Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Gaddafi knows the score

Got a poor record on human rights? Don't worry, let western oil majors into your country, and you can do what you damn well want.

Memories of a golden day in 1937

There's just three days to go before the greatest race of the Flat season. The oldest surviving winning owner of the Epsom Derby is 98-year-old Lettice Miller, who co-owned Mid-Day Sun, winner of the race in 1937. Here's my interview with the remarkable Mrs Miller, from today's Daily Telegraph.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Prince of Darkness passes the buck

Have a more arrogant and intellectually dishonest bunch of individuals ever walked God's earth than the neo-cons? Have a read of this interview with Richard Perle, architect of the Iraq war, by Suzanne Goldenberg in today's Guardian.

Richard Perle says he has nothing to apologise for. True, in 1998 he signed on to a letter from prominent neo-conservatives calling on the then president, Bill Clinton, to use force if necessary to oust Saddam Hussein. True, too, that as chairman of the defence policy board from 2001 to 2003, he was an adviser to the defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, in the pivotal days of planning for the Iraq war. But of the unfortunate consequences that flowed from those events - a war that by some estimates has claimed the lives of 655,000 Iraqis, and more than 3,400 US troops, a war that has entrenched hatred of America and brought suicide bombings to the cities of Europe - Perle says he has no regrets.


Instead of apologising for the enormous human catastrophe his deceitful manipulations have caused, Perle instead prefers to blame others- in particular, the US military- for the debacle in Iraq. "I have, I concede, a low regard for (General Tommy) Franks. I think he is a fool, and I thought that the first time I met him," he says.

Franks may well be a fool. But Perle is a knave, which is far, far worse.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Guilty Men (and Women)

Haifa Zangana has a hard-hitting piece in today's Guardian on the responsibility of members of the Labour Party for the Iraq war. She claims the 'entire' Labour Party is to blame: I would excuse honourable MPs like Bob Wareing, Jeremy Corbyn, and John McDonnell who consistently opposed the conflict. But there's one other group of guilty people who Zanagan should really have mentioned: journalists. The role played by pro-war journalists, in
manipulating public opinion in favour of the illegal conflict should never be forgotten. The journalists who faithfully parroted the propaganda of the US/UK governments have blood on their hands. Lots of it. Yet, despite the human catastrophe that their propaganda has caused, the self-same hacks continue to pump out their pro-war, imperialist poison as if nothing has happened. Nick Cohen holds court at the Hay Book Festival, flogging copies of his latest pamphlet. Melanie Phillips writes articles on how Iraqi WMD have been moved to Syria. Stephen Pollard and Daniel Finkelstein try all they can to get public support for a pre-emptive strike on Iran. Niall Ferguson and 'Neo' Con Coughlin indulge in Russian bear-baiting.
Bush and Blair would never have got their war if journalists like Cohen, Phillips, Finkelstein, Pollard, Coughlin, Ferguson et al had not been so eager to parrot the official propaganda. So yes, many members of the Labour Party are to blame for the bloodfest. But so too are the morally bankrupt lap-top bombadiers who willed it on.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

A New Recruit for the Left-Right Alliance

Regular readers will know that I have long called for an 'old' left- 'old' right alliance to challenge the neo-con/liberal imperialist warmongers who have captured control of both major political parties on either side of the Atlantic.
Looks like we could have got ourselves a new recruit.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

More good news from Russia

Forget the blatant propaganda of the reporter about Young Pioneers being used to 'counter democracy'- and the silly jibe at the end about what used to go on at Pioneer camps, the news that the famous youth organisation is undergoing a renaissance in Russia is a cause for celebration. As my wife Zsuzsanna pointed out here, The Pioneer movement is about solidarity, camaraderie and compassion: better to instil these values into young people than the greedy, aggressive, materialist values which modern global capitalism seeks to promote.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The War on Democracy

Ben Stevenson has an alarming piece in today's Morning Star on the increasingly totalitarian steps taken by governments in Eastern Europe to restrict democracy and narrow the parameters of political debate. The KSM, the Czech Young Communist Movement has been banned on the grounds that it calls for public ownership of the means of production- the ban came just after the Czech Communist Party achieved 13% in elections. In Poland, the Communist Party operates under conditions of illegality: in Hungary, the Workers Party are denied media air-time and have been threatened with legal action, while in Slovakia a plan to ban the 'propogation ' of communism was only defeated thanks to a series of national and international protests.

Stevenson ends his excellent piece by quoting Pastor Niemoller, a victim of Nazi persecution in the 1930s.

"When the nazis came for the communists, I remained silent. I was not a communist. When they locked up the social democrats, I remained silent. I was not a social democrat. When they came for the trade unionists, I did not speak out, I was not a trade unionist. When they came for me, there was no-one left to speak out."

Today's nazis are coming for both you and me, dear reader. But if we all stick together and show solidarity, we can beat them.

Chris is a National Treasure

H.M. The Queen has been awarded the prize of 'Greatest Living Briton'.
I would have voted for this man.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Stephen Pollard: Drug Pusher

Our old friend Stephen Pollard is in raptures over the decision of the NHS to cut back funding on homeopathic treatments.

"If it takes NHS financial crises to stop taxpayers' money being thrown away on treating people with water - which is no more and no less what homeopathy is - then bring 'em on.", Stephen opines on his Spectator blog.

Far better of course for the NHS to throw taxpayer's money on over-priced drugs made by multinational drug companies like Pfizer, which coincidentally funds a think tank called 'The Centre for the New Europe', (CNE) whose director is...... you've guessed it- a Mr Stephen Pollard.

Andrew mars his history lesson

How far did you get with Andrew Marr's History of Modern Britain last night? I'm afraid I only got as far as 17 minutes, to the point when Marr called Sir Stafford Cripps, the man who saved Britain from economic ruin after World War Two, "a right pain in the bum" and announced that Passport to Pimlico was "the greatest" of all the Ealing films. Has he never seen this?

Memo to Gordon Brown

Memo to Rt Hon Gordon Brown, M.P.
From: Neil Clark

Please don't listen to neo-conservatives like Mr Finkelstein. They're the ones who egged on the disastrous invasion of Iraq in the first place. They're also the ones who called for a 'surge' last year, which again has proved unsuccessful. Instead, listen to people such as General Sir Richard Dannatt, head of the British Army, who has conceded that the continuing presence of British troops "exacerbates the security problems" in Iraq.
And most importantly of all, listen to opinion polls, which show quite clearly that the British public have had enough of this wretched, unnecessary conflict. By announcing a pull-out of British troops, you will greatly enhance your chances of success in the next election. The Conservatives, who are sadly under the influence of neo-cons such as Mr Finkelstein, Michael Gove, Liam Fox, Ed Vaizey and George Osborne, will be left defending a hugely unpopular policy. Which will only become more unpopular as the number of British casualties rises.

ps Mr Finkelstein is an entertaining writer, but his track record on giving advice on how to win general elections, is- (how to put it delicately?)- not the greatest- please remember that he was an advisor to both John Major and William Hague....

Monday, May 21, 2007

The 'Human Rights' Alliance

Sometimes, pictures speak louder than words....
For those unfamiliar with drug smuggling murderous Balkan terrorist organisations, the man on the immediate right of the new 'humanitarian' French Foreign Minister is Hashim Thaci a.k.a. 'The Snake', leader of the K.L.A.

If the world is his oyster

This article of mine appears in today's Guardian.


It's not a bad reward for being proved wrong. Bernard Kouchner, alone among prominent members of the French Socialist party in welcoming US-led military intervention against Iraq, has ended up not in the political doghouse but in the Quai D'Orsay, as the foreign minister of France.

The appointment of Kouchner by France's new rightwing president, Nicolas Sarkozy, may have surprised commentators, but it is only the latest illustration of a cross-party alliance of neoconservatives and liberal interventionists that is already entrenched in both the US and Britain.

In America, the pro-war Democratic senator Joe Lieberman is kissed by George Bush, while in Britain, Michael Gove, the Tory MP for Surrey Heath, expresses his "love" for Tony Blair. The Henry Jackson Society has brought together parliamentarians from both the Conservative and Labour parties in support of an "interventionist foreign policy": spot the difference between the aims of that group and those of the supposedly left-leaning Euston Manifesto.

Now this right-left alliance is under way in France. Sarkozy and Kouchner share a belief that France's foreign policy needs to shift from its traditional "conservative realist" approach to a more interventionist pro-US line. With Kouchner, the man described as the "father of humanitarian interventionism", as foreign minister, we can expect France to involve itself far more in the affairs of other nations.

For Kouchner, international law is an anachronism to be overridden with impunity. "To change the law, you sometimes have to break the law" is one of his favourite sayings. Despite having served as UN special representative in Kosovo, Kouchner seems to have scant regard for its charter and the way it enshrines the sovereign equality of all its members. He clearly believes some states are more equal than others. In a 2004 lecture he argued: "The sovereignty of states can be respected only if it emanates from the people inside the state. If a state is a dictatorship, then it is absolutely not worthy of the international community's respect." This was the logic that led Kouchner to believe his country "should have gone along" with the US in the campaign to overthrow Saddam Hussein, despite its clear illegality and the lack of UN backing.

Instead of a world of equal states respecting each other's sovereignty, Kouchner prefers the "right of interference" by western powers, if necessary by military force. But, after a decade of western vigilantism of the type Kouchner favours, the results have not been encouraging from a human rights perspective. In Kosovo an estimated 200,000 Serbs, Roma and other minorities have been ethnically cleansed since Nato moved in. In Afghanistan, Operation Enduring Freedom has claimed the lives of tens of thousands of civilians. In Iraq, the humanitarian catastrophe worsens by the day.

Acknowledging the disasters caused by the western interventions of the decade doesn't of course mean accepting states should be free to massacre their own citizens with impunity. But where evidence of such crimes exists and is verified by an impartial body, it is essential that any intervention should be not only in full accordance with international law, but by a universally accepted international body rather than a partisan force such as Nato. Don't expect Kouchner, a staunch Atlanticist, to make such suggestions. "A political moment for celebration" is how the hawkish Times columnist Daniel Finkelstein described Kouchner's appointment. He's right: there's no doubt that in the offices of the neoconservative Project for the New American Century, Kouchner's elevation will be celebrated. But for those who believe the best hope for peace and human rights is respect for international law, the news from Paris is bleak indeed.


UPDATE
A commenter by the name of 'Jeremy James' who bemoans the fact that the Sarkozy/Kouchner team was not in charge of French policy in the lead up to war in Iraq, and who claims that Jacques Chirac's use of the veto to try to stop a war which to date has cost the lives of at least 600,000 people, was "unprincipled gesture politics of the very worst sort" states:

"Neil Clark's article is an affront to journalism.
I hope we shall not be burdened with any other piece from him about any other subject in the future."


Oh you shall, Mr James, you shall. So long as pro-war fanatics like you still have the audacity to put your head above the parapet and use public forums to express your obscene and wholly discredited views, I'll be there. That I can promise you.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Time for a Constitutional Amendment

If only Jimmy Carter would be allowed to stand for President for a third time! He's head and shoulders above everyone else in American politics.

UPDATE: Great news. Our dear friend Stephen Pollard, in his own inimitable, charming way, points out that there is no need for a constitutional amendment as the rule only forbids presidents serving three terms, not people standing three times. So what is Jimmy Carter waiting for! Come on Jimmy, announce your candidature and rescue your country from the gang of neo-conservative/liberal imperialist warmongers who have been in control of your foreign policy the past decade. Your country needs you!

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Thought for the Day

"There is an old Hindu proverb which say: that house with red lamp over door is not always headquarters of Communist Party".

Courtesy of Jimmy Perry and David Croft.

Friday, May 18, 2007

A nice reward for being wrong on Iraq

Very few politicians from the French Socialist Party supported the Iraq war. Bernard Kouchner was one. His reward for making the wrong call? He's just been appointed the new French Foreign Minister. Or, more accurately, the foreign minister of what is now, the 51st state of America.

Routledge hits the bullseye- again

Friday's column by the principled 'Old' Labour journalist Paul Routledge in the Daily Mirror is always a joy to read. Here he is today on the shameful NATO aggression against Yugoslavia in 1999:

Nato bombed Serbia for 11 weeks to smash the nation into submission. Some 2,500 Serbs died and $100billion worth of damage was caused. Blair regards this is as a success story.
But the war was based on a complete con-trick, devised by the terrorist Kosovo Liberation Army and swallowed by the Yanks. Kosovo is now about to have "independence" at the point of Nato guns, enabling the Kosovar Albanians to carry on their vile businesses of drug-running and people-smuggling.
Their latest wheeze is to give the Americans a base for Star Wars missiles, right on Russia's doorstep.


You can read the rest of Routledge's piece, and his views on New Labour's scandalous programme of Post Office closures, here.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Destruction of Iraq

"There is not 'one' civil war, nor 'one' insurgency, but several civil wars and insurgencies between different communities in today's Iraq. Within this warring society, the Iraqi government is only one among many 'state-like' actors, and is largely irrelevant in terms of ordering social, economic, and political life. It is now possible to argue that Iraq is on the verge of being a failed state which faces the distinct possibility of collapse and fragmentation."


You can read the rest of Chatham House's damning report on the state of Iraq, four years after its 'liberation', here.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Poisonous Vendetta of Oliver Kamm

Regular readers will know all about the extremely vindictive campaign waged against me by the neo-conservative blogger Oliver Kamm, which started when my critical review of Kamm's book appeared in the Daily Telegraph in December 2005. Ever since then, Kamm and his mysterious pseudonymous associates have done all they could to smear me, with emails, repeating Kamm's libellous allegations, being sent to my commissioning editors. One, sent to my editor at The Australian, and cced to Kamm, is enclosed below.

From: George Courtenay [mailto:georgeco@gawab.com] Sent: Monday, February 20, 2006 1:33 PM
Cc: Neil Clark; oliver.kamm@tiscali.co.uk

Subject: Neil Clark sources
I see you have published an opinion article by Neil Clark today. That's all good to print a range of views but you may be interested that Oliver Kamm of the London Times has been investigating Mr. Clark's use of sources.
http://oliverkamm.typepad.com/blog/2006/02/more_on_balkan_.html
http://oliverkamm.typepad.com/blog/2006/02/balkan_claims_r.html

Mr.Clark doesn't say the same thing in his new article but as he's lied to other editors I'm bringing it to your attention.
G. Courtenay


Who exactly was 'George Courtenay?'
Further investigation revealed that 'George Courtenay' has been involved in disputes involving Oliver Kamm at least twice before.
In fact, the only time Mr Courtenay seems willing to enter in to any debate in cyberspace, is when Oliver Kamm is involved: I could find no trace of him commenting on any other issue. I wrote to Mr Courtenay's email address to ask if he could provide a full postal address and proof of his identity, but several months on, I'm still waiting for a reply.

'George Courtenay's' intervention was not an isolated occurence. Each time, the pattern has been the same: Kamm makes untrue and libellous allegations, which are then promptly cced, and sent to an editor, under various aliases, or even anonymously. At the same time, my wikipedia entry has been repeatedly maliciously edited by a certain 'elena zamm', who has only edited (this time favourably) two other sites: Oliver Kamm's and Anthea Bell's. Who's Anthea Bell, I hear you ask? Why she's no other than Oliver Kamm's mother.

Back in December, I wrote:
The ball is firmly in Oliver Kamm's court. I very much hope that he decides to ends this dispute exactly 365 days after it started. But if, as I unfortunately suspect, he and and his supporters decide to carry on their vendetta in 2007, they should be aware that I will use any means, within the law, to defend myself and my reputation
.

Unfortunately, my suspicions have proved correct. Instead of ending his vendetta, Kamm has carried on, on several occasions repeating defamatory allegations about me on his website. Today, 'staele 64', left the following comment after a piece of mine on the Guardian Comment is Free website:

"Ericfromm4ever was exposed as a sockpuppet of Neil Clark more than a year ago. http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/neil_clark/2006/04/democracy_timothy_gartonash_st.html#comment-8628
That's a serious abuse of CIF and I'll bring it to the attention of the editors, Neil. You must remember this. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lee_Siegel
Fans of Stephen Pollard's old blog will remember when Neil called himself Green Goddess to post comments to praise himself. Funny how you vanished as soon as Pollard exposed you, Neil. "

Once again, the pattern is the same: false and libellous allegations are made, the pseudonymous commenter threatens to report me to those who employ me, and a link to a recent post by Oliver Kamm about me(in this case one written yesterday) is included.

Is Oliver Kamm the kind of man who, out of spite, would deliberately try to destroy someone's livelihood? The answer is most emphatically yes. His blogpost of 1st January 2006, with its aside about the editor of The Times and other editors who employ me was clearly designed to stop me writing again(and in the case of The Times, process provide more freelance opportunities for himself). And in this respect, it's not just me who has been the target of Kamm's malice. Here's another example of Kamm's modus operandi.

It's tempting to take the line that Kamm is a obsessive crank, "a very, very small man" (to use the words of Ernest Fuentes), who is best left ignored. But Kamm and his pseudonymous associates means real harm and this affair has already gone on for far too long.

Will I be resorting to High Court action against Kamm? Will I bring charges against him for criminal harassment? I keep both actions open. But in the meantime, the more people that know about this tawdry affair the better. And that includes Scotland Yard.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Arrogance of Empire

Here's my latest article for the The Guardian's Comment is Free website.

What do you make of the latest news from Serbia?

The Serbian foreign minister surprised reporters last Friday when he said that his country would accept any US administration that "did not include members of the ultra-nationalist Republican party".

According to Mr Draskovic, the Republican party should be precluded from office, regardless of the level of public support, on account of its belligerent foreign policy stance and the fact that its leader, George Bush, who launched an illegal war against Iraq in 2003, is a "war criminal".

The Serbian foreign minister also cited provocative pro-war statements of several leading members of the party, including John "Bomb Iran" McCain and Dick Cheney.
The US, faced with pressure from other European countries over the presence of Republicans in government, is set to cave in and remove members of the party from all public offices.

Well of course, the above didn't happen. But what did happen last week was that the US undersecretary of state, Nicholas Burns, said the US would welcome "any democratic government in Serbia that doesn't include the Radicals" (the country's largest party). The EU enlargement commissioner, Olli Rehn, echoed the US line, saying that "good progress in forming a new reform and Europe-orientated government" (ie one without Serbia's most popular party) was "good news".

Why is it acceptable for the US and EU to dictate to other countries which parties should or shouldn't be included in government, but not for other countries to do likewise? By what authority do the US and EU act? It can't be from moral superiority: when it comes to contravening international law, war-mongering, "ultra-nationalism" and human rights, the US has a far worse record than the countries it is lecturing.

EU governments may have a better recent record, even allowing for the blind eye they turned to the CIA's rendition flights, but even so, their ultimatums to other countries also leave a bad taste in the mouth, particularly when the country is one which has suffered enough at the hands of foreign meddling. Would Yugoslavia have broken up in the first place without the encouragement that the EU, and in particular, Germany, gave to Slovenia and Croatia? It's highly unlikely.

To illustrate the breathtaking, imperialist arrogance of both the US and the EU, it's always useful to imagine a bit of role reversal. What would have been said if the Iranian navy, while patrolling the English Channel (after an Iranian invasion of France), had some of its sailors captured by British ships? Would the British be hailed in Washington and Brussels as the aggressors? Would a tersely-worded statement calling for the "immediate release" of the Iranian hostages be released? I think not.

What would have happened if Yugoslavia had armed and financed the IRA in the early 1970s and then led a coalition of Eastern European countries in bombing Britain for 78 days and nights after it had refused to withdraw its troops from Northern Ireland? Would the US and EU blame the war on Britain?

And how would the US and EU react if President Putin poured millions of roubles into funding anti-American political parties in central and southern America, and, after the "right" parties had come to power, announced the formation of a Russian-led military alliance and the stationing of Russian military bases on central and south american soil?

Until the world's two most powerful empires start behaving as they would like others to behave, we should treat their threats and ultimatums with the contempt they deserve.

A "corrupt, sinister and dangerous" cult

"(it is) both immoral and socially obnoxious...it is corrupt, sinister and dangerous. It is corrupt because it is based on lies and deceit and has as its real objective money and power".
Mr Justice Latey on the cult of Scientology (hat tip, Stephen Pollard)

That's the best definition of neo-conservatism I've ever heard!

UPDATE: Vanessa Feltz has a wonderful line in today's Daily Express about the twerpishly self-important BBC reporter John Sweeney, lionised by the neo-cons for his biased reporting from Kosovo in 1999, and who blew his top on Panorama's 'expose' of Scientology last night:
"Sweeney proved one fact conclusively: when upper middle-class men lose it, they all sound like Basil Fawlty".

The Great Railway Rip-Off

Anyone out there who still thinks railway privatisation was a good idea....?

An asylum seeker writes in the Daily Telegraph!

Never thought you'd live to see the day when an article by an Eastern European asylum seeker, wanted by Interpol, is published in The Daily Telegraph?
You just have.
Of course, the fact that the asylum seeker in question is a billionaire with strong neo-con connections has nothing to do with the fact that his views on Putin and Russia and have been published......

Monday, May 14, 2007

More goals please, we're famished.

Here's my piece from today's First Post on why Manchester City, and not Charlton Athletic, should have been relegated from the Premiership.

Another domestic football season is over. But though the final day brought some great excitement, not least in the nail-biting Sheffield United v Wigan clash, let's not kid ourselves that 2006/7 has been a vintage campaign.

Manchester United deserved to win the title on account of their attack-minded football, but elsewhere quality - and in particular goals - has been too thin on the ground.

Just take a look at the goals-for column in the Premiership table and compare it to the end-of-season league tables of 20 or 30 years ago. In 1986, Oxford United finished in a similar position as Manchester City did this season (that is, just above the drop zone) but scored 62 goals to City's 29 (from four more matches). That year Watford, who finished 12th, bagged 69 goals, a total bettered only by Manchester United this year.

If you go back further, the comparison is even more striking - in 1975/6 Wolves were relegated even though they scored 51 goals. If we do want football to become more entertaining again, the Premier League needs to take radical action.
Instead of relegating the three teams with the lowest number of points, how about relegating the three lowest scoring teams? This year, that would mean that Manchester City, and not Charlton Athletic, would be relegated along with Watford and Sheffield United. Tough luck on Stuart Pearce's men? Not a bit of it.
A team that scores only 29 goals in the course of one season, and that fails to score a single goal at home after New Year's Day, doesn't deserve to stay in the Premiership.

"The game is about doing things in style, with a flourish, about going out and beating the other lot, not waiting for them to die of boredom," said the late Danny Blanchflower. It's time the practitioners of boring football got their just reward.

A Historic Moment

Never thought you'd live to see the day when this blog linked approvingly to an article by Christopher Hitchens? You just have.

Prozac Nation

The Times informs us that doctors wrote out 31 million prescriptions for anti-depressants in Britain last year.
Here's what we need to do to remedy the situation.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

The Greatest Show on Earth (well, almost)

Yes, it's that time of the year again: The Eurovision Song Contest. Who will win the coveted prize this year? Will it go to Hungary or Belarus for the first time? Will the Finns retain the trophy? Or perhaps Serbia can add the Eurovision crown to their Presidency of the Council of Europe and annoy the Serbo-phobes still further?
Or, (and I know we're entering the realms of fantasy here), will Britain win for the first time since 1997?
Last year in The Guardian, I put forward a five point plan to restore the contest to its 1970s 'Ding a Dong' glory. Sadly, my proposals have not as yet been adopted by the contest's organisers, but I'll post them again here, in case any bigwigs from European television happen to stumble upon this site.......

p.s. what odds that Cyprus doesn't give 12 points to Greece and vice versa? 100-1?

UPDATE: After this news, I wouldn't like to be Marko Attila-Hoare's cat today. Or George Monbiot's either......

Friday, May 11, 2007

A Tale of Two Prime Ministers

This piece of mine appears on The Guardian's Comment is Free website.

Watching Tony Blair's resignation speech yesterday, reminded me of another time when a Labour prime minister left Downing Street. Harold Wilson's resignation, unlike Blair's. was unexpected, but that was not the only difference between the way both men left office. For Wilson, there was to be no six week farewell tour, no trip to the U.S. to line up lucrative book contracts. From Wilson, no egotistical clap-trap about believing what he did was right or Hollywood-style sentimentality about his children never making him forget his failings.

Yet Wilson was in many ways far more deserving of the grand, prolonged farewell that Blair has mapped out for himself. Wilson's impact on his party, the country and the world was immeasurably more positive than Blair's. He held Labour together by allowing all wings of the party to have their say: just look at his cabinet of February 1974, which, (like his 1960s Cabinets) included left-wingers such as Barbara Castle, Tony Benn, Peter Shore and Michael Foot, as well as social democrats such as Roy Jenkins and Shirley Williams. Wilson's genius in party management was best illustrated by his decision to hold a referenda on EEC membership in 1975 and to suspend collective responsibility for the duration of the campaign. The rude health of Labour Party democracy in the Wilson era can be seen in candidates in the leadership election which followed his resignation: compare a contest between Benn, Callaghan, Crosland, Jenkins, Foot and Healey with the virtual coronation of Gordon Brown.

Wilson unlike Blair, left Britain in an unquestionably better shape than when he took office. In 1964, he inherited a balance of payments deficit of £800m, in 1970, thanks to shrewd economic management, it had been turned into a surplus of £550m, a 20th century record. On returning to power in February 1974, Wilson had to deal with the consequences of a quadrupling of the price of oil caused by the Yom Kippur War. By the time of Wilson's departure, inflation was already falling and the recession, which was none of Wilson's making, was coming to an end. Under Wilson, Britain still had a manufacturing base, under Blair, we have been transformed into a service economy with record levels of personal debt, and record balance of payments deficits. Wilson's economic achievements are all the more commendable when one considers that, unlike Blair, his governments didn't benefit from North Sea oil revenues.

In the field of foreign policy, the achievements of the two men could also not be more contrasting.

Blair will forever be associated with involving our country in a disastrous military adventure at the behest of a foreign power. Wilson's greatest achievement was not involving our country into an an equally misguided military adventure at the behest of the same foreign power.

While we should never forgive Blair for taking us into in Iraq, we should never forget how much we owe to Wilson for keeping us out of Vietnam.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Serbo-phobes should take a history lesson

This piece of mine appears in today's First Post.

Serb-bashing, the last acceptable form of racism in Europe, sadly shows no sign of abating. The news that Serbia is to take over the presidency of the Council of Europe this week has sent Serbo-phobes into paroxysms of rage.

"If European countries can't find the courage to act against Serbia, they can't find the courage to act against anyone," complains George Monbiot in the Guardian. But the Serb-bashers are wrong: the Balkan republic has every right to be considered a valued member of the European family.

Of all the constituent republics of the former Yugoslavia, Serbia was the least responsible for its violent break-up. The conflict was precipitated, not by Serb aggression, but by the illegal breakaway of Slovenia, egged on by Germany, in 1991.
Foreign intervention was also responsible for the war in Bosnia: the touch-paper being lit by the US ambassador Warren Zimmerman when he persuaded the Bosnian separatist leader Izetbegovic to renege on the EU-sponsored 1992 Lisbon agreement.
While no one denies that Bosnian Serbs committed atrocities, it's important to remember that the International Court of Justice recently exonerated Serbia of responsibility for the massacre at Srebrenica.

Serbo-phobes castigate Serbia for not extraditing Mladic and Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb leaders, to The Hague. But can one really blame Serbs for questioning the impartiality of a court which was set up by the very Nato powers which illegally bombed their country in 1999, and which, from its inception, has shown a blatant anti-Serb bias?

Far from being a pariah state, Serbia has played a positive role in modern European history: it was the Serb uprising against the Nazis in 1941 which postponed the Wehrmacht's invasion of the Soviet Union by a crucial five weeks. Were it not for the bravery of the most unjustly demonised people on the continent, Europe would look a very different place today.


UPDATE: On the subject of Serbo-phobes, here's Timothy Garton-Ash in today's Guardian.
"There( in Kosovo), Blair led the way in forging an international action to reverse a genocide being perpetrated by Slobodan Milosevic against the mainly Muslim Kosovar Albanians. For a liberal interventionist, Kosovo was Blair's finest hour."
If like me, you would like to see the sources for Mr Garton-Ash's claim that genocide was being perpetrated in Kosovo, then you can ask him a question in the comments box after the article. On Mr Garton-Ash's website is the quotation "Facts are subversive". A more appropriate motto for this shamefully inaccurate historian would be "facts are dispensable".

It's time for a truly ethical foreign policy

This article on mine appears in today's Morning Star.


The French anarchist group the Situationists made doing nothing a philosophy. As a lifestyle, doing nothing might be considered a trifle extreme. But on the evidence of Tony Blair's period of office, it's difficult to think of a better basis for our foreign policy.

Liberal imperialists like Blair routinely claim that their policy- of intervention before breakfast, lunch and dinner, from Kosovo, to Afghanistan and Iraq is the ethical one.

A closer inspection will show that the very opposite is true.

Consider the bloodshed in the former Yugoslavia. In the great liberal imperialist rewrite of history, atrocities such as Srebrenica occurred because the West sat back and watched the evil Serbs try to ethnically cleanse their way to a Greater Serbia. The truth was that without Western interference, there would have been no Balkan civil wars in the first place.

In what the author Diana Johnstone has described as an ‘extraordinary intervention contrary to all customary diplomatic usage’ Warren Zimmerman, the U.S. Ambassador in Belgrade made it clear Washington would not accept any use of force by the Yugoslav Federal Army to keep the federation together. The Germans in their sponsorship of separatists in Slovenia and Croatia went further- not only promising diplomatic support to the republics if they broke away, - but also equipping them with weapons and air force stocks. In Bosnia, the U.S. did all they could to prevent the separatist Bosnian leadership signing up to any deal which would have kept the republic in Yugoslavia, and also sabotaged the 1992 Lisbon agreement which would have provided for a peaceful division of an independent Bosnia. ‘If you don’t like it, why sign it ?’ Zimmerman asked Alija Izetbegovic- thus lighting the touch paper for the three year civil war.

Four years after Bosnia, the liberal imperialists were at it again, this time bellowing for military intervention against the Serbs for alleged atrocities against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. But once again, the trouble in Kosovo was not that the West had been doing nothing, but that it had been doing plenty.

Since 1997, western governments- determined to break up what was left of Yugoslavia, had been hard at work transforming the rag-bag cut-throats of the Kosovan Liberation Army into a viable fighting force.
Eight years on from the ‘humanitarian’ intervention which followed, Kosovo, under the auspices of the ‘international community’, can accurately be described as Europe’s first Mafia-run state. The province, previously so multiracial, has been ethnically cleansed of over 200,000 Serbs and Roma. Thousands are still without regular electricity. And the dropping of over 10,000 tons of depleted uranium in the 1999 NATO bombing campaign has led to a sharp rise in cancers, not just in Kosovo but across the rest of Serbia too.

In 2001, it was the Afghans turn to sip from the poisoned chalice of Western intervention. A multi-million dollar military campaign was launched by Washington to topple the Taliban- the group of Islamic fundamentalists who but for foreign meddling in Afghan affairs would never have come to power in the first place. To date ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’ has claimed the lives of over 5000 civilians, including the 40 guests, mainly women and children, killed during a B52 raid on a wedding party. ‘Afghanistan is an utterly lawless country’ was the verdict of the veteran war reporter Robert Fisk, returning to the country after its ‘liberation’. ‘Schools have been burnt down, there have been rapes in the north. You cannot travel the roads by night’.

Unabashed by the chaos they unleashed in Afghanistan, the liberal imperialists then moved on to Iraq. In the media brainwashing that preceded the war, it was taken as a given that ‘something had to be done’ about Saddam- even by those in the anti-war movement. When The Guardian asked twenty prominent anti-war campaigners the question ‘what would you do about HIM’, only two came up with the proper response- to do nothing. Had the U.S. and Britain done exactly that four years ago, save lift the genocidal sanctions that were killing 5,000 Iraqi children a month and halt the illegal twice weekly bombing raids on the ‘no-fly’ zones, over 600,000 people now dead would still be alive. And the world would be a much safer place.

Liberal imperialism is not only unethical in its consequences- but also in the basic assumption that underlies it- namely the arrogance that ‘we’ ...i.e. the most powerful nations on earth have a god-given right to interfere in the internal affairs of other 'less enlightened’ nations- to dictate who should be their leaders and under what system of government they should operate.

Doing nothing as a foreign policy is, by contrast, based on humility- in acknowledging that we have no moral authority to interfere in matters which are clearly not our concern.
Doing nothing not only means not getting involved in disputes that are not our business, but also not helping to ignite those disputes in the first place. That means reining in the military/industrial complex in whose interest it is that humanitarian ‘crises’ come along every two or three years. It also means respect for both the spirit and letter of international law- and the overriding importance it places on the principle of national sovereignty -a concept as despised by today’s liberal imperialists as much as it was by their jack-booted predecessors.

As we survey the physical and human debris caused throughout the world, by those told us that ‘something must be done’- the adoption of a truly ethical foreign policy is surely the most urgent priority of our times.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Isabella who?

According to today's broadsheets she was the greatest fashion designer the world has ever seen, if not the greatest person the world has ever seen. Am I the only person who, before today, had never heard of Isabella Blow?

Sour Grapes and an Apple Tree

Neo-con mover-and-shaker Anne Applebaum can't resist putting the boot in on retiring French President Jacques Chirac in this week's Washington Post. But is it just sour grapes from the wife of the former Polish Defence Minister?

Four years ago, in the build-up to the Iraq war, Applebaum took part in a question and answer session with the Washington Post's readers. Here's one exchange:

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.


Surpisingly, in her attack on Chirac for his alleged policy failings, Ms Applebaum doesn't mention the prediction she made before the Iraq war. I wonder why that is?

What's 'centre-left' about the Hungarian government?

Would you label a government 'centre-left', if it supported the Iraq war, sold off over 160 publicly owned enterprises, abolished a tax on stock market profits and introduced VAT on prescription charges and charges for visits to the doctor?

No, me neither. But a certain GM Tamas, writing in The Guardian seems to think it is, even though he also concedes that the Hungarian government is 'neo-conservative'.

Tamas also acknowledges that "real wages are lower compared to those of the former regime" and that "the communists may be defeated, but so are we (ie the Hungarian people)". All very true, but Tamas fails to enlighten readers as to who is to blame for Hungary's predicament.

The answer is neo-liberal parties such the Hungarian Liberal Party (SDZSZ), which Tamas used to represent in Parliament. The SDZSZ has played a pernicious role in the country's affairs since 1989, espousing by far the most extreme capitalist remedies. It's the Liberals (together with their neo-liberal allies in the Gyurcsany wing of the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) who are pushing for health privatisation, and the privatisation of Hungary's excellent public transport system. It's the Liberals who want all Hungarians to have private health insurance and it's the Liberal Health Minister who recently introduced charges for visiting the doctor. To call the Hungarial Liberal Party 'centre-left' is obscene: it's the most Thatcherite political party in Europe.

The majority of Hungarians may not have benefited from the sell-out of Hungary to global capital, as Tamas concedes, but I'll tell you one man who has. Mr George Soros, the international currency speculator, who in addition to financing the SZDSZ party, also funds the Central European University where Tamas teaches.

Small world, isn't it?

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

From saint to sinner, an English tragedy.....

"There never was a golden age of English decency, civility and manners" says Joe Bullman,director of Channel 4's new series, The Seven Sins of England which begins tonight at 10pm.

He's wrong.

Here's my piece from today's Daily Express.


Worried about rising violent crime? The prevalence of binge-drinking? Or the rudeness that blights everyday life? Well, you can relax. According to a new Channel 4 series, 'The Seven Sins of England', "binge-drinking, rudeness, violence, hooliganism, slaggishness, consumerism and bigotry" are not modern phenomena, but an ancient and integral part of our national heritage. The programme claims that we, the English, have been a drunk, racist, rude and violent lot for over a thousand years. It's a nice, neat thesis, but unfortunately (or rather fortunately) is just isn't true.

What the makers of 'The Seven Sins of England' conveniently overlook is that until comparatively recently, England was one of the safest, gentlest and least yobbish societies in the world.

The introduction of a modern police force and an efficient criminal justice system, the extension of compulsory state education and the strong moral guidance provided by institutions such as Sunday School, had all made an impact on reducing lawlessness by the late Victorian era. The temperance movement also played its part. Drunkenness was a major problem in the 19th century, but thanks to the work of organisations such as the Methodist Church and the Salvation Army, millions took the pledge and renounced the demon drink.

By the middle of the 20th century, with much of Europe in turmoil, England could fairly be described as an oasis of social calm, with none of C4's 'Seven Sins' much in evidence. Violence? Britain's murder rate fell from 4.7 per million in 1904 to 3.1 per million in 1930 ( it's around six times higher today).
Hooliganism? People went to football matches in collars and ties and mingled freely with supporters of the opposing team.
Rudeness? England was noted for its civility.
"The gentleness of the English civilisation is perhaps its most marked characteristic" wrote George Orwell in 1941. "You notice it the moment you set foot on English soil. It is a land where the bus conductors are good-tempered and the policemen carry no revolvers".
D.H. Lawrence was in agreement: "I don't like England very much, but the English do seem a rather loveable people. The have such a lot of gentleness".
The 'gentleness of the English civilisation" continued after the Second World War. What, I wonder, would the Metropolitan police do now to have to deal with only twenty-eight armed robberies in one year- the total in 1949? The England of the Fifities was a place where families promenaded together, the 'f' word was never heard in public and people still left their doors unlocked, even in major cities.

It was only in the following decade that things began to change. The Sixties social reformers saw themselves as 'modernisers', but loosening the ties of self-restraint only ushered in a more selfish, 'anything goes' society.

In the last thirty years or so, C4's 'seven sins' have undoubtedly become more prevalent. Binge-drinking first entered our vocabulary in the 1990s and became an even greater problem after the liberalisation of licensing laws in 2000. Rudeness and bad manners have become more common: the days when an Englishman automatically stood up in a room when a lady entered or lifted his hat when a funeral cortege passed by are sadly gone. Football hooliganism appeared with a vengeance in the Seventies, while 'slaggishness' is a direct consequence of the permissive society. The Eighties ushered in the 'sin' of consumerism, facilitated by the more widespread use of credit cards.

The seventh English 'sin' -bigotry -is, even today, hard to justify.
Few people have been so welcoming to immigrants: be it in the Huguenots in the 17th century, Jews in the 20th, or more recent arrivals. Racist partiers like the B.N.P. have never had much electoral success, and get far fewer votes than their counterparts in other European countries. This is not a recent phenomenon: in the 1930s, fascism, which spread like a plague throughout the continent, never took root in England, the so-called 'British Hitler' Oswald Mosley was seen as a figure of fun and not as a potential national saviour.

Tonight's programme is trying to make us defeatist about our society today- saying that it's always been like this and we can't do much about it. But the experience of England in the 20th century shows that we can be as peaceful, law-abiding and sober as any one else.

We can't disinvent television, which is behind much of the unpleasant, anti-social behaviour we see around us today, but there are many things we can do to reverse the tide. It doesn't have to be like this: the 'seven sins' are not in our blood.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Far-right extremism in central and eastern europe

This piece of mine, on the worrying rise of far-right extremism in central and eastern europe, appears on the Guardian's Comment is Free website.


Grave robbery is always a despicable act. But when the grave is that of a man who, under difficult circumstances, did his best for his fellow countrymen and women, and presided over arguably the freest and most liberal form of communism the world has ever seen, the incident is particularly lamentable.

The desecration of the grave of Janos Kadar , Hungary's former communist leader, and that of his wife, has been condemned across the political spectrum in Hungary. Yet sadly, it is another disturbing example of the far-right extremism sweeping not just Hungary but the entire region.

In Poland, anti-communist hysteria is being stoked up by the Kaczynski government, which, because of its slavishly pro-Washington foreign policy, escapes censure for its blatant homophobia. The government's latest McCarthyite initiative is a new law which requires lawmakers, academics and others to confess any collaboration with the communist regime or risk losing their jobs.

In Romania, the Greater Romania Party of Corneliu Vadim Tudor poisons the political discourse with its anti-Hungarian, anti-Roma rhetoric, while in Estonia, the government pandered to neo-Nazi opinion by ordering the removal of a statue commemorating the Red Army from central Tallinn.

Anti-semitic attacks are growing more commonplace: last year a group of Jewish tourists were attacked on the underground in Budapest; Jews were advised by their community leaders to stay at home during recent Hungarian National Day commemorations. Asian immigrants have also been the victims of brutal racial attacks; violence against Roma is on the increase too.

The reason for the rise in such far-right extremism is economic. The standard western line is that since 1989, the former communist countries' economies have been transformed into booming, market economies. The reality is rather different: GDP in the former communist states fell between 20% and 40% in the decade after 1989 - an economic contraction which, in the words of Budapest economist Laszlo Andor "can only be compared to the Great Depression of the 1930s".

In many cases, it's been parties nominally of the left, bought off by capital, which have been doing the dirty work. In Hungary, the "socialist" prime minister, Ferenc Gyurcsany (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 agenda which has involved selling off over 160 state enterprises, imposing VAT on medical prescriptions and introducing charges for visits to the doctor. Gyurcsany's austerity programme has made the vast majority of Hungarians worse off: little surprise that, faced with a continuing fall in their living standards, 65% of Hungarians said they held positive views about the Kadar era and its progressive brand of communism.

The correct response to the tyranny of neoliberalism should not be racism, anti-semitism and homophobia but economic and social policies to increase solidarity. It's time the socialist parties in the region stopped following the socially destructive dogma of Thatcherism and instead tried being socialist.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Sarkozy wins. But let's look on the bright side

Nicolas Sarkozy has been elected the new President of France. It's a great pity Segolene Royal couldn't make it as she easily had the better policies of the two, but let's look on the bright side. There are three positive things to be said about Sarkozy:

1. He is not opposed to protectionism.
2. He hates hedge funds and what he calls 'speculative capitalism'.
3. He doesn't want Turkey in the E.U.(as many neo-cons do).

Sarkozy apparently sees himself as the new Charles de Gaulle. If so, let's hope he follows the great man's dirigiste economic policies, as well as his foreign policies.

UPDATE: I must also add that when it comes to having an energising, wide-ranging democratic debate, France, has, over these past few weeks, put Britain to shame. The Royal v Sarkozy clash captured the imagination of the French public, as the high turnout evidences. Britain might claim to be one of the oldest democracies in the world, but thanks to the Henry Jacksonite/neo-liberal hijacking of the upper echelons of both our major parties, it's now also one of the dullest.

Finsceal lands the Guineas!

In October last year I wrote:

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.


Unfortunately an injury deprived us of seeing Teofilio in action in yesterday's 2,000 Guineas, but his stablemate Finsceal Beo run out an impressive winner of the fillies equivalent this afternoon. I hope you were on too!

More historical inaccuracy from Professor Ferguson

Professor Niall Ferguson, the tireless advocate of western imperialism, is on vintage form in his column in today's Sunday Telegraph. Drooling over Tony Blair's early foreign policy 'success', he writes:

Short, sharp interventions in civil conflicts had spectacularly positive results. Serbia went from ethnic cleansing to elections.


Really, Professor? Serbia (or more accurately Yugoslavia, as the country was officially called until 2003) held regular free and fair elections in the 1990s, the only trouble was that from a western perspective, the 'wrong' side i.e. Slobodan Milosevic's unreconstructed Socialist Party kept winning.

If you read Ferguson's column every week, I'm sure you will come to the same conclusion as I have: being a neo-con means never having to worry about letting facts getting in the way of the argument.

UPDATE: For a more accurate account of Blair's 'success' in Kosovo, here's a historian who does know what he's talking about.

Britain, not France, is the sick man of Europe

I have to admit to being increasingly irritated at the tendency of British commentators and politicians to present the election as France's last-chance saloon, for in most things that combine to make up a decent quality of life, from health to literacy, to gentility and solicitude for the vulnerable, France has us beaten.

Read more of Martin Newland's great piece on why Britain has more to learn from France than vice versa, here:

UPDATE: The case against Nicolas Sarkozy is a strong one, but warning that there will be race riots if he wins today's election, as this commentator does, shouldn't be part of it.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

A typo in the Daily Telegraph

The Daily Telegraph is usually an excellent paper when it comes to avoiding typos, but there's a major one in the headline over one of its comment pieces today.
The caption reads: "Will France choose Sarko or the road to ruin?"
The 'a' 'r' and 'k' in the fourth word, have, for some reason, been typed in instead of 'e' and 'g'.

David Suchet: A National Treasure

Did anyone catch David Suchet's portrayal of the notorious fraudster Robert Maxwell in the BBC2 drama last night? What a terrific performance! I'm not a great fan of the honours system, but if we are to hand out knighthoods to people, how come the finest British actor of his generation is not yet 'Sir David'?

The secret of Lester Piggott

"Kindness. It's not a word you ever see associated with Lester Piggott but it is a rarely seen side of his character and also is the key to his riding style which made him a riding great."


Walter Swinburn has an excellent piece in the Daily Mail on the legendary jockey, whose phenomenal record will be celebrated this weekend, 50 years on from his first win in the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket. If you're lucky enough to be at HQ today, you can meet the great man as he'll be signing books at the Marlborough Books stand on the Hyperion Lawn.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Jacques Chirac deserves plaudits for his prudence

This article of mine appears in today's The Australian.

Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got
'Til it's gone.

THE words of Joni Mitchell's Big Yellow Taxi were penned nearly 40 years ago, but they do, I believe, have particular relevance this weekend as the citizens of France prepare to bid adieu to Jacques Chirac, their President for the past 12 years.

The man they call Le Bulldozer can hardly be said to be going out in a blaze of glory. Opinion polls show about 70 per cent of the French public has a negative view of him: in 2005 Chirac was rated the most unpopular president of the Fifth Republic since pollsters began measuring the personal approval ratings of French politicians in 1978.

Foreign commentators seem similarly unimpressed with Chirac's record. "Whenever a corrupt, vulgar, sex-addled politician leaves office it's a cause for celebration," opines Philip Delves Broughton in Britain's Daily Mail. "When that politician happens to be Jacques Chirac, it is truly a moment to hang out the bunting, whistle La Marseillaise and pop a bottle of Kent's finest methode champenoise."

I beg to differ.

Chirac may have got some decisions wrong during his time in office, but on the defining issue of our times - the Iraq war - the "corrupt, vulgar, sex-addled" Bulldozer got it absolutely right. For keeping his country out of a catastrophic conflict and for refusing to give legitimacy to the invasion by supporting a second UN resolution, he deserves far more plaudits than he has yet been accorded.

It's easy to forget the opprobrium Chirac and his country received for having the temerity to oppose the neo-conservative war agenda. The phrase "cheese-eating surrender monkeys", first uttered by a character in The Simpsons and popularised by Jonah Goldberg in National Review, became the favoured term of abuse, while the anti-French hysteria that swept the US led to french fries being renamed freedom fries in three congressional buildings in Washington, DC.

Chirac, likened to a rodent by Christopher Hitchens, was accused of being a pimp for Saddam Hussein, with a 1975 quote - in which he told the then Iraqi vice-president "I welcome you as my personal friend. I assure you of my esteem, my consideration, and my affection" - being constantly dragged up by those who were somewhat less keen to mention former US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld's infamous visit to Baghdad in the 1980s.

When those weapons of mass destruction turned up, Chirac would, we were informed, be a laughing stock. "France (and Germany) risk being completely disqualified as serious members of the international community," predicted Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum.

Yet four years on, it's the US and Britain - and not France and Germany - that have seen their international credibility torn to shreds. France, because of its opposition to the Iraq war, is now arguably the most respected Western country not only in the Middle East but throughout the entire world: its increased influence was seen in the key diplomatic role it played in helping to end the Israel-Hezbollah war last year.

Those who warned that France's relations with the US would be permanently damaged on account of Chirac's anti-war stance have also been proved spectacularly wrong. "The revival of French influence in Washington must be particularly galling for Mr Blair after the considerable political damage he has suffered for persisting in his close alliance with the American President," records neo-conservative writer Con Coughlin.

By telling it straight to George W. Bush, Chirac proved himself a better friend to the US than the obsequious Tony Blair. And for his candour Chirac has been rewarded with greater respect in Washington: significantly, there was no "Yo Chirac!" greeting for him at last year's Group of Eight summit.

Chirac's opposition to the Iraq war was not based on any great affection for Saddam, nor knee-jerk anti-Americanism, as his detractors claim, but because in foreign policy terms he is a conservative realist and not a neo-conservative. For conservative realists the whole notion of a pre-emptive strike is anathema. Conservative realists know that wars have unintended consequences and that military action should be the last resort. Conservative realists believe in deterrence and containment: they prefer to let sleeping dogs lie rather than stir up hornets' nests. But it's a mistake to confuse such a position with weakness.
In January last year Chirac said France was prepared to launch a nuclear strike against any country that sponsored a terrorist attack against French interests. When it comes to countering Islamic terror, France's record is second to none: "France is the most stalwart nation in the West, even more so than America, while Britain is the most hapless," is the verdict of US terrorism analyst Daniel Pipes.

The main worry is that under Nicolas Sarkozy, Chirac's probable successor, things could change. Sarkozy criticised Chirac's handling of the Iraq crisis, and even though he has since conceded the French President was right, he nevertheless favours aligning foreign policy more closely to Washington. There's little doubt that Sarkozy has a closer ideological affinity with the neo-conservative world view than his staunchly Gaullist predecessor. And that could mean trouble lies ahead.

It was once said of Neville Chamberlain, Britain's most disastrous prime minister, that he would have made a good lord mayor of Birmingham in a bad year. About Chirac the opposite could be said to be true. He was a mediocre mayor of Paris but, in foreign affairs at least, an uncommonly good president.

The French won't know what they had 'til it's gone.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Return of the Chingford Polecat

Although I find his views on economic matters deplorable, I've always admired the courage the former Conservative Cabinet minister Norman Tebbit showed after the 1984 Brighton Bombing and the devotion he has shown to his wife Margaret, who was paralysed in the attack. Tebbit has accused the BBC of 'double standards' after it invited him on to a programme with the man who planted the bomb at Brighton, Patrick Magee. He said he found it 'distasteful' that the BBC was elevating Magee, who has never properly apologised for his actions, to 'celebrity status'. Tebbit goes on:

"What a pity Dr Harold Shipman is dead. Putting him back in surgery for consultation with the families of those he killed and a survivor or two of his medications would have made such a contribution to the BBC's mission to inform and entertain".

Quite. The interesting thing to note about Magee is that he was released in 1999 as part of the Good Friday agreement brokered by a British Prime Minister who repeatedly assures us is 'tough on terrorism'. He should of course have said "Tough on terrorism so long as it's not carried out by the IRA or the Kosovan Liberation Army".

A Grave Matter

Sickening news from Hungary. The remains of Janos Kadar, Hungary's former communist leader have been stolen after his grave was prised open and his coffin broken. His wife's urn is also missing. Graffiti was daubed on the nearby communist workers' pantheon.

Out of all the communist leaders in the Eastern bloc, Kadar was easily the most defensible.

In his 32 years in power, his liberalising reforms made Hungary 'the happiest barracks in the socialist camp' : my wife's Zsuzsanna's personal experiences of what it was like growing up under Kadar's progressive brand of 'goulash communism' can be found here. Zsuzsanna's experiences are by no means unique, a poll conducted last year found that 65% of Hungarians had positive views about the Kadar era.

Grave robbing is wrong whoever's grave is robbed. (it is always a ghoulish and immoral act) But when the grave is that of a man who, under difficult circumstances, did the best for his fellow countrymen and women, and who presided over arguably the freest and most liberal form of communism the world has ever seen, the incident is particularly sad.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

The Benn Decade

What if Tony Benn had taken over as Prime Minister 10 years ago and not Tony Blair?

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

Just imagine ...
Ten years ago Tony Benn became prime minister. As he prepares to step down after a decade at the helm of Britain's most socialist government of all time, it's timely to assess what his administrations have achieved.

The renationalisation of the railways, carried out in the first months of the Benn government, has been a great success. Britain now has an integrated public transport network whose standards are up to European levels, (buses were also bought into public ownership) with the billions of pounds of subsidy that were being paid to profiteering private companies being invested in the network.

The government has also saved taxpayers money by cancelling the costly private finance initiative and by bringing "in house" all the services contracted out by the NHS and other government bodies. The renationalisation of the privatised utilities has also proved popular with the public, with prices of water, gas and electricity all dropping now that there's no fat cats to siphon off the profits. The nationalisation of North Sea oil and the setting up of a State Petroleum Fund to invest in long-term projects augurs well for Britain's future prosperity.

The Benn government set out to drastically reduce inequality, and has achieved this by the reintroduction of a new top rate of income tax, the introduction of new wealth tax on unearned income, a land tax and by generous increases in old age pensions and the minimum wage. Thanks to such redistributive policies, the gap between the rich and poor is now at historically low levels.

Britain's amicable withdrawal from the EU has saved the taxpayers billions of pounds too and prime minister Benn's idea of a "Commonwealth of Sovereign European States", with countries free to decide their own domestic policies, but agreeing to cooperate on matters of mutual interest has become increasingly popular with the millions of Europeans disenchanted with the undemocratic and overly-bureaucratic EU.

Benn's government's introduction of a fully elected second chamber has reinvigorated democracy, as have bi-annual elections, and the greater use of referenda. With more decision making power being restored to people themselves, voter turnout has returned to its highest postwar levels.

As impressive as its achievements on the home front have been, it's in the field of foreign policy where Benn's governments have arguably had their greatest impact. In 1999, it was Britain's implacable opposition to Nato military action that led to a peaceful solution to the incipient civil war in Kosovo. And in 2003, Britain aligned itself with France and Germany in opposing US plans to illegally invade Iraq. President Bush threatened to go it alone, but in the end, deprived of British support, he was forced to back down. Hans Blix's weapons inspectors finished their job and a costly and potentially catastrophic military conflict was averted. We will never know how many innocent lives were saved by the British government's anti-war stance. It could have been hundreds of thousands.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Why it has to be Sego

It's not just because of her support for extending public ownership, her commitment to democracy, her opposition to the socially destructive Anglo-Saxon economic model, or even her good looks and all-round niceness. Segolene Royal deserves to win the French Presidential election because on the defining issue of our times- the Iraq war- she was right and her opponent, Nikolas Sarkozy was wrong. It's true that Sarkozy has admitted his error in supporting the illegal US-led invasion, yet the fact remains that if he- and not Jacques Chirac- had been President in 2003, France would have become embroiled in the catastrophic conflict. If Sarkozy could get Iraq wrong, why should the French people trust him to get other decisions right? The simple truth is that anyone who supported the Iraq war is either too stupid or too malevolent to hold public office. And that applies not only to French supporters of the war, like Sarkozy, but also to British ones like Gordon Brown and David Cameron.