Friday, March 30, 2007

Die Mensch Maschine

There is good music, very good music, and there is this
My wife and I were lucky to get tickets for Kraftwerk's appearance at the Brixton Academy in 2004, during their world tour. Quite simply, it was the best concert I have ever been to in my life.
The running order ran to the second and the music was brilliantly complemented by videos and graphics showing on a large screen. It was the complete audio-visual experience.
If you weren't there, then you can still join in the fun- as a DVD of the concert is now available. If you're a fan of good music, you won't be disappointed.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Crossing the Rubicon: 24th March 1999

It was a great honour to attend and speak at a recent meeting in the Houses of Parliament to commemorate the 8th anniversary of the NATO aggression against Yugoslavia. 11 honourable MPs voted against the NATO aggression in 1999, including Tony Benn, Alice Mahon, and Bob Wareing, all of whom were present and spoke at the meeting. We must never forget the significance of what happened eight years ago: for the first time NATO launched a war of aggression which was not only in contravention of the UN Charter, but also in contravention of its own consitutition, which authorised military action only in the case of an attack on a member state. As Mark Littman QC has stressed, the night of 24th March 1999, when NATO planes took off to bomb Yugoslavia, was a historic landmark in the post-WW2 world. For it was at that moment that the post-war international settlement, based on the respect for the sovereignty of nations and adherence to international law was torn up. As we survey the devastation of Iraq nightly on our television screens, and consider the nightmarish developments in Kosovo, where over 200,00 Serbs, Roma, Jews and other minorities have been ethnically cleansed since the "humanitarian" intervention, we can see quite clearly where contempt for international law, national sovereignty, and the Charter of the United Nations has led us.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

A pipeless Sherlock won't solve anything

Sherlock Holmes without his pipe? Can things get any sillier? Here's my piece from today's Daily Express.

Can political correctness get any more ridiculous? In their infinite wisdom, programme makers at the BBC have decided to make the legendary detective Sherlock Holmes more health-conscious- and so, in the new series, 'Sherlock Holmes and the Baker Street Irregulars', which started on Sunday, the master sleuth has not only kicked his cocaine habit, but has been deprived of his pipe too.
" Ofcom has strict guidelines on what you can and can't show on children's television. Smoking and drug-taking should not be condoned, justified or encouraged." a BBC spokesperson says. The decision not to show the Baker Street sleuth taking drugs in a programme going out at 4pm on a Sunday afternoon is fair enough, but stopping him from lighting his pipe? Does either OFCOM or the BBC seriously believe that the sight of a Victorian detective puffing on an old clay pipe, will encourage viewers to rush out to the nearest tobacconist and stock up on St Bruno? For Sherlock Holmes, a pipe is not an affectation, but an essential prop to help him in his work. The great detective often measured his cases in terms of how many pipe-loads of tobacco he would need to smoke to solve the problem. How on earth do the BBC expect Holmes to catch Professor Moriarty and co if he's denied the opportunity to ruminate while submerging himself in a thick blue cloud of pipe-smoke? One wonders what other changes the p.c. zealots who run our television have in store for us. A new series of Columbo, with the grizzled L.A. 'tec portrayed as a non-smoking, track-suited fitness-fanatic?

In today's climate of fanaticism, we shouldn't rule out anything. An image of the great engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, used to illustrate the cover of a children's book in 2005, was altered because of fears that the image of Brunel smoking a cigar would provide an unsuitable role model for five to seven year olds and might result in school libraries not buying the book. And in the recent Thunderbirds film, Lady Penelope was not only deprived of her strings, but her trademark cigarette holder too, on the grounds that "it would not set a good example". Forget the bad language, and casual violence which blight many of today‘s films, for our p.c. crusaders, it's clearly the use of a smoking accessory which represents the greatest social evil.

It's a philosophy shared by the makers of the latest James Bond film. "I can blow off someone's head at close range and splatter blood, but I can't light a good Cuban cigar.", complains the film's star Daniel Craig.

Banning fictional characters from lighting up is not the only way in which they are being 'made over' to make them more attune to 21st Century sensibilities. The James Bond of the Ian Fleming novels, is an immaculately attired, hard-drinking, serial womaniser, who likes his martinis shaken and not stirred. The new Bond is a humourless muscle man, more at home pushing weights in a gym than eyeing up the female talent in a casino. The way things are going, the day when 007 dispenses with his Aston Martin (uses far too many miles to the gallon to be good for the ozone layer) and is forced to drive an electric car, is surely not far off.

Updating characters to make them more 'modern' is not only silly, it often undermines the basis of the story. The whole point of the original 1966 Alfie film was that the lead character (so memorably played by Michael Caine) was a heartless and shockingly sexist 'Jack-the lad' who in the end gets his just deserts. In the anodyne 2004 remake, starring Jude Law, the film-makers made Alfie more likeable, and less misogynistic, but consequently the film doesn't pack anything like the same punch.

Take away Alfie's sexism (as abhorrent as it is) and he just isn't Alfie any more. And take away Sherlock Holmes' pipe and he is no longer the world's greatest detective.

Is it really too much to ask for television and film makers to leave our heroes- and anti-heroes- as they were and not try to update them into politically correct paragons of the 21st century?

The Diary of Andrew Roberts, aged 44 and a quarter

If ever there was a prize for the man most in love with himself, neo-con historian Andrew Roberts would be the odds-on favourite (though I must admit there are several other neo-cons I know of who would give him a good run for his money).
Tim Dowling in today's G2, has a hilarious send-up of the shamelessly boastful diary Roberts wrote for this week's Spectator.
Unfortunately, the article is not available on line, but it's well worth paying 70p to read. I dare you to keep a straight face!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Sherlock Holmes goes p.c.

Celia Walden reveals in the Daily Telegraph that in the forthcoming BBC series Sherlock Holmes, the master detective will, for the first time, be seen without his pipe. How utterly pathetic.
What other changes have the anti-smoking fanatics got in store for us? Columbo portrayed him as a non-smoking, shell-suited fitness fanatic? Maigret transformed into a pro-biotic drink guzzling member of ASH?

Saturday, March 24, 2007

One law for us, one law for them

http://www.guardian.co.uk/iran/story/0,,2041706,00.html

What do you think the British authorities reaction would be if Iranian rigid inflatables were patrolling the English Channel and making random searches of vessels? Somehow, I don't think it would be very different to the way the Iranians reacted yesterday.

Mr Common Sense R.I.P.

Obituary of the late Mr. Common Sense

Today we mourn the passing of a beloved old friend, Common Sense,who has been with us for many years. No one knows for sure how old he was,since his birth records were long ago lost in bureaucratic red tape.He will be remembered as having cultivated such valuable lessons as:
Knowing when to come in out of the rain;
Why the early bird gets the worm;
Life isn't always fair; and Maybe it was my fault.


Common Sense lived by simple, sound financial policies (don't spend more than you can earn) and reliable strategies (adults, not children, are in charge). His health began to deteriorate rapidly when well-intentioned but overbearing regulations were set in place.

Reports of a 6-year-old boy charged with sexual harassment for kissing a classmate; teens suspended from school for using mouthwash after lunch; and a teacher fired for reprimanding an unruly student, only worsened his condition. Common Sense lost ground when parents attacked teachers for doing the job that they themselves had failed to do in disciplining their unruly children. It declined even further when schools were required to get parental consent to administer Calpol, sun lotion or a band-aid to a student; but could not inform parents when a student became pregnant and wanted to have an abortion.

Common Sense lost the will to live as criminals received better treatment than their victims. Common Sense took a beating when you couldn’t defend yourself from a burglar in your own home and the burglar could sue you for assault. Common Sense finally gave up the will to live, after a woman failed to realize that a steaming cup of coffee was hot. She spilled a little in her lap, and was promptly awarded a huge settlement. Common Sense was preceded in death by his parents, Truth and Trust; his wife, Discretion; his daughter, Responsibility; and his son, Reason.

He is survived by his 3 stepbrothers; I Know My Rights, Someone Else Is To Blame, and I'm A Victim.
Not many attended his funeral because so few realized he was gone. If you still remember him, pass this on.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Better tipsy than stoned

According to a new report alcohol and tobacco are "more dangerous" than many drugs including cannabis and LSD.
All the same, I'm still glad that Winston Churchill preferred whisky and cigars......

Iraq: Four Years On

"There's plenty of blame to go round. You'd think that these days the cheerleaders for war were limited to a platoon of neo-cons, as potent in historical influence as the Knights Templar supposedly were. But it was not so; the coalition of enablers spread far beyond Cheney's team and the extended family of Norman Podhoretz, the founding neo-con who, as editor of Commentary, led the liberal defection into the Reagan camp in the late 1970s.
Atop mainstream corporate journalism perch the New York Times and the New Yorker, two prime disseminators of pro-invasion propaganda, written at the NYT by Judith Miller, Michael Gordon and, on the op-ed page, by Thomas Friedman. The New Yorker put forth the voluminous lies of Jeffrey Goldberg and has remained impenitent to this day.
The war party virtually monopolised television. AM radio poured out a torrent of war bluster. The laptop bombardiers such as Salman Rushdie were in full war regalia. Among the progressives, the liberal interventionists thumped their tin drums, often by writing pompous pieces attacking the anti-war "hard left".
But today, amid Iraq's dreadful death throes, where are the parlour warriors? Sometimes I dream of them - Tom Friedman, Christopher Hitchens, Salman Rushdie - like characters in a Beckett play, buried up to their necks in a rubbish dump on the edge of Baghdad, reciting their columns to each other as the local women turn over the corpses to see if one of them is her husband or her son.
Liberal interventionism came of age with the onslaught on Serbia. Liberal support for the attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq were the afterglows. Now that night has descended and illusions about the great crusade are shattered for ever, let us tip our hats to those who opposed this war from the start – the real left, the libertarians and those without illusions about the "civilising mission" of the great powers


Read more of Alexander Cockburn's brilliant First Post piece on the fourth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, here.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

New York v London

New York or London? Which do you prefer?
It's the question the Daily Telegraph is asking its regular contributors and bloggers this week.
I agree with Sam Leith: The Big Apple wins hands down. If you like hideously expensive and unreliable public transport, hideously expensive restaurant-chains selling mediocre food, and surly and unhelpful service, then London's the place for you. If, like me, you prefer affordable and efficent public transport, value for money eateries and cheerful and friendly service, then you're better off in The Apple. New York is a vibrant, living city, which has maintained its unique character. London used to be a great city, but its streets are far too globalised (more than New York's) and it is now a bland, unappealing metroplis, with little sense of identity.

Dave and the neo-cons

Geoffrey Wheatcroft, whose book 'Yo Blair', I recently reviewed for The Spectator, has an excellent piece in today's Guardian on the influence of neo-cons in the Conservative Party.
Before Cameron was elected as Tory leader, I warned that those expecting a new departure in foreign policy under 'Dave' were likely to be disappointed:

In foreign policy, he (Cameron) is an unreconstructed hawk, his campaign masterminded by the neoconservative trio of Tory MPs Osborne, Michael Gove and Ed Vaizey, all enthusiastic cheerleaders for Pax Americana. Osborne hailed the "excellent neoconservative case" for action against Iraq in 2003 and denies that the invasion has radicalised Muslim opinion.
Gove and Vaizey are signatories to the statement of principles of the Henry Jackson Society, which has its UK launch next month. The society - named after the US Democratic senator who opposed detente with the Soviet Union - campaigns for a "forward strategy" to spread "liberal democracy across the world" through "the full spectrum of 'carrot' capacities, be they diplomatic, economic, cultural or political, but also, when necessary, those 'sticks' of the military domain". Calling for the "maintenance of a strong military with a global expeditionary reach", the society bemoans the fact that "too few of our leaders in Britain and Europe are ready to play a role in the world that matches our strengths and responsibilities".
The list of Henry Jackson patrons reads like a Who's Who of US foreign-policy hawks: including the former CIA director James Wolsey, William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, and Richard Perle, former chairman of the Defence Policy Board and the man many see as the architect of the Iraq war.
Cameron himself voted for the Iraq war, believing that to vote no "would have been to break the US-UK alliance which has been the cornerstone of our peace and security". Saddam, according to the new Tory saviour, posed a threat not just to the Middle East region, but "to the world", and like all good neocons Cameron blamed the conflict on the French and their promise to veto any second UN security council resolution.


The removal of neo-con extremists from the upper echelons of power on both sides of the Atlantic is, as I've said on many occasions, the most urgent task facing all true democrats, be they of the left or right.
The choice facing us is stark: a course of endless, illegal wars, egged on by a tiny minority of fanatics, or peace and security based on respect for the sovereignty of nations.
I plump for the latter.
How about you?

"Business" ethics in the NHS

"There's splendid news about the Health Service. It seems last year it made £95m profit from car park fees at hospitals. What an example of modern spirit and enterprise, and a contrast to the old "anti-business" ideology that allowed people to park at hospitals for free. These dinosaurs would never have had the imagination to say "Hmm, they HAVE to come by car as they're limping - we can charge them as much as we like."

Click here to read more of Mark Steel's great piece on the way that under New Labour's PFI schemes, the NHS has turned into an even greater profiteerer than Tesco.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

A Star is Born

What a vintage Cheltenham Festival! I hope you managed to finish ahead of the bookies; I just about did thanks to Burntoak Boy (did you ever see an easier Coral Cup winner?) Taranis and Idole First, but my profit could have been greater if Heltornic and Don't Push It hadn't crashed out two fences from home when looking possible winners........
There's so much to look back on and savour from the week's action: an action packed Champion Chase won in fine style by Voy Por Ustedes, Sublimity's success in the Champion Hurdle, a wonderful three-way finish to the William Hill Handicap Chase, and Paddy Brennan's terrific ride on Inglis Drever in the World Hurdle. And to cap it all, a tremendous performance by Kauto Star in yesterday's Gold Cup. Is Paul Nicholls' charge 'The New Arkle'? As Charlie Methven writes in today's First Post, he'll have to win a couple more Gold Cups before he can be put in the same category as the legendary Irish chaser.
But I'd certainly put Kauto Star on a par with Desert Orchid, the greatest chaser I've seen in my lifetime.
How about you?

Friday, March 16, 2007

Thought for the Day

"The propaganda that converts a lively, open democracy (Venezuela) to an "authoritarian" dictatorship is written on the rusted crosses of Salvador Allende's comrades, of whom the same was said. It is disseminated by the embittered effete whose liberal hero was Blair, until he made an embarrassing mess, and who now claim the respectability of "the left" in order to disguise their mentoring by the likes of Wolfowitz, their promotion of Dick Cheney's ludicrous "world Islamic empire" and, above all, their passion for wars whose spilt blood is never
theirs. "


Read the rest of John Pilger's powerful attack on anti-democratic 'democrats', here

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Let's make transport really public

To celebrate it's first birthday,the Guardian's Comment is Free website has been asking regular contributors what they would most like to see happen by this time next year.
Here's my offering.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The C.R.A.P. Institute

The incomparable Mark Steel has a wonderfully funny piece on the aggressively pro-big business 'Adam Smith Institute' in today's Independent.


They're still around, and their current campaign is that the railways haven't been privatised enough. How do you argue that one? Will they try to confuse people by giving out leaflets at stations saying: "Our trains are a national disgrace. They're still too punctual, too spacious, and there aren't nearly enough crashes."

As Steel points out, the ASI, with their championing of the interests of big monopolisitic combines, over small businesses, owe very little to the ideas of the man whose name they have appropriated. I suggest that the group renames itself 'Corporate Rape And Plunder Institute' or 'CRAPI' for short.
Any other suggestions?

Monday, March 12, 2007

A victim of the West's propaganda

Here's my column from today's Morning Star on the most cynical demonisation campaign of modern times.


“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State". It's worth remembering the words of Dr Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi Minister of Propaganda around the first anniversary of the death of Slobodan Milosevic at The Hague.

The 'official version' of the Milosevic story, brought to you by CNN, BBC, Newsweek and other media outlets of the New World Order, was that Slobo ( aka 'The Butcher of the Balkans'), rose to power by whipping up dormant Serb nationalism and through his maniacal desire to create a 'Greater Serbia' provoked the break-up of Yugoslavia and the decade of bloodshed which ensued. Not content with starting wars with Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia, the genocidal Slobo then turned his attention to the hapless Kosovan Albanians and started to carry out a systematic programme of 'ethnic cleansing' on a scale unseen in Europe since the days of the Third Reich. Slobo would have succeeded in his evil designs had it not been for the timely intervention of NATO, whose humanitarian bombing campaign, defeated the wicked dictator and restored peace to Kosovo. The following year, the wicked dictator was toppled by a popular uprising of his own people and then sent to The Hague to be held toaccount for his many crimes. Unfortunately, before the guilty sentence could be passed', 'The Butcher' died, cheating justice.
There's just one thing wrong with the above version of events.
It's bullshit.
Not a single aspect of the narrative- the narrative we have heard ad nauseum in the west for the past decade and a half is true.

Milosevic, the 'aggressive nationalist', was in fact a lifelong socialist who never once made a racist speech. The 1989 Kosovo Polje address where it was claimed that Milosevic incited ethnic hatred, was a call for socialist unity: you can read the speech in full in English at http://www.swans.com/library/art8/smilos01.html

Milosevic the 'dictator' was a politician who won three democratic election victories in a country where 21 political parties and a well-financed opposition media freely operated. Even Adam Lebor, Milosevic's far from sympathetic biographer, concedes that to call Milosevic a 'dictator' is 'incorrect'.

Milosevic 'the serial warmonger', started no wars. He wasn't even in charge of Yugoslavia when Slovenia and Croatia, at the encouragement of Germany, illegally broke away from the Yugoslav Federation, while the war in Bosnia was caused by the US ambassador Warren Zimmerman's last-minute intervention to persuade the Bosnian Muslim leader Alija Izetbegovic to renege from the 1992 Lisbon agreement, which provided for the peaceful division of the republic. As for Kosovo, we already have British defence minister Lord Gilbert's admission that at the Rambouillet 'peace' conference the west deliberately produced a document whose terms were so onerous that they knew the Yugoslav delegation would not be able to sign. The hostilities in Kosovo were triggered by the US's funding and arming of the terrorist Kosovan Liberation Army, in a deliberate attempt to provoke a civil war, which would then give NATO the pretext to occupy the rump Yugoslavia.
As for bringing peace to Kosovo, Western intervention did the opposite: since 1999 more than 200,000 Serbs, Roma, Jews and other minorities have been ethnically cleansed from the province by the KLA, under the watchful eye of western forces.

The fall from power of Milosevic in October 2000 was not a demonstration of 'people power', but an undemocratic coup d'├ętat, orchestrated and funded by the U.S., who bankrolled the anti-socialist opposition to the tune of $70m. And as for Milosevic 'cheating justice' at The Hague, over 300 prosecution witnesses appeared at the trial and not a single one testified that he had ordered war crimes or other such atrocities. Justice was certainly denied by Milosevic's death - but not in the way the New World Order would like us to believe.

The more one considers the facts, the more clear it is that that Milosevic was the victim of the most cynical demonisation campaign of recent times. Why was it done?

The problem with Milosevic from the NWO's perspective, was not that he was a war-mongering nationalist hell-bent on destroying Yugoslavia, but that he wasn't. The West wanted the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia broken up into as many separate parts as possible: in the words of George Kenney of the US State Department "in post-cold war Europe no place remained for a large, independent-minded socialist state that resisted globalisation." Milosevic stood in the way of Western economic and military hegemony in the Balkans and for doing so he paid the ultimate price.

But though Milosevic is dead, the warmongering forces that destroyed both him and his country are still at large, with the rich pickings of the Iranian economy now in their sights. Eight years ago Slobo was 'The New Hitler', now it's the turn of President Ahmadinejad. The reality is that when it comes to the use of Nazi propaganda techniques in order to dupe the public into supporting illegal wars of conquest, the real successors of Adolf and co are not those accused, but those doing the accusing.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Yo, Blair!

My review of Geoffrey Wheatcroft's new book 'Yo, Blair!' appears in this week's edition of The Spectator.

The human commodity
Neil Clark
Yo, Blair!
Geoffrey Wheatcroft
Politico’s, 154pp, £9.99, ISBN 1842732067

Have two words ever said so much? President Bush’s unforgettable greeting to the British Prime Minister at the G8 summit in St Petersburg last summer epitomised how the ‘special relationship’ between Britain and America had descended into one of complete servility. Can anyone imagine Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher or even John Major being addressed in such a condescending way? Geoffrey Wheatcroft can’t, and in his masterly 150-page polemic describes how under Blair’s calamitous premiership, Britain has ceased to be an independent nation. It’s a depressing story of corruption, personal vanity and mendacity unequalled in our country’s political history.

Blair, the self-proclaimed ‘pretty straight guy’, has presided over ten years of lies, spin and subterfuge, the culmination of which has been participation in the disastrous and deceitful war against Iraq. The warning signs were there from early on: someone who can lie about voting in the House of Commons against fox hunting, is, as Wheatcroft points out, also capable of giving grossly exaggerated and distorted reasons for entering needless and illegal wars.

Blair says things ‘which are not only untrue but that a moment’s conscious reflection would show could not be true’. He also demonstrates a remarkable ability to ‘delete words from his personal hard drive’. In September 2004, he abused Charles Kennedy, arguing that if the Liberal Demo- crat leader had had his way ‘Saddam and his sons would still be running Iraq. That is why I took the stand I did.’ Yet, in February 2003, shortly before the outbreak of war, he had told the House, ‘We are offering Saddam the prospect of voluntarily disarming through the United Nations. I detest his regime but even now he could save it by complying with the UN demands.’
Blair, as Wheatcroft says, is something far more dangerous than a common liar — he is a man with no grasp at all of the difference between objective truth and falsehood. He is in many ways the personification of Erich Fromm’s ‘marketing character’, a person for whom everything is transformed into a commodity, not only things, but the person himself, his physical energy, his skills, his knowledge, his opinions, his feelings, even his smiles.

The damage that Britain’s most prominent ‘marketing character’ has done to both his country and the world has been enormous.

One of the effects of Blair’s electoral success has been to dissuade more and more people from voting. After ten years of New Labour, politicians have never been so despised. By his endless war-making, he has destroyed one English tradition which had found a home in the Labour Party — the radical tradition of pacifism and non-interventionism. And by his attack on ancient civil liberties, carried out in the name of the ‘war against terror’, he has destroyed another — the liberal tradition.

Why was it all done?

Blair’s apologists would like us to believe that their man acted out of conviction, but the truth may be rather more prosaic. The going rates for retired politicians on the American lecture circuit are impressive: Bill Clinton gets $250,000 a time, and Blair, as Washington’s most loyal lapdog, will certainly be at the top of the scale. In addition, there are those lucrative book contracts. As Wheatcroft concludes, vast numbers of lives may have been cruelly sacrificed by the Iraq enterprise, but Anthony Charles Linton Blair will surely be a richer man as a result.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Life on a left-wing planet

This piece of mine appears on the Guardian's Comment is Free website:


1973 is back in the news. The year that gave us 'Merry Christmas Everybody', by Slade, the wedding of Princess Anne and Mark Phillips and the first Grand National victory of Red Rum, has been recreated in the BBC series Life on Mars, provoking a whole host of commentators to put pen to paper to tell us just how awful things were back then.

As an unreconstructed leftie, I beg to differ.

In 1973, Britain had a Conservative government far to the left of New Labour, one which had nationalised Rolls Royce, and whose leader, unlike Tony Blair, talked openly of "the unpleasant and unacceptable face of capitalism". At the Labour Party conference that year, Tony Benn told delegates "if we don't own and control them (monopoly capital), they will own and control us", as the party endorsed its most left-wing programme for forty years, one which promised to bring about a "fundamental and irreversible shift in the balance of power and wealth in favour of working people and their families". Contrary to the view that you can only win elections by pandering to big business, Labour won two elections the following year on its radical manifesto.

Strong trades unions in Britain and across Europe, together with the existence of an alternative economic and social model provided by the Soviet Union and the other countries in the communist bloc, meant that western governments were forced to raise their game. The consensus in 1973 was a leftist one: public ownership, planning and progressive taxation were in; privatisation, deregulation and other 'free market' solutions were considered (rightly) as the policies of Powellite extremists.

Due to progressive taxation and other egalitarian policies, income inequalities were at their lowest ever levels in history. Social mobility was also at its peak: in 1973 (unlike today) both Britain's main political parties were led by men educated in the state sector. Across Europe, genuinely progressive statesmen such as Olof Palme, Bruno Kreisky and Willi Brandt set the agenda. Reactionary right-wing dictatorships still lingered on in the Iberian Peninsula, but their days were numbered.

At the same time, governments in the east, particularly in Hungary and Yugoslavia were showing that communism didn't have to mean harsh Stalinism. The hope of many on the left that the Cold War would end with the convergence of the western and eastern systems, looked as though it might be realised.

In the US, the New Deal, Keynesian consensus still held sway. American losses in Vietnam had led to a new Age of Detente: it was in 1973 that Leonid Brezhnev became the first Soviet leader to visit the White House.

In many ways 1973 can be seen as the zenith of progressive politics in the 20th century.

In September, the hopes of Chilean socialists were cruelly destroyed by Pinochet's military coup, while a month later, the oil crisis caused by the Yom Kippur war, unleashed inflationary pressures and enabled the forces of reaction to regroup and plot their return to power.

In his book 'What's Left' Nick Cohen claims that much of what the left yearned for a century ago for has actually been achieved. Had Cohen been writing in 1973 it would have been true. It most certainly is not true of the inegalitarian, oligarchical, neo-liberal jungle we inhabit today.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Ripping off the public

Would you be surprised to learn that poorer sections of the population have benefited disproportionately from privatised, deregulated services, but that they are getting distinctly inferior treatment from services still being run by the state? asks Janet Daley in the Daily Telegraph.

Well, yes I would Janet. The whole point of privatising and deregulating services was- and still is- to benefit big business and make the 'poorer sections of the community' even poorer (and everyone else for that matter).
Has Ms Daley ever bought a ticket to travel on Britain's privatised railways, I wonder? Has she ever received a gas, electricity or water bill from Britain's privatised utility companies?
If so, she would realise that there is one thing worse than services 'still run by the state'. And that's services run by greedy private companies.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Britain's One Party State

Gordon or Dr John? Dave Miliband or Dave Cameron? Alan Johnson or Alan Milburn?
Which pro-war, pro-NATO, pro-EU, pro-big business candidate do you prefer? Trees are being cut down in order for journalists to persuade us that candidate x would be a better Prime Minister than candiate y. But there is not a width of a cigarette paper's difference between the views of the above candidates.
The Empire would not allow it any other way.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Hungary's 'Tony Blair' gets hysterical

Budapest Week reports how Ferenc Gyurcsany, the beleagured multimillionaire Prime Minister of Hungary and die-hard Tony Blair fan, launched an extraordinary attack on the country's former leader Janos Kadar at the conference of the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) last weekend. "Forget the Kadar era, move away from it," Gyurcsany pleaded to his party. The very fact that Gyurcsany should devote so much time to trashing a man who left office over 18 years ago is highly revealing.

Hungary today is in social and economic meltdown. Aggressive neo-liberal policies have boosted the profits of western multinationals and a few Hungarians (most notably Mr Gyurcsany himself, whose personal fortune stands at $17.5m), but have left the vast majority of Hungarians in a far worse state than they were twenty years ago. Around a third of the country lives either below or around the poverty line, a situation which recent hikes in utility bills will only make worse. Public discontent rises by the day and massive demonstrations against the US/EU backed puppet government are planned on the country's national day, 15th March.

The official NWO line of course, is that everything in the garden is rosy: that Hungary has made great strides since its change from a 'backward' communist system to 'democracy' and a 'market economy'. But if the 'improvements' are so evident, why on earth does the Hungarian Prime Minister, almost twenty years on, feel the need to make a speech at his party conference attacking Hungary's former communist leader?
It's hard to escape the conclusion of Seumas Milne: Communism may be dead, but it's clearly not dead enough.