Dead Men Left

Tuesday, May 31, 2005


What to make of this?

Yesterday, left voters convinced that “Another Europe is possible” joined Le Pen and the far right to vote “no”. The French Communist Party, the Trots and Laurent Fabius – the Mitterrand-era Socialist prime minister who revived his political career by coming out against the treaty – are congratulating themselves on a grand victory. But who will benefit? Not Chirac, whose star is now definitely on the wane. But not the left either. The crass opportunism of the left “no” camp severely damages the chances that the left will be able to find a candidate at the next presidential election who commands widespread support. Idiots utiles.

1. If we're going down this path, it would be far more accurate to say that Le Pen and the far Right joined left voters. Unlike the 1992 Maastricht referendum, it was the Left that led the opposition to this constitution, providing an object lesson in how to marginalise the far Right. Opinion polls confirm that the major objections to the constitution centred on jobs and the welfare state, with concerns over immigration and "French identity" being well down the list. The sneer at the "Communist Party, the Trots and Laurent Fabius", designed to confine a 55% vote to the political margins, is absurd on any reading. The decisive votes in this election were those from Socialist supporters, breaking with their party leadership, whilst the French working class overwhelmingly voted "no".

2. "Crass opportunism"? Have a look, again, at Apostate Windbag's excellent summary of the critical points of the constitution. On what possible grounds could the Left vote for this rag-bag of corporate special pleading, hymns to the free market and militaristic swagger?

3. "Widespread support": the opposing side defeats you in a referendum, at which point you claim they cannot find "widespread support". Clever stuff. There is a more serious point here; what Anderson demands of the French Left is the same crass Blairite logic we have become too used to in Britain: appeal to the Right to win popular support, appeal to business for an easy ride once in power. The old strategy of triangulation has now been brutally slaughtered in France. Any future for the French Left will depend on it performing the old-fashioned tasks of political persuasion and political leadership - in opposition to the previous political settlement. Attempts to corrall the Left back into neoliberal line will fail; the "Third Way", in its many European variants, is demonstrably unpopular and now discredited, I hope, beyond repair. We must now move beyond the abject failures of the twenty years and start to propose serious alternatives for Europe.

Ringtones, liberal xenophobia, and the EU constitution

Unsettling how quickly the terribly cosmopolitan and sophisticated British Europhiles have taken to the xenophobia their erstwhile opponents on the Eurosceptic Right have peddled for years. I've noticed the sneery references to "Gallic tenets" before; columns in the guardian of liberal Europhilism rail incomprehendingly against the "fearful" French; and, scraping the bottom of an evidently large barrel, two cartoons in the Blairite's house journal, The Observer, referred to the French as frogs - crazy frogs, in fact, substituting national slurs in the absence of wit or creative thought. Too many liberal Europhiles would, it seems, rather adopt the gutter rhetoric of Robert Kilroy-Silk than face up to the crystal clear verdict delivered by the French no: a verdict based, unlike the mystical appeals to "European unity" in the service of European capital, on actually reading the bloody document. The Apostate Windbag demonstrates exactly why this paen to the free-market masquerading as a constitution should be torn up:

1. Articles 111-69, 70, 77, 144 and 180 all identically repeat that the Union will act 'in conformity with the respect for the principles of an open economic market where competition is free.'

2. There are numerous clauses that specifically correspond to demands made by certain employer organisations.

3. The ECT demands unanimous voting for any measures that might go against corporate interests. This is the certainly case for measures against tax fraud, or taxation of companies. Such legislative movement in this regard requires a unanimous vote as, above all, "[it is] necessary for the functioning of the internal market and to avoid distortion of competition." (111-63). Thus, any future proposed duty imposed on corporations would be subject to unanimous voting - something the Ouistes regularly trot out as being reduced under the ECT.

4. Shockingly, the ECT demands all states' subservience to NATO: '[M]ember states shall undertake progressively to improve their military capacities.' (1-40-3). Article 1-40-2 says that European defence policy shall be compatible with members' NATO obligations, a direct recognition of the superior judicial status of that military organisation. Furthermore, the article continues with even greater precision that "participating member states shall work in close collaboration with NATO". Even in situations of "internal serious disturbances affecting public order, in cases of war or of [...] the threat of war", member states are obliged to work together in order to avoid "affecting" the functioning of the "internal market"! (III-16)'

5. Perhaps most disturbing in the ECT is clause 17 of the third section, regarding the question of the break-up of public services: It is permitted that a member state can be in favour of maintaining a public service. But public services have: "the effect of distorting the conditions of competition in the internal market, [and] the Commission shall, together with the state concerned, examine how these steps can be adjusted to the rules laid dawn in the Constitution. By derogation of common law procedure, the Commission or any member state can apply directly to the Court of Justice which will sit in secret..." (III-17)' Thus the constitution from the start commits member states to the ultimate elimination of public services.

Jonathan Steele, as so often almost alone amongst the deluded ranks of liberal commentators, gets it right:

With the leaders of the two main political parties and every national newspaper and TV channel ranged behind the yes vote, the no campaign revolted against that monolithic pensée unique in the political elite of France and Brussels that implied that anyone thinking of rejecting the constitution was a freak. It was a shout of defiance at intellectual Stalinism, masquerading as liberalism, which recognises only one side of an argument as respectable and pays serious attention to no one but those it already agrees with...

The left was looking forwards and outwards. It called for a different, more "social" Europe in which the forces of international competition would not create a race to the bottom and a Europe of the lowest common denominator, in which the social rights won during a century of political struggle would be whittled away.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Tous ensemble: non! (Ce n'est qu'un debut, continuons le combat...)

From Galloway's victory, to the resounding French no vote, it's been quite a month for the Left. Never mind May '68 - what about May 2005? In lieu of me assembling anything particularly coherent - it's a bank holiday, for crying out loud - here's some of what the interwebnet has to offer.


The massive defeat of the new European Constitution by the French in today's referendum means a virtual political revolution in France -- a rebellion by the people against the political elites of both left and right. The No vote won by a wide margin of nearly ten points -- the latest figures show 54.87% for the No, 45.13% for the Yes. Despite an overwhelming campaign for a Yes vote by the mainstream French media (including a major pro-Yes bias in TV coverage), and tireless stumping for a Yes vote by nearly all the major political leaders of left, right, and center --  a scare campaign that tried to (falsely) tell the overwhelmingly pro-European French that they would be responsible for destroying construction of a united Europe if they voted against this anti-democratic Constitution -- the French electorate's working and middle classes, by their No vote, rejected the unregulated free-market policies, aimed at destroying the welfare state and the social safety net, embodied in the Constitution.

Today's vote confirms the enormous gap between what the French call "La France d'en haut et la France d'en bas" -- the France of above and the France of below. And this rejection of France's political and media elites will bring extraordinary changes to the country's political landscape.


It is remarkable that the market and competition should be raised to the status of constitutional precepts. Even more remarkable is that even modest boureois principles of democracy should be cast aside - the Council of Ministers is not elected, but it has the powers of the executive and legislative together, so that neither popular sovereignty not separation of powers is respected. The only elected body, the European Parliament, has only limited veto powers and no executive powers to speak of at all. It is remarkable that the parties of the Socialist International (née Second International) have even attempted to flog this undemocratic neoliberal drivel to the voters. Fuck 'em.

Le Monde also hints at May '68 - or at least its consequences - whilst locating the "no" vote within the period of crisis for the French political establishment that was opened in April 2002 (ropey translation below):

Pour l'heure, les résultats du référendum correspondent, du point de vue électoral à un miroir inversé du référendum de Maastricht et à une forme de réplique du 21 avril 2002...

En 2005, seuls les cadres supérieurs et professions intellectuelles ont voté oui (à 65 %, comme en 1992). Les catégories populaires ou modestes ont elles voté non, mais en accentuant leur vote par rapport à 1992 : 79 % pour le non parmi les ouvriers (hausse de 18 points), 67 % parmi les employés (hausse de 14 points). Le basculement se fait parmi les catégories moyennes – les professions intermédiaires – qui votaient oui (à 62 %) et votent désormais non à 53 %, signe du malaise social profond qui touche le pays et souligne le niveau d'inquiétude face à une Europe accusée de ne pas protéger suffisamment les salariés face à la mondialisation...

Avec le rejet d'aujourd'hui, les électeurs renouvellent et accentuent la crise du système politique : les partis de gouvernement, qui étaient les seuls à se prononcer en faveur de la Constitution européenne, avaient réuni le 21 avril 2002 seulement 56 % des suffrages exprimés, soit le score le plus faible de ces vingt dernières années. Les votes extrêmes (gauche et droite), qui atteignaient le record de 30 % des suffrages, participent aujourd'hui quasiment à l'unanimité au vote non. Enfin, plus généralement, l'ensemble des forces protestataires (votes extrêmes, PC, souverainistes de gauche et de droite, chasseurs) représentaient plus de 40 % des suffrages à l'époque ; elles se sont aujourd'hui engagées sans nuance pour le non.

For today, the results of the referendum correspond to an electoral mirror-image of the Maastrciht referendum, and to a replication of 21st April 2002.

In 2005, only the senior managers and professionals voted yes (by 65%, as in 1992). The working classes voted no, but with an accentuated vote compared to 1992 [Maastricht referendum]: 79% voted no amonst manual workers (up 18 points), 67% amongst white-collar workers (up 14 per cent). The swing appears amongst the middle classes - the intermediate professions - who voted yes (by 62%), and now vote no by 53%, signifying the social malaise that touches the country and underlining the fears facing a Europe accused of not sufficiently protecting employees faced with globalisation.

With today's rejection, the voters renew and accentuate the the crisis of the political system: the parties of government, which were the only ones in favour of of the European Constitutions, between them on 21 April 2002 gained only 56% of the popular vote, their weakest score in twenty years. The extreme parties (of left and right), which reached a record of 30% [in 2002], today campaigned almost unanimously for a no vote. Lastly, more generally the whole of the protestors' forces (extremist parties, PC, souverainists of left and right, hunters) represent more than 40% of the electorate at that time; today, they campaigned without nuance for a no vote.

And, finally, the LCR and their spokesman, the "sexiest man in France", Olivier Besancenot.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Stop the War Coalition no longer banned in Edinburgh

The Stop the War Coalition is very pleased to announce that the 'Fight Poverty Not War' rally in Edinburgh on July 2nd will be going ahead.

In the last 24 hours the police had raised objections to the event. All these objections have now been dropped and Edinburgh City Council have given permission for the rally to go ahead.

This means that July 2nd will be a day of protest against the poverty and war promoted by the G8's policies. This is a important victory for the right to protest. It underlines the strength of feeling in Scotland and across Britain against our government's support for Bush's war on terror.

The rally will be taking place on the Meadows adjacent to the Make Poverty History rally at the end of the day's demonstration. Speakers expected include George Galloway, Jeremy Corbyn, Tommy Sheridan, Lindsey German, Kate Hudson, Walden Bello from the Phillipines and Trevor Ngwane from South Africa.

Stop the War Convenor Lindsey German said: "This is an important day for the movement. Now July 2nd will bring together protestors against globalisation and war in a massive display of opposition to the agenda of the G8. It was never a practical proposition to have the G8 in Britain without large anti war protests. I am very glad good sense has prevailed. We hope that this experience bodes well for the continunig discussion about the march at Gleneagles at the start of the G8 on July."


You know the sort. Proper old fashioned Tories. The kind who thought Iain Duncan Smith[*] would make an acceptable leader. The kind who hold tightly to three articles of faith, regardless of all evidence to the contrary, and who become quite excitable if challenged on any one of them:

1. The BBC is institutionally leftist
2. Tony Blair is a covert left-winger
3. The EU is a sinister plot to socialistify Europe

Old-fashioned Tories are tribal above all else. They don't like the EU pushing neoliberalism, they don't like Blair banging on about yobs, and they don't like the BBC parroting pro-war lies. That's what Tories do.

[*] Duncan Smith's sole contribution to history was his forthright support of the disastrous invasion of Iraq. Michael Howard, more recently, has demonstrated a sharper Tory opportunism on matters such as tuition fees; quite why the Tory leadership were attempting to present a political justification for the war, rather than letting Blair squirm, seemed unfathomable until I was told that IDS has been, for many years, a popular speaker on the rubber-chicken neoconservative US lecture circuit.

Blockading Bethnal Green

Campaigning on local issues, as promised. Can't imagine St Oona doing this sort of thing:

Blockade to stop the removal of the Bethnal Green fire engine

Tuesday 7th June 2005

8.30am onwards, Bethnal Green Fire Station, Roman Road

Despite extensive local opposition and concerns for safety, the Fire Engine is due to be removed from the Fire Station at Bethnal Green On Tuesday June 7th.

Don’t let them take our Fire Engine.

Join the Fire Fighters and George Galloway MP for Bethnal Green and Bow.

Cuts Cost Lives

Bewildered liberal journalists resort to cheap abuse shock

The very idea that leftwingers might be busily campaigning against taking the latest gift Jose Barroso's EU grotto has completely blown the minds of the liberal media over here. They're freaking out, man, they're going apeshit crazy:

For once, the French right is more or less right. All the polls show the centre right electorate, those who habitually vote for Chirac's UMP party and its ally, Giscard's UDF, to be firmly behind the constitution; pro-treaty support on the moderate right is up at 80% or 82%.

"More or less right"... the point at which you, the tremulous liberal journo, start declaring your closest allies to be the more unpleasantly corrupt and racist end of the profoundly corrupt and racist French establishment is probably the point at which should have a quiet lie down in a darkened room and wait for everything to blow over.

Alas, the poor Gaullist darlings are being let down by those treacherous rotters on the left:

...there is no particular reason to suggest that those on the left who declined to listen to, or vote for, Jospin in 2002 will do so now. Their choice will depend more, according to the pollsters, on whether their personal experience and situation prompt them to see Europe as an opportunity or as a threat, a magnificent and improving adventure or a Trojan horse for globalisation.

And that is where the French Socialist party has its biggest problem. It is still torn between a modernist, social democratic (or even Blairite) vision and the traditional, immutable tenets of the Gallic left. Still fundamentally uncomfortable with all notions of the market, it is proving incapable of reassuring its historic electoral base of anything, let alone of the merits of the EU constitution.

Ah, those immutable Gallic tenets. Opposition to neoliberalism arrives with the stripy jumpers and the strings of onions. Strange how the hint that hundreds of thousands of French voters don't particularly want "Blairite visions" forced on them brings out the inner Kilroy-Silk.

If xenophobia doesn't work, and with your head still reeling from the shock of it all, you could just try the odd smear, here provided in a report from a Left "no" rally:

But weren't all the references to "free-trade", "competition", and "markets", which they hated, copied into the constitution from existing EU treaties going back to 1957? Weren't they therefore challenging, not just the constitution but the whole basis - free trade, free movement of workers - on which French prosperity had been built in the 1960s? No, they weren't against free movement, they were just just against the Poles and Czechs coming to France on low wages. They wanted a united Europe but one with harmonised social protection, not free trade or "competition".

The misrepresentation involved here is incredible. Those cheerleading the constitution want to remove hard-won social protections in France through competition with Poland and the Czech republic. Those opposing it want to bring the welfare states of Poland, the Czech republic and the rest up to the standards in France. This is working-class internationalism; to flip it on its head, and hint that it disguises nothing more than common-or-garden racism is breathtaking.

Many racists will vote "no" on Sunday, just as many racists will vote "yes". What's important is how marginal the xenophobes have become, squeezed by a Left that has demanded an alternative vision of Europe. This is the single most salient fact that should be known on this issue. By attempting to repackage French politics for British consumption - through the pretence that, behind the ATTAC and LCR banners, lurks UKIP - the British media have failed their readers.

(Socialist Worker had a good summary of the debate last summer; and here's the Trade Unions Against the EU Constitution site.)

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Good protestor/bad protestor

And so it begins. The other side of co-option: criminalising the radicals. This just in from the Stop the War Coalition:

Police attempt to ban anti war event at the G8.

Just hours before Edinburgh City Council meets to discuss the events, Lothian and Borders police have moved to ban the Stop the War Coalition's plans to hold a rally in Edinburgh during the G8 protests.

Initial discussions with the police and the council were proceeding without any problems. The Coalition regards this move as a very serious attack on the right to protest. It is reminiscent of the government's attempts to stop the anti war movement protesting on February 15th 2003. It appears to be part of an attempt to ensure the war in Iraq is not raised during the G8.

The Stop the War Coalition have organised 11 demonstrations, amongst them the largest in British history, all of which have gone off without a hitch.

We will not accept this attempt to muzzle the anti war movement.

The coalition is holding a press conference after the Council meeting tomorrow to outline why we will continue with our plans to protest.

Old hands will recognise the style. Usually the police back down on these things, as they did on Feb 15 and for the George Bush protests in November 2003. There's a little more on the parallel attempt to block protests at Gleneagles here.

Make Poverty History: "co-opted" by New Labour?

The New Statesman:

Fears are growing that Make Poverty History has been co-opted by new Labour. The finger is being pointed at Oxfam, the UK's biggest development organisation, for allowing the movement's demands to be diluted and the message to become virtually indistinguishable from that of the government.

'course, anyone reading DML - or, for that matter, involved in any way at all with the movement - would have been aware of this already. Oxfam's policy on trade is dire, being (as the NS says) virtually indistinguishable from the government's: it has blithely promoted market liberalisation as a panacea for the world's ills since 2002, with little concern for ensuring concessions are won from the North on protecting Southern industries. (Jim at Our Word is Our Weapon deals with a still more extreme free-marketeer, interestingly by relying on Oxfam's own research. Suffice to say, trade liberalisation does not produce economic growth in the South, and nor does it reduce poverty.) Equally, Oxfam were the first major NGO to come out in favour of Brown's sham scheme, the International Financial Facility - angering other groups in MPH.

The NS suggests part of this closeness is the "revolving door" open between the NGO and the Labour government:

Part of the closeness is in the exchange of personnel. This is not new.
Frank Judd, a former director of Oxfam, became a Labour peer and spoke for the party on international development in the Lords in the 1990s. But the links have become more intimate under this government. Shriti Vadera, who advises Brown on international development, is an Oxfam trustee. Justin Forsyth was director of policy and campaigns at Oxfam before joining the Downing Street Policy Unit to advise Blair on the issue. When Oxfam recently advertised for Forsyth's successor, two of the four candidates called for vetting were either current or former special advisers. Vadera was on the interview panel. This process worries the likes of Mike Sansom, co-ordinator of the social justice organisation African Initiatives: "NGOs have been rightly critical of the revolving door between business and government, but the same has now become true of NGOs and government."

But the strongest bind is a deliberate strategic choice on Oxfam's part. Oxfam believes that by cosying up to Blair and Brown, it can gain some measure of influence over them. Instead, it appears to have to absorbed much of their agenda by osmosis, with little pressure being applied in the other direction. That agenda has remained unchanged since they entered government, as summed up by then International Development Secretary, Clare Short, to business leaders in 1999:

The assumption that our moral duties and business interests are in conflict is now demonstrably false… I am very keen that we maximise the impact of our shared interest in business and development by working together in partnership… We being access to other governments and influence in the multilateral system – such as the World Bank and IMF… You are well aware of the constraints business faces in the regulatory environment for investment in any country… Your ideas on overcoming these constraints can be invaluable when we develop our country strategies. We can use this understanding to inform our dialogue with governments and the multilateral institutions on the reform agenda.

The solution for campaigners wanting to avoid Brown's sticky embrace is to first, by any means necessary, get yourself up to Edinburgh on 2nd July for the MPH demonstration; but to second, make absolutely damn sure you are still in Scotland for the protest on Wednesday 6th against the G8. Time and time again, Brown and the other G8 leaders have failed on key promises over debt and trade, preferring to paper over a broken neoliberal agenda with fine words about "poverty reduction". That we have pushed them this far is a tribute to the strength of the global justice movement. We are not about to be broken; nor do we intend to be sold out.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

"Trying to make a plug"

Here's The Sharpener, "trying to make a point".

I have eaten five cats

"I am special forces," he said. "To finish training we must catch a wild rabbit or cat with our hands, kill it with our hands and then eat it raw. I have eaten five cats. See how strong is the Iraqi soldier."

"Foreign correspondents never realise when someone's taking the piss out ouf them," says Jamie at Blood and Treasure.

Report from the French "no" rally

It helps cut through some of the utter bewilderment that a left-wing "no" campaign has caused in the British media:

The entire French establishment supports the proposed constitution. Over 70 percent of television and radio coverage of the referendum has been given over to those who favour a yes vote.

Their campaign has been seriously thrown off course. Yet the main opposition to the treaty has not come from the extreme right, but from a powerful grassroots movement that has shifted the debate to the left.

This movement is made up of Communists and the left of the Socialist party, revolutionaries, anti-globalisation activists and left wing Greens. Throughout the campaign public sector workers and school students have been fighting the right wing Raffarin government’s attempts to impose the logic of the market on French society.

The conclusion they have come to is that the constitution will make it easier for governments across Europe to do the same.

As Thierry, an activist in the independent SUD trade union, told Socialist Worker on Saturday, the strength of the campaign comes from its link with the movement against privatisation and other attacks — “If the no campaign is victorious it will put the idea in people’s heads that the neo-liberal machine can be stopped.”...

Polls have shown that opposition to the constitution is strongest among the young, workers and the unemployed. Support for it is highest among bosses. Aside from the extreme right, which opposes the constitution on racist and xenophobic grounds, left wing voters are the most likely to oppose it, while those most in favour are the supporters of the two main right wing parties.

Tens of thousands have played an active part in the left’s no campaign. Over 900 unity committees have been set up across France since the start of the campaign. During the last month the left has organised some of the biggest meetings for a generation.

More here.

"Tower Hamlets Labour councillors are set to defect to Respect"

News just in from the Tower Hamlets Recorder:

SEVEN Tower Hamlets Labour councillors are set to defect to Respect, it was claimed this week.

The revelation follows the ousting of Cllr Helal Uddin Abbas as Britain's first Bangladeshi council leader in the wake of Respect founder George Galloway's General Election victory in Bethnal Green and Bow.

A source told the Recorder that the ruling Labour Group were braced to lose the seven, probably by the end of the month, writes NICK JURY.

Supporters of Cllr Abbas claimed he was removed because there were fears he would be manipulated by Respect.

The anti-war party aim to capture control of the Town Hall in next year's local elections.

updated: Guy's sent me the rest of the story now. Thanks.

Cllr Abbas was removed after 4 years and replaced by Cllr Michael Keith for his third stint as council leader.

An Abbas supporter claimed "Instead of unifying the Labour Group this is politically divisive. And Jim Fitzpatrick's position as Labout MP for Canning Town and Poplar could be weakened as a result."

The source added that support for Fitzpatrick and former BG&B MP Oona King had been eroded in the run up to the General Election. Both voted for the Iraq war.

But a senior Labour source insisted that Cllr Keith attempted to bring unity be making overtures to councillors in Cllr Abbas's camp to accept cabinet positions. But they refused, said the source.

"They were advised to refuse positions, s draw your own conclusions on that", said the source. Cllr Keith told the Recorder the council would stand on their record for education, social services and regeneration. He admitted "We face a massive challenge over the next 12 months but will stand on our record of achievement and will stand for all the community."

The councillor added that the issue in tower Hamlets was local not international politics.

Mr Galloway has said the borough could be twinned with Jenin in Palestine if respect take control of the Town Hall, next year.

If that happened, the Palestinian flag would flutter over Mulberry Place, he said.

It emerged over the weekend that the Scottish MP had been invited to undertake a lucrative lecture tour of the US after his dramatic showdown with a Senate committee in Washington last week.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Another reason not to trust Brown and Blair on Africa: Paul Wolfowitz

They could have blocked Wolfowitz's appointment to the World Bank.

They didn't.

Here's Blair's private secretary defending Wolfowitz, architect of the Iraq war, to concerned NGOs:

Paul Wolfowitz is a distinguished individual with a great deal of international experience. In his discussions with World Bank Governors, he has set out clearly his personal commitment to the fight against world poverty and the urgent need to make much faster progress towards the Millennium Development Goals, particularly in Africa. He recognises that the World Bank, as the leading multilateral development agency, has a vital role to play in achieving these objectives, and he also referred to the urgent need for debt relief.

A reminder about that "international experience":

Wolfowitz has cited his experience as US assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs from 1982 to 1986, and as ambassador to Indonesia during the Reagan administration's final three years in the late 1980s.

But details are emerging of how he pandered to Indonesia's dictator, Suharto, who seized power in 1965-66 through a slaughter of hundreds of thousands of people. Rather than express pro-democracy arguments, Wolfowitz did little to stop the military's illegal occupation of East Timor, which resulted in more than 200,000 deaths. He also spent time helping to secure lucrative contracts for US business interests.

Blair was quietly informed of Wolfowitz's nomination by the US some weeks before it was announced. The FT reports that he raised no concerns.

Joe Stiglitz, former chief economist at the World Bank who famously resigned after the IMF's bungled handling of the Asian financial crash, describes the appointment:

"This is an act of provocation by America, or an act so insensitive as to look like provocation...The World Bank will once again become a hate figure. This could bring street protests and violence across the developing world"

In all honesty, would a man genuinely concerned about development issues have nodded through Paul Wolfowitz?

Celebrity Scab Island

Blacklegs all, says the ever-reliable[*] Urban75 (via):

Chris Moyles
Sarah Kennedy
Terry Wogan
Declan Curry
Chris Rogers
Shelagh Fogarty
Jo Whiley
Penny Gore
Susan Osman
Mark Goodier
Steve Wright
JK & Joel
Evan Davis
Guto Harri and Torin Douglas provided pre-recorded packages
Nicholas Witchell
Alan Titchmarsh
Diarmuid Gavin
Jon Gaunt
Steve Lamacq
Scott Mills
Akhtar Khan
Stephen Cole
Vanessa Feltz
Lowri Turner
Eddie Nestor
Daisy Sampson

In true celeb reality TV fashion, you won't have heard of half of this lot.

Hurrah for striking BBC workers, boo hiss to scabs, management lackeys, lickspittle servants of capital, &c.

[*] this is clearly in the sense of "not reliable at all". Corrections in the comments box, please.

Unabashed Schadenfreude

Graham Taylor, Oona King's former agent, was responsible for possibly the single most disguisting attack of New Labour's whole disgusting campaign against George Galloway.

I've just heard he's failed to get re-elected to the PCS civil servants' union excecutive. As my correspondent says, "He'll have more time to complain about his 'fascist' MP now."

"Another Europe is possible": more on the constitution

Andrew at Hold that Thought, a new blog, takes on the very brief case made at DML for a left "no" vote:

...the socialist "no" side, who argue that the constitution will make it possible to curtail existing social protections in countries like Britain; that rejecting it will be a kick in the bollocks for its supporters like Blair and Chirac; and that scrapping it will allow a new improved consitution to be drafted... But the first point borders on incoherence, since the biggest threat to social protections in countries like Britain within a politicized Europe comes from countries like Britain. The new political forum created by the constitution means that not just a hobbled British Left, but a united European Left coalition will be able to mobilize against the rolling back of workers's rights and for social justice; the very things under threat with or without the EU Constitution, thanks to globalisation. The second point, of course, misses the whole point of the vote and is the kind of narrow minded rubbish that's usually blinds the Left to its true motivations. Finally, the third point is nothing more than wishful thinking; as Habermas points out, it will simply strengthen the hand of those who think the idea of a politicized Europe goes too far (namely Washington and those who want to limit the idea of a united Europe to that of a laissez-faire marketplace and nothing more.)

The specifics don't work, and the whole is fatally flawed by its reliance on a polemical piece from Jurgen Habermas that I'll come to later. Taking his first point, from which the others logically follow, a major part for of the case for a "no" vote in Britain, should we face a referendum, is not to defend social protections in Britan, but to defend them across Europe. There are no more ardent enthusiasts for wholesale deregulation and a thoroughgoing neoliberalism in Europe than the British political class, exemplified by the oleganious Peter Mandelson, here seen trying for screw over the Third World. Notice also how that saviour of the Left, Gordon Brown, joins in the fun. Allowing all that, the proposed constitution will, if ratified, strengthen the free-marketeers everywhere in Europe. The British welfare state has taken a hammering after 26 years of Thatcherism and its ideological children; those currently bashing away at the NHS, state education and the rest will be strengthened here, as elsewhere, by the constitution.

This should not be difficult. It is a free market treaty with a few sops. That's why the no campaign in France has been led by the Left. The case for a "no" vote there is even clearer: backdoor Thatcherism should be fought just as much as if it walked in through the front. There will be no gains, no improvements, and the real possibility of distinctly worsened conditions for millions of workers across Europe - "old Europe", and new - if this constitution is ratified.

Startlingly, Andrew seems to dismiss the actual contents of the constitution as irrelevant: social protections are "...under threat with or without the EU Constitution, thanks to globalisation." It is as if the simple fact of declaring there to be a ratified constitution, irrespective of what it actually says, will be sufficient to usher in a glorious cosmpolitan dawn for the 25 member states. We, the happy Europeans - moving swiftly past the unhappy Africans and unhappy Asians we lucky few imprison on our borders - will march, volumes of EU legislation in hand, towards the new Jerusalem.

The pessimism should be obvious. A classically ultra-left position, that constitutions are essentially irrelevant compared to the real demands of power, joins hands with an ill-founded Europhile reformism. Nowhere in this is any sense that other agencies or forces may exist that are better placed to deliver social justice than the venal political classes of Europe, committed for decades to a broadly neoliberal vision of the world. Quite why a declaration of faith in the existence of the EU by its citizens would alter their course is unclear.

This is Habermas' major claim. He sees no possibility of change from below, and so retreats to a thoroughgoing legalism. Worse, there is an ugly undertone to statements like these:

Bush is the one who would rejoice at the failure of the European constitution, for it would allow Europe to develop a common foreign and security policy with enough soft power to bolster opposition to the neoconservative view of global order, also within the United States. It is in our common interest to develop the United Nations, and the law of nations, into a politically constituted world community without a world government. We must attain an effective juridification of international relations, before other world powers are in a position to emulate the power politics of the Bush government in violation of the law of nations.

Good Europeans vs. bad Americans is a model all internationalists should noisily reject. To dismiss - at a minimum - the 48% who voted against Bush in November 2004; to dismiss the many historic achievements of the US left; to write off any possibility of change in America that does not depend on external confrontation is to evince a profound, pessimistic conservatism.

Habermas is too smart not know that an "effective juridification of international relations" depends on the effective development of international force; if he is serious about wishing a strengthened Europe to face a neoconservative Washington, he must wish also that we enlightened EU citizens develop not just "soft power", but hard military muscle. By such means can we hope to corral the backward peoples of the globe into a "politically constituted world community".

It is not cynical to observe that the continent responsible for slavery, colonialism and genocide the world over contains no innate moral superiority by which such a new power might be justified. Absent the last fifty years, and we are left with a four-hundred year record of European colonial conquest and brutality sufficient to inspire a certain diziness - all conducted by the most enlightened of conquistadors and conquerors.

Where genuine progress in Europe has occurred, it has not been because of our vainglorious ruling classes; it has been in spite of them. Democracy, fundamental rights, welfare states were all forcibly extracted, continent-wide. The growth of mass labour movements and their ability to apply overwhelming political pressure are responsible for such progress as has occurred. For the last twenty-five to thirty years, such movements have been on the back foot; Habermas, searching for a force capable of breaking a brutal "neoconservative" offensive, ignores them entirely.

I believe he is wrong to do so. The "political spaces" Habermas wishes to develop through a mystified constitution-worship are already being developed: the growth and successes of the global Social Forums movement are the most visible expression of that. These, it is true, remain marginal. But they exist nontheless, and their marginality is not fated: we have seen, in Britain, what can happen when the broad global justice movement unites with and feeds into a narrower but deeper political movement against the war. Such a unity was critical to the success of the anti-war movement here. The great anti-war mobilisations could not take place without it. That anti-war movement, in turn, has been responsible for bringing a great rupture in the conventional political framework, whose political effects were are only just beginning to see. The battered labour movement is beginning to recover. These are the forces that will demonstrate "another Europe is possible". The constitution, if ratified, will only weaken them.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Brown's "ambitious plans" for increasing aid are a sham

The Liberal Bomber, a fortnight ago, was furiously plugging the Make Poverty History campaign. This is for the good, despite the heavy weight they placed on Brown's International Financial Facility scheme:

At the heart of the Brown-Blair proposal to maximise Britain's chairmanship of the G8 are plans to raise an extra £30bn a year in overseas aid over the next decade. Known as the International Finance Facility, it would pool rich countries' aid budgets to generate a huge injection of cash to be paid back over the next 25 years. France and Germany have already said they will back the plan, but Brown has secured little enthusiasm in Washington.

Pointedly, the details of the IFF are left unconsidered. This is just as well; it is a simply dreadful idea. Brown wants richer countries to mortgage their future aid payments on the bond markets. By using aid payments into the future as collateral, he hopes that a huge amount of money can be borrowed immediately to kick-start Africa.

Unfortunately, as those in the South know only too well, money, once borrowed, needs to be repaid, and repaid with interest. The World Development Movement, based on the Treasury's own figures, has calculated that the IFF would generate $209bn in extra cash over its first decade. However, over subsesquent years, aid flows would reverse as this massive loan was paid back - with interest - to the tune of $316.6bn. The IFF would produce a net loss in aid of $108bn.

The Black Spot

Lenin handed me the black spot some time ago, with the threat that, should I break the chain, my mother would be taken by gypsies. That'd probably make a nice change for her but I'm not going to let such concerns overwhelm blogging narcissism. Ok then:

You're stuck inside Fahrenheit 451, which book do you want to be?
I read Fahrenheit 451 years ago. My memory of the book is so hazy that I’m not quite sure what this question is asking: it’s either what book would I like to be turned into before I’m burned alive, or what book would I like to memorise in order to preserve civilisation. Presumably it’s the latter, in which case See Spot Run is a literary classic, all ten pages of it.

Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?
No. That was easy.

The last book you bought is:
Rationality and Freedom by Artmatya Sen, Blair’s Wars by John Kampfner - I’d unaccountably failed to read Kampfner’s incisive account before now, despite frequent recommendations - The End of Poverty by Jeffrey Sachs, some tome on European social democracy by a Greek professor whose name currently escapes me, and Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome to replace a copy that disappeared around the same time my old housemate did.

The last book you read:
The End of Poverty by Jeffrey Sachs. "Happy-face neoliberalism," I said elsewhere. Extraordinary absence of contrition regarding Russia and somewhat insubstantial regarding theory, even if careful in its presentation of facts. Ignore Bono's introduction.

What are you currently reading?
Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks; Forging Democracy: a history of the Left in Europe, 1850-2000 by Geoff Eley (Eley’s basic premise fits well with Foot’s last book, incidentally); Growth Fetish by Clive Hamilton; The Glass Bead Game by Herman Hesse; Modernity and Self-identity by Anthony Giddens; and Rationality and Freedom. Hours of fun. Can't read them all at once, though.

Five books you would take to a deserted island:
Difficult. Best to aim for very lengthy volumes, in which case I'd go for Isaac Deutscher's Trotsky trilogy; the predictable Capital by Marx, with the intention of reading all of it this time; Vanity Fair; [updated: seems Roth has met with a certain amount of scorn in the comments boxes; I don't agree with the octopus, but Victor S has a point about the crap ending of The Plot Against America. Am mildly tempted to invite further derision by modestly suggesting Houllebecq's Atomised, on similar grounds to Trotsky's appreciation of Celine's A Journey to the End of the Night, but I won't. Catch-22? Three Men in a Boat? Memoirs of a Revolutionary by Victor Serge? Wuthering Heights? - never read it, y'see, got forced into Jane Eyre at school and took against the Brontes. Ach, I give up. This is truly the mark of someone who doesn't read enough fiction.] ; and maybe something incomprehensibly modern like The Sound and the Fury or Finnegan's Wake, given that I'd have plenty of time to attempt either. (I can almost see just how much I would regret that choice later. Also, if this was a proper desert island - rather than just "deserted" - I'd have the Bible and Shakespeare as of right.)

Who are you going to pass this stick to (3 persons) and why?
Seeing as half of Blogland has already completed this thing, I'm left with a drunken oaf whose narcissism probably needs no encouragement; an aggressive left-wing mollusc just out of curiousity; and "Pablo", whose new blog needs a plug.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

The big "non": looking promising

I've heard good reports from Paris about the anti-EU constitution rally. The estimate I heard was some 15,000 assorted leftists gathered, covering the Greens, left-wing Socialists, Communists, Trotskyists of various stripes, trade unionists and the non-aligned altermondialistes around the ATTAC network. To see the French left united like this is something in itself, but there are impressive reports, too, of the organisation behind the non campaign: close to 1,000 local "unity" groups have been established, drawing in support from all the factions just mentioned, in order to run local campaigns. In the 20th arrondisement in Paris, they reckon to get something around 50 activists meeting on a weekly basis, and have done for the last few months. This one unity group has distributed tens of thousands of leaflets across just this small chunk of the capital, all stressing the case for a social Europe against the neoliberal constitution. It's looking good for May 29, but, win or lose, a serious argument is developing in the unity groups about the need to maintain the organisations after the referendum as a broad, pro-justice, anti-capitalist platform.

A no vote will severely curtail the moves to chop up hard-won social protections. It'll also deliver a hefty slap in the face to Blair, Brown and New Labour's chosen representative in Europe, Peter Mandelson, who are amongst the most rabidly in favour of dismantling welfare states and discarding employment legislation across the continent. Here's Graham Copp with some more on why the left should oppose the new constitution. Graham's head of research at the Centre for a Social Europe; their website is here.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

On Make Poverty History and the G8 protests

With the flahsy Make Poverty History white band added at the top of the site, now seems also a good time to plug the upcoming Globalise Resistance conference. It'll be good:

SATURDAY MAY 28th 2005
South Camden Community School
Charrington Street London NW1 Click here for Map
10am - 5pm

£10 / £7 members-concessions

Charles Abugre, Head of Policy and Advocacy at Christian Aid. Patrick Bond, South Africa, writer and activist. Sue Brandford, author of 'Cutting the Wire'. Jan Burgess, editor Review of African Political Economy. Alex Callinicos, Globalise Resistance and author of 'The New Mandarins of American Power'. Nick Dearden, campaigns officer at War on Want Nadine Finch, Statewatch. Richard Gott, author and journalist. Billy Hayes, General Secertary CWU. Sarjoh Kamara, Newham Refugee Forum. Jean Lambert, Green Party MEP for SE England. Emily Madamombe, Zimbabwe Community Campaign to Defend Asylum Seekers. David Miller, editor 'Tell Me Lies'. Jonathan Neale, Globalise Resistance and author 'You are G8, We Are 6 Billion'. Chris Nineham, Globalise Resistance and chief steward for the Stop the War Coalition. Sami Ramadani, Iraqi, Guardian columist. David Shayler, former MI5 agent. Phil Thornhill, Campaign Against Climate change. Guy Taylor, Globalise Resistance Eric Toussaint, Belgium, Anti Debt campaigner and author. More info and speakers biographies here

A Third Way for the Global South? • Debt and Africa • Labour's Attacks on our Civil Liberties • Is the US Winning in the Middle East? • The G8 - An Activists Guide • Can We Stop Climate Change? • Refugees - At the Sharp End of Globalisation

Plenary sessions
An Alternative commission for Africa • To Gleneagles!

If you're not going to Gleneagles for the G8 yet, you need to get yourselves up there. Brown, with Blair in tow, wants to present himself as a saviour of the world's poor. There's a crude electoral calculation involved in this, a blatant attempt to woo left-leaning Labour voters with an ostentatious display of the government's deeply-held social-democratic values; but, more importantly, the drive to further market liberalisation lurks not far behind New Labour's pieties and the fatally flawed International Financial Facility scheme.

This is happy-face neoliberalism, as gently offered by Jeffrey Sachs in his new book, The End of Poverty. It's a more subtle creature than neoliberalism in its muscular glory days of Structural Adjustment Programmes and "shock therapy"; it has learned to dress itself in the civil society's finest garments, and speak with the sweetest of voices about the plight of the starving millions. Significant numbers of NGOs have bought into the new settlement, hoping to trail the great mobilisations of the global justice movement behind the new project.

This delicate balance creates an enormous risk, of course; those outside the G8 summit may just prove to be rather more committed to the fight for poverty reduction than those inside. New Labour has had eight years - including repeated promises from Brown - to deliver on international development. The patience of those in the global justice movement is wearing thin. The possibility of striking a well-directed blow against the free-market consensus, comparable to that delivered in Seattle in late 1999, is there. Whether it is delivered depends on our numbers in July.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Annoying the right people

Like so:

Senators Cower Before a Pro-Terror Bully
Across the Atlantic, Galloway is sometimes referred to as a member of the British Parliament. But others call this lefty lackey for butchers "the MP for Baghdad Central."

So it was yesterday that the arrogant, Saddam-loving bully stood before Congress. Speaking with an accent that was equal parts Mike Myers and Baghdad Bob, he administered a sound public thrashing of all things American.

He insulted our administration. He decried the war against terror.

Compare and contrast.

(Busy, recently. Hence more than usually crap lazy blogging. Sorry.)

Le monde n'est pas un marchandise and all that jazz

Well, hurrah for Jonathan Steele:

There may even be something salutary about a French no, and I say that as a Europhile. Take the no meeting I watched here. It was typical of what is going on in scores of French cities. In a shabby hall, with a dozen speakers and no bright logos or star guests, it was refreshingly old-fashioned...

A cross-section of leftwingers were on display, from dissident Socialist party activists (a majority of members voted yes in an internal party referendum last year) to communists, Trotskyists and Attac, the anti-globalisation youth movement. The National Front is also voting no, but the left is keen to show it has nothing in common with the Front's xenophobic nationalism.

Speaker after speaker insisted the issue is the type of Europe they want for all Europeans: one where competition is not the overriding principle and market forces remain regulated. They did not see why economic principles had to be enshrined in a constitution, a document that ought to stick to democratic rights and values.

Not one where, for example, Peter Mandelson, the EU Trade Commissioner, excercises his democratic mandate[*] to really screw over the Third World. This is one reason, amongst very many, that I can't call myself a "Europhile", and wish no-one else of vaguely progressive inclination felt the need to. The sooner the British Left follows the French example and cracks open our infantile national debate on Europe - Europhile vs. Eurosceptic, Mandelson vs. Kilroy-Silk - the better for all of us. We owe it to our brothers and sisters on the mainland to prevent disgraced former ministers claiming the mantle of the Left when smashing up employment protections or crippling the world's poor. A left-wing challenge to the neoliberal programme driving the EU would both fire up our side, and completely throw theirs:

The rally highlighted what is wrong with the French political class. Socialist guests from Holland, Belgium and Italy told the rally that many Europeans were concerned about their economies' neo-liberal drift, but the French speakers seemed to misunderstand their own country's debate. Falsely claiming the no vote was led by the right, they mainly offered platitudes about peace or made patriotic appeals for a yes vote to keep Europe in the so-called global race. "We can't wait. A globalising world is drawing new lines between Asia and the United States. Europe needs to be there," said the former minister Elisabeth Guigou. ..

It is certainly true that young French people are not the cheerful, upwardly mobile consumers that TV commercials suggest. Polls show the generation most supportive of the no camp are not elderly traditionalists but the under-30s. With youth unemployment at 20%, it is hardly surprising.

The sub-Hayek rhetoric is common across the EU, of course. The same desire to seize from the Left the rhetoric of progress and dynamism springs up wherever governments of the neoliberal centre find themselves confronting uppity citizens with outmoded attachments to the welfare state and civil society. The proposed constitution enshrines the very same rhetoric in legal form, and it is for this reason that so many are opposed.

Away with the new constitution and reheated Thatcherism. Fingers crossed for the 29th.

[*] a subtle irony

Change and decay all around I see

Long Sunday, a group blog from Alphonose van Worden, Mark Kaplan with a few others whose names I don't recognise. It has photographs of beahces at sunset and whatnot.

Jamie at Blood and Treasure, meanwhile, thinks it will be Tuesday afternoon for a whole year, "in February". (I would wish him happy birthday but I suspect it will only add to his gloom.)

Ken ponders the strange death of socialist Scotland. "The people's flag is deepest red/It shrouded of't our martyr'd dead..." (Any party of labour whose official song began with those words was doomed to failure.)

...and I am struck by the futility of it all, having just realised I've been writing this blog for over a year. Here are some badgers.

The "unholy alliance" once more

Went to the Respect rally on Wednesday evening. I've not got a lot to add to the reports here and here. One point stuck out, though: Salma Yaqoob, during her speech - it is a crashing shame, after coming close, that she did not win up in Birmingham, she would make an absolutely superb MP - mentioned that their friendly local Islamic fundamentalists had printed leaflets calling her an apostate, saying her children were illegitimate, that she would be buried "with the dogs" - the usual. What was a little more surprising was her claim that equally friendly local Labour Party activists had helped produce and distribute these charming missives. I'd heard rumours that this collusion had been taking place, but never on an accountable public record. Does anybody else out there know what was going on?

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

"Is the economy heading for a recession?"

Larry Elliot, here failing to answer the question he sets himself by becoming confused between

1. being already in a recession


2. not being in a recession yet

by way of

3. having once been in a recession

Fries and predatory molluscs

Bionic Octopus here quibbles with my earlier disdain for the cultural explanations of Galloway's walkover at the Senate.

Elsewhere, she writes:

Beyond the obvious explanations of arrogance and turret-minded isolationism, the big reason Norm Coleworm and his boys didn't see GG coming is that American political discourse just doesn't work that way. There is a bizarre, pervasive doubleness to the rhetoric of public life in the States, a sense that public discourse is at a significant remove from, and operates according to different rules than, the discourse of everyday life.

There's a reason the House of Representatives, as the nation stood tiptoed on the rim of the Iraq invasion, took the time to invent Freedom Fries. It's the same reason that, having drafted perhaps the single most oppressive, race-baiting, civil-liberties-abrogating piece of legislation in modern American history, they then set their legislative minds to crafting it a name that would acronym up to 'USA PATRIOT'. And that reason is not, though it can hardly but seem so from outside, that most American people actually think in these terms.

Certain frightening (but smaller than you might imagine) segments of the population aside, regular Americans don't in their daily lives actually talk or think in the crudely jingoistic, 50s-vintage formalistic politois affected by their legislators. And I would lay you good money that our legislators don't talk like that when they're in mufti (witness, most spectacularly, the Oval Office tapes of Richard Nixon, and it's no coincidence that those pottymouthed revelations contributed mightily to his fall from public grace). Certainly they none of them seem ever to live up to the commensurate behavioral standards enshrined in that discourse.

Until, that is, the "preserved in amber relic" of McCarthyesque rhetoric is broken by the "decided British lack of Freedom-philia". Now, flattering as all this is, I can't really get too excited about "British political discourse", at least as it is conducted in the Westminster village. Remember the last time a prominent British politician, also intimately involved with Iraq, spoke in Washington? Blair's pieties, and the strange obsessions that too often pass for political debate, are still far removed from concerns of "regular" Britons. The same sleight of hand is being performed over here, in a slightly different style, to disguise real questions of power and wealth. With neoliberalism ascendant, even the semblance of meaningful debate that might once have occurred between social democratic and avowedly capitalist parties has been snuffed out.

Galloway is very much an exception. He and Respect have successfully opened up a space in which all sorts of dangerous ideas - that the Prime Minister lied, that we should tax the rich, that "socialism" is not a dirty word - can start to get a foothold. That's why the collision between him and the Senate was so spectacular; that's also why, for presumably hundreds of thousands, he spoke not just for himself, but for a whole mass of their usually concealed and otherwise excluded thoughts about politics.

(Onto the blogroll with the Bionic Octopus, whose site is very fine indeed. And funny. That's important. Also going on is Sonic, the blue hedgehog. Anthropomorphism, innit.)

Bash bash sorted

Given the fabricated evidence and Galloway's rhetorical skills I was expecting it to go well, but not that well. An excitable acquaintance reckons Galloway's opening statement was the "best speech delivered in the US for 25 years". Excitable, as I said; though the speech stands not just as a defence of Galloway's own conduct, but as a defence for the real accused in the Senate hearings, the entire anti-war movement. Galloway, until his re-election at least, represented little without the millions of protestors against the Iraq war. It's because the new MP for Bethnal Green and Bow can deliver the goods - carping about his ego, flash suits and crashingly ill-judged use of "indefatigability" aside - that he's in a leading position within that movement.

And never mind this British Parliamentarian vs. US Senators clash of cultures pish. This is political. As the swoons from leftish North Americans indicate (one example amongst many), it's been a while since the left there was able to produce credible representatives for itself. The Republican administration is corrupt, presides over a creaking economy, and has led the US into a bloody adventure in the Middle East on the most dubious pretexts. It shouldn't, all things considered, be that hard to give the Bush gang the odd kicking; yet after years of sheep-like bleating for an increasingly right-wing Democratic Party, and obedient herding behind the banner of the Lesser Evil, the so-called leadership of the US left has proved singularly incapable of even raising much concern amongst the Republicans. It is telling that in recent weeks, the only significant strikes against Bush have come from a maverick Republican and a dissident Scottish MP.

The nadir of Lesser Evilism was achieved in the Presidential elections last year, when an anti-war movement was shackled to an incompetent dullard of a pro-war candidate barely distinguishable from his erstwhile opponent. Reams of newsprint were expended on trashing a principled anti-war campaigner under the ludicrous theory that he was "taking votes" from the proper politicians, whilst the closest the Democrat's grey blur for President came to striking a blow against Bush was in parading himself as more militaristic than man who invaded Iraq. "John F. Kerry, reporting for duty." They still bloody lost.

So, my long-suffering US lefty comrades, you want politicians like Galloway? Stop voting for politicians like Kerry.

(Here's Lenin, and a quick plug for the London Respect rally with Galloway and John Pilger, amongst others - 7.30pm, Friends Meeting House, Euston Rd, this evening. That's more than enough of this for now, I think.)

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Socialist Worker: Galloway documents forged

Told you to watch out for it:

The central document used against George Galloway this week by the senate committee in Washington is a forgery. Investigation by Socialist Worker shows that evidence crucial to the alleged case against the Respect MP is a fake, created after the fall of Baghdad in 2003...

...there is one piece of evidence that at first glance seems persuasive. It is in the findings of the Duelfer Report — the conclusions of the Iraq Survey Group headed by Charles Duelfer which last year admitted Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction.

The senate committee’s document says, "According to the evidence in the Duelfer Report, the Hussein regime granted Galloway six oil allocations totalling 20 million barrels of oil".

In the section of the Duelfer Report on "Regime finance and procurement", there is an annex (Annex B) of "Known oil voucher recipients".

According to Duelfer, "This annex contains the 13 secret lists maintained by Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan al-Jizrawi and the Minister for Oil, Amir Rashid Muhammad al-Ubaydi. A high-level Iraqi State Oil Marketing Organisation (SOMO) official provided the Iraq Survey Group with both English and Arabic versions of these lists on 16 June 2004. The lists reproduced here are the original SOMO translations in English."

The list has hundreds of names of individuals and corporations many of which, according to Duelfer, acted legally in dealing in Iraqi oil under the UN Oil for Food programme.

The first mention of George Galloway is contract M/09/23. This alleges that 1.014 million barrels of oil were allocated to "Mr Fawwaz Zurayqat - Mr George Galloway -Aredio Petroleum (French)".

The SW website reprints the relevant section of the list. Each presumed recipient is listed by name in one column, next to the quantity of oil they were supposedly allocated. It is quite clear that the text including "Mr George Galloway" is in a different typeface to other names listed; it uses a smaller-sized font; and it does not align with the rest of the text on the same line. Socialist Worker continues:

The most likely explanation is that the words “Mr George Galloway” have been imported after the list was prepared, perhaps stuck on and then photocopied to produce the list in the Duelfer Report.

Elsewhere the Duelfer Report revisits this same contract note and, citing an internal Iraqi document, says the allocation was to “Fawaz Zuraiqat — Mariam’s Appeal”.

Was this the original name which was then changed to smear George Galloway?

Elsewhere, the paper reprints the testimony of an Iraqi, Sajad Ahmad Ali, who claims to have forged the orginal Oil-for-Food list, as printed in the Baghdad paper, Al-Mada, in January last year:

"I’d like to indicate here that it was us who made — that is to say we forged — this list of names and titles of people who got money from the ministry of information, the palace and the Oil for Food programme.

"The person who took charge of this task is called Abu-Salim and he got four individuals to work on the project, one of whom was me. At first we worked in Suq al-Maridy in Madinat al-Sadr then we went transferred to a shop in Al-Sani’ya Street near Imam Musa al-Kadhim’s mausoleum...

The first time Abu-Salim got in touch with us was about half way through December 2003. Afterwards Abu-Salim brought us a list of names, titles and jobs, he also gave us a draft copy of what we had to write next to them.

"We worked for ten days, and then we steamed the papers a bit, then dried them out so that they would look old. I made a few mistakes in some of the lists.

"I neglected to put in the name of the Baath Party in Mali, and the name of the Imam of the mosque in Taskhent and the name of an Iraqi teacher who works in a university in Libya. I pointed out these errors to Abu-Salim but he wasn’t bothered saying ‘it isn’t important’. I beg anyone who reads his name in these papers to ask for the original version and check the date of writing with carbon dating.

"He’ll find out that the dates are lies and he’ll also know that the paper is new and not like the type of paper in Iraq during sanctions or afterwards.

"We didn’t know who asked for this list of names, and I still don’t know who he is, nor what he did with it. The person who came to us was bald, dark-skinned and tall, wearing a navy-blue suit who called himself Abu-al-Nur. He had a bodyguard with him. It was him who asked us to compile this list. He explained what was required and gave us the names and paid the deposit, but I don’t know who came and collected the papers when the work was finished."

The link between this original, faked, list and that taken by the Senate committee from the Duelfer report is given by Claude Hankes-Drielsma, a KPMG accountant brought into Iraq by Ahmed Chalabi to investigate oil trades under Saddam Hussein. Hankes-Drielsma confirmed to a US house international relations committe that he had seen a list purporting to show those profiting from the oil-for-food programme in December 2003, which were then "released to an Iraqi newspaper (Al-Mada)."

If you wondered why Galloway was being so bullish about his committee appearance, here's your reason.

Gordon Brown: work longer for less money

I've mentioned it before, but the happy left-liberal thought that, by tying Britain closer to the EU, this country will be pulled to the left is little more than a reassuring myth. Far from pulling Britain leftwards, the British government has, for decades, acted to pull Europe to the right: a supposedly internationalise left-liberal Europhilia turns out to be alarming parochial, privileging minor (if any) social gains in the UK over a baleful neoliberal backwash across the continent.

The debate over the Bolkestein directive showed just how pernicious an influence the British government and senior British officials are in the EU, persistently advocating greater "liberalisation" and further extensions of the rule of the market across the continent. These are delivered in hectoring style, with guardians of the Anglo-Saxon model wagging fingers at slovenly Europeans and their recidivist attachment to the welfare state, employment protection, and free education. Gordon Brown, that supposed "left-wing" alternative to Blair, is no better than Peter Mandelson in this regard:

Gordon Brown will today vow to resist moves to impose shorter working hours on Britain and will attack the economic management of the European Union...

He will say: "Britain must and will promote labour, product and capital market reform in Europe. And in our presidency of the EU we will push forward our proposals to liberalise the single market and make the European economy more dynamic...

"Our proposed agenda will be labour market reform, so we will resist the opt-out to the 48 hour week being removed, and product and capital market liberalisation, so you have access to European markets."

...followed by a trumpeting of New Labour's many economic achievements that curiously neglects stagnating investment (PDF) and R&D expenditure (PDF), a yawning productivity gap, unsustainable private borrowing and a massive current account deficit.

The British Left needs to develop and propagate a serious critique of the EU and its institutions. This is becoming an urgent task: if we are to challenge both the xenophobia of the Euroscpetic Right, and the blind Europhilia of the liberal left in the coming years, we need a coherent and credible programme on which to do so. The French campaign against the new EU constitution should act as a role model for us all.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Ken Livingstone, writing in the Liberal Bomber last Sunday:

Two facts dominated the outcome of the general election. First, Labour lost 6 per cent of the vote. Second, the Tories were almost totally unable to gain support, their support rising only 0.5 per cent. This compares with an increase of 4 per cent for the Liberal Democrats and 1.5 per cent to others, the bulk of whom presented themselves as Labour's left. Given the orientation of the Liberal Democrats at this election, this means that Labour lost 10 votes to those presenting themselves as moderately to its left for every vote it lost to its right.

From which cuddly Ken draws the (fairly obvious) conclusion that Labour must appeal to its left, rather than to its right. That Blair is bent on doing precisely the opposite is, of course, typical of New Labour: it's never been solely - or even importantly - about popularity, and Blair would rather lose a few votes than divert from his neoliberal course.

What's interesting, though, is how Livingstone places his argument. It's not based on appeal, a la Hattersley, to forgotten "Labour values" and social democratic instincts. It's based on crude electoral calculations, and an appeal to precisely the same fundamental strategy as Blair. Livingstone thinks Labour should maintain the "anti-Tory alliance" by leaning to the left; Blair has always strove to do the same thing by leaning to the right. Implicit in both positions is that Labour should be the "natural" party of government, with all that this phrase suggests: management of the economy to suit business, a balancing of plural and equal interests, and - crucially - a rejection of the very idea of class.

Blair once hinted that the act of creating the Labour Party, over 100 years ago, was a mistake: it broke up "progressive" forces and ensured Tory domination over the 20th century. Livingstone appears to think along the same lines. If he was ever socialist, he appears to be no longer.

The left's challenge to this left-liberal position is quite distinct: it was necessary to found a party of the working class since without it the many gains that have been wrung out of business in this country - the NHS, the welfare state, free education - would have been quite impossible; a working class without independent political representation was a class permanently bound and crippled by business.

Here's a tip for you: watch out for Socialist Worker tomorrow. That's all.


Mark Elf, whose strong stomach I have noticed before, has dragged up another rank and festering treasure for our queasy admiration. Wait 'til you find out which chirpy cockernee sparrer (and latter-day saint) was offering these condolences for a dead racist:

I speak in this debate to represent the people of the east end who, as the whole country knows, held the Queen Mother in great affection. I shall speak not about what the Queen Mother inherited or passed on, but what the Queen Mother merited. She merited respect, and nowhere is that respect greater than in my constituency—land of the pearly kings and queens who were inspired by the sparkling monarch who picked her way through the rubble...

The century the Queen Mother spanned has closed. She was the last Empress. Although the world in which she was born and in which she moved has vanished, the characteristics with which she is associated endure, and we in the east end give thanks for them.

Working hours and the "Brown miracle"

The decision to scrap the UK's opt-out from the European working time directive is unreservedly good news. Naturally, there is a certain amount of cant from predictable quarters - the CBI and the Liberal Democrats - about ending "freedom of choice" for employees: as if tens of thousands of disappointed workers in Britain will be tearfully begging their managers to, please, just let them stay a few hours longer this Friday. Leaving aside the political questions, and the sudden desire amongst Labour MEPs to stick two fingers up at Blair (from the comfortable distance of Brussels), the so-called "long hours culture" in Britain is a strange beast. The distribution of working hours reveals quite a bit about the state of the UK economy more generally. Lenin here exploring the vexed question of English peculiarities - a post I intend to return to - the amount of time we spend in our offices and factories has much to do with the very specific form of neoliberalism the UK has enjoyed for the last 25 years. It marks Britain as a land apart from other, broadly similar economies.

Compared to other European countries, UK workers labour for longer. Some 40% of all workers in Britain have usual working weeks longer than 40 hours, compared to around 20% across France, Denmark and Sweden. The average working week for full-time employees in the UK is 44 hours, four hours longer than the EU average. (Labour Trends March 2004: 116-117) Longer hours in the UK have been squarely linked to the reduction in trade union presence in workplaces, with the removal of collective bargaining allowing employers to "flexibly" demand greater efforts. [J.Kodz, "Working long hours: a review of the evidence", Employment Relations Research Series 16:1 (2003)] We should consider, therefore, that the greater drive towards "flexibilisation", seen in the dismantling of employment protection and collective bargaining and the creation of a large, "permanently insecure" labour force, is significantly responsible for the UK's long working hours.

The impact is not even across sectors: 34% of those employed in "services" work longer than 40 hours a week, whilst the same proportion worked less than 30 hours a week. The pattern of evenly-spread working hours is quite distinct from those in other sectors: 58% of those in agriculture and fishing, and 51% in industry, worked more than 40 hours a week, whilst only 18% in agriculture and fishing, and a mere 7% in industry worked less than 30 hours per week. Looking across Europe to France, Sweden and Denmark, longer hours are common in agriculture and fishing, but only an average of 12% in industry in these three countries usually work longer than 40 hours a week. The distribution of hours is much less spread out: everyone in manufacturing in these three countries works about the same length of time each week. (Labour Trends, March 2004: Table 3)

The burden of flexibilisation, then, for excessively long hours in the UK seems to have fallen largely on industrial workers, leaving patterns in services and other sectors unchanged relative to typical Western European practices. However, the presence of low-paid, insecure workers, most often in regions of high manufacturing employment, has acted as a further compulsion on manufacturing work. This pressure has not appeared as "insecurity" as such, detectable in nonstandard contracting and the absence of employment protection, but in hours worked. This may be attributable to the relatively high productivity per hour of British manufacturing workers (PDF) - compared to those in services - and a resulting unwillingness for firms to lose skilled workers: with workers gaining firm-specific skills on the job, employers are unwilling to substitute any trained and experienced worker for one fresh from the labour market.

But the threats of unemployment and insecure services employment remain to discipline the workforce, enabling long hours to be squeezed from workers. The result is that whilst those employed in manufacturing industry are less likely to be receiving low pay, they will generally have to work longer than their British counterparts in the service sector, or relative to those doing the same jobs across Europe. This higher productivity across sectors within the UK is combined with a relatively larger gap between UK manufacturing productivity and that of comparable economies, increasing competitive pressure on employers to squeeze greater output through longer hours.

A permanent solution to long hours in Britain will be found where it has always been lurking: through improving investment. The Blair government arrived, in 1997, with plenty of grand schemes for finally addressing years of chronic underinvestment in basic infrastructure. Many of them, like the schemes to encourage longer-term capital investment, were heavily influenced by Will Hutton's seminal denunciation of "short-termism" (and much else) in his 1994 The State We're In. A decade later, and eight years after Blair's entrance to Number 10, and it is quite clear they have not worked. Private investment remains low (PDF), with recent improvements in public investment contributing little thus far; much of the increased expenditure has been needlessly wasted through the ludicrous Private Finance Initiative. Research and development expenditure has been creeping along for some years now, siginifcantly behind other European economies and the US. Imprecations against short-termism have floundered on the encouragement of a speculative housing bubble, skyrocketing consumer debt and persistently negative national savings. The "Brown miracle"? Hardly.

Friday, May 13, 2005

That "Galloway" business

Roy Greenslade states what has become clear over the last two years:

There will be many who snort contemptuously when I say that Galloway is now more sinned against than sinning because he has become so unpopular with both the media and political elites that they regard him as outside the normal rules of the game.

Indeed, to defend him places the defender beyond the pale too. But the victim of what has all the hallmarks of a media feeding frenzy deserves a fair hearing, not only for his personal benefit, but for those he now represents - and in order to confront journalists with their own misguided agendas.

It is amongst his greatest strengths that Galloway has an enviable capacity to anger precisely the right people almost to the point of insensibility. Had the Telegraph, for example, bothered to apply normal journalistic standards when presenting their overblown claims about "Saddam's little helper", they would not have received such a drubbing in the libel courts. The Christian Science Monitor happily (if unwittingly) reproduced forged documents claiming Galloway was in the receipt of staggeringly large amounts of cash from the oil-for-food programme. A moment's pause would have suggested it unlikely that a high-profile, well-monitored and controversial MP would have been receiving personal oil revenues that would have made Rockerfeller blush. They, too, ended up paying damages for libel.

And now, in the rehashed evidence presented by the Senate committee - evidence, incidentally, already in the public domain, and now merely warmed-over a bit - we find similarly absurd claims. The Mariam Appeal, through which Galloway is alleged by the Senate committee to have disguised his payments, was cleared of any wrong-doing by the Charities Commission. Yet they claim it was used to disguise payments made for up to 20 million barrels of Iraqi oil. This is a ludicrous, fantasy-land figure; it perhaps shares some ancestry with the ludicrous, fantasy-land figure retailed as "45 MINUTES FROM DESTRUCTION".

Thursday, May 12, 2005

That "communalism" business

The Saint Oona Martyr's Brigade at Little Green Soccerballs have settled on "communalism" as the only possible explanation for Respect's win in Bethnal Green last Thursday. (Note, incidentally, how they cite the BNP in their support.) In a similar, though less offensive (and more sympathetic) vein, this chap thinks Galloway won because the oiks like a bit of theatre. What both share is belief that rational individuals could not possibly have voted for Respect. What both imply is that voters in Bethnal Green and Bow had every reason to be happy with their lot, were they not driven by their irrational urges. Both are slurs, in particular, on the Bangladeshi community in East London.

In front of me is an essay by Jonathan Wadsworth of the LSE's Centre for Economic Performance, "The Labour Market Performance of Ethnic Minorities in the Recovery". It's contained in The Labour Market Under New Labour: the state of working Britain, edited by Wadsworth and others. This is a book I've plugged here frequently, as it is an invaluable guide to effects of New Labour on the British working class.

Looking at his figures, we find that in 2002, 5% of British-born whites were unemployed. Fourteen percent of British-born non-whites were unemployed. Breaking that figure down further reveals that 21% of first-generation Bangladeshis in Britain are unemployed. Fully 30% of British-born Bangladeshis are without work. (Table 8.2, p.123)

I can hear a murmuring at the back about "culture" or some similar nonsense. Far from it. Taking the rate of male Bangladeshi employment over time and comparing it to the rate of British-born white employment shows a marked improvement in the employment rates of first-generation Bangladeshis from the mid-1990s to 2000. Employment amongst second- and third-generation Bangladeshis improved slightly over the same years. This is a period of recovery in the labour market in Britain, with unemployment falling nationally. Clearly, if long-standing "cultural" factors prevented Bangladeshis in Britain from working, these would not suddenly disappear when the economy improved. (Fgiure 8.1a, p.120)

From 2000 onwards, the employment position of British-born Bangladeshi men, relative to white British men, starts to worsen. The wages of all Bangladeshi men decline relative to British-born white men from 1999 onwards. Throw in, also, the revealing statistic that "40% of all Bangladeshis have no formal qualifications, compared to 16 per cent of British-born whites" and the pattern is absolutely clear.

Anyone leaning towards "communalism" or some other presumed irrationality to explain Respect's victory should start from the actual experience of ethnic minorities in Britain. Given their recent experiences, is it any wonder so many Bangladeshis, amongst the most oppressed people in the British working class, would reject New Labour when given a credible alternative? Is it any wonder, after the last eight years, that sections of the white working class would join them? Taking account, also, of Respect's absolutely clear, class-based and unifying message - against the war, for public services - and the basis for shouting "communalism" disappears entirely.

"Old Labour, with a dash of Respect"

Via Lenin, the Guardian on the WASG:

The leftwing Work & Social Justice party, Germany's newest political force, is unlikely to win key parliamentary elections in North Rhine-Westphalia on May 22. But its 168 candidates are certain to compound Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's difficulties as his Social Democrats struggle to hold on to a state they have governed since 1966.

Promoting itself as Die Wahlalternative (the election alternative) to politics as usual, the WASG is the rough equivalent of old Labour with a dash of Respect thrown in.

The Guardian also mentions novelist Gunter Grass' recent article on globalisation as contributing to a "reviving leftwing ideological resistance", similar to that seen in France against the new EU constitution. The Left in Britain needs to urgently address the question of Europe - as the French Left has shown, it is possible (and necessary) to win an internationalist argument against the privatisers' charter that is the new constitution.

Grass' article is translated here; for an example of the pure blank terror that is creeping up on ideologues of the free market, see Brad de Long's fanatical misreading of the same, over here. A New Morning is a good German-English blog written by a WASG supporter.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

John Rees on Respect

There is already enormous turmoil inside the labour movement and the Labour Party because of the election. It is normal for a party leader who has lost an election to be greeted by newspaper headlines demanding his resignation.

It is a sign of the degree to which Blair has suffered a defeat that a party leader who has won a third term in office faces speculation as to how swiftly he will resign.

Under these circumstances the vote for the left alternative — the Respect vote — is of pivotal significance. If George Galloway had not won Bethnal Green & Bow, the whole arc of the Stop the War movement would have suffered an enormous reverse...

More than this, George Galloway’s victory is a victory for Respect as the political project whose aims include and then run beyond the anti-war movement.

It is the beginnings of an organisational and political embodiment of a mood previously visible only in opinion polls. These show the majority of people against privatisation and racism, and in favour of trade unionism and the welfare state.

Read the rest here.