Dead Men Left

Wednesday, November 30, 2005


Always hated that smug little smiley face... but never quite as much as I hated the rotten apologists for nuclear power. It's rather like the arms trade: we all know it's bad and wrong, it's only interesting to see how they try justify themselves next. Two posts over at Len's Tomb, some discussion in the comments; in all honesty, I feel rather about this one the way I felt about the Iraq war: it's a bloody stupid idea that only gains any credence because our filthy rotten ratbag of a Prime Minister has settled himself in its favour.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Hypocrisy (and other fine military traditions)

MoD weaselling:

A video of an initiation ceremony showing young Royal Marines forced to fight naked and one apparently beaten unconscious was condemned yesterday by embarrassed defence officials and senior officers.

But while the Ministry of Defence insisted its policy was one of "zero tolerance" on bullying, privately officials suggested the incident was a "a bit of fun that got out of hand". Although the episode took place last May, a criminal investigation by the military police was set up less than two weeks ago.

“Out of hand”? At what point, exactly, did things get “out of hand”? When everyone took their clothes off – except the guy in the schoolgirl uniform? When the rubber arm-tubes were produced? When one of the marines was apparently knocked unconscious?

Sunday, November 27, 2005

"The People's Alcoholic"

Good to see George Best's long-expected death being used to provide a telling moral example to us all.

George Best is mourned by millions who remember his exhilarating genius on the pitch, yet this reckless Government is ensuring that more - perhaps many more - will follow him on the drink-sodden path to disease and death.

Down the road from me is a wet room. I walk past it every morning, and there's always a small crowd gathered, cans already opened, contents already downed. On my way back home in the evening, whatever the hour, there are always places still selling alcohol.

The point is simple: there was always 24-hour drinking available in the UK, if you wanted it: chances are, you probably wouldn't, and most people didn't. Simply making late-night (or indeed early-morning) drinking less clandestine is not going to affect that. That hasn't stopped the fulminations, obviously. Compare the Mail's dire predictions of catastrophe...

And the public? On this first weekend of the boozing free-for-all, they face more no-go areas and vomit-splattered pavements in town and city centres.

...with the police reports:

MERSEYSIDE "I don't think it's been any busier than any other Friday night. There were no serious violent incidents related to drink. It makes you wonder if perhaps the Government was right."

NORTHUMBRIA, which includes Newcastle. "It was a generally quiet night with no drink-related incidents of note. There were a total of 20 arrests across the force for drink- and disorder-related offences."

GREATER MANCHESTER "Colleagues have told me that Manchester city centre was quieter than usual for a Friday night."

WEST MIDLANDS "Colleagues in Birmingham Broad Street said it was no different from what you would expect on a Friday night."

NOTTINGHAMSHIRE "Colleagues said it was a normal Friday night with no major incidents."

SUSSEX, including Brighton. "There were no particular changes in the pattern or number of incidents."

KENT "It's been a very quiet evening. People tend to behave themselves when it is icy."

Friday, November 25, 2005

Never mind bombing al-Jazeera, what about the Liberal Democrats, eh? eh?

At some point, everyone out there – particularly those of a vague, softly-softly, leftish outlook – is going to have to get used to the idea of a Lib Dem/Tory coalition government. Either there’ll be one in office, or its prospect will loom horribly near. Even Tories are waking up to it:

Meanwhile, almost unnoticed, a fresh axis is establishing itself. On issue after issue, the old abysses separating the Conservatives from the Liberal Democrats have narrowed or virtually disappeared…

Last weekend there was another conversion announced. Charles Kennedy - remember him? - proclaimed that his party now believed in "fair tax, not higher tax". The overall effect of any tax pledges in their next manifesto would have to be revenue-neutral…

Victory has gone to the forces behind the market-oriented solutions of the Orange Book, which so outraged the beard-and-sandals hold-overs at the Liberal Assembly. The party's economic spokesmen, Vince Cable and Mark Oaten, would not look ill at ease in a Cameronian government.

Ferdinand Mount, quoted above, is absolutely right to say that the Orange Book crowd have won out: they’ve been the only serious game in the Liberal town for some time, and the newer intake of post-Thatcherite MPs – Nick Clegg amongst them – are edging out the older crowd.

The last time – ok, the only time – I bothered to ask a (self-defined) leftish Lib Dem MP about the Tories, he was remarkably sanguine about forming a government with them: not in 2009, perhaps, but certainly after the election following. This is a party never truly of the left, formed in a marriage of convenience between ex-Labour right-wingers, and anti-Labour liberals. Vince Cable and his free market chums might at least clear some of the stuffy, flatulent air the Lib Dems leftish posturing has wafted around.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Slaughter, rapine, happy-slapping, etc

"New late licencing laws get off to a quiet start", but:

Police are nervously awaiting to see how the public respond to the ability to buy drink after 11pm in more than 70,000 premises across the country.

I am planning going to go APESHIT CRAZY at the stroke of 11.01. Grrr.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Ideological vanity

Back, kind of. Ran into this, on the German elections, from Denis McShane. McShane, formerly minister for Europe, appears to be the rent-a-Blairite of choice for the more aspirational elements of the British press. The link above goes straight to his recent article in Prospect, a dismal rag apparently designed for Tories who feel a little guilty about themselves. This paragraph stands out:

The tragedy of the Weimar Republic was the ideological vanity of those who created the USPD and the other factional parties that tore apart German social democracy. Oskar [Lafontaine] is a middle-aged man in a hurry and he did profound damage to the cause of social democracy in Europe for which history will never forgive him.

It's significant that the USPD split from the majority SPD over the First World War, back in 1917. McShane ascribes opposing a slaughter that, by that year, had already taken several million lives, to "ideological vanity". It's little wonder the Blairites are so pragmatically unmoved by the obscene spectacle of Iraq.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Two Blairs for the price of one

According to the Telegraph...

Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, admits today that he urged chief constables to lobby MPs to support the Government's anti-terrorism proposals.

In a letter to The Daily Telegraph he says that on Nov 3 - the day after the Government realised that it was likely to lose a vote on giving police officers 90 days to hold suspects without charge - he approached the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo).

Mr Clarke says he "suggested to Acpo that chief constables write to MPs in their police authority area, making themselves or relevant senior police officers available to MPs, of all parties, who wanted to know their local police attitude on these issues". He says he "naturally made clear that this should not be on a party political basis" and denies that the Government sought to politicise the police.

Exiled mentions the role of the police during the miners' strike in his comment on this report, and it's absolutely true that the police have never been the neutral defenders of law n order their own mythology holds them to be. It's a feature they share with any other branch of the state.

What stands out, however, is the way New Labour have made the police force's political role - leaving aside questions of institutional racism and so on - far more explicit. There has been a happy meeting of minds in recent years, with ambitious senior officers, like the lamentable Ian Blair, more than happy to intervene in domestic political questions on the government's side.

The drive to politicise supposedly neutral arms of the government is a good example of New Labour staying true to its Thatcherite heritage. Security services, the senior civil service, and the massed ranks of the quango dwellers have all been criticised for their servility to New Labour.

I wonder, however, if there hasn't been a fresh urgency granted to Blair's efforts here by longstanding left-wing criticism of the British state. Tony Benn, in his Cabinet diaries from the 1970s, makes clear his opinion that senior civil servants all but deliberately obstructed a Labour government from fulfilling its manifesto promises - they were too radical, and were clobbered by the permanent civil service as a result. In a nicely New Labour twist, tying chunks of the government machine more closely to the ruling party could be presented as an honest attempt to undermine the state's inherent "anti-Labour" bias.

(I'm away until next weekend, and updates here are likely to be limited as a result.)

Friday, November 11, 2005

"Democratic deficit"

Justin, on democracy and BBC Breakfast:

I was watching, on BBC Breakfast yesterday, Louise Ellman, the MP for Liverpool Riverside, justifying her support for the ninety-day detention period that was mercifully rejected by the House of Commons later in the day. She argued, much as the government argued, that the police had asked for the powers: and that as they were better placed than her to make that judgement, and were in possession of the information that led them to make it, she had, therefore, no business standing in their way. I paraphrase her argument: I do not think I misrepresent it...

The question here is not, specifically, whether the legislation was right or wrong, or whether the police can be trusted. The question is what elected representatives are there to do. As individuals, as part of the body to which they are representatives. The answer is that they are there to scrutinise. On our behalf, they are there to ask questions...

So for Louise Ellman to exempt herself from that responsbility is not, as she might have it, to defer to the greater and more urgent knowledge of the police. It is actually, to refuse to do what she is there to do. She must - must, if we live in a proper, functioning democracy - say to the police that if they want extra powers then they must show reason why. Their word, unsupported, is not, cannot and must not be enough.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Prevention of Terror

Another parallel, or - I suppose - its absence: back in late 1974, the government of the day was able to rush the Prevention of Terrorism Act through Parliament in the space of a single day, with minimal opposition. Now, we have a government that has just seen bloodier attacks in England, launched by a movement it persists in claiming is far greater threat to Our Very Way Of Life than the IRA ever was. They've had months to prepare the ground for this. And yet they still can't win the vote, going down to a defeat far worse than John Major ever suffered.

Here, incidentally, is a decent old Statewatch article on states of emergency in the UK, printed a few years after the 1974 Act was passed.

Race to the bottom

Cause for small celebrations:

Tony Blair suffered a devastating blow to his authority last night as Labour MPs helped to inflict the first defeat of his eight-year premiership by decisively voting down plans to detain terrorist suspects for up to 90 days.

What's worrying is that, as it decays, the Blair regime is becoming increasingly radical. This year we've had the education White Paper, extraordinarily Draconian "anti-terror" legislation, moves towards reinstating nuclear power, the proposed replacement for Trident, ASBO frenzy, the partial privatisation of the NHS... much of this, as the last link suggests, has come a cropper, but you have to wonder how many lunatic schemes Number 10 is going to squeeze out before Blair finally falls through the floor.

"Next week: Tim Dowling does pilates"

Ooo, stop... the suspense is killing me, etc etc.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005


Here's the verdict of one 7/7 survivor on Blair's "anti-terror" laws:

I do not see why this ill-thought out macho posturing, which can only destabilise and divide us, by robbing men and women of the ancient and fundemental right of habeas corpus, and making sections of the community afraid, is going to defeat terror.

And I will not meekly accept claims that this is to be done in my name. This is panicking, this is fearful, this is not helpful. I expect better than this, and I deserve better than this. We all do...

Why the rush if not for political gain? How dare you co-opt 'the victims' to defend this attack on liberties, as if we are all some amorphous bloodied mass that you can wave in front of the Commons as a fig leaf for your naked desire to be seen to be 'tough on terror'?

I am not going to be a human shield for this Government. Not in my name, I say, you do not act for me. If you want to be tough on terror, then why not be tough on the causes of terror? Why not address, for example, Iraq? And until you do, I hear your voices dripping sympathy and concern, saying you do this 'for the victims', Tony, Charles, and the rest of you...and I am disgusted that you should use ordinary people - because that is all we are - bombed people - bloodied people - in this way. Who gave you the right to speak for me, Mr Blair, Mr Clarke? When did I give my blessing to fear-mongering?

You have never asked my opinion. You did not listen when I and a million others took to the streets and you do not listen now.

Meanwhile, the Sun's 100,000-strong telephone lynch-mob has been given a bit of a once over by Tim Ireland at Bloggerheads, who concludes:

97% of Sun readers either do not support the proposed 90-day law, or could not give a rat's arse either way.

Even better, he's had a reply from one of the traitorous wretches planning to vote against the Bill later today:

UPDATE - Make that *eight* MPs I've spoken to about this. I have permission to quote this response verbatim; it was sent *before* this particular MP read my latest post...

Rt Hon James Arbuthnot: I have, as a result of the Sun's list, received more e-mails supporting my view than opposing it.

Ho ho.

Update: Spyblog on the Sky News poll currently being touted as showing overwhelming public support for the government's measures. Biased load of old cobblers, he concludes. (By the way, hasn't YouGov been criticised for its deficient polling procedures before? Mind you, haven't all the polling companies? Here's an interesting few words on internet polls, anyway.)

Watching one's back: French bloggers arrested for "inciting riots"

From Apostate Windbag:

Meanwhile, elsewhere internautical, three French bloggers have been arrested for allegedly 'inciting violence' by using their blogs to encourage people to join the riots, justice minister Pascal Clement told a media conference yesterday. The bloggers, all aged 16 and from Aix-en-Provence in the south, 'called for riots and an attack on police stations'. Their blogs were hosted by a site owned by a youth radio station, Skyrock, which has since shut them down.

From Sketchy Thoughts, which Apostate links to:

Two of the three suspects, a French and a Ghanaian teenager aged 16 and 18, appeared before a judge in criminal court, charged with “using the internet to voluntarily provoking a dangerous degradation for people.”

The court has requested that they be held in temporary custody, a question that a release judge should rule on Tuesday night. They were arrested Monday at Noisy-le-Sec and Bondy (Seine-Saint-Denis).

It is the first time charges have been laid in Paris regarding this crime, which is covered in the legislation regarding the press. Possible sentences range up to five years in prison.

The third suspect, a 14 year old, was picked up in Aix-en-Provence (Bouches-du-Rhône), and was released after his court appearance. He is not being prosecuted at the moment, due to a procedural error...

These blogs, which were called "Nike la France" [“Kill France”] and "Nique l'Etat" [“Kill the State”] as well as "Sarkodead" and "Hardcore", encouraged people to participate in the violence in the suburbs and to attack police officers...

An investigation has been launched to determine who the accused may be connected to and to determine whether or not their activities were part of an organized operation to spread the riots.

Sketchy Thoughts has been translating accounts of the riots and related materials into English. Worth a look.

The social situation in the banlieues

Via Genosse Tabu, an interview with Prof Werner Schiffauer, who researches immigration at the Europa-Institut, Frankfurt an Oder. Prof Schiffauer mentions a French study published the day before the first riots broke out. The situation regarding job applications ties in directly with the experience residents have reported in interviews.

Einen Tag vor Beginn der Proteste wurde eine neue Studie über die soziale Situation in den Vorstädten veröffentlicht. Die Jugendarbeitslosigkeit in Frankreich liegt bei 23 Prozent – unter Migranten beträgt sie 36 Prozent. Jeder dritte Abiturient ist arbeitslos.

Bewerber aus den Vorstädten haben eine fünfmal geringe Chance zu Vorstellungsgesprächen eingeladen zu werden, als Bewerber aus den „besseren Vierteln“. Dem Gros der Vorstadtbewohner steht nur etwas mehr als die Hälfte des Durchschnittseinkommens zur Verfügung.

Das ist die soziale Situation. Dazu kommt die Alltagserfahrung mit dem Staat, insbesondere der Polizei. Diese Erfahrung ist eine von rassistischer Diskriminierung.

One day before the beginning of the protests a study of the social situation in the suburbs was published. Youth unemployment in France is at 23% - for migrants it rises to 36%. One in three high-school graduates is unemployed.

Job applicants from the suburbs have a five times smaller chance of being invited for interview as those from the "better neighbourhoods". For the bulk of the banlieue residents, only slightly more than half the national average income is at their disposal.

That is the social situation. In addition, there is everyday contact with the state, especially the police. This experience is one of racist discrimination.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

"The young are not rioting because they are immigrants, or because of Palestine, the war on Iraq or even Islam."

"They say we are trying to build an ‘alternative France’, and the banlieues have become hotbeds of Islamic radicalism,” he said.

"They say the Arab youth are under the control of ‘foreign forces’. Their logic runs: ‘Islam means terrorism, so all Muslims are terrorists.’

"The young are not rioting because they are immigrants, or because of Palestine, the war on Iraq or even Islam. They are rioting because they are French.

"Their parents may have been immigrants who came to live in a new country.

"They expected little and received even less. But this generation were born here and went to school here. French is their mother tongue.

"They are angry because even though they are French, they are treated as second class citizens."

Socialist Worker has more.

Travel advice

FCO overkill:

Serious and violent disturbances, during which buildings and vehicles have been set on fire and missiles, including stones, petrol bombs and tear gas canisters thrown, continue to affect several Paris suburbs and a large number of other towns and cities throughout mainland France. In Paris, the violence has mainly affected the Seine-Saint-Denis area in the north east of the city but disturbances have also occurred other areas including the Val d’Oise, Yvelines, Hauts-de-Seine, Seine-et-Marne, Val-de-Marne, Essone, Evreux and Aulnay-sous-Bois. In one of the most serious incidents to date, shots, believed to have come from shotguns, were fired at police in the town of Grigny, south of Paris, injuring two policemen. If you need to visit or transit any of the affected areas you are advised to be extremely vigilant and to avoid any demonstrations which may be taking place in and around the area. You should also be aware that in the present circumstances disturbances could occur almost anywhere.

LCR statement

The Ligue Communiste Revolutionnaire's Olivier Besancenot, one of France's most popular politicians, has issued a statement on the curfew (as ever, apologies in advance for translation):

Braver le couvre-feu.

Les décisions annoncées par Villepin, hier soir sur TF1, sont insupportables. Au lieu de répondre à l’urgence sociale, il ressuscite une loi datant de l’époque coloniale, la guerre d’Algérie donnant aux préfets le pouvoir de décréter le couvre-feu dans tout ou partie d’une commune et de suspendre nombre de libertés. Déjà, E.Raoult, maire du Raincy -la ville aux 2,6% de logements sociaux- en poisson-pilote de la répression, avait pris les devants et institué une telle mesure dans sa ville.

Aussi, la LCR appelle à braver le couvre-feu en manifestant dans les communes ou les quartiers, de nuit s’il le faut, là où il serait institué par le préfet. La LCR invite toutes les organisations de gauche et démocratiques à organiser ensemble à ces manifestations.

Facing the curfew

The decisions announced by M. de Villepin, yesterday evening on TF1, are unbearable. Instead of answering the social urgency, he revived a law dating from the colonial epoch, [from] the Algerian war, giving prefects the power to declare the curfew over all or part of the commune [local council area] and suspend a number of freedoms. Already, E.Raoult, mayor of Raincy - the town with 2.6% of social housing - in a foretaste of the repression, has taken the initiative and legislated such a measure for his town.

Therefore, the LCR calls for demonstrations against the curfew in communes or quartiers, at night if necessary, where it would be instituted by the prefect. The LCR invites all organisations of the left and of democracy to organise these demonstrations together.

Not sure what will come of this but it looks like a move in the right direction.

Update: Had to include the end of the Telegraph report linked to above, dated 16 August 2005:

[Besancenot] predicted an autumn of social discontent and explained his popularity as a result of "growing exasperation" with Mr Chirac and the Right-wing government.

Well, there's a thing.

Special pleading

Considering they're all such mighty globe-straddling collossi, able to undermine governments, sack their workforces, and tear up international treaties without blinking, they don't half squeal:

One of the Big Four accountancy firms has warned that an aggressive campaign against tax avoidance by HM Revenue & Customs, including direct calls to senior executives of UK multinationals, could make Britain less attractive to big companies...

PwC said HMRC's harsher stance on tax avoidance, combined with higher and more complex corporate taxation, also risked deterring inward investment. The warning follows demands this week from the CBI that Gordon Brown, the chancellor of the exchequer, should not increase the tax burden on business to fill a £10bn "black hole" in the public finances.

Might "deter" investment: given that private investment in the UK is, as percentage of GDP, "at a 40 year-low", whilst R&D spending is significantly below other G7 countries (PDF, fig. 6), you have to wonder how much of a threat this really is.

Rockets, sticks, Trots, John Simpson

I knew he'd deliver the goods eventually: ladies and gentlemen, an anglophone account of the French rebellion from everyone's favourite post-Trotskyist cherub, Mr Apostate Windbag. From his conclusion:

Above all, the French anti-neo-liberal left must act with urgency within the next few days to attempt to channel this justifiable anger into a constructive direction and connect it to the wider dissatisfaction with neo-liberalism. The LCR and the PCF would do well to organise demonstrations across France against police brutality, for an end to l’extrémisme sécuritaire, for reinvestment and jobs in the banlieues, for the integration of their inhabitants into French society, and, in particular, calling for Sarkozy's resignation.

Nous sommes tous indésirables. Nous sommes tous racailles.

And, as if to prove that something peculiar really is taking place, here's a rather good article by John Simpson. (NB: that John Simpson can write decent articles about the situation in France is of a piece with the surprisingly decentish quality of the BBC reporting: it is permissable to criticise "sclerotic", racist, insufferable France and therefore the usual ideological blinkers have been removed - to be replaced by others, naturally, as when the Beeb blithely announces that laws in the UK against racial discrimination prevent this sort of thing happening here.)

Update: The BBC has a few vox-pops with the residents of Clichy-sur-Bois. Overwhelmingly, again, the interviewees report persistent racism as the cause of the troubles and a political support for the rioters - even if there's disapproval of their tactics.

Monday, November 07, 2005

On "religious fanaticism"

From Paris:

Just watched the evening news here. The events of last night, naturally enough, took most of the air time. Chirac spoke, saying that restoring order is the only priority right now. There was a lot of coverage in various places. Most of it showed shocked and uncomprehending populations in these cités, half "white" and half "dark". They showed how the whole cité and the teachers came to clean up the school that was burnt overnight, and which will thus be open again tomorrow. They showed groups of citizens that occupy their local infrastructure (unarmed) simply to create a presence and show that it is valued. They showed some youth saying that they were sick to death of not finding jobs because the don't have the right name, and expressing their anger at Sarkozy's words; there was an interview of inhabitants (again, half white and half brown) of one cité complaining about the racism and provocation of the police.

In 20 minutes, there was not a single mention of religion. Again, these events are not motivated by religion, they are motivated by economics, and by the (correct) feeling of these youth that they are excluded from "normal" society. all they want is a job, a car and decent housing, to live their lifes normally. Now a significant proportion of this underclass is indeed of Arab or African origins, and thus Muslim, but they are all French by nationality.

Un seul week-end non révolutionnaire est infiniment plus sanglant qu‘un mois de révolution permanente.

Political analysis:

Much of the youths' anger has focused on law-order Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who inflamed passions by referring to troublemakers as "scum."

In Strasbourg, youths stole a car and rammed it into a housing project, setting the vehicle and the building on fire.

"We'll stop when Sarkozy steps down," said the defiant 17-year-old driver, who gave his name only as Murat. Under arrest, he and several others awaited a ride to the police station as smoke poured from the windows of the housing project behind them.

From Liberation (dubious translation ahead):

Christophe, 22 ans, étudiant dans les Hauts-de-Seine: «Quand je vois ce qui se passe en ce moment, j'en reviens toujours à une image: Sarkozy à Argenteuil qui lève la tête et lance: "Madame, je vais nettoyer tout ça." Résultat ? A force de se la jouer superhéros... Il a montré un total irrespect envers tout le monde.»

Christophe, 22 years old, student at Hauts-de-Seine: "When I look round at the moment, I always return to one image: Sarkozy at Argenteuil, raising his head and shouting: "Madame, I will clean all that." Result? A force that plays at superheros... He showed total disrespect to everyone."

...Encore et toujours Sarkozy. Un autre, à peine 16 ans, bonnet enfoncé sur la tête et sourire d'enfant: «Il faut que Sarko ferme sa bouche, qu'il s'excuse ou qu'il démissionne au lieu de venir foutre la merde en banlieue comme Bush en Irak.»

...always Sarkozy. Another, barely 16 years old, hoody pulled over his head and the smile of a child [!]: "Sarko should shut his mouth, whether he apologises or resigns instead of coming to spout shit in the banleieues like Bush in Iraq."

Meanwhile, Sonic has an extended commentary from one of the organisers of the Irish mobilisation for the European Social Forum in Paris, two years ago. Sample:

...what struck me most about the French left [at the ESF] was their lack of contacts with the Arab and African ghettoes of Paris and beyond. A group of us North of Irelanders went out to an Arab cafe one night, and I'm nearly sure we were the first caucasian group EVER inside! IN our broken French we talked about the ESF- most of them had not heard about it. But they were amazed to learn that we were against the war, supported the resistance in Iraq and Palestine, hated the Front National and defended the right for Muslims to wear the hijab. We left that Arab cafe late that morning with a lot of new friends! Many of them will have been out fighting this week.

I am disapponted to see that the resurgent French radical left, that has been kicking neo-liberal ass with the defeat of the EU COnstitiution and the nearly monthly mass strikes, is nowhere to be seen defending the kids of the banluies...

There is now an uprising, an intifada, in urban France. le Pen's fascists have been along to some of the so called "peace marches", wearing tricolour sashes and talking about the need to clear the ghettoes of "scum". In the weeks to come, the French radical left has a major part to play. Will they end up like the old CP in May 68- condemning the students whose bravery fighting the CRS led three weeks later to Western Europe's closest shot to a socialist revolution, with over 10 million on strike? Much better if they'd play the role of the students...

Burning and a-looting

It's noticeable how weak the prevailing interpretation of the ongoing banlieues riots is. From the liberal left, to the drooling far right, the deliberate effort is made to turn away from the really quite blunt features of life in ghettoised estates - the poverty, the lack of opportunity, the habitual racism of the authorities - and towards an edition of reality that sees a bastardised Clash of Civilisations re-enacted in the French suburbs.

Obviously, this isn't unexepected for the Right: given a convenient and well-rehearsed story about the threat posed to "Western values" by Muslim hordes, the degeneration of "Eurabia", and all the rest, even the most slack-jawed and knuckle-dragging of cultural conservatives can thrash out a grand conspiracy between Bin Laden, the debauched EU, and French youth.

What's more striking is the popularity of a very similar story on the centre-left: the subtle difference being, however, that the great cultural ding-dong apparently taking place before us is principally a squabble within Islam itself, over which "the West" can act in the guise of decent-minded policeman. The underlying assumptions are remarkably similar - that unfathomable cultural factors are the primary force in society, and that the best that can be hoped for is to ease to inevitable strains and tensions presumably irreconcilable differences produce. For the Right, predictably, this means exclusion and expulsion; for the centre, a slightly more complex process of differentiation within a "community" is required, in which lip-service paid to "Western values" ranks highly. In a similar vein, various conflicts around the world - Northern Ireland, the former Yugoslavia, Palestine - are reduced to irreconcilable clashes of "ethnicity" or "culture", devoid of prior imperialist context, and floating somewhere above grubby economic factors.

The general tendency has been less marked amongst the British press when referring to France; "everyone knows" France is an economic basket-case, and so some passing remarks on youth unemployment are permissable. The dominant explanation, outlined above, was dramatically brought to the fore when dealing with riots in Birmingham, however.

Nick Cohen's column of a few weeks ago illustrates the point. Comparing the riots of last month with those in the Lozells area of twenty years ago, he writes

The arguments of the Eighties about why young men took to the streets felt antique and irrelevant. Beyond repeating the platitude that workers with good jobs tend to be law-abiding, you couldn't pretend the 2005 riot was a protest against unemployment. The economic and law enforcement policies of official society - 'white society', to stretch a point - had nothing to do with the violence.

This is a direct appeal to a presumed "common sense": " can't pretend the 2005 riot was a protest against unemployment... law enforcement policies had nothing to do with the violence." It depends on the happy thoughts that, first, all is economically well in Blair's Britain; and, second, a few outreach courses and community policing events have removed institutional racism.

Both are nonsense: if the riots of decades past were in any way related to the absence of opportunities and the gross inequalities of society, how much more so must that apply today, in a society less meritocratic and more unequal than that presided over by Thatcher? You don't need to be unemployed to know you're getting an absolutely rotten deal - although 30% of adult men in Lozells are unemployed. And the most cursory glance at the figures will tell you how the distribution of opportunities and wealth in Britain is then further skewed by race.

Dry figures by themselves say little. But they record the individual experiences that, mediated by race and religion, drive the anger. It is little surprise that, in such conditions, and with the deliberate stoking of tensions by some self-proclaimed "community leaders", some will reach for an explanation that focuses the anger on quite the wrong target.

Against this essentially communalist interpretation we have to win back the politics of class. Left-liberalism of the kind Cohen - or indeed this government - provides is inadequate: entirely blind to its own failings, it cannot say anything to those it fails. It lurches directly towards blaming the victims: despite Cohen's near-apocalyptic portrayals of a world riven by racial tension, nowhere in his picture is there space for the screamingly obvious fact that the great majority of people in Lozells simply want to get on with their neighbours.

There are positive signs that a class politics can cut through the ties between what is essentially communalism and left-liberal politics; Respect's intervention has been a good model of how this can be done; the immediate, practical suggestion that the alleged rape victim's immigration status should be cleared up, for instance, is sensible, whilst the stress on unity against racism and for better local facilities is a necessary part of that.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Sois jeune et tais toi

Len has a few more things to say about the riots in France. I'd only append the note that the woefully pervasive attachment to a supposed "republican" ideal on the French Left that means (for example) forcing young women to remove their headscarves - against which Alain Badiou's warnings still hold - makes me rather pessimistic about the possibility of them saying anything meaningful to the banlieues. I hope I'm wrong.

"Guardian Fabricates Chomsky Quotes in Bid to Smear World's Number One Intellectual"

...says Alexander Cockburn, probably.

Friday, November 04, 2005

ExxonMobil and climate change

Noel Douglas has flagged up ExxonSecrets, "How ExxonMobil funds the climate change skeptics". From a cursory inspection it all seems very thorough.

Tower Hamlets

Out, last night, delivering leaflets for Defend Council Housing on the Ocean Estate in Tower Hamlets. DCH has organised a debate on the borough's housing provision next week between George Galloway and whoever the local Labour Party rustle up: it's the single biggest issue in the borough, with Tower Hamlets amongst the most overcrowded area anywhere in the country, but there have been precious few serious attempts to organise effective public discussion about it. We've been left with the default New Labour setting of stock transfers and PFI schemes for council housing, both of which involve the privatisation of public housing and the necessary weakening of tenant security.

New Labour locally has put in great efforts to win ballots on estates for privatisation, but like other parts of the country, council tenants in Tower Hamlets are starting to cut through the pleasant pink fluff stock transfers come wrapped up in. The two most recent ballots in the borough both voted against stock transfer, following pretty hard campaigning work by DCH, leaving Labour itching to reclaim the initiative on the Ocean.

(See this report for some evidence of the ferocity with which the issue is being fought; Michael Keith, apparently council leader, has taken to stalking George Galloway from meeting to meeting: he appeared at my ward Respect meeting on housing, 50-60 people in the audience, with a slightly dotty old tankie and the council's head of housing in tow. Cllr Keith is given opportunity to speak, ex-CP member then makes booming if mad contribution about the necessity of supporting New Labour as the progressive voice of the working class in this historical juncture - rebuild the Wall, I say - much heckling and loveable cockney banter, gawd bless em, ensuing argument takes rest of meeting to subside. Cllr Keith sits back in his chair with an inscrutable smile, pencil behind ear, the hand of history upon his shoulder.)

It's a critical estate for them: an early target for the government's New Deals for Communities initiative, the great wodge of cash supposedly delivered to the Ocean under the scheme never seemed to quite produce the expected results, and the ensuing allegations of serious corruption have led to resignations and police investigations. That is a microcosm of New Labour's operations in the borough: it's an unholy alliance of shiny, happy Blairites out the front and old-style clientelist politics at the rear. It was the glaring failures of this united front that allowed Respect to make its first electoral breakthrough, with the election of Cllr Oliur Rahman after a by-election in summer 2004, counting amongst his voters many of those on the Ocean estate bitterly angry with the failings of local politics.

I'm laying all this out for a couple of reasons. First, because the dynamic in Tower Hamlets is not solely about the war: although the invasion of Iraq opened the breach, Respect has grown out of an immediate, local political situation. Second, because I don't think Tower Hamlets is particularly unique here; there must be many other councils, throughout urban areas, where similar conditions exist: a general failure of New Labour to deliver, allied with evident corruption. God knows, on this basis, what strange things may emerge at the local elections next May.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Demonstrations, somewhat related to men called Nick

Ed Rooksby has broken his self-enforced silence to report on the anti-BNP demo in Leeds yesterday, held in opposition to the rally in support of Nazi leader Nick Griffin's court appearance:

Over a thousand anti-fascists - young, old, black, white, asian - confronted a pathetic 100 - 150 Nazis outside Leeds Crown Court. My God they looked fucking ridiculous. I had a good look at (what passed for) their crowd across the 20 metres gap or so which separated the two groups -they were an extremely unimpressive bunch. The vanguard of the British 'master race' appears to consist of a few thick-necked, shaven-headed men trying to hold in their beer guts and look menacing (think 'Al Murray Pub Landlord'), a few weirdos in wide brimmed hats (what all the fascist fashionistas are wearing this autumn), a few white haired old men in blazers and ties, a bloke in a multi-coloured wig (how humourous)*, a couple of disturbed looking young men with Waffen SS haircuts and a small number of pursed-lipped women (one of whom stood for the entire time at the front of the fash lines proudly holding up the front page of a copy of the 'Daily Mail' - much to our amusement).

The thing which really made us laugh, however, was the presence - amongst the Union Flags, St George's Crosses, devotional pictures of the Fuhrer, placards screaming something about 'Treason', and scowling fascist faces - of a large banner with a George Orwell quotation plastered across it. It was this one:

"During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act"

The fucking cheek! Clearly, the fash thought they were being rather clever. They couldn't be allowed to get away with this. After initial incomprehension at the sight of a nazi banner quoting Orwell, the UAF crowd responded by loudly reminding the fash that 'Orwell killed fascists' - not sure if this is exactly true, but of course he certainly shot at several Spanish fascists with the intention of killing them.

Poor old George Orwell, although it's not the first time complete arseholes have nabbed his lines. Socialist Worker carries a report here; meanwhile, the BNP's bonfire night gathering in nearby Keighley (complete, we were told, with an effigy of an Asian to thrown onto the fire) has been banned by the Home Secretary, after a campaign by anti-fascists. All in all, not a good week for the Nazis.

In other news, Mark Elf carries a report of the Rachel Corrie cantata at the Hackney Empire. He thinks (with, it seems, good reason) he has been trolled by Nick Cohen as a result.


Rebekah Wade's been arrested for allegedly assualting her husband, New Labour rent-a-thesp Ross Kemp. Ah, so this is what they mean by Schadenfreude.


Splendid. (There's also a - by now rather nostalgic - David Blunkett instant policy generator. Sorry, I've just been sent a link to this stuff.)


One vote. One poxy vote. Grrr. Finally, however, the realisation is settling everywhere: Blair, pulled by Iraq into a tighter and tighter downwards spiral, is on his way out, kicking and screaming all the while. Hurrah hurrah.

Noam Chomsky is Bad and Wrong

Away for a few days, and look at all this stuff going on... first, you'll probably have seen Noam Chomsky apparently interviewed by the egregious Emma Brockes. A reminder of the teeth-grinding ahead:

Despite his belief that most journalists are unwitting upholders of western imperialism, Noam Chomsky, the radical's radical, agrees to see me at his office in Boston. He works here as a professor of linguistics, a sort of Clark Kent alter ego to his activist Superman, in a nubbly old jumper, big white trainers and a grandad jacket with pockets designed to accomodate a Thermos. There is a half-finished packet of fig rolls on the desk. Such is the effect of an hour spent with Chomsky that, writing this, I wonder: is it wrong to mention the fig rolls when there is undocumented suffering going on in El Salvador?

...and that's the first paragraph - it gets worse, if anything, from there on: the brazen gaucherie Brockes displays, the utter lack of self-reflection upon her own left-liberal Truths, and the bloody-minded arrogance she brings to proceedings reminded me of Johann Hari's attempts to deal with another radical professor, Eric Hobsbawm. Brockes and Hari share rather similar backgrounds, of course, and the shared tone of (ill-placed) left-liberal condescension is unmistakable.

Chomsky defends himself rather splendidly against this ill-bidden liberal in the letters page:

Emma Brockes's report of her interview with me (G2, October 31), opens with the following headline:
"Q: Do you regret supporting those who say the Srebrenica massacre was exaggerated? A: My only regret is that I didn't do it strongly enough"

I did express my regret: namely, that I did not support Diana Johnstone's right to publish strongly enough when her book was withdrawn by the publisher after dishonest press attacks, which I reviewed in an open letter that any reporter could have easily discovered. The remainder of Brockes's report continues in the same vein. Even when the words attributed to me have some resemblance to accuracy, I take no responsibility for them, because of the invented contexts in which they appear.

As for her personal opinions, interpretations and distortions, she is of course free to publish them, and I would, of course, support her right to do so, on grounds that she makes quite clear she does not understand.

...whilst here are Lenin and interbreeding on the same.