Dead Men Left

Saturday, July 31, 2004

Kamm bamm thank you, ma'am

In attempting last week to smear Paul Foot, Oliver Kamm asserted he was a supporter of a "red fascist" organisation, the Socialist Workers Party. I dealt with Kamm's "case" to my own satisfaction elsewhere, but the following has been brought to my attention. Kamm claims that:

Regular readers of this blog may recall a long series of posts last year in which I discussed the neo-Nazi ideology of the terrorist Left associated with the Red Army Fraction in Germany in the 1960s and 1970s. Again, I mean 'neo-Nazi' literally: there are few other terms adequate to describe those who bombed a Berlin synagogue on the anniversary of Kristallnacht in 1969 in order to protest against Israeli policies, or who supported the massacre of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympic Games three years later. The principal leftist spokesman who extolled the Munich massacre, Horst Mahler, is these days a spokesman for the far-Right party National Democratic Party, which the German government recently (and unsuccessfully) tried to ban on suspicion of its being implicated in the firebombing of the homes of Turkish immigrants.

I made clear the SWP's distance from the Baader Meinhof gang, but Paul Dunne at Shamrockshire has quite rightly picked up on me for both not clarifying the nature of that disagreement, and to challenge Kamm's version of events (as it might be called). Dunne presented a devastating challenge to Kamm's peculiar history of the German radical Left some time ago, and it's well worth a read. Paul notes in his email, "Kamm's claims about the RAF e.g. that they fire-bombed a synagogue, are demonstrably false, and his persistent libelling of the dead is disgusting." Far from being murderous antisemites, as Kamm alleges, "the RAF never killed or targeted any Jews... If no-one challenges this nonsense, the risk is that it comes to be treated as 'common knowledge'. The assertion that the German ultra-left was and is 'anti-Semitic' should be exposed forwhat it is, even though you don't agree with them politically." A sentiment I share; whilst I think the RAF had fairly disastrous consequences for the German left, there's a world of difference between that disagreement and the libels that Kamm consistently offers.

On a similar theme, in an extended and rather futile exchange of views with Kamm in his comments boxes after the Paul Foot smear, he repeatedly claimed that the SWP has attempted to ban Jewish Socieites at various universities, citing Manchester in 1996 (and covertly later on) and Sunderland in 1985 as examples. I am quite certain this is nonsense; as a student in the SWP I am entirely unaware of even any hints that this should be done. However, at the do immediately following Paul Foot's funeral, I met a couple of people who were in a position to explicitly deny the allegations about Manchester. Sunderland merely drew blank looks; no-one seems to have heard of the incident cited. (Kamm later accused me of not checking. He, again, is quite wrong.) Whilst their ignorance hardly constitutes a refutation, it is hardly indicative of a consistent and long-standing party policy that we should all be so unaware of supposedly its only successful implementation. Kamm, from his previous writings on the subject, presumably thinks that to be anti-Zionist is to be necessarily antisemitic. Why, then, can he not openly state as much? Surely it would be enough to point out that the SWP has argued for boycotts of Israeli goods, or has fairly persistently campaigned for Palestinian rights, to leave it condemned? I assume it is because this case is now so discredited by the Israeli government's own actions as to be unacceptable - and so Kamm has to dress it up with a libel or two.

Two further bits: Kamm attempts an "assessment" of Paul Foot's Red Shelley. Literary criticism isn't really my thing - but then again, it doesn't seem to be Kamm's, either: Lenin (of Lenin's Tomb) tears his argument apart, coming to the not unreasonable conclusion that Kamm hasn't actually read Foot's book at all. Something that vaguely approaches being my "thing", however, is economics: Kamm chooses not to say much about Paul's statements on economics, offering instead a hasty dismissal based on Alec Nove's The Economics of Feasible Socialism and the work of Friedrich von Hayek. It may be worth returning at some point to this issue, but I'm inclined at the moment to be similarly dismissive: how, precisely, does Kamm attempt to construct an anti-planning case based on two authors who not only diametrically opposed each other in their general political conclusions, but also (critically) in their underlying methodological framework and epistemology? I'm assuming Kamm would accept the standard point about the necessity of solid (theoretically-grounded and consistent) microfoundations being put in place before such broad claims can be made about the economy, so why this eclectic mix? Without providing some suggestion as to why Hayek and Nove can be roped together in this fashion, the whole assembly looks absurd.

Kamm's claims, then, seem threadbare. No - they are ludicrous; it is only his cod-erudition (or pompous verbosity) that allows them a minimal chance at life. He is either knowingly misleading his readers, or he is grossly misinformed.

Friday, July 30, 2004

From Stepney and St. Dunstans (via, um, London Conservatives):

Oliur Rahman, Respect - 878
Jalal Uddin, Liberal Democrats - 754
Shah Habibur Rahman, Labour - 578
Alexander Patrick Story, Conservative - 445
Lynda Miller, National Front - 172

This puts Respect on 31%, a slight improvement on its Greater London Assembly polling in the ward. Labour have slipped to third having previously occupied the seat, and coming second in the Assembly elections. (This presumably has much to do with its councillor's unseemly exit from office.) The Tories, however, have slipped still further: from second place to fourth with only their generally woeful state to blame. Congratulations are due to Oli Rahman; a further by-election is due in Tower Hamlets in September, after the resignation of Labour councillor Mumtaz Samad. Samad cited the sexism she faced from her fellow councillors as driving her to quit.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Protect and survive

Cold War paranoia: it all seems a lot more fun than this new-fangled "war on terror" paranoia. Q: is this eighties classic more, or less, useless than the current YOU'RE ALL GOING TO DIE HORRIBLY government frightener leaflet?

After throwing up their hands in mock-horror or mock-surprise at those outrageous hypocrites in Respect condemning homophobia when they have Muslims involved in their organisation...

After Lindsey German's spineless refusal to condemn Yusuf al-Qaradawi's disgusting homophobia, her Respect Coalition has the chutzpah to issue this leaflet (pdf).

...those crazy funsters over at Harry's Place have now developed an entire comments thread about which right-wing laaaaydee they'd most like to shag. Phwooar, etc.

1. Lindsey German did condemn al-Qaradawi's homophobia when interviewed by Newsnight. Respect has always condemned homophobia - the leaflet was issued before al-Qaradarwi's UK visit, and the founding declaration makes our support for individual sexual choices quite clear. 

2. Schoolboy giggles all good clean fun, I'm sure... but I can't help thinking it might all have been a little bit more sensitively placed.

Stepney Green

St Dunstans and Stepney Green ward in Tower Hamlets are electing their new councillor today. Oliur Rahman is standing for Respect, having topped the Greater London Assembly poll across the borough. From the ward-by-ward breakdown, just released by London Elects, Respect received 30% of the vote in St Dunstans, comfortably ahead of Labour (on 19%), Tories, Lib Dems and the Green party. This has made canvassing an absolute doddle: people have not only heard of us, but voted for us before and will do so again. It is difficult to say across the whole ward how much of  that 30% GLA vote will transfer to this poll, but the signs are reasonably encouraging. Amongst them, local Labour MP Oona King has apparently been spotted in the constituency attempting to drum up support. If she's as good at persuading her constituents to continue voting Labour as she was at persuading them to support the invasion of Iraq, Respect should be sorted.

Dunwich: a lot further away than Dulwich, unfortuantely

Archives are such fun. They smell nice.

Aside from that, I've stupidly agreed to do the "Dunwich Dynamo" at the weekend - a hapless victim of rampant peer pressure from Mr Staines, who seems to think that cycling 120 miles overnight (9pm-9am or so) will be a merry little escapade with plenty of jolly japes along the way, rather than a grim buttock-clenching teeth-gritting sort of a horrid agonising slow death. In Suffolk. If I get that far.

Things wouldn't be quite so bad if I'd managed to do just slightly more than no training at all, but sadly I haven't, and Ed's macho tales of sweaty lycra-clad exertion did nothing to inspire me to try. It seems better to adopt a fine amatuerish approach to these things: wheel out the old boneshaker, clamp a fine briar pipe betwixt my teeth and pedal off to the Suffolk coast with a fine silk scarf a-fluttering gaily behind me. Total absence of preparation reduces the humiliation of dropping out halfway - it's not as if I was really trying, ha ha - and ensures extra kudos in the unlikely event of completion. It's this sort of attitude that built an empire and I'm damned if I'm going to spoil things with piffling "preparations". God save the queen, Britney rules the waves, hurrah hurrah. And so to bed.

(In passing, Charlotte Street appears to be onto something.)

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

The Tories, once more

In a somewhat rambling and inconsequential fashion, I mentioned breifly last week that the Tories give an appearance of near-terminal decline. Set against that, it appears that donations to the party have picked up under Michael Howard:

Donors gave more than £1.8m to the party in the first three months of the year, nearly double the figure for the first quarter of 2002.

The Tories financial concerns, principally their £2.4m deficit, stem largely from their astonishingly high operating costs - some £16m a year, compared to £6.5m for Labour. (Some tightening of belts is in order, perhaps. Cutting back on restrictive practices.) Have largely created the conditions for its emergence, they appear to be dealing with the transition to a managerial politics far less well than Labour: their attempts to build a highly centralised, rationalised party machine (with focus groups, telephone polling, and all the accoutrements), as began under William Hague and as necessary in the absence of a mass membership, seem destined to disappear in bureaucratic inefficiencies. Even with increased party donations, they are adapting themselves singularly badly to a post-Thatcher, neoliberal world. Anthony King has claimed this is simply the fault of a weak leadership; the conditions prevailing upon the Tory Party - its declining and elderly membership, its more immediate failure to advance in recent by-elections - render any strong leaderhsip almost impossible to achieve. It has been unable to deliver a clear, pragmatic message, whilst also failing to take advantage of the "repoliticisation" of conventional politics through the war on terror and the invasion of Iraq. The Tories were left meekly trailing the Labour government as a re-emergent left set the oppositional agenda. Recent attempts by Howard to cash in on Iraq have been rightly met with derision, though his relatively successful shaping of the oppostion to top-up fees (much to the left's disgust) can be counted to his credit.

The obduracy of its remaining membership has meant their exclusion from the supposedly more democratic party structures introduced by William Hague: the selection of Michael Howard as leader was stitched-up by Conservative MPs, concerned that the membership could be trusted to pick the sensible, centre-right candidate. It may be, however, that ordinary Tories have a better grasp of the situation than the Parliamentary leadership: with the party unable to significantly eat into a pragmatic, managerial centre dominated by New Labour, a clear alternative would be to annul its existence as a centre-right party block, and lurch over to greet its natural allies in UKIP. I am certain many Tories would rather have Kilroy-Silk as one of theirs - and, given the farcical proceedings of UKIP in the European Parliament, perhaps Kilroy-Silk now thinks likewise.

Monday, July 26, 2004

Duck and cover

To calm the frayed nerves of an tense populace, DML is pleased to summarise the government's advice on coping with terrorist attacks. Be afraid. Be very afraid indeed.

"If a bomb goes off in your building, look for the safest way out."

Chemical, biological or radiological incident
"Move away from the immediate source of danger."

Possible signs of terrorism
"Terrorists need...

A place to live: Are you suspicious about any tenants or guests? [Arabs! Arabs!]

To plan: Have you seen anyone pay an unusual amount of attention to security measures at any location?

Money: Individuals may set up bogus bank accounts, copy credit cards, return goods for large cash refunds.

Equipment: If you are a retailer, do you have any cause to be suspicious about anything being bought?"

Citizens: STAY IN YOUR HOMES. And no funny business.

( personal favourite was Third Way guru Anthony Giddens' suggestion, when dragged before assembled LSE students, that terrorists could blow up the pumps regulating the height of the Thames, FLOODING the whole of LONDON! THE WHOLE OF LONDON!! Crivens.)

Krugman: accounting and accountability

It's not going to win me any prizes for a quick response, but I've just run across Paul Krugman's article on Iraq's alleged reconstruction in Friday's New York Times.

Last month we learned that the United States, while it has spent vast sums on the war in Iraq, has so far provided almost no aid. Of $18.4 billion in reconstruction funds approved by Congress, only $400 million has been disbursed.

Almost all of the money spent by the Coalition Provisional Authority, which ran Iraq until late June, came from Iraqi sources, mainly oil revenues. This revelation helps explain one puzzle: the sluggish pace of reconstruction, which has yet to restore many essential services to prewar levels.

But it creates another puzzle: given that the authority was spending Iraq's money, why wasn't it more careful in its accounting?


Every important official with responsibility for Iraqi finances was a Bush administration loyalist. The occupying authority dragged its feet on an international audit, which didn't even begin until April 2004.

When KPMG auditors hired by an international advisory board finally got to work, they found that no effort had been made to keep an accurate record of oil sales, and that accounting for the $20 billion Development Fund for Iraq consisted of "spreadsheets and pivot tables maintained by a single accountant."

The auditors also faced a lack of cooperation. They were denied access to Iraqi ministries, which were reputed to be the locus of epic corruption on the part of Iraqis with connections to the occupiers. They were also denied access to reports concerning what they delicately describe as "sole-source contracts."

Translation: they were stonewalled when they tried to find out what Halliburton did with $1.4 billion.

By obstructing international auditors, by the way, the U.S. wasn't just fueling suspicion about the misappropriation of Iraqi oil money - it was also breaking its word. After Saddam's fall, the U.N. gave the U.S. the right to disburse Iraqi oil-for-food revenues, but only on the condition that this be accompanied by international auditing and oversight.


Sunday, July 25, 2004

Well, I nearly wet myself laughing. It's quite excrutiating. (Hat tip to Bob Piper, whose blog is still vastly better than Tom Watson's.)

Blair: TINA

Nick Cohen has stayed off the anti-war movement for a week or two, so I'm equally inclined to be less sniffily critical about his work: as pointed out in the comments box to an earlier posting on the Young Ones tendency, Cohen still manages to write decent and often damning pieces on the conduct of the Blair government at home. It is peculiar, however, that he is so guileless when describing its foreign policy; why should a government Cohen evidently views as repressive, indifferent to social injustice and often downright anti-democratic domestically be magically different - significantly better, even - abroad?

This does suggest a thought-experiment: try to imagine, if possible, that the Blair government had spent six years since it was elected doing everything we might expect a "good" Labour government to do: not bring about socialism, obviously, but clearly attempt to adopt a series of social-democratic, progressive reforms, along the lines of, say, the 1945 administration. (It is, admittedly, a huge imaginative leap, but bear with me.) As I said, this need not be a perfect government, merely one whose policies for its first six years had acted to definitively improve people's lives. In its seventh year, this nonexistent government went quite mad and supported George Bush's invasion of Iraq. Would that be enough to leave it condemned? Could it still count on the support (even if critical) of a principled left? I would suggest not: a government that could do such immense harm abroad would annul whatever achievements it could count on domestically. As an elementary principle of internationalism, even the most thorough-going reformist government plausibly imaginable would be irreprably tarnished by the invasion of Iraq.

The situation described is essentially the reverse of Cohen's view, and it looks somewhat odd. (Though in truth, even a "good" reformist government like Atlee's launched Britain's nuclear bomb programme, engaged itself in the Korean War, was decidedly lukewarm - until given several kicks - about colonial independence, and so on.) But I suspect that, for many of those still declaring support for the Blair administration, it is roughly how they view things: counting the miserly "achievements" of Blair as the best plausibly available - and with a somewhat wilful ignorance about the shocking facts of poverty and inequality under Blair - they can forgive and forget the Iraq war. Alas, the Iraqis have no such option: and the systematic reverses in the social-democratic consensus that Blair has effected render the notion that any "left" should still offer its support to Blair as obtuse in the extreme.

Jonas has one of those Vietnam-Iraq things going on....

...whilst Doug does something similar, commenting also on the deployment of a National Guard unit to Iraq.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Kamm: SWP obsession

(With apologies to Mark...)

Oliver Kamm affects an omnicogent tone to his postings, as especially designed to impart all thoughts therein as if developed following years of learned studies and immense intellectual effort - or, failing that, a preordained acquaintance with The Truth, before which we duly prostrate ourselves. As his website description has it, "Politics, economics and culture": like the News of the World, truly all human life is here; although Kamm's is a funny old Truth, at times, for it tells us the invasion of Iraq verily did bring peace and harmony to the world; or that verbally assaulting the wholly destitute is merely "robust" politics: but such miserable sinners as ourselves may perhaps place our trust in these, his claims, as manifestations of a higher order of Truth that remains unsullied by trifling matters of mere fact. And yet a small piece of grit in Kamm's all-seeing eye appears to have driven him quite to distraction. It is flattering, perhaps, to be regarded with such scrutiny, as the SWP have evidently managed to drag Kamm down from lofty consideration of higher matters to sullying with an organisation he chooses to label "left-wing fascists": the SWP is mysteriously at once both insignificant, and quite extraordinarily dangerous.

Take the sudden death of Paul Foot. In a flood of kind words - left, right and centre - about Paul, Kamm attempts to introduce a sour note.

I have not yet commented on the death of the journalist Paul Foot, but shall be posting in due course a review of his writings. As my conclusion is hostile, I'll leave more time to elapse before doing so...

There follows a brief suggestion that Paul's 1969 trashing of Enoch Powell, The Rise of Enoch Powell, was not entirely worthless; mysteriously, Paul's allegedly "totalitarian ideology" (his support for the SWP) at this point fails to be quite totalitarian enough, leaving a work Kamm admits is "prescient and valuable". Kamm's real concern is, of course, not with a "stylish" writer (his word), nor even with Paul's rightly lauded work on miscarriages of justice, his investigative journalism, or his personal integrity; it is with this "totalitarian ideology". His treatment of Paul is thus entirely evasive: if Kamm has already "reviewed" Paul's work, he should post his conclusions, not fling some mud, and then pretend that a concern for the deceased ("...I'll leave more time to elapse...") means he is not doing so. This, surely, is hypocrisy: either Paul Foot was a vehement and unapologetic supporter of a "totalitarian ideology" - in which case he should undoubedly be condemned outright, with no piffling "politeness" involved - or he somehow transcended his "totalitarian" ideology, in which case condemning him on those grounds is baseless. And why not condemn someone, if they support something as foul as the SWP is to Kamm? I cheerfully admit, for example, that Reagan's death would have brought a smile to my face, had it not occurred thirty years too late. Why not condemn a tireless propagandist for a "totalitarian ideology"? We shall all await Kamm's "review" with bated breath, though he has rather spoilt its ending for us. (Addendum: I've just checked - several people have commented on Kamm's post to precisely this effect. Good.)

This pettifogging hypocrisy aside, Kamm moves onto the meat of his post: that the SWP are "left-wing fascists". Naturally, the evasions involved here are quite impressively large, and depend on Kamm's authorial style to smooth over the rougher edges. The case is nonexistent. This is, I think, a fair summary of his major points:

1. Assorted politicians or organisations of the left or ex-left supported fascism at various points in the 1930s. Kamm names the Japanese Communist Party's adoption of "race and nation" doctrines and the German Communist Party's support for the Nazis in the referendum of 1931 and the 1932 transport strike. (He starts by throwing in a couple of ex-socialist French politicians, but as all decisively broke with left politics of any kind before turning to fascism, they appear to be simply making up numbers.)

2. The Baader-Meinhof gang's various terrorist acts, including firebombing a synagogue; one its leaders moved on to become a leader of the far-right National Democratic Party.

3. The SWP's invitation of Gilad Atzmon, jazz musician, to Marxism 2004, and a preceding interview.

4. Gilad Atzmon's claims about "Jewish power" and influence in the US.

Let's take these in order:

1. As I suspect Kamm well knows, the SWP stands in a broadly Trotskyist tradition, formed precisely in opposition to both the degeneration of Communist Parties abroad, and Stalinist counter-revolution within Russia. Trotsky's own criticisms of the German Communist Party at the time are well known, and have been reprinted by the SWP as guide to combatting fascism. (As Stalinism, Fascism and the United Front, available from Bookmarks.)This is not mere semantics: opposition to Stalin cost Trotskyists (and of course Trotsky himself) their lives. Kamm claims he is opposed to "totalitarianism"; I will quote from just one description of Russian Trotskyists opposition to Stalinist totalitarianism:

In the Verkhne-Uralsk prison the Bolshevik-Leninists [as the Trotskyists called themselves], to the number of 450, began a hunger strike to protest against the despotism of the local administration...

They began to feed us forcibly. Unspeakable violence was the result, the voluntarily famished men battling with the jailers. Our comrades, of course, were trounced. At the end of our strength, they crammed rubber hose down our mouths and throats. The famished men were dragged to the "feeding cell" like so many dogs. Nobody gave in. On the fifteenth day we decided to suspend the strike because the attempts at suicide were becoming too numerous...

(Victor Serge, Russia Twenty Years After, 1996: pp. 72-73)

2. The Baader-Meinhof gang - and indeed the entire strategy of individual terrorism - were explicitly criticised and rejected in the SWP's magazine, Socialist Review, as recently as April this year. (Perhaps Kamm does not find the condemnation thorough-going enough. Allow me to offer my own, as an SWP member: the Baader-Meinhof gang were absolutely bloody awful.) Again, the tradition in which the SWP stands was partly formed on the basis of opposition to such tendencies: the classic statement is Trotsky's "Terrorism and Marxism".

In both cases, Kamm attempts to make an argument by a form of elision, hoping the reader will not notice that he is comparing two types of politics to which the SWP is clearly opposed.

3+4: Atzmon's music was good. His incoherent statements about politics were by all accounts dire. Meetings at Marxism are generally taped, so I invite Kamm to listen to the contributions to his meeting and hear Atzmon clearly criticised by SWP member after SWP member - prominent members, too, like John Rose.

Once more, an explicit attack by the SWP on a particular view is ignored. Personally, I think it was a mistake to invite Atzmon to speak, simple as that, but I am glad that once there he was given a rough ride. As to the SW interview: Atzmon has conducted many others, on similar lines, many of which also note in passing his website - or are we to also condemn Jazzdimensions, Jazz CDs and Jazz Views as "antisemitic" or "left-wing fascists"? I await correction, if needed, but I doubt either charge would carry much weight; similar charges against the SWP carry still less.

All this is flimsy stuff on Kamm's part. If set against the SWP's work in combatting fascism in Britain; if set against its tradition of opposition to any kind of racism, it is clear just how weak his case is. Nick Griffin, Holocaust-denier and leader of the fascist BNP, does not now occupy a seat in Brussels because the SWP works - and has always worked - along with many others to defeat such people and their organisations, must recently in Unite Against Fascism. Beside that, Kamm's nonsense matters little.

Friday, July 23, 2004

(Readers may have noticed a turn towards the flippant of late. This is because I am now engaged in the grim process of doing what is referred to in the trade as "empirical work". It is not good. The PRO will be home for the next few weeks.)

In the meantime, found an excellent critical guide to dear old Bermondsey, run by skateboarders. Say what you like about skateboarders and their eccentric transports: they know Bermondsey only too well. ("If your wise give Bermondsey a wide berth" etc)

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Rick from the Young Ones

The Inquisitor summarises (and summarily dismisses) the main counter-arguments used by the pro-war "left" over here.

Only one question, as hinted at by my scare-quotes back there: on what grounds do we claim that Ick Cohen ( <-- that started out as a typo, but I think it's an improvement), David Aaronovitch, Oliver Kamm - especially Oliver Kamm - and the rest of Blair's media claque are in any way shape or form on the "left"? After careful thought, I can only conclude it is on similar grounds that Rick off classic UK sitcom The Young Ones was on the "left", in that he called anyone and anything he didn't like a "fascist", regardless of who or what this actually was (traffic wardens, his landlord, his hippy housemate Neil). This could then be used to justify his massive obnoxiousness to all and sundry. Cohen et al perform a similar trick - Saddam Hussein? "Fascist!" Muqtada al-Sadr? "Islamofascist!" Stop the War Coalition? "Front for fascist apologists!" Robert Fisk? "Lying fascist apologist!" George Galloway? "Fascist moustache fascist traitor fascist!" (it is quite fun, actually) - with the description bandied about so much as to lose any value: stupid, when a genuinely fascist organisation, the BNP, wins 800,000 votes in a national election.

Mind you, all this has the added advantage of allowing one to pretend to be refighting the Spanish Civil War a la Orwell when presumably just propping up bars in Farringdon/abusing anti-war petitioners in the street/whatever Kamm gets up to in his spare time/etc. Hasta la vista, baby! No patatas!

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Reading the Observer is becoming increasingly surreal. Just one example, this subheading from last Sunday's liberalathon:

Few still believe that Tony Blair lied to the Commons and to the country about Saddam Hussein's WMD...

There followed a tootling all-is-well-in-Blairland summary of the week - a plucky attempt to keep smiling through the brickbats that reminded me of, oh, Dunkirk, or perhaps Eddie "The Eagle" Edwards. Alas, the very first sentence in the subheading - let alone the main report - is undermined by the Observer's sister paper today, with a poll suggesting that 55% of the population believe Blair lied about WMDs. That's "few" as in "a majority", then. Well done, everyone. I look forward to next Sunday's dizzying installment.

Paul Foot

There are countless tributes to Paul Foot out there; all of them are far more eloquent than I can manage. One I saw on the BBC website stood out, not because it particularly concords with my own view, but simply because of its honest contrariness:

From my Conservative viewpoint, I found most of Paul Foot's views pretty barmy. It's interesting though that none of the criticisms currently being thrown at people like Michael Moore - that they 'edit' around the facts and distort to get their story - were ever really flung at Paul Foot, or at least never stuck. He was a first-class journalist who did the research and said it straight and honest as he saw it. Democracies and politicians do need that kind of scrutiny and there are too few like Paul Foot to provide it. You don't have to like someone to respect and value them.
Councillor Jeremy Kite, Dartford, Kent

I'd seen Paul at Marxism this year, as exceptional a speaker as ever,  and spoke to him very briefly afterwards. His death seems horribly sudden; a terrible loss to journalism, to the labour movement, and to all those who fight for a better world.

Decline and fall of the Tory Party

Anthony King of Essex University noted in Saturday's Telegraph that:

The Conservatives under Margaret Thatcher and during John Major's early years famously lost more than a dozen seats in by-elections yet won three general elections in a row. However, no opposition party has ever formed a government without at least holding its own in by-elections during the mid term. History and practical wisdom suggest that an opposition party that cannot win votes and seats when nothing is at stake and when voters feel free to voice their objections to an incumbent government is unlikely to fare substantially better at a general election.
By-election votes are cheap. General election votes are much more expensive.
Against that background, the real losers in Birmingham Hodge Hill and Leicester South were not Tony Blair and the Labour Party but Michael Howard and the Conservatives.

Placed in a long-term perspective, the Conservative's share of the national vote has declined in every single general election since 1955, bar two: the insignificant blip in 2001, and 1979, when a peculiar combination of long- and short-run factors swung sufficient Labour voters over to the Tories that they could win the election. This 8% direct swing was heralded at the time as the birth of "authoritarian populism", the end of the "forward march" of labour, and so on;  in practice, most of those new Conservative voters gradually leaked back into Labour or third-party support. In as much as New Labour has accepted the myth of the "Winter of Discontent", the decline of collectivist values - and, indeed, the decline of the working class, as opposed to its deep recomposition - that '79 vote has has a huge impact on the British Left.
For the Tories, however, its impact on their support seems more fleeting: the secular decline in national support continued through 1983, 1987 and 1992 general elections, where a divided opposition (most egregiously, perhaps, in 1987) allowed further election victories. More contingent factors - the Falklands war, the Lawson boom - doubtless assisted, but without doubt the Alliance/Labour divide weakened and disrupted an effective left electoral opposition. Even so, the years of the Thatcher government did little to sustain their base of support. Former council tenants exercising their "right-to-buy" became, over time, no more significantly likely to vote Conservative than those still in council housing; the benefits of the Lawson boom disappeared into the Major slump; and, whilst the massive restructuring and "deindustrialisation" of the British economy continued, the new, service-sector working class seems ill-disposed towards the Tories. All these factors help explain Blair's initial election victory, whilst the Conservative Party - burnt out, perhaps, by Thatcher's zeal - remains adrift, unable to convince the electorate it could better manage a neoliberal polity it helped assemble.
King continues:

At the general election, the Conservatives came second in four of the five seats. In the subsequent by-elections, they have won nothing and come second only once. They have contrived to finish fourth once and third three times.
Moreover, their share of the vote, far from increasing, has fallen on all five occasions. Until recently many Conservatives believed the party was on a roll.
They were right. It is. It is rolling gently backwards.
The Tory share of the vote in Birmingham Hodge Hill has fallen from a respectable 37 per cent in 1987 to less than half of that, 17.3 per cent, now.
In Leicester South, the fall in Tory support has been equally precipitous: from more than 40 per cent a generation ago to just under 20 per cent at the by-election.
The conclusion is as simple as it is inescapable.
The present Labour Government has lost the respect of a majority of voters but the Tory opposition party has not even begun to regain it. Today's Conservatives lack political heavy-hitters and the party, as a result, lacks the natural authority that it once possessed.
In an era ideologically dominated by New Labour, the Conservatives have failed, in addition, to find a distinctive voice.

King - mistakenly, I believe - attributes the Tories' woes to the absence of "heavy-hitters". That, in itself, is significant, but seems far too immediate and flimsy an explanation for the deep malaise affecting the Conservatives. Whilst much is written of the "decline" of the "traditional" working class, the end of post-war social-democratic consensus, and so on, it seems possible that alongside the Conservative's secular decline - both in proportion of votes, and in number of members (from over one million in the '50s, to less than 300,000 now) - the dramatic transformations of British society over the last twenty years have rendered it unable to function as a coherent political organisation. The musty whiff of "little old ladies cycling to communion, warm beer, and cricket on the green" still clings to  it; Major's description of Britain, unconvincing as he spoke them in the mid-1990s in an attempt to elucidate the Tories' underlying philosophy, seem almost parodic now. More speculatively, without a "traditional" working class, centred on heavy industry and often deeply parochial, and without the peculiar habits of status and deference it helped sustain throughout society, it is the Tories, not Labour, who truly flounder.

Monday, July 19, 2004

"Apathy" no more?

(More election statistics, for which I apologise; but it's vaguely interesting.) By way of a fairly casual observation, turnouts in elections appear to have taken a swing upwards, after years on the slide. Older MPs too used to the finer side of Westminster life would beat their corpulent bodies into the grave on a more regular basis than the relatively sprightly bunch currently in Parliament now manage, but the few recent Parliamentary by-elections seem to have reversed a long-standing trend. Take this report on Hilary Benn's election in June 1999:

The lowest turnout at a by-election in living memory has provided a narrow victory for Hilary Benn in the safe Labour seat of Leeds Central.

The son of veteran left-winger Tony Benn expressed disappointment at the turnout of less than 20%, as he hobbled home with a majority of only 2,293...

Leeds Central has traditionally been Labour's safest seat in the Leeds area.

Solid Labour areas have traditionally suffered from low turnouts, especially at by-elections, and Labour supporters are generally more fickle about attending polls than their Tory equivalents. But compare the Leeds Central turnout with the 38% and 42% turnouts in the similarly "safe", inner-city Labour seats of Birmingham Hodge Hill and Leicester South respectively.

Likewise, participation in the recent Euro-elections was hailed as the best ever; whilst a large chunk of this can be attributed the postal-voting experiment, it is in keeping with what appears to be a general trend. Council elections have long suffered from slumping attendance, with by-election turnouts sliding from just under 40% at Thatcher's election, to just over 30% by Blair's second government. However, although the latest figures are skewed by the coincidence of both the Euro-poll and the postal ballot experiment, the turnout in the June elections bucked this trend.

Looking more closely, we can see that whilst between 1997 and 2001, turnouts for by-elections in Labour-held seats (9 out of 17 by-elections) averaged 28.9%, with even this figure nudged upwards by above-average turnouts in seats with strong nationalist (SNP and Plaid Cymru) votes. Of the five by-elections since 2001 (all in Labour-held seats), the average turnout has been 38.32%. In only one of these seats, Ogmore in February 2002, has turnout been altered by a significant nationalist vote. In three of the five, all post-Iraq invasion, massive swings against the Labour Party were recorded.

For some time, New Labour has worried about the collapse in "democratic participation". It appears to have hit upon a novel solution: the bitterness this government has provoked is inspiring large numbers of an otherwise passive electorate to make their presence felt in the polling booth. Contrary to the elitist (if implicit) assumptions of the British political class, the dynamic element in politics is not confined to the deliberations of a fixed group of super-informed individuals, who swing uncommittedly between parties in the manner of Saturday afternoon shoppers; by-elections are now being won - or, in New Labour's case, lost - on the basis of mobilisation of the otherwise demobilised. This is perhaps one reason for confidence in Respect's future: those excluded or ignored by conventional Westminster machinations now constitute a significant block of potential support, whether they are explicitly abused, like Muslims in general, or implicitly squeezed out like other traditional Labour voters. The necessary challenges of creating a strong identity, and a clear party programme, are substantial, and there is stiff competition from the established "official" "left opposition", the Liberal Democrats; but on the basis of such elections as Respect has faced in its six month existence, there is every reason for confidence.

Friday, July 16, 2004

"Parliamentary leper"

Liam Byrne's campaign secrets revealed:

His trademark was what he called a "blitz" style of campaigning, which involved Mr Byrne sprinting from house to house throwing leaflets at the doors.

Eh? Such a shame this happy picture is spoilt by the unremitting filth Mr Byrne and his esteemed advisor, Tom Watson MP, chose to put in the leaflets. I've printed it before, but it's worth repeating. All those who believe the Labour Party to be reclaimable, take heed:

Labour is on your side—the Lib Dems are on the side of failed asylum seekers...
We have taken tough action against those who abuse the system as a cover for economic migration. While Labour were tough the Lib Dems were wimps—they tried to stop us taking away benefits from failed asylum seekers and they voted against plans to speed up deportations.

Having that, and similar, flung at your door by a perspiring Neil Kinnock lookalike is not funny.

Rats for Hitchens

An appeal has been launched by assorted bumsuckers (as Orwell would have called them) to send money to Christopher Hitchens for the purpose of  buying him drinks. Hitchens, gallant heroic chap that he is, claims he will send the money to the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (curiously overlooking, in his desire to aid the Kurds, the PKK... now there's a thing...), which does seem rather similar to pissing it up the wall. Harry Hutton believes that this towering figure in world literature deserves better, less wasteful and more suitably literary gifts.
Yes, it's Rats for Hitchens Appeal! Please, give as much as you can afford. Hitchens must have his rats.

Will say more in a minute... but am most pleased. 13% in Leicester; 6.27% in Birmingham. This from the Independent:

The success of the anti-war Lib Dems was a clear indication of the importance of Iraq to voters, as was the success of rebel MP George Galloway's Respect Party which picked up 3,724 votes in Leicester standing on the single issue.

Both there and in Hodge Hill it comfortably polled well over the 5% needed to save its deposit.

It's a bit daft to say we stood on the single-issue of the war (the headlines on the leaflets read something like, "NO: to war, privatisation... YES: to public services..."), but otherwise the assessment is reasonable, and was repeated by Andrew Marr on Radio 4 this morning. (The "single-issue" pigeonhole is, however, something we need to move out of.)
And, just so you don't think I'm too biased towards the pinkos on the Indy, here's the Torygraph's assessment:

Labour will be worried that in Leicester South the anti-war party Respect, founded by George Galloway, the former Labour MP, gained a respectable 3,724 votes...
The collapse of Labour's vote in two heartland seats will send shockwaves through its high command and add to concerns that the party is suffering from a backlash over the war and the failure to find weapons of mass destruction.

...of course, the Tories also did rather badly, being pushed from second to third place in both seats. And to think it was not three, maybe four, months ago that Michael Howard's "decisive leadership" was being hailed.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Health and safety

Transport Secretary Alastair Darling has announced relatively significant changes to the management of railways in Britain. Though they won't admit it, the government's entire railway strategy - such as it is - now appears to be a slow creep back to pre-privatisation days, though resting alongside an attempt to leave as much as possible in the hands of such delightful firms as Jarvis and Balfour Beatty. Like the political death of Tony Blair, this is a long, slow, drawn-out process, involving much frustration in Blair's case for those standing around holding spades with expectant looks; equally expectant are the unfortunate rail commuters as they wait on station platforms up and down the country for over-priced, overcrowded and embarrassingly unreliable trains - punctuality has been around 80% for the last two years.

Once the 8.53 to London Cannon Street is finally boarded, however, concerns continue to mount: there is the grim thought of recent rail disasters, for which privatisation and lack of concern rail operators display for safety have been widely blamed: explicitly so in the case of the 2002 Potters Bar crash, in which seven were killed and where Jarvis has been forced to meet victims' and their relatives' compensation claims.

It is of especial concern, then, that buried in Darling's creeping renationalisation proposals are some major changes to safety regulation on the railways. For well over one hundred years, safety on the railways has been overseen by an distinct Railway Inspectorate, incorporated since the 1970s in the stoically independent Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Darling looks set to remove these functions from the HSE into the "Office of the Rail Regulator", a body with responsibility for both safety and financial viability. As Bob Crow noted, his union

...fundamentally disagrees with the proposal to transfer responsibility for passenger safety to the ORR and away from HSE because of the economic conflicts of interest involved. There will also be the fragmentation of responsibility for safety since HSE will still be responsible for rail workers safety.

It is difficult to find any merit in a scheme that quite explicitly places financial concerns and safety issues on the same balance sheet; such a move, unfortunately, seems typical of a government that has consistently failed to take both the obvious (and popular) step of renationalisation, preferring instead to attempt to "balance" the needs of the remaining rail shareholders - principally the large banks, whose profiteering has now alarmed even this government - and rail passengers and workers.

Been attending Marxism 2004 and otherwise working furiously on a footling academic exercise (sob), so posting limited - however! The ever-reliable Jeremy at A general rant... has speedily digested and ruminated upon the best bits of the Butler report, so maybe you could read that.

In other news: by-elections tomorrow. Everything too close to call, it seems; the real story on the night should turn out to be Respect's credible showing in both seats. One hopes.

Monday, July 12, 2004

Desperation in the West Midlands

Tom Watson MP, the man in charge of Labour's filthy campaign in Hodge Hill - "smash teen gangs" and starve the immigrants - maintains an inadevertently revealing website, full of his puffed-up pronouncements about how well everything is going, Labour's opponents in disarray, triumphant forward march of Blairism continuing, etcetera, thus making him New Labour's very own Comical Ali ("Liberal Democrats? Where? We killed them all. The glorious British people and their wise leader will not submit to agression.") At first I wasn't sure if Watson wasn't conducting an elaborate, self-parodying joke of some sort...

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

...and so on, but quite evidently New Labour are absolutely serious about their reactionary populism. Indeed, lest we forget:

Labour is on your side—the Lib Dems are on the side of failed asylum seekers...

We have taken tough action against those who abuse the system as a cover for economic migration.

While Labour were tough the Lib Dems were wimps—they tried to stop us taking away benefits from failed asylum seekers and they voted against plans to speed up deportations.

Out of interest, I wonder how many "failed asylum seekers" there are in Hodge Hill. Possibly this horde - I feel sure there must be several tens of thousands - forms "teen gangs" that "hang around" the constituency, causing mischief of a nature mysteriously unspecified in Labour's election leaflets.

Aside from Watson's desire to play the race card, his website suggests a campaign (and a party) in a very sorry state indeed:

Three cabinet ministers, a dozen ministers and another dozen MPs helped our hardy band of campaigners with leafleting and canvassing.

Let that settle in. "Three cabinet ministers, a dozen ministers and another dozen MPs". Labour's majority at Hodge Hill is in the order of 11,000, and yet - in this very safe Labour seat - they must draft in members of the government to help with "leafletting and canvassing". Where are the local activists? Why is so much effort being spent by those who I thought might be concerned about, y'know, running the country and stuff? Why don't these people have a problem with the racist campaign Labour are fighting? When, in 1964, Labour lost another safe seat in the West Midlands, Smethwick, to a Tory fighting on the slogan "If you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Labour", Harold Wilson rightly described Smethwick's new MP as a "Parliamentary leper". Should Labour scrape back in at Hodge Hill, the same description would fit Liam Byrne rather well. Yet a supposedly progressive government appears to - if not actively condone - at the very least willingly support and maintain a vile form of politics. Not distancing themselves from Enoch Watson, but turning up to shove his leaflets through the doors of unfortunate Hodge Hill residents.

Everything that has occurred since June 10 has confirmed how correct and how necessary it was to establish Respect. Between a Tory-Green Party coalition in Leeds, and the bile in Hodge Hill, neither of those other contenders to radical politics - the Green Party, or those wanting to "reclaim" Labour - have put up an impressive showing; or, really, any showing at all. Fingers crossed for a catastrophic Labour defeat in Birmingham; fingers double-crossed for a decent Respect vote. I think both are on the cards.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

Blair: not resigned yet

Blair and his allies' attempts to shift the blame for the WMD fiasco onto the British intelligence services appear to be backfiring substantially, as a "senior intelligence source" is tonight set to state that MI6 retracted the claim that Saddam continued to produce WMD. Whilst the BBC may have rolled over and died in response to a few appropriate growls from a Law Lord, MI6 are a tougher bunch; and there is, of course, much experience in the "intelligence community" of kicking Labour governments in to line, as Peter Wright (then of MI5) made clear in his memoirs, Spycatcher. The Guardian reports on the Panorama show that:

...according to a senior intelligence source interviewed by BBC1's Panorama tonight, MI6 has since taken the rare step of withdrawing the intelligence assessment that underpinned the claim that Saddam had continued to produce WMD - an admission that it was fundamentally unreliable.

The charge leaves Blair open to serious questions over why, if the nature of the proof had changed, he did not tell the public that the evidence of WMD was crumbling beneath him.

"Because he's a lying toad," is my preferred - if unsophisticated - answer to that question. And never mind MI6: you don't want to fuck with the Church of England, either:

Yesterday, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, weighed into the debate, warning that Blair would be judged before God for his actions over Iraq and suggesting he would struggle with his conscience. Asked how Blair would account for himself, Williams answered: 'At the judgment seat.' For Christians, that is the point of entry either to heaven or to hell. 'When you acknowledge that you have taken a risk which has not paid off, which has cost, and that cost does not seem be justified, that's the punishment,' he added.

(Though if the C of E wasn't so bloody soft, they'd have excommunicated him by now. I blame Martin Luther.) It would also seem Blair considered resigning prior to the June elections, being begged by "Cabinet loyalists" not to go: an unusual case of rats failing to leave a sinking ship; maybe these rodents harbour the belief they are the band on the Titanic, continuing to tootle merrily as the once-unsinkable ship disappears beneath waves... but they're still rats.

The whole process is quite excrutiatingly slow and drawn-out. Whilst Tory leaders can disappear overnight, the Labour Party retain a peculiar loyalty to even leaders quite obviously dragging the party down: compare Kinnock's persistence in losing election after election, spouting gobbledegook in between times, to Thatcher's virtually overnight dismissal. Partially, I suppose Blair must retain some of the aura of 1997, but the number of immediate Parliamentary loyalists he can count on - given the number of ministerial resignations that have taken place and the numbers now prepared to vote against the government - is by this point becoming rather limited. Why else the heavy reliance on extremely junior MPs like Hilary Benn, or Miliband? The catastrophic unpopularity of the Prime Minister - and he is widely detested, perhaps even more so than Thatcher was (and is) - must also be wonderfully sharpening the minds of those MPs in the more marginal constituencies.

The question, as it has been for some time, is not "if" but "when". Critical for those opposed to the war is wether before or after the US elections; Bush's one remaining prop, just about, is Blair himself: all else can collapse around his ears, but for as long as the British PM remains Tony Blair, Bush can credibly claim some measure "international support" for his Iraq lunacy. If Blair goes, the argument to ditch Bush, too, becomes all the stronger.

Friday, July 09, 2004

"If you want to deport your neighbour, vote Labour"

More from the inestimable Liam Byrne - would-be Labour MP for Birmingham Hodge Hill, formerly of Andersen Consulting, Rothschilds, and the Social Markets Foundation - and his attempts to understand local residents' concerns:

Labour is on your side—the Lib Dems are on the side of failed asylum seekers...

We have taken tough action against those who abuse the system as a cover for economic migration.

While Labour were tough the Lib Dems were wimps—they tried to stop us taking away benefits from failed asylum seekers and they voted against plans to speed up deportations.

Thousands upon thousands of leaflets, like this one, through every door in the constituency. I quite fervently hope Labour lose; it is a huge Labour majority, and the New Labour machine is pulling out all the stops, but a defeat is on the cards for the bigot banker and his ghastly politics. (Naturally, Liam Byrne supports the invasion and occupation of Iraq.) The Lib Dems, however, seem embarrassed by their own support:

The Lib Dems have printed two election leaflets. They are identical except for the main photograph.

One of them shows Lib Dem candidate Nicola Davies and Charles Kennedy surrounded by a large mixed-race crowd.

The other shows just Davies and Kennedy. One black person who does make it into the shot has his face covered by a large caption.

The "ethnically cleansed" leaflet has apparently been distributed only to the mainly white areas of the constituency. Unpleasant, although a blip compared to New Labour's overt racism.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Greens in coalition with Tories

Why did this escape my notice until now? Having spent much of the election campaign in London targetting the "unholy alliance" of Respect, Green Party councillors in Leeds have entered into a coalition with the Tories and the Lib Dems. This from the Yorkshire Evening Post, June 19th 2004 (restricted access online):

THE LEADERS of a coalition preparing to take control of Leeds City Council have pledged to put their differences behind them.

Liberal Democrat, Conservative and Green councillors will take the reins following the end of Labour's 24-year rule.

Coun Mark Harris (Lib Dem), Coun Andrew Carter (Con) and Coun David Blackburn (Green) say they will work together to give the people of Leeds what they deserve.

Coun Harris said: "The people of Leeds have voted against Labour. They want to see change and that is what we will give them.

"The people of Leeds have asked for this change."

The three parties, which between them have 53 of the 99 seats, have agreed to form a coalition to run the authority following Labour's heavy losses in last week's local elections.

I am unsure whether this is quite breathtaking hypocrisy, or hopeless naivete. (I am inclined to hope it is the latter.) Leadership of the council will be held by Tories and Lib Dems in turn, with Greens acting to support this ridiculous arrangement; they are thus left in the position of the weaselly child who tries to hang around with the bigger boys' gang: barely tolerated, treated with contempt, and shamelessly used for unpleasant tasks when necessary.

According to Councillor Carter:

"If you look closely, the three parties have similar local policies. We will work together to change the city for the better.

We all agreed that our differences can be ironed out to make way for improvements which we can work on together."

So there you have it. "Lower than vermin," was Anuerin Bevan's preferred description of the Conservatives. Quite where this leaves those currently prepared to succour the Tories is uncertain; it is to be hoped the Leeds Green Party comes to its senses at some point. There are any number of decent and principled Green Party members - to say nothing of their voters - who it seems difficult to believe would tolerate this.

Send 'em back with New Labour

Tagging for asylum seekers. Good old David Blunkett. (Justic dug this up.)

"The government is keen to have monitoring of all asylum seekers," said a Home Office insider. "They are sending a strong message ... this is something they will have to put up with if they want to come into our country."

ASYLUM seekers in Scotland will face electronic tagging within months as part of a major security crackdown by the Home Office, The Scotsman has learned.

Reliance Monitoring Services, part of the same group as the security firm criticised for releasing prisoners in error, will take on the controversial contract, operating a six-month pilot scheme from September.

Home Office sources say that about 70 asylum seekers in Scotland will be involved in the compulsory trials, which will run alongside similar projects in England and Wales before being rolled out across the UK.

The idea was floated by the Home Secretary, David Blunkett last November, but The Scotsman understands the trial will go ahead in the autumn.

As part of the scheme, state-of-the-art equipment, including satellite tracking, will be used to enable the security forces to pinpoint the exact location of failed asylum seekers awaiting deportation.

"The government is keen to have monitoring of all asylum seekers," said a Home Office insider. "They are sending a strong message ... this is something they will have to put up with if they want to come into our country.

"Satellite tracking will also be used. Accuracy is down to inches, so we will be able to pinpoint the side of the street that someone is walking on."

The satellite equipment is the type used to monitor sex offenders on their release from prison, designed to act as a "silent witness" in crime prevention.

It is understood that the Home Office will operate three contracts in England and Wales and one in Scotland, which will ultimately cover some 18,000 asylum seekers. Last night it was unclear whether entire families, including children, would be tagged - a measure which would enrage some.

John Scott, the chairman of the Scottish Human Rights Centre, said the plans would victimise law-abiding immigrants who had committed no crime. He said: "This is completely unjustifiable unless the Home Office can prove the person will abscond. The fact that they are asylum seekers does not make them a criminal."

Opposition politicians rounded on the Scottish Executive yesterday and accused ministers of keeping the public in the dark by leaving the decision to the Home Office.

Nicola Sturgeon, the justice spokeswoman for the SNP, said: "The Scottish Executive are burying their heads over this, by not taking a stand against Westminster. They are dodging the issue. There are huge human rights issues here about restricting their liberty."

A spokesman for the Scottish Conservatives added: "The asylum system in the UK is out of control. This is another sign of the asylum crisis this government has created."

Questions will be raised about employing Reliance Monitoring Services, a company based in East Kilbride. Although it has an impeccable record on tagging, it comes from the same stable as the private security firm Reliance Custodial Services, ridiculed for "losing" prisoners during court escorts.
Clive Fairweather, the former chief inspector of Scotland’s prisons, said Reliance had a proven track record in tagging.

He said: "I suggested tagging asylum seekers two years ago; it seems a very good idea. Those who are genuine have nothing to fear. I can understand people having reservations … but Reliance has been successful in the use of electronic tagging."

Home Office staff conceded yesterday that a major public relations exercise would be needed to convince people that the action was appropriate.

"I think the chattering classes will have some problems with this, but the man in the street will accept it as a necessary measure," said an insider.

"The issue is about legitimate applications for asylum. If these people are legitimate they have nothing to fear."

The government has been forced to act against a backdrop of mounting criticism on the issue of asylum. Mr Blunkett has fiercely defended plans to introduce tagging, insisting it is cheaper than using detention centres and would mainly apply to failed asylum seekers. However, Labour dissidents have warned the government could face a major back-bench rebellion if it presses ahead with the plans.

The changes are expected to reduce the need for asylum centres, such as Dungavel in Lanarkshire and Yarl’s Wood in Bedfordshire.

A senior Scottish police officer, who chose not to be named, said illegal immigrants were moving in and out of the country at will. "I’m hopeful that tagging, used selectively, will bring some benefits. There is no control by the immigration service at the moment."

As immigration is a reserved issue, the Scottish Executive will play no part in the plans and the Home Office will oversee the entire operation. But insiders say Scottish ministers are "lukewarm" about the move.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: "The Home Office intends to pilot electronic monitoring this autumn."

The Executive said: "We are aware of their general position on tagging asylum seekers. However, this is a matter for them [the Home Office] to take forward on a UK basis."

Try logging on to this site in a Paris internet cafe and this is what happens:

Ce site web a été interdit par notre système de filtrage, en raison de son


Limite de ponderation 150 : 170 ((agree, disagree, years, sex,
explicit)+devot+ gay +homo+membership+ killed + nasty


S'il s'agit d'une erreur, nous vous invitons à contacter un animateur, qui
transmettra le problème à l'équipe technique afin de résoudre le problème
dans les plus brefs délais.

Merci de votre compréhension.

("+killed +nasty +naked"? Am I missing out on something here?)

So cheers to Jonas, late of this parish having hoofed it to pastures a-new, and with a blog all of his own, rather sweetly entitled A New Morning. Yet again, it's largely auf Deutsch (nnng) but fortunately Jonas does the English thing, too, so you might be okay with the quotes. (The Dershowitz/Finkelstein exchange made me chuckle.)

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Education, educashun, eddykshn

After briefly touching on the issue earlier, how kind of Blair to propose another set of pressures to apply to the "lowest achieving" schools. In addition to the underinvestment/league table regime, the government now intends to introduce the excitement of the market in a more direct fashion, through the creation of independent colleges, maintained by government grant. Underlying all this is the same peculiar assumption as motivates top-up fees: that by leaning on the weakest and most vulnerable part of the system improvements can be delivered. With top-up fees, it is individual students that will mysteriously deliver both increased funding and improved quality; with the "radical" education "reforms", it is individual schools - and even (via Ofsted) individual teachers - that are expected to deliver quality improvements through "competition". There will be winners and losers, or as Blair in his euphemistic manner stated:

...there will "always be schools that are good and those that are less good"...

There may be no great objection in choosing between "good" and "less good" loaves of bread, or used cars, or whatever; but we are now talking about one of the key determinants of someone's entire future. That in itself is reason enough to demand that crude competitive pressures - or, in some ways worse yet, bureaucratic simulations of crude competitive pressures - are not used to determine educational outcomes.

Elementary logic is turned on its head; whatever proclivities individual schools may have, they clearly count for very little beside the systemic biases in education funding that the government now wishes to reinforce. A recent issue of Fiscal Studies (vol 23:3, Sep 2002) made the pattern quite plain: whilst between 1960 and Thatcher's arrival, capital funding in secondary education broadly followed pupil numbers (rising with increased students, falling with decreased), Thatcher and then Major broke this pattern: funding declined whilst enrolled numbers rose, decreasing funding per student. Blair has significantly failed to reverse this trend, instead relying on the same fallacious Tory rhetoric of "choice" to gloss over pervasive underinvestment and local pools of chronic decline.

The man responsible for schools in the UK summed up the likely impact of the proposals rather well, so I leave the last word to him:

Earlier today at a hearing of a committee of MPs, the education secretary, Charles Clarke, claimed that the academies would act as "bazookas" where schools were failing.

After various gripes about the colour-scheme - too "orangey", apparently - it's all gone over to this new format. (Which'll no doubt turn out to be too "greeny". Hmph.)

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

"Social science history": messy compromise between Popperian antipositivism and synthetic historical narrative, or what? Deduction vs. induction? Who knows? It's getting right on my wick.

Space-filling link-listing, hope you don't mind:

Blood and Treasure urges you to vote for him in Prospect magazine's idiotic search for Britain's "top public intellectual". Damn right. He gets my vote.

Justic has taken a literary turn of late, inbetween the stuff about Scottish nationalism (and slagging off this site's glorious colour scheme.)

Spurious. Philosophy, innit. Probably.

Perspective. Featuring the new Apple iRaq, "10,000 volts in your pocket, innocent or guilty" (though the permalink to it isn't working). Otherwise, more Scottish politics. Hurrah!

Genosse Tabu. Guarranteed to induce a furrowed brow and a slight headache as my German is very poor indeed. Still, after much concerted effort, it all seems to be in order.

Critical Montages. Providing further evidence of my debilitating foreign language inadequacy, this site switches between English and Spanish with merry abandon. Confusion abounds. The English bits are particularly good on contemporary gender politics, the Spanish I wouldn't know about. Sob.

Cllr Bob Piper. He's a proper old Labour stylee councillor, he lives in Birmingham and his blog is far better than Tom Watson's.

...which leads nicely on to Lib Dem Watch. Bash bash bash goes the New Labour machine; they seem terribly exercised about the Lib Dem's candidate for Birmingham Hodge Hill, Nicola Davies, and her links to mobile phone companies. Surely she should be congratulated in taking the initiative to arrange her corporate ligging before entering Parliament? (Sod the lot of them and vote Respect.)

Heaven help us, it's true. Beats lying to the UN about Iraq's WMDs, I suppose.

Monday, July 05, 2004


Sitting in front of me are two leaflets, distributed by the Labour Party in the Birmingham Hodge Hill constituency. Hodge Hill is facing a by-election, the result of its MP vacating his seat to take a job in Brussels. It is regarded as a very safe Labour area; but, as happened in Brent East last year, such is the disillusion with this government amongst core Labour voters that even the safest seats can fall to opposition parties. Like Brent East, the most immediate threat to the Labour Party comes from the Liberal Democrats, who as a result receive relentless vituperation across the six A4 pages of the two Labour election flyers. Neither contains a single positive mention of anything this government may have achieved, instead focusing solely on crime and the Liberal Democrats alleged "softness" on this issue; the closest to a "positive" note is struck in earlier editions of similar leaflets which featured, in place of the Labour logo, a small cross of St George and (from memory) the words "All the way with England", in reference to the Euro 2004 contest. Later editions have dropped the George's Cross, and even Labour's red rose logo, featuring instead the slogan "On your side".

The front page of the four-side flyer poses Liam Byrne, the Labour candidate, with a large sign reading "SMASH TEEN GANGS". Byrne bears a passing resemblance to a cross between Neil Kinnock and Ian Duncan Smith, and attempts a stern grimace; inside, he is in a more playful mood, smiling lopsidedly across the page from another photo of a hooded youth clambering through a window, captioned "People have a right to feel safe and secure in their own homes". Two slogans are emblazoned at the top and bottom of the same page, reading "Reclaim the streets" and "Labour - on your side in the fight against yobs". The next page alleges that the Liberal Democrat candidate will push for more phone masts to be placed in Birmingham, given that she works for an (unspecified) mobile phone "organisation" and will back her "mobile mast bosses" ahead of Hodge Hill residents. This may be a fair point, though it comes a little strangely from the New Labour party of Lord Sainsbury, Geoffrey Robertson, Keith Vaz, Peter Mandelson, and so on. Liam Byrne himself, for all his puffed-up talk of smashing teen gangs, reclaiming the streets and fighting for "hard working families" in Hodge Hill, was (according to the Birmingham Mail) drafted into the constituency for the election, moving there only three weeks ago; so we may then assume that he, at least, is fully aware of local residents' concerns.

I spend some time on this as those outside of Hodge Hill will not have seen how serious a lurch rightwards the Labour Party has taken. The campaign manager for Hodge Hill is Tom Watson, MP for West Bromwich East, whose blog has featured a series of attacks on the Lib Dems for, amongst other things, not wanting "crack-heads and junkies to go to jail". I thought this Tebbitesque vehemence was just a peculiar aberration on Watson's part, but was corrected by a report in yesterday's Observer that claimed:

Blair and other senior Labour politicians are convinced they can make a crackdown on anti-social behaviour work for them electorally. Feed back from the doorstep during recent local elections has convinced them that anti-social behaviour is now the number one concern of the British public.

The results of making "anti-social behaviour... work for them electorally" are now plopping through letterboxes across East Birmingham. Far more forthright than the leaflet described above is the double-sided A4 sheet focusing exclusively on the Liberal Democrats, who are directly addressed by Byrne:

People of Hodge Hill deserve to know the truth about dangerous Liberal Democrat policies.

I know how concerned people of Hodge Hill, Alum Rock, Bordesley Green, Kitts Green, Stechford, Shard End and Washood Heath are about the anti-social behaviour of teen gangs and drug dealers. I want these gangs busted. I want these drug dealers put behind bars, I want the drug money of these so-called drug barons confiscated and used to make our area better.

I challenge the Liberal Democrat candidate Nicola Davies to defend policies that would make life worse for local people.

And then the shocker. Comment on what has been described so far has seemed superfluous. It is clear enough that, in the absence of anything convincing to say about what New Labour has done in seven years of government, they are running the most negative campaign possible on the basis of simple reactionary politics. But then they list the Lib Dem policies, as allegedly supported by Nicola Davies, that will "make life worst for local people": at the top, this breathtaking question:

Why does she think it right to give benefits to failed asylum seekers?

Numerous answers, from numerous angles, suggest themselves. Because leaving people to starve is deeply inhumane. Because terminating their benefits breaks human rights law. Because asylum seekers cannot now work legally, and forcing them into begging or petty crime is undesirable. It is, without doubt, a singularly stupid question, made all the more tragically absurd by the restrictions on employment and housing the government has now imposed on some of the most desperate people in our society. But what really turns the stomach is this: how - exactly how - is providing benefits to failed asylum seekers making life worse for "local people"? The pittance this costs - not least when set against, to pick a random example, the cost of wars against Iraq and Afghanistan (and where do the largest numbers of refugees come from, I wonder...?) - has no impact on "local people". Quite the reverse: the Home Office's own figures suggest recent migrants are net contributors to the Exchequer, providing £2.5bn in taxes over and above their consumption of public services: being generally younger, fitter and often well-educated relative to the domestic population, this should not be surprising.

The leaflet's logic can only work in one fashion: quite simply, the Labour Party is playing the race card. Alongside the foul, reactionary tone of the remainder of the leaflet - "Why does she think it should be easier for thugs to buy guns?", "Why does she think at least 10,000 more offenders should be allowed out of prison?" - or "prison works", as Michael Howard put it so neatly and so, alas, incorrectly - the Labour Party has settled itself on perhaps the foulest, most reactionary trick in the book. The net result is to place them considerably to the right of even the Tories' relatively moderate election material, whilst making the Liberal Democrats appear as guardians of any minimally progressive politics. Who knows? Perhaps this is sound electoral logic: the BNP are not standing in Hodge Hill, so there is possibly an untapped white racist vote; it sits ill, however, with Blair's great liberal exhortations to bring freedom and democracy to the world that pretty explicit racism is considered suitable for domestic consumption, alongside a saloon-bar authoritarianism and rhetoric more suited to Ukip than a "democratic socialist party". It is, of course, Ukip that has them panicked, but how typical that they react by merely attempting to steal their clothes; and how typical, too, that whilst we have seen authoritarianism and "moral majority" flourishes from Labour when in government before (Callaghan's "family values" homilies setting the tone), they should now arrive, New Labour-style, stripped of all positive nuances, leaving only the pared-down nihilistic soundbites: "yob free zones" and "smash the gangs". No more "tough on the causes of crime", as Blair said, pre-'97. Only shrill demands for longer sentences, more police, greater authoritarianism.

An alternative can be seen. Take "teen gangs". Leave aside the pressing issue of the presumption of innocence; the hectoring mentality of New Labour fits in well with the small-minded suspicions their leaflet plays up to: his eyes were too close together, officer; they had skateboards, so they must have been taking drugs. The "solution" offered in the propaganda is clearly flawed: police dispersals of "gangs" from "selected areas" merely push them elsewhere, whilst trampling all over civil liberties. The New Labour "solution" is entirely concerned with an alleged quick-fix and says nothing about causes. By the end of 2002, over 10,000 mainly 14-16 year olds had simply "disappeared" off the school registers. Permanent exclusions have risen by 14% since 2000, after a period in which they declined. More worryingly, "informal" and unrecorded exclusions appear also to have risen, as the twin pressures of league tables and underfunding push schools towards their own quick-fix. According to Prof Tim Brighouse of the Institute of Education, little support and few facilities and are available for those excluded; back in the days when the government appeared to be concerned about such matters, its own Social Exclusion Unit noted how permanent exclusion was significantly linked to later unemployment, homelessness or even imprisonment. Exclusions are concentrated in areas of relative deprivation, where few other public facilities are available.

This is not to offer a complete account of "teen gangs" or "anti-social behaviour", much of which (quite simply) is about perceptions rather than realities, but it is to suggest that social issues must be placed in their context if anything useful is to be done. Reducing the pressures on schools, through significant investment in front-line services and a turn away from the continuous-assessment league-table regime would be one means to tackle the problem with a hope of solving it. The Labour Party's toytown authoritarianism as offered in Hodge Hill neither addresses the causes, nor offers a realistic solution to the alleged problems of "teen gangs". Instead, those already pushed to the bottom of the heap are to be still further victimised; growing up in Blair's Britain is a grim prospect for many thousands of young people. Rather than the Labour Party's "Smash the gangs" hotlines (Birmingham 525 0918), the Respect campaign in Hodge Hill has attempted to shift the agenda back on to the real sources of social misery: the threatened closure of the Alstom factory, the woeful state of council housing (now threatened, predictably, with privatisation). The Labour Party in Birmingham has forfeited whatever claim it may have had to a social conscience; I quite sincerely hope, on the basis of the risible and offensive claptrap they have issued in lieu of a progressive campaign, that they lose this once-safe seat.

Friday, July 02, 2004

I'm off to Birmingham for the weekend so most likely no posts for a day or two.

Also at "A general rant...": Why I support the Iraqi resistance

Turns out Larry Elliot has already said much the same thing as the post below, but more eloquently. Tchoh.

Bob Crow hurrah hurrah

Funny how a successful strike simply disappears from public view. Remember the postal workers' unofficial victory last year? Days of screaming in the press about "dinosaurs" and "bullying militants", right up to the point at which Royal Mail management collapsed and rank-and-file posties scored a significant success, whereupon a peculiar silence settled. The same goes for successful threats of strike action: for days prior to the RMT's threatened national rail strike, there were dire warnings of absolute chaos on the railways, a return to the bad old days, misery for thousands - all the way up until the point when Network Rail conceded everything the RMT had been willing to strike for. The result here - the defence of pension rights - is especially important, given current mutterings from the government about increased retirement ages, the progressive erosion of the state pension - and, of course, the wave of industrial militancy seen in mainland Europe over the last year.

So here's to Bob Crow. Since becoming leader of the RMT two years ago, membership of the union has risen from 14,000 to 71,000. The strategy is old-fashioned and simple, but it works: threatening strike action, and striking where necessary, has seen rail-workers' pay increase significantly, working conditions defended and workplace rights reasserted. The rather foolish comparisons the London Evening Standard is wont to trot out before tube strikes, listing tube drivers' pay next to that for nurses, police officers, teachers and so on obviously (and presumably deliberately) miss a rather fundamental point: rail workers being less militant does not lead to nurses being paid more. There is no "wage fund". The collective employers of Britain do not gather together to distribute largesse dependent on "good behaviour". If we want lower-paid workers' conditions to improve, the best we can do is to help them organise; and how much easier that task becomes when clear examples of successful trade unionism are on offer.

Historically, the pattern has always been that the better-organised, better-paid sections of the workforce move first; and only after they have fought - and ideally won - will the weaker and lower-paid sections start to act. The explosions of low-paid anger, whether the "New Unionism" of the 1880s, the latter stages of the "Great Unrest", pre-1914, or the public sector revolts of the 1960s all emerged only after breakthroughs had been made in the stronger sections. Such a revolt is necessary once more; for whilst the British economy has grown, floating up on the back of debt-inflated property-price bubble, the spoils have not been distributed evenly, as a recent Institute of Fiscal Studies "Briefing Notes" makes plain.

After widening massively from the end of the 1970s, income inequality in Britain contracted in the recession years of the Major government, only to expand once more under New Labour. The New Deal, Working Family Tax Credits and other cunning Third Way ruses have done little to break the trend. New Labour has allowed Britain to become a more unequal society; they then wonder why such rumblings of discontent - as led to the RMT's expulsion, and the FBU's exit from the Party - can be heard amongst its erstwhile supporters. It is this political challenge that those on the left must develop, and it stands inseperable from the economic: although the old guard of Blairite unionism, the Sean Bradys and Barry Reamsbottoms of this world dourly predicted catastrophe, RMT membership has risen by another 3,000 since their expulsion from the Labour Party. This is not to argue the two are immediately linked; but it highlights what little use ordinary trade unionists consider the unions' Labour link to be. RMT branches up and down the country have backed Respect, whilst serious efforts are being made to win backing from firefighters. We have not yet broken out of the long and dismal years of defeat, but a certain militant confidence is beginning to re-emerge. Aligned with a political programme to challenge the neoliberal project, we can reforge a labour movement worthy of the name.

Back to the gutter

Hmm. I was loathe to devote more of my time - and, indeed, yours - to Nick Cohen's favourite "marxists", the misnamed "Alliance for Workers Liberty": they are vile, deceitful, and much given to liberal-racist Muslim-bashing, but fortunately tiny and largely irrelevant were it not for pro-war Cohen dragging them out to shore up his red-baiting in the national press. The AWL's response to the outstanding Respect result - the largest vote the non-Labour left has ever received in Britain - has been dealt with at (frankly rather excessive) length elsewhere on this site. But a reader sent me this snippet from their publication, the equally-misnamed "Solidarity"; it is as foul an article as the British "left" has ever produced:

Striking it rich?

The SWP claim to have broken though to “mass politics” with Respect, but observers report a notable lack of enthusiasm for Respect and George Galloway among SWP members. Now the SWP has announced it is selling the printshop which has subsidised its political work since 1968.

Not having their own press will massively increase the cost of all their publications. Crisis? If so, of growth or decline?
It’s all very déjà vu. In the mid-70s Gerry Healy’s Workers Revolutionary Party went into crisis and closed their press. In fact they were moving it to Cheshire to get away from the London print unions. At the same time they sold the organisation to Libya, Iraq and other Arab regimes as a propaganda and spying agency (on Arab dissidents and prominent Jews).

In Britain Gerry Healy, George Galloway and others have found the public support for Arab causes which the SWP now provides very lucrative. Galloway admits taking money for his political activities from Saudi Arabia, the Emirates and a Jordanian businessman linked to Iraq.

And the SWP? Will it resolve its financial problems in the, so to speak, now traditional way? I can’t really believe it.
But why not? Socialist principles? Those who ally with the clerical fascist Muslim Brotherhood and its UK front the Muslim Association of Britain, have socialist principles?

The really fatal flaw here is this: the SWP press is nearly forty years old. It is expensive to run and maintain, and increasingly uncompetitive. Not using it reduces the cost of publishing our material. Socialist Review, for instance, has now moved to full colour throughout on the basis of outsourced printing. From this fundamental flaw, the rest of the piece unravels, throwing out - as it disintegrates - a series of smears: the racist ("Arab causes... a Jordanian businessman"); the predictable slanders against Galloway (now cleared by the Charities Commission of wrongdoing in the instance cited); and the suggestion that the treacherous SWP will take to spying and espionage at the behest of foreign powers - Arabs, even, and you know what they're like. The only comparison on the "left" that springs to mind, in the far more straitened and explosive circumstances conducive to such things, is Henry Hyndman's filthily xenophobic attack during World War One on a leading Bolshevik sympathiser in Britain, entitled "Who or what is Peter Petroff?" Hyndman's article led to Petroff, acting at the time as future Soviet Consul John Maclean's right-hand man, being detained as an "undesirable alien". Score one for Hyndman's rabidly pro-imperialist (and vehemently antisemitic) "socialist" claque; presumably the AWL are aiming for something similar.

Socialist principles? If only.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Militant esthetix

Ben Watson having some sort of launch party thing this evening for his new book:

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 will be rather good.)