Dead Men Left

Friday, July 22, 2005

I'm on holiday until 30 July. Not much posting here before then.

German Tories squeezed by rise of the "Left Party"

I know none of you care too much, what with a suspected suicide bomber/Asian with a big coat being shot in Stockwell, but yesterday’s Financial Times carried a lengthy interview with Angela Merkel, the CDU’s decidedly uncharismatic new leader. By virtue of not being Gerhard Schroeder, Merkel may well lead the German Tories to victory in the federal elections, now scheduled for September. The CDU, like the all the parties of official politics, is committed to the so-called “reform” of Germany’s substantial welfare state: think of Angela Merkel as a German Margaret Thatcher, opposed by a German Tony Blair (minus Iraq), and it would be easy to get a sense of the despair that clouds some of the German Left.

Fortunately, that has started to lift in recent months: the new Left Party, an amalgamation of the Electoral Alternative (WASG) and the PDS (former Communists) led by Oskar Lafontaine, has received quite incredible opinion poll returns in recent months, ranging between 9 and eighteen per cent nationally. Of course, the SPD leadership have played the tricks we are so familiar with in Britain: roughly, voting anything other SPD will let the Tories (or the Nazis) in.

Yet underneath Merkel’s (rather tedious) interview was a short analytical comment that indicated the CDU was feeling the pinch:

The reason for CDU concerns is a month-old populist leftwing alliance that threatens to take votes not just from Mr Schröder's Social Democrats but also from the CDU. The alliance, whose leaders include Oskar Lafontaine, the former SPD finance minister, is the only party that explicitly opposes the type of economic, welfare and labour market reforms introduced by Mr Schröder and backed by the CDU.

This has found a receptive audience in the east, Germany's economically most depressed region, where the 18.5 per cent unemployment rate is double that of the west. Cuts in unemployment benefits this year have hit hardest in the east, and the anti-reform street protests that last year damaged the government's standing started in the region.

Pollsters expect the alliance - which comprises the former PDS, now renamed the Left party, and a smaller group of SPD dissidents led by Mr Lafontaine - to win around 10 per cent of votes nationwide. Most worrying for the CDU, the alliance is strongest in the east where, according to a recent poll, it is the largest party with 31 per cent of the vote. The CDU scored only 29 per cent in the region, compared with 42 per cent nationally.

Peter Lösche, politics professor at Göttingen university, says this trend shows that the alliance is winning in the east at both ends of the political spectrum - including among people who in the recent past voted for far-right parties and who pollsters had expected to back the CDU in September.

He says these eastern votes "could be decisive in depriving Ms Merkel of her preferred coalition option after the election" - a link-up with the liberal Free Democrats. It would be more difficult for this coalition - seen by economists as the most likely to implement far-reaching economic reforms - to gain a majority if, as expected, parliamentary seats have to be shared among five parties rather than four, as at present.

(CNN has more.)

Unite Against Polly Toynbee

Lenin's on top form at the moment, attacking the dreadful "Unite Against Terror" initiatve with gusto - certainly with more aggression than I could work up for it:

Frankly, this ridiculous campaign has absolutely nothing to do with uniting against ‘terror’. It is very selective about which terror it opposes. It opposes that carried out by a variety of groups inspired by a reactionary kind of Islamism. It doesn’t oppose that carried out by far right Colombian militias. It doesn’t show any solidarity with trade unionists and peasants being murdered by those terrorists. It doesn’t oppose the terrorism of states against civilian populations: the targeting of civilians by the Russian government in Chechnya; the massacre in Fallujah; the use of death squads in the ‘new Iraq’; the repeated assaults on Palestinians. About these, it is wordless – and culpably so. For a statement that supposedly unites against ‘terror’, it says only what is all too easy to say, and deliberately says nothing that could offend Mr Bush or Mr Blair. Read the statements by those who signed it – most of those who did so are obviously only interested in attacking the Left.

I’m afraid I haven’t gone far enough. The Palestinians are right to fight the Israelis, and I support their being armed with the tanks and helicopters that their opponents have. The Iraqi resistance is right to fight the occupiers, and I support attacks on UK & US troops. The resistance in Chechnya is right to fight the Russians, and I support attacks on the Russian army. I am a supporter – nay, glorifier – of terrorism. Potentially, under new legislation, I could be locked up or deported – if only my skin were brown and my face bearded.

"Unite Against Terror" stinks, absolutely reeks with the scent of old leftists turned apologists; the bitter, rather acred smell of hypocrisy and imperial vainglory, here trailing a McCarthyism of "sinister platitudes".

Also via Len, I notice that Polly Toynbee, the doyenne of socially responsible New Labour - never mind Iraq, look at the happy paupers - has had a funny turn:

The death cult strikes again, unstoppable in its deranged religious mania...

Whatever they intended, the message was loud and clear... (!)

In the growing fear and anger at what more may be to come, apologists or explainers for these young men can expect short shrift... [emphasis added]

Enlightenment values are in peril not because these mad beliefs are really growing but because too many rational people seek to appease and understand unreason... [emphasis added]

Meanwhile the far left, forever thrilled by the whiff of cordite, has bizarrely decided to fellow-travel with primitive Islamic extremism as the best available anti-Americanism around...

And so on and so forth. You have your instructions: To explain is to appease. We must fight the hordes with their own weapons. We must meet unreason with unreason.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

"London can take it"

No it can't. I am currently hiding under my desk, whimpering like a piglet in a sack.

Update 14:59 The Evening Standard has an eyewitness account from Warren Street.

Update 15:22 This is all very odd:

The BBC's Andrew Winstanley said devices had been found but appeared to have been dummies, containing no explosives.

The Dom Joly wing of al-Qaida? Keep an eye out for a Channel Four camera crew.

Update 15:33 "Angry Brigade", says Bat. They tried to blow up Wivenhoe Bridge once. Gulp.

Updated 11:40 (the following day) Dsquared says:
It must be cripplingly embarrassing, even for a Yorkshireman, to gird your loins, scream "Allah Akbar", press the trigger and watch the bomb go "pop" and barely blow the lid off your sandwich box. In such a situation, I think I would try to pass it off as a fart.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Wasteful, inefficient, yadda yadda

The Telegraph on "public sector productivity":

Until yesterday, Mr Brown's claim to be the heir apparent to Tony Blair looked unassailable. But that ambition is always going to be premised on his hitherto undeniable success as Chancellor. This success is suddenly looking rather threadbare. The public finances have consistently turned out to be in worse shape than he admits, and much of his spending has gone not on frontline services but on bureaucracy and pay rises. Productivity in the unreformed public sector is actually declining, so Mr Brown always has to spend more just to maintain output at current levels.

A thought: the most productive parts of the public sector have been hived off over the last twenty years. Outright privatisation hasn't touched the awkwardly labour-intensive areas of the public sector, like the NHS. If you take the most efficient parts out, it's no surprise that average productivity within the public sector falls. This is quite independent of any supposed "squandering" of extra public spending, though no doubt the targets and "quasi-markets" regime New Labour has tried to force down public sector throats has not helped.

Yellow Tories: it's the economy, stupid

Not content with New Labour having turned over monetary policy to an unelected cabal of "experts", the Lib Dems want something similar for fiscal policy:

The Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman, Vince Cable, said that Mr Brown was "making a mockery" of his own fiscal rules.

"This move shows again the need for independent scrutiny of fiscal policy," he said. "For too long the Chancellor has been setting his own tests and then taking the credit for having passed. He should admit he has made a mistake this time."

The drive, integral to the neoliberal style, to remove any democratic control over economic policy is all too evident here. Sure, Gordon Brown is fiddling his figures to meet his so-called "Golden Rule": attempting to contain increased public expenditure - the product of severe political pressure - within the strictures of neoliberal economics was never going to work. This is the failure of the Third Way for the macroeconomy.

But the Lib Dem response, far from breaking with the orthodoxy, is to call for still greater restraints on elected government. They would rather sacrifice minimal democratic control to "independent" scrutiny than announce they no longer support the neoliberal regime. To demonstrate their loyalty to capital, they're even dropping their one distinctive policy pledge:

Charles Kennedy has suggested that the Liberal Democrats will drop their policy of imposing a 50p top rate of tax on earnings above £100,000 a year...

His Westminster speech, which comes as a Liberal Democrat commission starts to review tax policy, is a signal that he does not want to position his party to the left of Labour and allow its opponents to brand it a "high- tax" party...

Mr Kennedy said: "We were correct to point out at the general election that only 1 per cent of all taxpayers would be affected by our proposals on top-rate taxation. But we must not lose sight of those who aspire to achieve income levels which will bring them into the top-rate taxation band in time to come. So we should not fall into the trap of believing that through taxation and spending we can cure all ills."

"Left-wing"? This shower?

Typical Livingstone

The best comment on Ken Livingstone's widely-praised statement about the London bombings was provided by Blairite columnist, Andrew Rawnsley:

The response of Ken Livingstone was, to my mind, particularly striking. Unbelievable as Tony Blair might have once found this in the days when the mayor of London was his bete rouge, Mr Livingstone took one of the most crucially supportive stances on the bombings. Downing Street has always feared that an atrocity in London would provoke a massive public backlash against Britain's participation in the war in Iraq...

That was why Mr Livingstone's intervention was so crucial to the shaping of the public mood. He was an opponent of invasion of Iraq. He is a loather of George W Bush. He was one of those who warned that the war would expose Britain to a heightened risk of terrorist attack. He had experienced as acutely as anyone the 24-hour swing from euphoria to horror as London's Olympic gold was followed by the black day of the bombings. He could have done a George Galloway and told Londoners that they had 'paid the price' for the Blair alliance with Bush. Rather than blame the attacks on the war, Mr Livingstone blamed the bombings on the bombers: 'A criminal attempt at mass murder.'

Livingstone's was a sufficiently eloquent statement that one might think it had been prepared some time ago. With some rhetorical skill, it bundled up what many of us, especially in London, felt. It did not, however, say what we thought. As Rawnsley says, Livingstone's clarity provided the best possible cover for a government with a nervous memory of Madrid. To duck the issue of Iraq, given Livingstone's own clear anti-war position, was a failure of political responsibility on his part: when put to the test, he buckled.

That cover has now been blown. Livingstone, no doubt sensing the mood, has said what he should have said earlier:

...he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I think we have just had 80 years of Western intervention in predominantly Arab lands because of the Western need for oil.

"We have propped up unsavoury governments, we have overthrown ones that we didn't consider sympathetic.

"And I think the particular problem we have at the moment is that in the 1980s the Americans recruited and trained Osama bin Laden, taught him how to kill, to make bombs and sent him off to kill the Russians in Afghanistan and they didn't give any thought to the fact that once he had done that, he might turn on his creators."

Update: Bat, in the comments, supplies a conclusion for this post:

Livingstone's warbling is too little too late to salvage his reputation on the left. I'm sure I wasn't the only one to think "ha! serves you right" on seeing today's Daily Telegraph front page (which sandwiches his mugshot between Omar Bakri Mohammed and Anjem Choudary under the headline The Men Who Blame Britain).

And if he is going to tack left, is it too much to ask for a bit of frigging accuracy? While the US were doubtless only too happy for OBL & Co to operate in Afghanistan during the 1980s, it is silly to claim that the Americans "recruited and trained Osama bin Laden, taught him how to kill, to make bombs" etc.

This sort of piss-weak fact-free conspiracy mongering can be easily demolished by any semi-intelligent rightwinger armed with a history book. It adds nothing to the genuine anti-imperialist case, and only serves to distract attention from Livingstone's accelerating trajectory up Blair's back passage.

"Gob of bitter spittle"

The Atlantic Ocean is sometimes very wide:

Our President, George W. Bush, was actually in the United Kingdom when terror struck London. He was in Scotland, a two-hour flight from Heathrow. Understandably, he and the other leaders completed the G8 summit, unbowed by the carnage in the London transit system.

And then our President came home.

And in doing so, he knowingly cast a gob of bitter spittle in the face of our constant ally, and disgraced the United States of America.

Why didn't President Bush visit London? Why didn't he walk the streets, take a few questions from the press, show the power of his office to Londoners? Stand at the side of Tony Blair and Ken Livingstone? Why hasn't anyone asked? Why did he fly all the way to Washington, signing the condolence book at the British Embassy - instead of walking a moment or two in Londoners' shoes.

Why indeed?

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Tory MP and incitements to violence

Bob Spink is a Tory MP representing an overwhelmingly white constituency, buried away in deepest Essex. But far from the stale stereotypes of parochial Essex man, Bob Spink is a citizen of the world - a Parliamentarian with his finger firmly on the pulse of modern, multicultural Britain. Why, only last night he was holding forth on the proposed visit of a Muslim cleric to far-off Manchester:

Tory MP Bob Spink, who addressed the mass vigil in Trafalgar Square after the bombings, said the decision to let al-Qaradawi in was “extremely insensitive” and could provoke violence.

The MP for Castle Point in Essex said: “Feelings are running high. I’m getting many calls from people who’ve had enough toleration towards those who want to bring down our system of life.”

Like Enoch himself, Spink is not personally asking anybody to, for example, burn down their local mosque. No, he's simply passing on - how kind! - the opinions of those who've had enough of "toleration" towards Muslim clerics. They must be getting pretty jumpy down in Castle Point, what with the massed hordes of 248 Muslims to worry about.

Spink is wallowing in the dirty, rotten politics he waded through to clinch his election victory this year. A sample of his campaign:

Mr Spink took out the advert in the Yellow Advertiser under the heading Stop Asylum Abuse.

It said: "Bob leads the fight in parliament to stop asylum cheats. If we don't act, nasty fringe parties will. Labour has tripled illegal immigration and only one in five failed asylum seekers is removed. What bit of 'send them back' don't you understand Mr Blair?"

The objections of filth like Spink are almost reason enough to insist al-Qaradawi be allowed to speak in Britain. Here's Marc Mulholland with a few more.


Stumbled over this at Juan Cole, a few weeks old now, but never mind:

...I heard Michael Scheuer, the former CIA Bin Laden analyst, a couple of times this morning, once on NPR's Morning Edition and once on the Diane Rehm show. I thought his comments compelling.

He found the statement issued by a "secret jihad" web site similar in form and content to typical al-Qaeda communiques, including the threats against other countries (Italy and Denmark). He was sure this was an al-Qaeda operation.

He noted that Bin Laden had called off any ceasefire and had several times threatened to hit the United Kingdom.

He said that "chickens were coming home to roost" for US and UK politicians who had obscured the nature of the al-Qaeda struggle by maintaining that the organization attacks the West because "they hate our values."

Scheuer believes that al-Qaeda is an insurgent ideology focused on destroying the United States and its allies, because its members believe that the US is trying to destroy them. Al-Qaeda members see the Israeli occupation and oppression of the Palestinians, backed by the US; US support for military regimes like those of Pakistan and Egypt; and US military occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq as evidence of a US onslaught on Islam and Muslims aimed at reducing them to neo-colonial slavery. That is, specific Western policies are the focus of al-Qaeda response, not a generalized "hatred" of "values."

Bin Laden, in his US election video, rhetorically demanded, "Let [Bush] tell us why we did not strike Sweden." The constant hammering on the theme that al-Qaida are motivated only by hatred of the West, and the related trumpeting about destroying an "ideology" - as if any such thing was ever possible without destroying its material roots - is a not particularly subtle attempt to cover New Labour backsides. It is at best going to do nothing whatsoever to remove the threat of terrorism, and is reasonably likely to simply magnify the threat. It represents the most horrid abdication of responsibility by this government.

Common sense, "good sense", bombs in London

An opinion poll confirms something we all knew - the public aren't buying it:

Two-thirds of Britons believe there is a link between Tony Blair's decision to invade Iraq and the London bombings despite government claims to the contrary, according to a Guardian/ICM poll published today...

Only 28% of voters agree with the government that Iraq and the London bombings are not connected.

The gulf between official politics and the politics of workplaces, streets and homes looks wider than ever. Despite extraordinarily concerted efforts by the guardians of public discourse, government and media working in tandem, it is widely (and correctly) believed that the invasion of Iraq and the London atrocities are connected.

Antonio Gramsci, the Italian Marxist, once drew the distinction between "common sense" and "good sense" in popular politics. "Common sense", he wrote, consisted of all the widely-accepted beliefs about society and politics that acted, without intention, in defence of the existing order of things: so protests never work, nothing ever changes, "they" always know best. In largely liberal-democratic societies, lacking easy access to overt means of repression, common sense in this way constituted a major support for the ruling class.

"Good sense", by comparison, was in those hard-learned lessons about effective working-class politics: not crossing picket lines, joining a trade union, not voting Tory. Good sense could emerge to challenge common sense in the course of a popular struggle; moreover, good sense may itself take on an institutional form, like the trade union movement, or the working-class political parties. By these organisational means good sense has been able to reproduce itself, even if - in recent decades - in considerably straitened circumstances.

Remarkable about the mass rejection of the official line on the London bombings is the fact that "common sense", in Gramsci's understanding, is not functioning: the government, and official politics more generally, has resorted to heavy-handed ideological and political ruses, and yet still cannot convince more than a third of the population to follow its lead. Instead, an oppositional "good sense" has become common: one some level, and with varying degrees of feeling, a substantial majority believe that this same government bears a responsibility for the London bombings.

That this occurs without the significant organisational resources widespread "good sense" once relied is still more surprising. Trade unions and other organisations, most notably the major working-class party, have failed to provide any lead, or even acted in defence of official politics. It has been left to a few brave individuals, perilously positioned in the interstices of official politics, to voice an opposition.

This situation is only intelligible with an appreciation of the anti-war movement's importance. Both as an loosely organised political force, and - more importantly - as an ideological bulwark against officialdom, the protest movement against the Iraq war prepared the grounds for the response we know observe in the opinion polls.

Away from the relatively simple questions posed there, this clear picture becomes murkier: unlike Spain, where a simple left-right divide separated those opposing from those supporting the invasion of Iraq, in the UK it is the leadership of the alleged party of progressives that argued for and then initiated the invasion, and who continue to argue vehemently in its defence. But, even with the resources of government, access to the media, and of the Labour Party's history, they have been unable to close the gap between official and unofficial politics: they have singularly failed to persuade the rest of us of their own virtue. It is in that gap that any future for the left lies.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Chatham House, condensed.

"Unite Against Terror"

It's disappointing to find apparently endorsing the insidious "Unite Against Terror" initiative. I say "insidious" quite deliberately; as the comments below the post reveal, "Unite Against Terror" appears to be a creature of the decidedly ill-named "Labour Friends of Iraq", an organisation dedicated to building support in the UK for the occupation of Iraq, which is chaired by the pro-war Ann Clwyd, and at least of one of whose officers argued in favour of the invasion.

Despite considerable squealing, Labour Friends of Imperialism has never amounted to much beyond its (currently hacked) website, there being a firmly-established opposition to both the war and the occupation prevailing over the British labour movement. No doubt the London bombings represented as good a time as any to push whatever half-baked hodgepodge of sub-Shachtman theorising and sub-Old Labour tub-thumping LFI appear to think represents left-wing "democratic politics". No doubt, too, we will see far more of the "sinister platitudes" "Unite Against Terror" are peddling over the next few weeks and months. Phil E, in the comments to the post, sums the problem up very well:

...we know that everyone (apart from a handful of psychopaths) shares a fundamental ethical objection to terror. We also know that almost everyone makes qualified exceptions to the rule, in line with their political positions. The alternative would be to condemn terror attacks even-handedly, irrespective of whether they’re committed by soldiers or guerrillas, Republicans or Unionists, Serbs or Bosniaks, Israelis or Palestinians, etc. It’s not clear to me that this is possible, or even that it’s desirable: “a horrific crime in an evil cause” is a very different judgment from “a horrific crime which sullies the name of a good cause”, let alone “a horrific crime which was nevertheless the best available way of advancing a good cause”. Ethical absolutism would discard all those distinctions, making it impossible to distinguish between running a death camp and bombing a death camp.

In any case, on reading the appeal it’s clear that its claim to ethical absolutism is spurious: they aren’t really calling for unity against all terror, any time, anywhere. Rather, there’s a political agenda which hardly bothers to conceal itself: to oppose ‘the terrorists’ in Britain also means opposing ‘the terrorists’ in Palestine and opposing ‘the terrorists’ in Iraq.

Yes, I’ll oppose terror: I’ll oppose terror attacks by the IDF and the US Army, as well as terror attacks by Hamas and the Iraqi insurgency. And, having a political outlook on the world (as you do), I’ll make my own judgment as to which of those sources of terror it’s more important for me to condemn at any given time.

There’s also the fact that this is an appeal from the political mainstream to a community outside the mainstream, inviting them to declare themselves for or against an approved set of positions. As such it’s a factor for division and instability rather than unity. Initiatives like this will serve the interests of the (respectable) Left, but they won’t do anything for the unity, political coherence or self-respect of the Muslim community - and, that being the case, I doubt they’ll do much to prevent further terrorist attacks.

(Phil also blogs at Actually Existing.)

Where have all the comics gone?

Where's Rowan Atkinson to protest against this planned assault on freedom of speech?

A new offence of "indirect incitement" to terrorism aimed at restraining firebrand militants will make it a crime to glorify or condone terrorism if the intention is to incite people to take part in attacks...

[Home Office minister Hazel Blears] said direct incitement to carry out terror attacks was already outlawed, but less clear-cut indirect statements would be covered by the new laws. "For example, saying isn't it marvellous this has happened and these people are martyrs - not direct incitement to do something but something that could be construed by someone as giving an endorsement of terrorism."

(See also Jamie at Blood and Treasure.) If there's not a procession of alleged comedians, devoted secularists, and faddish authors lined up pretty damn quickly to oppose Charlie the Safety Elephant it will be quite a blow to my long-held faith in liberals everywhere.

Update: Rowan Atkinson, to his credit, has a letter in the Guardian today:

The bomb attacks in London and their aftermath seem to have rendered the religious hatred bill passing through parliament almost an irrelevance. The recent eloquent and vehement condemnation by the British Muslim community of the extremist factions within its midst has successfully disabled much of the irrational criticism from far-right groups which this bill was intended to address.

It is invariably counter-productive to suppress the expression of unpalatable ideas with legislation. I would oppose equally the gagging of radical Muslim clerics. The more openly arguments are aired, the more easily they can be ridiculed, as long as those counter-arguing can display the kind of courage exhibited this week by moderate British Muslims. Arguments must be won, not suppressed, and yet suppression is a clear intent of the bill.
Rowan Atkinson

Evidently stung by my sneering, hem-hem. Behold the power of blog.

Chatham House rules

In the Bill and Ted sense of the word. The critical sections of the Chatham House/ESRC report:

A key problem with regard to implementing ‘Prevention’ and ‘Pursuit’ is that the UK government has been conducting counter-terrorism policy ‘shoulder to shoulder’ with the US, not in the sense of being an equal decision-maker, but rather as pillion passenger compelled to leave the steering to the ally in the driving seat. There is no doubt that the situation over Iraq has imposed particular difficulties for the UK, and for the wider coalition against terrorism. It gave a
boost to the Al-Qaeda network’s propaganda, recruitment and fundraising, caused a major split in the coalition, provided an ideal targeting and training area for Al-Qaeda-linked terrorists, and deflected resources and assistance that could have been
deployed to assist the Karzai government and to bring bin Laden to justice. Riding pillion with a powerful ally has proved costly in terms of British and US military
lives, Iraqi lives, military expenditure, and the damage caused to the counter-terrorism campaign. (p. 3)

It is notable that, rather than describing al-Qaida as an "organisation", the report's authors call it "a movement or a network of networks" (p.3): that is to say, the current focus on finding a Mr Big or a "ringleader" behind the London bombs may be terribly misdirected. However, the summary paper also has a few words on the political rhetoric used in the West about terrorism:

Most of the time, the public are merely spectators to foreign affairs, with the right to protest but with little opportunity to change the course of policy direction. At elections, there is an opportunity for the critical issues of terrorism and security policy to be thrown open for debate. This research suggests, however, that the politics of fear can often overshadow a more informed discussion about the causes and potential policy prescriptions for dealing with the issue. As a result, it is easy to slip into prejudices and assumptions about the ‘enemy’ rather than focusing on any erosion of citizens’ rights resulting from the ‘war on terror’. Terrorism and the shadow of fear it casts can be used all too easily to obscure repressive government measures... it is a disturbing comment if these critical issues are not discussed meaningfully during campaigns in the US or the UK. (p.8)

London is drowning (and I live by the river)

How far can this be attributed to privatisation?

Two of the largest water companies were accused yesterday of wasting "unacceptable" amounts of water through leaking pipes.

With much of the country poised to face a summer of water rationing, Thames Water in the South East and United Utilities in the North West both missed their targets on cutting leakage.

Between them, the companies lose more than 1,400 million litres a day through their pipes. A third company, Cambridge Water, also narrowly missed the target set by the regulator Ofwat.

Ofwat itself says that (PDF, p.24):
After privatisation, better data from the companies revealed a rising trend in leakage that reached a peak in the drought year of 1995.

What they don't tell us, presumably with good reason, is by just how much the six years from privatisation to the mid-1990s drought contributed to the "rising trend in leakage". Left to their own devices, the water companies were more than happy to neglect infrastructure and repairs. Thames Water, after receiving the marvellous gift of supplying (damp, pipeline-rich, demand-heavy) London with water at minimal (subsidised) cost, is now having to make up for its years of running an apparently low-maintenance licence to print money:

Thames Water has the worst leakage level out of all the water and sewerage companies, losing just over one billion litres a day. Since 1992/93 [to 1996/97, ie after the drought forced regulators to act] the amount of water wasted through leaks has increased by nearly 35%.

Domestic water bills increased by exactly the same percentage over the same period. Coincidence, of course.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Good old-fashioned doom-mongering

First reports of a slide in UK services exports reminded of something I'd seen a few months back:

Graham Turner, of GFC Economics, says the figures for net investment income from abroad are artificially swelled by what is known as unremitted income. That is where a UK company has a stake of 10% or more in a foreign company and a flow of income (not just dividend payments) is assumed by government statisticians. There is nothing dodgy about this and it is fully in line with international conventions, but the fact is that the income is not being repatriated and, as a result, Britain's current account is actually in worse shape than it looks.

The point here being that the UK current account deficit is reduced by a combination of services exports and net investment income from abroad. (Manufacturing trade has shown a deficit with the rest of the world for decades now.) If the current account is artificially boosted, and services exports start sliding on top of that, the current position of the pound - and potentially the whole UK economy - is even more unstable.

Exposed mole and London bombs

This one may rumble on for a while yet. Robin at is very angry, because:

Purely for political advantage during the US election, the Bush administration needlessly blew the cover of an al-Qaeda mole who was leading intelligence services to a terrorist network in the UK. As a result, they then had to make rushed arrests before they were ready. Some got away. At least one of those was one of the suicide bombers last Thursday.

Americablog picked up on the story originally, followed up by Juan Cole. Now, Robin may be overstating the case when he says "at least one" of the suspected al-Qaida escapees was one of the bombers last Thursday, since it's not quite clear how Mohammed Siddique Khan was involved with the alleged mole, Muhammed Naeem Noor Khan; but, in any case, it seems Blair's favourite tabloid was "cherry-picking" this story around the time it first emerged. Twisting a significant intelligence failure into a political triumph (of sorts) shows New Labour's real dedication to the noble art of spin.

"Rooting out extremism" and all that jazz

Yes, I reckon preventing one of Britain's leading Muslim moderates from speaking is exactly the way to do it:

A prominent British Muslim leader has been refused entry to the United States with no explanation, just days after the London bombings.

Dr Zaki Badawi, head of the Muslim College, flew from London to New York on Wednesday but said he was denied entry and forced to return home...

"The people I was speaking to [at immigration control] were very junior people, and they are just executing things they were told," he told the Associated Press in an interview.

"They were very, very embarrassed and I felt sorry for them. America is a lovely country. There is no reason why it should behave like that." His wife Maryam said she had been very worried but that he was back home and was resting.

Zaki Badawi and Tariq Ramadan: good to see it's the real fundamentalist head-bangers they're going after.

Salma Yaqoob in the Guardian

Salma Yaqoob:

Because what is undeniable is that the shoddy theology - no matter how "unIslamic" and easily condemned by most Muslims - is driven by political injustices. It is the boiling anger and hurt that is shaping the interpretation of religious texts into such grotesque distortions. Such extreme interpretations exist only in specific political circumstances - they certainly do not predate them, and the religious/political equation breaks down if there is no injustice to drive it.

This leaves British Muslims in a very difficult place. To bring in these wider questions requires them to dissent from the government line. This is difficult for them, keen as they are to avoid further marginalisation. However, if Muslim leaders succumb to the pressure of censorship and fail to visibly oppose the government on certain foreign policy issues, the gap between the leaders and those they seek to represent and influence will widen, increasing the possibility of more dangerous routes being adopted by the disillusioned.

I was particularly angered by the way in which various Muslim Labour MPs had been co-opted by Blair as the necessary support for his Basil Fawlty approach to tackling terrorism. It is an absurd position: we are expected to pretend that the London bombings nothing to do with the war, and did not grow out of the "boiling anger and hurt" felt at political injustices. Instead, preventing further atrocities becomes a matter for the Muslim population alone. It is a stupid and dangerous approach precisely because it exacerbates the original problem. That we are all being effectively placed at still greater risk to cover Blair's sorry arse is maddening. (On which, see also Steve Bell's excellent cartoon.)

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Bove for President?

Via the Militant Pine Marten, the surprising news that Jose Bove, the altermondialiste activist, is considering standing for the French Presidency.

Le Monde says (dodgy translation approaching):

Il apparaît toujours, dans les sondages, comme le plus populaire des ténors de gauche. Avec 56 % de bonnes opinons, selon le tableau de bord IFOP pour Paris Match de la mi-juin, et même 69 % parmi l'électorat de gauche, l'ex-leader paysan atteint une cote que les autres leaders du non -­ Marie-George Buffet (PCF), Olivier Besancenot (LCR) ou les socialistes Henri Emmanuelli ou Jean-Luc Mélenchon ­- n'osent espérer. "Il y a une place pour un populiste de gauche dont le coeur idéologique est celui d'Attac", reconnaît Jean Viard, directeur de recherche au CNRS (Cevipof, Centre d'études de la vie politique française).

He always appears, in surveys, as the most popular spokesman of the left. With 56% holding a favourable opinion, according to the pollsters IFOP for Paris Match in mid-June, and even 69% amongst left-wing voters, the former farmers' leader has attained a breadth of support that the other leaders of the "no" [in the Euro referendum] - Marie-George Buffet (PCF), Olivier Besancenot (LCR) and the socialists Henri Emmanuelli or Jean-Luc Melenchon - do not even dream of. "There is a place for a populist left whose ideological heart is that of Attac [the major altermondialiste/anti-capitalist organisation]," recognises Jean Viard, director of research at CNRS (Centre for the study of French politics).

Bove says he'll only consider standing if the PCF, LCR and the Greens back him. He does not, in other words, wish to grandstand: he wants to win. Where the question becomes particularly interesting is over the Socialist Party's candidate choice. If it is a "social-liberal", a French Blairite, there would seem to be no hesitation. If it is someone more like Laurent Fabius, Mitterand's monetarist prime minister turned hard-left leader of the no vote, Bove (according to sources close to him) would not wish to split the left-wing vote.

It's speculation, and it's all a long way off into the future - but it's a revealing indication of how deep the crisis of the French political establishment is becoming.

Seamus Milne:

In the grim days since last week's bombing of London, the bulk of Britain's political class and media has distinguished itself by a wilful and dangerous refusal to face up to reality. Just as it was branded unpatriotic in the US after the 2001 attacks on New York and Washington to talk about the link with American policy in the Middle East, so those who have raised the evident connection between the London atrocities and Britain's role in Iraq and Afghanistan have been denounced as traitors. And anyone who has questioned Tony Blair's echo of George Bush's fateful words on September 11 that this was an assault on freedom and our way of life has been treated as an apologist for terror.

....and, whilst you're at it, Jamie at B&T on "sinister platitudes".

Creeping recession

Manufacturing in Britain has been limping along for some time now, but economic growth generally has been held up by the services sector. Not any more. The British Chameber of Commerce have just released their quarterly economic survey:

The performance of Britain's service sector worsened sharply in the second quarter, while manufacturing was mixed with exports deteriorating, a survey reported today.

This is the second quarter in which services growth has deteriorated. Whilst a certain amount of handwaving from New Labour can dismiss this as simply the effects of the economic cycle, more fundamental problems are now coming to the fore:

The survey reveals that capital spending plans are at their lowest level since 2003 for both manufacturing and services companies. In addition, employment expectations fell sharply in both sectors. A weakening labour market is likely to put further downward pressure on consumer spending.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported yesterday that the number of people out of work and claiming unemployment benefit rose for the fifth month running in June.

The ONS said the claimant count of unemployment increased by 8,800 to 864,900 last month, prompting analysts to predict that the UK is facing its first serious unemployment problem since the early 1990s.

The news on capital spending plans that should be a particular concern: even after picking up from a trough in 2003, investment expenditure in Britain has remained low by historical standards, and compared internationally. For an economy with an already very weak capital structure, with British workers using some 50% less capital each than their counterparts in the US (PDF), New Labour's failure to improve investment - despite all the promises of "Enterprise Britain" and business-friendly politics - could prove critical.


From the comments box on this post:

"'s quite remarkable that there haven't been more attacks on Muslims, really. We are a very tolerant country."

They should be grateful.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Unity, but not with Blair

Unite Against Fascism estimate that eighty-five mosques were attacked last night. There is a dangerous, dangerous problem in seeking to simultaneously condemn the atrocities last Thursday whilst silencing any attempt at contextualisation. Blair makes his pious appeals for unity in essentially bad faith:

...Tony Blair’s government disavows anti-Muslim attacks. But in refusing to acknowledge the disastrous consequences of hitching this country to George Bush’s wars in the Middle East it is creating the circumstances where Muslims in Britain are scapegoated.

How could four ordinary young men from Yorkshire be driven to blow themselves up in London? For Blair and Bush they were barbarians at war with “our civilisation”. For the architects of the disastrous “war on terror” there is no need to explain why bombs go off in London and Baghdad. By denouncing anyone who gives a political explanation for the violence they allow people to blame all the followers of a particular religion – Islam.

It is one reason, amongst many, that an appeal for unity alone is not enough at present. Unity against terror, of course; but to effectively challenge a backlash from these bombings in London means we must also challenge Blair's bombings abroad.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

The police:

"Property of a second man was found at the scene of the Aldgate bomb and in relation to a third man property with his name was found at the Aldgate and Edgware Road bombs."

Did he sew a nametape onto his clothes? This is truly the revenge of the nerds.

Tax credits: the scale of the problem

Returning to an older story:

Opposition MPs launched a scathing attack last night on the government's tax credit scheme after the Treasury revealed figures showing almost all the 2m families overpaid tax credits were forced to pay the money back.

More than 98% of families had their tax credit payments stopped or cut, according to official figures obtained by the Liberal Democrats. The overpayments, which often resulted from computer errors or mistakes by Inland Revenue staff, gave rise to debts amounting to more than £1,000 on average. For the 36,000 families who saw their cases quashed by the Inland Revenue, the write-offs averaged £1,028 each.

£1,000 on average: that's a dent in even a large family income, never mind the poorer families tax credits were supposed to target. And notice the write-off rate: 36,000 so far, out of two million.


Moral Relativism. Aka historicism. The denial of any unified, objective standard of value. The diametric opposite of Moral Equivalence (q.v.).

Moral Equivalence. Judgment of the United States government by the same unified, objective standard of value as the governments of other countries. The diametric opposite of Moral Relativism (q.v.).

Moral Clarity. The Zen-like state of mind from which it is possible accuse the same political enemy, simultaneously, of both Moral Relativism and Moral Equivalence.

(via, via)

Sunday, July 10, 2005

"...these people are, If necessary, prepared to spill Arab blood in addition to the blood of regular -- of nonarab people living in London..."



I'm drawing your attention to attention-seeking callous fuckwittery, but bear with me:

so i just heard about london being blown up. i wasnt going to read about it but someone in curlyhair posted a link to it. so i looked at some pictures...

anyway, i dont care one way or another. i dont know anyone in london, i've never been there... couldnt possibly care any less.

The replies posted to this blogger's otherwise vapid musings are worth reading. Quite a few British respondents are upset; the bombs' victims have been reduced to the status we normally accord to nameless victims in Third World countries, most especially those we bomb ourselves: barely registered, a small shrug for alleged tragedies amongst people living in faraway countries we don't know and aren't expected to care about. It is a peculiar sensation.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

The Enoch Powell Award for Community Relations

...goes to Robert Crampton for his masterfully insidious "report" in the Times yesterday morning. In the face of stiff competition, Crampton's careful selection of cropped quotes, reliance on impressionistic reportage, and subtle pandering to the reader's prejudices provide a model of effective bigotry for would-be lynch-mobs everywhere.

Friday, July 08, 2005

...or you could crack a sick joke.

My revulsion over yesterday's events comes in two parts: first, for those who treat the mass murder of London commuters as a means to some ends. That is a given. Second, it is for those who have opened the political space and the political opportunities for that barbarity. It is Blair's war in Iraq, but it is we who are paying the price. He has not suffered the consequences of his immense deceit; those in Iraq, and now in Britain, have.

I did not ask to be placed on a front-line. I campaigned with millions of others against it. I am not now about to be dragooned, however subtly, into marching side-by-side with Blair, a man I now despise more than ever. I am with the victims of the Iraq war, not its perpertrators.

We who opposed the invasion of Iraq precisely because of its grimly predictable consequences have an obligation to make our voices heard once more. My local MP has done precisely that and I am immensely grateful.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Ich bin ein Edinburger

After a slight delay, I've finally got over to the independent media centre in Edinburgh. The nice people here have provided PCs and internets for the free use of the technologically-inclined protestor. Think of this as front-line live-action blogging. Feel the heat of battle, breathe the stench of unwashed anarchists, get smacked in the mouth with a truncheon: okay, there's no pix, but if it's riot porn you're after today's sensational soaraway Scottish Daily Mail promises "Full story and more incredible pictures: pages 2, 3, 4 & 5." (Alas, the only "anarchist" really casting aside bourgeois convention and getting nekkid yesterday was a slightly tubby fortysomething gent who streaked between the lines of riot police on Princes Street. Cue tuts of disappointment from picture editors the length of the country, fingers vainly crossed for perky French altermondialistes flinging their t-shirts into the dustbin of history. The dirty foreigners.)

Sort of. Lenin's got a report over here, Indymedia has plenty to say for itself, so I'll just make a few comments:

1. The sheer bloody inanity of Live 8 unsettled me. I foolishly thought it would be merely a big concert with a vaguely progressive edge, irritating, but largely harmless and potentially a good mobilising call; instead, like a great blanket of self-righteous pap it has smothered much of the message and purpose of protesting at all. I think it was the vast, faux-pop, faux-protest slogans they insisted on flashing above Paul McCartney's head - "EIGHT MEN CAN CHANGE THE WORLD", "LIVE EIGHT - G8 - UNITED", "EAT AN AFRICAN BABY", that sort of thing - that reduced me to sobbing tears of wordless contempt. Of course, the crowd (by all accounts) were more clued up than the horrifyingly stupid events on stage, and it hasn't quite been sufficient to slaughter everything else.

I will find the quote when I get home, but a climactic moment occurs in Michael Moorcock's King of the City when Bill Clinton and Tony Blair play their guitars before a crowd of thousands gathered for a monstrous benefit gig. It was all so gloriously vomit-inducing that I assumed nothing like such a beastly foul thing could ever, ever happen. Why do the children of the revolution still think rock music can change the world? Overgrown adolescent circle-jerking bastards, the whole stinking crowd of them. Grrr.


I think there is actually some kind of scientifically detectable perceptual event horizon about 6 inches in front of Bob Geldof's nose, all sensory data coming from beyond which is attenuated to a dog-whistle-pitched whine leached of all capacity to transport information into his brain.

Naturally sensory information pertaining to Geldof himself contains a harmonic resonance frequency that vibrates sympathetically with the Him-field inside the horizon, restoring sense to the message and allowing it free passage into the cerebrum for self-adulatory processing.

(Bionic Octopus. An angry, angry woman.)

2. Good protestor/bad protestor. The ground is being well-prepared for Wednesday, with hints on BBC news last night that there are now "some" "questioning" whether protests then can go ahead at all. We've just about won the staring contest with the authorities, who - after months of refusals - have finally given the green light for a protest to Gleneagles (as expected). Four Scottish Socialists MSPs have been suspended from the Scottish Parliament for a month, both them and their staff being deprived of pay and banned from the grounds for protesting inside Parliament against the prevarication of the Scottish Executive in authorising the march. In current circumstances, however, I'm a little apprehensive as to how solid that legal approval is. Terrifyingly, even the good protestors may be secretly bad:

"There is evidence of weapons being brought into the city, into the city centre by protesters, despite their apparent outward display of good humour."

(Where, I wonder, is this evidence? Later, I'll call Lothian and Borders polis and ask them.)

3. To condense yesterday's events, there are two important points:
- Stone-throwing, such as it was, was lead, organised and mainly perpertrated by local youths - by their accents and their clothing, they were easily identified. "Outside agitators" were few and far between, melting away shortly after the riot police turned up. Those the police lifted yesterday are very unlikely to be the dreaded (and near-mythological) "Black Block". No stones were thrown until after the riot police appeared.
- The grossly disproportionate response of the police to an initially very minor public order issue - a street carnival - was not just produced by the desire of competing police forces to strut their stuff. As the line being pushed by the BBC indicates, there appears to have been a deliberate attempt to achieve two aims:
a. to pick out as many likely "troublemakers" before Wednesday as possible (which, for the reason above, may be difficult);
b. to intimidate everyone else.
By moving very quickly from blocking a protest with ordinary coppers (as is usual and expected), to baton charges and (in short order) to riot gear, the police deliberately escalated the situation. (On good authority, it seems the police here have been briefed to the effect that four of their number are expected to die over these few days. Ludicrous, of course, but it explains some of their agression.) I do not think I have seen such aggressive policing in Britain before.

4. It's been a pleasure to see the high degree of unity amongst the generally fissiparous ranks of the UK anticapitalist movement. The legacy of epochal defeats for the Left in the Britain, a debilitating sectarianism has too often gripped the whole movement here. What has been heartening - and it has been developing for a while - is seeing this die a long-awaited death - mostly; there's still a certain amount of carping, sniping and bitching from some quarters, but on the whole everyone appears to be rattling along just fine.

5. Confronted with the actions of the police yesterday, the need to demonstrate in Gleneagles is all the more pressing. Deliberate, organised intimidation by the police should not be tolerated. It is nothing more than the attempt to squash freedom to protest. 12 noon, Gleneagles station; by any means necessary, get there.