Dead Men Left

Monday, February 28, 2005

Reviewing Paul Foot's last work, The Vote: how it was won and how it was undermined, Francis Wheen opines:

While illuminating our democratic deficit, Foot doesn't fall into the trap of dismissing liberal democracy altogether: "Whatever its chronic weaknesses and paralyses, the parliamentary system and the thin gruel of democracy it offers us are indispensable to any agitation for progress." How odd, then, that his book concludes by urging us all to join the Socialist Workers' party - the same party which derides last month's elections in Iraq, where millions of voters turned out despite enormous difficulties, while it cheers on the Ba'athist neo-fascists and theocratic gangsters of the so-called "resistance".

It is breathaking that an apparently sympathetic review of a 500-page book arguing passionately that the only plausible route to democracy lies through the actions of ordinary people themselves should glibly conclude that democracy, in fact, can arrive with the US Marine Corps. Hal Draper, the great US socialist, wrote long enough ago of socialism's "two souls": one, a profoundly democratic belief in the possibility and necessity of working people changing the world by their own actions; the other, an elitist view of working people as passively receiving bounty from enlightened "socialist" leaders. That the pro-war "left" goes further, and now sees in Donald Rumsfeld and George W. Bush such a virtuous elite is a fine tribute to its moral disintegration.

Batman again: Fathers 4 Injustice return

Fathers 4 Justice, the backlash protest group, are becoming increasingly and overtly partisan:

Three costumed Fathers 4 Justice protesters have scaled a Foreign Office balcony overlooking Downing Street...

They unfurled a banner saying: "Don't let Labour stop you being a Superdad".

Or, to be blunt, Vote Tory.

F4J recently protested against the BBC's anti-wifebeater "bias". Their website reveals their belief that women are incapable of raising children alone. They are a deeply and bitterly reactionary organisation. (More here.)

Unexpected appearance in the Guardian justifying a breathless drift in Livejournal territory

I've not been to a gig that's made the national news before:

Anarchic rock band The Others performed a gig outside the Victoria and Albert in London last night in protest against the museum's decision to cancel a planned concert inside the building.

The Others, who won the John Peel prize for musical innovation at the recent NME Awards, had been invited to play as part of a V&A event called Agitate! Educate! Organise! But their appearance was cancelled because officials had safety concerns, fearing that too many fans would attend the free concert in a 300-seat lecture theatre.

This doesn't tell you about the other Other's gig that evening, round the corner from the V&A in the Polish Health Club, which turned out - after we'd followed a good-sized horde of drunken, spiky-haired sixth-formers on a tip-off from a dubious old man in trench-coat - to be less a "Polish bar", as promised, more a grandiose expat cultural centre in the Ferrero Rocher style, complete with stiff-backed well-heeled Poles sipping wine downstairs, grand sweeping balustrades and slightly muddy portraits of national heroes beside crossed swords and tastefully-arranged plant-pots.

The exhibition by Mark Wigan in the upstairs room, decanted from the V&A prior to the gig, a flickering succession of possibly meaningful pop-cultural references broadcast onto canvas sheets, failed, like the hideously expensive beer, to dampen the adolescent enthusiasm; my dapper attire was being treated as some kind of ironic joke by the horde, and I had to wearily agree with the sniffy assessment of a reluctant colleague that, yes, it was somewhat like a stage-school outing, too much eyeshadow and too much pocket-money, whilst other reluctant colleague, a Trotskyist from Belgrade, briefly overcame his distaste for both pan-Slavism and popular culture by slobbering at a winsome photographer - until the Others finally turned up, vindicating my hyperbolic claims of them being "quite good, actually" by being quite good, actually and revealing a previously unsuspected ironic tint to This Is For the Poor, until they had to stop due to complaints from the senior Polish politician eating upstairs, and the amps blowing. A cautionary note: never become lead-singer in rock band, you end up as an unwitting Pied Piper, forced to lead delirious 15 year-olds to the local park to drink cider and smoke dope, a trail of hurled plant-pots in their wake. Poor man; he looked stricken when I told him the park was shut. Good tunes, though.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Congestion charging: response to Lenin

Following Edinburgh's rejection of congestion charging, Len revealed that he wasn't too keen on the scheme in London in any case. "Congestion charging works; but it's the wrong policy" because, although traffic is down 18% in the charged areas, being a flat-rate charge the scheme unfairly hits poorer car users hardest. Objections varied between the moralistic claim that no-one in London needs a car, and the (more plausible) suggestion that the poor don't own cars anyway.

The first is easily dealt with: outside of the ranks of mobile, child-free, and young, getting by in London without a car can be real strain. It's not life-threatening not to own one, but with public transport so bad, so expensive and sometimes so non-existent - try, for example, navigating across south London, east-west, rather than north-south - the choice to use a car is hardly a disgraceful materialist indulgence. I've got little time for lifestyle arguments like this; if you want people to stop using their cars, improve public transport.

However. We have to recognise that, first, improvements take time; and, second, there are huge costs associated with car use that are not well reflected in the price of using a car. These side-effects can be seen everywhere: for example, children from in the poorest socio-economic group are 5 times more likely to be killed in a car-crash than those from the richest. Why? Because those on lower incomes live in areas with lower house prices, and lower house prices tend to occur, amongst other things, where there are busy roads nearby.

If we look at car ownership in London, there's a clear relationship between deprivation and not owning a car. The ten boroughs with the lowest levels of car ownership are all in London and they are overwhelmingly also the most deprived. Charging for car use obviously excludes those without cars, and so congestion charging should have a slightly progressive element.

The Institute of Fiscal Studies estimated the impact of the congestion charge across different income groups in 2000, prior to the scheme's introduction. (I've not seen any similar study conducted after the c-charge started operation.) Ignoring the unreliable data for the very poorest, it's clear that the charge would have some progressive effects, up to the middle-income earners.

After that, it starts to become regressive: those earning more would pay proportionately less for the scheme. This is due to the distribution of incomes in London, with concentrations of the richest households at present just outside the congestion charge zone. It's one of the reasons the Mayor wants to extend the current scheme westwards, to capture these areas, and - of course - one of the reasons why this is so bitterly opposed by the Tories.

This won't be enough, however, to reverse the regressive impact in the top part of the income scale. Whilst I don't agree with Lenin's stated opposition to congestion charging, there are obvious ways to improve the scheme: rationing use, permits for essential workers, and increasing charges for larger, more expensive cars would all be sensible measures.

None of this is enough, of course. Having spent years rattling every morning on dilapidated rolling stock beneath one of the greatest concentrations of wealth on earth, Lenin's conclusion is spot on:

There is more than enough money in this country, and especially in London, to pay for a better, more efficient and cheaper transport system. Come on, Ken. Instead of whacking more on council tax, why not put a tax on some of those obscene mega-profits sloshing around the city? ...Windfall them. Reclaim some of those ill-gotten gains and build that bloody Crossrail at long last.

(...and some more tramlines. Trams are great.)

Brief comic interlude

Courtesy of Ed, spouting off at the home of an "attention seeking, moped-riding gourmand" - a Funny Joke:

An Englishman, Irishman and Scotsman walked into a bar and beat the shit out of Kilroy.

Thursday, February 24, 2005


Blair on new "anti-terror" legislation: lives more important than liberty.

Blair on necessity of slaughter in Iraq: liberty more important than lives.

The war on terror revisited

A few days ago, Tony Blair, a Prime Minister enjoying a huge Parliamentary majority and a docile Cabinet, took the unusual step of inviting the leaders of the Tories and the Liberal Democrats round to Number 10 in an effort to gain their support for fresh "anti-terror" legislation.

At the time, I sniffily speculated that this indicated once more the war on terror's capacity to force a collapse towards an authoritarian consensus. The effect is particularly marked in the US, where official opposition to the PATRIOT Act, or the invasion of Iraq, was reduced to a tiny Congressional whimper.

Away from the Capitol, or Westminster, opposition is clearly more marked; but for political managers, the correct line is generally clear. Blair, presumably, was relying on this factor to bring Michael Howard and Charles Kennedy into the fold. Like him, I thought the attempt would be successful, particularly after the Conservative leadership abandoned its opposition to ID cards.

It is interesting to note, then, that in addition to another major backbench revolt amongst Labour MPs, neither Tories not Lib Dems voted for the house arrest proposals. Significant Labour rebellions against government policy have occurred at increasing intervals since the great anti-war revolt in early 2003, but you might suppose little reason for the Tories to want to appear "soft" on terrorism with an election approaching and lumps of fresh reactionary meat to be thrown to their supporters. Speculating again: the effect of the "war on terror" on domestic politics is weakening. It has been eaten away by Iraq and opposition to that war, and even a vicious Tory like Howard can see it.

Damn Sitemeter

Blog complaint alert. You don't need to involve yourself with this.

The British Blogs top ten site is up and running, and I am spitting with fury about Sitemeter. The das.reinvigorate counter was registering DML as getting something around 250 hits a day, logged by time, ISP and referrer; I assumed, then, that it wasn't double-counting. Since it went down the toilet, I've had to resort to using Sitemeter, which records a derisory, why-the-hell-should-I-bother figure. There's about 310 links to this site, and the comments boxes are reasonably active, so I'm assuming that my hits haven't fallen off quite so dramatically. What's going on? (I want my bloody place on the top twenty.)

Third Avenue suggests Ian Duncan Smith was right: the British-inclined blogosphere, at present, is the domain of the Right. Much of this is path-dependency: they beat us to it, they established readerships, and we all have to play catch-up. But the idea that some possibly significant social terrain is being cluttered with a shower of Tories, pro-war "lefts" and other misanthropes is unsettling.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Iraq: legal questions brushed over

There's nothing truly surprising in any of this. Not after the last three years.

The attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, warned less than two weeks before the invasion of Iraq that military action could be ruled illegal.

The government was so concerned that it might be prosecuted it set up a team of lawyers to prepare for legal action in an international court...

It appears that Lord Goldsmith never wrote an unequivocal formal legal opinion that the invasion was lawful, as demanded by Lord Boyce, chief of defence staff at the time.

The army's great fear was that it would face serious consequences, possibly in the Hague, if it acted without a solid legal opinion behind it.

Unfortunately, the overwhelming opinion of the international legal community was that an invasion of Iraq would be unlawful without at least a further UN resolution. In the absence of such a resolution, a credible legal opinon was hard to come by.

A lone voice against this consensus was Prof Christopher Greenwood at LSE, who constructed this neat piece of work for a rather threadbare case. The differences between his argument and that eventually presented by the government are minimal, to the point of non-existence.

If you read through it, you'll see Greenwood's case for the legality of invasion divides into first, a dubious assesment of the possible threat from non-existent WMDs; and second, a more substantial argument that the UN's resolution 678 was still in force. This was the resolution passed to authorise the 1991 Gulf War; Greenwood held that it still applied, twelve years later. He concludes that no second UN resolution was necessary to authorise war.

This advice was submitted to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee in October 2002. A favourable opinion was widely known for a good length of time prior to the war, but it was only very shortly before the war that this case was eventually the one the government apparently relied on. From the Guardian report, as late as March 7, Lord Goldsmith was claiming another UN resolution would be required; on March 13, he appears to have slightly changed his mind; on March 19, the invasion was launched. This sequence should make us suspicious: there was a clear problem with the government presenting a legal opinion favourable to the invasion,

The "problem" is not hard to guess: Greenwood's opinion can be shot to pieces. Perhaps the most succinct attack was by Rabinder Singh QC, of Matrix Chambers, who was commissioned by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament to investigate the legality of the government's decision.

Of course, we do not know the exact details of the government's opinion, since the government - for some reason or another - has refused to release the entire text. The most persuasive argument for this reticence is that the Attorney General still did not wish to sign his name to a legal argument he held to be fundamentally flawed, merely claiming that a possible case could be made along Greenwood's lines, rather than that this case should be made.

Necromancy and flogging dead horses

Via Little Red Blogger, I find Ken McLeod (20/02/05) is summoning up old ghosts.

This country is sleepwalking towards a Tory government. A new Tory government would not be more of the same - Blairism with a less human face. It would be as different from the governments of Thatcher and Major as theirs were from those of Edward Heath. It would resemble Thatcher's only in its capacity to astonish.

How could it be coming to this? Why is the Left letting this happen?

We're going wrong in two ways, which are two sides of the same mistake: identifying the Labour Party with Blairism. One part of the Left is busy defending New Labour, and another part is saying there's no difference between the Labour Party and the Tories, and is busy building electoral alternatives to the Labour Party.

First up, the simple practicalities: an intelligent Left strategy of opposition to New Labour would no more bring about a Tory government than smearing the Mayor of London will. Respect is standing in around 30 seats nationally; the Tories require a swing of some 12% for "even a small majority", which none of the polls suggest is happening yet.

That's looking nationally. In practice, some seats are harder for the Tories to win than others, and there's little reason for the Left to stand in Labour marginals. On the other side, there's plenty of unpleasant pro-war Blairite timeservers who thoroughly deserve to, at the very least, have their cages rattled. Ken's fears here are simply misplaced. Across the country as a whole, the Lib Dems are a more likely stalking horse for the Tories, given the nationwide spread of their candidates and likely attraction for left votes. Even then, though, the majority of their target seats are Tory-held.

Ken's more substantive points are equally off the mark, but raise some interesting issues nontheless. We must allow for a simple factual error: far from only the "tiny Labour left and the even tinier Communist Party" preferring a New Labour government to the Tories, this is Respect's position. There is a clear difference between the two, and that is why Respect supporters work with decent Labour MPs like Jeremy Corbyn and Alan Simpson in the Stop the War Coalition. New Labour is not the whole of the Labour Party, even as it gradually consumes it. It will attract millions of votes in this election because its electorate, considerably to the left of the government, recognise that fact. Either the non-Labour left does, too, or it will be susceptible to the last gasp Blairite appeal: you don't want the Tories back, do you?

There are groups on the Left for whom this is not clear. Some in the Green Party have appeared indifferent between Labour and Conservative, refusing to second-preference Ken Livingstone during the London elections and, for example, forming a coalition with the Tories in Leeds. The prospect, however, of a substantial Green vote nationwide seems remote. The most likely prospect for Green advance is arm-in-arm with Respect.

Ken's analysis, at its base, depends on an appeal to Labour's historic role as the repository of progressive hopes in Britain. It has held that position for some eighty years; the question now facing any serious Left is: does that situation still hold? Gary Younge offered an answer it is hard to fault:

To blame... Blair and the New Labour project, as though they are in some way separate and distinct from the rest of Labour, no longer washes. True, they have dismantled almost every lever of democracy within the party. But, with a few notable exceptions, at crucial moments the backbenchers and trade union movement have chosen to side with the leadership.

This has transformed Labour from an imperfect conduit of progressive change to an active obstacle to it. To vote for it is to abandon any hope that such change will ever come. It is to hand over responsibility for a leftwing agenda to those who have shown nothing but contempt for liberal-left policies and for the people who hold them dear. Nowhere is this more evident than on Iraq. The case against the war has been made often and eloquently, not least in these pages.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Scott Ritter: US "to bomb Iran in June", plus Iraqi election fraud

The report:

Scott Ritter, appearing with journalist Dahr Jamail yesterday in Washington State, dropped two shocking bombshells in a talk delivered to a packed house in Olympia’s Capitol Theater. The ex-Marine turned UNSCOM weapons inspector said that George W. Bush has "signed off" on plans to bomb Iran in June 2005, and claimed the U.S. manipulated the results of the recent Jan. 30 elections in Iraq...

On Iran, Ritter said that President George W. Bush has received and signed off on orders for an aerial attack on Iran planned for June 2005. Its purported goal is the destruction of Iran’s alleged program to develop nuclear weapons, but Ritter said neoconservatives in the administration also expected that the attack would set in motion a chain of events leading to regime change in the oil-rich nation of 70 million -- a possibility Ritter regards with the greatest skepticism.

The former Marine also said that the Jan. 30 elections, which George W. Bush has called "a turning point in the history of Iraq, a milestone in the advance of freedom," were not so free after all. Ritter said that U.S. authorities in Iraq had manipulated the results in order to reduce the percentage of the vote received by the United Iraqi Alliance from 56% to 48%.

Asked by UFPPC's Ted Nation about this shocker, Ritter said an official involved in the manipulation was the source, and that this would soon be reported by a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist in a major metropolitan magazine -- an obvious allusion to New Yorker reporter Seymour M. Hersh.

...which should make for an interesting read. Jamie at Blood and Treasure suggests the early closure of polling may have been enough to allow some "shaving" of the UIA's vote.

Ritter was voice of sanity before the Iraq war, calmly repeating a very simple message: the weapons' inspection programme had worked; Iraq had no capability to manufacture new weapons of mass destruction; there were now no WMDs in Iraq.

He was dead right about that. We'll see how the June prediction comes on.

"Prudence with a purpose"

Iron Chancellor reduced to "fiddling" accounts:

The Treasury was embroiled in a row over "fiddled figures" on Friday night after government statisticians said they would reclassify public sector accounts ahead of the Budget in a way that could save the chancellor from breaking his self-imposed rules on borrowing...

In a footnote to the public finance figures, the ONS said it would make a "substantial" reclassification of road maintenance from current expenditure to capital expenditure.

Since capital expenditure does not count as spending in Mr Brown's "golden rule" - only to borrow to invest over the economic cycle - the change could provide billions of pounds of additional leeway and make the difference between keeping the rule and breaking it...

In a statement on Friday night, the ONS acknowledged that the Treasury influenced its decision to reclassify the statistics but said the influence had not been "improper". It added: "There was a joint study with Treasury statisticians but the decision to make the revision was made by the national statistician alone."

Prudence indeed.

Ken Livingstone: a very few words

The Westminster village is up in arms, as the tone of these reports indicate. Ken Livingstone is seriously derelicting his duty by failing to crawl before the Right and beg forgiveness. That's who the whole affair has really been about, as Livingstone himself says in his statement. The crocodile tears on the parts of habitual racists like the London Tories and the Associated Newspapers group are wholly unconvincing, and it's a little unpleasant that a sudden supposed concern for minority rights should be hiding an obvious political maneouvre to undermine a staunch anti-racist.

The Tories in London are particularly bad in this regard; Daniel Brett here recounts their use of antisemitic propaganda against Oona King in the 2001 election. (It didn't help them much; King recorded a 4.2% swing in her favour.)

It seems, however, that by failing to kowtow to the Right as decreed, Livingstone is once again demonstrating his astuteness as a politician. We await opinion poll confirmation, but Livingstone's own evidence, and the results from these straw polls suggest that by not backing down, he has won public support.

Gary Younge: "we cannot vote Labour"

Gary Younge adds his voice to a growing chorus:

Those progressives who have always and will always vote Labour, regardless of what it does or to whom, please turn the page. There is a word that covers uncritical support, non-negotiable loyalty and blind faith. It is called fundamentalism. The rest of us have some hard thinking to do. The next few months will find us regaled by friends and foes at work and play, in print and on screen. They will threaten us with life under Michael Howard. Like a Soviet commissar without a clipboard, they will parrot the achievements of the past eight years in facts and figures by rote.

His assesment of the position of the Left in England and Wales when facing these elections is absolutely spot-on:

The left comes at this election from a position of political strength and electoral weakness. We have managed to galvanise mass opposition to the war in particular but, with the exception of Scotland, not to New Labour in general - and so have failed to lend this disaffection an electoral expression. As a result, there is no national force to the left of Labour capable of replacing it or of posing an effective challenge to it under a first-past-the-post system.

Sensibly, he (largely) rejects the Lib Dem option: they seem poised to act as a safety-valve in this election, harmlessly dissipating progressive frustrations.

The immediate electoral calculation facing the Lib Dems is clear: the majority of their target seats are held by Tories; in the absence of tactical voting from Labour supporters, they need to tack to the social-liberal right. In the longer term, the sole ideological pole of attraction inside the party seems to be those born-again Thatcherites around Vince Cable, whose thoughts on the future of politics were so handily assembled in the "Orange Book".

(However: here are the sorry details of the Labour candidate on offer in my constituency. The gap between student radical and grown-up Blairite seems to have lessened dramatically in recent years. If I vote, I will vote Lib Dem because I have no other remotely progressive choice.)

But Younge is also absolutely correct to tell those still obsessing about Blair that the blame has to be spread wider:

Depressed turnout and the rise in support for the British National party suggest an even greater risk of a far more dramatic lurch to the right if we maintain our current course and ignore the despondency [the government] is creating. To blame this on Blair and the New Labour project, as though they are in some way separate and distinct from the rest of Labour, no longer washes. True, they have dismantled almost every lever of democracy within the party. But, with a few notable exceptions, at crucial moments the backbenchers and trade union movement have chosen to side with the leadership.

There are too many to recount in detail: the trade unions' collapse on ending the occupation of Iraq at Labour's 2004 conference; votes in Parliament on tuition fees, or ID cards, or the anti-terror legislation. Too often, for eight years, the check on the government that a presumed "Labour Left" was supposed to provide has failed. We must look elsewhere.

The determining factor facing the non-Labour Left in Britain is its geographical unevennes. As Younge says, "[P]rogressive antipathy to Labour will most likely be shaped by local factors." Whilst the sense of despair about Labour is spread nationwide, perhaps best seen in the party's haemorrhaging of 200,000 members since 1997, it is only very partially been assembled into effective political organisations. In some areas, anti-war Labour MPs can be wholeheartedly supported. In others, Respect or the Greens offer the best hope for left-wing voice in this election.

We have to adopt what has been described as a "guerrilla strategy": not marching onto the battlefield to be slaughtered by the vastly greater conventional armies of Labour and the Lib Dems, but harrying the opposition where own forces are strongest. The value of tying down and defeating New Labour in a single constituency is far greater and will achieve far more to rebuild the Left than any amount of pretension to national representation.

Not an act of contrition

Ken Livingstone's statement, lightly edited highlights:

A week ago I said it was not my intention to apologise to the journalist from Daily Mail group or his employers. Upon a further week of reflection in which I have read everything written in the press about this controversy and after considerable debate with many Londoners I have decided to stand by that position. There will therefore be no apology or expression of regret to the Daily Mail group...

To the Daily Mail group I say that no-one in Britain is less qualified than they to complain about anti-semitism. Their papers were not, as some have reported, guilty of "a brief flirtation" with Adolf Hitler in the l930s. In truth these papers were the leading advocates of anti-semitism in Britain for half a century.

Beginning a hundred years ago with their campaign to stop Jewish refugees fleeing to Britain from Russia they carried on right the way through the rise of Hitler and even after the start of World War II still felt free to peddle the lie that Germany's Jews had brought the holocaust upon themselves. I have set out in detail the record of the Daily Mail group in my formal response to the London Assembly.

Whilst it is true the Mail group no longer smears Jews as bringing crime and disease to the UK it is only because they have moved on. After a decade of pandering to racism against our citizens of Black and Irish origin they have moved on and now describe asylum seekers and Muslims in similar terms. For the Mail group the victims may change but the intolerance, hatred and fear pervade every issue of the papers.

What was the motive of the Mail group in whipping up this media fire storm? If insulted why did the Daily Mail group journalist or the editor of the Evening Standard not get in touch and say they thought I had gone too far? If the Daily Mail group journalist had expressed regret for his behaviour on the street I would have been happy to withdraw my comments and assure him I bore him no hard feelings...

Over the last two weeks my main concern has been that many Jewish Londoners have been disturbed by this whipped up row. I do not equate the actions of one reporter with the total abdication of responsibility shown by those who were complicit to whatever degree in the horrors of the holocaust. But I do believe that abdicating responsibility for one’s actions by the excuse that “I am only doing my job” is the thin end of the immoral wedge that at its other extreme leads to the crimes and horrors of Auschwitz, Rwanda and Bosnia.

I have been deeply affected by the concern of Jewish people in particular that my comments downplayed the horror and magnitude of the holocaust. I wish to say to those Londoners that my words were not intended to cause such offence and that my view remains that the holocaust against the Jews is the greatest racial crime of the 20 th century.

Something that has been disgraceful over these past two weeks has been the way in which the Daily Mail group have worked hand in glove with the chair of the London Assembly and his Conservative colleagues. Betraying his wider political agenda Brian Coleman has in his many appearances tried to widen this issue to include my views about the policies of the Israeli government.

Given Assembly member Coleman’s own record of disparaging Irish travellers, Somalis, foreign students and participants at the Notting Hill Carnival his new found interest in the sensitivities of London’s minorities is impossible to believe...

Clearly Londoners share my view. I have lost count of the number of times I have been approached by Londoners over the last two weeks and have been urged very forcefully not to apologise. Since this row erupted we have received over 1500 letters and emails from the public. 74 per cent have expressed their support for me, with 26 per cent against—a margin of support of three to one.

Not for the first time in my years in public life the views of ordinary people on the street are overwhelmingly at odds with much of the media.

Act of contrition

Of course I liked him really.

More recently,

"We are losing this stupid, fraudulent war in Iraq and every nation in the world despises us, except for a handful of corrupt Brits, like that simpering little whore, Tony Blair."

(quote, rather circuitously, via Ed)

Monday, February 21, 2005

London Underground and debt relief, somewhat tenuously linked

Oh, for those happy, crazy days when special New Labour privatisation was all set to improve efficiency and save money. Here's Tim O'Toole, London Underground's new boss, on the subject:

The private public partnership, or PPP, under which Mr O'Toole runs the underground was masterminded by the deputy prime minister, John Prescott, with backing from the Treasury. Under the scheme, two engineering consortiums, known as the "infracos" - Metronet and Tube Lines - won 30-year contracts worth £15.7bn to modernise the tracks, stations and tunnels, thereby splitting the tube's infrastructure from its operation, by London Underground. The private sector was to pay 25% towards the work, government grants 60% and fares 15%. From the companies' point of view, the deal was almost risk-free and guaranteed them 30 years' work with reviews every seven and a half years.

One of the reasons I voted Ken Livingstone in 2000, when he stood as an independent, was because like so many others I thought the privatisation of the tube would be a dire mistake. Livingstone was committed to an alternative plan, mentioned in the Guardian article, that proposed the issuing of long-term bonds to finance investment. There were problems with the scheme, not least the long-term commitment it demanded to the loan markets, but it was better than the alternative on offer. This was the Treasury's scheme. They aimed to fundamentally restructure the tube's management to entice in private capital, and bring with it that glorious, enterprising private business acumen - which the "partners" promptly put to good use:

The contract was so complex that it cost the taxpayer £455m in lawyers' and consultants' expenses just to draw it up. The deals are unique, untried and unproven in the world of transport; they are performance- related, so the companies are recompensed according to their success in reducing service delays.

One of the authors, now at Imperial College, is Stephen Glaister, who sits on the TfL board and says of the PPP: "The idea was for a partnership in which we were all going to be best friends, to which we said at the time: 'You've got to be joking.' It was completely naive to talk in terms of partnership."

Cynics will note that not only is London Underground now being urged to, erm, issue long-term bonds to finance investment; but that the idea has spread back to the Treasury on a grand scale in the form of the Chancellor's International Finance Facility. Funny old world.


I never liked him, anyway.

Against tactical voting

Former government advisor gone bad, David Clark, continues his one-man crusade:

Reversing the tide of inequality was never going to be easy, but New Labour has failed to halt it, while Blair ridicules the idea that it even matters. The public realm is cast as inferior to the private sector and its ethos caricatured as antediluvian. Civil libertarians are dismissed as "bleeding heart liberals". The 1960s are written off as a ghastly mistake. Immigration is discussed in tones intended to appease racism, not challenge it. Promises on student fees and Lords reform are casually broken. And that's before we get to Iraq.

A fair summary, excluding Iraq, of the Blair governments' records and why quite so many Labour voters are so bitter. Clark's recommendation, and it is one that is gaining some ground, is to vote tactically.

Tactical voting in 1997 ensured more Tories lost their seats than the simple swing to Labour would predict. Voters carefully targeted Tory marginals, and switched from their preferred (third-placed) party, whether Labour or Lib Dem, to maximise the chances of knocking an incumbent Tory out of office.

There are, however, serious problems with this. Though he saves his animus for the splurge of tactical voting websites, Chris Applegate sums up some of those serious when he writes that, "Tactical voting... only try to solve the symptoms rather than the cause."

Underlying the belief in tactical voting, for all the vague appeals to empowerment and activism, is a deep-rooted conservatism. To vote tactically is to reduce politics to the Westminster politicians' base level: only votes matter, and only votes for proper politics really matter. It accepts the status quo ante and the limitations it imposes. Under present circumstances, this means accepting the Thatcher's dictum: There Is No Alternative: either the free market is the model for society, or there is nothing.

Many of those failing to appear at the polling booths, and it is likely to be a great deal of us, will have shrugged their shoulders and opted for the second choice: nothing. The appeal of tactical voting to thoroughly disenfranchised ex-voters will be limited in the extreme.

In a perverse way, Iraq might give the issue some bite. Iraq is the one point at which clear and unequivocal differences emerge between the major parties. The frothingly anti-Blair site, Backing Blair, demands an anti-Labour vote in all constituencies, everywhere to unseat the man, largely because of Iraq.

I share much of this deep and bitter and regrettably personalised loathing for the man, for he manages to embody in his lanky frame almost every single one of the worst vices stereotypically attributed to "Middle England": the selective belief in meritocracy, the obsession with house prices, the woeful cultural conservatism hiding a real contempt for working class people, the vacuous ersatz "spirituality", the belief in the White Man's Burden... and so on.

The one such vice he does not hold is the absence of saloon-bar racism. Blair generally delegates this to some minion, Blunkett springing to mind. But it is an important distinction; better a wooly belief in "multicultural" values, however ruined by Labour's slide on immigration and support for the "war on terror", than the ill-concealed racism of the Right.

That's largely the reason why it is simply impossible to advocate voting anti-Labour. Factor in the dwindling numbers of decent(ish) Labour MPs, who have opposed the war on Iraq, tuition fees, the abuse meted out to strikers and all the rest of it, and the "anyone but Labour" strategy looks plainly irrational.

But this is where Iraq matters. Our response to the war can either be to support the status quo - and so support "reclaiming Labour", or the Lib Dems - or it can be to treat it, as hundreds of thousands have done, as marking a clear break with the past. Opposition to the war on Iraq did not come out of nowhere. Two million people do not, generally speaking, march on any issue in Britain without good reason. The anti-war movement grew out of the swirling oppositions to a hundred and one other discontents this government has produced. The homemade placard on February 15th, two years ago, reading "Beds Not Bombs" summed the process up: the opposition to the war on Iraq was directly a response to the failure of Blairism and the cavernous gap between official and popular politics.

If we treat this opposition as break, under severe strain, with the status quo, then we cannot now urge a retreat, back to the existing set up. Tactical voting is a request to do precisely that; a denial that any break is possible - despite all the evidence that it is already occurring, both Left and Right - and a refusal to engage with the possibilities it offers.

What sense would it make, for example, for socialists, on a tactical voting basis, to urge a vote for the Conservatives or the Lib Dems in Bethnal Green? A clear left-wing alternative to the arch-Blairite MP is standing, and is in with a good chance of winning the seat. Yet on previous performance, a tactical vote would force a choice between vapid yellow and vicious blue.

This is to deliberately pick the most extreme example, but the processes at work in Bethnal Green are happening elsewhere. New or rejuvenated organisations of the Left have started to fill the gap between the official political consensus and the aspirations of many. Whether they win seats or not is less important than what they can continue to put in place on the ground. It's old-fashioned politics, but building political parties has never been about instant hits in elections: helpful as these are, even in times so dominated by centralised media the individuals who can organise and persuade are what can persistently deliver the goods. It needs patient work on the ground, and an ability to see these elections as one step on the way - not the sole focus of activity.

Either these new forces continue to grow, through the election and beyond, or we are left with the desperate possibility of - not just Blair still as Prime Minister - but an unfeebled, voiceless opposition.

Missive from Prague

The important news is that the Zoo has three Honey Badgers and they are
everything I ever dreamed of and more.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Rod Liddle: "always psychologise"

Mark Elf, evidently a man made of stronger stuff than many of us, has been reading the Spectator, and finds this fresh and steaming turd as laid by one Rod Liddle. Mark is rightly cross at the flagrant Islamophobia on display, but amongst the questionable assertions, Liddle's claim that...

There may, too, have been some of that unconscious anti-Semitism which has historically infested the far Left; many psychoanalysts believe that the Left’s aversion to capitalism is simply a displaced loathing of Jews.

...makes me think

1. Who are these "psychoanalysts" who so readily make the antisemitic equation "Jew=capitalist" to explain the beliefs of others? Come on, Liddle, name and shame; and

2. Anyone whose ex-wife has publicly reported his reliance on Viagra to conduct a long-standing affair with his secretary, shortly after the individual in question was married, and who, when caught out by his newlywed partner, weakly claimed that he was conducting "research" for his recently-published short story collection of extra-marital dalliances - anyone like that should not be quite so keen to psychologise about the rest of us.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

City traders "total thugs" shock

It's an object lesson in Why Numbers Matter:

WHEN 35 Greenpeace protesters stormed the International Petroleum Exchange (IPE) yesterday they had planned the operation in great detail.

What they were not prepared for was the post-prandial aggression of oil traders who kicked and punched them back on to the pavement.

“We bit off more than we could chew. They were just Cockney barrow boy spivs. Total thugs,” one protester said, rubbing his bruised skull.

Europe's largest oil futures exchange was attacked to bring attention to the paltry global response to global warming. On the day the Kyoto Protocol came into operation, Greenpeace were - rightly - declaring it not to be good enough.

Unfortunately, their direct action politics got the better of them. Without the numbers, Greenpeace got a kicking:

...they were set upon by traders, most of whom were under the age of 25. “They were kicking and punching men and women indiscriminately,” a photographer said. “It was really ugly, but Greenpeace did not fight back.”

It all reminds me of a glorious Friday in June, 1999, when an unexpectedly large crowd of anticapitalists overwhelmed riot police in the City of London to hold a carnival. The sun shone, the music blared, naked hippies danced beneath a streaming water fountain - and, amongst other things, the LIFFE building was broken into:

At one point a section of the crowd bursts into the Liffe building smashing the lobby up, hurling smoke bombs and fighting for fifteen minutes with traders, security and riot police for control of the building. The group fails to reach the trading floor, but 400 workers are evacuated bringing trade to an early close. Due to security precautions after hours trading is also cancelled. Having ejected the crowd from the building police find it difficult to shift them from outside it and a period of intense fighting ensues for around 45 minutes.

If you're going to break into the hubs of the world financial system - that's the way to do it, comrades.

Friday, February 18, 2005

What can you do with 30kg of plutonium?

"30kg of plutonium goes missing at Sellafield."

Surely there's only so much fun you can have with plutonium - sticking some in another guy's lunchbox, playing catch in the dark, seeing how long you can hold it for before you get a headache - that's about it.

Further suggestions greatly appreciated.

And then they bang on about "totalitarianism"

Post-9/11, to use the common division of all human history, there has been an unerring tendency for all acceptable political positions to collapse into agreement on "security" matters.

Tony Blair is expected to seek cross-party consensus on the government's controversial proposals for new control orders when he meets opposition leaders, Michael Howard, and Charles Kennedy today.

Official dissent is squeezed into a corner, whilst unofficial, popular outrage is granted a few snarled warnings. The prevailing consensus that any effort, no matter how foolish or immoral, to improve "security" must be supported is noisily backed by the approved opposition, even where clear political advantage can be gained. Only the rude interruption of mass discontent into the official political sphere has broken this triumph of the technocratic will: the new politics of "security" that states political problems can be solved with technological fixes: that terrorism will be stopped by ID cards, or that human rights abuses can be ended with cruise missiles.

Mark Kaplan has a few words on the "left" variant of this process; I would only add that a deep-rooted Orientalism, in perhaps its most obnoxious form - Western Enlightenment versus the savages - has been necessary to secure the position. (This is also a good point to plug newish and bracingly acerbic blog, Time of the Barmecides, from which Kaplan takes his cue.)

Thursday, February 17, 2005

"Forward, not back": bland is the new nice

There's something vaguely sinister about Labour's vapid sloganeering:

In a series of slogans outlining how he saw the next few weeks in the run up to the election, Mr Blair wrote (and twice had to cross out and begin again): "REAL LIFE IS TOUGH", "NOT COMPLACENT", "NOT DISINTERESTED, DISEMPOWERED", "PLAYING BY THE RULES", "PROGRESS V TORY RECORD".

REAL LIFE IS TOUGH - a fitting epitaph for Fallujah, perhaps.

"Friends": fresh stupidities

The badly-misnamed "Labour Friends of Iraq" website published a report berating Socialist Worker's account of the TUC's conference on solidarity with Iraqi trade unionists. It picked up on Socialist Worker's apparently dishonest reporting - indeed, reading the "Labour Friends of Iraq" account, you might almost think that Socialist Worker was talking about a different conference entirely.

Which, of course, it was: the SW report is from the Stop the War Coalition conference, a few days prior to the TUC event.

"Labour Friends of Iraq" have now removed the link to this amusing article from their main webpage, but the specific link above still works.

(Thanks to Lenin.)

Ken Livingstone: a few words

I didn't want to talk about the Ken Livingstone "concentration camp guard" business. The stupidity of it all is worthy of a ghastly students' union rag, where wannabe hacks frantically attempt turn the non-events and backbiting of student politics into earthshattering news: all under the guise of holding the very highest of motives, of course - whilst all the time doing nothing more than furthering their own petty ambitions.

Unfortunately, this absurd media spat shows no signs of abating just yet. Some kind of statement is necessary.

Was Livingstone offensive? Yes, very much so; anyone would be offended by the comparison he made.

Was it an absurd thing to say? Yes, a stupid Rick-like remark; comparing anyone you don't like to a fascist is infantile, even if it was made here in response to some "only doing my job" comments from the jorunalist.

Was Livingstone racist? Did he, in a weasely formulation, use "racist discourse"? No. It was not a comment on the reporter's background, nor was it a comment on Jews more generally.

As one respondent on the BBC website said,

The tedious regularity with which certain sections of the right wing media in this country latch onto anything that, to them, hints at anti-Semitism is becoming an unbearable drag. Your average Jewish member of the community, myself that is, wishes that these 'journalists' would stop. Shame on this journalist for trivialising what are serious, emotional issues in the Jewish community in the hope of scoring cheap political points for a newspaper's personal campaign against a popular, democratically elected politician. I pray that when this hack has true reason some day to cry wolf that there will still be someone left to listen.
Paul Freedland, London

All this should be filed, incidentally, under "B" for "bleeding obvious, stating the".

That the Telegraph, the pro-war "left"[*] and the vile London Tories should be in close alignment on the issue should be enough to make wary any self-respecting anti-racist. That Blair has shamelessly leapt on the bandwagon is hardly a great surprise; he reserves his braver moments for facing down his supposed allies, but rolls over on the Right's command.

As for the Evening Standard and its sister papers, Livingstone put it best:

"Although we uniquely have some brilliant newspapers and first-rate journalists, their standing is dragged down by what must be some of the most reprehensibly managed, edited and owned newspapers in the world.

"They have a disgraceful record, none more so than the Daily Mail," he said.

"When it was first set up [in 1896] its first campaign was against Jewish refugees coming to London from the pogroms. It continued its anti-Semitism in the 1930s, fighting any proposals that Jewish refugees fleeing Hitler should be admitted to this country."

[Livingstone] said the Mail had run stories supporting fascism and that its owner, the 1st Viscount Rothermere, the great-grandfather of the present proprietor, had welcomed Hitler's rise.

"Had Britain lost the war and had the Nazis controlled Britain, Lord Rothermere and his cohorts would have been at the front of the queue of collaborators."

It is, as Albert Scardino writes, about time someone stood up to the claque of Tory bullies who control too much of our press, however they now masquerade their supposed concern for minorities. The real question here is simple: why does London, surely alone of all the major metropolitan centres of the world, have only one city-wide evening newspaper? Why should largely left-leaning, anti-racist Londoners have to tolerate a vile Tory rag claiming to speak on their behalf?

[*] it is only fair to point out that David T's cowardly, smear-laden article, and his mounting hysteria in the comments appended to it, are met with a dissenting voice from Brownie.

Cheap food for cheap people

Even Benjy's have a loyalty card now.


Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Perhaps a little like being mauled by a dead sheep

These left-liberal types can quite shirty when they have Tories to snarl at:

...Ken Livingstone has a 39% approval rating, his highest so far, with only 21% dissatisfied. He says what he thinks and does what he thinks will work: 80% say London is now easier to get around. Yet he faces a far worse problem in getting his message across than Labour's national politicians do. London has only one newspaper - the Evening Standard, sister to the Mail - that loathes Livingstone and Labour, while reporting virtually nothing that happens in London local politics, boroughs or assembly. Yet despite daily vituperation, Livingstone's plain and sometimes impolitic speaking does him good with voters.

He will skate by this latest episode of Evening Standard bullying, despite the BBC astonishingly elevating it to the national news. No one thinks that Livingstone's a racist. To say a (Jewish) reporter is like a concentration camp guard for door-stepping him outside a gay event might be rude - but I don't remember anyone calling Germaine Greer anti-semitic for referring to the Holocaust when she said the Big Brother house was like a fascist prison camp. Tasteless and offensive maybe.

When Brian Coleman, the Tory London assembly chair, had the nerve to say Livingstone had an "unacceptable attitude to the Jewish community" because he allowed an article to appear about the Israeli occupation of Palestine, you know the plot is lost. And if the Standards Board doesn't dismiss this absurdity instantly, then its meddling in politics had better be ended. The Tory chair himself has talked of the "influx" of Somali asylum seekers, the "plague" of Irish travellers and an end to the Notting Hill carnival. But if local politicians can't say anything, it's all over.

But here we come to Michael Howard - no plain speaker he, but carefully weaselling on matters of race. Here is where the real elec tion campaign is being fought - not in helicopters or with pledge cards, but down and dirty on race. Howard's own grandmother died in the Holocaust when Europe refused to save Jews, yet he would tear up the Geneva convention that sprang from that horror and bar people from even seeking asylum here with an arbitrary quota. An ICM poll finds that two-thirds of voters support it. So now he ratchets up the threat, with compulsory HIV tests for immigrants. A rich vein this...

Texas, OPEC, Kyoto

Stumbled across this interesting piece on a peculiar meeting of minds taking place in the US:

But a curious transformation is occurring in Washington, D.C., a split of foreign policy and energy policy: Many of the leading neoconservatives who pushed hard for the Iraq war are going green.

The reason, as you may have guessed, has little to do with defending the planet, but rather a lot to do with defending that little section of it marked "United States": by reducing the US' crippling dependence on oil, they hope to reduce its dependence on the Middle East, and particularly Saudi Arabia.

...the fact that energy efficiency and conservation might help the environment is an unintended side benefit. They want to weaken the Saudis, the Iranians, and the Syrians while also strengthening the Israelis. Whether these ends are achieved with M-16s or hybrid automobiles doesn't seem to matter to them.

The well-known opposition of mainstream Republicans to environmental measures is at least one factor weighing against the success of the "green neo-cons". Their overtly isolationist, security-weighted agenda is another. It's unlikely that a credible green movement could lend much support to energy-efficiency drives as part of the same package as increased efforts to expoit resources in Alaska, Antartica and anywhere else without too many meddlesome Arabs.

However, they have history on their side. As Alan Greenspan pointed out in a speech last year to the US-Saudi Arabian Business Council,

The sharp price increases of the early 1970s brought to an abrupt end the extraordinary period of growth in U.S. oil consumption and the increased intensity of its use that was so evident in the decades immediately following World War II. Between 1945 and 1973, consumption of oil products rose at a startling 4-1/2 percent average annual rate, well in excess of growth of real gross domestic product. However, since 1973, oil consumption has grown, on average, only 1/2 percent per year, far short of the rise in real GDP.

The US' current excessive dependence on oil arose during a period of exceptionally cheap, reliable supplies. With the Texas Railroad Commission, like OPEC today, setting production quotas to regulate prices, the vast, easily-mined oil reserves of the US seemed to be a huge free gift for economic growth. It was only after 1970, when the supply of oil in the US was exceeded by demand, that the costs of this dependence became more apparent. The United States became a net importer of oil, losing its ability to manipulate prices, exposing it to the vagaries of a world market - and, not least, a Middle East disinclined to accept America's jurisdiction.

What we are seeing now is, in part, an attempt to break the US free from the shackles accidentally imposed during the thirty year boom. Blind market forces and the occasional government restriction have removed a significant part of that historic dependency, but at least some in Washington take a more strategic view of the problem: launching a major, and costly, invasion of one oil-producer and developing an obsessional interest in a second displays something a certain bad faith in the possibilities of the free market alone.

As a footnote, the general public in the US is becoming increasingly aware of the environmental consequences flowing from current US policy. This survey, for example, shows the numbers considering the "global environment" to be a "very important" foreign policy goal have risen from 48% in 1998 to 66%, whilst support for Kyoto has risen appreciably: despite four years of concerted Republican efforts in defiance of environmental concerns, they appear to be losing the battle for hearts and minds.

Marketing "experts" don't know Foucault

Hurray! It's election year, so all the marketing people in Britain can do their bit for the democratic process by speaking in tongues:

Worcester Woman: The women from provincial cities seen as crucial swing voters in 1997. One recent opinion poll suggested she now felt like "Letdown Lady" after seven years of Labour

Pebbledash People: Voters identified by the Tories in 2001 as the group they had to win. They were married couples aged 35 to 50, white-collar workers and professionals, who lived in semi-detached, often pebble dashed, homes in the suburbs

Bacardi Breezer generation - Ex-Cabinet minister Stephen Byers last year urged Labour to get in touch with 18 to-25-year-olds in danger of being lost to the democratic process

Pollsters ICM came up with the phrase Pebbledash People.

The organisation's head of society and government, Martin Boon, said the names were only a "public relations side effect" of what was hugely expensive and based on several pieces of data.

At least he had the decency to sound a bit embarrassed. The whole process sums up almost everything that is wrong about modern, managerial politics; a fact not missed by the more sensible psephologists:

After all, they ask, if more than a third of the Sun's readers voted Labour in 1992 when the newspaper was vigorously pro-Conservative, what chance is there that shopping habits will reveal party allegiances?

John Curtice, from the University of Strathclyde, says: "When you look from one election to another you tend to find the movements [between parties] are relatively even across the social structure."

My own preferred system of classification for these spurious disconnected quasi-facts - or anything similar - is this old favourite:

(a) belonging to the Emperor, (b) embalmed, (c) tame, (d) sucking pigs, (e) sirens, (f) fabulous, (g) stray dogs, (h) included in the present classification, (i) frenzied, (j) innumerable, (k) drawn with a very fine camel hair brush, (l) et cetera, (m) having just broken the water pitcher, (n) that from a long way off looks like flies

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

New Labour dodging environmental commitments

This has been brewing for some time:

The government and the European commission clashed head on yesterday over Britain's plans to allow industry to emit higher than approved levels of greenhouse gases in a row which threatened to undermine Tony Blair's claim for leadership in combating global warming…

Yesterday, two days before the Kyoto protocol, the main instrument for fighting global warming, comes into force, EU officials made plain that Brussels continued to reject the UK's revised plan to allocate about 20m tonnes more carbon dioxide to industry and would begin infringement proceedings against it if it went ahead.

There is a familiar, and long-standing pattern to New Labour’s environmental record: grand pre-election promises, euphoric post-election verbal radicalism, more and more muted comments from the minister concerned, dwindling to nothing – and then, finally, the U-turn, delivered with more or less finesse. New Labour has stuck to the rhythm set by all previous Labour governments, the only difference being the paucity of its initial vision.

Under the sway of a dynamic and widely popular protest movement against road-building, New Labour was elected in 1997 with a commitment to halting the construction of new roads, Blair himself claiming they were “not an option”. New Labour’s first White Paper on transport policy, published in summer 1998, was hailed by environmental groups for the emphasis it placed on alternatives to road use. The sorry story of New Labour’s subsequent betrayal is told here.

The amalgam of “middle England” and radical environmentalists, cemented around transport policy, had formed a small but critical part in the anti-Tory coalition that led to New Labour’s initial victory. The bad faith later shown by the government has helped break up that alliance, leaving no alternative support in its place as New Labour adapted itself with horrid rapidity to a species of neo-liberal managerialism in transport policy: crisis management, under conditions amenable to business, has been the guiding principle.

The consequences are serious. The government’s failure to control and reduce road use has significantly contributed to its failure to meet (already lenient) targets for greenhouse gas emissions.

Now it is attempting to duck its international commitments on protecting the environment. The pressure from business is clear:

Britain's manufacturers praised the government stance. Sir Digby Jones, CBI director, said: "UK businesses need the government to fight as hard as it can to make sure companies here are not handicapped with onerous targets when other states are not making the same commitment."

…leaving the government half-heartedly attempting to squeeze decidedly unwilling electricity suppliers into producing fewer emissions. Needless to say, this difficulty would not occur were electricity generation nationalised; it would not even be so much of a problem if the government had ever developed a serious, long-term national plan for emissions reduction. It has, instead, stuffed up royally; and, being New Labour, when it stuffs up, it follows the path of least corporate resistance.

The Kyoto Protocol is due to come into force tomorrow. Pitiful as it is, it does impose certain restrictions on signatory government’s actions. However, its regulations allow governments to opt-out of the agreement after three years. New Labour has threatened in the past to duck its international obligations and opt out of even longstanding treaties; it would not be surprising if Blair did so again.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Beneath South Kensington, the beach

I'm not the only one keeping in with The Kids with the pop culture references: the Victoria and Albert Museum has got splendid four-piece beat combo, The Others, playing at an event in a few week's time. It looks like a good - and free, would you believe, I'm off to vote Labour ha ha - event:

Agitate! Educate! Organise!
25 February 2005
Whether it’s the underground band The Others ‘guerrilla gigging’ up a tree, or spoken word performers Tell Tales turning story telling on its head, young British writers and musicians are finding new ways to present their ideas. Agitate! Educate! Organise! at the V&A celebrates this new wave of social protest, observation and documentary in the arts with spoken word performances, poetry slamming and impromptu gigs around the museum.

Controversial female voice, Helen Walsh, and Whitbread prize-winner Patrick Neate, will read from their latest works, while Courttia Newland, Nii Parkes and six authors from the Tell Tales crew will be performing their unique short stories, each accompanied by specially composed scores. The Others will be performing in the V&A’s beautiful galleries and their film ‘Guide to Guerrilla Gigging’ will run throughout the evening.

Other highlights include:
DJ Ilya from Book Slam club will be playing in the Grand Entrance

There will also be spoken word performances from the contemporary ‘Griot’ Crisis, Nolan Weekes and poetry slammer Luke Wright

A selection of the V&A’s propaganda posters will be displayed with talks by V&A curator Zoe Whitley

Illustration room: projections of illustrations and films of British club culture by Mark 'Wigan' Williams.

Tim Guest, author of ‘My Life in Orange’ will give a presentation on his discoveries of emerging virtual communities.

Tom Sheahan’s film 'Angrier Than Me' will be screened.

The last event I went to at the V&A was the maniacal Merz Nite, pithily described:

Refusing the hierarchical device of amplification, performers pitched their art into the gawping orifice of the mass, who simultaneously drowned everything out with their chatter AND complained they couldn't hear. The contradictions of encouraging freedom and collectivity in a populace trained in passivity and competition couldn't have been more graphically displayed. Various legislators of the poetry scene were "disappointed" that their favourite poets were inaudible, but anyone with an interest in unusual crowd dynamics and unpredictable spatial audio was enthralled. An anarchist and a maoist both condemned the event because we didn't smash any statues. At Militant Esthetix we leave the ultralefts to such pointless and unhappening extremism. Round the podium, it was like the Bailiff addressing the mob in Wyndham Lewis's CHILDERMASS: chaotic, unpredictable, stupid, disgusting, hopeful, incomprehensible, exciting, conflictual, poetic.

("Pithy", needless to say, is a thoroughly bourgeois concept.) Two and a half thousand people going apeshit in the main entrance to one of London's most imposing cultural edifices was quite something.

Heroin and pistols (and Trotsky)

Pete Doherty maintains his claim on the Last True Rock Star title by managing to quite spectacularly irritate an unpleasant selection of "critically rational individualists", apparently another way of saying "vicious Tory bastard with pretensions". In my jaded, cynical, MTV-generation way I didn't think good pop music still drove old farts everywhere into jabbering fits of moral indignation. Excellent stuff, via Shot by Both Sides (again).

(Caution: I strongly suspect this lot are often driven into jabbering screeching fits about all manner of trivia. There's something uniquely disturbing about the cover illustration on the blog depicting a pistol atop a copy of Karl Popper's Open Society - vol.1, for some reason, rather than vol.2 on Marx. No accounting for taste.)

(Has Pete Doherty really been reading Isaac Deutscher's biography of Trotsky?)

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Filth from the neo-con "left"

A post from Lenin on this Independent report followed an earlier piece by Mark Elf. Both were expressing an unfortunately necessary degree of caution about figures relating to a rise in antisemitic attacks in the UK. The caution is necessary as the statistics have been immediately used to smear all those who stand against an apartheid system in the Middle East:

[Michael] Whine [of the Community Security Trust] said there was a danger that British society could become impervious to the dangers of anti-semitism. 'The continued demonisation of Israel has meant the shock-horror aspect of anti-semitism in Britain has reduced over time.'

As Lenin says, this is "bullshit". The only workable response to antisemitism - or any form of racism - is the same as it always has been:

The response to this should be universalist and not particularist, especially since in countries where the far right has succeeded in returning to the mainstream attacks on Muslims and Jews have increased concurrently. Which is to say, instead of taking the abuse, physical or otherwise, of British Jews as an opportunity to defend the indefensible, how about calling for an alliance of anti-racists from all 'communities'... to oppose it?

Unity, black and white, Jew and Muslim, against the racists, rather than a tawdry attempt at making political capital. The political question of Israel is irrelevant to dealing with antisemitism in the UK: what you or I or anyone else thinks about Israel has nothing to do with building an effective opposition to racist attacks. Whine's is a nasty little smear and Lenin is quite right to hold him to account. It is the correct response of (to coin a phrase) the "decent" Left.

Harry of Harry's Place, who combines a verbal obnoxiousness with a pitiful credulity regarding the sanctity of the US Marine Corps, has instead produced a typically crass reply to Lenin and Mark's thoughts. Same old, same old. What's new is the filth he chooses to fling, calling both bloggers "former anti-fascists" before wheeling out a parade of libels and smears.

Tellingly, Harry does not allow a right of reply on the original post, leaving Lenin to respond on his own site:

You say that I blame the rise of anti-Semitic attacks on "those Jews who support the existence of Israel."

I do not. To support the existence of Israel is one thing. My objection is to those who conflate Israel with Judaism, and therefore brand criticism of Israel, particularly anti-Zionism, as anti-Semitic. Not only is it a disgraceful gesture, but it places individual Jews in danger from the idiots who accept such a conflation. I do not believe this attenuates the force of any judgement against those responsible for such attacks.

Harry also accuses the anti-racist Left of not being "capable of putting forward an alternative explanation for the rise in attacks which comes at a time when there has been increasing hostility to Israel."

Perhaps Harry should pay more attention to his Searchlight. Matthew Collins, a former National Front member who now works for the anti-fascist magazine, knows exactly where to find the largest and most threatening antisemitic organisation in the country:

"Leading members of the BNP are on record denying the Holocaust, while its leader, Nick Griffin, has accused the BBC of being influenced by Jews. The BNP is obsessed with the idea that there is a Jewish conspiracy to run the world. They've got 23 elected councillors. It's inevitable that people will come into contact with them and in turn be influenced by them,"

So what is Harry's alternative response to a tide of bigotry and hatred across Europe, as described here by David Aaronovitch? A depressingly familiar one: "Some of my best friends..."

His humour, in particular his laugh, reminded me of the Pakistani lads I grew up with (and in those days they were always Pakistanis and rarely referred to as Muslims).


The Unite Against Fascism website can be found here.


In agreement with Taxloss about Shot by Both Sides, whose proprietor presumably spends hours truffling the internet for ripe and stinky little nuggets like this, this and this, on the last of which I find my wild disagreement with the premises of the argument overruled by bitter irrational hatred of the individual concerned and his adolescent dirges:

Bono, U2’s lead singer, is one of the leaders of the campaign to supply the third world with drugs by dismantling the intellectual property rights of pharmaceutical companies. So is this his position on IPRs generally? Not at all. Bono is also one of the leaders of the campaign to strengthen the IPRs of (you’ve guessed it) musicians. Today, most European countries protect copyrights on sound recordings for no more than 50 years. The U2 members think that they should be allowed to "retain their copyright for at least as long as they live, and to pass it to their heirs, just like any other asset that they own." Yes, it’s very easy to say that property if theft when you’re talking about other people’s properties.

Bogol's nihgt of terer

i dremd of teh clowans agian.

a clown whith his keen noase can trakc a sent for mials.

whan i was encarcarated there was a chainfenced pen fulla clowns. theyd be in there hoalin an barkin an weepin all hours of teh day an night. bashin against teh fence an snapin their dripin fangs. sometiams theyd be quiet an youd wlak by an theyd expload inta a franzy! 'yapyapyap! harrooo!' etc. whith their gliterin swivelin clowany eyes al buged out an lungin at ya...

Read the rest here, if you dare.

"Critical reflections on the Fifth World Social Forum"

Alex Callinicos and Chris Nineham, back from the WSF. A bit lengthy, but worth reading for the criticisms of the (largely ineffectual) ban on political parties; and the harsh criticisms of Lula. The polarisation between the positions of Lula and Hugo Chavez is becoming increasingly obvious; they represent two alternative progressive responses to neoliberalism: a "Third Way" accomodation from Lula; a populist radicalism from Chavez.

The response of those at the WSF to either figure perhaps indicates how the movement in general thinks it should make further advances. From the UK, eight years' experience under New Labour should have destroyed any faith the Left once had in the Third Way. The free market cannot be coaxed into producing social justice.

Here's Alex and Chris:

Critical Reflections on the Fifth World Social Forum

1. The Fifth World Social Forum, which met in Porto Alegre, Brazil, between 26 and 31 January 2005, demonstrated once again the enormous strength of the global movement that became visible in the struggles of Chiapas, Seattle, and Genoa. 200,000 at the opening demonstration, 155,000 participants involved in 2,500 activities, a wealth of cultural events, the concluding Assembly of the Social Movements that took up the call for a global day of protest against the occupation of Iraq on 19 March - all of these are things to celebrate.

As two participants from Britain, we greatly enjoyed sharing all this, well as encountering once again the warmth and hospitality of the Brazilian people and the dynamism of their social movements. It is clear that the ideas and agenda of the global justice movement have as wide an appeal as ever. All the same, there was another side to the 5th WSF, one that raises serious concerns about its potential impact on the world-wide movement against neo-liberal globalization and imperial war.

2. Let's start with the most obvious thing. The famous 'Porto Alegre Charter' - the Charter of Principles of the World Social Forum - is much invoked in controversies within the movement because it bans 'party representations' from participating and forbids social forums to take decisions. The prominence of the parties of the radical left at the European Social Forums in Florence and London was strongly criticized for violating the Charter.

Chico Whittaker, one of the founders of the WSF, has justified the Charter in highly poetic terms: like a village 'square without an owner', a social forum is 'a socially horizontal space'. How then to justify the fact that, on the day the WSF proper began, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva addressed what was notionally a seminar, but was really a mass rally of the ruling Workers Party (PT), within the WSF? Lula is not only leader of the PT, but President of the Republic of Brazil. His participation in the Forum doesn’t seem very 'horizontal'. It's as if the village mayor, followed by his retinue, thrust his way through the beggars in the square to proclaim his love of the poor.

Two issues are involved here. One is the question of principle. In our view it was a mistake to impose a ban on parties, since political organizations are inextricably intermingled with social movements and articulate different strategies and visions that are a legitimate contribution to the debates that take place in the social forums. In fact, the Porto Alegre Charter has always been circumvented, but the Lula rally has made the resulting hypocrisy absolutely flagrant. It would surely be more honest to amend or scrap this tattered ban. [1]

The second issue is more urgent. Whatever he was in the past, Lula is now one of the global leaders of social liberalism, belonging to a political axis that binds him to Thabo Mbeki, Gerhard Schröder, Bill Clinton, and - terrible to say - Tony Blair. His government voluntarily adopted a target for the budget surplus higher than that demanded by the International Monetary Fund and recently pushed up interest rates to levels condemned by Brazilian industrialists as serving the interests of finance capital.

In this context, the nature of the rally that Lula addressed is also instructive. It was supporting the Global Call for Action against Poverty. Lula's agenda seems identical to that being pursued by Blair and his finance minister, Gordon Brown, in the lead-up to the next Group of Eight summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, in July. Blair, discredited by his role in George W. Bush's war-drive, is trying to project himself as the saviour of the world's poor. He and Brown are trying to recruit the support of the leading non-governmental organizations, which in Britain have taken the welcome initiative of launching a powerful coalition, Make Poverty History, to pressure the G8 into seriously addressing the problem of global poverty.

The fact that even an imperialist warmonger like Blair feels obliged to express a concern for the plight of the global South is a tribute to the impact of our movement, whose origins lie in part in the campaign against Third World debt that gathered pace during the 1990s. But the transfer of resources involved in, for example, Brown's proposed 'Marshall Plan for Africa' falls far short of what is required really to change the lives of the wretched of the earth. More than that, every aid or debt reduction package comes charged with conditions that would introduce yet more of the neo-liberal poison that helped to produce the present immiseration in the first place.

Lula's intervention in Porto Alegre was part of this project to rebuild support for social-liberal governments by repackaging neo-liberalism as the way to help the world's poor. Responding to this Orwellian enterprise by building mass protests demanding a profound global redistribution of resources, starting with the cancellation of all Third World debt, is becoming a major challenge for our movement, particularly in the lead-up to the Gleneagles summit.

3. Maybe the domestic political pressures on the Brazilian organizers of the WSF were simply too great for them to resist the demand that the Forum itself should be a venue for the attempt of Third Way politicians to appropriate the agenda of the altermondialiste movement. But they must taken responsibility for how the WSF itself was organized. Taking inspiration from the 4th WSF in Mumbai, they moved the Forum from its old main site at the Catholic University (PUC) to a specially dedicated zone along the right bank of the Guiba river.

This had the great advantage, compared to previous forums at Porto Alegre, of physical contiguity (although the walk from one end to the other, particularly in the summer heat of a city in the grips of a drought, was pretty arduous!). But this gain was undercut by the division of the site into 11 distinct 'Thematic Terrains', each devoted to their own political theme: Thus Space A was devoted to Autonomous Thought, B to Defending Diversity, Plurality, and Identities, C to Art and Creation, and so on. The effect was tremendously to fragment the Forum. If you were interested in a particular subject - say, culture or war or human rights - you could easily spend the entire four days in one relatively small area without coming into contact with people interested in different subjects.

This is, in our view, a potentially disastrous development. One of the great beauties of our movement - and of the forums that have emerged from and helped to sustain it - is the way in which people from all sorts of backgrounds and with the most diverse preoccupations come and mix together, participating in a process of mutual contamination in which we learn and gain confidence from one another. This dynamic was greatly weakened by the thematic fragmentation and vast size of the WSF site in Porto Alegre this year - all the more so because there were no generalizing events to compare with the magical opening ceremony at Mumbai, when 100,000 sat listening to speakers like Arundhati Roy, Chico Whitaker, and Jeremy Corbyn against the velvet backdrop of an Indian night. We know from the experience of the European Social Forum in London that putting together collectively organized plenaries is painstaking work. But it is work that helps to hammer out priorities for the movement, and to give the forum focus and direction.

This effect of this fragmentation, particularly in combination with Lula’s intervention, is not politically neutral. It runs counter to the trend in the wider movement to make connections between the challenges we face, between neo-liberalism and environmental catastrophe, for example, and crucially between corporate globalization and war. As Emir Sader, one of the leading intellectuals of the Brazilian left and a WSF founder, put it,'while the Forum emphasizes secondary issues, there is no major debate about the most important issue of the day - the struggle against the war and imperial hegemony in the world.'

4, It would be a mistake to make too much of these weaknesses. The 5th WSF was the occasion for many successes. The Anti-War Assembly, for example, marked a real step forward in cooperation among activists from different parts of the world. An alliance of environmental groups managed to launch a much needed week of action against climate change from Porto Alegre. No doubt other thematic assemblies and networks were able to take initiatives, though the general fragmentation makes it hard to tell. The final Assembly of the Social Movements, though regrettably not publicized in the WSF Programme, did provide a real sense of diverse activists converging together on a common agenda of struggles. And there were, as far as we know, some good debates.

And we should acknowledge that some of the difficulties are a product of political disagreements. The giant meeting that Hugo Chávez addressed towards the end of the Forum was a rallying point for the anti-imperialist left, and as such a tacit answer to the Lula rally earlier on - the implicit confrontation between the two leaders was underlined by the fact that both spoke to equally packed meetings in the same Gigantinho Stadium. We need to continue to have forums and mobilizations where the followers of Lula and Chávez - as well as those of us who have reservations about Chávez too - can comfortably work together and debate.

But the purpose of drawing a balance sheet is surely to offer some guidance for the future. The WSF in India a year ago set a benchmark that others - the organizers of the last ESF in London, as well as of the latest Porto Alegre Forum - have striven to match. For all its strengths, however, the latest WSF doesn't offer a comparable model. In some respects, indeed - in particular the thematic fragmentation that we have described, its example is positively to be avoided.

All the same, however, the Fifth World Social Forum did throw down a gauntlet to us. The challenge that it posed is not simply to denounce and to expose the falsity of the 'rescue' of the global poor promised by Blair and Lula. Anyone can do that. What we have to do is to build a movement capable of showing that it has a better alternative.

Alex Callinicos and Chris Nineham. 8 February 2005

[1] For further discussion of some of the issues involved, see A. Callinicos, 'The Future of the Anti-Capitalist Movement', in H. Dee, ed., Anti-Capitalism: Where Now? (London, 2004).

Friday, February 11, 2005

Why the hell doesn't Tony Blair apologise for this abomination?

Ed and Kate don't hide their contempt, but I'm going to subtly divert attention away from the impending parasites' ball by hauling out, from a very dark and unpleasant place, a slightly different rank and hideous spectacle. Step forward, Anthony Charles Lynton Priscilla Blair. Sunday, 31 August, 1997:

I feel like everyone else in this country today. I am utterly devastated.

Our thoughts and prayers are with Princess Diana's family, particularly her two sons. Our heart goes out to them.

We are today a nation in a state of shock, in mourning, in grief that is so deeply painful for us. She was a wonderful and a warm human being, although her own life was often sadly touched by tragedy. She touched the lives of so many others in Britain and throughout the world with joy and with comfort.

How many times shall we remember her in how many different ways - with the sick, the dying, with children, with the needy? With just a look or a gesture that spoke so much more than words, she would reveal to all of us the depth of her compassion and her humanity.

I am sure we can only guess how difficult things were for her from time to time. But people everywhere, not just here in Britain, kept faith with Princess Diana. They liked her, they loved her, they regarded her as one of the people. She was the People's Princess and that is how she will stay, how she will remain in our hearts and our memories for ever.

Watching this at the time made me want to stab my eyes out with a pencil to lessen the pain.

Update, via Ed:

UK kids told Princess Diana "in hell"

...two lay ministers from the Bethany Christian Fellowship in Walsall, West Midlands, told children as young as five that the princess had not repented her sins before she died...

Sarah Bailes, 39, who lives next to the school, said her son Darryl was tearful and withdrawn after being told about the supposed fate of the princess.

"How could they tell Darryl that the woman he thought was a star in heaven was actually in hell," she said.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Norman Tebbit never said sorry for anything

All things considered, rounding up four innocent men and women, accusing them of a horrid crime, torturing them to extract confessions and then locking them away for fifteen years as a result is one of the few things I don't hold Tony Blair personally responsible for. There's always the possibility he's warming up for more telling apologies in the near future.

That said, a public effort to clear the victim's names of whatever residual opprobrium still attaches itself has to be welcomed.

Unfortunately, New Labour has so debased my faith in the British political culture that the timing of this announcement instantly makes me very suspicious. Alongside the amusing ERM leaks, it all seems part of a contrivance to dredge up assorted bits from the Tories dim and dismal past - all those blustering dismissals of retrials! all those refusals to talk to Sinn Fein! - and so shore up fading memories and make Blair look marginally better by comparison.

It's not just me, the other Norm says the same thing:

Asked to choose in a general election, half the electors will say none of the above. Many will opt for Ukip, the BNP or the Lib Dems. The Tories and Labour will split the rest. The Campbell-Blair ploy of reawakening memories of the ERM crisis is shrewd, but dirty, politics. They calculate that, as in Clinton's re-election, a world-weary electorate will examine its wallet, think back to negative equity, mutter "It's the economy, stupid", forget the deceptions over Iraq, hold its nose, and put Blair back in No 10.

They don't make Tories like this any more. Probably just as well; they tended to win elections.

As blunt as ever[*], Tebbit hits the nail on the head over the ERM:

I think entry into the ERM - enthusiastically supported by Labour, the Liberals, the TUC, the CBI and the whole woolly, wet, bien pensant Europhile consensus - might have been forgiven, but the purblind refusal to admit the mistake and get out earlier was too much for electors, especially Conservative voters.

Gordon Brown, Shadow Chancellor at the time, supported the "whole wooly, wet, bien pensant Europhile consensus" on the ERM, tailing along with the rest of the Labour leadership in vocal support for all things EC.

Since Jacques Delors' rousing speech to a desperate 1988 TUC conference in Bournemouth preached the social virtues of EC-driven integration, the Parliamentary Labour Party had made strenuous efforts at discarding their Eurosceptic past. A bit too strenuous, and a bit too vocal, on Brown's part: the ERM debacle damaged his reputation like nothing before or since. The disastrous exit, however, paved the way for the consecutive years of British economic growth Brown has made so much of.

That he should have consequently cemented his Cabinet career from the wreckage of the ERM, leaving the Tories decisively broken, is no small irony. No wonder Tebbit's annoyed. Ha ha.

[*] The old Tebbit would never have appeared in The Guardian, surely? His dotage is turning him soft.