Friday, June 29, 2007

Dominic Sandbrook rewrites history

As I've mentioned many times before, the standard New Labour/Thatcherite rewrite of history divides the post-war period in two periods: 1945-79, years of creeping socialism and decline, culminating in Britain's designation as 'The Sick Man of Europe' and 1979- the present day, the years of 'recovery', during which Britian was transformed into a 'modern' dynamic 'market' economy.
In the same way that neo-cons see the need to hype up the 'crimes' of even the 'softest' of post-war European communist regimes, such as Kadar's Hungary of the 1970s and 80s, neo-liberals constantly try to trash the P.T. (pre-Thatcher) years and paint a very different picture from that experienced by people living in Britain at the time.

Here's Dominic Sandbrook writing in the London Evening Standard:

"When he (Harold Wilson) retired in 1976, Britain was a dingy, miserable place"

Really Dominic? How then do you explain that 1976 was recently designated Britain's happiest post-war year by a respected economics think-tank which ranked years according to a number of quality of life variables?
(My own take on the state of Britain in 1976 can be read here)

Sandbrook continues with this classic line:
"Of course Blair cannot take all the credit (for Britain's 'transformation').....Without Thatcher's controversial reforms, Britain might look a lot more like France today. "

In other words Britain might look like a country with a world class, affordable and publicly owned public transport system, and one which still maintains a manufacturing base. A country that has avoided Britain's huge disparities in wealth and which is so appallingly run that hundreds of thousands of British people have second homes there, if they haven't emigrated there already. Oh, what a tragedy it would be, Mr Sandbrook, if Britain did indeed "look a lot more like France"!

New Labour's class warfare

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

The commentator Peter Hitchens once described the abolition of capital punishment as the most snobbish piece of legislation ever passed by parliament.
But it has a new rival: the government's draconian ban on smoking in public places, which comes into force in England this Sunday.
The middle classes, by and large, gave up smoking a long time ago and the restaurants they frequent are already smoke-free. But for the millions of working-class smokers, the ban will have a devastating effect.
Sunday's ban will not only lead to widespread pub closures - it will threaten the existence of two long-standing working-class institutions: the bingo hall and the working men's club.
Mecca, one of the largest operators of bingo halls, estimates half of its patrons are smokers; in Scotland, more than 20 bingo halls have closed as a result of last year’s smoking ban.
Working men's clubs will be similarly affected: Mick McGlasham, an official with the Club and Institute Union (CIU), which runs 228 clubs, predicts the ban will be "the last straw" which forces clubs to close.
Don't expect the government to be overly concerned. Unlike Old Labour, New Labour draws its inspiration not from the sociable atmosphere of working-men's clubs and bingo halls, but from an altogether more sanitised and less congenial environment: the 1990s America of focus groups and smoking bans.
Mick McGlasham says he feels "very bitter" that a Labour government has ended the right of working men to enjoy a smoke with their pint in their own private club. But this is no ordinary Labour government.
The middle-class New Labourites want us to believe that they are acting out of concern for public health. But it's hard to escape the conclusion that the real reason outgoing Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt and co despise smoking is that it is so 'Old' Labour.
The First Post has also got a terrific series of photographs of Britain in the days when smoking was a guilt-free pleasure enjoyed by the vast majority of the public.
Click here to have a look at the free, tolerant country we once were.

UPDATE: If, like me, you feel that the government's smoking ban is wrong, then here's an online petition. As I write, there is a last minute legal challenge to the ban: let's hope it is successful.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

A Cabinet of all the talents

Gordon Brown has announced his new cabinet 'of all the talents':

Foreign Secretary: Tony Benn
Chancellor of the Exchequer: Professor James K. Galbraith
Education Minister: Peter Wilby
Minister of State, Foreign Office: Dr John Laughland
Home Secretary: Peter Hitchens
Defence Secretary: John McDonnell MP
Trade and Industry: Bob Wareing MP
Health: Alice Mahon
Transport: Bob Crow
Energy: Ian Johnson
International Development: Felicity Arbuthnot
Attorney General: Mark Littman QC
Smoker's rights: Ken Clarke MP

If only............

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Most Inappropriate Appointments in History....

Ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair (how nice it is to be able to write that), is to be a Middle East Peace envoy. Yup, that's right- the British Prime Minister responsible for more death and destruction in the Middle East than any other in history is to travel around the region aiding the cause of 'peace'.

Can anyone think of a more inappropriate appointment?

Joseph Stalin appointed director of Liberty? Adolf Hitler being offered the chairmanship of The Commission for Racial Equality?
Sven-Goran Eriksson being put in charge of any football team?

Come on, let's be having you!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Liberal England: Going Up in Smoke

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

The death of liberal England has been predicted many times over the past decade. But on Sunday, England, for long regarded (rightly) as one of the freest countries in the world, will finally mark the end of its long history as a liberal country as the government's draconian smoking ban comes into force.

There is no liberal case whatsoever for the ban; if you support it you may be many things, but please, don't have the audacity to call yourself a liberal. The argument for restricting smoking in public on account of the possible health risks caused by passive smoking is an argument for having separate smoking areas in pubs, cafes and restaurants and not for a blanket ban, which will encompass even private clubs where members have assented to a pro-smoking policy.

The government could easily have opted for a compromise measure as some European countries have done, or left it up to the owners of pubs and cafes to decide their own smoking policy. But no: true to New Labour's bossy, illiberal instincts, the ban had to be total. To enforce the ban, local councils will rely on legions of plain-clothes snoopers, ready to shop fellow citizens for the heinous crime of smoking in public. Blair inherited a country, which, for all its faults, could still be called a free one, he has left it with its own equivalent of the Staasi.

Whatever your views on smoking (and no one denies that the habit, like the officially approved New Labour ones of drinking, over-working and starting illegal wars carries a health risk), ask yourself this simple question. Do you really want to live in a country where lighting a cigarette, cigar or pipe in a pub or cafe, as English men and women have done for decades- is deemed a criminal offence? Smoking may, to many people, be annoying, silly and smelly- but criminal?

Don't kid yourself that Sunday's ban will be the end of the matter: the anti-smoking zealots won't rest until smoking is banned everywhere, even in the privacy of our own homes. Last week, Sir Liam Donaldson, the government's chief medical officer, pledged that there would be a further crackdown on smoking after the ban comes into force. "The first of July is not when action stops; it's a launch pad from which we can make further massive strides. I hope people will be behind some of the slightly controversial measures," he said. The pressure group Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) meanwhile advocates a "smoke-free world," that's free of tobacco smoke - not little things like the smoke from cars, HGVs and factories, you understand.

Comparisons to Nazi Germany are often tedious, but in this instance it speaks volumes that the first country to introduce bans on smoking in public was the Third Reich.

Isn't it sad that 60 years after playing a decisive role in the defeat of the Nazis and their loathsome, intolerant ideology, Britain, in its illiberal attitude towards smoking and smokers, is now aping them?

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Gordon Brown: Political Extremist

"For all those who still had any illusions about Gordon Brown's accession to the Labour Party throne being a move back to Labour's mainstream, tonight's intervention by Brown into the EU summit should certainly clear matters up.

The Brown spin doctors are briefing that Brown demeaningly ordered Blair back to the summit negotiating table to hold the line on a key issue.

What was this critical issue which so alarmed Brown?

Was it concern over the EU attempting to prevent a Labour government intervening in the economy to protect jobs or protect public services or extend trade union rights?

No, true to his neo liberal philosophy, the reason Brown demanded Blair go back into the negotiating room and dig his heals in was because he was fearful that the French were undemining the free market. He was angry that Sarkozy of all people was seeking to "dilute" the operation of free competition in the EU market."

The words of John McDonnell, the man who should have become the new Labour leader, on Gordon Brown, the man who will be.

In the nominally 'left of centre' Brown we will have a Labour leader and Prime Minister far more committed to neo-liberalism than the 'right-wing' leaders of France and Germany. Nikolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel believe that for the common good, there needs to be restrictions on the operation of 'market forces'. Gordon Brown doesn't. Doesn't it tell you just how far out on a limb we are in Britain, when a Labour Prime Minister, yes a Labour Prime Minister, is more of a cheerleader for undiluted capitalism than Sarkozy and Merkel?

Friday, June 22, 2007

Time to bash the bookies......

Back in January, I interviewed the trainer Richard Fahey. Here's what he told me about Greenwich Meantime:

"He'll be aimed at the Chester Cup and will probably go there without a run. I think he's improved".

Greenwhich Meantime did go to the Chester Cup. He won at odds of 14-1. He HAD improved.

Here's what Fahey told me about Knot in Wood:

"He's very talented, is getting stronger all the time and has returned in cracking form. He'll be aimed at the big handicaps like the Wokingham. He prefers a bit of juice in the ground. He's definitely one to watch."

Tomorrow is the Wokingham, run over 6f at Royal Ascot. Knot in Wood, having finished a staying-on sixth over an inadequate 5f at York on his last run, gets in the race off joint bottom weight of 8st 10lbs. And guess what. The rain has come. Lots of it.
Conditions should be just right tomorrow and he's still available at around the 11-1 mark. I'm not saying Knot in Wood will definitely win- no one can be dogmatic in a race as ultra-competitive as the Wokingham, but he's certainly worth a couple of quid each-way.

UPDATE: Well, it all looked pretty promising with a couple of furlongs to go as KIW moved up to make his challenge, but in the end the advantage was on the far side with the high drawn horses. Roll on the Steward's Cup for a chance to get our money back!

'Liberating' Afghanistan

Another day- yet more civilians 'liberated' by the benign intervention of the US Airforce.....

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Go, Ralph, go!

Great news from across the pond: Ralph Nader has announced that he is considering standing for President. "The two parties are still converging. I really think there needs to be more competition from outside," he told the newspaper Politico.

If Nader does enter the race, don't swallow the guff about the 'progressive' vote being split. None of the Democratic Party candidates, with the exception of Denis Kuchinic can accurately be labelled 'progressive': and the least progressive of all of them is the front-runner, the pro-war Hilary Clinton.
"She is a political coward. She goes around pandering to powerful interest groups on the one hand and flattering general audiences on the other. She doesn't even have the minimal political fortitude of her husband." is Nader's verdict on the Democrat the neo-cons would most like to see in the White House.

The Project for the New American Century gang thought they had this race all stitched up; that it would end up as shoot-out between McCain or another Republican hawk and Clinton- a win-win scenario for them. But a Nader candicacy will pressurise the Democrat candidates to move leftwards- and adopt a much more strident anti-war stance. Nader supports the rapid withdrawl of US troops from Iraq. The Democrat candidates will have to follow suit or risk losing votes.

US politics has suddenly got interesting.

Stubbed out at Royal Ascot

Don't you think that the anti-smoking fanaticism in Britain is going a little too far?

The Neo-Con rewrite of history (No 675)

"Name me a war between two democracies" asks neo-con writer Daniel Finkelstein in The Times. I can do better than that Daniel. I can name you a war in which twenty countries took part and all of them were democracies. The 1999 NATO war vs Yugoslavia.
Got any other 'difficult' questions.....?

Ian Williams: The Selective Democrat

"If Israelis want peace, they have to talk to the people the Palestinians want, not those anointed and armed by Israel and the US.
The purpose of the Palestinian elections was to elect a government the Palestinians wanted, not one that Israel liked. Hamas won, fair and square..."

writes Ian Williams in the Guardian's comment is free blog.

I wonder if this could be the same Ian Williams who supports the exclusion from government of the most popular political party in Serbia, the Serb Radicals- on the grounds that they are 'extremists'?

UPDATE: Ian Williams writes in to say that he does not support the exclusion of the Serb Radicals from the government of Serbia. We can therefore, I presume, look forward to his next article when he uses the pressure exerted on Serbia to 'vote the right way' as an example of the west's hypocritical interpretation of the word 'democracy'.......
(And if you're reading this Ian, I'll allow your comments to be published on my blog, when you do the same with mine)

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Knowing Me Knowing You - Cheeky Monkey

Over the summer, I'll be posting some 'comedy classic' videos- things that make me laugh and I hope make you laugh too. For starters, here's one of my all-time favourite sketches- the wonderful 'Cheeky Monkey' from the Alan Partridge Show.

Anyone for Tennis?

Just five days to go before one of the most exciting sporting events of the year.
Can anyone beat The Fed? Will Mauresmo manage to retain her women's title? How will the British contingent fare?
Here's my 2007 Wimbledon preview, from The First Post.

Sounds like utopia to me......

"The incoming Labour Prime Minister, Michael Foot promised a return to the socialist policies of the Wilson and Calllaghan years. Peter Shore, Labour's Chancellor of the Exchequer, carried out the 1984 manifesto promises in full. Under the Five-Year-Plan exchange controls were re-imposed, the Government bought commanding stakes in electronics, pharmaceuticals, health equipment and building materials companies; coal re-established its primacy over nuclear energy, BP, BT and BAE were all renationalised, whilst Tory employment legislation was repealed; the City was heavily regulated......Punitive wealth taxes were imposed, and national planning and control organisations such as the Agricultural Wages Board, Manpower Services Commission and National Planning Council were all hugely strengthened........"
From neo-con historian Andy Robert's article in the Daily Mail on what might have happened to Britain if Mrs Thatcher had lost power over the Falklands war in 1982.

Roberts clearly believes the events he describes above would represent some kind of disaster. For me, and I expect for many of you too, the thought of Chancellor of the Exchequer Peter Shore carrying out an undiluted socialist economic programme, which put the interests of the majority and not the minority of Britons first, is the stuff dreams are made of.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

An Exclusive comedy club

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

Jim Bowen was on great form on Newsnight last night defending his friend, the late Bernard Manning. "Who is to say that a man dressed up as a woman who goes around urinating everywhere is not offensive, but Bernard Manning's jokes are?" he said, bemoaning the fact that his fellow comedian had been barred from television for years.
Bowen's got a very good point.
Manning's brand of comedy, poking fun at black people, Asians, Jews et al is not my type of humour (give me Tony Hancock, the movie Airplane! or a Perry/Croft sitcom any day) and I would never have paid to see him perform. Yet the condemnation of this undeniably popular working-class icon, nevertheless smacks of hypocrisy.
Make no mistake: Bernard Manning's great "crime" was not that he was a comedian who told offensive jokes, but that he was a working-class comedian who told offensive jokes.

If you're a middle-class comedian, you can get any way with anything, no matter how misanthropic or racist. It wasn't Manning who said: "The male gypsy moth can smell the female gypsy moth up to seven miles away - and that fact also works if you remove the word 'moth'." It was the middle-class comic Jimmy Carr (Royal Grammar School, High Wycombe; Caius College, Cambridge). In contrast to Manning, Carr is a regular fixture on our television screens and on the airwaves.
Then there's the sneering, offensive humour of Little Britain, brought to us by Matt Lucas (Haberdashers' Aske's, Bristol University) and David Walliams (Reigate Grammar School, Bristol University). Targets of the show include single parents, disabled people, the incontinent and people with mental health problems - but of course it's all perfectly acceptable, because Lucas and Walliams, unlike Bernard Manning, are good middle-class chaps who went to university. And when it comes to the humour of cruelty, is there anyone as culpable as Sacha Baron Cohen (Haberdashers' Aske's, Cambridge University) whose elitist, middle-class sneering at plebs and peasants has made him one of the richest men in Hollywood.

The reason why such non-working-class comics dominate today is that commissioning/production positions in television and radio are now monopolised by middle-class (and mainly Oxbridge) graduates. Thirty years ago, when Billy Cotton Jr was head of light entertainment at the BBC, working-class, non-university educated writers like Jimmy Perry, Eric Chappell, Galton and Simpson, Dick Clement and Ian le Frenais were responsible for much of the comedy output. Because they knew their territory and had a genuine empathy for the class they came from, the comedy they produced laughed with the working-class and not at them.

To answer Jim Bowen's question, it's the middle-class, Oxbridge-educated television and radio supremos who decide that Manning is off limits, but the equally unsavoury humour of Lucas and Walliams, Carr and Baron Cohen is not. If only Bernard Manning had gone to the "right" school and made it to Cambridge, who knows - he might even have ended up being nominated for an Oscar ...

Tough on crime..... yeh, right

Is this what Tony Blair means when he talks of getting 'tough on crime'?
Let's hope one of the ne'er do wells being released picks a house of a New Labour minister to burgle.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Cabrera smokes out the opposition.....

Who says smoking and being a sports champion don't go together?

Our 'allies' in Islamabad

"This is an occasion for the 1.5 billion Muslims to look at the seriousness of this decision. The west is accusing Muslims of extremism and terrorism. If someone exploded a bomb on his body he would be right to do so unless the British government apologises and withdraws the 'sir' title."

Mohammed Ijaz ul-Haq, Religious Affairs Minister, speaking to the Pakistani parliament in Islamabad today.

So there we have it. A member of a government which is a staunch 'ally' of the US and Britain believes suicide bombing to be an appropriate response to the award of a knighthood to the novelist Salman Rushdie. (Incidentally, I don't think Rushdie, a pretentious and highly over-rated writer deserved such an award, but that is by the by). Don't hold your breath for condemnation from the 'muscular' left, or the last few inhabitants of Planet Neo-Con: their interest in spreading 'democracy' doesn't seem to extend to the corrupt, human-rights abusing dictatorship that is Pakistan.

The Man Who Rebuilt Europe

It's exactly sixty years ago this month since the Marshall Plan was announced. Here's my article from today's The Australian on why George Marshall was the greatest post-war U.S. Secretary of State.

"Our policy is not directed against any country, but against hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos. Any government that is willing to assist in recovery will find full co-operation on the part of the USA."
THESE are the words of US secretary of state George Marshall as he announced his European Recovery Program, commonly known as the Marshall Plan, 60 years ago this month. Over the next four years, more than $US13 billion of aid flowed into war-torn Western Europe. Has there ever been such an inspired - and efficacious - piece of US diplomacy?

The Marshall Plan undoubtedly saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of Europeans threatened with starvation and malnutrition. And by helping the recovery of the US's biggest export market, it guaranteed US economic pre-eminence for the rest of the 20th century. On top of all this, it fulfilled what, by 1947, had become the US's main global priority: containing the spread of Soviet-style communism.

The plan has been criticised by some on the Left for being an example of US "soft imperialism" - a self-centred move dressed up as altruism. But while it's true that realpolitik considerations undoubtedly played their part, it would be churlish to say that there were not genuinely good intentions behind the most generous package of foreign aid ever given by any country in history.

The people behind the Marshall Plan were not fanatical anti-communist hawks, or die-hard pro-capitalists, but progressive New Dealers, who believed in the ordinary citizen's right to a fair deal and the positive role of governments in changing peoples lives. "The primary purpose was compassionate, good willed. The notion that our former allies needed to have the help of the US" was the verdict of the great Keynesian economist J.K. Galbraith, hardly an apologist for US foreign policy. Let's not forget that aid was offered to Eastern Europe too, even though the US knew there was little chance of Stalin's acceptance.

The impact of Marshall aid was immediate. The years 1948 to 1952 saw the fastest period of growth in European history. Industrial production increased by 35 per cent, while agricultural production substantially surpassed pre-war levels. By 1951, at the end of the Marshall Plan, national incomes per capita were more than 10 per cent above pre-war levels. For the next two decades western Europe would enjoy an unprecedented rise in living standards.

The Marshall Plan was the engine that drove the move towards greater European economic co-operation and helped make possible the establishment of a new left-of-centre post-war consensus. There was to be no return to the dog-eat-dog economics of the 1930s; instead governments, wary that their populations might be tempted by communist alternatives, opted for planning, a genuine mixed economy, progressive taxation, full employment and state-subsidised welfare. For the ordinary people of Europe, now granted security from the cradle to the grave, it was truly a golden age.

Contrast the success of the Marshall Plan and the expansionary economic policies that followed in its wake, with the austerity program that was imposed by Western institutions, such as the EU and IMF on eastern Europe following the end of the Cold War. GDP in the former communist states fell between 20 per cent and 40 per cent in the decade after 1989, an economic contraction which can only be compared to the Great Depression of the 1930s. While a minority in the region have seen real wages rise, for the majority, the experience of the past 18 years has been radically different to that of western Europeans in the years following the implementation of the Marshall Plan.

In 1947 Marshall had the foresight to see that a bold, new approach was needed for post-war reconstruction. "Hitherto I had thought of Marshall as a rugged soldier and a magnificent organiser and builder of armies. But now I saw that he was a statesman with a penetrating and commanding view of the whole scene," was the view of Winston Churchill.

But Marshall was not only a great strategic thinker, he was also a great human being. The film director Orson Welles once told of a big wartime military banquet at which he was the only civilian present. The door opened by accident and a GI looked in and saw Marshall, then chief of staff of the US Army. "You're General Marshall," he said. "Yes, come in son", Marshall replied, not knowing that Welles was watching. Marshall went off with the GI to a corner and sat talking with him for 15 minutes. "It was done with the utmost simplicity and without the slightest hint of demagoguery" recalled Welles. "He was such a human being that the GI could see that he could talk to him."

What America and the world could do with a man with the vision - and humanity - of George Marshall today.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

June, glorious June

Five days of world class flat racing at Royal Ascot. A fortnight of thrills and excitement at the All-England Club. (Strawberries and cream, anyone?) And the departure of a serial war criminal from Number 10.
Can things get any better?
Well actually, they could, if a true anti-war Labourite like John McDonnell was becoming Prime Minister and not a pro-war neo-liberal like Gordon Brown......

Friday, June 15, 2007

Thought for the Day

"Look at the various parts of the national infrastructure that have been privatised, and practically all of them have gone downhill: buses, trains, water, power. It's a good argument against capitalism."

The words not of a left-wing ideologue but the designer and businessman Sir Terence Conran. You can read the rest of Sir Terence's article on the horrors of Heathrow airport's new 'temple to retailing' Terminal 5 here. It's an unmissable piece, believe me.

'namechanger' left this great comment on the Guardian's website:

Airports lounges sum up Britain, in that all the shops are corporate chains flogging expensive coffee and cheap jeans made by children in Asian sweatshops for globalists. Surveillance starts the minute the flyers step off the plane, with Britain's many cameras (more than the rest of europe put together) filming their every move. Profitable areas are kept clean by minimum wage economic migrants, while areas out of the public eye fester.

It's a sorry state of affairs we've come to in ten years, but Blair knows who to blame: the media for reporting it. Currently he's also targetting internet free speech, which he rightly sees as a threat to his kind of governance.

What P.M. Gordon Brown should say

"I'm going to pursue a defence of the realm foreign policy and pull British troops out of Iraq by the end of the month. I'm going to renationalise the railways and reintroduce a new top rate of income tax. I'm going to introduce free care for the elderly and double the state pension. In other words I'm going to be Labour Prime Minister and not a New Labour one".

Speech of Gordon Brown on becoming British Prime Minister, June 28th 2007

Of course, there's not a chance in a million of the neo-liberal, pro-war Brown making that speech. But wouldn't it be fantastic if he did?

Death of a Balkans war criminal

"Waldheim - how his friends would prefer that they didn't read these words this morning - was based at a town called Banja Luka, a market town where Serbs and Jews and communist Croatians were murdered en masse, hanged like thrushes from mass gallows or raped to death in the nearby Jasenovac extermination camp.
I even visited his interrogation office, next to an execution pit wherein Serbs and Jews were massacred daily. Did the rifle shots not disturb Kurt Waldheim's concentration? Oh, what it must have been to have the peace and quiet of the UN headquarters on the East River."

Read more from Robert Fisk's obituary of the former Nazi war criminal Kurt Waldheim, here. One can't help but contrast the fate of Waldheim with that of the former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Waldheim, a real war criminal in the Balkans, ended up as U.N. Secretary General and President of Austria and died in his sleep at the ripe old age of 88. Milosevic, an innocent man, whose parents fought the Nazis in World War 2, was illegally arrested, kidnapped and incarcerated for four years and, having been denied the proper medical care and attention his heart condition warranted, died at the age of 64.

Who says crime doesn't pay?

Terminal 5: Another 'temple' to retail

30 million passengers, 23,000 square metres of shops..... and just 700 seats.
Yes, folks, that's Heathrow's new Terminal 5, due to open on 27th March 2007.
"The new terminal may have been heralded as a 'cathedral to flight', but with the equivalent of six Asda stores, it is actually going to be a temple to retail' writes the Guardian's Julia Finch. Is anything built in monopoly capitalist Britain these days that isn't a 'temple to retail'? Last year my wife and I travelled through JFK airport in New York for the first time. After the horrors of Heathrow, it was a wonderful surprise to find an airport which actually put the needs of passengers- and not retailers- first. There were ample seats and the airport had a lovely spacious, unhurried atmosphere. The US is often accused of being the most commercially-minded, money-grabbing country in the world. But when it comes to the building of airport terminals, it's Britain, and not America, which holds that unwelcome distinction.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

V.F. Day, 25 years on

Today is the 25th anniversary of the end of the Falklands War. Mrs Thatcher was right to send a Task Force to liberate the islands after they were illegally invaded by the fascist dictator General Galtieri. But she was wrong to draw parallels yesterday between the conflict and the war in Iraq. Here's why.

Blog off, Tony, into your open-top submarine

"It would be a real disaster if he were to parlay any of his waning authority into some new restrictions on the press, and it is the height of stupidity, on Blair's part, to think that it might be an idea to start regulating the blogosphere. It is the growing media literacy of the public - the understanding of soundbites and vox pops and two-ways and blogs - that allows everyone to participate in activities once reserved for the journalistico-political complex.
That is a wonderful thing, and I would much rather have cyberspace regulated by public scorn than by Tony Blair, who should depart as soon as possible to complete his farewell tour in an open-top submarine."

Has Boris Johnson ever written a better piece? There is a new totalitarianism at large today: backed by those who seek to censor, control and silence those opinions they don't like. Against these are the true liberals who believe that the more open and democratic the debate is the better. A pretty good way to see who is on which side is to see which journalists/bloggers allow people to post comments on their own websites.
Nick Cohen has far more in common with Fidel Castro than he realises.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Emperor has spoken

This article of mine appears in today's Guardian.

So that's that, then. After a meeting with the Italian prime minister Romano Prodi at the weekend, President Bush announced that it was time to bring the issue of Kosovan independence "to a head". In other words, Kosovo should become independent even without the approval of the UN security council. Now the emperor has spoken, is there really any point discussing the future of the disputed Serbian province any further? Well yes, actually, there is.

What is at stake is not just the illegal seizure from Serbia of the cradle of its national history, and rewarding the campaign of violence by ex-KLA members which has seen an estimated 200,000 Serbs, Roma, Turks and other non-Albanian groups fleeing or being driven from the province since 1999. There is also the question of whether one dangerous and globally lawless state, the US of George Bush, has the right to redraw the map of the world in any way it chooses.

Bush is pressing for "independence" for Kosovo, and the word needs to be in inverted commas as the Kosovo the US has in mind will be no more "independent" than Iraq or Afghanistan - though not out of concern for Kosovan Albanians, or a passionate belief in self-determination. Contrast Washington's stance on Kosovo with its position on the pro-Russian breakaway provinces in Georgia and Moldova, whose claims for statehood they regularly dismiss. Rather, Bush is acting because this is the final stage in what has been called the west's "strategic concept" - the destruction of the genuinely independent and militarily strong state of Yugoslavia and its replacement with a series of weak and divided World Bank-Nato protectorates.

Many will support the independence of Kosovo on simple grounds of self-determination: about 90% of Kosovans desire separation from Serbia. But Kosovo is no simple case. Given the recent history of the area, the minority rights of the non-Albanian population must also be a central concern. And the verdict of the Minority Rights Group that "nowhere is there such a level of fear for so many minorities that they will be harassed simply for who they are...nowhere else in Europe is at such a high risk of ethnic cleansing occurring in the near future - or even a risk of genocide" hardly inspires confidence in the future.

Furthermore, it is difficult to see how the creation of another new state in the Balkans will not destabilise the region further. Albanian separatists both in Montenegro and in Macedonia, where military hostilities took place as recently as 2001, will be encouraged. Serbia will face further disintegration: Albanians in the south of the country are keen to be included in a new Kosovo, while Hungarian demands for self-determination in Vojvodina are also likely to intensify.

Far from being concerned about this fragmentation, Washington encourages it. "Liberating" Kosovo from direct Belgrade control, achieved by the illegal 1999 bombardment of the rump Yugoslavia, has already brought rich pickings for US companies in the shape of the privatisation of socially owned assets.

Even more important, it has enabled the construction of Camp Bondsteel, the US's biggest "from scratch" military base since the Vietnam war, which jealously guards the route of the trans-Balkan Ambo pipeline, and guarantees western control of Caspian Sea oil supplies. The camp, which includes a detention facility used to house those detained during Nato operations in Kosovo, was described by Alvaro Gil-Robles, the human rights envoy of the Council of Europe, as a "smaller version of Guantánamo" following a visit in November 2005. To guarantee US hegemony in the region, it is essential that Kosovo is severed permanently from Serbia - a country which, with its strong historical links to Russia, is never likely to be as obedient a servant as the empire demands.

Since the end of the cold war, Russia has allowed the US to surround it with military bases and, through interference in the electoral process, bring to power governments ready to do its bidding. But the tide is turning. The US's attempt to engineer another "colour-coded" revolution in Belarus backfired spectacularly last year and, buoyed up by oil revenues, an increasingly assertive Russia is challenging the empire's Drang nach Osten. And at last week's G8 summit, President Putin reiterated his support for Serbia and his opposition to Kosovan "independence". Let's hope he keeps his word. For those who believe the best hope for peace and progress for humankind is the derailing of the US juggernaut, it is imperative that on the issue of Kosovo, the bear makes a stand.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Honourable (and Dishonourable) Members

The following Labour MPs voted with the Opposition last night for an inquiry into the Iraq War:

Harry Cohen (Leyton & Wanstead)
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North)
Mark Fisher (Stoke Central)
Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North)
Lynne Jones (Selly Oak)
Bob Marshall-Andrews (Medway)
John McDonnell (Hayes & Harlington)
Alan Simpson (Nottingham South)
Sir Peter Soulsby (Leicester South)
Bob Wareing (Liverpool West Derby)

But, as David Lindsay, so rightly asks, where were all the Labour MPs who voted against the war, not to mention those, including Jon Cruddas, who say that they now regret having voted for it? Shame on You!

Tony Blair meets the authors of the Euston Manifesto

An asylum seeker on Question Time

Last week, an asylum seeker, wanted by Interpol, appeared on the BBC's Question Time.
What a pity David Dimbleby didn't ask him about this.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Why Blair is no Anthony Eden

Reader Keith Davis writes in the Morning Star a propos of my recent article likening Tony Blair to Neville Chamberlain:

"In trying to establish common ground between Blair and Neville Chamberlain, Neil Clark overlooks a more obvious parallel with Anthony Eden. The definining point of Blair's time as Prime Minister -overshadowing everything else- is, without doubt the unnecessary and unjustified pre-emptive and murderous invasion of Iraq, preceded by the lies about WMD and the 45-minute threat. The monumental act of folly is mirrored by the only decision Eden will be remembered for, namely his course of action after Egypt took control of the Suez Canal in 1956, when, in a display of hubris, he defied the UN, undertook secret negotiations with France and Israel and landed troops at Port Said".

But while Blair and Eden both launched disastrous and illegal Middle East invasions, there are however important differences between the two men, which is why I chose not to make the comparison. Eden may have acted wrongly at Suez, but he was no appeaser. (Back in February 1938, he had resigned as Foreign Secretary precisely because of the Chamberlain government's policy of appeasement towards the fascist/Nazi powers). Although Eden lacked judgement at Suez, he certainly didn't lack courage, as one would expect of a man who was awarded the Military Cross in World War One and who, at the age of twenty-one, became the youngest brigade-major in the British Army. Blair on the other hand is most certainly one of the least courageous Prime Ministers our country has known- a congenital appeaser who would do anything, however dishonourable, to curry favour with the dominant power of the day.

And of course, there's one more important difference between Eden and Blair. After the debacle at Suez, Eden did the decent thing and promptly resigned as Prime Minister.
In the words of Mr Davis, "how regrettable, in the light of his very own foreign policy disaster, that Blair has not had the guts to do the same long before now".

Good news from the blogosphere

Some good news. Martin Kelly, the former neo-con who has written some terrific pieces highlighting the absurdities of the serial warmongers, (whom he describes as: "the most powerful group of moon-howling paranoids ever to walk the face of the Earth"), is back blogging after a six month break.
You can check out his work here.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

It's the economic system, stupid

The consistently excellent Mark Braund has a characteristically insightful piece on The Guardian's Comment is Free website today.

The growing gap between rich and poor, within nations and between them, is an inevitable consequence of the way we've chosen to arrange the economy. Over the last 30 years, a politically-driven programme of economic liberalisation has tied economic success (as measured by GDP growth) to growing inequality. More people may be richer than ever before, but many more people are poorer; both are the inevitable consequence of economic advance under the current model.

Mark is completely right. To talk about reducing poverty while maintaining the current economic system is like talking about reducing one's weight while living off a diet of chocolate bars and ice cream.

The trouble is that the powers that be have determined that neo-liberalism is the only economic model allowed in today's world. After communism was destroyed they have set about destroying Europe's mixed economy model too. This is what the 'reform' of Europe's economies means. They won't be happy until the whole of the world has no publicly owned enterprises at all and progressive taxation is replaced by regressive indirect taxes or flat taxes. If we are ever going to make any impact in reducing poverty, we urgently need to replace the flawed neo-liberal model and return to the policies which, in the post-war period, helped bring about the fastest reduction in inequality in history. There really is no other way.

R.I.P Doug Marks

Sad news from the world of racing: the former jockey and trainer Doug Marks has died aged 85. Marks was one of the greatest characters in a sport full of great characters. He was a journalist's dream, providing reams of good copy, and plenty of memorable quotes, including the classic: "I have been everything in racing except a horse".

The Empire's Plans for Iraq

.....the building of US military bases in Iraq continues apace, at a cost of over $1bn a year. Shortly after the invasion, the US established 110 bases in Iraq. The present plan appears to consolidate these into 14 "enduring bases" in Iraqi Kurdistan, at Baghdad airport, in Anbar province, and in the southern approaches to Baghdad. This does not point to an early US disengagement. And nor does the construction of a US embassy able to house 1,000 staff on a 100-acre site on the banks of the Tigris - the biggest US embassy in the world.

Read the rest of Patrick Seale's piece on the real reasons for the Iraq invasion, here.
ps it wasn't to 'liberate' the Iraqi people or spread 'democracy', as I think most people, (with the exception of a few simpletons who frequent a certain pub in Euston) have gathered by now!

Friday, June 08, 2007

Simply The Beast

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

He's too old. He's too lazy. He sells fags. He would split the party and in any case he's not as popular as people make out.

So the neocon arguments went - in 2001 and 2005 - as to why Ken Clarke should not be Tory leader.

But watching the man they call "the Beast" delivering a stinging attack on Tony Blair's world tour this week - in which he likened the prime minister to a "medieval monarch", who had "decided most things on his sofa for the last 10 years"- showed us exactly what fun and games would have been in store if Clarke had become Tory leader. Am I the only person who thinks it was a minor tragedy that the most talented Tory politician of his generation never got his party's top job?

In both 2001 and 2005, a powerful group of neocons in the Tory party, panic-stricken that it might be led by a man who did not share their passion for following George Bush to the ends of the earth, did all they could to prevent Clarke from becoming leader. Google the names of leading members of the neoconservative firmament with the words "dangers of tobacco" and you don't come up with very much. But when Clarke announced his candidacy, the selling of cigarettes became, for neocons, a crime on a par with sending children up chimneys or being a card-carrying member of the Iraqi Ba'ath party. Then there was the Beast's alleged laziness. My uncle worked with Clarke as a civil servant at the Department of Transport, and regarded him as the most impressive and efficient minister he had ever served under. Lord Tebbit may think otherwise, but for most of us "impressive" and "efficient" don't usually co-exist with sloth.

Even more outlandish was the claim made by the uber-neocon commentator Stephen Pollard, that Clarke's popularity among the British public was a myth propagated by his own supporters - and that New Labour would not fear him a jot. Pollard's assertions were almost immediately contradicted by a Newsnight poll which showed that a Clarke-led Conservative party would leave Gordon Brown with rather more to worry about than whether or not to introduce a Britain Day. For Pollard, the Tories under Clarke would be no more than "a more respectable version of Respect". Ken, it seems, was not only an old, lazy and unpopular drug-pusher, he was also Gorgeous George, mark two.

The neocons were of course desperate that a pro-war interventionist, like David Cameron, David Davis or Liam Fox followed in the footsteps of staunch Pax Americana men William Hague, Iain Duncan-Smith and Michael Howard as party leader. In their determination to stop Clarke, they were ready with their eulogies to David Cameron as soon as the relatively unknown MP for Witney had made his leadership pitch at the 2005 party conference. Cameron, thanks to neocon support in the media and within the party, became the fourth successive Tory leader to slavishly follow the Washington line and, as a result, the party has been unable to hold the government to account over the issue on which it was most vulnerable - Iraq.

A victory for Ken Clarke in either 2001 or 2005 would not only have been good for the Tories - it would have revitalised democracy in Britain. At last we would have had an opposition which - on the most important issue of the day - actually did some opposing.

Game, Set and Match to Miss Ivanovic

It's great to see Ana Ivanovic (above) make it to her first Grand Slam final at Roland Garros tomorrow. Not just because she had to live through the illegal NATO bombardment of her country in 1999 and suffer, like all citizens of the former Yugoslavia, the consequences of malevolent western interference in her country, but because she is such a delighful person. 'The smiling sunny Serbian' as one newspaper described her today, is a breath of fresh air for tennis (just compare her perenially cheerful disposition with the big-headed arrogance of Serena Williams, the brattishness of Andy Roddick and the sulkiness of Andy Murray). Interesting to think that Serbia, with its population of 10m, now has three tennis players in the world's top ten, whereas Britain a country of 60m, has none. Could it possibly be that the free tennis coaching children received during the much maligned socialist era has something to do with it?

Thursday, June 07, 2007

More on Monsieur Kouchner

Thanks for all your emails and comments re my recent piece on new French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner for The Guardian.
Mick writes in with some interesting observations of his own about the 'humanitarian crusader', so beloved by Washington's neo-conservatives.

Fine piece on Kouchner--well written, well felt. I was intrigued by your correspondent's ('stinky', was it?) attachment to Dr K's career with MSF. As if it somehow redeemed this French version of Vuk Draskovic or Dr Strangelove. K was not, in fact, a founder of MSF--though he oft passes himself off as such. MSF was formed in 1968 in response to the situation in Biafra. K joined up in 1971--and left in 1979 after some differences with the board, probably regarding billing (i.e., should it be 'MSF with Bernie Kouchner' or the other way round). Besides being a self-confessed war criminal, he seems to have had trouble getting along with the collectivity. He started out in the PCF in the late 50s and got kicked out; then the 8 year MSF dalliance; now his break with the Socialists over a little 'pull up the ladder, Jacques, I'm aboard-ism'. Opportunism? Careerism? My favorite K story is the one told in the French documentary, Kigali: images contre une massacre, by this bought-off journalist J-P Klotz. Kouchner was sent to Kigali by Mitterand to rescue some orphans who were in danger because of the very hot war going on between the French-backed Forces armées ruandaises and the US/UK-backed Front patriotique ruandaise. As soon as he hit town in June of 1994, he fell into the hands of some 'humanitarians' (like Klotz and Gen Dallaire) who tried to convince him that all the killing (including the recent double assassination of the Hutu presidents of Rwanda and Burundi) were the result of French interference in the just struggle to return Rwanda to its medieval originals with a new Tutsi monarchy (King Paul Kagame?). The scenes with K trying to explain to his accusers how he really wasn't an agent of the genocidal French are the purest examples of man being reduced to slithering reptile that I have ever seen on film. Il va en soi that K winds up sucking off the whole RPF lobby--and I frankly don't know what became of the orphans he was to rescue. But the whole Kigali film is predicated on the killing of some orphans in a church in Kigali. Evidence shows that all organized massacres were carried out by the RPF and its agents. So now that K is revealed to have even more innocent blood on his hands, and the evidence of his collaboration with yet another imperialist nation-o-cide is incontrevertible and overwhelming, how is he judged and punished? By being elevated to Foreign Minister of France. The good news (or not) is that Sarkozy probably won't get off of enough authority to keep K interested--and where do you go after you've been kicked out of the French Communist AND Socialist Parties? But MSF and K have never been that far apart policy-wise--both believe strongly in humanitarian gun running and the right to interfere wherever Western business interests are threatened--and paying their mercenaries long retainers. So maybe Doctors Without Scruples will take him back. But who cares, really? Again, joli travail.

The Empire is frightened

Former Secretary-General of the UN, Boutros Boutros-Ghali is quoted as saying that it took him "some time before I fully realized that the United States sees little need for diplomacy. Power is enough. Only the weak rely on diplomacy… The Roman Empire had no need for diplomacy. Nor does the United States."
Indeed, one of the trademarks of the American Empire has been that it does not negotiate, but rather dictate. It does not request cooperation, but rather demands compliance. It has no real allies or partners – only servants and victims.
But when the servants refuse to serve any more, and the victims fight back… how long can the Empire last?
The angry snarling at Russia is not a display of power. It's a display of fear.

Read the whole of Nebojsa Malic's brilliant piece on the decline of Pax Americana, here.

Hard times in 'reformed' Serbia

"These are difficult times for Serbia. Thirty per cent of its eight million citiziens live below the poverty line and unemployment has been running at a similar percentage since the turn of the century".

so writes Paul Newman, in his report from the French Open tennis tournament in today's Independent. Newman is right: since the US sponsored coup-d'etat against President Milosevic in 2000 and the decapitation of the Serbian Socialist Party, life has become much harder for the people of Serbia. Even under sanctions, the most swingeing ever imposed on a European state, life for the average person was better ten years ago than it is under the neo-liberal 'reform' governments of today. But of course, the enforced changes of October 2000 were not about improving the life of the Serbs. They were about installing a quisling government that would line up obediently to join the EU and NATO and sell off the nation's assets to foreign capital.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Thought for the Day

"After the change of regime we thought that the democratically elected Parliament would represent the interests of the nation, but we were delivered to the hands of global capital through deals signed behind the people's back."

The words of Dr Miklós Lőke, leader of the new Összefogás a Nemzet Egészségéért (ÖNP; Union for the Health of the Nation), a party formed by doctors in protest against the destruction of the Hungarian national health service and which will be campaigning for votes from both the left and the right. I wish Dr Loke all the very best in his efforts to save his country from the bloodsucking gang of neo-liberal vampires who currently govern it.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Beyond Arrogance: The Foreign Policy Centre

What do you call a group of people who propagandised for the Iraq war, and then have the audacity to set up a commission on what 'we' should do next to the country their interventionist policies have destroyed? Arrogant, interfering, imperialist bastards?
I still think that's letting 'The Foreign Policy Centre' (Patron: The Rt Hon Anthony Blair M.P.), off lightly.

The Empire's Dangerous Game

Neo-con commentator Anne Applebaum argues in the Daily Telegraph that President Putin is playing 'a dangerous game'. But it's the U.S., not Russia, which is playing with fire. With their aggressive and provocative plans to further militarise eastern Europe and their consistent baiting of the Russian bear, the empire builders in Washington are endangering the peace and stability of the entire continent. You would have thought that after the debacle in Iraq, the PNAC crowd would have learnt their lesson, but no: the Drang nach Ostern continues. One thing is for sure: like similar attempts to colonise Russia and acquire its enormous mineral wealth, the Empire's will be unsuccessful. Where Napoleon and Adolf Hitler failed, so too will The Chimp.

Monday, June 04, 2007

The New Chamberlain

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

Tony Blair has often been compared to Winston Churchill by neo-conservatives, particularly in the lead-up to the Iraq war. But the British Prime Minister Blair has most in common with, at least in regard to foreign policy, is Churchill's predecessor, Neville Chamberlain, who became Prime Minister exactly seventy years ago this week. Chamberlain came to office with a clear agenda: to appease the sovereignty-destroying, warmongers of Nazi Germany. Blair's agenda was very similar: to appease the sovereignty-destroying, warmongers of the United States. Millions of deaths may have been avoided if Britain had stood firm at Munich, hundreds of thousands if Britain had said no to war against Iraq.

But while both men's policies of appeasement proved disastrous, Chamberlain, unlike Blair, did have some valid excuses.

Britain was relatively unprepared for war in 1938. Radar, which played such a decisive role in the Battle of Britain, covered only the Thames Estuary at the time of Munich; when Britain did finally declare war a year later, the chain ran from the Orkneys to the Isle of Wight. The RAF had 400 Spitfires in September 1939, a year earlier they had only five. Only 240 aircraft a month were being made in 1938, in 1939, the total was 660.
Chamberlain's capitulation to Nazi demands at Munich may have been shameful, but it did buy the country another crucial year.
Because it was clear to everyone that Chamberlain had done all he could to avoid war, when the conflict did finally break out, the British people stood united. No one disputed that the Nazis were the aggressors and that Britain held the moral high ground. How very different to 2003!

Rather than being the last resort, war against Iraq had been long planned by Washington's neo-conservatives. The attack- however its apologists try to dress it up- was a blatant act of aggression- which in terms of its immorality and illegality was no different to Nazi Germany's attack on Poland in 1939. Instead of helping to instigate an illegal invasion of a defenceless and impoverished nation, Blair could instead have allied Britain with countries such as France, Germany and Russia who were trying to prevent the conflict. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter said recently that if Blair had distanced himself from the Bush administration's policy during the run-up to the Iraq invasion it might have made a crucial difference to American political and public opinion. "One of the defences of the Bush administration... has been, okay, we must be more correct in our actions than the world thinks because Great Britain is backing us. So the combination of Bush and Blair giving their support to this tragedy in Iraq has strengthened the effort and has made the opposition less effective and prolonged the war and increased the tragedy that has resulted."

There's also one more important, moral difference between Chamberlain and Blair. Whatever we think of his strategy, Chamberlain, scarred by the horrors of the First World War, was acting out a genuine desire to avoid bloodshed. "I am myself a man of peace from the depths of my soul", he declared in 1938. A gentle man whose hobby was bird-watching, Chamberlain mistakenly believed that if some of Hitler's territorial claims could be met, a major European war could be averted.
Tragically, Chamberlain´s policies only made war more likely, as they encouraged Hitler to up his territorial demands.

Blair, from a generation who have forgotten what war is like, is, by contrast, someone who can't get enough of military conflicts- as his record of five wars in ten years evidences.

It's also interesting to reflect on the fates of both men. In 1940 Chamberlain left office a broken man and died soon afterwards. Blair leaves office equally discredited, but planning a glittering post-Downing Street future, possibly at the World Bank, almost certainly on the lucrative U.S. lecture circuit. At least in the 1940s, politicians still had some honour.