringly sloppy in their methodology, and still produce plausible results. Of course, with the likely collapsed turnout on June 10, and the disengagement from conventional politics amongst those who will vote, we are likely to discover ourselves in a situation of significant structural change. A major base of support remains for the main parties, preventing polling predictions for them straying too far awry, but predicting just how the lesser organisations will perform is likely to be open to quite significant concerns.

Take the UK Independence Party, for instance. Many will have seen the Telegraph poll, suggesting that Kilroy-Silk's happy band of nasty Little Englanders will outpace the Lib Dems come June 10. (With the exception of Nick Griffin, is there a more unpleasant public figure than Robert Kilroy-Silk in Britain at present?) A closer look soon reveals that the 18% support for UKIP is from "those most likely to vote": a hopelessly subjective category, and one that need have no correspondence to those who do actually vote in a few days time. The question on voting intentions was prefaced by a few, carefully-worded questions about Europe - just to get respondents in the moode. Another UKIP-commissioned poll, as reported in the Guardian, was even more overtly biased:

With Robert Kilroy-Silk ready to wrap up the Asian vote in the East Midlands, the Backbencher doubts that UKIP needs any help in the polls. Still, the party was sufficiently alarmed to have commissioned a poll from Mori, which shows it in first place with 35% - yes, 35% - of the vote.

Rather than just asking people how they intended to vote, UKIP took a creative approach. "At the European parliament elections the UK Independence party will be campaigning nationwide for Britain to leave the European Union and put an end to unlimited EU immigration," Mori asked that representative sample of the population that waits at home to talk to pollsters. "Assuming the UK Independence party were the only moderate party campaigning for this, which party would you vote for?"

Yes, it's a new low in opinion polling - and the Backbencher thought the industry couldn't have sunk any further in its efforts to please its clients. Now, what Robert takes "unlimited EU immigration" to mean, the Backbencher isn't quite sure. Could mean they want to come in; could mean they just want to move around. But just to avoid all possible doubt, she is prepared to put in a bid to take that Spanish second home off your hands before journalists start asking questions about it. GBP100? Do I hear GBP150?

This was sufficiently ridiculous as to be unreported outside of gossip columns, but you get the idea. Add to this the small problem that Respect is not offered as a category on polling cards - being left as "other", or requiring the respondent's own initiative - and the net worth of polls in predicting its vote collapses entirely. Opinion polls of elections in which few will vote, and many of those who do will behave "erratically" are going to be (at best) methodologically flawed, at worst open to outright abuse. We are left with nothing but hunches and anecdotes. Respect, I am certain by now, will perform credibly well on June 10. As to how well, unfortunately, I - like everyone else - have no idea.

Sunday, May 30, 2004

In somewhat typical fashion, not only have the good old Greater Manchester Police forced the cancellation of the Unite Against Fascism Unity festival in Manchester (now to be staged in Liverpool), the dear old Metropolitan Police have got in on the act, too: after they made excessive demands for security requirements, London's own Unity bash, set to descend on Finsbury Park next weekend, has been shunted to the Hammersmith Apollo. Manchester has certainly held at least one anti-racist, anti-BNP carnival before now without any bother, so the police's concerns there are frankly questionable. There are any number of free festivals, carnivals and assorted large gatherings that take place in London without having to enclose them with security fences. But wait a minute... Finsbury Park? You mean the notorious terrorist hotspot? Perhaps the nightmare scenario of a David Gray/Abu Hamza collaboration (plinky-plinky "them suicide bombers is ok, innit" plinky-plink) forced the Met to act.

Or not. Out of sight, out of mind; the Met's move significantly reduces the impact of the event as an explicit, public challenge to the fascist BNP and everything they stand for. The BNP received 3% of the London vote in 2000; they need only 5% to get elected to the London Assembly. Between a collapsing turnout and four glorious years of anti-asylum witchunting - now joined by "war on terror" Islamophobia - there is a serious prospect that one of these miserable sods will crawl onto the GLA. Still, this is a small price to pay: I am very glad that the ravening hordes of "Yardie-style"* muggers and drug-dealers who would - I do not doubt - descend upon the fair streets of north London, there to be whipped into a frenzy by the gun-culture rhythms of UK garage, will now be banished to the nether reaches of the Apollo. God bless the Metropolitan Police. I will certainly sleep safer in my bed tonight knowing that these stout defenders of law, order and white people are watching over me.

(*this euphemism is possibly the Macpherson Report's most long-lasting achievement)

Friday, May 28, 2004

Howard Davies is an anagram of Void Warheads. (Some of you will find this entertaining.)

The Blogger content-spotting advertisement (up there, at the top the page) is a reliable source of minor amusement: the last time I looked, it was plugging Save the Labour Party. The "long march through the institutions", comrades? Or more in the style of Save the Whale?

There's something more than a little odd about this Hamza business. Granted, he has highly obnoxious views; but wouldn't the fact that he shoots his mouth off so publicly - quite apart from his somewhat distinctive appearance - make him precisely the worst person to have involved in any sort of terrorist network, as the US authorities are keen to allege? But then we see that quite a chunk of their apparent evidence appears to have been obtained in Guantanamo Bay. There are solid utilitarian reasons to avoid relying upon evidence obtained through torture: victims simply tell their interrogators whatever they want to hear. If even a fraction of the abuses the released detainees allege were committed there occurred, it is difficult to place too much faith in any supposed "evidence" that was obtained.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

A thorough article by Alexander Cockburn in today's Guardian on Ahmed Chalabi. Doesn't mention the Washington context particularly, though that seems to have been decisive in Chalabi's fall from grace: the squabbling between the White House, CIA and Pentagon claiming another victim, for whom many hearts will doubtless grieve. The Guardian's front-page suggestion yesterday that the invasion of Iraq was all the fault of the Iranians was not entirely plausible; Chalabi simply supplied whatever some in Washington wanted to hear from a source they could pretend was credible. (Chalabi has bounced back before, and I don't doubt he will do the same in this latest episode.)

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Swift Q: at what should a brand-spanking new political organisation be making an impact on the opinion polls?

Other swift Q: who are all these mysterious visitors? The miserable hit-counter, an ever-ready reminder of one's total insignificance, creeps up still further. (This can be answered by cunning means of saying something in the comments boxes. It is possible I say nothing worth commenting on, of course. Bah.)

Finally, go to Lenin's Tomb because I like it and, bless him, he puts a lot of effort in there. It really is quite good, really embarrassingly quite significantly better than this.

Finally finally: first draft of first chapter finished. It's almost certainly appallingly bad, but at least the damn thing is now completed. This may, perchance, alow slightly more time to pootle about on the blog. (I know my perturbingly silent trickle of visitors will be pleased.)

Ran into this, and I know not how. Had a brief skim over proceedings, since - between furiously pummeling the keyboard in an effort to polish off first drafts before a June deadline, and thrusting Respect leaflets into the unsuspecting punters' hands - brief skimming is all I have time for, and I will admit to being not wholly impressed. Hardt and Negri's Empire has many strengths, amongst them their chapter on Lenin's Imperialism, but clarity of prose is not one of them: Negri, always inclined to vocalise a mulitiplicity of signifiers where one will do, has been supping a little too deeply from the heady brew of post-structuralism and it has affected him somewhat. Unfortunately, his ragged band of admirers have felt it necessary to join his po-mo party - real parties are probably beneath them - and indulge themselves in delirious, chaotic flights of linguistic dexterity. The net result is, of course, that whatever they do commit paper is very hard to read, particularly for those of us in a hurry.

(NB: I stress at this point that I make no great claim to clarity, particularly when I am in a hurry. But I plead incompetence, rather than deliberate intent.)

What, for example, can we make of this short piece on February 15? This was the international day of protest against the war last year, which saw over 8,000,000 marching around the world. After briefly (and typically, for the genre, stressing its significance) noting the media's fixation on anti-war protests, Erik Empson goes on to say:

"Over a million people converge on London. The majority of these people are not affiliated, nor actively engaged in 'politics'. They think Saddam Hussein is an evil dictator who should be punished, on the whole they believe that with a UN resolution the war would be just and on the whole they believe that on a demonstration it is 'best to do what the police say' because 'there must be good reason for it'. The rhetoric of this anti-war feeling draws equivalences between western sponsored terror and the crimes of the regimes it targets. It calls for the King's head. But insofar as it does that it sees itself as in the dominions of an American Lord. 'Tony' is seen as a wayward friend, local councillor turned bad or as the ombudsman destined to deliver on various money back guarantees. In Britain this is how we think of justice: as what is due."

Now, first of all, I very much doubt that the majority of those on the march would have supported the war had the UN backed it. The logic is easy enough: vast numbers - from my memory of the polls, around 70% - of the country opposed the war prior to its commencement. A smaller fraction of that huge chunk attended the demo. Those most likely to attend were therefore most likely to be those most significantly opposed to the war. They would, then, be those most likely to continue to oppose the war were it to be backed by the UN. Again, and from memory, I seem to remember a goodly minority - around 40% - at the same point in time claimed they would continue to oppose the war, were the UN to back it. This resolve was never tested, of course, so all this remains hypothetical; but I think it is fair to assume that a second resolution would have significantly diminshed the size of the anti-war movement, whilst conversely making it a far harder and more committed body.

However, our po-mo chum seems to have adopted wholesale the opinion of the media he so criticises: that those attending "weren't really" protestors, as we notice from his barbs about their attitude to the police. The majority of that march had never been on a protest before in their lives; the sheer size of the demo meant as much. Vast chunks of the Feb 15 march were filled with silent ranks of marchers, who were unsure as to whether to chant, or sing, or blow whistles, or whatever. This doesn't seem a reason to treat them with contempt, so much as to conduct an argument: the great majority of people simply do assume that the police are on "their side" in some indefinable way, and will give way to their moral authority before any coercion becomes necessary.

This is not an attitude set in stone. One of the fastest lessons that can be learned as to the purposes of the state and its police forces is when the bobbies start knocking you about a bit. Never mind The State and Revolution, a sharp crack over the head with a truncheon - and the sheer injustice of this - soon dispels fuzzy ideas about police neutrality. Our aim should be (obviously) to win this argument without that violence being necessary; but if delivered it can be a dramatic lesson.

Empson goes on to ponder as to why the police did not attack the demonstrators. In true po-mo "radical" fashion, he assumes it is because police and march organisers are playing the same game together: they really are all on the "same side", just like most of the protestors assume they are - except for those well-versed in Buadrillard and Derrida, of course, who can spot these "games" a mile off. May I discretely suggest a couple of points. It is the fact that the police weren't on "our side", that we weren't playing a game, and that the stakes were so high that the police did not dare attack the demonstration. This is assuming they had any inclination to do so; despite Empson's assertions, the police very rarely attack protests. This is one of the virtues of living in a liberal democracy, where certain democratic concessions have been won. Allowing for that, it is not implausible that the police would lay into anti-war protestors, and - when things starting getting sharper, the closer we came to war - they did so with abandon. Schoolkids in uniform dragged by their hair across roads, my tiny female friend kicked to the ground, and a particularly vicious headlock all stand out in my memory. However, to lay into a two million strong demonstration, on an emotive issue such as war, was to play for far higher stakes than we are used to: as an admission of the government's total lack of legitimacy, it would be ideal. We, the protestors, would either be cowed into submission, or so enraged that all the police in Britain could not contain us: a short, sharp lesson in capitalist rule, learned by thousands upon thousands. There was little reason, in an exceptionally stable liberal democracy like Britain, for the police to risk that.

I'll leave the final word with Empson:

"This withdrawl is crucial to understanding the enigmatic processes of transition from imperialist control regimes to the bio-political topographies of Empire. To all of those that seek to act under the appearance of the representational guise, this withdrawal is the worst possible thing. However for those of us breathing the same air as these dissenters, and opposed to the manufacture of the war from start to finish, it is something of a liberation it is a step outside of the control paradigm, it is a step outside the liberal politics of consent - whilst consituted political agencies rush to fill out the exposed but now vacated spaces- the multitude, whose activity far outreaches the boundaries of political terrain, continues to evolve its own multifarious dimensions of affective activity. No doubt the organs of detached power will continue to hurry after it and recuperate a language of consent. Let them. So long as they fear anti-political and a- political behaviour they will fail to be part of its enormous creative potential and socially manifest expressions of and desires for non-separated social being."

Well, quite.

Monday, May 24, 2004

Ben's new book is out, hurrah hurrah. He's having some sort of launch party thing:

Ben Watson

6.00pm Thursday 1 July 2004
Ray's Jazz at Foyle's
119 Charing Cross Road
London WC2


all friends - and friends of friends - of MilitantEsthetix are welcome

Ben Watson will read from the book accompanied by Simon H. Fell on bass violin.

Derek can't be there - he's in Ljubliana - but we will broadcast a message from him



(This'll be quite splendid, I'm sure.)

Quite a good week, all told. After days of badgering and stoating, finally cracked LSE Conferences and the London Civic Forum: they allowed a Respect candidate onto the hustings here to answer a few questions. After we discovered last week that all the main parties plus the Christian People's Alliance were to be allowed a platform, a few of us got the word out and were pleasantly surprised at the response. Conferences offered persistently rather awful excuses for Lindsey German's exclusion from proceedings, ranging from an outright untruth about only inviting candidates with GLA members in every constituency, to suggesting that inviting Respect meant they would also have to invite the BNP. All rather pathetic; but despite large numbers of emails from LSE staff and students, plus the occasional phone-call, they would not budge. It was only after issuing a leaflet detailling Respect's exclusion, the early departure of two candidates and meeting Conference's pig-headedness with our own that they backed down. At the very least, we created a bit of a scene, and I don't doubt we picked up a vote or two.

The CPA event on Friday was sufficiently shoved in a favourable direction as to have lost its pro-occupation sting: Kaldor kancelled, the organisers allowed a statement of protest to be read, and the hooded figure outside the Old Building with the protestors was an effective symbolic presence. The Haselock issue opened a can of worms: as one comrade here suggested, in the absence of a unified national liberation movement issuing calls to boycott occupation figures (as the ANC did with apartheid officials), we would have been acting precipitately to attempt our own boycott. As it was, Haselock obtained an LSE platform somewhat under duress: the protestors, the statement, and the hostile audience all served to undermine his attempt to speak from the "legitimate" government of Iraq. The situation illustrated the extent to which all those protesting against the occupation are necessarily taking their cue from whatever resistance emerges in Iraq: and that this occurs whether we admit it or not. This is quite reversed from pre-invasion times, when the initiative was entirely on the anti-war movement to prevent their government launching a war.

Another goody: Resolute Cynic.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Anyone out there speak Norwegian? It'd be nice to know what all this is about: (I suspect it's not too flattering.)

I dag spiste jeg noe med det tiltrekkende navnet yoghurt coated strawberry. Det smakte noe helt for ille, og årsaken kan kanskje ligge i ingrediensfortegnelsen: 13% tørket pære, 9% tørkede aprikoser, 4% sultanas (som jeg ikke husker hva heter på norsk akkurat nå). Det er riktignok 1,5% jordbærjuice i greia også, men det hjalp liksom ikke så mye. Rip off, kaller vi sånt.

Men altså: LSESWU - LSE Socialist Workers Union. Jeg er veldig fascinert av denne grupperingen. Ikke bare er de beinharde sosialister og vil helst at ingen som er uenige med dem skal få lov til å snakke og heil Lenin og hele pakka, de har også lekre slagord som "One stockbroker is one too many" og "One solution - revolution". Lederen deres er research student i økonomisk histoire (aner vi en marxistisk innfallsvinkel her?) og uvenner med alle, og alt er bare fryd og gammen. Jeg tenker dog: Det er vel strengt tatt ingen av dem som faktisk ER workers. Tatt i betraktning at de betaler en hel masse penger for å studere når over halvparten av landets befolkning ikke har høyere utdannelse, vet jeg ikke med sosialismen heller, jeg.

Dog: Et interessant skue for den som dessverre gikk glipp av AKP-ml. Lurer på om LSESWU skal selv-proletariseres eller hva det nå het snart også. Tilbake til gølvet!"

This is good: Blood & Treasure. Splendid name. Not enough nautical references on the web. Arrrr.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

The situation in India looks depressingly familiar. Whilst the Hindu chauvinist BJP was decisively rejected by the electorate, and whilst the left parties put on the best parliamentary showing since independence, the stock markets reacted with horror to Sonia Gandhi's appointment; and it is clear that powerful factions inside Congress had taken offence to her extremely watery reformist rhetoric. The news that the man who began the "reform" programme - in reality, the imposition of the Washington Consensus, neoliberalism steamrollered over the population - was to become Prime Minister led immediately to the market's recovery. Whatever Gandhi's personal reasons, the biggest winners from her abdication are those wanting to drive India ever onwards towards a non-existent neoliberal paradise, and certainly not the driven - the millions of India's poor who suffer the consequences, and who voted so decisively against them.

On a related point, the reporting of Manmohan Singh's sudden appointment has been uniformly biased. One small example: from Associated Press, via the Guardian, we learn that "Mr Singh now has the tough task of allocating ministries to Congress and its alliance partners. The list, to be vetted by Sonia Gandhi, must strike a balance between the need to make a team of able administrators and please the leftist allies." It is bad enough to counterpose the two - sensible, "able" neoliberalistas, against doubtless incompetent loony lefties - but, as the experience of West Bengal shows, it seems particularly galling to oppose the two in India's case. There are plenty enough "able administrators" out there on the left.

It is strange to see just how quickly the US/UK occupation of Iraq has fallen apart. Strange, though perhaps not wholly unpredictable. The calculation made by the neo-cons around Rumsfeld was that the absolutely decisive technological advantage the US enjoyed militarily could be used to decisively alter the political situation to their advantage. Their estimation that a conventional war could be fought to successful conclusion against a sizeable army with minimum casualties proved quite correct; likewise the calculation, in the case of Iraq, that the Hussein regime enjoyed the barest minimum of support from the population.

Though the war was not launched for this reason alone, Afghanistan acted as a convenient trial run; hence Rumsfeld's delirious suggestion that the battle for the Tora Bora caves represented a major paradigm shift in warfare, involving new technologies and tactics in combination to a produce decisive advantage. Where the calculation was absolutely adrift was in assuming that military control would translate easily into political. In practice, neither (though we hear little about it) in Afghanistan, nor in Iraq has it been possible to impose a technological fix on the political problematic. The marginally saner voices in the Pentagon prior to the war no doubt realised this, and required the "coalition of the willing" - but most of all, Britain - to reassure them that the many burdens likely to face Iraq's occupiers would not be carried by the US alone. This, despite recent revelations that Bush himself was prepared to do without the UK's support, is why the British were needed: the traditional, conservative politics of the Pentagon required coalitions and diplomatic niceties, just as they had in the First Gulf War before an agreement on the invasion could be reached. This, rather than Blair's allegedly restraining influence on Bush - a demonstrably non-existent phenomenon - or the allegedly "special" relationship Britain enjoys with the US through its President is the reason for the UK's importance. Bush and the neo-cons would have tried to invade, regardless of the UK's backing; the Pentagon would have been substantially, and probably decisively, less likely to support such a move.

Saddam fell, and fell quickly. A minority of Iraqis immediately opposed the occupation; a majority appear, after years of wars and sanctions, to have resignedly tolerated it without actively supporting the US/UK. That resignation has shifted over the last year, and the brutal application of further technological fixes - from banning newspapers, to establishing controlled media, to the torture we see in Abu Ghraib - has not prevented it turning into a clear determination to remove the US/UK occupiers. Blair is finished as a result of the Iraq war, with Labour heading for a catastrophic defeat in the June 10 elections; Bush, once apparently unshakeable, is facing his removal in November. In the longer term, as John Gray argued in yesterday's Independent, the consequences for the US are likely to be even more severe than Vietnam. There is no way forward for either occupying force now. Their only real option, much as they twist and turn, is to cut their losses and run. And when they do, not only the whole Arab world, but all those millions who opposed their war, will cheer.

Monday, May 17, 2004

Dammit, I liked Piers Morgan. He made an initially brave decision to back the anti-war movement and he was an effective spokesman for it. The man was, of course, motivated by the desire to sell newspapers and doubtless his own ego, but it paid dividends: the existence of mass circulation tabloid, positioning itself to the left of Labour had to be a welcome thing, regardless of why or how it emerged. He lost his nerve slightly after the invasion, of course, hit by the instamatic patriotism of supporting "our boys", and the Mirror never became quite the "serious tabloid" Morgan claimed he wished to run. But it regularly provided space for dissident voices in an accessible and immediate form; Morgan was sincere about his opposition to the war, and equally sincere in his criticisms of New Labour.

Morgan himself, however, is not the major issue here. His sacking - it is to his credit that he utterly refused to resign - is on a par with the disappearance of Dyke from the BBC, right down to the sickening apology the Mirror's publishers offered. A mistake seems to have been made, though Morgan is correct to say that no such case has yet been proved. But printing dodgy photographs is nothing new: remember the truly horrid snap of a baby dressed as a suicide bomber? No serious efforts were made to check its provenance, despite the equally serious doubts about its veracity, highlighted at the time. In any case, a free press should be able, in the public interest, to report sources it holds in good faith. And, as the arrest of troops from the Queen's Lancashire Regiment demonstrates, the photographs did indeed provide an illustration of the abuses taking place in Iraq.

That abuses have occurred is not denied by the army. The appearance of the photogrpahs was greeted by grim-faced generals announcing full investigations, and further revelations by squaddies. At no point has it been denied that incidents like those illustrated by the photographs occurred. The army's main bone of contention, then, has been not to claim that they are being cruelly libelled; instead, it has been to use the highly questionable accuracy of these particular photographs to launch a general attack on those criticising the behaviour of "our boys":

'Colonel David Black, a former commanding officer of the regiment, said: "It is time that the ego of one editor is measured against the life of a soldier. It is up to the readership, the board of directors and the shareholders to put pressure on to get an apology."'

No, Colonel, what truly puts British soldiers' lives at risk is their continuing use in a collapsing colonial occupation following a war no-one wanted in country that wants them to leave.

It is a disgusting, and potentially alarming, state of affairs when a supposedly "neutral" army - the very last of all the major institutions anyone would want imposing itself in political matters - is "queitly satisfied" at the sacking of newspaper editor, aided and abetted by that paper's US shareholders. We had seen the same process at the BBC after Hutton's whitewash: there, however, a supposedly "independent" judiciary provided the coup de grace. The net result, in both cases, has been to stifle journalistic independence. (It is to be hoped that rumours of Alastair Campbell's impending return to the Mirror as editor remain as rumours.) Some of the presumed principal elements of a liberal Parliamentary democracy - a free press, an independent judiciary - have taken a battering as a result of this war. The freedoms and guarrantees they provided were always highly contingent, of course; but it was rare to see them so significantly curtailed.

No newspaper editors were sacked after telling us we were "45 MINUTES FROM DESTRUCTION". John Scarlett, chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee and the man behind the dossier, has been promoted. Tony Blair, who lied to Parliament about Saddam's non-existent WMDs, remains in power. All their hoaxes - willingly delivered - have produced the terrible consequence we see in Iraq: sixteen thousands dead Iraqis and country brutally occupied. The bias is perfectly clear.

Friday, May 14, 2004

Judging from the comments boxes, I'm getting a steady trickle of visitors - one of whom wishes it to be known that his own blog Internetwork Socialism is available for your discerning pleasure.

(Hmm. If I want any sort of brand loyalty, I really will have to update this thing a little more often.)

Saturday, May 08, 2004

I was first made properly aware of Professor Mary Kaldor as a result of an anti-war meeting at LSE, some two months before the invasion of Iraq. The particular highlight of her contribution – a sort of extended hand-wringing, torn apart by both Jeremy Corbyn and Tariq Ali on the platform, and by the audience – was her pronouncement that US and UK troops massing outside of Iraq were putting “pressure on Saddam”, but the instant they crossed the arbitrary line of the Iraqi border, they would become illegal adventurers. Thus she supported the mobilisation of troops, but not their actual use. Logically, of course, they would apply even more pressure were they to actually invade, and all her supposedly anti-war arguments seemed to arrive with convenient get-out clauses. There was left little doubt in my mind – and I was far from alone in this – that, had the UN backed the invasion, so to would Kaldor. It was, then, with quite breathless anticipation I awaited her contribution to the “Global Politics after Iraq” meeting, organised courtesy of LSE Conferences and set to feature ex-Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook. Cook, a man for whom I have a certain and probably unwarranted degree of respect, failed to appear: the result, apparently, of a three-line whip in the House. Shame. It must be said that any platform on which Will Hutton makes the most radical contribution, calling for Blair’s resignation, is not one much troubled by subversion, and Kaldor’s quite shockingly poor efforts in justifying the colonial occupation of Iraq – this, by the way, in the weeks of the Fallujah siege – were unlikely to much trouble the Pope Urban of Downing Street. Both His Holiness and Saint Mary hold very closely to all sorts of grand schemes to re-order the world via cruise missiles, Kaldor choosing to label her brand of “humanitarian” imperialism “cosmopolitanism”, and so she has – as a rule – agreed on the necessity of bombing (for instance) Yugoslavia. But the “war on terror” has caused her a few troubles.

We might discern, via Kaldor and her ilk, a rapidly-emerging division in the previously happy alliance of the “tough liberals” with the US Air Force; the beautiful idea that democracy arrives with cluster bombs – Kosovo being the cited example, a humanitarian crisis turned catastrophe by the 82nd Airborne, said catastrophe then justifying further intervention – was severely challenged by Afghanistan. It was a little difficult to argue that, however unpleasant the Taliban were (and there is no doubting that they were and, such has been the success of the war, still are), turning over large chunks of the country to warlords previously best noted for establishing mass rape camps was really going to do much for women’s liberation; it was difficult to argue that the necessity of bringing justice to those behind September 11 really required both the direct civilian casualties of the campaign and the humanitarian crisis that has now unfolded in that unfortunate country. Current conservative estimates suggest that over 3,000 civilian deaths directly resulted from the intensive bombing campaign, whilst Osama bin Laden is still on the run, somewhere. Justice? Not exactly.

Perhaps what tipped the balance for the B52 liberals was the spectacle of systematic abuse being meted out to al-Qaeda and Taliban suspects at Guantanamo Bay. It is possible to pretend that, despite the rigorous application of the “Powell Doctrine” - high-level saturation bombing designed to minimise US casualties – the US government is in some way concerned to minimise civilian casualties when it “intervenes”. (The “Powell Doctrine”! Remember when Colin Powell was supposed to be, just like Blair, a “dove”, a moderating influence? How very distant it all seems now…) Smart bombs that could zoom round schools, hospitals, homes, and so on, to pick out bona fide evildoers and then doubtless sweep up their remains into a tidy pile; we know the stories: NATO told us all about their precision bombing campaign over Serbia and Kosovo, and then proceeded to damage or destroy40 industrial sites, 16 chemical refineries, 6 power plants, 190 schools, residential areas in all the principal towns, 16 hospitals and health-care centres, 1,400 civilians and one Chinese embassy. Oh, and 7 Serbian tanks. Almost forgot them. But still, we could kid ourselves that all this was an accidental by-product of an otherwise clean and efficient campaign. “Collateral damage,” as they say; certainly as Jamie Shea said as much, night after night, and for whose services to the cause of truth and accuracy we are now greatly indebted, although not as indebted as NATO.

It is exceptionally difficult to kid yourself, however, that when a government rounds up prisoners of war, declares them to be “unlawful combatants”, persistently denies and restricts their access to legal counsel; manacles their hands and feet and forcibly shaves them; blindfolds them and leaves them kneeling, hour after hour, in the baking Carribean sun; and then gleefully releases the pictures of all this to a horrified world, all the while claiming the moral high ground in the manner of a vengeful playground bully (“he hit me first,” and so on; without a trial, however, we have very few grounds to know whether anyone hit anyone else) – it is extraordinarily difficult to pretend that this government truly shares your own deep-held beliefs in human rights and international law.

Kaldor admits as much, apparently distancing herself from those even she calls the “liberal imperialists”. Cosmopolitans like her, you see, are far more morally reputable: they want armies to be more like “policemen”, because “police will lay down their lives to help others”. That stunning argument is reproduced verbatim. Now, it strikes me that in the absolute contempt the US/UK soldiers have shown for Muslims in particular and Arabs more generally, they are already acting very much like our police force, busily rounding up and incarcerating “terrorist suspects” on spurious grounds the length of the country: approximately one in ten of those detained under the new anti-terror laws are charged; fewer than one in ten of those are convicted, and then overwhelmingly for such terrifying offences as visa irregularities. Her fellow panellist, a replacement for Robin Cook from the inestimable International Relations department, managed – in a point unchallenged by anyone on stage – to at least sieve out the realpolitik in Kaldor’s vacuous pappy liberal mash, stating that as “good Europeans” we had a duty to these poor benighted Arabs of running their country. It is the traditional racist claim of imperialists the world over – the natives are just incapable, dear boy - and its imperial logic was brought out quite sharply in his opposing of “good” European military strength to “bad” US. Kaldor, on the other hand, blithely announced the UN to be all right, really, and absolutely ideal for the onerous task of shouldering the White Man’s Burden.

She was explicitly challenged as best as the somewhat elitist fashion official LSE events allow – via means of the cunningly-worded one-sentence question – on quite why Iraqis would find occupation by the organisation that killed 500,000 of their children through sanctions any more acceptable than occupation by the US/UK. Kaldor metaphorically shrugged her shoulders. The UN, she pronounced, was the best we could do. It can, on occasion and rather unfortunately, be the case that LSE audiences are to the Right of their platforms. Not this time. Kaldor in particular but essentially all the panellists received a grilling, and the response to leafleting outside, promoting a march against the occupation, was extremely good. “It’s the best we can do,” is never a great argument, especially when a more convincing one – that the Iraqis could do better than “we” ever could – is staring you in the face.

Even so, I was still slightly horrified to discover that Kaldor was now to appear on a platform with Paul Bremer’s chief censor, Stuart Haselock. Haselock is Head of Media Development and Regulation (a fine euphemism) for the Coalition Provisional Authority. He is one of the first of the new wave of colonial administrators, having ensured the natives expressed proper opinions in both Bosnia and Kosovo. He has, naturally, been sharply criticised for his heavy-handed approach. For all Kaldor’s talk of opposing the war, and supporting a multinational UN force, she seems terribly keen to provide Iraq’s half-farcical, half-brutal colonial administration with a pleasant gloss; for if we do oppose the US/UK occupation, there can be precious little worthwhile dialogue with it. Additionally, not a single Iraqi opposing the occupation, for example, is to sit alongside these two paragons of Western virtue; then again, why allow them privileges here they wouldn’t receive in their own country?

Kaldor persistently portrays herself as terribly radical. Compared to the general run of LSE academics, perhaps; but by slightly more exacting standards – such as public opinion polls, showing rising UK opposition to the occupation – this sort of thing simply does not do. If she is to retain any credibility, she should turn down the seat. Either that, or face the embarrassment of the “radical” professor forced to shout over protesting students.

Friday, May 07, 2004

Very quickly: Lindsey German, Respect candidate for mayor, has just started a blog.

Lenin's Tomb is really significantly rather good, written by someone who does that dedicated thing of posting regularly with informed and amusing comments. Now there's a thought, eh?

Jews Sans Frontieres, aside from its dreadful punning title, is also a very good, anti-Zionist website apparently written by a man in Dagenham. Ramallah, Jenin, Dagenham - the south Essex resistance is alive and well. If you hurry you'll still be in time to enter "spot the 'slaughter'" £10 prize giveaway. All the site really needs is a celebrity endorsement from Stuart Hall, and - like the great Mr Hall himself - you'll be laughing.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Voting Liberal Democrat for peace is like fucking for virginity.

'Voters should use next month's European elections to protest against the war in Iraq, the Liberal Democrats have said.

Party leader Charles Kennedy said the June 10 poll gave voters the ideal opportunity to tell Prime Minister Tony Blair that his actions had left Britain increasingly isolated in the world.'

On the face of it, I couldn't agree more. The elections should indeed be used to protest against the war. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean voting Liberal Democrat.

This would be the same party who said, once the war started, "the House of Commons voted earlier this week and we have to accept that democratic verdict ... [in] supporting our armed forces now battle is engaged." Do you see the logic? Before a war starts, that war is bad; once the war begins, that war is good. It's confusing, I know: wars that haven't happened should be opposed; wars that are actually taking place should be supported.

It gets better. The Lib Dems have done nothing to suggest that they want to "support our armed forces", troops being currently desparate to return home, by actually calling for their withdrawal. Commenting on the US's admission that it has killed 25 Iraqis in custody since September, Sir Menzies Campbell has noted:

'"These admissions simply compound the damage caused in recent days on both sides of the Atlantic by the publication of photographs apparently showing the abuse of prisoners.

"Everything done and everyone acting in the name of the coalition in Iraq is inevitably tainted.

"What is now required is total transparency if confidence is to be restored."'

"Total transparency"? Ok then, just so we can be sure, I want bona fide, government-approved, no doubts about it that-man-has-wires-taped-to-his-genitals photographs of what the coalition has been doing (and will continue to do) to the Iraqis. Faking Iraqi torture should be opposed, actually torturing Iraqis should be supported - there's a policy suggestion for you, Charlie.

Charles Kennedy supported the actions that Tony Blair took to "leave us isolated in the world." His party supported the war he wants voters to protest against. Vote Respect it is, then.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Here's interesting. The Independent despatched three journalists to the Queen's Lancashire Regiment's base town of Accrington to look into squaddies' reactions to the Mirror photos apparently showing an Iraqi man being tortured and abused by QLR soldiers. They report that talk of beatings and the maltreatment of Iraqi prisoners is commonplace - even a source of boasts:

'On the other hand, neither the Ministry of Defence nor Downing Street raised any but the most formulaic of doubts as a full-scale inquiry was launched. In Accrington, the town where the regiment implicated is based, the reaction of old soldiers, saddened by what they had seen, was that they were genuine. Some of those who heard rogue squaddies bragging in the Accrington working men's club about the treatment they had dished out to Iraqi prisoners did not like what they were listening to.

Some of the younger ones seemed to think that tales of bullying and torture were a good laugh. Veterans of the conflict in Northern Ireland and the cold war found it stomach-turning.

"I told their ringleader it was unspeakable. Absolutely out of order," said Anthony "Sam" Quinn, 35, a former grenadier guardsman who served in Northern Ireland and Berlin. He added: "They were sitting round practising their Iraqi phrases. They showed us the pictures. It caused big trouble. One of them said: 'Don't get them out in here.'" '

Other reports suggest that "trophy" photographs - like the ones the Mirror printed - are in wide circulation amongst troops. To suppose, with those "sources close to the Queen's Lancashire Regiment" that the photos are faked, we are presented with the enormous (and presumably unaswerable) question as to who forged the horrible scenes, and for what purpose. Any answer, any answer at all, would seem to hinge upon such a vast conspiracy that it appears almost immediately beyond credibility. Certainly, none of the suggested "discrepancies" seem overwhelming: as if, for instance, troops about to beat and abuse a prisoner would be fussy about their headgear, or their bootlaces. We might also wonder why the photographs were not immediately dismissed by the senior army figures dragged out on Friday evening; or why the army has now seen fit to mount a thorough investigation of the QLR.

Perhaps not. Perhaps the "suspiciously shiny" gun-barrels and untucked trousers add up to a sinister plot to discredit UK troops. However, even if the Mirro photos are faked, there would certainly appear to be both pictures - genuine pictures, we might assume - circulating amongst at least some UK troops, and there are more than enough reports from Iraqis (if anyone bothers to ask) about systematic torture and abuses by coalition forces to merit an extremely significant concern. But it is utterly, tragically predictable; abuse and degradation are the meat-and-drink of colonial occupations. The record of the British in India, or the French in Algeria, or the US in Vietnam - they all have their own miserable tales.

In each case, the colonialists were thrown out. And in Iraq, the simplest, most obvious - and probably the only plausible - solution is to remove coalition troops. By all accounts, the "coalition" is steadily removing itself: the Ukranians, for example, being the most recent in refusing to leave their barracks. Iraq should be for the Iraqis, and governed by the Iraqis.

Sunday, May 02, 2004

Bloody hell, visitors. They left comments and everything. I feel a pressing sense of responsibility to keep the site reasonably updated.

This made me snigger inappropriately, from Eschatological Imperatives. I have no idea who or what this man is; I don't know any of the people he regularly refers to; I have very little idea of what is going on in his blog. Hurrah! Confusion abounds!

"3) Yesterday I read in the papers that the police had, ever-so-cleverly, arrested the UK's biggest crack-cocaine dealer. Apparently this palpable menace to society had been operating a reign of terror for the last few years, a region of terror characterised particularly by never, ever using violence and paying all his employees very well for doing a good and efficient job.
I mean, really, WHAT THE BLEEDING FUCK? How many things can be simultaneously wrong with one decision? This guy seems to have been pretty much the only peaceful, harmless drug dealer in the history of western civilisation, supplying millions and millions of pounds worth of crack cocaine to his customers without shooting anyone or indulging in the usual excesses of brutally murderous gang warfare. So he gets locked up for it.

The police have since reported a marginal decrease in the availaibility of crack cocaine. Great. As William Burroughs (a self-confessed junky) wrote in Naked Lunch and I never tire of quoting, criminalising the supply rather than the demand can *never have any effect at all* except temporary fluctuations in price. That's it. Elementary, arithmetically irrefutable economics. So the police have achieved a price increase through the temporary interruption in the supply of a commodity, presumably sparked off what will transpire to be a series of ruthlessly violent turf wars in which innocent bystanders will almost certainly be hurt, and locked up a guy who was just running a business. Cunts. Not just cunts; stupid, pointless, self-defeating cunts making work for themselves at no benefit to anyone. I hope only the police get shot at in the ensuiing chaos, and whichever cretin arrested the guy in the first place loses, oh, his nose or something equally comic..."

Saturday, May 01, 2004

Ok, continuing the general theme of trying to get the software to work before posting anything more recent/worthwhile, here's something I bashed out for publication elsewhere shortly after the Madrid attacks:

As the awful Madrid bombings made clear, the “war on terror” must now rank as possibly the greatest policy failure in recent history. The Spanish people delivered it a clear verdict in their election, and it is not hard to see why. Civilian deaths from the military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq are conservatively estimated to be in the region of 12,000. Beyond the confines of Kabul, Afghanistan has lost even the semblance of civil order, with a re-emergent Taliban, conflict between forces in the Northern Alliance, and al-Qa’ida scattered along the border with Pakistan. As an Amnesty International report from October last year details, abuses of women’s rights persist on a huge scale. In Iraq, the tragedies of the occupation continue daily: the violence and the bloodshed, with more US soldiers killed since the war supposedly ended than prior to it and Iraqi civilians drawn into the cross-fire. “Stability” and a “functioning democracy” seem a very long way off, though this has not prevented US corporations enacting an enormous carve-up of Iraq’s vast natural resources. Iraq’s fabled weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) remain just that – fables, with all the senior weapons inspectors, from Scott Ritter through Hans Blix to David Kay, admitting they will never be found for the simple reason that they did not and do not exist. Gross human rights abuses take place in Guantanamo Bay, where former detainees allege torture was routine, and prisoners continue to be denied legal advice or even the promise of a fair trial. Racism has been fuelled, with verbal and physical assaults on Muslims in UK, for example, hugely increasing alongside clear evidence of the racist abuse of “anti-terror” measures by the police.

The “war on terror” has imposed huge costs. It has produced one definite benefit in the overthrow and capture of Saddam Hussein. Donald Rumsfeld guessed right: although UN sanctions and prior US policy implicitly supposed a substantial base of support for Saddam within Iraq, Rumsfeld and his planners, in changing US policy, clearly thought otherwise – that sanctions were failing precisely because they provided the Hussein regime with a passive base of support where none would otherwise exist. This support melted away as soon as the US/UK invasion was launched. Where they guessed wrong was in assuming the UN inspections regime also failed. It would appear rather to have been highly successful in permanently removing Iraq’s WMD capability. Saddam was left as a threat to his own people, but few others. Both Bush and Blair governments have attempted to draw a link between Saddam and Al-Qa’ida: even glossing over the hatred al-Qa’ida had for the secular government of Iraq, without WMDs Saddam had little to offer, and no reason to offer even that. Pre-invasion, the supposed connection between Iraq and al-Qa’ida was only marginally more plausible than that suggested between al-Qa’ida and Eta: post-invasion, al-Qaida – if occupation authorities are to be believed – now has a firm base in Iraq. The “war on terror” has created a connection where none existed, and its consequences reach far beyond the Middle East. As is becoming clear from investigations into the Madrid bombing, al-Qa’ida now has a base in Europe with the political motivation to act.

Aznar’s desperate lies about responsibility for the Madrid bombing did not cover for the catastrophic failings of the “war in terror”. From the knee-jerk bombing of Afghanistan to the invasion of Iraq last year, it has become increasingly clear to many that this “war” has been less designed to “combat terrorism” than as an attempt to extend US power, with precious little regard to the consequences. Donald Rumsfeld, sitting in the Pentagon on 13 September 2001, penned a memo suggesting Iraq should be attacked; the softer target of Afghanistan was settled upon, and a quick victory secured prior to last year’s fully-fledged invasion. More than just oil, Iraq offered an opportunity for the US to utilise its overwhelming military superiority to – as the neo-conservatives put it – decisively “re-order” the Middle East in Washington’s favour. Whilst Clinton had failed to effectively exercise the US’ unique post-Cold War military advantages, the opportunity now existed to make good on those wasted years, securing a “new American century”, as the influential think-tank and pressure group, the Project for a New American Century, announces. Commitments to both “establishing democracy” and “combating terrorism” are a secondary matter to the considerations of geopolitics and, more bluntly, the corporate bottom line: a new century with old-fashioned imperialism. Ordinary citizens in the US, as in the rest of the world, have little to gain from this and plenty to lose.

Spain has now suffered what Chalmers Johnson described as “blowback” from foreign policy decisions: dragging the Spanish people into a bitterly unpopular war, Aznar left them to its appalling consequences. Their response was to hold Aznar and his government responsible; that reinforcing the inequities of the world, as the “war on terror” demands, killing the poor and the weak in the interests of the very strongest, are no way to secure peace, still less to enact justice and merely provide the political space in which terrorism can operate. The political reverberations of that war have been felt in the US, too: indirectly through the Congressional hearings on 9/11, more directly through the clear popularity of appeals to anti-war sentiment in the Presidential race, and the very large, almost unreported demonstrations against the war.

Britain, too, has seen huge political consequences post-invasion. As the cautionary adverts on the tube make clear, few will now claim the country has been made safer. The recent round of arrests must be treated with caution: fewer than one in ten arrested under “anti-terror” laws are charged, and few than one in ten of them are convicted. Hysteria prevails on immigration policy, reinforced by the supposed necessity of controls to “combat terrorism”. However, the war has proved deeply polarising; although the Right maintain a hold on Parliament, New Labour ministers vying with Conservatives to beat the “anti-terror” drum the loudest, a clear extra-parliamentary opposition has emerged.

It proves difficult, even for the extraordinarily stable liberal democracy in Britain, to contain a mass movement on the scale we saw, from the two million demonstrators on February 15th to the school student strikes. In an issue of the Script this time I last year, I wrote that the anti-war movement had forced a breach in the solid walls of British politics: growing out from six years of bubbling discontent with New Labour, it had created the opportunity to build a credible Left alternative to the Labour Party perhaps for the first time in eighty years. Since then, we have seen the domestic fall-out from the invasion of Iraq: the death of Dr Kelly, the subsequent Hutton Report and its whitewash conclusions; the Brent East by-election, a safe Labour seat won by a Liberal Democrat apparently opposing the war; the suspension of the anti-war MP, George Galloway, from the Labour Party; the farcical Butler Inquiry into Britain’s WMD intelligence from which even the Conservatives have withdrawn their support.

The anti-war movement has weakened the Blair government perhaps beyond rescue: Blair scraped his theoretically huge Parliamentary majority through the vote on top-up fees, some Labour MPs utilising the independence they found prior to the war. Blair is a man visibly clinging on to power, propped up only by the almost innate cowardice of most Labour MPs and presiding over a party whose active base of support is in a state of collapse. All the bitterness New Labour had built up - through privatisation, attacks on the welfare state, assaults on civil liberties and all the rest - burst through in the anti-war movement, corroding Labour’s base of support to a remarkable extent.

The potential this corrosion has released is starting to coalesce around Respect: the Unity Coalition. Launched at 1,000 strong convention in London in February, Respect is the initiative of a group of anti-war campaigners, most prominently George Galloway, but drawing in others from a variety of backgrounds: a common platform on opposition to imperialist wars, attacks on asylum seekers, privatisation; and support for redistribution, environmental protection, Palestine – agreed to by progressive Muslims, peace campaigners, green activists and others alongside the organised socialist Left. It represents a realignment of the Left, comparable to initiatives taking place in France, under the joint LO/LCR bloc, in Italy through Rifondazione Communista, and in Germany with the recent launch of an organised Left opposition to Schroder. All are basing themselves on a similar discontent with traditional social-democratic parties; Respect is different, both in challenging a far stronger social-democratic organisation and in forming on a strongly anti-imperialist basis.

Elections under PR – a rarity in Britain – are to be held for the European Parliament and the Greater London Assembly in June. Both present themselves as a critical test for the Left: either a substantial minority are broken away from the Labour Party in the polling booth, or the Left must seriously reassess its strategy. The potential for a breakthrough against a Labour government that has so dramatically failed its supporters is there, but realising that potential is a further challenge. Whilst the British Left has all too often squandered its potential, the scale of opposition to Blair and the determination of Respect’s supporters suggest this occasion may be different.