Dead Men Left

Friday, December 31, 2004

Back, sort of. The dire state of the internet connection here - combined with that vague end of the year fatalism - stop me wanting to say much. Only the dramatic slump in the hit-counter whilst I was away has led me back to the keyboard prematurely; it's every blogger's most shameful vice, a quick-fix ego-boost and a reinforcement of the incessant narcissism that presumably drives all this. New Year's Eve: a fine time for cyncism.

Particularly given the terrible events in recent days - or rather, particularly given the miserliness of rich Western governments compared to the scale of the disaster in Asia. Kotaji's highly-recommended blog picks out a few links that will do little to brighten your view of the Third Way and "making poverty history".

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Lenin has drawn attention to an excellent at article on Gary Webb at at Critical Montages, which could be read alongside his own post, or some more background on the story at Direland.

And with that, away. Zoom zoom. (Happy holidays and all that.)

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Yasser Arafat and sound financial advice

Oh, but I couldn't resist this:

Arafat's extraordinary financial mismanagement extended beyond personal corruption... It appears that donor money intended for services and infrastructure in the Palestinian Authority was devoted also to speculative schemes divorced from both Palestinian interests and the principles of efficient investment management. Through the incompetence and profligacy of an unaccountable leader, the Palestinian Authority lost millions of dollars by taking large and illiquid positions in software and telecommunications companies in the late 1990s...

Here's the same Oliver Kamm dispelling a few "superstitions" about investments in, erm, software and telecommunications companies in the late 1990s:

"The Internet share price 'bubble' shows the irrational, speculative nature of the market"

All stocks are priced according to the market's estimates of their future earnings. We don't have reliable knowledge of what the earnings of, say, ICI will be. But we do know what ICI's earnings have been in the past and can make a reasonable estimate of the likely range of possible future outcomes.

Internet stocks have no historic earnings. Information about their future earnings is minimal. That is why their stock prices are so volatile.

But we do know that the Internet has huge growth potential. Those Internet companies that survive the next five years are likely to have achieved a commanding position - perhaps as dominant as the one Microsoft has built in computer software.

We don't know which these companies will be. But there is nothing irrational about paying an apparently high price for a company that might be a new Microsoft.

It being the season of goodwill and all, I grant you that Arafat's investments do not look amongst the wisest. But hindsight is a wonderful thing.

Off Up North for a week or so. No posts 'til New Year. There's always B3TA.

"A climate of responsibility": a reply

My post on New Labour's failure to meet its greenhouse gas emission targets attracted a couple of responses, from DoDo and Third Avenue. Very briefly, I suggested that a large part of its failure was due to the collapse of its earlier, more radical promises to tackle car use: instead of promoting environmentally-sustainable transport, the government had caved into the roads lobby. However, Third Avenue, advocating ethical consumerism over "blaming the government", points out that:

Government itself does not go about producing all these emissions. Much of it comes from the activities of people like you and me. We drive our cars, we heat our homes, we consume and consume and consume. We create and work for businesses that do likewise. Does it not therefore follow that the responsibility for this failed manifesto commitment is as much ours as it is Blair's? Or is Blair's failure really his inability to nanny us into behaving in ways that we know are right but which we are too weak to adopt without his assistance?

If we really want to tackle pollution, we cannot leave it solely or even mainly to governments. Governments, while always having a key role to play, will always be too scared to push us hard enough - to push us to reduce the perceived quality of our lives for the sake of the greater good. We must do this ourselves willingly. Until we recognise this fact, I fear that blaming governments is merely a way of appeasing our own guilty consciences.

Ethical consumerism is easy when we are all well-informed. Unfortunately, the market acts to keep us stupid. To use a car, I pay for the car itself plus whatever petrol I need. I don't, however, pay for the congestion I cause, the pollution I generate, and the increased probability of road accidents I contribute. I don't meet the full cost of my own car use - which would include the costs I inflict on others. Governments have intervened here before: compulsory insurance, road and petrol taxes, plus (in London) the congestion charge go some way to redress this balance. But the gap remains large. I, like everyone else, am left with a major incentive to over-use my car. The market, left by itself, rewards non-ethical consumption. Our incentives to do otherwise are distorted, whatver our wider concerns may be. The case for some outside intervention is clear.

But how do we close this gap between "private" and "public" costs? The congestion charge in London, despite predictions of catastrophe, has been rather successful in reducing traffic use in central London, and is generally popular with the public. New Labour's failure to build on this success was condemned in recent report by the Royal Geographic Society on British transport policy. Extending the congestion charge to other city centres could make for major improvements in the quality of life there.

However, Third Avenue is right to say that "Governments... will always be too scared... to push us to reduce the perceived quality of our lives for the sake of the greater good." The problem I laid out above is that we are unable to "push" ourselves without their help; and, even if we are "pushed", as Shuggy says in his comment to Third Avenue's piece, we cannot reasonably deprive developing nations of standards of life we enjoy.

This, I think, is where we must move from sticks, to carrots. There needs to be a concerted effort to make alternatives to emissions-heavy consumption desirable. Public transport transport needs to undermine car use. That means trains, buses, trams, and the rest, should be more attractive - much cheaper, more reliable - propositions than cars. That, in turn, means public funding and a government with the political will to deliver it: both to clean up the existing mess in public transport, a tangle of deregulated operators and runaway subsidies, and to provide improvements in quality.

This leads on to Shuggy's point. Mike Kidron, in his last published article, noted that current measures of economic growth do not adequately account for the depletion of environmental resources.

A reconstruction of national income accounts for the US from 1960 to 1986, counting only those increases in output that fed into improved well-being, and adjusting for the depletion of social and environmental resources--an index of economic welfare rather than output--suggested that individual welfare peaked in 1969, held steady in the 1970s, and then fell. Studies in Holland put the damage caused by pollution (air, water and noise) in 1986 at 0.5-0.9 percent of gross national product (GNP). Similar studies estimated that pollution damage in Germany was costing 6 percent of GNP. An earlier, more limited study for the US put the costs of pollution damage at 1.28 percent of GNP in 1978. A study of Costa Rica between 1970 and 1989 concluded that the average annual growth rate would have been more than a quarter less than recorded if the depreciation of forests, soils and fisheries had been taken into account--in 1989 alone deforestation cost the country 7.7 percent of GNP. The first, limited, green accounts in Britain, published in 1996, estimated the costs of oil and gas depletion at a quarter of the income of these industries (0.5 percent of GDP), and estimated that spending on pollution abatement by industry as a whole amounted to £2.3 billion in 1994 (1.5 percent of value added in industry). A study by the World Resources Institute in Washington DC concluded that Indonesia's economic performance between 1971 and 1984 was not the 7 percent per year generally accepted, but 4 percent once the depletion of oil, forests and topsoil were included in the calculations.

Standard measures of economic growth, like GDP per capita growth, are intensely "privatised": they measure the transactions that are easiest to count, the ones that show up in the market, and say little beyond them - regardless, as suggested above, of the side-effects of market activities. It is, of course, difficult to measure "social well-being": even the most widely-accepted measure, the UN's Human Development Index has been subjected to wide criticism.

Critical for us, however, is the notion that ways we think about "growth", or how we perceive "well-being" are themsevles open to criticism. Current measures of GDP would privilege wasteful car use over more efficient public transport, for example, precisely beacue one is more wasteful. When we talk about "development", we should bear in mind the different possibilities this may entail: very high car-use is one model; very high public transport use, another. By democratising the process of economic growth, opening the process up for prior discussion, we can ensure different, society-wide possibilities are presented. This brings the point home again: like no other issue, the defending the environment demands a centralised, decision-making body. The "sovereign consumer" is not enough.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

I'd like to draw your attention, very quickly, to this fascinating dialogue in Red Pepper between Alfredo Saal-Fihlo and Sue Banford concerning the Partido Trabajadores in Brazil. Activists on the Left in Britain - and I strongly suspect elsewhere - will recognise the pattern of social-democratic accomodation to neoliberalism: from radical "rainbow coalition", through deindustrialisation and the breaking of unions, to a last-ditch grasp for power.

Lightning strike! Kazamm!

Good old Alexander Cockburn. Sure, it's a bit out of date, you probably don't want to hear any more about it - but I've only just discovered the article and with current Democratic Leadership Council noises about shifting the Democrats even further to the right - his caustic tone eats away at some of the more self-righteous posturing that apparently passes for self-criticism out there.

A distraught young person called me in tears on the morning after and I tried to console her by saying that in 1980 things looked pretty dark after Ronald Reagan and the Republicans swept into power, yet only twelve years later we had a draft-dodging adulterer ensconced in the White House and the Democrats back in control of Congress for a couple of years.

This didn't help so I rushed her back to 1956 when Eisenhower was reelected and the skies looked dark. But only four years later we had a Democratic war hero-adulterer on the parapet of Camelot and the summer of love only seven years down the road.

By this time she was crying so hard she could barely hold her cellphone, an instrument owned by all those millions that hopeful Democrats kept explaining the pollsters were overlooking. I told her I'd call back in an hour or so as soon as I'd rounded up a silver lining.

Read the rest here.

ID cards, the Tories, and the "war on terror"

Michael Howard, very opportunistically, but not without a little skill, steered the Tories into opposing then Education Secretary Charles Clarke's plans for market-determined tutition fees in English universities. Free market principles be damned: into the "no" lobby went the Conservative MPs, attempting to capitalise on strong public opposition to the measure. With Labour MPs split, the government came achingly close to defeat. What a turnaround, I thought at the time, from the pleasingly useless Iain Duncan Smith who, presented with a similar opportunity to stuff up the government, chose to back the invasion of Iraq. The Tories have been paying for this ever since: unable to parasite in any form on antiwar opposition, they have been left high and dry on the issue, with the Liberal Democrats being the sole mainstream political beneficiaries.

Yet, presented now by ID cards, an issue upon which a clear lead could have imposed a similar blow to the government - and most particularly the shaky new Home Secretary, one Charles Clarke - Howard has led them into tail-ending the government's plans. The "war on terror" can exert a remarkable pull on official politics: as soon as the question of "security" was raised, the Tories fell into line. (I say "the Tories": I mean the Tory leadership only, as you can see demonstrated here.) Apparent poll support for ID cards is misleading; stripped of its "war on terror" rhetoric, and with the cost of the scheme laid out, it disappears entirely. It's no wonder the government believes it can win the next general election on "security": the official opposition is nowhere to be seen on the issue.

Low interest rates (and the antiwar movement)

Whilst writing about something else entirely, the comments boxes at Marc Mulholand's Daily Moiders hit upon a couple of interesting points (you'll need to open them yourself). Michael writes that:

One of the interesting features of 'late capitalism' is that as capitalist domination assumes the increasingly abstract form of domination by money - so working classes in many 'advanced' capitalist nations have become intertwined with capital via individual and household credit and debt. They no longer stand as starkly seperated and alienated from aspects of capital and its expansion as they perhaps did pre-WW2. While still alienated from the product of their labour, and from the system-wide tendencies of capitalism as a whole, they are more closely integrated than hitherto into the individualising logic of capital in its monetary form. In part, this is underpins the emergence and generalisation of legalistic subjectivity as the most developed form of social subjectivity under capitalism.

To which Marc replies:

To pile ironies upon ironies, the Tories for about 100 years convinced the propertyless to vote in defence of property by appealing to deference, notions of economic competence, certain gender constructions, patriotism etc etc. In the 1980s Thatcher, by flogging off the council houses, at last reached that holy grail - a genuinely property owning democracy - which, at the very least, gives the majority a real stake in low interest rates, and the attendant labour market discipline. But the Thatcher revolution also attacked all those whiggish institutions - church, academia, civil service 'experts', etc - that had underpinned Tory dominance. The new property owning democracy had its faith in the traditional elites knocked out of it and voted on purely instrumental grounds - for New Labour!

Michael responded:

New Labour recognised more clearly than most Tories that the depoliticisation of production and consumption entailed by the re-regulation of society by money, pointed to the increasing managerialisation of politics and state institutions - a process started by Thatcher, but which lacked momentum, focus and credibility once it hit the buffers of deeply rooted Tory authoritarianism and love of arbitrary power.

At which point I stuck in my oar, saying

I'd be a bit dubious about claiming that "labour market discipline" was accepted by the electorate as the downside of maintaining lower interest rates. Bearing in mind that throughout the Thatcher and Major years interest rates were much higher than we have become used to under New Labour, yet this was precisely the point when a so-called "property-owning democracy" was created, alongside the initial tightening of "labour market discipline".

I think it's more likely that structural changes in the financial market - especially those relating to personal finance, like the continued deregulation of personal loans - were what mattered for "property-owning democracy", which were quite deliberately introduced from Thatcher's first election victory onwards. There's no necessary connection between them and "labour market discipline", except as part of the ideological offensive mounted at the time.

I did once hear an academic hack (I forget who) describe Mrs Thatcher as a "Leninist" for believing in social engineering to redefine consciousness: give the proles mortgages, and they will all vote Conservative forever more. (The only reference, via Google, to anything like this claim can be found here, where someone makes an entirely different - and equally wrong - point. If anybody else can find the source I'm talking about, I'd be grateful.) Certain strands of "Eurocommunist" thinking in the early 1980s, particularly around the now-defunct magazine Marxism Today, bought into this analysis: Thatcherism had helped creat and then exploited a new "popular authoritarianism", the electorally-successful conjuction of the "strong state" and the "free market", in which - as Locke wrote, years ago - support for the State and its rulers went hand-in-hand with the wide dispersion of private property.

It's quite a mechanistic reading of class consciousness, and one that absents the Labour Party, or the Left more generally, from any share of the blame in Thatcher's domination of British politics: what could we do - they all own their homes? It's also one, as Marc's comments suggests, that leads to an interpretation of Labour's 1997 election victory as a positive endorsement of New Labour qua New Labour, rather than a negative rejection of the Conservatives. Marc implies that the electorare accepted a broadly neo-liberal political settlement in 1997: "labour market discipline" and "low interest rates". As I said in my original comment above, this leaves out an important feature of Thatcher and Major governments: their historically high interest rates. The "property-owning democracy" itself is a myth: personal wealth became more, not less, inequitably distributed under the Conservatives. We left with only the ideological attempt to persuade the public that this new, privatised mode of social life was the only game in town. TINA - There Is No Alternative, alongside "There is no such thing as society."

There was no "natural", market-led mechanism that could produce acceptance for Tory or New Labour policies. (There is, in point of fact, no reason to suppose "low interest rates" inevitably demand "labour market discipline".) What we have been left with, instead, is a drive towards managerialism in government - the gradual acceptance that TINA applies, always - but little base for its popular consent. Attempts have been made to build consent: New Labour in government could be thought of as attempting an ideological variant on the older Thatcherite theme, with Gordon Brown particularly assidious in promoting the Third Way ideal of the market as producing "social justice"; but the drama of the anti-war movement strongly suggests that this happy-face neoliberalism has not been accepted by major parts of the electorate. Millions do not march against governments whose popular support is assured, and there can be little other way to explain the popular feeling against the Iraq war except as part of a wider rejection of Blairite norms. (The major alternatives - spontaneous altruism or mass stupidity, depending on your point of view - do not merit serious consideration.)

There's no doubt, too, that the implicit rejection of Blairite neoliberalism in the antiwar movement can mix with economic disadvantage to great effect: most dramatically amongst British Muslims, a broadly working-class, solidly Labour-voting constituency; but now, more than 18 months after the invasion, the movement's after-effects in other disadvantaged communities are becoming more apparent:

Senior army commanders have expressed fears that the increasingly vocal anti-Iraq war movement is discouraging thousands of young men from considering a career in the armed forces.

They blame high-profile campaigns against the war, often led by bereaved parents and supported by celebrities and political figures, for worsening recruitment problems, particularly into the infantry.

According to military sources the high media visibility of bereaved parents, such as Rose Gentle, whose 19-year-old son was killed, and the unpopularity of the war have made recruitment and retention a problem, exacerbating an already acute recruitment crisis in areas such as Scotland. The problem is now also spreading to the north of England and Wales, forces officials say.

The political and organisational conclusions from this combination of economic disadvantage and political opposition are not immediate. Serious, new political forces on the Left, most especially around the Respect Coalition, can certainly hope to build in such circumstances, but only with serious and persistent work. Elsewhere, the apparent quiescence of the British working class faced with Blairite neoliberalism, with strikes still at historically low levels, can be explained in part by the major organisational defeats inflicted by Thatcher, in part by the union leaderships' ties to the Labour Party itself, but also by persistent macroecnomic stability over the last few years: "labour market discipline" is much the easier to bear if real wages are rising. What none of these contingent factors indicate, however, is a long-term shift in people's thinking against the Left; with the ideological field tilted markedly against New Labour's neoliberalism, shifts in any of the economic or political factors can produce explosive results - as the antiwar movement indicated.

Hurrah for footnotes

One of the signs of the often hesitant but nontheless discernible ascent of the Left's fortunes in the battle for ideas has been the ideological ferment both the anticapitalist and the antiwar movements have sustained. A good indicator of this in Britain has been the revival of three leading theoretical journals on the antiwar/anticapitalist Left: Historical Materialism, International Socialism, and the New Left Review. All three have been redesigned and relaunched in recent years and have maintained a persistently high quality of contributions since; alongside this, all three have organised successful academic events over the last few months, attracting a (perhaps surprisingly) diverse audience of younger activists in addition to sometimes more venerable academics. The joint Historical Materialism/International Socialism dayschool with veteran Marxist historian, Robert Brenner, was quite a revelation: to gather an generally youngish audience of 150-170 at 10 o'clock on a Sunday morning for a detailed discussion of the transition from feudalism to capitalism was quite an achievement.

I pick out these three Lefty journals as the ones I read most regularly, all three coming from a broadly similar political and intellectual tradition to my own; I suspect, though, that the phenomenon is more general than my slightly parochial reading-list would suggest, so if anybody does have recommendations, I'd be interested to hear.

Monday, December 20, 2004

By way of an explanation: due to changed circumstances referred to elsewhere, I'm having to maintain at least a pose of anonymity and adopt an exciting nom de guerre like "Trotsky" or "George Orwell" or "Elton John" or one of those fellers; except I feel I've let the side down badly and cracked under the unbearable pressure exerted by Ed Staines, amongst others, resorting to a godawful minor public school corruption of a name as my internet identity. Ah well, this cloak-and-dagger stuff may be fun for a bit.

Eastern Europe and the CIA: delivering democracy?

The Apostate Windbag has made a temporary reappearance during his Christmas holidays to write an excellent post on the US's export of "democratic revolutions" to Eastern Europe, and a neat summary of events over the last few years.

He manages, also, to steer a careful course between both the uncritical fawning that left-liberals descend to over here, as well as the (slightly) post-Stalinist carping that Otpor, Pora, etc, are simply CIA fronts.

However, what this narrative of either nefarious or noble (depending on the given commentator’s inclination toward the US) meddling as the wizard behind the curtain for these movements misses, is that in each of these cases, the regimes were indubitably already hated by large sections of the people. The US funding of these student groups would have achieved nothing if there were not already extant reservoirs of anti-government feeling in each of the countries...

In Yugoslavia, while student organising played its part, the event that broke the back of the Milosevic regime and delivered Vojislav Kostunica to power was the general strike of October 2000, led by workers at the Kostolac and Kolubara mines serving the republic's two biggest thermal power plants, who had disrupted power supplies throughout the country. There is far more to national revolutions than the local US consulate renting a sound system and a pair of Jumbotron TVs for a demo in the piazza.

It should also be pointed out that the model for these groups, Otpor, said at the time of its early successes against Milosevic that many of its activists had been inspired by the Teamsters and Turtles of Seattle, who had taken on the WTO a year before the Yugoslav revolution, an event which itself took place against a background of ongoing mass anti-globalisation demonstrations around the world, just as Ukraine’s Orange Revolution today takes place against a background of ongoing mass anti-war demonstrations around the world. In Albania, Mjaft’s leader claims the tactics of Michael Moore as inspiration, organising publicity stunts outside the home of the country’s minister of public order, resulting in his resignation, and successfully forcing the government to increase its education budget. Veliaj calls these media-friendly tactics ‘civic blackmail’

There is a grave danger for the US in all this that although the flow of financial and political resources can enable a degree of control to be exterted over events, mass movements have a habit of running away with themselves. However carefully the likes of Timothy Garton Ash may draw up "rules" for such operations, both the objective circumstances of mass revolt - disgust with corruption, economic collapse - and the subjective processes - the mass meetings, the marches, the strikes - combine to produce a situation largely beyond control "from above". The demands raised, and the tactics adopted, are often liable to extend far beyond the neat boundaries of limited democractic reform and market liberalisation the State Department would like to enforce.

Mass movements are developed only from below, beyond the immediate reach of centralised forces like the mass media, foreign embassies, and the State itself: this gives them their dynamic, but means they cannot simply be steered. Only those who are of the movement, have come themselves "from below" are able to truly determine - by argument and by persuasion - its course. That the revolutions in Eastern Europe have largely operated with the equation of (some) liberal democracy+free market=freedom+prosperity says much about the weakness of alternatives in the movement itself; and, in particular, the catastrophic degradation the socialist movement and socialist ideas suffered as a result of Stalinism: of distrust of Parliamentary leaders, of distrust of the unfettered free market, arguments against racism, arguments for democratic organisation. This historical weakness is a factor of far greater importance than the meddlings of the CIA.

Lady Blunkett's Chatterly

D.H. Lawrence wrote a first draft of Lady Chatterley's Lover in which the gardener, here called Parker, abandoned his upper-class mistress to become a steelworker in Sheffield, and joined the Communist Party. Less sex, and more politics: it's better than the final drafting.


'It's very much the American millionairess who's managed to knock out the working-class lad who's the voice of ordinary people.'

The "working-class lad" who just happened to be a Cabinet minister. Leader of the "Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire" during the mid-1980s, this near-Communist "working-class lad" abandoned Sheffield for the bright lights of London, rising up the ranks to become a government minister and enjoy the kind of company his previous socialist self would probably rather have spat at than copped off with: Blunkett is acting out a Third Way Lady Chatterly. This explains the popularity of the affair with the Liberal Bomber and other standard-bearers of Blairite virute; they can hide the vicarious titillation of the whole thing behind the most pungent of noble proletarian rhetoric - the kind Blunkett himself was always so good at.

So be it. If we're all playing at gruff working class Northerners, "Tha's made tha bed and now tha mun lie on it." Unfortunately, this dour man and his authoritarian politics will doubtless be back in government after the election.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Driven into a slavering frenzy

You know you're getting somewhere when your opponents start coming out with this sort of thing:

“Respect” must be one of the most extreme political groupings of the last fifty years, formed out of fringe Trotskyite and Radical Socialist groups that for a time made up the socialist alliance they have forged an alliance with the most militant sections of the Islamic community combining extreme social conservatism with radically leftwing attitudes on just about anything else...

This was news to me. It is just about possible that I nodded off at the Respect conference, and that inbetween passing a motion in support of a woman's right to choose, and another in defence of gay rights, someone slipped one in about stoning adulterers. But a glance at the motions actually passed suggests not. In short, what we have is bollocks; very fine bollocks; bollocks of the highest order, you might say - but utter, utter bollocks nontheless. However.

What's interesting is the assumption that lies behind it. "[T]he most militant sections of the Islamic community" are automatically "extreme" social conservatives. This the Clash of Civilisations rewritten for the Left: it is the Islamophobic pretence that the range of political opinions can be read off from one's religious beliefs: that Muslims marching against the war are really marching towards the Caliphate.

(The discussion at Political Betting on Galloway is interesting enough, reflecting some diversity of opinion; the majority of commenters there, regardless of their views on Galloway, believe he is in with at least sporting chance of clinching the Bethnal Green and Bow seat in 2005.)

Friday, December 17, 2004

Whitechapel High Street and its environs

Continuing the quick 'n' dirty opinionmongering blogging theme, Daniel Brett has a couple of bits on the East End. In the latest (complete with photo of Brick Lane), the hapless Lib Dems dumped their original candidate for the seat of Bethnal Green and Bow: he was a Pakistani, and they want a Bangladeshi candidate for this mainly Bangladeshi area. Daniel says:

The move to stage an emergency selection for a new candidate is blatant communalism by the Liberal Democrats. ...

I don't think the Bangladeshi population of the East End is so stupid to fall for the Liberal Democrats' electoral opportunism. In the past two elections, the majority of local Bangladeshis voted for Oona King, whose mother is Jewish and her father is a former black civil rights campaigner from the US. No matter how much the Tories tried to stir up hatred against her origins in previous elections, she still won through and actually increased her vote in 2001.

Glancing at the election results in the borough of Tower Hamlets, the Lib Dems there have singularly failed to capitalise on anti-war sentiment in the area, coming third behind Respect and Labour in the Euro elections, whilst at the council level they failed to take the target ward of St Dunstans (lost by Labour to Respect), and disappeared from sight in Millwall. And so they're reduced to communalism.

Indeed, out of the four main parties in Tower Hamlets, and despite the innuendoes of the Islamophobic left, the only group not pandering to any form of "communalism" - or, worse yet, outright racism - is Respect. Oona King got in hot water over a dubious stunt a few weeks ago, targetting constiuents with "Muslim-sounding names" for a thinly-disguised pre-election mailing. Far more disturbingly, Dan obliquely mentioned the Tories' campaign in the 2001 general election; King, in this interview - and without naming names - reports on antisemitic leaflets being distributed against her, without (it would seem) having much impact.

Dan goes on to report on London mayor Ken Livingstone's snide remarks against Galloway's decision to stand against King. Livingstone claims that if Galloway really opposed the war, he should stand against Blair or Brown. I don't think the Mayor's intention was to claim Galloway is standing against King because she is black; rather, I think he was attempting to belittle Galloway's campaign by pushing down into the realms of stunt politics: the implication is that Galloway and his silly party could have stood anywhere and that they're not serious about building a new political organisation.

"War, women and waffle": Staines on history

One More Cup of Coffee has a well-written piece on the terrible state of "popular history" and the "tyranny of the Fact":

Although mass market history provides some historians with money beyond what they could possibly hope to make from pure academic work, it does pose some problems. For a start, the concept of ‘history’ in the public consciousness is altered. I have had many encounters with the “middle-aged white men” described in the article, who obsess about “blood, tanks and very tall mountains”. Because I not au fait with the type of lapels worn by Napoleon’s troops, such people generally scoff and deem my years of university education as useless.

This is history as trivia; lambasting the "abomination" of George Courtauld's The Little Book of Patriotism, a parade of Great Deeds and Great Men in British history without the slightest grasp of cause or consequence, Ed says:

Although mass market history provides some historians with money beyond what they could possibly hope to make from pure academic work, it does pose some problems. For a start, the concept of ‘history’ in the public consciousness is altered. I have had many encounters with the “middle-aged white men” described in the article, who obsess about “blood, tanks and very tall mountains”. Because I not au fait with the type of lapels worn by Napoleon’s troops, such people generally scoff and deem my years of university education as useless.

...and goes on, rightly, to clip Tristam Hunt round the ear and snarl at the nostalgia-wallowing of "family history". ("Family history": a slow route to inevitable disappointment as it is discovered your distant ancestors were just as boring as yourself. I can't see the appeal.) Where I'd disagree with Ed is in his patrician dismissal of "the masses"; the best historians out there can write history that is both convincing to trained academics like Ed, and accessible for the casually interested punter. E.P. Thompson was the best example, but - much as I disagree with him - Niall Ferguson has produced some similar work. Blind commercial pressures in the book trade, as elsewhere, has reduced the scope for such history. These have little to do with inherent popularity, but much to do with the cowardice of the market, brought on by the pronounced herd-instincts of pulishers and marketing departments facing twitchy shareholders: anything outside the perceived "norm", anything viewed as "difficult" beyond a lowest common denominator, is treated with great suspicion - if it is treated at all.

"Kotaji's Bow": English lefty blogging North East Asia

Swift plug for a new blog, Kotaji's Bow, started by a friend over at SOAS. He says it's for "Thoughts on the Korean peninsula, North East Asia, history and other things", and to get the ball rolling he has a quick note on an under-reported aspect of the "war on terror":

This [report] in particular caught my eye, concerning the as yet undecided fate of Uighur Chinese prisoners being held in Guantanamo Bay. I really find it hard to imagine a worse position than that facing these people - caught between US imperial power and Chinese state repression.

The two nations are of course, temporarily and superficially, allies in the 'war on terror'. The Chinese government has used 9/11 as an excuse to crackdown on resistance to their rule in the far west, but the US is clearly slightly embarrassed by this particular appropriation of a rhetoric created in Washington.

The US government quite obviously doesn't care much about the welfare of these people (it has in all likelihood been treating them in much the same way as other Gitmo prisoners/hostages), but at the same time, what would sending them to (more) torture and (possible) death in China do for US human rights rhetoric re the PRC?

Go visit for more (and leave him some encouraging comments).

Thursday, December 16, 2004

If you've not seen it already, go and have a read of this piece by Lenin, on multiculturalism and racism. Recommended, with reference to the species of "postmodern" racism that the Morris Report picked up on.

Good riddance: Blunkett's hubris

Of all the many irritating features of Blunkett's existence, his prolier-than-thou attitude acted as a particularly unpleasant garnish on the warmed over reactionary bile the man subsisted on. All those who suggested, say, detentions without trial, the casual removal of due process, secret evidence, some incidental stoking up of racist bigotry - for example - were perhaps not the ideal policies for a "progressive, reforming Labour government" to be pursuing were, for Blunkett, "soft", "whining maniacs", "bleeding-heart liberals":in short, the run of Littlejohn soubriquets, delivered with the appropriate macho burr as if the very Voice of the Proletariat was speaking through Blunkett's slender frame. (And no doubt Blunkett's own - admirable, if we are honest - struggles against his disability inspired a certain respect.)

Perhaps the true Guardianistas who cluck and squawk around the Blair government were taken in by this Sheffield poseur, envisaging Blunkett as something akin to the star turn in Brassed Off, or The Full Monty: lost in a liberal haze brought on by a vague memory of Alan Bennet plays on Radio 4, and all those sentimental potrayals of the Northern English working class as brutes, excessively blunt, often dour, but basically "decent"; and so every further reactionary turn in Blunkett's drive to the right was nodded through as necessary appeasement for Labour's own heart of darkness in the Northern cities.

How delightful, then, to discover Blunkett's private life bears more relation to breezy cavortings of Hello! magazine: the wealthy publisher, the nanny, the socialite, assorted millionaires. The marvellous hypocrisy of it all.

Better yet, he combined this hypocrisy with a sheer, breathtaking arrogance. There can be little sympathy for the ex-Home Secretary's conduct regarding Kimberley Quinn. One psedonymous legal commentator put the case - with some irony - for Blunkett's arrest:

Reports say that Blunkett is alleged to have sent Mrs Quinn as many as 10 letters from his lawyers demanding DNA tests to establish whether he is the father of her unborn baby.

He is said to have repeatedly written to her detailing the times and locations of their meetings during the affair, endlessly repeating the list and causing enormous hurt to her and her husband.

Friends are deeply concerned for the health of Mrs Quinn, who is several months pregnant, and warn that Blunkett’s barrage of letters is putting her under a huge strain.

Her friends state Blunkett bombarded her with late night phone calls. “She is very afraid of him. She finds him very bullying and overpowering,” they say.

The prosecution do not have to prove very much to secure a conviction [for harassment]. In the case of Kelly v DPP it was held that three telephone calls within five minutes were capable of constituting the course of conduct for harassment.

I am of the opinion that the prosecution have a very good case if they felt so inclined to pursue this matter.

Who, we might add, leaked the story of their affair initially? Fingers are pointing at Blunkett, or perhaps one of his dutiful public servants: a cunning ruse to put pressure on Ms Quinn. Some of the usual suspects are attempting, this morning, to stir up sympathy for the man; more surprising is the Guardian's view of the matter. "Love"? Arrogance, more like; the sheer unstoppable belief that it is possible to get away with anything. The same factor that appears to have driven his decision to criticise, in forthright terms, his Cabinet colleagues: with Blair behind him, with the Tories and his own party cowed, Blunkett appears to have felt he could say whatever he liked, to whoever he liked, whenever he liked. The combination of both proved deadly, but it is Blunkett's own hubris that has led him to his political death.

Still, it is hard not to feel some concern for the personal tragedies involved here. Blunkett is undoubtedly sincere, as he told us in his resignation statement, in his desire to see his son. Yet Blunkett himself has casually inflicted far greater personal tragedies: his own woes are as nothing copared to those of this innocent man, facing indefinite detention in Guantanamo Bay as result of Blunkett's office. It is very difficult, once that is recalled, to allow Blunkett his appeal for public sympathy. He has displayed none, at any point, for his victims.

(One final point: those notoriously namby-pamby Law Lords have overturned another of Blunkett's breathtakingly Draconian measures, arguing that the detention of "terror suspects" without trial acts against European human rights law. "Experts said today's decision would probably force the government to repeal the section of the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 which has permitted the indefinite detention of foreigners." Blunkett's awful legacy crumbling before us; if we can just stop ID cards, I think we'll be getting somewhere.)

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Compare and contrast: the Morris Report reported

London's Evening Standard has a long-standing monopoly for evening news in the capital. It's morning free-sheet, the Metro, is published by the same company, Daily Mail and General Trust, whose range of titles extends to the some-time voice of "Middle England", the national Daily Mail. The Mail, notoriously, briefly supported Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists in the 1930s, and is widely regarded (not least by readers of this paper) as little more than a vicious reactionary pamphlet. The Evening Standard apes the Mail in both its design and its approach to the news, almost invariably taking an identical editorial line to its sister publication. It is peculiar that historically left-leaning, Labour-voting London should find its news sources monopolised by a right-wing Tory-inclined newspaper, particularly when the city is compared to other, often smaller metropolitan areas that run to a range of morning and evening newspapers, covering a spectrum of opinion, but this is perhaps a legacy of the transformation of British newspaper publishing through the 1980s and 1990s, when - led by Rupert Murdoch - the industry became massively more capital-intensive, allowing the few media corporations who had dominated the press since the 1950s to increase their grip on the market. This trend was further reinforced by persistent deregulation of media ownership by successive governments. Nationally, four firms control 85% of the British print media; the same tendencies have been, if anything, more pronounced in the local press, where local newspaper production has been monopolised by a very small number of large firms, issuing identikit titles in different regions.

This is offered by way of a partial explanation to understanding how reports on the Morris Inquiry into racism in the Metropolitan Police could differ so widely. The London daily newspaper market consists of one publication, whose editors have an extraordinary licence not to follow their audience. Left-wing, liberal London, then, found itself presented with this assesment by the Evening Standard:

Scotland Yard is today accused of discriminating against women and white officers in a devastating new report. ...

The report warns that Scotland Yard faces a backlash from its white officers over political correctness. Sir Bill calls for root and branch reform of the force's disciplinary structure.

Senior policemen are so scared of being seen as racist that they refused to tackle black and Asian staff who are incompetent. The same standards of conduct were not being applied equally to all racial groups, according to the report. ...

Sir Bill found that white managers "lack the confidence to manage black and ethnic minority officers without being affected by their race".

He added: "The statistics indicate clear disproportionality in the way black and ethnic minority officers are treated in relation to the management of their conduct. This represents a serious issue of discrimination which must be tackled as a matter of priority. The same high standards of conduct should apply to all officers and staff."

The liberal Guardian wrote on the same report, and even the same sections of the same report, like this:

Britain's biggest police force was castigated yesterday for discriminating against ethnic minority officers and paying lip service to diversity, in an official report that came five years after it was found to be institutionally racist.

The report by former union boss Sir Bill Morris found the Metropolitan police was more likely to subject ethnic minority officers to disciplinary investigations than white officers, which was "a serious issue of discrimination". ...

The report found that statistics showed "clear disproportionality" in the way black and minority ethnic officers were treated in relation to the management of their conduct. Sir Bill said outside bodies including the Commission for Racial Equality should be brought in to ensure the Met stamped this out.

Earlier in the Morris hearings, it became clear that previous attempts to reform London's Metropolitan Police resulting from the 1999 Macpherson Report had run into sustained resistance amongst white officers. They were unahppy at what they saw as "preferential" treatment of ethnic minority officers and some efforts being made to overcome what Macpherson called "institutional racism" within the Met.

The Evening Standard has chosen to follow the line of the white racist police establishment, spinning the Report as if it were black officers facing discrimination; reading the Report's summary and recommendations, it is hard to come to the same conclusion, whilst evidence of persistent institutional racism within the Met are easily found: for example, the figures on retention show ethnic minority police recruits are far more likely to drop out of training than new white recruits. This is not to even touch on the Met's habitual racism in its day-to-day practice, with stop and searches being disproportionately applied to ethnic minorities. Forty per cent of London's population are not white; the city is notably more diverse than other parts of the UK, and, as a rule, its inhabitants generally less tolerant of racism. The Standard is cutting against the grain of its target audience.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Nazi Nick nicked

From the BBC:

The leader of the British National Party has been arrested as part of a police inquiry following the screening of a BBC documentary.

A party spokesman said Nick Griffin was arrested on Tuesday morning on suspicion of incitement to racial hatred.

West Yorkshire police confirmed they had arrested a 45-year-old man from outside their area.

Other arrests following the BBC documentary include the party's founder, John Tyndall, and two men from my Christmas holiday destination, the delightful town of Keighley in Yorkshire.

The British National Party have been having a pleasingly unfortunate run of late:

Students at Manchester University achieved a landmark victory against
fascism and racism on Wednesday 17th November. The student union general
meeting passed a motion which said "Any active member of the British
National Party (BNP) will have their union membership revoked and be banned
from union buildings and events, subject to due process."

Manchester University Unite Against Fascism Group, supported by many student
societies in the campus built the meeting of over 340 students. The meeting,
aimed at dealing with the threat of the BNP on campus, passed the motion
with 330 votes to 6, even though Joe Finnon, a prominent member from the
fascist BNP youth wing, spoke. The immediate effect of this victory will be
the removal of Finnon's union membership.

And, on a lesser note, let's not forget their hiring of a black DJ for their Christmas social in London, leading to members storming out in disgust. "He sounded white on the 'phone." As the Mirror says, not just racist but stupid.

Griffin, though, is slightly smarter than the average knuckle-dragger. No doubt he'll be trying to present his arrest as evidence of the liberal elite and the PC mafia trampling on an Englishman's freedom of speech. He played the martyr in 2001, when he attended his election count in Oldham wearing gaffer tape over his mouth, and a t-shirt reading "GAGGED FOR TELLING THE TRUTH": following serious disturbances in the area, traditional post-election speeches were banned by the teller. Griffin scored 16% of the vote back then, marking something of a high-point for the BNP's support in the Northern town: successful campaigning by Unite Against Fascism across the north-west, drawing in community organisations, trade unions and others, helped prevent them winning a Euro-election seat this year. There's no reason to be complacent (and brazen idiocy like this is always a worry), but Griffin and his mob can be stopped.

Italian politics explained

Couldn't let this description of Silvio Berlusconi's government disappear into the ether:'s like Thatcher (but a Thatcher who hangs out with the mafia who also privately owns the BBC and Manchester United) governing in coalition with the BNP and a pack of paramilitary loons who want to run an independent state based on Thomas Hardy`s Wessex.

It's a laugh a minute down in Rome; Berlusconi's planned biopic will presumably be a knockabout farce of some sort, Danny de Vito as Berlusconi and Arnold Schwarznegger as Gianfranco Fini, spinning about on the spot and knocking each other over with the fasces, etc. Hillarious.

Monday, December 13, 2004

ASBOs and badgers

Ed has stopped moping and whining about the woes of his tedious existence, and has got into some proper blogging action by flagging up a story about the Wiltshire police shooting delinquents, as well as reminding us all of an unfortunate rogue badger incident from a few years back. Here, meanwhile, are some more badgers. Also, whilst we're setting sail in the good ship Tomfoolery for the land of Whim, B3TA have pointed out that this jolly ditty has been nominated for Yahoo's pissing about at work award, alongside the splendid nerd nostalgia trip, "Hey, Hey, 16K" (though for goodness' sake don't vote for that pisspoor Kerry v. Bush song.)

Saturday, December 11, 2004

ID cards: some vague thoughts

It's out there all over the place, but I found it first via Alister: this is a nightmarish vision of a Britain with ID cards:

Operator: "Thank you for calling Domino's. May I have your national ID number?"

Customer: "I'd like to place an order."

Operator: "I must have your NIDN first, sir?"

Customer: "My National ID Number. Erm, haud on, it's 6102049998-45-54610."

Operator: "Thank you, Mr. Smith. I see you live at 1449 Great Western Road, and the phone number's 494-2366. Your office number at Lincoln Insurance is 745-2302, and your mobile number's 266-2566. Email address is Which number are you calling from, sir?"

Customer: "Eh? I'm at home. Where did ye get all this information?"

Operator: "We're wired into the NSD, sir."

Customer: "The NSD, what is that?"

Operator: "We're wired into the National Security Database, sir. This will add only 15 seconds to your ordering time".

...and so on. The dialogue ends with our unhappy Scots pizza fan being denied his doughy nourishment. I have to confess that I'm not convinced. I can't believe, for instance, that a pizza firm would go so far as to talk you out of buying their products on health grounds, as Dominos do here. I know it's only a small, silly thing, but its popularity does suggest it picks up on widespread fear: that of an interfering, nanny state seeking to mould its citizens into a more orderly shape, even to the extent of trampling on private business. Classic, creeping, state-led totalitarianism, under the guise of well-meaning concern; The Road to Serfdom cleared ahead of us.

I don't think, however, that this scenario is the one to worry about. Of far more concern - if we're into the paranoid projection mode - is the way a centralised data resource like the ID card could be used by private concerns: to promote more consumption, not less, through targeting individuals. The mass consumption society detailed in No Logo, freed from its constraints and swollen to encompass every particular aspect of our lives presents a far more threatening and insidious form of control. The libertarian-led critiques of the all-powerful state, however relevant they may once have been, pale beside the plausible, unintented consequences of an information-saturated free market.

Many libertarians do oppose ID cards, on roughly those grounds. Inspired by the philosopher Robert Nozick, who wrote of us possessing ourselves, our faculties and our skills as our own "private property", the introduction of compulsory ID cards could be represented as the nationalisation of identity - a further step down the road to state-driven tyranny.

All of which is a long way round of saying how strange it was to be discussing direct action and civil disobedience with paid-up members of the Tory Party, following the successful No2ID meeting in Brixton. (To be quite honest, I'd always had libertarians down as Tories with pony-tails, young fogeys cack-handedly trying to look cool, but this lot were a little more serious than student union poseurs.) I don't view libertarianism as the grounds on which to build a mass campaign against Blunkett's ID proposals, though the truth is that it sums up many people's gut reactions to the scheme: I don't want to carry a bloody ID card, it feels intrusive, and there's no reason to rationalise my feelings beyond that. Even the rhetoric of the "security", with ID cards functioning as the political bridge between ASBOs and terrorism, is not enough to overwhelm that gut reaction. Coupled with the already appreciable effects of police harrasment for young black and Asian Britons - stop and searches increasing 300% for British Asians in the last 18 months - and you can see a powerful coalition forming in opposition to the scheme.

At one with the proles

Charles Kennedy will swap Parliament Square for Albert Square in a special Christmas edition of the BBC1 soap EastEnders, it was announced yesterday.

The inevitable Sarah Teather ("Britain's youngest MP") was reeled out to give the jive-o yoof perspective, because the Lib Dems are hip to the hop, dig?

Sarah Teather, the party's MP for Brent East, said her leader's part in EastEnders showed he was versatile. "I really think it's long overdue. We've not had a redhead in EastEnders since Bianca left, and Coronation Street has got two," she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.


Friday, December 10, 2004

It's the scum that rises to the top: senior Manchester Police officer is allegedly racist bastard, much to everyone's surprise

This mysteriously coy BBC report caught my attention:

Greater Manchester Police (GMP) is investigating allegedly racist remarks made by a senior officer about the Muslim festival of Eid.
Supt David Keller is alleged to have made the comments, the exact wording of which is not known, at a meeting to discuss policing of the festival.

The officer claims the comments, which were allegedly made in November, were taken out of context.

The Guardian, fortunately, has no such qualms:

A senior police officer in Manchester was under investigation last night after allegations that he called for machine guns to be set up to stop Muslims entering the city for their most important religious festival of the year.

Superintendent David Keller, a sub-divisional commander based at Longsight police station, south Manchester, is alleged to have made the remarks at an internal meeting on November 24.

Sources told the Guardian the remarks were made during a discussion about arrests at a recent Eid celebration in Manchester.

Of course, as everyone knows, British Muslims are simply refusing to integrate.

If they're not blowing themselves up, they must be Saddam supporters

The marvellous Iraq Prospect Organisation (IPO), a group so on the ball they believe Paul Bremer is still running Iraq - rather than John Negroponte, ahem - have provided their own insightful analysis of "growing evidence that the core of the insurgency is almost purely Ba'athist". Here's their first point, reproduced in full:

Prior to the operation in Fallujah, it was generally believed that the majority of the insurgent leadership were foreign Arab Salafi extremists. However, this is now in question. Arab Salafi extremists, like those associated with the militant Abo Musab Al-Zarqawi, explicitly seek out 'martyrdom' as their victory. On the other hand, Baathists have no interest in being killed and every interest in defeating the new Iraqi government and wearing out the US-led coalition into withdrawal. The sheer ease with which US and Iraqi forces overran Fallujah indicates that most insurgents had left the city. Such a move is not characteristic of Salafi extremists who would have relished a final battle against their perceived enemy. It is, however, characteristic of a Baathist-led insurgency that does not want to face the US at its time of choosing but would rather slip away and attack at a time of their choosing.

Convinced now? This site provides an inventory of those groups involved in the resistance - notice that Ba'athis organisations are listed under "small factions" - whilst Iraqi Democrats Against the Occupation provide some political background. The IPO are occasionally dragged out when various broadcasters over here want a friendly native to put the case for Uncle Tom with an appropriate amount of lickspittle enthusiasm. The IPO site speaks for itself: they're a joke.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Failed attempts at mud-slinging

Blood and Treasure pick up on David Aaronovitch's further attempts to smear Galloway in last Sunday's Liberal Bomber:

"As it happens, the authenticity of the documents was never discussed in court."
“As it happens”, my arse. As it happens, the reason that the authenticity of the documents was never disputed in court was that the Telegraph could not demonstrate that they were true and therefore had to construct a defence that publishing them anyway was in the public interest. As it happens, it failed to do this because the lynch mob journalism that it chose to indulge in rested on the assumption that the documents were true. As it happens, it was the Telegraph that chose to avoid the issue, not Galloway. As it happens, it had to avoid the issue to have any chance of winning the case.

Johann Hari, in his own inimitable fashion, has attempted to claim Galloway supported a military dictatorship in Pakistan. He has, however, left the comments boxes open on his site, allowing alternately Lenin and someone called Duncan the chance to wipe the floor with him. I feel a bit sorry for Hari; not only does he have a cold at the moment, he gives the impression of generally maintaining a certain intellectual honesty about his support for the invasion of Iraq. The disaster that the occupation has become has given him cause for some hand-wringing doubts. Unfortunately, his usual honesty deserted him when it came to reviewing Galloway's book, leading him to make a series of outrageous claims and in some cases simply invent quotes. I don't think there's another public figure out there who any competent, vaguely credible journalist would feel able to do this to; still, you can best judge someone by their enemies - and on this count, Galloway comes out very well indeed.

Failing to meet environmental targets: the New Labour transport U-turn

Another manifesto promise up in smoke:

Tony Blair admitted that Britain had achieved no overall cut in emissions since Labour was elected in 1997.

By 2010 Britain would achieve only a 14 per cent cut in carbon dioxide emissions from 1990 levels, instead of the planned reduction of 20 per cent. This pledge has appeared in two election manifestos. Conservationists say Labour's failure to control a boom in road transport and a rise in household emissions over the past few years has meant greenhouse gas emissions have risen.

This is more than a failure to "control a boom". Following widespread and popular protests against the Conservatives road-building schemes that had seen residents of leafy villages unite with hairy environmentalists to great effect, New Labour was committed to reversing previous transport policy. During the 1997 election campaign, Blair pledged a moratorium on road building, claiming that new roads were "not an option". Once elected, Gavin Stang, then Transport Minister, claimed new roads were a "last resort". The new government's initial White Paper on integrated transport, released in July 1998, was acclaimed by environmental groups for the emphasis it placed on assessing alternatives to new roads before any scheme was launched. This halted many proposed schemes, and compelled planning bodies to take better account of the harmful side-effects of road transport. However, in July 2000

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott announced a major programme of road investment as part of the Government's Ten Year Transport Plan. The plan included £60 billion spread over ten years for 360 miles of motorway and trunk road widening and 100 trunk and local road bypasses, with more money for local roads. The programme was presented as a way of dealing with localised congestion 'hotspots', but there was no actual list of schemes. The Government suggested that the planned investment would cut congestion on inter-urban trunk roads by 5 per cent over ten years...

Business and motorist pressure groups are lobbying hard for further expansion of the roads network. In November 2000 the CBI published a list of priority transport projects including road schemes in many of the multi-modal study areas. The AA went further, suggesting in November 2000 that 465 additional bypasses are required in England, including 95 in the Eastern region and 85 in the South-east, and that the whole of the primary route network should be developed to allow inter-urban traffic to travel uninterrupted by speed limits of less than 50mph (Where You Live and What You Get: The Best and Worst for the Great British Motorist). This would imply a scale of road-building unimagined even by the Conservatives when they launched their "biggest road-building programme since the Romans" in the 1980s. It is clear that the motoring lobby will not be content with limited treatment of congestion hotspots.

At the end of 2003, the Royal Geographic Society released A New Deal for Transport?, a dammning assesment of New Labour's transport policies over the previous six years.

Dr William Walton, a lecturer at Aberdeen University, concluded in the book that Labour’s record on traffic had been "extremely disappointing". He said the number of car journeys had increased every year since 1997.

Dr Walton said Labour was behaving just like the Conservatives, not daring to upset drivers. He said: "It is now clear that Labour underestimated the scale of its task and was mistaken in its belief that traffic growth, which has continued at a remorseless rate for decades, could be reversed in just five years without the introduction of extremely punitive measures and vast improvements to public transport."

Faced with this task, and under relentless pressure from the powerful roads lobby, the government - never at its firmest when set against business interests - buckled. The announcement, earlier that year, of a new £7bn road-building scheme, marked the final break with the heady days of 1997. As a sop to its environmental commitments, the government has been attempting to meet its greenhouse gas emissions targets by "relying on improved vehicle technology to achieve the reduction." Needless to say, this has not met with success. The U-turn on clear and popular manifesto commitments by New Labour in transport policy has perhaps been more stark than elsewhere; the veneer of acceptable radicalism New Labour wore in 1997 at its thinnest.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

May next year almost upon us

George Galloway, writing in Socialist Worker this week, makes two important points. The first:

I am honoured to accept the nomination from Respect in east London to stand as the candidate in the next general election in the seat of Bethnal Green & Bow.

One hundred years ago a new force broke through in London’s East End.

It shattered the stranglehold of the Liberals and said that working people, who create the wealth and provide every service, deserve their own, independent political voice.

Today we in Respect are saying the same as Keir Hardie and the Labour pioneers back then.

They too were attacked for building a political movement in the poverty-stricken streets of east London and also among immigrants—Jewish people from Eastern Europe.

Keir Hardie’s movement aimed to represent all working people, and that’s true of us.

But just as the left was proud to stand up for the Jews of east London a century ago, so are we proud of the support and affection held for us in the hearts of the Muslim population of east London.

Oona King, currently MP for Galloway's target seat in Bethnal Green and Bow, has, of late, been shameless indulging in "communalist" politics, sending Eid greetings cards to members of her constituency Labour Party with "Muslim-sounding" names. The stunt backfired, obviously. On the other side, there has been something a little peculiar in the discounting of Respect's support, amongst some on the Left, as being only "amongst Muslims": as if Muslim votes counted for less. In contrast, Respect has always had a very clear position on its support for the most oppressed: rather than shoddy political tricks, or equally shoddy demands for secularims, I'm rather pleased that we've offered a consistent socialist platform that aims to tackle not just the overt Islamophobia British Muslims face but to address some of its root causes: namely, the "war on terror", the disintegration of public services, and the widening inequality.

Galloway's second point:

Respect has already had considerable success. We were only 20 weeks old at the 10 June elections when we topped the poll in the east London borough of Tower Hamlets.

We came second in the neighbouring borough of Newham, but were first in 40 percent of the wards in that borough too.

No one should take success at next May’s expected general election for granted.


The 10 June elections revealed concentrations of support for Respect, even though we were all but ignored by the media. Our strategy for the general election needs to take account of that.

Our recent conference discussed how we can make an impact on what will otherwise be a tediously dull event by concentrating our forces.

I think of it as three concentric circles. First, there are those seats where we have a definite chance, in east London and in Birmingham.

Second, there are some seats where our intervention can have a decisive impact in turfing out the most hated New Labour warmongers and privatisers.

Third, we may decide to stand in a few areas not covered by the above, but where we can focus our supporters.

Urgent discussions will be taking place in Respect nationally and in local groups over the coming weeks to identify where to stand.

Of course, this does not mean Respect will be limited to only those areas.

We are enjoying a series of successful local events. These are vital to building up the base of the organisation.

This is a move away from the propagandistic politics of standing everywhere - even in no-hope seats - to make a political point. Respect - indeed, the entire British Left - cannot afford to continue the run of 1% or 2% results: the only "point" such things make is how weak electorally we are: and it is to electoral politics that most people will look first to judge us. I'm reasonably confident, proceeding on the lines agreed at conference, and described by Galloway, that we are in with a fighting chance in a few areas.

Looks like I'm back, in the New Year, for another spell of Proper Jobbing - you know the sort of thing, wear a suit, turn up on time, prevent grandparents looking too concerned/scornful about one's prospects, etc - putting my ill-gotten semi-knowledge of half-remembered gobbets of economic theory to remunerative, if arguably not good use... which leads me to think the blog needs a focus, and I need to be forced to think a little more, and anyway this stuff is interesting - yes it is - therefore I hereby resolve to say something useful about properly economic concerns rather than wittering about HP or Paul Kingsnorth or whatever on a more regular basis, assuming that's ok with everyone. Ta. In the meantime, go and have a look at Rodeohead, found via this man.

Back to the Ukraine

Naturally, other, better-informed bloggers have been publishing articles on the Ukraine. I recommend you take a look at Daniel Brett's recent posts, in the most recent of which he claims

The battle over Ukraine's political future is not simply Clash of Civilisations, between authoritarian Russia in the east and the liberal bureaucracy of the EU in the west. No-one should dismiss Ukraine's geopolitical importance as a strategic transit corridor between the hydrocarbons rich Central Asia and the energy-hungry Western Europe.

This is a world away from the happy liberal view (good West vs. bad East) that can pass for comment otherwise. As a background to the current crisis, the move to create the NATO-aligned GUUAM bloc of countries - Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbijan, Moldova - shortly after the 1999 Kosovo war can be seen as part of the same pattern: the US, through a system of "vassals" and "tributaries", playing on the "chessboard" of the world for an uneven distribution of the spoils, opposed by a potentially threatening coalition of forces in the East, China and Russia. The descriptions here belong to Zbigniew Bzerinski, a senior foreign policy advisor under assorted US Presidents, and a man who is perhaps most famous for remarking of the US's financing and training of the mujahedeen in Afghanistan:

What was more important in the world view of history? The Taliban or the fall of the Soviet Empire? A few stirred-up Muslims or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the Cold War?

The "war on terror" can be represented as a deliberate attempt to break from the era of "realism" in foreign policy, in favour of a more directly interventionist stance. The unease expressed by no less a Cold Warrior than Henry Kissinger over the invasion of Iraq certainly indicates a shift in US foreign policy.

Of course, the fact that geopolitical bickering is taking place over Ukraine's future - and, most particulary, the future of its natural resources - does not mean that we can wash our hands of the country. Clearly, to stress the point, the past experience of modern revolutions in Eastern Europe provides a guide to what principled socialists should (and should not) be doing; we are with the people against the ruling bureaucracy, whether in Stalinist or plutocratic guise.

DoDo, over here, has numerous posts on the Ukraine. (Scroll down to find them.) One of these reports on a certain material improvement in Ukraine's economic standing of late, after a catastrophic series of years in the 1990s. It would be interesting to hear how this growth has been distributed; much of the protests are motivated, plainly and simply, by economic concerns and the perception that an elite are creaming off the national wealth. If anybody's seen anything on income and wealth distribution in the Ukraine, I'd be interested to know: it would surprise if the country had become far more inegalitarian over the last few years, even as economic growth took off.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Following Christopher Hitchens over a cliff: the descent to neo-conservatism (part II)

(If someone wanders around with a large sign reading "KICK ME" on their back, it would be churlish not to oblige.)

Bat has revealed a small biographical detail in his interesting post on the Galloway case. In a small break from their usual mahco posturing, Harry's Place have got their Arnie-style neo-con posing pouches in a twist over Bat's previous employment at the Daily Telegraph, bastion of the Establishment and recent recipient of a certain hefty libel fine. Lenin deals appropriately with at least some of HP's confusion:

1) The Bat did work for the Telegraph.

2) HP Sauce raises a furry eyebrow at the claim that Telegraph journos were angry about the war and also in agitating against the management:

"But Torygraph hacks nodding their heads sympathetically to a junior Trot's take on world politics? Hmmm."

Well, look. The struggle for union recognition alluded to by Bat is a simple matter of record. Rising militancy among the journalists there has been extensively reported It is also a matter of record that they won recognition and have been a pain in the managerial arse ever since.

The author of the piece, Marcus, previously displayed an unusual commitment to Left values of egalitarianism and equality of opportunity by coming out in defence of Charles Windsor's feudalism-lite approach to education. He showers himself in further glory by here revealing his innate contempt for the working class:'ll no doubt remember graduates from Surrey who had joined SWSS and been instructed by their branch to take jobs after their graduation in hospitals and factories to - you know - get close to the workers. [This was never SWP policy, but we'll leave aside that minor detail.] They always turned up at meetings to report excitedly on whatever the subject of the discussion was that:

"There's a lot of anger on the shopfloor about this ! "

Let's extend them the benefit of the doubt here. Maybe the workers at the local cigarette factory were exercised about events in Nagorno Karabakh. Perhaps they talked of little else in the works canteen.

Stupid proles. (To continue in the pro-war "left" tradition of egregiously misapplying selected passages of Orwell, Marcus may as well have claimed that the working classes smell.) So much for HP's oft-stated concern for the workers, at least; combined with the apologetics for homophobia, it seems HP are hesitating only a moment before taking the plunge. Christopher! Christopher! Wait for meeee.....

(Apostate Windbag has a fine old rant about such matters just here.

Quick plug for Third Avenue, "British thoughts from New York": go and tickle his/her comments boxes.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Babar Ahmad: gross injustice

Attended this meeting down in Stockwell a few weeks back:

RESPECT IN Lambeth and Southwark, south London, hosted a meeting on civil liberties last week. Around 70 people attended, including young Muslims from Stockwell mosque.

Babar Ahmad’s wife gave a detailed and moving presentation on her husband’s case. He faces extradition to the US under one of home secretary David Blunkett’s new laws.

There was a real sense that different groups with a common opposition to war and imperialism are beginning to forge important links. We must do everything we can to consolidate these links.

Babar Ahmad should be a household name, a by-word for injustice. His wife's presentation drove home the point about just how slender the evidence against him is. A critical point of the extradition case hangs on the discovery of a 1973 tourist brochur in Ahmad's home with a picture of the Empire State Building on the front. From this, the prosecution has concluded that - of course! - Ahmad was involved in a plot to attack the Empire State Building. (In fact, the brochure is a souvenir from a visit his father, a now-retired civil servant, made to New York in the seventies.) When originally arrested in December 2003, following a brutal dawn raid, Ahmad was held for six days under the new Terrorism Act. He was released without charge, despite the beatings the police inflicted during that time. (Daniel Brett has the evidence here; I warn you, it's not pleasant. Dan also has some links on the case well worth checking out.) After lodging a complaint with the Independent Police Complaints Commission, Ahmad was re-arrested and held pending extradition hearings. The US has accused him of being alternately al-Qaida's naval operations commander, or their European Quartermaster. The Crown Prosecution Service, meanwhile, had rejected Ahmad's claims that he was in any way badly treated by the police, despite a surgeon's report stating that, "There is clearly unequivocal evidence that he was subjected to a harrowing physical and psychological assault by police officers..." The standard of proof required in extradition hearings is far below that in conventional criminal proceedings, and if sent to the US, Babar Ahmad faces confinement in Guantanamo Bay.

The al-Qaida charges, needless to say, are ludicrous: the police had six long days to turn up any evidence, and that they failed to do so speaks volumes - as do, frankly, the concern and disbelief of his wife and family, as well as the friends and neighbours who have known Babar for years. The whole "anti-terror" operation stinks; an innocent man is threatened with indefinite detention for having done little more than stood up for basic justice. Check out Free Babar Ahmad for details on getting involved in the campaign; they're urging concerned individuals to lobby their MPs at present.

Ukraine ukraine ukraine (again)

Earlier, I'd argued that, faced with a spot-the-oligarch election contest, the aim of socialists regarding the Ukraine should be: support the uprising, and to stand against whatever military repression may be unleashed.

That is, the focus should be on the process, not the immediate outcome - whether Viktor Y or Viktor Y. Mike Haynes, in an excellent article, adds the further condition that

Victory for the Yanukovich side will not be in the interest of workers because it will confirm the most corrupt parts of the oligarchy in power. But victory for the Yushchenko side, even if it produces cleaner politics, holds out little prospect by itself for improving the situation of the mass of Ukrainians.

To do that, the crowds on the streets need to begin to make demands of their own. These must include genuine political democracy, but they must also involve an attack on those on all sides who have plundered the Ukrainian economy.

We can be sure that, while the groups in the ruling class glower at each other over the elections, they will also be agreed that they have to avoid this happening.

Unfortunately, after ending the blockade of Parliament and defusing their earlier calls for strike action, the Yushchenko leadership appear adept at leading their far more radical supporters on the streets into a series of compromises with the supposed opposition. The latest must be particularly galling:

The Ukrainian opposition is prepared to offer outgoing President Leonid Kuchma immunity if he helps facilitate new elections, a senior official has told The Observer .
Oleksandr Zinchenko, the deputy speaker of parliament and a key figure in what many are now calling the 'orange revolution', said: 'Immunity [for Kuchma] would depend upon his moral conduct in the coming days.'

He did not specify what 'moral conduct' was required, but the opposition wants Kuchma's help to push through electoral reforms and sack the government before a new vote ordered by the supreme court on Friday for 26 December. He said such a deal would evaporate if Kuchma's actions 'worsened the situation'.

...which very clearly indicates the necessity of the mass movement becoming more than a stage army for the oligarchs' squabbles.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Fallujah assualt: legal issues

The ebulliently-named Vlad Unkovski-Korica and Anna Protano-Biggs here present a pretty swift challenge to a piece (not available online, unfortunately) that, as summarised below, briefly argued that the Marine who shot dead an injured insurgent in a Fallujah mosque was acting in accordance with international law. Protano-Biggs and Ukovski-Korica present a pretty damning assesment of the assualt based on the relevant law that is well worth a close read:

In his article, Mr Velshi argues that the recent killing of an “insurgent” in Iraq on 13th November by a US Marine was justified under the Geneva Conventions in international law. His argument rests on predominately on his interpretation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and the characterisation of the “insurgent”. He goes on to claim that the “insurgents in Fallujah have wrought havoc on the entire country”. Finally, he links the “anti-war left” or “Not-In-My-Name crowd” to President Bush’s statement: “you’re either with us or you’re with the terrorists”. This article attempts to reveal the major contradiction in Mr Velshi’s argument, and to take issue with his use of the word ‘terrorists’ to describe the Iraqi resistance.

The crux of Mr Velshi’s argument can be summarised by quoting last week’s article: ‘International law accords rights to those soldiers who abide by its provisions, partly as a way of encouraging combatants to respect the laws of war.’ We shall accept this contention, and show how it can be used against Mr Velshi. Essentially, this will involve raising the question of whether Mr Velshi has identified the legitimacy for the presence of occupying troops in Iraq and of their onslaught on Fallujah. Our contention would thus be that, whether or not Mr Velshi’s interpretation of the Geneva Conventions regarding the incident he decides to isolate from the general background of occupation is correct, this interpretation is entirely irrelevant to the situation.

It is our contention that it is impossible to find any legally or morally legitimate reason for the war on Iraq and the continued presence of occupying forces in that country. In March 2003 the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) in Geneva expressed “deep dismay that a small number of states are poised to launch an outright illegal invasion of Iraq, which amounts to a war of aggression.” The ICJ added: “The competency of the Security Council to authorise the use of force is not unlimited. It may only do so to ‘maintain or restore international peace and security.’”

Art. 2(4) UN Charter – no use of force
Art. 51 UN Charter – right of self-defence
SC Res. 1441 – “material breach”
660 – condemns Kuwait invasion – Iraq ordered to leave
678 – “all necessary means” to uphold 660
686 – recognises end of fighting in Kuwait
687 – list of requirements on Iraq for a permanent ceasefire

If the war is seen as illegal under international law, Mr Velshi’s contention could be used to conclude that those soldiers participating in such a violation of international law have lost their rights accorded to them by their respect of international law. This, however, would be simply the beginning.

Within the framework of an unlawful war, the onslaught on Fallujah is an extension of the illegal invasion of sovereign Iraqi soil. New York Post columnist and former military officer Ralph Peters summed up the mentality guiding the White House and Pentagon during the attack. “We must not be afraid to make an example of Fallujah. We need to demonstrate that the United States military cannot be deterred or defeated. If that means widespread destruction, we must accept the price...Even if Fallujah has to got the way of Carthage, reduced to shards, the price will be worth it.” Perhaps one could also cite a US army corporal, Nicholas Federici: “We’ll kill as many faggots and bastards as we can”. Certainly, the vehemence of the attack echoes these words, and reflects the calculated intentions of the US forces to exact mass reprisal against the city and its inhabitants, for their continued defiance of US occupation since April 2004. This is in direct violation of Art. 51 of Protocol 1 of the Geneva Conventions which prohibits all acts of reprisal and collective punishment.

The attacks on Fallujah entailed the deliberate destruction of the city’s civilian and medical infrastructure. The first estimate of structural damage, according to the less than reliable US-installed Iraqi “interim government”, is that 700 of the 17,000 buildings in the city have been destroyed.

Furthermore, the attack had started in Rammadan. Iraqi journalist Fadil al-Badrani reported to Al Jazeerah that, even before the subjugation of the city had been completed, “almost half” of the city’s 120 mosques “have been destroyed after being targeted by US air and tank strikes”. Bakr al-Dulaimi told Al Jazeera that the bombings targeted everything in the city including the hospital, houses and cars. This is again in direct violation of the Geneva Conventions. Article 18 states that in no circumstances shall civilian hospitals be objects of attack.

US forces have responded to small arms fire from homes and other buildings with artillery barrages, volleys of tank fire, and air strikes with 2,000-pound bombs. Indiscriminate use of force wrought by US forces is illustrated by a report from an embedded New York Times journalist in which he reports that to dislodge just one Iraqi sniper holding up US marines a three-storey complex was hit with two 500-pound bombs, 35 155mm artillery shells, 10 120mm shells from Abram tanks and some 30,000 rounds from machine guns and small arms. All indiscriminate attacks are expressly prohibited under Article 51 of Protocol 1 of the Geneva Conventions, including ones “which may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects, or a combination thereof, which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated”. A potential counterclaim that these buildings have ceased to be civilian in nature and it is therefore justified to attack those inside is invalid as Article 50 of Protocol I says: “The presence within the civilian population of persons that do not come within the definition of civilian does not deprive the population of its civilian character.”

There is then the fact that humanitarian and medical aid was refused access to Fallujah during the onslaught. The US stopped an aid convoy from entering the city (Courier-Mail, 15/11/2004). Firdoos al-Abadi, head of the Red Crescent's emergency committee has said "It is a disaster inside Falluja. There is no water, no electricity, no food. They are forbidding doctors from helping the people." US military officials had described the US operation as "humane" and say they "do everything possible to protect non-combatants". It doesn’t look like they did.

By isolating the killing incident from the whole picture, one obscures the issues at stake and effectively ends up labelling the legitimate battle of the Iraqi people against the occupiers ‘terrorism’. Mr Velshi should probably be asking himself who the terrorists are.

Certainly, there seems little difference between his contentions and the fact that no opportunity is lost by mainstream politicians to present acts of resistance as insurgent, extremist, religious-motivated, anti-democratic acts of terrorism by maniacs bent on imposing on the helpless Iraqi people a sinister theocracy. But what does the Iraqi population think of all this? Do they think the members of the resistance are terrorists? In fact, the Coalition Provisional Authority commissioned a face-to-face poll in May 2004 to gauge the popular mood. The results are staggering: 92 percent of Iraqis considered the U.S. ‘occupiers’ while a meagre 2 percent considered them ‘liberators.’ 80 percent had an ‘improved opinion’ of Moktadr al-Sadr, a Sunni cleric and one of the leading figures of the resistance in Sadr City, Najaf and other areas of Iraq who had at the time been actively fighting ‘Coalition’ troops. 64 percent believed that the activities of the resistance had helped unify Iraq. Is it not a further sign of what the Iraqis want that they blame the U.S. for the deaths their friends and relatives, killed by a suicide bomb or machinegun-fire gone astray? In October 2004, the families of 35 children who were killed in a series of bombings in Baghdad blamed the US military for the catatrophe that had befallen them, not those who had actually set up the bombs. Al-Badri, who's son lost one leg in one of the explosions while standing near some U.S. troops, stated, ‘I blame the Americans for this tragedy. They wanted to make human shields out of our children. They should have kept the children away from danger.’ (Sameer N. Yacoub, October 2, 2004 in Associated Press).

Unlike Mr Velshi, the left and antiwar activists do, or at least should, distinguish between the more powerful and devastating (and sometimes ‘sophisticated’) violence of the oppressor (in this case, the occupying ‘Coalition’ troops) and the violence of the oppressed (the Iraqi people). The two cannot be equivalent: the former has at its disposal aircraft, satellites, guided missiles, armoured vehicles, and an array of high-tech gear, reflecting perhaps the U.S. defence budget, which stood in 2002 at $331 billion. The latter is based on what on small arms or similar weaponry they can find or smuggle in; that which they can transport unseen; that which they can use quickly and with maximum damage. This weaponry is often crude or inaccurate. Yet, it is a manifestation of the weakness of the Iraqi people as the oppressed.Its violence in itself reflects the violence of the occupier because it is an attempt to show the occupier that it can be equivalent to him.

The war in Iraq is the product of US imperialism. It was the war of the Western corporations, the U.S. state and its satellites, against a sovereign nation which had not committed an act of aggression against the U.S. or any of the invading countries. This war still carries on with inevitably devastating consequences. 100 000 people, according to research published by the Lancet Medical Journal, have died since the beginning of the war. The Iraqi people themselves blame US occupation for this. Any struggle for real social justice in Iraq, whether for freedom of speech and assembly, for the right of association, for jobs and security, for education and welfare, for workers’ control over workplace conditions and production, for women’s liberty – for freedom and self-determination – cannot be understood or achieved separately from the posing the issue of ending the occupation of Iraq, which is epitomised in its horror by the assault on Fallujah. Mr Velshi, like President Bush, has presented us therefore with a false dichotomy: war or terrorism. We say there is an alternative: the self-determination and self-emancipation of the Iraqi people. We leave the Iraqis to do what they can and wish to drive out the occupiers. Our methods must of need be demonstration, mass civil disobedience, strike and unity. Our demand, though, is the same as that of the Iraqi people – self-determination now.

(Here, meanwhile, is a selection of briefing papers, notes and other material relating to the legality of the invasion and occupation.)