Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Twenty years of Fergie

Few who attended the Division One match between Oxford United and Manchester United twenty years ago this week (myself included), could have predicted that they were witnessing the start of a new era in English football.
Especially as Oxford eased to a 2-0 victory to leave their opponents firmly entrenched in the relegation zone.
Man United's new manager, despite losing his first match in charge, was up-beat in the post- match press conference. "We'll work at it. We'll get things right," he promised. He certainly kept his word.
Here's my assessment of Sir Alex Ferguson's twenty years at Old Trafford, from today's First Post.
http://www.thefirstpost.co.uk/index.php?menuID=2&subID=1054

Stick to the stage, dear boy.....

Noted thespian Jeremy Irons regurgitates all the old, tired anti-capital punishment chestnuts in his Times Thunderer column today. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,3284-2429214,00.html
While slipping in the compulsory reference to Derek Bentley, (now that it's been proved beyond any doubt that James Hanratty, that other cause celebre of the abolitionists WAS guilty)- he neglects to mention that thanks to DNA referencing, the chances of executing the wrong person are now around 1 billion to one.
He also claims that "in the US, executions and high murder rates go hand in hand"- when in fact strong evidence exists to show a direct correlation between the use of capital punishment and a decline in murder rates.
Irons also claims that capital punishment of murderers "appears to lead to a lowering of the threshold of general respect for life." Is he seriously suggesting that "general respect for life" is higher in Britain today than it was back in the 1950s, when we still executed our murderers? Our rapidly spiralling homicide rate strongly suggests otherwise.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

He doesn't just talk rubbish, he is rubbish

We always knew that the self-regarding Environment Minister (and former Minister at the Foreign Office), Ben Bradshaw, has a tendency to talk rubbish. But as the Mail on Sunday disclosed today, he's a pretty rubbishy guy all round.

Word Service interview, 23rd March 2003
Is the British Government's war aim based on regime change, weapons or any other motive?

Ben Bradshaw: "The British Government is totally consistent in this. We have based our justification on international law and UN resolutions on Saddam's illegal possession of weapons of mass destruction.

What will the UK Government do if you do not find any weapons of mass destruction?

Ben Bradshaw: "I'm very confident that we will [find weapons of mass destruction]

What do you say to the charge that the current actions of the Coalition are destroying the UN?
Ben Bradshaw: "I think there's a problem with the United Nations Security Council.We had the fascist dictator Milosevic in the Balkans running rampage for many years with the UN doing nothing".

On Monday 23rd October 2006, Ben Bradshaw told BBC Radio 4's You And Yours programme:

"If local councils are going to the trouble of making it easier for people by providing a kerbside recycling collection service, it really is rather irresponsible of people to abuse that service or not to use it.
Not only are they contributing to climate change unnecessarily but they are increasing the council tax bills of their neighbours. By failing to recycle they are increasing their local authority's costs and therefore putting pressure on council tax bills of all the other people who are acting responsibly."

Last Thursday, two white sacks left outside the Minister's home contained no fewer than 17 items that should have been recycled. Two days earlier, two orange sacks contained numerous non-recyclable items.
http://www.mailonsunday.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/news.html?in_article_id=413188&in_page_id=1770

Friday, October 27, 2006

Today's Perle Nominee: Andrew Roberts

No, not the fiery West Indies fast bowler of the 1970s, but the man who is to history what Tommy Cooper was to magic. Andrew is the undisputed winner of The Most Stupid Historical Analogy Award for his attempts to compare the "threat" posed by Saddam Hussein's Iraq, with its mitten-wearing Dads Army and one and a half Scuds, to that posed by the Third Reich at its terrible peak. Good luck with your new book and tv series, Andrew.

http://hnn.us/comments/8816.html#ROBERTS
February 2003.

"This is not another Suez crisis, for the obvious and straightforward reasons that the west is not today trying to recapture anything for itself, that Egypt posed no military threat to the Nato allies in 1956 and that the British government is pursuing its ends openly through the UN, at least initially, rather than through collusion. Moreover, the people of Egypt were fully in support of Nasser, whereas the moment a US-led invasion of Iraq is successful, the full extent of the Iraqi people's fear and hatred of Saddam will immediately become evident.

No, the situation is far closer to the late 1930s, when a fascist dictator stealthily acquired weapons of mass destruction - the Luftwaffe's bombing arm - and attempted to acquire nuclear weapons, too.
For Churchill, his apotheosis came in 1940; for Tony Blair, it will come when Iraq is successfully invaded and hundreds of weapons of mass destruction are unearthed from where they have been hidden by Saddam's henchmen.


They must have hidden them pretty well, Andrew........

No civil liberties for pipe-smokers

A couple of months back Venichka, one of the few sane commenters on the webblog 'Harry's Place', put up a post on the Pipe Club of Beirut and the club's sterling efforts to keep proceedings going as normal as possible during the Israeli bombardment.
http://hurryupharry.bloghouse.net/archives/2006/08/10/
briars_under_fire.php
Back home, pipe smokers face not the bombs of the Israeli air force- but Patricia Hewitt's draconian ban on smoking in public places, due to come into force next summer. The ban means that pipe smoking contests, such as the Norfolk Pipe Club's annual championship, which attracts smokers from France, Belgium and the Netherlands, will most probably be consigned to history. Nice work from a politician who was once an officer for the National Council of Civil Liberties.
http://www.shortnews.com/start.cfm?id=57518&sort=1&sparte=4
Former winner Keith Garrard said: "We are looking at alternatives like having an open sided marquee but in all likelihood it looks like this will be the last competition. I think the ban is over the top... we can't go outside and have a quick smoke."

"Over the top" is expressing it far too mildly, Keith. "Fascistic" would be a far better word.


How we know the war lobby lied over WMD

Stephen Pollard and Melanie Phillips, in common with other supporters of the Iraq war, would like us to believe that Bush and Blair honestly believed Iraq possessed WMD.
There's only one word which can be said in response to their claim. (Here's a clue: it rhymes with 'Rollocks'.)
Although we'll never find a signed memo from either Bush or Blair saying "Of course I know Iraq doesn't have WMD, but we've got to invent something," there is neverthless incontrovertible evidence that both men were lying. Namely, that having read the various dossiers and intelligence reports, they took our countries to war. Here's my 2004 piece from The Australian.

THE AUSTRALIAN:
We know the war lobby lied
5th February 2004

It really is very simple.‘Blame the spooks’ is now the official line of those who took us to war. Our political leaders didn’t wish to attack Iraq, but faced with such alarming intelligence reports of the threat Saddam posed, they had no other option. There is however one important and much overlooked point that gives the lie to this all-too convenient interpretation of events. The strongest and most irrefutable evidence that the coalition leaders did not believe the information contained in the hastily cobbled together ‘dossiers’, is the very fact that having read them, they then went to war.

Let’s remind ourselves of some of the information the intelligence reports contained. They included claims that the Iraqi military was ‘able to deploy chemical or biological weapons within 45 minutes of an order’ and that Saddam’s WMD programme was ‘active, detailed and running’. Imagine for a moment you are either George Bush, Tony Blair or John Howard reading these reports. Why on earth would you then do the one thing which would provoke Iraq to use its deadly weapons ? Had the Coalition really believed Iraq could ‘deliver chemical and biological weapons using an extensive range of artillery shells, free fall bombs, sprayers and ballistic missiles’ as the British dossier of September 24th 2002 claimed, then we would have reasonably expected that at the first sign of attack on his country Saddam would have ordered some pretty serious delivering. The coalition could, if the dossier claims were true, have expected to incur losses in the thousands with many more seriously injured. Are we expected to believe that our political leaders, would have countenanced such casualties and the political fall-out which would follow ?

The war party’s argument, put around in the first weeks of hostilities, that the most demonised dictator of modern times had not used his WMD for fear of opprobrium is patently absurd, though not quite as absurd as the one that the one that he may have destroyed them just before the invasion. If Saddam wasn’t going to use his WMD when attacked, then when on earth would he have used them ? History teaches us that countries attack others only when they are convinced of their opponent’s relative weakness. This is why Mussolini bombed Abyssinia and Hitler marched into Poland. It is why Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, and why Belgrade was blitzed in 1999. Bush, Blair and Howard would now have us believe that for the first time in history, a set of countries went to war last year because of an enemy’s military strength.

For what the Coalition really thought of the Iraqi ‘threat’, we get a truer picture from Colin Powell’s speech, in Egypt in 2001, when he declared that. ‘He (Saddam) has not developed any significant capability with regard to WMD. He is unable to project conventional power against his neighbours’.Saddam was attacked not because Bush, Blair and Howard thought he had WMD, but because they were pretty damn sure that he didn’t.

The inescapable lesson of the last twelve months, for anyone who still doubted it, is that deterrence works. Iraq, militarily emaciated after years of weapons inspections and sanctions, got Shock and Awe. North Korea, meanwhile, with its self-declared uranium enrichment programme gets offers of ‘dialogue’ and promises of further aid. Pat Buchanan, veteran Cold War warrior and authentic voice of hard-core U.S. conservatism, recommends all countries wanting the respect of Uncle Sam ‘to get the bomb’. Kim Jong II listened to his advice and Pyongyang is spared the B52s. Saddam didn’t and his country lies in ruins.

Here’s to the global proliferation of WMD. Then and only then might we get some real and lasting peace.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Today's Perler Nominee: William Shawcross

Whatever happened to dear William Shawcross? In the months leading up to the invasion of Iraq, it was almost impossible to turn on any television channel and not see the great sage gravely informing us of the mortal threat posed by Saddam Hussein and his Weapons of Mass Destruction. Now, strangely, he is nowhere to be seen. I wonder where he could have got to?

Here are two Shawcross gems, strong contenders I believe for a 'Perle' Award. The first is from the Guardian in February 2003. The second was written a year later, when Saddam's deadly WMD- yes, the ones we were told were so "'integral to his regime", still hadn't been found.........

http://observer.guardian.co.uk/iraq/story/0,,901134,00.html
"the reality to remember is that Saddam will never voluntarily give up his weapons of mass destruction (WMD) as resolution 1441 and 16 other resolutions demand. They are integral to his sense of his regime. His record shows that he considers no cost too high to retain his biological, chemical and whatever exists of his nuclear capability. .....WMD are tied into his sense of survival and his sense of destiny.......
he (Saddam) saw his own survival as a victory over his enemies. Equally victorious has been his campaign to keep his WMD for the 12 years."

http://politics.guardian.co.uk/iraq/comment/0,12956,979085,00.html
"I am surprised that we have not yet found his WMD. But remember that they were always well hidden in the 1990s. I believe that the record and subsequent investigations will show that the government and the intelligence agencies acted properly in the face of a deadly, if unquantifiable, threat from Saddam."

UPDATE: In his own, kindly, inimitable way our good friend Stephen Pollard informs us that The Shawcross has been spotted, and has been spouting words of wisdom on the future of Iraq in the latest edition of The Spectator. Regarding face transplants Stephen, I'm sure when your Teofilo/Finsceal Beo double comes in, you'll be the first in the queue.

http://www.stephenpollard.net/003008.html



Shameless Stephen

What do you call a freelance journalist, who, in the course of one day, posts two creepy, arse-licking links to pieces written by the assistant editor and the comment editor of the newspaper which from time to time commissions him?
Arse-licker of the year? Shameless careerist? Or merely Stephen Pollard.
Come on Stephen, this is pathetic even by your standards.
http://www.stephenpollard.net/003004.html
http://www.stephenpollard.net/003006.html

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Today's Perler Nominee: Anne Applebaum

Today's nominee for a Perle award is the esteemed Washington Post columnist, and 24-7 Cold War Warrior Ms Anne Applebaum.
Here's some classic pre-invasion Applebaum from the Washington Post, when she was replying to readers' questions about the Iraqi 'crisis'. A 'crisis' artificially created in the offices of the American Enterprise Institute, where, surprise, surpise, Ms Applebaum's husband, Radek Sikorski, now Polish Defence Minister, was working as 'Executive Director' of the 'New Atlantic Initiative. Small world, isn't it!

http://discuss.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/zforum/03/sp_world_applebaum020603.htm

Anne Applebaum: “I still don't understand what the Germans propose to do about Saddam Hussein's weapons: send in more inspectors, so that the inspectors can be deceived? impose more sanctions, so more Iraqi children will starve?

Lehi, Utah: Do France, Germany, and other nations which apparently oppose the U.S.-British position on Iraq, have any concern that if war comes and massive proof of Iraqi WMD is found, it will leave a stain on their credibility on such issues?

Anne Applebaum: It's a good question - I would think it would worry them. France and Germany do risk being completely disqualified as serious members of the international commmunity. Inspections haven't worked - that is, they haven't prevented Iraq from developing weapons.

Really, Anne? I suppose the weapons that Iraq 'developed' are still buried in the desert, or were moved with the connivance of those dastardly Syrians/Iranians? And France and Germany really have been "completely disqualified as serious members of the international community" for not joining in in the invasion haven't they?

If, like me, you're keen to find out whether Ms Applebaum still feels aggrieved at the Franco-German stance towards Saddam's 'weapons', this most perspicacious of foreign policy experts can be contacted via email at applebaumanne@washpost.com

Monday, October 23, 2006

If this had happened in Belarus.......

"Early today, police expelled hundreds of anti-government protesters from the square. Police had beaten some of them, including women and elderly people, with rubber batons, leaving some people with head injuries……..
riot police fired rubber bullets and water canons at the protesters.The ambulance service said 20-25 people had been injured. "


The above happened today in 'democratic' and 'free' Hungary, fully paid up member of EU and NATO. Can't wait for the words of condemnation from Condoleeza Rice and the EU.........

Introducing: The Perlers

Hollywood has the Oscars. The theatre has the Oliviers. Horse Racing has the Lesters.
To celebrate this blog's first anniversary, I proudly introduce a new, annual award: The Perlers- for the most ludicrous justifications for military action and intervening in other country's internal affairs.
The first category is : "Most Way-Out Prediction about the Iraq war." As can be expected, competition is very intense for this award. Over the next few days I'll be showcasing the work of some of the nominees, starting today with the Independent's Boy Wonder journalist Johann Hari, and a prediction he made about the conflict in January 2003.

http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2003/01/17/1042520777122.html
We do not need President Bush's dangerous arguments about "pre-emptive action" to justify this war. Nor do we need to have the smoking gun of WMD. All we need are the humanitarian arguments we used during the Kosovo conflict to remove the monstrous Slobodan Milosevic - and this time, we can act in the certain (rather than probable) knowledge that the people being tyrannised will be cheering us on.

Nothing like certainty is there, Johann?

Hungarian legacy

Today is the 50th anniversary of the Hungarian uprising. Here’s an article by my wife Zsuzsanna, from today’s Morning Star, (a revised version of an earlier Guardian piece), on why the uprising, popularly portrayed as a defeat, was in fact a victory.

http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/index2.php/ex/examples/features
ZSUZSANNA CLARK lived under communism in Hungary and has witnessed the effects of capitalism. It isn't progress, she argues.

When people ask me what it was like growing up in Hungary in the 1970s and 80s, many people expect to hear tales of secret police, bread queues and other nasty manifestations of life in a one-party state. They are invariably disappointed when I tell them that the reality was quite different and that communist Hungary, far from being hell on earth, was in fact a very good place in which to live.

Viktor Orban, the conservative politician and staunch anti-communist has described my generation - those whose fate was sealed by the "failure" of the 1956 uprising - as "the lost generation". But what pray, Mr Orban was lost to us? Drugs, social breakdown and Thatcherism? Hungarians like myself, who grew up in the years of "goulash communism", were actually the lucky ones. Popularly portrayed in the west as a heroic defeat, the Hungarian uprising was in fact nothing of the sort. The shockwaves of 1956 bought home to the communist leadership that they could only consolidate their position by making our lives more tolerable. Stalinism was out and "Kadarism" - a more liberal brand of communism (named after its architect, Janos Kadar)- was in.

Instead of a list of achievements in health, education, transport and welfare, let me offer some personal observations on what living under “goulash communism” was really like. What I remember most was the overriding sense of community and solidarity, a spirit I find sadly lacking in my adopted Britain and indeed whenever I go back to Hungary today. With minimal differences in income and material goods, people really were judged on what they were like as individuals and not on what they owned.

Anti-communists may sneer at such movements as the Young Pioneers, which sought to involve young people in a wide range of community activities, but they reflected an ambition to build a cohesive society - in contrast to the atomisation of most "advanced" nations today. I was proud to be a Pioneer; contrary to popular belief, we did not spend all our time sitting round camp-fires singing songs in praise of Lenin, but instead learned valuable life skills in social interaction and building friendships.

I was also privileged to be bought up in a society where the government understood the value of education and culture. Before the war, in the Hungary idolised by snobbish, reactionary writers like Sandor Marai, secondary education was the preserve of the wealthy classes. My mother and father had to leave school at 11; under the Kadar regime, they were given a second chance to resume their studies as adults. Communism opened up new opportunities for people of my background and led to a huge increase in social mobility.

A corollary of the government's education policy was its commitment to the arts. Again, the emphasis was on bringing the maximum benefit to the largest number of people, and not just the wealthy in Budapest. Theatres, opera houses and concert halls were all heavily subsidised, bringing prices down to a level everyone could afford. The government opened up "cultural houses" in every town and village, so that provincially based working class people, like my parents, could have easy access to the arts.

Book publishing was similarly supported, so that prices remained low and bookshops proliferated. With 1 forint (1.5p) editions of a wide range of classic works available, reading became a national obsession.

Now, 17 years after "regime change", much of this cultural heritage has been destroyed. Museums, theatres and galleries have had to sink or swim in the new economic "realism". As ticket subsidies have been withdrawn, once again it is only the rich (and tourists) who can afford to go to the opera. Hundreds of smaller art cinemas have been forced to close, while the big Hollywood multiplexes move in. Television has dumbed down, too. When I was a teenager, Saturday night prime time meant a Jules Verne adventure, a poetry recital and a Chekhov drama; now it means the same dreary diet of game shows and violent American action films as in Britain.

Reform politicans sarcastically refer to Kadar's "velvet prison", yet they have surely created a prison of their own, where large sections of the population have been sold to the foreign-owned multinationals, which control 70% of the nation's production and threaten to pull out of the country if wages or workers' rights are improved. My best friend's husband works for such a company, and tells how visits to the toilet are strictly timed and taking a full lunch break is seen as showing lack of commitment to the firm. It's all a far cry from the paternalistic state-owned companies of 20 years ago, with their nurseries, subsidised canteens, holiday homes and free sports facilities.

Communism in Hungary certainly had a downside. While trips to other socialist countries were unrestricted, travel to the west was problematic. Few Hungarians enjoyed the compulsory Russian lessons. There were petty restrictions and unnecessary layers of bureaucracy. Yet despite all of this, I firmly believe that, taken as a whole, the positives outweighed the negatives.

Today Hungarians have the theoretical right to travel to the west whenever they like, yet the fall in real wages has been so dramatic that few of them can now afford even to go to Lake Balaton. The "patriotic" politicians who shouted so loudly about Hungary's "occupation" by a foreign power under communism, are now strangely silent when the country is effectively controlled by New York based financial institutions and un-elected bureaucrats in Brussels.

As a young adult in Hungary, I grew accustomed to a diet of news stories about the "imperialist" west and its wicked plans for global domination and control of the world's resources. We were all aware that this was the official party line and so its effectiveness as propaganda was limited. Now, more than 15 years on, with the US (and Germany) having connived in the break-up of Yugoslavia, invaded Afghanistan and launched a vicious and deceitful war against Iraq in order to extend their hegemony in the Middle East, it is surely obvious that everything we were told about western intentions was true.

Cowboy George and his faithful side-kick Tony tell us that we‘re either with them or we’re with the terrorists. But there is an alternative. I know, because I was there.

ZSUZSANNA CLARK

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Burning Issue

From J.A.McGrath's 'Talking Racing' column in the Daily Telegraph:

John Francome was in fine form at the Cheltenham press conference earlier this week, relating the story of Tony Evans, the new top jockey at Nigel Twiston-Davies' stable, near Naunton, Gloucestershire, who felt he should ring an owner in the yard, who had recently lost his wife, to extend his condolences.
Having carried on along sympathetic lines for several minutes, Evans thought he should change the subject to something a little more upbeat. "Are you going to Towcester?" he inquired.
"Oh no, we're going to bury her," came the reply.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

We're still waiting Stephen......

Seven months ago, Stephen Pollard, the war-loving journalist and propagandist for two mass murderers, made a promise on his web-blog: http://www.stephenpollard.net/002525.html
Unashamedly he has broken it. Who does he think he is? David Blunkett? Tony Blair?
But we shouldn't be too downhearted. Stephen has revealed that he has had a big ante-post, each-way double bet on Teofilo and Finsceal Beo for next year's Guineas. http://www.stephenpollard.net/002981.html
Having seen both horses in action last week at Newmarket, I think he's got a great chance of collecting. Then, let us hope that with yet another big horse-racing win under his belt, he will finally make good his promise of last March. See you in 2026, Stephen.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Modern tv comedy- No laughing matter

Here's my piece from The Guardian's 'Comment is Free' on the decline of television comedy.
http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/neil_clark/2006/10/

No laughing matter

Today's TV comedies are aggressive, heartless and cruel, and compared with sitcoms of the 70s they are certainly not funny.
Neil Clark

The best of times is always then, but never now, critics of nostalgia like to point out. But when it comes to television comedy, there can be little doubt that the best of times really was then (the 1970s to be exact) and most certainly not now.
Too much of television comedy today is aggressive, heartless and cruel - with writers and performers believing the need to shock comes before the need to make us laugh. It was a point made most cogently by Dad's Army star Bill Pertwee, at the launch of his autobiography earlier this week.

At the time when Pertwee was appearing in Dads' Army, British television viewers were spoilt for choice when it came to well-written, well-acted and - most importantly of all - funny situation comedies. Fawlty Towers, The Good Life, Steptoe and Son, Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads?, It Ain't Half Hot Mum, Rising Damp and The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin were all classics of their genre, programmes as entertaining to watch today as they were 30 years ago. True, there were duds around in the 1970s too, (did anyone ever raise so much as a snigger at The Liver Birds?), but overall the standard of writing, performing and production was extremely high.

I wonder how many of today's television comedies will be watched with such affection - and enjoyment - 30 years from now? With the possible exception of The Office, it's hard to think of a single comedy series that television viewers in 2036 will find as amusing as today's audiences still find repeats of Dad's Army, Fawlty Towers and The Good Life.

Most of what passes for "comedy" on television today is charmless, with aggression and four-letter words making up for the lack of inventive writing and the absence of funny, as opposed to grotesque, comic characters. The only gay in the village? An elderly woman who vomits every time the word "black" is mentioned?
Give me Captain Mainwaring or Tom and Barbara Good any day.

UPDATE: A certain 'Feline 1' left this comment on the Guardian's website. How can we tell that he/she's a fan of modern "comedy", I wonder. Could it be something to do with the charming and polite way he/she signs off?

Oh good lord - so you don't like Little Britain! May I suggest you DRY YOUR EYES.Many hundreds of thousands of other people find it hilarious.Go back to watching old VHS tapes of Dad's Army if that's what makes you happy.
Other hilarious shows of the past few years:- Vic & Bob in CATTERICK- NATHAN BARLEY.- Green Wing- The Armstrong & Millar Show- League of Gentlemen.
Now do p*ss off.
Feline 1

The Empire meets its Stalingrad

There's much talk about how the Empire has become embroiled in a new Vietnam. That's really understating it. The Empire has met its Stalingrad. As the Third Reich's quest for global hegemony was checked at Stalingrad sixty years ago, so the Project for a New American Century has hit the buffers in Baghdad. All Imperial warlords make one false step. Hitler's- like Napoleon's- was invading Russia. Richard Perle's was invading Iraq.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/Iraq/Story/0,,1926809,00.html

Schumacher's last stand

Here's my piece on the nail-biting finale to this season's Formula One championship, from today's First Post.
http://www.thefirstpost.co.uk/index.php?menuID=2&subID=1024

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Veiling the real issues

Here's my piece from the Guardian Comment is Free website on a debate that isn't really worth having.

http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/neil_clark/2006/10/
a_debate_not_worth_entering_in.html

In that wonderful, but neglected Stanley Kramer masterpiece, Ship of Fools, the morose baseball star played by Lee Marvin is asked by the dwarf, Glocken, what's troubling him. Marvin says that he's depressed because can't hit a home run. Glocken, ever the philosopher, points out to Marvin that the vast majority of people in the world probably wouldn't even know what a home run was.

I thought of Marvin's conversation with the dwarf when reading the headlines of a popular tabloid yesterday, which informed us that 98% of its readers thought the Muslim veil should be banned. Because, I'd wager, until Jack Straw expressed his opinions on the issue, the vast majority of people in Britain wouldn't even have known what a Muslim veil was.

The furore over the dress of a tiny minority of people in these islands has dominated news headlines for over a fortnight. Columnists in every newspaper in the land have felt obliged to express an opinion: whether or not the hijab should be banned has become the burning issue of the day. But the only proper response to this artificially stoked up "debate" is to refuse to enter into it.

The rights and wrongs of the hijab were far from my mind last Saturday, when along with scores of other race-goers I waited in vain for the 17.17 from Ipswich to Cambridge to arrive at Newmarket station. It never arrived, like the hundreds of other trains that are cancelled every week in the country which has the most expensive, but also the least efficient public transport system in the developed world.

Waiting for trains that never arrive, (or if they do, arrive very late); or being stuck in traffic jams on gridlocked roads is the daily reality of life for millions of Britons. Yet neither Jack Straw or Tony Blair feel any need to make public pronouncements on such issues. Nor is there a murmur from the opposition. Until politicians start to address the issues that do have an impact on our everyday lives, we shouldn't waste a nanosecond debating those that don't.

The Good Comrade

Fifty years on from his accession to power, here is my wife Zsuzsanna's piece on the achievements of the late Hungarian leader Janos Kadar from today's First Post.
http://www.thefirstpost.co.uk/index.php?menuID=1&subID=834

The frame-up of Vladimir Putin

As a riposte to the barrage of anti-Russian, anti-Putin propaganda we have been subject to over the last couple of weeks in Britain and the US, here's an excellent piece from Justin Raimondo of anti-war.com
http://antiwar.com/justin/

Monday, October 16, 2006

Pressure? That's for tyres and footballs

The highlight of a wonderful day's racing at Newmarket on Saturday was seeing veteran Irish trainer Jim Bolger land both the Dewhurst and the Rockfel Stakes. The battle between Teofilo and Holy Roman Emperor was one of the most stirring two-year-old encounters I've ever witnessed and I certainly won't be opposing Bolger's brilliant colt- or his stablemate Finsceal Beo, so impressive in the Rockfel- in next season's Guineas.
Bolger is not only a great trainer, he's also an extremely nice man with a lovely turn of phrase. When asked in the post-race interviews on Saturday if he felt under any "pressure" having to train the favourites for both the 1,000 and 2,000 Guineas, his response was: "Pressure?. I don't do pressure. Pressure is for tyres and footballs."
It's a nice line to remember next time somebody complains to you about being under pressure.
Here's my 'My Other Life' interview with Bolger from the Racing Post, in which the great man talks about his love of hurling, "The Riverdance of Sport."

MY OTHER LIFE: Jim Bolger
Hobby: Hurling

When did you first develop an interest in your hobby?

I’d say it happened at the same time I was learning to walk. The Gaelic Athletic Association is represented in every parish in every county in Ireland and my parish had a good hurling team when I was growing up. I’m from County Wexford and in 1955 they won their first All Ireland Final for 45 years. I was thirteen at the time: thirteen year olds always think they know everything and I suppose I thought I knew everything about hurling. The Wexford team of 1955 were all my heroes, particularly the Rackard brothers, Nicky, Bobby and Billy. I don’t think we have seen their equivalents to this day. The interesting thing about them was that their father was a cricket man and not interested in hurling- so if Michael Stoute wants to have a son who goes hurling, he needn’t despair !

How much time are you able to devote to your hobby?

I played the sport badly in my youth, but I follow hurling exclusively in the sedentary mode nowadays. I make about a dozen trips to Croke Park a year with my grand-daughter Clare Manning and see some local matches as well. There’s also more coverage of matches on television now than in the past.

What for you is the appeal of your hobby?

Hurling is a combination of speed, skill and courage. It is the fastest ball game in the world as well as the most skilful. Liam Griffin who managed the Wexford team who won the All Ireland in 1996 has described it as ‘the Riverdance of sport’.
It’s also very tribal, and as a Wexford man living in County Kilkenny I’m regarded as sleeping with the enemy!


What is the greatest moment of pleasure your hobby has brought you?

Wexford beating Limerick in the All Ireland Final in 1996 was wonderful as it was the first time we’d won it since 1968. If you win the All Ireland you have the added satisfaction of knowing that you’re the world champions as well! Another nice memory associated with hurling was in 2002, when I invited Billy Rackard, the only surviving brother- to the races. We picked Oaks Day at Leopardstown and I won the big race with Margula -it was nearly as good a day as 1955! I was also lucky enough to see the great Christy Ring play for Cork- he is widely regarded as the best hurler of all time.

Do you have any ambitions pertaining to your hobby?

There are thirty two counties in Ireland and if Wexford could win the All Ireland once in thirty two years I’d be very happy. I would also like to see the lesser counties do likewise.

Do you have any other hobbies?

I am almost as interested in Gaelic Football as I am in hurling and I watch most sports on the television. I am told by those who love cricket that it is the best game in the world, but I still don’t really understand it.

NEIL CLARK/RACING POST 2004

Sunday, October 15, 2006

The biggest "club bore" of them all

Is there really a more tiresome person in the whole of the western hemisphere than Niall Ferguson? This dreadfully vain and affected man, not only makes bog-awful television programmes and writes bog- awful books, he is also responsible for the most bog-awful column in the whole of the British press.
In his pitiful offering for this week's Sunday Telegraph,
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/main.jhtml?xml=/opinion/2006/10/15/do1502.xml
the master of unoriginality jumps on the current anti-Russian bandwaggon calling for the " the two club bores – China and Russia to either be "expelled" from the UN, or " brought to their senses". Their crime- not to follow the foreign policy dictates of the US and Britain on the subject of North Korea. According to our "renowned historian", Russia and China are not interested in nuclear non-proliferation, but only with advancing their strategic interests. The U.S. where Ferguson incidentally pockets a rather large pay packet as a Professor at Harvard, can of course never be accused of that!

As for Russia and China being "club bores", it takes one to know one, Niall.

UPDATE:
There's a lovely comment from Daniel Edwin on the Telegraph's website:
For a professor of history, the author is strangely ill-informed...

For anyone familiar with this particular professor's work, there's nothing strange about it.

Friday, October 13, 2006

They're under starters orders!

There's a cracking weekend of racing action in store- not least at Newmarket which tomorrow stages the Group One Champion Stakes and the 2m2f handicap Cesarewitch, one of my favourite races in the calendar. There'll also be plenty of clues for next year's Classics in the Dewhurst Stakes (won last year by subsequent Derby winner Sir Percy) and the Rockfel Stakes (won last year by subesequent 1,000 Guineas winner Speciosa).

For jumps fans, there's some great action too at Stratford and Kempton. This stage of the season, when the stars of the summer meet some classy animals returning to action from the big yards is always fascinating.
Finding winners won't be easy, but in the Cesarawitch I suggest an each-way interest on Sir Mark Prescott's ultra-consistent Key Time, and at longer odds, Mr Ed. He was second in the race a couple of years back and will come on a bundle for his comeback run over an inadequate 1m4f at Newmarket a couple of weeks back. In the Champion Stakes, Confidential Lady, runner up to Speciosa in the 1000 Guineas could be the value- she'll certainly handle the ground and trainer Sir Mark Prescott has a 100% record in the race. Over the jumps, I'll be cheering on Cheeky Lad in the 2 miler at Kempton and hoping Dickensbury Lad lands the 2m5f chase at Stratford.

Win, lose or draw, make sure you enjoy some of the action!

UPDATE: I think Mr Ed and Cheeky Lad are still running but at least Key Time, Confidential Lady and Dickensbury Lad put in respectable efforts.

Russophobes at the ready!

Predictably, faced with the situation of a Russian President- horror of horrors- who is prepared to stand up for Russian interests- the west's Russophobes have gone into overdrive this week. One of the most notorious of their number is the Economist's central and eastern european correspondent Edward Lucas. Here he is, spouting off in today's Times (where else?) on why the West must stand by poor, defenceless Georgia, in its battle with the big, bad bear.
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,6-2401351,00.html

Anyone who talks of 'the democratic years of the 1990s' in Russia, as Lucas does, exposes him/herself as a complete and utter twerp- the country was governed by an alcoholic, corrupt President, with economic power in the hand of a small group of extremely corrupt oligarchs. And the only reason Yeltsin was re-elected in 1996 was the massive interference in the election by the west, petrified that Russia would elect a President who was actually going to put the interests of the Russian people first. That would never do!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

A very simple Simon

What do you call someone who said of Tony Blair and the bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999:

"…one of the pre-eminent statesmen on the planet… the most heroically disinterested intervention in history… This was a uniquely philanthropic war… His implacable determination was the critical factor in the Nato victory. He is now a war leader… resolute, decent, brave."

Yup. Mad. Stone cold bonking mad. And if you wanted any further proof, the cretin who uttered those words has just made a video.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X9DYULkAhWI

Don't be rude about old folk, George

If there's one thing that really gets my goat is a bad loser. You play the game hard, and play it to win, but if you lose you take it with good grace. But not it seems if your name is George Monbiot. The world famous environmentalist recently took part in a Conservative Party conference debate on the role of big business in society. He made some good points, but lost the debate. Instead of being pleased that he had convinced around one third of a Conservative Party audience to vote for a motion that big business was indeed bad for society- he instead launched into an ageist attack on his audience in this week's New Statesman
http://www.newstatesman.com/200610160017

Halfway through my talk, I began to suspect that the audience had died. My killer jokes resounded through a hall as lively as a catacomb. Even when the lights came up, I wasn't entirely sure. The cobwebs rustled briefly, then the patina of dust settled again. Perhaps it was just the wind. Cameron thinks he's leading his party towards a "bright future". This lot stopped moving 20 years ago.

I wonder if Monboit includes in 'this lot'- his father Raymond, deputy chairman of the Conservative Party and the Chairman of the National Convention? Or his mother Rosalie, a Conservative councillor who led South Oxford district council for a decade?

How strange that he doesn't reveal that both his parents are prominent Tory activists when he comes to explaining how it was he spent a day with 'Dave and the Dead' in the first place.

Now there's a surprise..........

http://news.uk.msn.com/Article.aspx?cp-documentid=1060053

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Game over for the supporters of 'Shock and Awe'

According to a study published in today's Lancet http://www.thelancet.com/, an estimated 655 000 more Iraqis have died as a consequence of the March 2003 military invasion of Iraq than would have been expected in a non-conflict situation.
No doubt in the comment pages of tomorrow's Times we will read how the study is deeply flawed/biased/left-wing/. But it really is game over for those who propagandised for this wicked, wicked war.
Every single justification for the invasion of Iraq in 2003 has been torn to shreds. There were no WMD in Iraq, neither did Saddam have any programs to make any. There was no Iraqi link with al Qaida. And how can a war be described as 'humanitarian' when 650,000 people have been killed since hostilities began?

Putting the Sopranos in the shade

Daniel Finkelstein has an interesting comment piece entitled 'Going to the Dogs? Who Says? in today's Times.
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,6-2398112,00.html
Leaving aside his factual error- the claim that "30 years all of Eastern Europe was ruled by Stalinist kleptocrats" , (ever heard of Janos Kadar, Daniel ?), the Times comment editor also claims that tv drama is better today than it was in the 1970s: "Sir John (Mortimer) may yearn for repeats of Sid James on Bless this House, but I prefer the Sorpanos."
Fair enough. But what about I Claudius, When the Boat Comes In, Clayhanger, Upstairs, Downstairs, Who Pays The Ferryman, Secret Army, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Ellery Queen?
Can anyone name a drama series as good as any of those on television today?

He's gone too far now....

Stephen Pollard can insult me as much as he likes. But how dare he call Blackpool, that wonderful English seaside resort, where my mother grew up and where I spent many a happy afternoon in my childhood with bucket and spade and riding donkeys, a 'sxxthole'.
http://www.stephenpollard.net/002969.html
And by the way Stephen, seeing as you're so keen on correct spelling, it's 'intellectually'- not 'intellectualy' .

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Berlin 1938, London 2007

A couple of years ago, on the Nicky Campbell Show on Radio Five Live, I debated the prospect of a government ban on smoking in enclosed public places with an obsessive from the organisation ASH.
I put it to the fanatic that if the ban came in, her organisation, far from considering its job done, would call for even tougher restrictions, with the ultimate aim of a complete ban on smoking everywhere except in one's own home.
I'm sure there were many listeners who thought I was scaremongering.
Just take a look at this:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2006/10/10/nsmoke10.xml

Sadly, nukes do make you safe

I've got an awful lot of time for Kate Hudson, chairwoman of CND and an implacable opponent not just of the aggression against Iraq, but of NATO's equally unlawful and immoral aggression against Yugoslavia too.
But I do feel that Kate is mistaken when she claims in today's Morning Star: "North Korea has the mistaken idea that having nuclear weapons will increase its security. This is wrong. Nuclear weapons do not make a country safer."
Sadly, they do. Not a single country that possesses nuclear weapons has ever been attacked in a conventional military manner. It doesn't mean that the country is safe from all attacks- as 9-11 showed- but it does mean that no other country is going to launch a full scale military invasion or rain bombs down on your cities.
If Yugoslavia had possessed nuclear weapons, NATO would not have launched hostilities in 1999. If Iraq had had nuclear weapons, it too would not have been attacked. We can call Kim Jung-il many things. But he understands well the lessons of deterrence.

UPDATE: That avid reader of this blog, Stephen Pollard, argues that the above argument is wrong and that the Hezbollah missiles fired at Israel this summer are evidence that nuclear weapons do not prevent states from attack. http://www.stephenpollard.net/002964.html
Wow, I guess he must be right. The attack on Israel was really massive wasn't it- all of 44 civilians killed and some structural damage in Haifa and Tyre. And of course, it was entirely unprovoked. If Stephen really does believe that nuclear weapons don't make a state secure, then why does he support Israel having them? Perhaps he could let us know in his next Times Thunderer....

Monday, October 09, 2006

The vassal state of Serbia

Sorry for the lateness of this posting, but here is the text of a report of the address given by Mihajlo Markovic, one of the founders of the Socialist Party of Serbia, on 8th September.

Markovic makes some excellent points on the way that since the fall of President Milosevic in a US funded coup in 2000, Serbia has surrendered its freedom-- and like all the other countries in the region- has become a vassal state of the New World Order. The point he makes about the lack of independent media in Serbia today- compared to the situation during the allegedly authoritatian Milosevic era is particularly apt.

SERBIA "FREE" UNDER MILOSEVIC, NOW HAS "VASSAL GOVERNMENT" ACADEMIC
BBC Monitoring International Reports - September 8, 2006 Friday
Text of report by Serbian independent news agency FoNetBelgrade, 8 September:

Academic Mihajlo Markovic, one of the founders of the Socialist Party of Serbia [SPS] today assessed that Serbia was "free and honourable" during the time of [former Serbian and Yugoslav President] Slobodan Milosevic while it was now a semi-colony "whose government is a vassal government with each ministry populated by foreign intelligence officers and experts who now sit there drafting bills and passing undesirable decisions".

During a presentation of the book of documents on the funeral of Slobodan Milosevic published by the "Sloboda" Association under the title "Slobodan means to be free [pun]", Markovic asked if ever in the history of Serbia some of its authorities had behaved in "such an irrational and irresponsible manner"."
The Serb people knew what they had lost when in Belgrade and Pozarevac they staged a magnificent farewell to the slain president, while those who had killed him turned him into a legend who would never be forgotten," he noted.

According to Markovic, during the time of the Milosevic administration, Serbia was "a military power", while now the soldier who shot down the US stealth plane during the NATO bombing "was thrown out of the military and proceedings are being conducted against him over some alleged offence". Markovic emphasized that "in allegedly authoritarian times" each citizen had an opposition paper of his or her own, they had various radio and a television stations, whereas these days "only those in possession of capital own and possess the media, and this cannot be called opposition".

He assessed that with the death of Milosevic, the epoch started on 27 March 1941 [military coup against Yugoslav authorities who signed Tripartite Pact with Nazi Germany on 25 Mar 1941] during which the Serb people were free had ended, while now this people lived "in servility towards the new world order". Leaflets saying "Slobo is alive, he is not dead, as long as Serbs and Serbia live" were distributed during the promotion.

Learning the lessons of Iraq

Whatever one's opinion of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il, let's agree about one thing- he understands the lessons of the Iraq war extremely well.
Saddam Hussein allowed weapons inspectors into his country and pleaded with Uncle Sam that he didn't have WMD. As a result his country now lies in ruins. Kim Jong-il has played a different game: refusing access to any weapons inspectors and going full steam ahead on his WMD programme.
The result- plenty of international condemnation- but as yet no bombs on Pyongyang. Nor, after this morning's news- of a successful nuclear test- are there likely to be.
Kim Jong-il has clearly been following the very sound advice of the paleo-conservative U.S. politician Pat Buchanan: "If you want the respect of Uncle Sam, get the bomb."

UPDATE:
A prominent neo-conservative writer, not known for concurring with the views expressed on this blog writes:
"A military strike on North Korea is out of the question, precisely because this is a nuclear-armed state with - presumably - contingency plans to retaliate against South Korea and possibly Japan."

I rest my case.

Blind to the facts

As acres of newsprint are devoted to whether or not Muslim women should wear the veil, and Britain's neo-cons http://www.stephenpollard.net/002955.html debate whether to refer to one another by their diminutive forms- Iraq burns.
Here's an on-the-spot dispatch from Patrick Cockburn, from today's First Post. Read it and you will understand why those so keen to start this wretched war are now so keen to talk about anything else.
http://www.thefirstpost.co.uk/index.php?menuID=1&subID=801

Saturday, October 07, 2006

"The People" and "A Mob" -Spot the Difference

Heres' my piece on recent developments in Hungary, from today's Morning Star.
http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/index2.php/ex/examples/features

When are a crowd of protestors “the people”, and when is it “a mob”?
The answer depends not on the amount of violence used, or even the size of the demonstration, but whether western capital approves of the protest in question.

No other conclusion can be reached when one contrasts the way the West has portrayed recent anti-government protests in Hungary, with similar anti-government protests in Serbia, Georgia, Belarus and the Ukraine, of which the West approved.

In Hungary, the protests were triggered by the confession, captured on tape, of Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany, that he had deliberately lied about the state of the economy to the electorate in this summer’s elections. Understandably, Hungarians, having to face yet another round of austerity measures imposed by a multi-millionaire Prime Minister and his wealthy cohorts, felt incensed and took to the streets.
But this clear expression of ‘people power’ got little sympathy from the west.

The Wall Street Journal, like most of the corporate media, said that the right way to remove democratically elected governments was not through street demonstrations, or storming the headquarters of state television, but ‘through the ballot box’. Yet the same paper, like others in the U.S. and Europe, took a rather different line when protestors stormed Serbian state television studios in Belgrade in 2000, as part of the US-funded coup d’etat to topple the democratically elected Socialist government of Slobodan Milosevic. The violence of that night, when the director of state television and several other journalists were severly beaten with crow-bars, makes the clashes which occurred in Budapest look tepid in comparison.

The western media also commented on the alleged anti-semitism of some of the Hungarian protestors. “Who is madder, Hungary’s foul-mouthed, lying prime minister or his nationalist enemies with their anti-Semitic pasts" ? asked the Times journalist Roger Moyes, writing in the New Statesman. As evidence of the protestors’ anti-Semitism, Boyes includes extracts of an interview with a single protestor Zsuzsa Frigyes, a member of the ultra-nationalist MIEP Party. Anti-semitism undoubtedly exists in Hungary- as elsewhere in Europe- and should be unequivocally condemned. It is revealing, however, that the presence of openly anti-semitic groups in Ukraine’s ‘Orange’ Revolution went unreported in the western media. Dr John Laughland, of the British Helsinki Human Rights Group, who observed the ‘Orange Revolution’ at close hand, highlighted the involvement in the Ukraininian opposition of the para-military, anti-Semitic group UNSO, which originates in western Ukraine. He commented: “Despite its usual distaste for any manifestation of anti-Semitism, Washington isn’t worried. One Republic Party insider commentated that there wasn’t a problem; there is “no anti-Semitism in Ukraine”.

Unlike the Ukraine and Georgia, Hungary’s embryonic revolution was not colour coded (a sure sign of western disapproval). Instead, demonstrators referred to dismissively as a ‘shell-suited rabble’ or- even worse- ‘football hooligans’. Yet six years ago, the west had no problems with ‘football hooligans’ trying to affect political change, when the ’Delije’ (The Strong Ones) an infamous group of Red Star Belgrade fans, were enlisted by the opposition in their attempt to overthrow Milosevic. “As far as the Delije were concerned, it was they who led the internal opposition, they who enacted Serbia’s anti-communist revolution’ writes Jonathan Wilson in his book ‘Behind the Curtain’. Wilson describes how the Delije- together with members of the U.S. financed student organisation OTPOR, smashed open the doors of state television and set the building on fire.

The west has also demonstrated glaring double standards when it comes to the way authorities clampdown on political protest. When, an alleged 108 anti-government protestors were arrested after the elections in Belarus in March, there was loud condemnation from the US and EU. Yet over three weeks on from the original demonstrations, 145 protestors are still held by the authorities in Hungary, and the US - and the EU stays silent.

Many liberal-left commentators in the west have sought to portray all those opposed to the current Hungarian government as ‘far right’ extremists.
In doing so, they are demonstrating an ignorance of Hungarian politics. It is the nominally ‘socialist’ MSZP (Hungarian Socialist Party), who together with their staunchly neo-liberal coalition allies the SZDSZ (Free Democrats) which is the favoured government coalition of global capital, and not the ‘conservative’ opposition party ‘Fidesz’, which favours public ownership of key assets and a policy of ‘economic patriotism’. Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurscany, whose personal fortune of $17m was made from privatisation deals in the early 1990s, is the darling of the US Embassy and foreign capital- not just for his support for the Iraq war, but for his zeal in following a neo-liberal economic agenda- which has involved selling off more than 160 state enterprises, imposing VAT on medical prescriptions and abolishing a tax on stock market profits. “Gyurcsany’s a socialist, but he’s our kind of socialist”- is the verdict of one U.S. junk bond trader- while US ambassador George Herbert Walker III (who is George Bush’s cousin) says: “Hungary’s immediate future is in safe hands”.

While it is true that many of those involved in recent government protests are staunch anti-communists, the non neo-liberal left should have no qualms in joining up with non-racist, conservative- nationalist forces to build a popular front against neo-liberalism, not just in Hungary, but elsewhere in eastern Europe too. Such a rapprochement is already starting to happen. Co-operation between Fidesz and the Marxist Workers Party would have been unthinkable a decade ago, yet co-operate is what they did in 2004 in their successful campaign to force a referendum on government plans to privatise health care. Fidesz leader, Viktor Orban, who once referred to Hungarians who had grown up under communism as “the lost generation”, now concedes that for most Hungarians, life is much harder today than it ever was under the progressive communist leadership of Janos Kadar.

It is the hardship of everyday life in Hungary that is propelling people on to the streets-though the economic reality facing most people in the country is totally ignored by western reporters in their attempts to explain the recent disturbances. The Hungarians are of course, not alone in their discontent. All over the world, ordinary people are beginning to mobilise in opposition to the iniquities and injustice of a global economic system which enriches the few, but which impoverishes the many.

What the disturbances in Hungary and elsewhere demonstrate is that the real division of our time is not so much between ‘left’ and right’ but between those who support the neo-liberal agenda of privatisation, tax cuts for the rich and running the economy for the benefit of western multinationals- and those who believe countries should maintain economic and political sovereignty.

As a life-long socialist- I’m with those demonstrating against the Hungarian ‘Socialist’ Party. How about you?

Friday, October 06, 2006

Fascists and Fascism in interwar Britain

To commemorate this week's 70th anniversary of the 'Battle of Cable Street', here's my review of Martin Pugh's book 'Hurrah for the Blackshirts' from The Spectator.

‘HURRAH FOR THE BLACKSHIRTS’
Fascists and Fascism in Britain between the wars.
by Martin Pugh
Published by Jonathan Cape £20.00

In David Lean’s classic film ‘This Happy Breed’, husband and wife Frank and Ethel Gibbons pause for a moment to listen to a Blackshirt haranguing the crowd in Hyde Park. They glance at each other, smile and then utter the immortal words 'let’s go for a nice cup of tea.' The view that Fascism never made it big in inter-war Britain, because as a people we will always prefer a brew to a coup, is one which has persisted for over half a century. Yet, as Martin Pugh shows in his masterly study of Fascism and Fascists between the wars, it’s one which if not wholly wrong, certainly requires serious revision.

The Blackshirts may never have made it into power, but fascist ideas were far more widespread in Britain than the official post-WW2 version of history would have us believe. In the aftermath of Belsen and Auschwitz, many will find this appalling. But while today Fascism is considered an extreme and indefensible ideology, for many inter-war Britons, Fascist beliefs seemed eminently reasonable.

The first of several myths that Pugh seeks to debunk is that inter-war Fascism was a ‘political contagion’, arriving like most unpleasant things, from abroad and something against which the British had an inbuilt immunity. While many Fascist groups did draw their inspiration from Mussolini’s Italy- and in the case of the British Union of Fascists (the B.U.F.) their funding too- the pre-conditions for a Fascist movement were already present in Britain before 1914 and the Fascism which did develop had a distinctly British flavour.

Myth two, is the political classification of all Fascist parties as being on the ‘far right’. Some, such as Viscount Lymington’s English Mistery- which sought to turn the clock back to around 1720 were reactionary, but the most popular Fascist party of the period, the B.U.F, had a programme of social and economic reform far to the left of anything the Labour Party was offering at the time. John Beckett, the former Labour M.P. who followed another, Oswald Mosley, into the B.U.F. claimed to have found more sincere Socialist conviction in his new party than he had ever seen in his former one and was not alone among left-wing radicals in believing that the progressive, modernising programme outlined by Mosley in his ‘The Greater Britain’ manifesto of 1932, offered the working classes significantly more hope than the Means Test bequeathed them by Ramsay McDonald.

Another myth is that the Fascist views were too ‘extreme’ to be co-opted by other parties.
The definition of extremist is a relative one- it was not the self-styled ‘socialist imperialist’ Mosley who stated that he was ‘strongly in favour of the use of poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes’, but Winston Churchill, the man recently voted the nation’s greatest Briton. The Fascists were not alone in their staunch support for Empire, nor in their support of economic protectionism- a policy which was adopted, albeit in a diluted form, by the ‘moderates’ of the National Government in 1932.

Neither did anti-Semitism or violence at political meetings come with a Fascist copyright. As Pugh points out there were few politicians who went out of their way to insult Jews more than Sir William Joynson-Hicks, who received as his reward the job of Home Secretary in Stanley Baldwin’s 1924-29 Conservative government. Joynson-Hicks would have felt less at home in the B.U.F, which, at least in its early days, eschewed anti-Semitism and forbade Jew-baiting in any form. The B.U.F.’s slide into anti-Semitism in the mid-to-late 30s is commonly held to have lost it support, but Pugh believes that the party may actually have suffered by not being anti-Semitic enough -at a time when the influx of Jewish refugees was pushing the issue up the agenda and the B.U.F. found itself outflanked by other newly formed Fascist parties. But why, if so many of its tenets were so widely accepted, did Fascism- and in particular the B.U.F,. fail to make a major political breakthrough?

Bad luck and timing undoubtedly played their part. The gravest economic/political crisis of the period reached its peak in 1930/1 before the B.U.F. had even come into existence and by the time the party had hit their stride, unemployment, though still high in many parts of the country, was already falling nationwide. In 1936 the B.U.F. sniffed power at the time of the constitutional crisis, but King Edward VIII’s tame surrender to Baldwin’s ultimatum dashed their hopes of being summoned as members of a new government. The lead-up to war saw the Fascists under increasing pressure: Hitler’s foreign policy highlighted the contradiction between their patriotism and their increasingly pro-German stance. In the end, liberal democracy, long derided by the Fascists for being weak and dissolute, had the last laugh. In May 1940, Mosley, his wife and several other hundred Fascists were arrested under Regulation 18B- and held without charge- the foundation in Churchill’s own words ‘of all totalitarian government whether Nazi or Communist’. As Pugh points out, neither Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy or Soviet Russia was able to mobilise their human resources and win the co-operation of the population as effectively as Britain in the waging of World War Two. In its moment of crisis, liberalism proved that it worked after all- even if it meant at times doing some rather illiberal things.

But, sixty years on, does Britain’s national story since 1945 really make, as Pugh concludes, ‘the earlier fascist thesis about conspiracy, decline, decadence and rejuvenation appear irrelevant and defeatist’? The jury is surely still out on this one and you don‘t have to be a fascist to have your doubts.

Neil Clark
Copyright 2005

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Prove you're not a neo-con, Dave

"I'm not a neo-conservative, I'm a liberal Conservative. But Conservative, because I also recognise the complexities of human nature, and will always be sceptical of grand schemes to remake the world." -
Dave told the party faithful yesterday.

Can we believe him? One way Cameron can prove that he is not a neo-conservative- or in their clutches- is to sack William Hague and Liam Fox from the Conservative front bench team and replace them with Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Douglas Hogg.
And while he's at it, replace Nicholas Boles as the head of Policy Exchange.
If Mr Boles then finds himself with a little time on his hands, I suggest him buying an airline ticket to Baghdad to do his bit for a war he was so keen on starting.

UPDATE: I am informed by reader 'Delworth' in his/her usually friendly and courteous way that Policy Exchange is completely independent of the Conservative Party and that Dave has as much power to replace Nicholas Boles as he does to replace Arsene Wenger as manager of Arsenal. There are some who would argue that the Conservative Party does have rather more input on the leadership of Policy Exchange than it does on the issue of who occupies the dug-out at The Emirates Stadium, but let's not quibble. Seeing that Dave can't sack Boles, he can do the next best thing-which is to totally ignore the half-baked ideas coming from his barmy think-tank.

ps according to the influential Tory Party guru and Times comment editor Daniel Finkelstein, referring to David Cameron as 'Dave' is a sign of 'absurd right-wing fogeyness'. First time I've ever been accused of that!

Who said F1 was boring?

Heres' my piece from today's The First Post on the dramatic climax to this year's F1 championship.
http://www.thefirstpost.co.uk/index.php?menuID=2&subID=973

Monday, October 02, 2006

At long last....

a democratically elected politician in Hungary has the guts to tell an unelected EU bigwig where to get off.

From www.caboodle.hu

Opposition leader Viktor Orbán criticized the European Commission's endorsement of Hungary's economic reform package by suggesting that the EC economic "czar" Joaquín Almunia try living like an average Hungarian."I suggest this man move [to Hungary] and live off Hungarian wages," Orbán said on the Thursday morning show of Duna TV, reports portal origo.hu. "I would also have great recommendations on what Hungarians should do if I was in Brussels with a commissioner's salary."
Commissioners receive a monthly salary of €18,100 (Ft 4.8 million), and also receive a monthly allowance of €2,700 for housing, and an official car.
Almunia has called for Hungary to strict adhere to the fiscal and monetary targets required for adoption of the single European currency. "Future [Hungarian governments] also need to follow this program," Almunia recently said. "There are no alternatives [to the programs]. Anyone not accepting this program would cause great suffering to the Hungarian people."
Alminia's spokesman did not comment on Orbán’s interview.

The Death of News

Here's a brilliant and thought provoking piece by Robert Fox, from today's First Post, on why 'news' may soon be a thing of the past.
http://www.thefirstpost.co.uk/index.php?menuID=1&subID=790