Thursday, August 31, 2006

I wish I could be like Philip Watts

Former Shell chairman Sir Philip Watts damn well knew for years that the company he headed systematically overstated oil reserves by something like 25%.

After all, most of the overstatement occurred during his stint as chief executive of its exploration and production division, which kind of makes it hard to plead innocence.

That was why he had to leave the oil major in March 2004, with only a £1m-plus pay-off cheque and an index-linked annual pension of £584,000 to show for it. Shortly after his resignation, a series of leaked memos pretty much confirmed the case against him.

Shell itself commissioned a report into the affair from a US law firm, which effectively accused Sir Philip of deceit. It was revealed that Walter van de Vijver - then Shell’s head of exploration - sent him a series of concerned emails, stressing that he was ‘sick and tired about lying’ to cover his boss’s backside.

Of course, both Britain and America have powerful watchdogs in place to prevent the investing public getting ripped off. Surely, given the regulatory climate in wake of the Enron and WorldCom scandals, Sir Philip should rightly have been looking at 99 to life in Sing Sing?

Nope. Sir Philip – knighted for his services to British business and to the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, no less - has ‘emerged without stain on his character’, as the establishment euphemism has it.

In June 2005, the US Justice Department closed a criminal investigation into the affair. In November last year, the Financial Services Authority in the UK closed inquiries into Watts’s role in the proceedings. Yesterday the US Securities and Exchange Commission announced it is to take no further action against him. And that’s that.

Few of us would be that lucky. If it came to light that the guys in the circulation department at a newspaper exaggerated circulation figures by 25%, the least they could expect is instant dismissal for gross misconduct. If a salesman artificially topped up sales figures to boost his commission earnings, prosecution for obtaining pecuniary advantage by deception would surely beckon.

But the rules that apply to the rest of us plainly do not apply to likes of Sir Philip. His only punishment is to be exposed as a grubby little liar. Enjoy your retirement, mate.

PS: One of Shell’s former PR men is a blogger, and made this revealing comment at the time of Watt’s ouster:

‘Phil Watts was perhaps the most notable modern example of the Peter Principle (the theory that employees within an organisation will advance to their highest level of competence and then be promoted to and remain at a level at which they are incompetent) and the ructions following his fall will hang around Shell for a long time.’

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Chris Harman: a small element of truth

People that follow internal developments in the Socialist Workers' Party rather more closely than I do sometimes argue that Chris Harman is the keeper of the orthodox Cliffite flame against the depredations of the Rees-German revisionist clique.

Who knows? No political differences at the higher levels of that organisation are ever revealed to the ordinary membership, let alone the wider left.

But if there is anything in the theory, then Harman's contribution to this week's Socialist Worker - written in the context of the impending launch of the Sheridan party on Sunday - makes interesting reading:

However some on the left, including some of Tommy Sheridan’s former comrades in the SSP, are suspicious of the conference. They say that socialists cannot base themselves on the politics of personalities and that this can only end up building up egos that come to see themselves as more important than the movement.

This is very similar to the arguments used by some people in England who refuse to back Respect because of the role George Galloway plays in it.

Many false arguments start from a small element of truth. And the sort of socialist society we want to see cannot be established by any individual, however eloquent or committed ...

Socialist Worker supporters are working with many others to build this weekend’s conference, not because we have suddenly joined some Tommy Sheridan fan club, but because together we can draw in the forces for a new movement that is powerful and confident enough to value the talents of individuals without bowing down to them.

Absolutely the correct position, comrade. Let no one ever forget these elementary propositions. Especially those who the remarks are probably aimed at.

I do have some personal experience in these things. In the mid nineties, I was a member of the Socialist Labour Party. In just three years, I saw the organisation transform itself from a relatively healthy regroupment of class struggle activists into a personality cult based around Scargill.

So a word to the wise to anyone signing up with the Sheridanistas. Make sure your main man's undeniable ego is never allowed to override the basic norms of labour movement democracy. Otherwise your project could go tits up sooner than you think.

David Miliband: down there with the kids on the street

As one cruel but accurate joke puts it, Ralph Miliband devoted his life to making the theoretical case for the proposition that Labour has nothing to offer the working class. David Miliband has devoted his life to proving it.

I have met both men. Despite his dreadful Blairite politics, David struck me as rather more personable than his late father. Even so, I am mystified by the latest post on the environment secretary’s blog. Let me reproduce it in its entirety:

Mystery guest

For readers of NME I am happy to confirm that Pete Docherty and I are not the same person.

Thanks David. I wasn’t about to make that mistake, actually. I can only presume that talk of ‘Pete Docherty’ is actually a reference to Pete Doherty, the junkie singer of Babyshambles fame. More evidence of Labour politicians attempting to associate themselves with rock ‘n’ rollers, only to make themselves look foolish in the attempt.

Hat tip: Iain Dale

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Sheridan's new party: launch statement

Purely for information purposes, here is the founding statement of the new party Tommy Sheridan - in alliance with the Socialist Workers' Party and the Socialist Party - is due to launch this weekend. An organisational motion follows.

What about the politics of the thing? Aside from a few swipes at former comrades in the Scottish Socialist Party, it's the sort of lowest common denominator 'we wish there could be sunshine every day and that everybody loved their mums' sort of list that most lefties would fully support.

Any distinctive political character is not apparent from these words. But given the track record of some of the project's backers, there is probably good reason to fear the worst.

I'd be grateful for any information from Scottish readers on who can be considered the 'leading intellectuals' in the new outfit.

Solidarity - A new movement for socialism in Scotland

This meeting believes we share a historic responsibility to provide people in Scotland with a socialist alternative to the pro-market agendas of New Labour, Tories, Liberal Democrats and the SNP. Many working class voters are so disillusioned with politicians that theydo not vote at all.

The war in Iraq and Afghanistan continues its deadly course and Lebanon lies in ruins; this is the latest stage in a regional conflict at the root of which lies the same free-market agenda that has devastated working class communities the length and breadth ofScotland. Immigrant communities are under attack, Islamaphobia is onthe rise and our civil liberties continue to be undermined.

The scale of anger and disillusionment with New Labour is growing and the need for that socialist alternative is more urgent thanever. Sadly, the SSP is no longer able to play that role.

We agree it is now only possible to take the socialist movement forward by immediately launching a new political party that will become, in time, the broad party of socialism in Scotland - bigger, better and bolder than that which has gone before, a fresh movementwith an attractive, pioneering, and inclusive spirit, welcoming to all who join, irrespective of ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation or disability.

We will demonstrate SOLIDARITY WITH those fighting against low pay and oppression. SOLIDARITY AGAINST poverty and discrimination in all its forms. SOLIDARITY FOR an independent socialist nuclear free Scotland.

Our new party will be

A campaigning movement - against social injustice and poverty, for a decent living wage and pensions for all, against hospital closures and local service cuts, for empowered communities and trade union rights, in opposition to racist discrimination and bigotry and all forms of oppression, for our civil liberties, and for public ownership and democratic control of our major industries, land and assets.

A democratic movement - for an independent socialist Scotland, a modern pluralist republic that harnesses our collective energies, talents and wealth for the benefit of all our citizens while safeguarding and respecting individual freedom in all its aspects.

A workers movement - that will support trade unionists and all workers in struggle, fighting for the rights of workers in Scotlandand internationally whether or not they are already organised in a trade union, for the repeal of all anti-trade union laws.

An anti-war movement - opposing all imperialist wars wherever they occur and the current occupations of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine. A grass roots movement - that will be active in campaigning around the issues that matter in all parts of Scotland, from the borders tothe Northern Isles, from the Hebrides to the oil rigs of the NorthSea, in our streets, in our communities and our workplaces, reaching out to people, and engaging in constructive political debate.

An environmentalist movement - campaigning against new nuclear power stations and for the removal of Trident nuclear missiles from the banks of the Clyde, campaigning positively for massive investment inrenewable technologies, and a truly integrated and modern publicly owned transport system, for environmental justice for all.

A young people's movement - that aspires to be the natural political home for young people, supporting campaigns for a decent minimum wage, free education and affordable housing.

An internationalist movement - committing ourselves to solidaritywith working and oppressed peoples in struggle across the globe, engaging with and supporting international resistance to capitalism, neo-liberalism and globalisation.

A socialist movement - that fights for the redistribution of wealth from big business and the millionaires to working class people andtheir families.

We call on everyone who shares our vision to join us.

Then a separate motion on organisation:

We agree that our new party will contest all eight list seats in the forthcoming Scottish Parliamentary elections, and will contest targeted council seats across Scotland.

We call on members, regions and branches of the SSP to disaffiliate from that broken organisation immediately and affiliate wholesale to the new party.

We resolve to launch a national campaign of rallies and public meetings across the country to sign up new members.

Name, constitution and program of the new party

The party will proceed for the time being under the working name of Solidarity – Scotland's Movement for Socialism.

We will hold a founding party conference in November to discuss our constitution and campaigning priorities. We further agree that the name of the new party will be decided by a One Member One Vote ballot of the membership in time for that conference.

This meeting resolves to set up a Steering Committee to plan launch rallies, deal with the media and to prepare a draft constitution and agenda for the founding conference. The Steering Committee shall also have responsibility for consulting with the membership and producing a shortlist of names and party symbols for consideration, and accepting as bona fide party bodies new branches, regional councils etc.

The interim Steering Committee shall consist of MSP's Rosemary Byrne and Tommy Sheridan, two individuals elected from each region (with an understanding that there will be regional flexibility on the way members are elected) plus two from each platform.

We further call upon the members to meet as soon as possible to organise regional meetings, branches where appropriate and other interim committees until we agree a constitution and democratic structures for the new party at the conference in November.

Nicaragua: Meet the new boss

Blame The Clash. Thanks to them recording an album called Sandinista! I became aware of the Nicaraguan revolution. In the eighties, I considered what happened in that country as the definitive response to the argument that all revolutions inevitably led to Stalinism. That in itself was an important step in my developing political awareness. I followed developments in the country avidly.

But sustained US efforts at destabilising the government led to economic hardship, and the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional lost popularity. In 1989, they lost the elections, and left power. Now former president Daniel Ortega seems set to hold the office once again.

This time, though, he is not the candidate of the FSLN alone. He has also been endorsed by the Partido Liberal Nacionalista. That’s right, the party of the dictator Anastasio Somoza, the dictator the Sandinista revolution overthrew. PLN chief Jaime Morales was two decades ago one of the leaders of the Contras.

What’s going on here, the article I've linked to doesn’t really explain. But that spinning sound you can here probably emanates from the tomb of Joe Strummer.

Labour and the Warwick Agreement: Rip it up and start again

It was encouraging to hear Derek Simpson argue over the weekend that the Blairite political project amounts to ‘a Tory agenda dressed up in Labour clothes’.

Some of us have been saying as much since 1994. But even if the Amicus leader is 12 years too tardy in reaching this conclusion, that mere fact that such a basic political truth no longer has to be uttered sotto voce in Labour circles does point to possible openings for socialists in the coming months.

Not that anyone is expecting Simpson to match his words with meaningful actions, of course. Our opportunities arise because the discontent being expressed at the top of the labour movement reflects even greater discontent at the base. With unions being asked to bail out New Labour financially, many activists will be asking what they are getting for their money.

Despite unbelievably stupid recent remarks from Francis Maude, there are few signs of any ‘pet policies’ on offer. Perhaps with an eye on these developments, Labour leadership contender John McDonnell is proposing an Orange Juice solution to New Labour’s failure to deliver on the Warwick Agreement. Rip it up and start again:

‘The reaction from trade unions should not be simply to voice criticisms of the policies but to work for a radical break with New Labour's programme of privatisation, flexible employment exploitation and anti trade union rights.

‘This requires the development of an alternative new Warwick Agreement setting out the programme trade unions want a real Labour government to pursue in power. Central to this Warwick Mark II programme should be the end of privatisation, the promotion of public ownership and public services, and the implementation of the Trade Union Freedom Bill.’

The call for ‘Warwick Mark II’ strikes me as an effective slogan. McDonnell’s supporters in Brighton have organised a fringe meeting featuring the man himself at this year’s TUC conference, which is planned for September 11. It will be interesting to see how well he goes down with the delegates.

New Labour: tough on pay

‘Tough choices’ need to be made to safeguard Britain’s stability, chancellor Gordon Brown writes in the Financial Times today. Sadly, as with any set of choices, there will be losers:

‘This year, to fight inflationary pressures, we have ensured that public sector pay awards have averaged 2.5 per cent, the lowest for a decade. For the coming year, I have told every department to go further and found all pay settlements on achieving our 2 per cent inflation target.

‘Toughness on pay is just part of a public sector reform programme, to release resources for national priorities, that also includes an 80,000 reduction in the civil service, £30bn ($15.8bn) of asset sales by 2010 and more stretching efficiency targets.’

There will also be beneficiaries, too:

‘Our reforms have allowed us to cut corporation tax from 33p to 30p in the pound and long-term capital gains tax from 40p to 10p, changes that we could afford and sustain.’

Remind me again. Which party is in office these days?

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Whatever happened to Neil Kinnock?

From Harold Wilson awarding the Beatles OBEs to Tony Blair inviting Noel Gallagher to Number Ten, Labour leaders have always seen rock 'n' roll as the key to the yoof vote.

But Neil Kinnock managed to get this simple tactic as badly wrong as he got most other things, as this 1982 clip from Top of the Pops underlines.

Instant nostalgia for fortysomethings. Instant political education for younger readers. And yes, that probably is how your mum and dad danced when they were courting.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Leaving Labour for the Liberal Democrats

Labour has lost around 200,000 members since Blair took over, so another few dozen will hardly be missed. Frankly, my dears, I doubt the Blairites give a damn:

‘Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett is facing defections from her local Labour Party over the Middle East crisis.

‘The Liberal Democrats say they expect 30 to 40 Labour members in Mrs Beckett's Derby South constituency to defect to them on Friday afternoon.

‘The defectors, who include some local Labour Party officials, are angry that the government refused to call for an immediate ceasefire in Lebanon.’

One of those departing explains the move like this:

‘Mohammed Rawail Peeno, who was chairman of the Arboretum branch of Derby's Labour Party, said he and the other defectors were protesting against the mishandling of the Lebanon crisis.

‘"When Margaret Beckett refused to back a ceasefire and instead sided with George Bush it was the breaking point for us," he said. ‘"New Labour have abandoned the beliefs that led me and thousands of others to join Labour in the first place."'

It’s not really clear from this quote exactly what those beliefs were. That rather depends on when the guy signed up, I suppose. But the implication is that the Lib-Dems now represent some sort of progressive alternative to Labour and the Tories. Personally I think that case is difficult to sustain.

I joined the Labour Party in 1981, on the political basis of agreeing with the political platform put forward by the Bennite left. The intellectual conversion to Marxism came a year or two later.

By the time I left in 1995, it was clear to me that Labour was finished even as a vehicle for the mildest variants of social democracy, let alone any brand of politics that presents a challenge to capitalism.

Every time New Labour boasts that it is the party of business, it is boasting about being the party of Rupert Murdoch, the party of profit and the market, the party of private greed above social provision.

Blair’s so-called ‘reforms’ are not reforms at all. They are retreats and concessions. Our prime minister is ‘courageous’ and ‘unbending’ when it comes to taking on the poor, the weak and the working class. For the rich, the strong and the powerful, he is happy to be meek, when not utterly sycophantic.

And, to quote my old mucker Paul Anderson from 2004:

‘Where the Lib-Dems differ from the government, their position is still either more explicitly egalitarian and redistributionist (top-up fees, council tax), more libertarian (asylum policy), more coherently democratic (electoral reform, the House of Lord, the European Union constitution) or more pacifist (the Iraq war).’

Yet are they a party democratic socialists can even offer a protest vote for, let alone join? Whatever the soft left propensities of most of the party’s activist base, who are probably well to the left of Blairism, I think not.

At the leadership level, the intellectually dominant trend is the Orange Book group, who are flirting with policies that go far beyond Alan Milburn’s wettest dreams.

Stripped of the jargon, they privately favour such ideas as scrapping income tax in favour of a flat tax system that would massively benefit the rich, and the privatisation and break up of the NHS in favour of a ‘social insurance model’.

Mohammed Rawail Peeno and his fellow defectors may have something of a shock coming to them.

UPDATE: Subsequent reports make it plain that the majority of those leaving are Muslims. It's noticeable they are not heading to Respect.

Wal-Mart and the Chinese Communist Party

Odd how the ongoing love affair between US multinationals and Chinese Stalinism is the key underpinning of the world economy today.

This blog has on several occasions pointed to the union-busting activities of Wal-Mart and its UK operation Asda. But while the GMB remain dangerous adversaries, the retailer is allowing the establishment of a Communist Party branch at its store in Shenyang.

The Financial Times take on this does not appear to be online yet. But the print edition of the paper observes:

‘The move underlines the convergence of interests between business and China’s communist party rulers.’

In fact, this story underlines the class nature of the Beijing regime more succinctly than an entire volume of Marxist theory ever could.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Good night and good luck

Word reaches me of a journalist stepping down from the editorship of a prestigious business magazine to take up a position with in Zurich with the wealth management arm of a major Swiss merchant bank. What’s it worth not to have me post those documents from that unfortunate faction fight to your new bosses in the proverbial plain paper envelope, comrade?

Francis Maude on the Labour-Union link

Cameron’s Conservatives are busily shredding one policy after another, in their increasingly frantic efforts to convince us they are no longer the Nasty Party.

But probably the one hang-up they are genetically incapable of ever overcoming is their gut hatred for the organised working class, and the idea that working people should have any kind of distinctive political voice whatsoever. Here’s the latest example:

Tory Chairman Francis Maude - pictured left - said: ‘Labour is now almost entirely dependent on the unions for funding. In return, they're getting pet policies and bungs with taxpayers' money.’

Don’t be silly, Mr Maude. What trade unions are ‘getting’ from New Labour is the maintenance of what Tony Blair himself happily admits are ‘the most restrictive on trade unions in the western world’. Pretty much unchanged from those introduced your lot in the eighties and nineties, in fact.

Ted Grant: 1913-2006

When I first got involved in socialist politics in the early 1980s, Ted Grant's Militant Tendency were the largest grouping on the British far left.

As a member of the Labour Party Young Socialists, I even flogged the paper a few times outside Whitechapel tube station. If I am entirely honest, the major reason I didn't sign up to the Millies was their prohibition on members smoking dope. Let's just say that, in those days, that was an issue for me.

So I picked the IMG instead, figuring that the politics were more or less the same, but I'd still be able to get stoned. Oh, and - although I now blush to admit that this should even have been a consideration - they had some pretty decent totty in the East London branch. Er ... that last bit should read 'commited young women class fighters', obviously. Hey, forgive me. I was only 20.

But I digress. Ted Grant has of course recently died, and I was genuinely saddened to read of his passing. Comrades may be interested to watch this short clip of his last speech to a gathering of the international tendency he built.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

McDonnell: why Labour is falling in the polls

Labour leadership contender John McDonnell explains why New Labour is nine points behind the Tories in an opinion poll published in the Guardian today. That’s a 19-year low, by the way:

‘This is just one poll but it adds further evidence to confim the trend of the 2005 general election, the 2006 local elections and other polls that more and more people are losing trust in Tony Blair and New Labour.

‘Labour Party members and the organisations affiliated to the party need to wake up fast to the fact that large numbers of people who have supported us and who have turned out to vote for us in past elections have lost trust in both Blair and New Labour.

‘This breakdown of trust is so fundamental and deep rooted that without sigificant change the party is drifting to loss of office and allowing the return of the Tories.

‘Support for New Labour is falling apart because its policies, particularly its international policies, are not just unpopular but also have meant that members of the public are increasingly feeling that they just can't believe a word the Prime Minister or any government minister or spokesperson tells them any more.

‘Only a radical break with New Labour will restore some basic trust in Labour. Simple changes of personnel in leadership positions won't be enough, especially as all of them - Brown, Reid, Johnson, Hain - have all been architects, advocates and loyal supporters of the existing policies.’

All of this is stating the bleedin’ obvious as far as this blog and presumably a hefty majority of its readers are concerned. I’d be interested in any feedback from Labour lefties on this one. It’s early days yet, but how is the campaign going? What are the plans for the conference season?

British business inside the Beltway

It’s not just British politicians that are bought and paid for by British companies. It seems that BAE is the 18th largest political donor in the US, giving more to the two major US parties than either Microsoft or ExxonMobil:

‘US subsidiaries of British companies have doled out about $3.7m in political contributions ahead of November's congressional election, with 68 per cent of the donations supporting Republican candidates, according to an analysis by the FT of figures compiled by Political Moneyline, a website that tracks political contributions.

‘Although GlaxoSmith-Kline, the UK drugmaker, technically ranks as the single biggest corporate donor to US candidates of all US subsidiaries of UK companies, the combined spending of two separate BAE political action committees - or pacs - outranks the drug company.

‘BAE, which disbursed about $439,499 to individual Republican candidates - compared with $232,500 to Democrats - also outspent some of the largest US companies, including ExxonMobil, the oil giant, Microsoft, the software maker, and Citigroup.

‘The three biggest beneficiaries of BAE's two political committees so far reflect the company's US ambitions and its place as one of the top 10 military contractors in the country.

‘The three candidates that have each received $20,000 from BAE's committees are Jerry Lewis, a California Republican who chairs the House appropriations committee; John Murtha, a decorated Vietnam war veteran who is a leading critic of the war in Iraq, also serves on the appropriations committee and is the top-ranking Democrat on the defence subcommittee; and Duncan Hunter, the chairman of the House armed services committee, who is one of staunchest supporters of protectionist legislation on Capitol Hill.

‘Glaxo has contributed a total of $531,213 in the campaign season so far - $376,627 of which was disbursed to Republican candidates - followed by the banking group HSBC, Rolls-Royce, the engine manufacturer, and oil group BP.’

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Political funding arrangements on both sides of the Atlantic are institutionally corrupt, in the same sense that the Metropolitan Police is institutionally racist.

‘What’s good for business’ isn’t necessarily what is good for the environment, or what is good for tens of millions of ordinary working people and their families. Yet at present, the business lobby effectively operates a monopoly in politics. As any good free marketeer should be able to tell you, that cannot be healthy for democracy.

What is needed is a healthy injection of competition from a mass party, funded by small donations from millions of ordinary members. You could call it … oh I dunno, a ‘Labour Party’ or something, perhaps.

Comments from US readers on the political track records of the beneficiaries of BAE largesse are more than welcome.

Labour Party: mass redundancies?

Labour’s financial crisis is serious stuff, according to today’s FT:

"It's a pretty drastic situation," said one senior Labour figure. "There are indications that Labour is looking to cut at least 40 per cent of its workforce as part of the restructuring programme and that's a horrible backdrop with which to go into party conference."

In fact, New Labour is reportedly so hard up it cannot afford to finance its next party political broadcast.

I suppose I should dig out that Kinnock quote about the grotesque chaos of a Labour Party – a Labour Party – handing out redundancy notices to its own workers because it has been unable to sell enough honours to wealthy businessmen. But that would cheap. Wouldn’t it?

Economic outlook: 'very late cycle'

As the joke goes, Trotskyists have correctly predicted 18 of the last three recessions. One of the biggest failings of the post-war British far left – and the Grant and Healy traditions surely stand out here – has been its propensity for catastrophism.

Year after year, perspectives documents were premised on the idea that, however well world capitalism appeared to be doing, a full-on slump was just around the corner. And that economic crisis would catapult tiny groups into the political big time.

Personally I blame the Old Man, at least in part, given all his talk of ‘the death agonies of capitalism’ in the TP. There is no obvious reason to disbelieve the proposition that the capitalist mode of production is still capable of expansion for decades ahead.

That doesn’t mean there will not be downturns, however, and I suspect we shall be seeing one in 2007. On that note, here’s a couple of quotable quotes from the FT this morning. The first assessment comes from Neil Mellor, currencies strategist at the Bank of New York.

"An abundance of economic data out of the US last week produced evidence of weaker than expected inflation, weakening housing starts, declining wage growth, disappointing industrial production, ebbing consumer sentiment and falling leading indicators."

David Rosenberg, North American economist at Merrill Lynch, pitches in with the claim that markets might still be too optimistic on the US economic outlook.

He said he was concerned that the cycle of expansion was in a later stage than acknowledged by the consensus, which pegged the odds of a "hard landing" at 27 per cent. In contrast, Merrill's range of models indicated odds as low as 40 per cent and as high as 80 per cent.

"Practically every indicator at our disposal tells us we're very late-cycle, and the historical record strongly suggests the next wave after the Fed has inverted the yield curve is either a hard landing or a very bumpy soft landing," he said.

"The average business expansion over the past seven decades averaged 65 months in length and we're now in month 56."

Monday, August 21, 2006

Labour Party: financial crisis

They sold all those peerages. But somehow New Labour still can’t make ends meet. This from the Daily Telegraph this morning:

Jobs, pay fears as Labour's debts pile up
By Katherine Griffiths and Christopher Hope

Labour insiders fear that the party is facing a cash crisis so serious that it may not be able to pay its 230 employees next month.

In addition, the high-value fund-raising department at the heart of the loans for peerages scandal is to be disbanded and several of its key employees will be made redundant.

The party is also understood to be looking for voluntary redundancies among staff at its northern regional office in Newcastle to cut costs.

Some sources suggested that the party was considering a £1,000-a-head whip-round among its MPs or leaning on unions such as Unison to provide more money.

The party is now 'woefully insolvent', a chartered accountant tells the Torygraph.

As an expert commentator on Labour Party finances, I’ll hopefully have thought of something clever to say about all this after returning from a ‘working lunch’. Check back about four. In the meantime … any thoughts, kids?

Friday, August 18, 2006

Saudi fighter deal: embarassed silences on the left

New Labour backed Bush’s invasion of Iraq because of its principled concern to bring about democracy in the Middle East. At least that’s what we are told by the pro-war left and the Euston Manifesto crowd.

So surely they must be feeling that little bit puzzled as to why the Ministry of Defence has given permission for the sale of 72 Eurofighter fighter jets to Saudi Arabia, easily one of the most odious tyrannies on earth?

British company BAE will assemble the planes and pocket most of £10bn proceeds.

This would be the ideal opportunity for Respect to rush in and condemn the deal. But given that their only MP admits that past campaigning activities have been funded by the House of Saud, I guess that development is rather unlikely, too.

Finally, the Tories would do well to keep their traps shut on this one. Cameron has accepted a six-figure donation from the wife of a Saudi arms dealer. And suggestions that Mark Thatcher took kickbacks from an early BAE deal with the Saudis have never been refuted.

Sheridan calls for new party

I suppose this was inevitable really. Still sad, though.

Tommy Sheridan has signalled he intends to sever his ties with the Scottish Socialists and form a new party.

The Glasgow MSP last night said the eight-year-old party he helped form and once led seemed to have "reached its historical limits" and he thought "a new movement" could best carry on the socialist struggle.

And thanks to the reader who sent me a four-page email arguing why I should be backing the SSP's United Left faction. I'm clearly going to have to think this one over yet again.

Anybody got any assessment of the possibilities for Sheridan joining forces with Galloway?

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Alexei Sayle: I hate Blair more than Thatcher

There’s only one objective criterion you really use to rate a comedian. Does he or she make you laugh, or not? On that basis, I have always been ready to forgive Alexei Sayle his politics, in either their pro-Albanian Maoist or repentant former tankie variants.

And given this remark in an interview with the Daily Telegraph today, it seems he’s still pretty much on the hard left:

‘With Thatcher, we felt that she wasn't our fault. New Labour was about fairness and has turned out to be as corrupt if not more so, and more tied to the American military machine than Thatcher was. I feel a great deal more hatred for Blair than I ever felt for Thatcher.’

So readers … any opinions on the merits of Sayle as a funnyman? And which do you hate more - Maggie or Tony?

Venezuela: banking on the revolution

The Financial Times today reports on how the banking sector is faring in ‘revolutionary’ Venezuela. The headline tells you much of what you need to know:

Venezuelan bankers get rich from Chávez's revolution

Bankers traditionally face firing squads in times of revolution. But in Venezuela, they are having a party.

Dirán Sarkissián, president of the local subsidiary of Stanford Bank, a US bank with offshore operations based on the Caribbean island of Antigua, is proud of his rapidly lengthening list of high-net-worth customers who are enjoying President Hugo Chávez's self-styled "Bolivarian Revolution".

"As far as growth is concerned we're very happy," says Mr Sarkissián. That might be an understatement. Deposits have increased by 600 per cent to $106m (£57m, €84m) in the year since the boutique bank opened for business in Caracas …

Venezuela's abundance of usually limitless "black" credit cards would seem to sit uncomfortably with Mr Chávez's fiery anti-capitalist rhetoric and his occasional threats to jail bankers …

… So far, rather than nationalise banks, the "revolutionary" distribution of oil money has spawned wealthy individuals who are increasingly making Caracas a magnet for Swiss and other international bankers. And it is not just private bankers who are banking on the revolution.

Francisco Faraco, a banking consultant, says local commercial banks are enjoying their most profitable times ever under Mr Chávez: "Venezuelan banks have not seen a contraction during a single quarter since 2003."

In 2002, when oil prices were low and the economy was in deep recession, the Chávez administration issued billions of dollars' worth of high-yielding domestic debt that was lapped up by the banks. Double-digit interest rate margins left the country's banks among the most profitable in Latin America.

But as oil prices have since soared, government spending has risen by 70 per cent and the economy has grown rapidly - by 17.9 per cent in 2004 and 9.3 per cent last year. Spending and exchange controls have led to a big expansion of liquidity and stoked demand for credit …

In recent months the government has bought $3.6bn of Argentine bonds, the bulk of which it has sold at the official bolívar exchange rate to local banks to absorb excess liquidity. In turn, the banks resell the bonds and profit by buying bolívars at a tolerated, higher black market rate.

How much the banks earn from the arbitrage trades is unclear, as short-term operations do not appear on their balance sheets. But some economists estimate that for some banks they could represent the largest item of income.

"Thanks to some bankers' warm relationship with the government, banks in Venezuela have been doing extremely well, in fact better than what their official balance sheets suggest," says Mr García …"

In fairness, the article does end by quoting a couple of analysts who believe that the good times for Venezuelan bankers could stop rolling fairly soon, especially if Chávez goes ahead with proposals to regulate deposit and lending rates.

Nevertheless, it does provide food for thought for those on the left, such as the Socialist Appeal group, who are almost uncritical in their assessment of that country.

Don’t get me wrong. I'm not as negative as the likes of the AWL on this issue. I do think that in so far as the Chávez/Castro/Morales axis does provide a concrete alternative model to Latin American neoliberalism, the western left should extend a degree of critical support. The danger comes in painting radical nationalism red.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

We are not all Hezbollah

Interesting insight from international relations consultancy [subscription required, and more than worth it], in an article that pointed out how easily British intelligence was able to round up the alleged airline bomb plotters:

'The vanguard of militant Islamism appears to have passed from Sunni/Wahhabi al Qaeda to Shiite Iran and Hezbollah. It is Iran that is shaping Western policies on the Middle East, and Hezbollah who is directly engaged with Israel. Al Qaeda, in contrast, appears unable to do significantly more than issue snazzy videos.'

And with the US and Britain already fully committed military, Tehran appears to enjoy a strong hand.

Meanwhile, the left will remain divided between a majority that seeks to prettify - and even to justify - the Iranian regime as somehow progressive, and a small minority that will combine opposition to imperialism and solidarity with the struggles of the Iranian working class.

Scottish Socialist Party: majority statement

Tommy Sheridan and his supporters have this to say on developments in the Scottish Socialist Party in the wake of his dramatic libel trial victory.

For the record, the developments of the past few weeks have caused me to revise my earlier assessment. As far as I can judge thinks from London, I now tend to agree with his critique of the SSP leadership majority.

For the democratic renewal of the Scottish Socialist Party.

Dear Comrade and Friend,

The SSP has reached a crossroads.The issues raised by Comrade Tommy Sheridan's titanic victory over the gutter rag News of the World have underscored a number of political differences, outlook and methodologies within the SSP that have been increasingly apparent over the lastfew years.

The collaboration with the scabs of News International during the trial by leading 'comrades' of the now declared 'United Left' faction, and their camp followers, saw a new and saddening low reached in Scottish socialist politics.

These actions were a shameful and colossal misjudgement from any point of viewof socialist solidarity. Let us never forget that the party NC voted overwhelmingly in 2004 to respect Tommy's right to take his action, to keep his confidentiality and to keep the party out of the trial.

It was the actions of the cabal, in first of all taking and keeping a dodgy minute of the 9th November 2004, and then advertising its existence to the media that saw the party dragged into what shouldhave been, in essence, a private action.

The Executive of the SSP is now a redundant body until we can elect a newleadership in October. The EC ignored both the spirit and the letterof the decision by the Emergency National Council of the party to give Tommy "100 % political support" in his fight against the News of the World.

We understand the ULN faction have distributed the illegitimate 'minute' of 9th November to party members,together with a sectarian anti-Sheridan rant disguised as official party documentation. We call on genuine socialists to treat this documentwith the contempt it deserves.

Despite their inevitable protestations to the contrary, the ULN has been a centralising and bureaucratising tendency. It became clear in the course ofTommy's defamation trial that these individuals met and caucused outwith the party structures prior to Executive Committee [meetings] of the party -including preparing the stage managing of the meeting which saw Tommy Sheridan resign as Convenor of our party.

The time has come to take our party back! SSPMajority arose from hundreds of rank and file activists pledging their fullsupport to Tommy Sheridan in his battle with News International. It is not aplatform, a faction, or a network, but exactly what it says on the tin- the majority ofSSP members who are heartily sick of the antics of this minority grouping and who now want to see the democratic renewal of the Scottish Socialist Party in time to fight as an effective political force for working people and theirfamilies at next year's Scottish Parliamentary and council elections.

The signatories to this Open Letter propose to harness that democratic, renewing spirit and to utilise the SSP Majority blog and e-mail network to build for National Council in August and Party Conference in October. We call on all members and branches to:

• Take our People not Profits campaign, with its ten key demands outinto the streets, workplaces and communities over the next period, campaigning proudly in the best traditions of the SSP

• Demand the immediate resignation from their positions of all partyworkers who co-operated and collaborated with the NOTW and their lawyers, thereby ignoring the clear will of the party as expressed at our EmergencyNational Council of 28th May

• Ensure all other decisions of that Council are upheld

• Defend the right of all party members to a private life, without prurient party judgement or interference

• Offer the hand of friendship and reconciliation to those party members whohave been genuinely politically mislead or misinformed by theposturings of the ULN faction (declared and undeclared) and who now want to work withthe majority to reunify and build a broad, open party. It is not tolate forthose who made mistakes for reasons they believed to be genuine to return to the fold

• Organise Majority supporting delegations both to the National Council on the 27th August, and for Conference in October

• Campaign for the de-selection from the Executive, and all key partypositions, of ULN members and co-travellers, and for the election of SSP Majority signatories and supporters at the first available opportunity. Only by taking vigorous and decisive action now can the SSP be putfirmly back ontrack, and once again become a potential mass pole of attraction forworkingpeople and socialist politics in Scotland and internationally.

Tommy Sheridan MSP
Rosemary Byrne TvISP
Steve Arnott Highlands and Islands
Mike Gonzalez SW Platform, EC
Penny Howard SW Platform, EC
Sinead Daty CWI Platform, EC
Philip Stott CWI Platform
John Aberdein Author and activist
Anne Macleod Highlands and Islands
GUI Hubbard SW Platform, EC
Jim Walls TGWU Convener, Opencast Miners Scotland
Alan Brown NEC PCS, Vice-President DWP (personal capacity)
Janice Godrich CWI Platform


Meanwhile, you can read the observations fo erstwhile Communist David Aaronovitch - a man who admits he would consider voting for Cameron's Conservatives - here. Amazing how these former student politicians remain obsessed with the far left.

Ruth Kelly vs religious extremism

New Labour has unveiled the identity of its chosen supremo in the struggle against religious extremism. Ladies and gentlemen, will you big it up for ... Ruth Kelly.

Such an appointment defies satire. Ms K, after all, is a member of the far right Catholic sect Opus Dei, founded by a sympathiser of Franco's fascist administration in Spain.

Many of its adherents practice self-flagellation, although our Ruthie refuses to specify whether or not she goes in for that sort of stuff.

Some might say that such affiliations make her less than ideal for the task. Other OD members have recently faced accusations of Islamophobia, for instance.

And according to one book on the group:

'Opus Dei’s command council runs an immense intelligence network and a vast multinational conglomerate, preparing for what the organisation regard as Christendom’s inevitable showdown with radical Islam.'

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Remember kids ...

If you use, back up your template. Otherwise, it could get corrupted, like mine did today. As a result, I've lost a set of links it took months to build up, and all the comments made in Haloscan, too.

commenting and trackback have been added to this blog.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Castro: cult of personality

If there has been a military coup in Cuba - as Christopher Hitchens and others maintain - then military coups are not as much fun as they appear to be in newsreel footage.

As I mentioned in my last post, I did see a number of troops in the main tourist area last weekend. Since then ... nothing. No tanks in the streets. No distant sounds of artillery fire. I feel cheated.

So instead, let me share with you a couple of examples of the clear devotion the Cuban people for el comandante, as published in Granma - the only available newspaper - this week. On Thursday, Atilio A Boron gave us his perspective on the Cuban revolution, adding:

'Fidel is the personification of this extraordinary achievement. He is Spartacus triumphant, who defeated the American Rome, the unyielding Quixote who synthesises the clairvoyance of Marti, the heroism of Che and the iron will of Ignacio de Loyola.'

Some guy, then. Yesterday, a bunch of Cuban orphans saw their letter to FC published on page one, under the headline 'We have confidence in your unwavering spirit'. This is how they see the man:

'We lost our fathers when we were very small ... but we have always felt by our side a greater Father, the father of all Cuban revolutionaries. From you we have always received attention, affection and the example of an irreproachable revolutionary.'

See WaPo for the official Washington take.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Update from Havana

Things are getting heavier here. Last night I saw troops on the streets of Habana Vieja. Granted, they were unarmed. But they were in uniform, and conspicuous by their numbers. I think most of the population got the message.

Despite the media black-out, increasing numbers of Cubans have heard the rumour that FC has diet. But most seem to write it off as propaganda.

Interesting chat in a bar last night with a guy who insisted that Cubans support socialism, but want democracy with it. Mind you, he went on to spoil his chances of being designated an 'unconscious Trotskyist' in the annual Pablo Memorial Awards by immediately thereafter offering to pimp any chica in the room that caught my eye.

Meanwhile, I have sent many emails of the last week, but have had no responses. I don't know if they are getting through OK or not. Apologies to those expecting to hear from me.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Havana: all quiet on the streets

For the last three weeks, I have been relying on the Cuban media for information. No foreign newspapers are available anywhere at any price, and my internet access has been sporadic. For all I know, there could have been a small nuclear war somewhere, without me hearing a thing about it.

So thanks to the commenters on the last post, who have alerted me to the rumours that FC has kicked the bucket. Some sources online even suggest that a military coup may be in the offing.

All I can add here is that life in Havana is absolutely unchanged since last Sunday's dramatic announcement over el comandante's health. No tanks on the streets or anything, and the population is going about its business as ever.

Hope there isn't a coup this weekend. It would rather spoil my sightseeing plans.

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