Wednesday, May 31, 2006

John Prescott: class traitor of the decade?

Word up is that Number Ten wants the Croquet Kid - pictured left - to stay on as deputy prime minister for as long as Blair remains in the top job. Not that much longer, in other words.

Predictably, the DPM wannabes are already lobbying for the position. Names that have emerged so far include Harriet Harman, Alan Johnson, Peter Hain and Jack Straw.

All presumably still see themselves as somehow ‘soft left’. But all have pretty much done Blair’s bidding while in the cabinet, although admittedly Hain has from time to time offered up a few extremely guarded criticisms of the boss.

I guess the not-so-fab four are all pretty much of a muchness from the point of view of the left. But I can’t think of any Campaign Groupies in a position to mount a credible challenge. Anybody got any ideas?

And speaking of Prezza, I particularly enjoyed Deborah Orr’s forensic dissection [subscription required] of the deputy prime minister’s spurious claim to proletarian street cred in the Independent today:

‘The list of responsibilities undertaken by his department of nearly a decade reads like a roll-call of failure, with Labour's greatest betrayal - the refusal to provide enough adequate housing for the ordinary working people he says he represents - at the very top.

‘The progress of his party while he had been its deputy prime minister - it has haemorrhaged members as quickly as it has guiding principles - is testament to his uselessness as a standard-bearer for "Old Labour" values.

‘If anything, in fact, he has been New Labour’s willing decoy – mouth stuffed with gold, he has stood around for years pretending to represent the values of the "working class’, while actually providing nothing more than a barely adequate smokescreen for its pauperisation, ridicule and destruction.’

Yep, that just about sums it up. Labour Briefing used to run a regular profile of leading Labour politicians under the title ‘class traitor of the month’. If they ever in future run a poll for class traitor of the decade, the competition would surely be stiffer then what Ms Temple referred to as her lover’s ‘cocktail sausage’ following an ingestion of viagra. But I know who I’d nominate. Other suggestions in the comments box, please.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

£21m bung for Balfour Beatty and Network Rail

Balfour Beatty and Network Rail were last year given record fines totalling £13.5m for their role in the Hatfield rail crash - pictured left - of October 2000, in which four people died and over 100 injured.

Mr Justice Mackay described BB’s work as ‘the worst examples of sustained industrial negligence in a high-risk industry’ he had ever seen. So much for the alleged superiority of the private sector.

But both companies were acquitted on some charges, and applied for costs. The outcome? A taxpayer-funded handout of £20.9m.

This just three days after revelations that four Network Rail directors have copped bonuses totalling £1.1m, even though one train in eight runs late.

Privatising British Rail is one of the Tories’ biggest mistakes. Not taking it back into public ownership is one of New Labour’s.

Cameron and the chichi set

Tory MP John Hayes - chairman of the hard right Cornerstone group – is not best pleased with the assorted selection of Corrie extras and chick lit authors that Cokehead is trying to foist on unreconstructed constituency associations:

‘The idea that we can parachute insubstantial and untested candidates with little knowledge of the local scene into key seats to win the confidence of people they seek to represent is the bizarre theory of people who spend too much time with the pseuds and posers of London's chichi set and not enough time in normal Britain.’

I’m not so sure. Few ideas can be more bizarre than imposing former Tory MP Shaun ‘Two Butlers’ Woodward on solidly proletarian St Helens, and New Labour got away with that.

But anyway, it’s an interesting way for a frontbencher to talk about his own party leadership. The euphemisms probably stay on just the right side of outright homophobia, too.

Ken Loach: he's a bit of a Trot, apparently

I was shocked – shocked – to read Dominic Lawson’s devastating revelations about Ken Loach in today’s Independent [subscription required].

I don’t quite know how to break this to you, gentle reader, but it appears that Britain’s best living film director is … a revolutionary socialist.

‘For many years, Mr Loach has been associated with the Fourth International, the Trotskyite movement formed during the second world war (which it calls the "second imperialist war").’

Almost, Dom. Almost. The FI was founded in 1938. But why let factual accuracy get in the way of a good rant?

‘When in 2002 the affiliated International Socialist Group launched its magazine Socialist Resistance, it carried comradely "greetings from Ken Loach". In that first issue, the ISG described itself as "a revolutionary socialist organisation committed to the overthrow of the barbaric capitalist system".’

You say that like it’s a bad thing, Mr Lawson. Isn’t the overthrow of capitalism what Trot groups stand for, by definition? The tone reminds me of nothing so much as the Daily Mail circa 1982, working its readers into a frenzy over the latest outrage from the loony left.

And guess what? Loach’s latest film – The wind that shakes the barley - does not present a properly balanced account of the Irish Republican Army. In particular, it does not consider the pro-Hitler leanings of the IRA leadership in the 1940s.

But given that it’s set in the early 1920s, there’s no reason why it should. Lawson might just as well stress that it doesn’t examine the manner in which most of the organisation became de facto Stalinists in the late 1960s.

The wind that shakes the barley doesn’t purport to be a full-length historical documentary. It’s a polemic, Dominic. To attack Loach for making films that reflect his revolutionary socialist standpoint makes about as much sense as attacking Clint Eastwood movies for being rightwing.

The reviews suggest the flick is Loach's best work in years. I can't wait to see it.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Tommy Sheridan: open letter to SSP members

If I lived in Scotland, I would be a member of the Scottish Socialist Party. I don't, so I'm not.

And although I try to keep up with SSP developments, I simply do not know enough to take a position on its factional disputes.

I'm posting this document from MSP Tommy Sheridan - pictured left - for the information of the left outside Scotland. SSP members and other Scottish activists in particular are invited to comment and explain to the rest of us what the hell is going on.

But I should add that reading the document makes me rather sad. For years I have regarded the SSP as one of the few silver linings in the seemingly permanent black cloud that constitutes the left in the UK state, and a model for what we should be doing south of the border.

Now it seems to be a party in crisis, possible terminal. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, really. As the old adage goes, never underestimate the capacity of the left to shoot itself in the foot.


YES to class solidarity and socialist unity; NO to political witch-hunts and personal character assassinations:


'I write this letter with a very heavy heart. The Party I have invested so much time and energy to build from scratch has displayed serious signs of internal decay over the last 18 months.

'Alongside many other comrades we sought to build a class-based socialist party, able to appeal to the broad masses of Scotland around the political principals of struggle, solidarity and socialism.

'Today there exists an unsavoury cabal of comrades at the core of the leadership, their hands on the apparatus, who are more interested in pursuing personal vendettas, through vile lies and slander, than conducting the class struggle.

'Over the last two weeks I have resisted any public comment, despite the clear and consistent strategy of politically isolating me in the press, and attempting to implicate me as the culprit for the current News Of The World and bourgeois court-led attempts to destroy us.

'Yet who is responsible for the mess we are in? Who decided that our party should examine and discuss the private lives of comrades at meetings? Who decided that any such confidential discussions should be recorded? Who decided to keep secret copies of such private and confidential discussions? Who decided to deliberately leak to the press and media that such a document existed? Who decided to appear in court and admit to the existence of such a secret document?

'The section of our EC who promoted and executed this strategy are clearly to blame for the political crisis we now find ourselves in. It has been a strategy alien to the socialist and trade union movement and more akin to the dark days of Stalinism.

'Apparently the secret document contains personal information about myself. Imagine an employer held such a document about an employee. The employee would have the basic human right to see such a document, challenge the content of such a document and demand a copy of such a document.

'Up until two weeks ago I had never seen the document. I have still never read it and I am denied the right to challenge it or hold a copy. We have acted like a bad employer and breeched basic human rights and trade union principals.

'Let me state clearly. There should never have been a meeting convened to discuss a members private life, which was the secretly recorded and documented without the knowledge of the individual, their cooperation or their right to challenge the accuracy of such a document being denied. It is simply an outrageous practice, outwith the spirit and principals on which we were founded.

'However, now that such a disputable document has been constructed, concealed from the individual concerned, constantly leaked to the media and admitted to in court, I believe it should be handed to the court to trigger the release of Alan McCoombes.

'I believe that Alan and a core group of seven or eight other leading comrades have misled the party into their current quandary, but I salute his courage and determination to resist the undemocratic power of unelected judges to interfere in the internal affairs of democratic political parties.

'The problem is that we cooperated with the courts in the first place. It is none of their business whether we possess recordings of meetings or not. They should have been properly defied in the first place and the party removed from a personal libel action against the most reactionary scab outfit in the world.

'Instead we have been dragged into that case because of the misleadership and the
desperate attempts of the Scum of the World to salvage a case which had all but disintegrated due to their downright lies.

'Now a comrade is in jail and our resistance to the disgraceful and undemocratic interference of unelected judges has been displayed. He must languish in jail no longer.

'The document in question should be handed to the court under protest, submitted
to the court in a sealed envelope and debated over under protest or handed to the court via my legal team under protest. Further resistance at the expense of a comrade's personal freedom is not acceptable.

'Make No mistake, the Scum of the World's attack on me and our party is an extension of the class struggle. They are our mortal enemy. They want to destroy me, the party, and more importantly, what we stand for. They are bullies of the gigantic type. They seek to destroy trade unions,socialist ideas, class solidarity and individuals through callous lies and distortion.

'I refuse to bend the knee to their assault on me. They have spread cruel lies knowingly and in a fashion calculated to discredit me as an individual and as a socialist. The four year affair they have accused me of is a complete fabrication. I expect such slander from these organs of the state because they are the scum of the planet. But what about the political witch-hunt conducted via vile personal lies promoted by leading SSP members?

'Over The last 18 months I have been accused of heinous crimes in a co-ordinated fashion by a group of comrades so blinded by their personal hatred and spite towards me that they have failed to see the enormous damage to the party.

'In the Brel(?) Bar in Ashton Lane just over 12 months ago one of the three female MSP
comrades who have consistently sought to undermine me and discredit me, accused me of "being involved in woman trafficking". "Eastern European women" to be precise. Here devastating lies were witnessed by three individuals, one of whom is a journalist in a Sunday newspaper.

'At a youth event last year, several members spread poison to the effect that I "regularly used prostitutes". According to comrades picking up stories on the pub/club and party circuit I "regularly go to lap-dancing bars". I am also apparently involved in "drug dealing".

'All of these stories have been checked by me through several sources, not all friends or supporters of mine. My name, political credibility and status within our party has been consciously attacked. Talk of how to "get rid of me", "arrange my deselection" and "isolate him completely" is commonplace and coordinated.

'Over The last 18 months I have sought to build unity in our party, internally and externally. Others have sought to destroy me and build their own empires. Those with their hands on communications within and outside the party have acted as an undeclared faction.

'Certain individuals are promoted while others are ignored or discredited. I am not the only one. Comrade Hugh Kerr was guilty of giving up six years of his time to build our party, four years as my unpaid press officer, his face didn't fit. He was rounded on and removed.

'Comrade Rosemary Byrne thought her election in 2003 would herald a new dawn for
socialist politics. She was not "on message". She didn't support the 50:50 campaign. She believes class politics and identity are more of a priority than gender politics. She was ignored, cold shouldered and isolated for months. She was forced to consider quitting. Now she's fighting back!

'Comrade Mick Daly, the West of Scotland organiser, was guilty of inexperience, and not being part of the "Stanley St grouping". He was isolated and undermined, his face didn't fit. His resignation was sought after and keenly encouraged.

'I should have done more to defend all these comrades. I let them down. I myself was faced with a stark ultimatum 18 months ago. Accept and support the EC position that I should step down or be responsible for an internal civil war.

'I chose the unity option. I was wrong. Sections of the EC saw it as a sign of weakness and have sought to undermine me ever since. From the day a group of socialists were asked if they backed me in my court battle with the reactionary, rabid and anti-trade union Scum of the World, and publicly declined, to the recent public undermining of my case through issuing a public call for me to drop my case, this party has shamefully failed a basic socialist test.

'Whose side are you on when a socialist takes on the Murdoch empire? Sections of the EC are clearly batting for the wrong side. That is unforgivable in the eyes of large sections of our class and the left across the world.

'Recently things have got even worse. Comrades, yes comrades have been phoning around Cardonald branch members to gather information about who attended the recent meetings, who spoke on the recent motion that was passed, who voted in the meeting?

'Why? For who is such information being gathered? It is to assist the state in any action against the branch for daring to suggest that no records of private and confidential discussions should exist?

'Who told the Herald newspaper that Alice Sheridan was a "member of the Cardonald branch." She has only recently moved to Cardonald in the last three months. She has only been well enough to attend meetings recently after 10 days in hospital with a blood clot. Most comrades would recall her as a Pollock branch member from recent conferences. So who "stuck her in'"?

'Members of this party are effectively acting for the state. That is a disgrace. Despite The motivations of those in the undeclared faction who want me out of the SSP and deselected as a Glasgow MSP, I refuse to leave.

'The SSP is my party. It's internal regime should be warm, friendly and trusting. Not revolve around personal spite, secret documents and personal character assassinations.

'Its outward appearance should be to the broad mass seeking solutions to the horrible insecurities, grotesque inequalities, grinding poverty and bloody wars of capitalism. We are a class-based socialist party. Not a gender-obsessed discussion group.

'Our socialist principals and class identity defines us first. Not our gender or sexual orientation. Engaging with the broad mass of Scotland around real issues of concern has to be our strategy.

'From council tax abolition to free school meals. Scrapping prescription charges to promoting public ownership. Anti-war and defending asylum seeker campaigns to solidarity with all workers in struggle and independence. This is the future strategy and orientation of the real SSP.

'Not the McCarthyite obsession with members private lives and circles of friends. Let's build a united SSP, yes. But on solid foundations, not the bile and decay around those who promote personal dislikes before politics. The battle to reclaim the SSP to class politics begins today.'

Tommy Sheridan: 28th May 2006

Friday, May 26, 2006

Dr Chai Patel: big contract for Labour donor

The Ministry of Defence is spending more than £4m a year on private sector mental healthcare for service personnel.

And most of the money is going to the Priory Group, owned by long-time New Labour financial backer – and frustrated House of Lords wannabe – Dr Chai Patel, pictured left.

According to The Independent:

‘Figures revealed yesterday in written answers to the Commons showed that the MoD paid £4.1m in 2004-5 for the treatment of 321 servicemen and women and a further £4.4m for 351 troops in 2005-06.

‘The figures highlight the toll the Iraq war, service in Afghanistan and security operations across the world are exacting on the armed forces.

‘Reservists who have served in Iraq are suffering more mental health problems than their professional comrades-in-arms ... [They] were found to be at 25 times greater risk of having common mental health symptoms and service-related fatigue and 50% more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.’

OK, Priory is the best-known private sector provider of these kinds of services, which famously don't come cheap. Its very name has become a by-word for celebrity decokes.

But isn’t it disquieting when yet another lucrative government contract goes to a major donor of the governing party?

Although Patel has now turned on New Labour, his relations with Britain’s ruling party were only too cordial while all this extra business was coming in.

Fortunately, defence minister Tom Watson is able to reassure us on this point:

‘The Priory Group's tender best met our requirements for high quality in-patient care, without delay and on a regional basis, and they were awarded the contract.

‘Whilst NHS providers did have the opportunity to bid, there were no expressions of interest from the NHS.’

Good. I’m glad no impropriety was involved.

Galloway: moral justification for killing Blair?

In an interview with GQ magazine - extracts available on most main news websites - George Galloway was asked:

'Would the assassination of, say, Tony Blair by a suicide bomber - if there were no other casualties - be justified as revenge for the war on Iraq?'

The Respect MP for Bethnal Green & Bow - pictured left meeting Castro recently - replied:

'Yes, it would be morally justified. I am not calling for it - but if it happened it would be of a wholly different moral order to the events of July 7. It would be entirely logical and explicable. And morally equivalent to ordering the deaths of thousands of innocent people in Iraq - as Blair did.'

There's some faulty logic at work here. If killing Blair would be both 'morally justified' and 'morally equivalent' to the invasion of Iraq, than the invasion of Iraq would thus be morally justified. Galloway is surely trying to make the very opposite point.

On any kind of rational socialist calculus, the assassination of individual politicians is indefensible in a democracy. Yet here in Britain, the tactic has sometimes been tried. Sometimes it has even succeeded.

I remember how shocked I was on being woken by a radio alarm one morning in 1984, and hearing that the IRA had narrowly failed to take out Margaret Thatcher and a fair number of her cabinet in the Brighton bomb. One MP and four other people died.

Airey Neave - a close associate of Margaret Thatcher - was killed by an Irish National Liberation Army car bomb in 1979. Two years later, the New Statesman carried claims that at the time of his death, Neave himself was plotting the assassination of Tony Benn.

In 1971, an anarchist grouping bombed the home of Robert Carr, a Tory employment minister. In 1991, the IRA launched an unsuccessful mortar attack on Ten Downing Street. Neither incident saw loss of life.

How did the far left respond in such cases? Mostly with mealy-mouthed apologetics. You probably know the formulas. 'We do not condone, but refuse to condemn ...', 'X is the real terrorist', 'unconditional but critical support for ...'.

Some of them I trotted out myself in the 1980s, and now regret it. They will no longer do. I still believe that the war on Iraq was - and remains - morally wrong. The assassination of the prime minister would be morally wrong, too. Terrorism always is.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Peugeot: the only way to save jobs

French motor manufacturer Peugeot is set to close its plant in Ryton, Coventry, and transfer production to Slovakia. That will mean the loss of both 2,300 jobs at the factory itself, and a further 1,700 among suppliers.

So what now? It seems the main British unions involved – the TGWU and Amicus – have already ruled out industrial action, and are turning to the idea of a consumer boycott instead.

Here’s TGWU general secretary Tony Woodley:

‘There are 6m-7m trade union members in this country. It could put quite a dent in sales if only a proportion of these and their families decided not to buy a certain product. Globalisation means that companies are free to decide where they want to make their products but we are free to decide not to buy them.’

Meanwhile, Derek Simpson, his counterpart at Amicus, adds:

‘Traditional industrial action does not apply in a global market. What point is there going on strike if the company is going to close the plant?’

Writing in this week’s Socialist Worker, Alex Callinicos makes a number of formally correct points in response. But his article doesn’t come up with any convincing answers, either.

Of course, the trade union bureaucracy is not going to launch an effective fightback. Of course, the automatic far left reaction is to call for the occupation of the plant. Of course, the workforce is far too demoralised for this to be anything other than abstract propaganda right now.

‘Union leaders such as Woodley and Simpson, who have presided over the contraction of the car industry, bear a huge responsibility for this state of affairs. Last week they were at it again, offering the Peugeot and Vauxhall managements talks over ways of increasing productivity, including job cuts.

‘Globalisation doesn’t mean that resistance is futile. In all sorts of ways it can make workers stronger. The trade union leaders who use globalisation as an alibi for their failure to do their job and defend the livelihoods of their members are a much bigger problem.’

So what is the answer? Encouragingly, both French and Slovak workers have expressed their support for the Ryton campaign. Check out this story from today's Birmingham Post:

‘In a letter of support Emil Machyna, [Slovak union] OZ KOVO president, said Peugeot did not care about the 2,300 employees who will losing their jobs if the plant closes as planned next summer.

‘He wrote: "We strongly protest against the employers' practices. We express our full solidarity with our colleagues in the United Kingdom in their fair fight for keeping production in their country.

‘He added jobs should not go "just because of the fact in other countries labour is cheaper".’

Additionally, around 30 Ryton workers picketing the Peugeot AGM in Paris were joined by some 300 activists from the CGT.

International solidarity is not just a nice turn of phrase in this situation. It is the only way workers can organise any kind of meaningful response.

The best way to secure it is the creation of international trade unions … and international socialist political organisations.

• For background on the issues involved, check the TGWU website.

• Finally, young leftwing blogger Duncan is doing his bit by asking people to sign up to an individual boycott of Peugeot here.

Labour's Great Pensions Robbery

New Labour’s proposals to raise the retirement age – announced today - will not affect anyone currently over the age of 47. I am 46, so I will be losing out.

Now, as it happens, I wasn’t reckoning on stopping work at 65, anyway. It is almost certain I won’t be able to afford such a luxury.

The combined effects of London’s overpriced housing, and a relationship that didn’t work out, mean I still have a hefty mortgage that won’t be paid off until I am at least 66, probably even older.

I just hope my health holds up, and that freelance openings for doddery old alcoholic hacks are still there come 2026. Otherwise I’m in deep trouble.

Effectively, I’ve just had a year’s-worth of the pension entitlement - paid for by my National Insurance contributions since 1976 - taken away from me. And it's not even as if the pay-back will be a guarantee of enough to live on. Thanks a bunch, guys.

Britain could afford roughly adequate state-funded pensions in 1945. It could afford them in 1909, come to that. Why not now?

• For a Labour left take, here’s Campaign Group MP John McDonnell, in a press release issued by the Labour Representation Committee:

‘Ever since Labour came to power we have been calling upon the government to address the scandal of the break of the earnings link.

‘But this compromise deal between Blair and Brown is too little too late. It does nothing for today's pensioners and will leave millions dependent upon means testing for years to come.

‘In addition, to force people to stay at work until they are 68 fails to address the inequality in society which is reflected by the inequality in pensions.

‘We are facing a future which will see some people retiring in comfort with substantial private provision, while millions of others will be working till they drop.’

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Campaign Group: 'New Labour in free fall'

The Labour left are clearly delighted with the tally of 69 rebels - and a further 15-20 abstainers - against the Education Bill last night, if this press release from the Socialist Campaign Group is anything to go by.

The statement quotes SCG chair John McDonnell as saying:

'This is a crippling blow to the Education Bill, which the prime minister is only able to force through the Commons on the back of Tory votes.

'For so many Labour backbenchers to rebel on this issue is extremely demoralising for the government. New Labour is in free-fall and the opposition is increasing not declining.

'This vote is the yet another example of the government failing to listen to its own MPs, supporters and party members. It is now too late for listening. We need change. Real change.

'We cannot continue in this shambolic fashion. The Campaign Group is willing to meet with the government to amend the Bill to ensure that a real Labour Education Bill is passed.'

The tone is quite odd, isn't it? All that talk of being 'willing to meet with the government' sounds like the sort of thing a small opposition party might say. Then again, perhaps that's the point.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

David Aaronovitch: communists for Cameron

'I could vote for David Cameron,' writes David Aaronovitch. And in those six words, the one-time eurocommunist becomes the latest ostensibly radical commentator to come up with a half-arsed justification for voting Tory.

It's not that he's moved right, of course. No, no, no. Certainly not. What you have to understand is that the very terms 'left' and 'right' no longer have any meaning. Hardly an original Aperçu, but hey, let that slide.

In Aaronovitch world, that hoary old paradigm has been replaced by a division between 'progressives' and 'reactionaries'.

And gosh, here's a thing. 'Progressives' include the New Labour leadership, the Orange Book Lib-Dems and the Notting Hill Set Tories. Or - to look at it another way - the neoliberals in all three parties.

Indeed, Aaronovitch even gets in a snide dig at those dinosaur lefties who still consider neoliberalism something to oppose, rather than to glorify.

After all, if the word simply describes 'flexible labour markets, movement of capital etc' - and that's what Aaronovitch explicitly maintains - then what's not to like?

Trouble is, it means a hell of a lot more than that. Anyone even momentarily convinced by the pundit's reasoning could do worse than read David Harvey's stunning recent book 'A Brief History of Neoliberalism'.

Harvey brilliantly dissects the doctrine and illustrates how it boils down to a twin-track project, dedicated to the restoration of both the power of the ruling elites and the conditions for capital accumulation.

Emasculation of the power of organised labour is perhaps the key precondition for its success. The genuine left still sees socialism as the self-emancipation of the working class. Proponents of neoliberalism - however you want to slice it, and whichever party leader acts as its figurehead - constitute the 21st century right.

I don't know what they taught 'em in the CPGB in the 1970s. But elementary class politics does not seem to have been on the cadre school agenda.

• In an interesting aside, Aaronovitch also asserts that 'reds' of old were 'turned on by women with peace symbols painted on their bare breasts'. I know it's whatever floats your boat, Dave. Just don't presume to speak for the rest of us, you old hippy.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Workers in uniform?

A group of British military personnel - led by officers - have formed some sort of quasi-union counterpart to the Police Federation:

'The British Armed Forces Federation’s leadership is meeting in private today in Wiltshire to discuss how to recruit thousands of members across the armed forces.

'The body will provide legal and moral support to soldiers in dispute with their commanders and lobby for better equipment and medical back-up for those in the front line. However, like the Police Federation, it will not take its members out on strike.'

Most readers will know the classical Marxist line on all this. The armed forces form the backbone of the state, the 'body of armed men' that in the final analysis back up capitalist property relations. But, the argument runs, in periods of heightened class struggle, sections can be won over to the working class.

It doesn't sound like BAFF is going to be a particularly radical organisation. It's mostly run by officers, for a start. But according to the journalist who wrote the piece, websites where lower ranks discuss such things online might want to go even further. Interesting.

[Hat tip: Mick Smith]

Attack on Alec McFadden

Alec McFadden - one of Britain's most well-known leftwing union activists, pictured left - has been subjected to a horrific violent attack right on his own doorstep. A report in the Liverpool Echo last Thursday states:

'A leading trade unionist was slashed in a knife attack in front of his two young daughters in their Merseyside home.

'Anti-racist campaigner and left wing activist Alec McFadden was almost blinded in the attack, and was cut in his head, arms and wrists as he tried to fend off the knifeman.

'His daughters, aged nine and 13, watched in horror as he was slashed with a craft knife, spraying blood on the door and hall of his Wirral home.

'The 59-year-old believes racists are behind the attack, as he has received death threats before. He said: "He missed my eye by half an inch. The doctors say I am lucky."

'Mr McFadden is president of the Merseyside Trades Councils and a champion of minority groups.'

I'm sure many readers will join me in wishing Alec a speedy recovery.

[Hat tip: Alliance for Workers Liberty]

Bear with me

Apologies for the lack of posts for the last two days. I've been moving into a new flat. Normal blogging will be resumed as soon as possible.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Not the New Statesman heroes list

New Statesman readers have voted for their top 50 'heroes of our time'. Frankly, the choices are either safe - Aung San Suu Kyi and Nelson Mandela at one and two respectively are hardly controversial, are they? - or else ... odd.

I mean, Thatch? At number five? Let's be charitable and put that one down to deliberate poll manipulation on somebody's part.

But then there's Bob 'Tory Stooge' Geldof at number three. And the Queen and Prince Charles. And Richard Branson. And bleedin' Bono. And even Tony Blair, who at 18th, comes in one place ahead of George Galloway.

Needless to say, most of the more obvious selections also make the cut: John Pilger (4th); Peter Tatchell (6th); Noam Chomsky (7th); Hugo Chavez (11th); Tony Benn (12th); Fidel Castro (16th); Germaine Greer (25th); and Ken Livingstone (43rd).

Love 'em or loathe 'em, at least you know what they are doing in a poll of ostensible leftwingers. But surely the field should be better than this?

These days - especially since the deaths of Joe Strummer, John Peel, Georgie Best and Paul Foot over the last year or two - I'm hard pushed to think of anybody I feel merits the description 'hero'.

So I am turning over to you, the small but select readership of this blog, in the search for some names that fit the bill. The comments box is open ...

Ken Livingstone on the gains of Maoism

The mayor of London offers us his insights into the social gains resulting from Chinese Stalinism:

‘One thing that Chairman Mao did was to end the appalling foot binding of women …That alone justifies the Mao Tse-tung era.’

Er ... not really, Ken. While the barbaric practice of foot binding is no more, most women in China are still subject to unimaginable oppression on the basis of gender. Tens of thousands of baby girls – considered useless by parents desperate for a son - are left to die each year. A feminist utopia the country is not.

Looking at the bigger picture, there’s no dispute that major advances were achieved as a result of the revolution lead by Mao.

China could not have reached its present level of prosperity – for a small minority, at any rate -had Maoism not forced through the necessary break with feudalism, and built up basic industry.

But the end result has been the unleashing of perhaps the most exploitative brand of neoliberalism anywhere in the world, without even the partial offset of democracy and human rights.

And then there’s at the rest of the balance sheet. Even chairman M’s devoted fans in the Maoist Internationalist Movement don’t bother hiding their hero’s taste for bumping off ‘counter-revolutionaries’:

‘Mao did claim government responsibility for 800,000 executions between 1949 and 1954.’

Mao oversaw the creation of a gulag system, in which millions perished; the Great Leap Forward, which cost 20-30m lives in the resultant entirely avoidable famine; and the Great People’s Proletarian Revolution, which – as even the MIM concedes - probably entailed millions more fatalities.

Less of the flip one-liners, Mr Livingstone. They are not doing you any favours.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Amicus chief: New Labour, crap policies

Amicus leader Derek Simpson offers us a frank assessment of the problems facing New Labour:

'Blair's lack of policies are in trouble - and it will get worse under Gordon Brown because he will not be able to sell the crap policies.

'Labour would have difficulty winning next time even if Steven Gerrard were playing for them.'

The comments come as a complete about-turn on the praise Simpson heaped on the heir apparent only a couple of years ago.

M'kay Derek, you're not wrong. But what are the unions doing to get Labour to adopt less crap policies? Is writing regular six-figure cheques in favour of the party, while getting nothing in return, really the best use of members' money?

Blair goes nuclear

The Labour left are not best pleased about Blair's 'back with a vengeance' speech about the need to replace Britain's ageing nuclear reactors. Here's a press release from the Labour Representation Committee:

'John McDonnell MP, Chair of the LRC, said: "Labour MPs and party members will be shocked that the Prime Minister has decided to pre-empt the energy review and try to bounce the Government into a decision on behalf of the nuclear industry like this.

'This announcement - made not to Parliament or the parliamentary Labour Party but at a dinner of New Labour's friends in the City - flies in the face of all consultation and all democratic procedures and completely ignores the widespread opposition within the party. It is an act of desperation of a leader who knows his time is running out.'

Given that the issue is shooting up the agenda, I'm afraid I have to confess to a shocking departure from leftwing orthodoxy on this one. I'm not opposed to nuclear energy on principle.

The safety record of nuclear reactors in the first world is good, and the technology has improved markedly since Windscale and Three Mile Island. With climate change among the most important problems facing humanity right now, nuclear electricity is an option that cannot be ruled out as an interim measure.

I'm not putting it any more strongly than that. Renewables are clearly preferable. But will they be able to deliver the goods in the required timescale?

Of course there is the issue of what to do with nuclear waste for the next few millenia. And there is a major question mark over whether or not the economics stack up.

But none of that should preclude a rational debate on the pros and cons of nuclear power. It's just a shame Blair is trying to bounce a reluctant populace into accepting a given outcome in advance.

Girlie girls' corner

After meeting in the comments box of this very blog, Stroppybird and my old International Socialist Group comrade Louisefeminista have joined forces to launch Stroppyblog.

The two of them felt that while there are feminist blogs and socialist blogs, nowhere really serves socialist feminists who insist that the left has to take women's issues and equalities a damn sight more seriously.

This website promises to make the Society for Cutting Up Men look like the Women's Institute. Still, gives the little ladies something to do, eh fellas?

Of course I'm linking. I don't really have any choice.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Bono: neoliberalism in wrapround shades

OK, hands up. I admit it. I have seen U2 live. My excuse is that it was in 1979, just after the first single came out, and they were on at the Nag’s Head in Woolaston for 50p. I used to go every Sunday, no matter who was on.

Who could have predicted that they would go on to become probably the biggest grossing rock band on planet earth? Or that the singer would become central to ruling class efforts to somehow make capitalism cool?

Today the Independent – ostensibly a serious newspaper – has been produced under the ‘guest editorship’ of Bono. Page after page is given over to hyping up the Product Red initiative, a feel-good marketing initiative in which a number of brands bump up their prices and then promise to hand a fraction of the resultant superprofits over to the fight against HIV in Africa.

Mr neoliberalism in wrapround shades is seemingly oblivious to the contradictions of his little scheme. The fashion houses that take part – including Versace, Gap, Converse and Armani – get to look like they are ‘doing something’ for the third world, while all the time they rely on sweatshop labour in poor countries to produce their rip-off clobber.

I’ve heard of cheap holidays in other people’s misery. But thanks to Bono and Product Red, expensive sweatshirts are being marketed on the same basis.

The future of the far left

Workers’ Liberty offers the following stark assessment of the outcome of the municipal elections earlier this month. Diplomatic, the wording ain’t:

‘The savage truth - but it needs to be said - is that Respect in inner East London and the BNP in outer East London are mirror images of each other. They are the twin poles of a division of the working class into two hostile, competing, inter-warring communal camps, one led by the BNP and the other supported - not led by, far from it, supported - by the erstwhile revolutionary socialist left now bizarrely turned Islamic-communalist.

‘A rational, anti-communalist, secularist left is being defined and redefined in battle against the emergence of sharia-socialism - which now includes the biggest contingent of "revolutionary socialists" in Britain! - but it needs to define itself positively. It needs to spell out the political platform on which it stands, and regroup - even if only, in organisational terms, very loosely.’

Thankfully, the first premise is a major league overstatement. The biggest overall problem with working class politics over the last decade or more has been apathy and atomisation, a radical disconnect from strong identification with any party whatsoever.

To argue that the British working class as a whole - outside of a handful of boroughs with exceptional local peculiarities - has split into ‘two hostile, competing, inter-warring communal camps’ is an irresponsible exaggeration.

Then again, it may just accurately reflect the situation that prevails in Tower Hamlets on the one hand, Barking & Dagenham and perhaps one or two other far right strongholds on the other. And if nothing is done to check such developments, matters are not going to get any better, any time soon.

I have no argument with the contention that the Respect project represents the political suicide of the perhaps 70-80% of what was until only recently British revolutionary socialism.

Some differences really are too important to split. If the difference between the programme of theocracy on the basis of a capitalist mode of production and the programme of socialism from below is not one of them, what on earth is?

Worryingly, I’m not sure either that a ‘rational, anti-communalist, secularist left’ is emerging in response. I only wish it was. I’m not even sure who, besides themselves, Workers’ Liberty would include within that definition.

About the only other political trend – if that’s the right word for them – that would use such words in self-description is the Euston Manifesto grouping.

The British revolutionary left is smaller in number than it has been for 40 years, and has reached a major impasse born of its desperation to find a quick fix solution to the isolation generated by successive decades of Thatcherism and Blairism. I am not optimistic for its future.

Monday, May 15, 2006

This is Radio Dave ... can we get that world to listen?

Radio listeners in the London area will be able to hear yours truly pontificate on matters of current blogosphere controversy on Resonance FM this Wednesday. The frequency is 104.4 and the time is 21.30, GMT +1. The rest of the world will be able to listen to the webcast here.

Opus Dei versus Opus Gay

The usual Blairite argument against Trotskyists being members of the Labour Party is that their first loyalty lies with a secretive and conspiratorial organisation, with its own distinctive publications and extremist political positions.

But somehow, membership of Opus Dei is OK, as witnessed by stellar political career of Ruth Kelly, pictured left. I mean, say what you like about being in a Trot group, but self-flagellation rarely forms part of the deal.

Then again, such punishment could be considered light compared to some of the meetings you have to sit through.

Our Ruthy – recently given cabinet responsibility for equality - seems strangely uncertain whether or not homosexuality is a sin. But the position of OD is clear enough.

So I’m taking this opportunity to dust off one of the most amusing stories of 2004, featuring the legal action taken by the ultra-conservative Catholic group in Chile against a local gay publication. Its name? Opus Gay. Brilliant.

Core British values

‘The government is to review whether "core British values" should become a compulsory part of the curriculum for all 11 to 16-year-olds in England.

‘Education minister Bill Rammell …
told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "There is a need for a debate and the essential values already taught in citizenship classes, like freedom, fairness, civil responsibilities, democracy are there.’

Funny, no mention of an all-pervasive class system, institutional racism, determined efforts to be in the vanguard of global neoliberalism, an inability to come to terms with an imperialist past or even supine subservience to US foreign policy.

Iraq withdrawal: in the next few weeks?

I have no idea what view Mick Smith of The Times privately takes of the war on Iraq. But having spoken to him on the phone on a few occasions, I can vouch for the fact that he is both a nice guy and pretty damn savvy on matters military.

So I was interested to read a recent post on his blog, speculating that coalition withdrawal from Iraq will be happening sooner rather than later.

Mick quotes Lt-Gen Sir Rob Fry - coalition deputy commander in the country - who conducted a recent telephone briefing for American hacks:

'I think that each of the provinces, each of Iraq's 18 provinces will be looked at entirely on its own merits. But I would have thought that this is a process that could start in the pretty near future.

'I also think that it is a process that an incoming Iraqi government would be extremely keen to see underway in order that it can demonstrate its own sovereignty in its own country.

'So what I'm not going to do is to give you any headline goals or lay out any timetables. What I will say is that this is a process which I think will accelerate over the next 12 to 18 to 24 months.'

Mick interprets that as meaning that a phased withdrawal is likely to start in the next few weeks, once the Malaki government is in place, and that it will take between 18 months and two years to complete.

Good news for those of us who thought the war should never have commenced in the first place.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Ming Campbell: the final countdown

By common consent, Ming Campbell made rather a hash of PMQs this week. People in his own party are briefing against him.

Of course, the Lib Dem leader has been seeking to defend himself:

'If you'll forgive my immodesty I didn't become an Olympic athlete or a practising QC or win a seat from fourth place that hadn't been Liberal for 50 years without being able to meet challenges.'

He's only had three months in the job, so I suppose he qualifies for the benefit of the doubt a little while longer yet.

But don't be surprised if he steps down on 'health grounds' before the end of the year.

On, and looking at the photos, I can't help noticing that he has even less hair than Mark Oaten.

Metronet: no way to run a railroad

Nine out of ten Londoners didn't want tube privatisation. New Labour gave it to us anyway.

Maybe one of the factors that persuaded them to do so was the lobbying efforts of the firm Lexington Communications. The company was founded by Mike Craven, a former researcher for John Prescott, and briefly during 1998, Labour's acting chief press officer.

Lexington's clients included the Metronet consortium, led by Balfour Beatty, with WS Atkins and Canadian concern Bombardier also participating.

Metronet is now responsible for track maintenance on two-thirds of London's tube network.

So how well is it doing? Well, since you ask ... it's putting lives at risk:

'The main private contractor on London's Underground is not working hard enough to improve its performance, the network's operator has said after rail safety inspectors ordered Metronet to improve track on the District line.

'London Underground Limited, the publicly-owned company that operates trains and staffs stations on the Underground system, was speaking after a day when trains on parts of the network maintained by Metronet were delayed by speed restrictions necessary because the private consortium had not treated track correctly after maintenance work.

'The track had not been correctly stretched - a process known as stressing - after being put in place, and there were fears it could buckle in yesterday's heat and cause a derailment.'

This isn't the first safety lapse on Metronet's part. The company was also implicated in derailments in Camden Town in 2003, which saw seven people injured, and White City in 2004.

Unusually enough for a resident of this big city, I live close to my work, and my watering holes and jazz clubs of choice are either in walking distance or on a convenient bus route.

I probably only have to use the world's most expensive - and probably most filthy - underground network once or twice a month. Millions aren't so lucky.

London needs a safe and cheap tube system. Neither New Labour nor its mates in the private sector can deliver on that.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Interior minister to challenge Brown

Various New Labour politicians have at various times been touted as Blair's successor of choice. David Blunkett. Jack Straw. Charles Clarke. David Miliband.

The latest apparatchik to be talked up is Britain's new minister of the interior, pictured left. Here's what Frank Field had to say about the forthcoming leadership fight on Newsnight last night:

'Well clearly, Gordon has a right to be part of that contest and my guess is certainly one of the other candidates would be Dr Reid.'

That such a high-risk tactic can even be considered underlines just how weak the position of the Blairites really is. Reid is an unpopular bully boy with a distinctly dodgy past.

The rightwing media will have a field day dredging up whatever they can find about Reid's period in the Communist Party.

Then there's the story of his son Kevin's involvement in the so-called 'lobbygate' scandal of 1999, in which the hapless brat boasted of his contacts with New Labour top brass to an undercover reporter. He culminated in the probably rehearsed line: 'I know the secretary of state [for Scotland] very, very well because he's my father.'

Kevin's CV also includes a stint working for dad as a parliamentary researcher. The parliamentary commissioner for standards ruled that this contravened applicable rules, and that Reid senior had attempted to intimidate witnesses during her investigation. But MPs on the Committee on Standards and Privileges overturned the commissioner's findings.

To top everything else, there's still the three days Dr John spent in a luxury lakeside hotel in Geneva as a guest of indicted Serb war criminal Radovan Karadzic. Reid never bothered to hide his pro-Serb sympathies. I guess that tankie training dies hard.

Unsurprisingly, George Galloway seems to hold Reid in high regard:

'I have known John Reid as a Communist, as a member of the Scottish Labour party and now as a general in the New Labour Army. His march across this ideological battlefield has been seamless with not a hint of embarrassment.'

Yeah, he reminds me of some other politicians in that respect, George.

'But John is an able person, one of the most able in New Labour's high command. They put him up to deliver the message. And they are right, he is a very capable, articulate figure.'

Lastly, there's plenty of things that should not matter whatsoever, but inevitably do. The Daily Mail will also go to town contrasting the Scottishness of both Reid and Brown - and Ming Campbell, of course - with the impeccable English posh boy credentials of Cokehead.

And with Reid set to turn 60 next year, his age will also work against him. So will his Catholicism. Can the Blairites really not come up with anybody more in tune with the sensibilities of Mondeo Man and Worcester Woman? If not, they've had it.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Labour left: where it wants to be?

The Labour left seems a shedload more cheery after llast Thursday’s local government vote.

A press release from the Labour Representation Committee quotes MP John McDonnell: ‘The labour and trade union movement has arrived at exactly where we want to be with a clearly defined and commonly accepted timetable for a change in the leadership of the party.

‘Tony Blair will be gone by the Autumn of 2007 and the party now has a clear 12 months for a thorough policy debate and the preparation of an alternative leadership candidate.’

Exactly where we want to be? Don’t get me wrong, I’m finding the sight of a mortally wounded Blair suffering real pain as enjoyable as everyone else on the left.

But ‘exactly where we want to be’ is going it some. The hard left, in parliament and the constituencies, remains weaker than at any other point in post-war history. Limited but real gains in the unions have yet to find political expression. Things could certainly be better.

And who exactly is this ‘alternative leadership candidate’? The rest of the statement makes for interesting reading. Depending on how you want to read it, subsequent paragraphs hint that Brown might – just might - secure Campaign Group backing, providing his policies measure up:

‘Over the next year the party will be demanding to know where the Chancellor stands issue by issue, Bill by Bill … Issue after issue over the next year will define Gordon Brown in contrast to the polices supported and demanded by the party and the movement.’

Pressuring Brown to tack left, while keeping the threat of a Campaign Group candidacy in reserve, is exactly the right approach for the time being. Deciding what to do next is the hard bit.

Nobody seriously expects Brown to tick more than a handful of boxes on any meaningful socialist wishlist. As Blair repeatedly points out, the chancellor is ‘New Labour to his fingertips’.

What’s more, the man can be expected to go into neoliberal soundbite overdrive, if only to overcompensate for rightwing press efforts to scare off Middle England. There are already clear pointers that he will be wrapping himself in the Union Jack, for starters.

Then again, what Brown might be prepared to offer behind the scenes is another matter. Remember, this guy is absolutely desperate to be PM. Suppose the early polls pan out something like this: Brown 45% of the electoral college, anointed Blairite standard bearer 40%, Campaign Groupie 15%.

Brown will probably calculate that the Campaign Group will vote for him in preference to a Blairite, no matter what he does or says. Then again, he might feel that there is no harm in making sure of victory.

To proceed by poker analogy, the hard left’s hand is worth at least two pairs. And in some variations such as Omaha hold ‘em, the low hand - skillfully played - gets a split of the pot. The trick will be not to fold immediately on being offered a couple of symbolic policy baubles.

Bryan Gould on New Labour

Throughout the Kinnock and Smith leaderships, Bryan Gould was one of Labour’s more cerebral soft left politicians.

And then, in a surprise move in 1994, he suddenly announced he was jacking it all in to take up a university vice-chancellorship in his native New Zealand. He is now in retirement.

Although he must know where a lot of the bodies are buried, Gould has largely kept his own counsel and resisted the temptation to comment on what the Labour Party has become. He hasn't written his memoirs, for instance.

But anyone that knew him at the time can pretty much guess what his opinion of Blair must be. Following a recent visit to the UK, he spells it out anyway, in a thoughtful guest post on the blog of leftwing MP Austin Mitchell.

Here’s what Gould has to say, in an analysis made all the more pointed by the fact that his former constituency of Dagenham has seen the BNP make serious inroads in what should be a rock solid Labour area:

‘We see a Labour government which pays excessive attention to the powerful, both internationally and domestically, and which apparently believes that nothing can or should be done without their support.

‘We see a Labour government that is prepared to endanger the democratic process and civil liberties by placing the interests of government and other big players ahead of those of ordinary people.

‘We see a Labour government that has pursued an economic policy that favours asset-holders but jeopardises the jobs of those who make and sell things, a government that has – in areas like education – reintroduced unwelcome and unnecessary divisions, a government that apparently distrusts the idea of community and collective organisation, and prefers to entrust the functioning of society to the unchallenged market-place.

‘If I am right in identifying a gap between what a left government might reasonably be expected to do and what a Labour government has actually done, we might begin to make sense of the current political landscape.

‘That gap means that there is a void in British politics – a hugely significant part of the political spectrum is no longer represented in the politics of power. This is more than just a deficiency, or an absence.

‘The democratic Left, which has been the wellspring of so much that is progressive, innovative and reforming in Britain, finds that it is not only unrepresented but has actually been supplanted by what it thought was its own instrument – that, instead of what should be its voice, a different voice is heard.’

He doesn’t spell out the logical conclusion from this chain of thought, of course. But you don’t need a postgraduate degree in politics to work out what he is saying here.

Minimum wage: too high for the bosses' liking

Today's Financial Times, page one:

'Boom in commodities sends the price of a top trader soaring ... Experienced traders are now commanding seven-figure sign-on fees and bonuses to match. Industry executives said senior energy traders were receiving sign-on fees of more than $2m (£804,000) in some cases.'

Today's Financial Times, page three:

'Business leaders fear minimum wage has reached tipping point ... Increases in the minimum wage ahead of average earnings have provoked deepening discontent among business leaders, who say it is having an effect further up the income scale.

'"That is why it is so important that the Low Pay Commission, in confirming the October rise, said there should be no presumption that the minimum wage should rise faster in future," said John Cridland [deputy director-general of the Confederation of British Industry and a commission member]. "The commission has recognised that employers are getting quite close to the buffers."'

Point of information: The minimum wage is currently £5.05 an hour, rising to £5.35 an hour in October. That's £187.25 for a 35-hour week, before tax.

Or to put it another way, anybody on that kind of 'reward package' would take 82 years - more than a working lifetime - to earn what an energy trader makes simply for switching jobs.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Amicus walkout at Vauxhall plant

‘Union workers at Vauxhall's Ellesmere Port factory in Cheshire have walked out, following news that parent firm GM was considering cutting 1,000 jobs.’

What the BBC doesn’t add is that what these men and women have done is actually illegal under Britain’s employment laws, which Tony Blair happily boasts are ‘the most restrictive on trade unions in the western world’.

Wildcat strikes are a rational response to wildcat management. Unilateral attempts to impose major job losses are not acceptable. Employees should be able to negotiate in good face, with an employer that respects their rights and concerns.

Sadly, British unions have become marginalised, and are now little more than one lobby among many others, with an auxiliary role of unpaid health and safety inspectors.

A sustained struggle to force the the scrapping of successive rounds of both Tory and New Labour legislation should be a top priority for the British labour movement.

A body called The United Campaign to Repeal the Anti-Trade Union Laws does exist. That its website does not appear to have been updated since September 2000 is a pointer to how bad things are just now.

7/7: how do we stop it happening again?

So it was ‘a lack of resources’ that prevented the security services from foiling the 7/7 plot, according to the House of Commons Intelligence and Security Committee.

The conclusion of this line of thinking is obvious; invite the intelligence agencies to write their own cheques, and to erode civil liberties as far as they find fit.

Of course, Britain needs to take a serious attitude towards both the individual and collective security of its citizens. Even so, the committee’s report offers no real answers.

Networks can be infiltrated and smashed. Some fresh atrocities might well be stopped that way. But plenty of others would inevitably succeed.

Even if the spooks got every penny and every power on their wish list, Islamist terrorism would continue. The starting point for any solution remains, now as before, political action to tackle global injustice and inequality.

Palestine, Kashmir and Chechnya are only the first of the problems that have to be solved.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The other Hitchens brother on Iraq

'Here is an imagined conversation between a normal human being and one of those people who still thinks our troops should be in Iraq,' begins the latest post on Peter Hitchens' blog. Ooooh, bi-iii-tchy! You can almost physically feel the sibling rivalry seeping off the screen.

But his argument loses much of its intellectual credibility on account of the following rather elementary blooper:

Q: ... Why is there a civil war if it's a democracy? Surely the whole idea of democracies is that the people's will can be expressed without violence?

A. Er, yes. But we did not foresee the resentment of the Sunnis at being ruled by the Shia minority they used to control.

Like, duh. What's the betting he'll reword that bit as big bro points it out?

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Iraqi insurgents versus the IRA: keeping a scorecard

It seems that the Iraqi insurgents aren’t killing quite enough British soldiers for some people’s taste.

Back in the 1980s and 1990s, a group called the Revolutionary Communist Party made quite a name for itself through a number of distinctive policies, not least its uncritical support for the IRA.

These days it has evolved into a number of manifestations, including the Institute of Ideas and the online journal sp!ked (sic). And sp!ked has this to offer on the current situation in Iraq:

‘The number of British deaths has fallen year-on-year since the conflict started, from a high of 59 in the first year to just 17 in the third year.’

Just 17? No, that's not a Beatles song. Damn, those feckless Arab bastards really should try harder. But here’s the clincher. The RCP’s old ‘say ooh ah, up the ‘ra’ habits die hard:

‘The IRA was more effective at killing British soldiers than Iraqi insurgents have been. In one single year in Northern Ireland - 1972 – the IRA killed nearly three times as many British military personnel as the Iraqi insurgents have managed in over three years.’

Well, you just can’t fault that kind of work rate, can you? What are they, on piecework or something? Then again, on such calculations, both sets of terrorists are big girls' blouses compared to the wehrmacht. But Brendan O'Neill, author of the study, concludes:

‘This suggests there has been a politicisation of British death in Iraq - not that this war is more deadly than others, but that death has sometimes quite cynically been made into the defining issue of the conflict. It is time we made better arguments against the war than exaggerating how dangerous it is.’

Soldiers die in wars. That is one of the defining characteristics of warfare, and something that anyone who signs up for a military career knows full well. But that is no reason for anti-war socialists to laugh off the fatalities by keeping jokey little scorecards.

Neal Lawson reinvents himself

This is one of the deftest instances of repositioning I have seen in a long while. Neal Lawson - pictured left - clearly wants to ditch his image as a two-bob New Labour influence peddler and re-emerge as the coming man of a regenerated democratic socialist politics.

That's the best reading I can put on his op-ed contribution to the Independent today [subscription required], written by the chairman of Labour pressure group Compass himself:

'The problem with New Labour is that it is neither new enough nor Labour enough. It isn't true enough to our core values of equality, liberty and solidarity. But neither is it sufficiently in tune with the times. Blairism is stuck in the groove of 1994 when the world has moved on.

'Attempts to paint Compass into an "Old Labour" corner just won't wash. Yes, we believe in the values of equality, liberty and solidarity - but we are the modern left.'

It's perhaps strange to see a 'modern left' define itself by slightly rewording slogans from 1792. But such semantic quibbles aside, the piece as a whole rates as one of the sharpest critiques of New Labourism I have ever read from the pen of anybody who was once part of 'The Project'. What's more, the presumption has to be that the article would not have been written without the approval of Lawson's mentor, Gordon Brown.

Given such a political DNA, the piece is not without one or two passages of astonishing arrogance. For instance, the author seems to believe that Blair is only clinging to office so that he can frustrate the knavish tricks of Lawson and his pals:

'Ultimately Mr Blair wants to stay in power for long enough to entrench his commercialisation agenda and stop the democratic left politics of Compass flourishing.'

Yeah, right. I'm not sure that consideration is top of the PM's list of concerns, Neal. But congratulations on sticking the boot in anyway, kiddo.

Rupert Murdoch backs Hillary Clinton

They say the Dirty Digger only backs politicos that are on a roll. So presumably this story is good news for a certain Democrat presidential hopeful (pictured left, reporting for duty):

'Rupert Murdoch, the conservative media mogul whose New York Post tabloid savaged Hillary Clinton's initial aspirations to become a US senator for New York, has agreed to host a political fundraiser for her re-election campaign.'

This is something of a volte-face, to put it mildly:

'The partisan tabloid ran unflattering pictures, and frontpage headlines pleading: "Don't Run". A poll from the Post's website during the campaign identified her as the sixth "most evil" person of the millennium, ahead of Benito Mussolini and Vlad the Impaler. Her husband ranked second.'

Over on this side of the Atlantic, it will be interesting to watch the UK end of the Murdoch press during the next few months. Rupert has so far refused to state which way his papers will line up at the next election, although he has had some notably warm words to say about Gordon Brown:

'I like Gordon very much and I share a lot of his values. The Calvinist background I guess ... Scottish blood, you know he does seem to believe in the work ethic.'

That quote should certainly be trotted out anytime anybody tries to paint Brown as a bit of a leftie. Murdoch's 'values' certainly don't include residual affection for trade unionism, for instance.

Then again, the media tycoon has also been saying nice things about David Cameron. If Babyface Cokehead's lead in the polls proves to be more than transient, an endorsement from The Sun might not be long in coming.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Respect 'celebrates Kim Il Sung'

Well, that's the claim from the blog londoncommunists, written by members of the New Communist Party, an ultra-tankie splinter group:

'Saklatvala Hall in Southall, west London, was packed last Saturday with friends of Democratic Korea celebrating the birthday of the great Korean revolutionary leader, Kim Il Sung.

'NCP leader Andy Brooks delivered the solidarity greeting of the NCP and other messages came from Michael Chant of the RCPB (ML) and representatives of the CPGB(ML), SLP, the British Juche Society and Southall Respect.'

Surely not?

Neal Lawson versus the Euston Manifesto

Compass – those wonderful people who brought you the ‘stand down Tony, stand down please’ letter – are organising a giant political beano for June 17.

The event goes under the not-incredibly-catchy title of ‘The Compass National & Robin Cook Memorial Conference 2006’.

What caught my eye at first is the list of participants. It includes groups and publications that would be considered well beyond the pale at a similar Blairite get-together.

Among others, Tribune and Red Pepper will be presenting sessions. I used to work for the former, and write a monthly column for the latter.

So it would be nice to think that both journals will get more of a hearing under the impending Brown premiership than they do at present.

And of course, I couldn’t help noticing the following promise from the organisers in the online promo blurb:

‘Imagine an event where you get to actually shape and influence a manifesto to change our world over the next 20 years …Every workshop and seminar will be asked to prioritise key ideas for inclusion in the most radical and wide-ranging manifesto the democratic left has ever written.’

Typical. You wait ages for a sweeping statement of centre-left principle and then two come along at once. Sadly, I don't think anybody will be able to slip in any transitional demands. But watch out Eustonites, Compass chief Neal Lawson - pictured above - appears to be on your case.

Blue Peter badge for Blair

Yes, it’s the ultimate accolade for Tony:

‘Mr Blair will be given a Blue Peter badge when presenter Konnie Huq interviews him on the BBC1 children’s show next month.’

I wonder how much Lord Levy is knocking them out for?

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Leadership ambitions? Moi?

Even as his outriders surreptitiously foment dissention in the hitherto supine nether regions of the Parliamentary Labour Party, Gordon Brown has the brass nerve to go on telly and deny everything. Richard Nixon, eat your heart out:

'Mr Brown told Andrew Marr on BBC One's Sunday AM he did not want to see a coup against the prime minister. '

Gosh, Gordon. That’s great to hear. But do we believe him, boys and girls?

Batting for the Blairistas has been Doctor John on the World This Weekend. The new home secretary repeatedly branded Neil Lawson’s pressure group Compass ‘Old Labour’.

This is significant because Lawson - one of the spindoctors at the centre of the ‘cash for access’ row in 1998 - is extremely close to Brown. So presumably Reid’s outburst is indicative of Blairite tactics in the impending bloodbath.

Reid also maintained that the council election setbacks only happened because people worried that New Labour is losing control of the party. Hopefully he is far too savvy to believe such nonsense himself.

Branding Brown an Old Labourite is not only plainly ludicrous. It may also backfire. Not everybody in the labour movement thinks democratic socialism is a cuss word. In the current climate, it could actually increase Brown's support.

The unexpected consequences of hair loss

Mark Oaten tells the Sunday Times what drove him to seek some decidedly unusual services from rent boys:

‘I doubt that, on its own, my dissatisfaction with politics would have prompted me to act as I did, but it coincided with something of a mid-life crisis. I was turning 40 and I really felt that I was losing my youth. The problem was undoubtedly compounded by my dramatic loss of hair in my late thirties. This really knocked me for six. I started to look noticeably older.’

Hmmm. I’m 46, my hairline is receding, and what is left of my once luxuriant locks would be almost entirely grey if I didn’t drench them in Grecian 2000 every morning. But never once have I felt the slightest inclination to pay people to poo in my mouth.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Blair, Brown and 'orderly transition'

‘Orderly transition’ seems to be the latest buzzword in the Labour Party. In plain English, the catchphrase translates to ‘Blair out! Brown in!’

This blog has already reprinted a Socialist Campaign Group statement, making it clear that the Labour left will mount a leadership challenge this year unless the prime minister steps down.

Now the press is full of speculation that around 75 Brownite MPs are circulating a draft letter calling on Blair to name the day he quits.

What the Guardian describes as 'a version' of this document is already online at the website of Compass, the Brownite pressure group, although Labour sources I talked to today tell me that the journalist who wrote the story may have willingly been sold a pup on this one.

But whatever form the final wording takes, there is no doubt that the discontent in the Parliamentary Labour Party is both serious and widespread.

So what tactics should the Labour left adopt? If, as now seems likely, the Brownites force a leadership contest this year, by all means let them take on the legwork.

I presume that there is already an understanding - either tacit or explicit - that the Campaign Group will vote the right way, if and when the no confidence motion comes.

The bottom line is this. When the leadership vote finally arrives, the Campaign Group absolutely must make sure it stands a candidate.

Simply to rubber stamp the replacement of Blair with Brown, without seizing the chance to put an explicitly socialist case to the labour movement, would be a major mistake.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Stalinist takes over ministry of the interior

John Reid - pictured left - becomes the latest in a long line of none too liberal home secretaries. But remember that he replaces Charles Clarke, and that the post was previously held by Jack Straw. Perhaps appointing a string of tankies to the job is Blair's little in-joke for the left?

And won't Beckett and Condi make a great team?

Labour leadership: challenge from the Campaign Group

The Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs - once an important organisation on the left, but virtually moribund for the last decade - has been spoiling for a leadership contest for some time.

After New Labour’s recent troubles, capped by last night’s performance, it looks like they have finally decided that now is the time. Here’s a press release from the Labour Representation Committee, issued in the name of Hayes and Harlington MP John McDonnell:

‘Last night's results show the gradual erosion and fragmentation of Labour's electoral base. The Government's support is just draining away at successive elections and splintering to the smaller and even fascist parties. No number of reshuffles will address the crisis of confidence among our supporters in our leadership.

‘Large numbers of hard-working Labour councillors all over the country have paid with the loss of their seats for the New Labour leadership's refusal to listen - a refusal to listen to our supporters, party members, Labour MPs, and our supporters in the trade unions and the public at large.

‘People who marched out to vote for us nearly a decade ago to get rid of the Tories have been turned into a bitter, disillusioned, stay-at-home vote.

‘This vote is not just about recent blunders or scandals or any need for a simple change from Blair to Brown; it is about New Labour's overall political direction and performance …

‘Voters stay at home, party members resign or give up working for us, CLPs have become hollowed out shells with the result that small cliques around Blair & Brown vie for power and position. Decision making is centralised, with policies handed down from on-high that bear no relation to the problems of the real world with which our supporters have to contend.

‘These results demand that we launch a serious challenge for Labour's future - a challenge to transform the structures of the party, to change our policies, and to change the leadership.

‘The LRC conference meets in July, at which we will be recommending that a decision is taken in principle to mount this challenge. We will be working with affiliated organisations, trade unions and members throughout the party to formulate this challenge on policies, on restoring democratic control of the party to its members, and on the change in leadership needed.’

Any challenge will only be a gesture, of course. The Labour succession is already tightly stitched up. But it is a gesture that needs to be made.

Its positive consequences will include a reopening – inevitably partial and temporary, but still a reopening – of political debate within the Labour Party and the wider labour movement.

In that debate, democratic socialism will be one of the options under active discussion. That can only be to the good.

New Labour spin doctors will, as of today, start talking down the chances of any leftwing stalking horse candidate. He or she will get a derisory single figure percentage vote, they will argue.

I’m not so sure. As I’ve pointed out previously, there are growing signs of discontent among ordinary party members and trade unionists. After last's nights drubbing, they can only get more noticeable.

Here’s a prediction. The size of the vote the Labour left secures will surprise many. It may even top 20%. Peter Mandelson might want to believe 'we are all Thatcherites now'. Some of us still ain't, and never will be.

Respect in Tower Hamlets

The Socialist Workers’ Party’s strategy in Tower Hamlets centred on getting revolutionary Marxists into the council chamber on the back of the Muslim vote. It failed.

I’m not quite sure what they thought this would achieve by this, anyway. As an activist in the Labour Party in the early 1980s, I knew many Trotskyists that won local government contests standing on a Labour Party ticket.

Some acquitted themselves well. Others were pulled to the right. But one thing was underlined by the experience. Town halls are not natural political territory for Trots.

At that time, you could at least pass a resolution in solidarity with the Sandinistas, declare the borough a nuclear free zone, and then push through an 89% rise in business rates and pump the money into schools and social housing.

Nobody is allowed to get away with that stuff any more. So many powers have been stripped from municipal authorities over the last two decades that these days, the main job is vote on which outsourcing provider gets the wheelie-bin contract.

True, at the time of writing Respect had 11 seats in Tower Hamlets. But as far as I’m aware, all of them won as a result of their standing in the predominantly-Bengali Muslim community and none have a background in organised socialist politics. I could be wrong on this. If you know differently, please feel free to correct me.

But it’s noticeable that in wards where Respect stood candidates with both Muslim-sounding and white-sounding names, the former typically picked up 25-40% more votes than the latter.

That’s not to say that the Respect vote is entirely communalist. The majority of its voters are backing the policies the party put forward. But it is a pointer that it contains an unhealthily large communalist element.

Its councillors will naturally be more concerned with consolidating their base of support than following the counsels of a bunch of white middle-class lefties. They will be amenable to deals with Muslim councillors of other parties.

Some of them may prove to be out and out careerists. Remember that both London and Birmingham have seen instances of Muslim local politicians joining Respect and then defecting almost instantly when the Lib-Dems came along with a better offer.

So the question is, what happens if they pursue policies that revolutionary socialists would not want to be associated with?

When I was in the Labour Party, there were mechanisms of accountability. Labour councillors were supposed to pursue the policies mandated by the activist-dominated general management committee. Not that most of them ever did, of course.

But the SWP has been so keen to keep George Galloway on board that Respect lacks even the theoretical means of making sure its elected representives follow the party line.

A lot of good young activists that put a lot of time and money into the Tower Hamlets campaign could be in for a serious let-down.

UPDATE: It's been pointed out elsewhere that all of Respect's white and female Muslim candidates in Tower Hamlets lost to ... male Muslim Labour candidates.

Nepal: kill the king

If Alex Callinicos's analysis of the situation in Nepal this week was a tad wishy-washy, the same cannot be said about the International Secretariat of the League for the Fifth International's take on the tasks facing revolutionaries in the kingdom.

Topping the list of what the masses should do next is this rather eye-catching transitional demand: 'the execution of Gyanendra and his dynasty'.

The whole dynasty? Including four-year-old Prince Hridayendra, the second in line? Seems a bit rough on the poor kid. But then Workers' Power always did like to position themselves as hardest group on the entire hard left.

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