Thursday, November 29, 2007

David Cameron: Neo-Con Warmonger

Back in the autumn of 2005, I was, as far as I'm aware, the first British commentator to draw attention to prospective Conservative Party leader David Cameron's neo-con connections. At that time, the standard line across the British media was that Dave was in some way a 'moderate'. But as I highlighted in my Guardian article here, there really is nothing moderate whatsoever about the MP for Witney.

Today in America Cameron made a bellicose warmongering speech accusing Russia of stoking up tensions in the Balkans, and claimed that Russia's support for Serbia over the issue of Kosovo poses "a direct threat to our security".

What utter neo-con tripe.

The country which has been stoking up tensions in the Balkans is not Russia, but the US, in its fanaticism to establish an independent state of Kosovo. The separation of Kosovo from Serbia is only the latest step in the U.S's plan to dismember the former Yugoslavia: I won't say its the last step, because if Kosovo is stolen from Serbia, then we can soon expect to see the US aggressively championing the cause of an independent state of Voyvodinya, the area of northern Serbia where there is a Hungarian minority. Russia, quite correctly is saying a very firm 'Nyet' to all this nonsense and refuses to be bullied by the Empire's threats. And for standing up to the neocon bully boys, Serbia and Russia are predictably being labelled the 'aggressors'.

To say that Britain's national interests are threatened by Russia's support for Serbian sovereignty is a colossal deceit. In this dispute Britain should be siding with Serbia and Russia, two historical allies who supported our country in two world wars, and any truly patriotic British government- or patriotic opposition leader- should be making quite clear that we oppose the illegal seizure from Serbia of its historic territory.

But at least Cameron's intervention should alert British voters to the sad reality. Both our major parties are in the grips of neocon warmongers, whose first loyalties are not to Britain and the British people, but to the cause of Pax Americana.

Serial Globalisers of the Left

I once met Brendan O’Neill, editor of the online magazine 'Spiked', at a book launch in London and found him to be affable. I like much of his writing on the Balkans. But I have scarcely read an article- by anyone- that I disagree with more than Brendan’s new piece for the Spectator- in which he extols, from a Marxist perspective, the ’benefits of global capitalism’ and lambasts those who rail against it. Here‘s an extract:

What today’s anti-capitalists loathe most is the ‘consumer society’, with its incessant advertising and wicked temptation to buy, buy, buy. On Buy Nothing Day, at the end of November, anti-capitalist protesters on Oxford Street and elsewhere advised shoppers to ‘detox from consumerism’ because ‘everything we buy has an impact on our planet’. Meanwhile, serious psychologists (as well as the seriously psychotic) claim that consumerism makes us ill — it gives us ‘affluenza’, apparently. Geddit?

Well, I’m sorry Brendan, but I believe that today’s brand of consumerism does make us ill, as I think one of the 'serious psychologists' you had in mind, Oliver James, proved beyond doubt in his book ‘Affluenza.’

Brendan seems very happy with a money and wealth-obsessed, turbo-capitalist globalised world, one in which there is a Starbucks or Macdonalds on every corner and in which local and national cultures are replaced by globalised ones. He's happy to see the total eradication of centuries old local culture and believes this is somehow a 'left-wing' cause. Brendan also fails to see that its modern turbo-capitalism which is perpetually driving us to go to war, be it in the Balkans or in the Middle East- wars which he- to his credit-opposes.

As I wrote recently, the real divide in the world today is not so much between traditional socialists and conservatives, but between those who support the neoliberal globalist agenda of privatisation, tax cuts for the rich and running the economy for the benefit of global capital, and those who believe that maintaining economic sovereignty, and safeguarding the interests of ordinary working people should come first. Needless to say, those in the first camp don't care a jot for preserving local or national culture; those in the second camp most definitely do.

Sadly, we now know which side of the divide Brendan is on.

Sunny Hundal's 'Liberal Left" Model

When I wrote recently of the way the blogosphere was dominated by a self-appointed uber-elite of bloggers, one of the bloggers I had in mind was a man called Sunny Hundal (above)

Sunny, despite having won no popular election, (if he has, I've missed it) genuinely seems to believe he is the sole arbiter of what views and stances constitute being on the ’liberal-left’. And woe betide those who, in Sunny's eyes get it wrong.
He furiously shouted down one of his own group blog’s contributors for the crime of- wait for it- congratulating me on my recent award of Best UK Blog. The reason: because I had broken the three-line whip, imposed by Sunny and other 'liberal-leftists' on the Iraqi interpreters issue. Needless to say Sunny, like other members of ‘the not very left-wing or liberal 'liberal- left' tendency is a strong supporter of linking up with notorious neo-con warmongers in the campaign to grant asylum to Iraqis who betrayed their country by collaborating with the the illegal occupying forces. (the reason why the neocons are so keen on this campaign is that they are worried that in any future illegal invasions of sovereign states the locals might not be so keen to collobarate - it is for this reason that anyone who is genuinely left-wing, anti-war and anti-imperialist should have nothing to do with it).

Don't ever make the mistake of thinking that Hundal is open to debate: I did write a friendly email to him once to praise his stated support of free speech, but his response was pompous and condescending. I certainly won't be writing to the man ever again.

Hundal’s 'liberal leftism' is as artificial as that of the other so called ‘liberal-left’- who supported the Iraqi interpreters campaign and, if you still have your doubts, here’s the clinching proof.

On the Guardian CIF blog, Hundal has a piece drooling about a certain country which he believes can be a model for others. And which country do you believe Britain's self-appointed leader of the 'liberal-left' is so taken with?
Austria- with its world class national health system? Norway, with its egalitarian right of public access on all land? Denmark, with its low levels of inequality? Or perhaps Belgium, with its fantastic publicly-owned public transport system?

No, the country Hundal regards as a model which ought to be copied by others is- I kid ye not- the feudal dictatorship of Dubai - which he praises for "its enthusiastic embrace of capitalism", which apparently is "exactly what the city and the Middle East needs as a whole."

Hundal called me an "idiot" for my line on he Iraqi interpreters issue. Well Sunny, after reading your quite ridiculous piece on Dubai I can assure you the sentiment is reciprocated. I think anyone who calls themselves ‘liberal-left' and who writes pieces praising a feudal, shopping-mall dictatorship for its ‘embrace of capitalism' is not only an ‘idiot’ but has absolutely no cause to call themselves ‘liberal-left’ ever again.

Why on earth does the BBC (owned by us, dear reader, let's not forget) see it as its mission to promote this very silly man, whenever they have a programme on blogging?

UPDATE: David Lindsay writes on Hundal and his choice of model state here.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Lucky Little Country

Here's my piece from the New Statesman, contrasting Belgium's efficient, affordable and fit-for-purpose publicly owned public transport system, with Britain's inefficient, hideously expensive and not fit-for-purpose privatised one. And for Britain's long-suffering, ripped-off train commuters, things are going to get even worse. Yet, despite the obvious superiority of the Belgian system, neoliberal fanatics are attempting to force the rest of Europe to adopt the flawed British model!

Now that we have a high-speed rail link to Brussels, maybe Britain's transport chiefs could take a look at the rest of the Belgian rail network. For, when it comes to public transport, it's the much-derided Belgians who have the last laugh on us Brits.

Like Britain, Belgium is small and densely populated. But, unlike Britain, it has a co-ordinated, fit-for-purpose, publicly owned public transport system. Belgian Railways is the cheapest network in western Europe, with ticket prices that should make train travellers in the UK green with envy. In Britain, a next-day, peak-time return ticket from Manchester to London (200 miles) costs just over £200. In Belgium, the cost of a similar journey is less than £24.

Not only are Belgian fares cheaper, the ticketing system is simpler. In Britain, there are more than 200 types of railway ticket, depending on dates, time of travel and time of booking. In Belgium, price is determined by distance - a system despised by free-market fundamentalists. Prices don't go up in the rush hour: Belgian Railways simply puts on more trains and carriages. It has no problem meeting capacity because it owns its own rolling stock.

What a contrast to Britain, where commuters on the nation's most overcrowded routes are told they will have to wait three years for an end to their ordeal, because the train companies refuse to order new carriages until their contracts are extended.
A publicly owned transport system also means that the various modes - train, bus, tram - can be co-ordinated. In Ghent, you get off a train and a tram is waiting to take you to the city centre (for E1.50, the set fare on all Belgium's trams and buses). In Britain, despite the government's exhortations, the system remains fragmented.

Anyone who has travelled on both the British and the Belgian systems knows which is better. Yet, incredibly, the Belgian model is under threat from neoliberals in the EU. In the name of "competition", they are calling for the end of national rail monopolies and for transport to be opened to foreign companies.

In October, after intense pressure from corporate lobbyists, the European Parliament voted for the liberalisation of all international rail services from 2010, and for the European Commission to report no later than 2012 on the liberalisation of domestic rail services.

This pressure is coming from Britain; opposition is led by France and Belgium. In other words, we are calling for the rest of Europe to follow our flawed model, dreamt up by the free-market ideologues of the Adam Smith Institute.

On my last trip to Belgium, I travelled by train from Oxford to Waterloo International. At Oxford Station the ticket office was closed, and the departure board was not operating. As a train pulled into Platform 1, bewildered passengers asked each other if they knew where it was going.

A few hours later I was in the Gare du Midi, Brussels, from where an efficient and cheap underground system took me directly into the centre of the city.

Belgium may be only a short distance across the North Sea, but as far as public transport is concerned, it's a different world.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A Hungarian Uprising?

Here's my article on current developments in Hungary from The Guardian.

According to the standard neo-liberal version of history, the last 18 years in Eastern Europe have been years of unbridled success, as largely state-run economies have been transformed into dynamic "free market" ones. The reality is rather different. The adoption of the neoliberal turbo-capitalist model has caused misery for millions across the region, and in Hungary - a country whose living standards were, 30 years ago, among the highest of all the eastern bloc countries - its impact has been particularly severe.

In 2005, a Unicef report highlighted Hungary as a particularly dramatic example of the worsening situation of children, with child poverty now over 20%. And last month, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation reported that 200,000 people in Hungary, including 20,000 children, were under-fed. Around one in 10 Hungarians lives below the poverty line, with leading sociologist Zsuzsa Ferge recently warning a conference of the European and Hungarian Anti-Poverty Network that next year's planned price rises could push a further three million people into poverty. These depressing statistics are a shocking indictment of the hardline policies of what is arguably the most dogmatically neoliberal government in the whole of central and eastern Europe.

Prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsany, whose personal fortune of $17m was made from controversial 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 textbook neoliberal agenda which has involved selling off more than 170 state enterprises, imposing VAT on medical prescriptions and abolishing a tax on stockmarket profits. "Gyurcsany's a socialist, but he's our kind of socialist" is the view of one US junk bond trader, while the verdict of former US ambassador to Hungary George Herbert Walker III (who is George Bush's cousin) is: "Hungary's immediate future is in safe hands."

But while Gyurcsany and his government are toasted in the boardrooms of investment banks and finance houses across the world, his administration is not so popular with those he is supposed to represent. Gyurcsany's MSZP (Socialist Party) ratings are down to just 20%, while their coalition allies, the rabidly pro-capitalist SZDSZ (Free Democrats), whose leaders' views on the economy would make Margaret Thatcher seem like a social democrat, are down to just 3%.

Faced with falling living standards and swingeing cutbacks in welfare and state provision, people are taking to the streets. On Wednesday, several trades unions organised a day of industrial action, which culminated in a rally in Budapest's Kossuth Ter. The strikers were protesting not only about the government's plans to close large chunks of the country's railway network, but also about the planned part-privatisation of health care and reforms to the state pension.

The most interesting thing of all was who was supporting the Day of Solidarity. The anti-government action was not only backed by the unions, the socialist left and communists. It was supported by health service professionals, civic groups, farmers, religious groups and the country's conservative opposition. Zsolt Semlyen, chairman of the staunchly Catholic Christian Democratic People's Party (KDNP) said earlier in the week that his party would give "all theoretical and moral support to those who are arranging the protests of the Day of Solidarity".

It's not the first time the left and the right have come together to protest against neoliberal extremism in Hungary. Back in 2004, the communist Workers Party (Munkaspart) and the main conservative opposition party, Fidesz, cooperated in a successful campaign to force a referendum on the privatisation of the health service. Such an alliance would have been unthinkable even a few years earlier, given the country's history. But faced with a despised and discredited government, one which governs only in the interest of foreign multinationals and Hungary's own class of super-rich, old foes are forgetting their past differences and are coming together.

Viktor Orban, the leader of Fidesz, once called Hungarians who lived under communism "the lost generation". Now, even he admits that for the majority of Hungarians, life was easier under the benign "goulash communism" of Janos Kadar than it is today.

What Hungary shows is that the real divide in the world today is not so much between traditional socialists and conservatives, but between those who support the neoliberal globalist agenda of privatisation, tax cuts for the rich and running the economy for the benefit of global capital, and those who believe that maintaining economic sovereignty and safeguarding the interests of ordinary working people should come first.

As neoliberal "reforms" become ever more severe and unpopular all over the world, we can expect this new, left-right anti-globalisation alliance to gain even greater strength.

Monday, November 26, 2007

More like 1907 than 2007

Unless a tiny miracle happens and a new Left Party is formed before the next UK General Election, I doubt that after that election there will be a single working class MP in the Westminister Parliament and by working class I loosely mean manual worker. We have already reached the stage when if you look at the class backgrounds of the current crop of honorable members, it appears to be more like 1907 than 2007. It is as if the major social changes that took place in the UK over the three decades that followed WW2 never happened, as these days almost the entire House of Commons comes from the urban middle classes. The odd Toff still sits on the green benches of the Commons and as place-men in the House of Lords, but the working classes are becoming invisible from both Houses of Parliament.
In the last ten years of a Labour government, we have witnessed the English middle classes gradually clawing back the political and cultural space they lost to the working classes between the years 1945-79.

You can read the rest of Mick Hall's brilliant post on how unrepresentative the British House of Commons has become here. Whether it's our shambolic privatised railway system, the erosion of our ancient civil liberties, the ever-widening gap between the rich and poor or the exclusion of working class voices from the political arena, we really are going backwards in this country.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

In Praise of the Championship

I don't know about you, but I'm bored of the Premiership. The same old teams at the top, the massive gulf between the richest clubs and the rest. The very essence of sport is unpredictability, and even after yesterday's surprise defeat for Man Utd at Bolton, the results are simply too easy to call. What a difference to the second tier of English football, the Championship. There, everybody can beat everybody else. I was lucky enough to have been at Loftus Road yesterday to watch QPR play Sheffield Wednesday. Both teams are in the bottom half of the table, yet you wouldn't have thought it by the quality of football on show. Wednesday could have been 3-0 up after the first quarter of an hour, but QPR then took the upper hand and dominated the rest of the half. In the second half, once again Wednesday started brightest, before QPR got into their stride and started to boss the game. The match was a terrific advert for football: two teams committed to attack, playing the game in the right manner with not a dirty foul all afternoon. Brian Laws, the Wednesday manager said it was one of the best 0-0 draws he'd ever seen, I certainly can't think of a game I've been to that has finished goalless and has been so entertaining (or a game in which the woodwork had been hit so many times). Laws also said that it would have been a shame if either side had lost- when do you ever hear a Premiership manager ever say anything as sporting as that?
On yesterday's performance, expect both QPR and Wednesday to finish nearer the top, than the bottom of the league.
As far as I'm concerned, you can stick the Premiership and its overpaid mercenaries and prima donnas and you can stick the over-rated Champions League too. If you want to enjoy football how it used to be played- and how it should be played- check out the Championship. I'll be interested to hear from any more football fans out there who feel the same as I do.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

A Question of Priorities

No money it seems for this.
But we do have money for this.

A Criminal Affair

Regular readers will know all about the criminal campaign of harassment that has been waged against me ever since my critical review of a book by a pro-war hedge-fund trading blogger called Oliver Kamm appeared in the Daily Telegraph in December 2005. The campaign has taken various forms. At first Oliver Kamm published a series of posts on his blog making untrue and highly defamatory statements about me, in a blatant attempt to jeopardise my journalistic career and get me into trouble with those who employ me. Such tactics, as I've mentioned before, were not new for Oliver Kamm. Oliver Kamm's postings were then emailed under an alias to editors who commission my work, in a clear and non-too subtle attempt to stop them from commissioning me again. Needless to say, the emails were treated with the contempt they deserved, but the point was that the attempt to stop me writing was made- and has been made on repeated occassions.
It was to stop this clear and blatant attempt to prevent me from earning a living that I was reluctantly forced to take legal action against Kamm, but as he did not consent to the case being heard in the County Court, I had to drop the action, as I lacked the funds to start the case in the High Court. (With his characteristic mendacity, Kamm has sought to portray himself as the victim in the affair- and claim that I tried to silence him!)

Another aspect of the campaign of harassment was to repeatedly vandalise my wikipedia page. One of the main culprits in thsi endeavour was a certain 'Elena Zamm'. Ms Zamm only ever edited three wikipedia pages: my page, the page of Oliver Kamm and the page of Oliver Kamm's mother. I probably don't need to tell you that Ms Zamm was far more kindly in her editing of the pages of the latter two individuals than she was with mine. One can't say that Ms Zamm didnt't take her job seriously- she was even busy editing my wikipedia page on the evening of the 25th December.

Another tactic has been to post links to the blogger's defamatory postings and the defamatory postings of his accomplice, on comments threads, wherever my work appears.

This happens every single time an article of mine is published online.The aim is quite clear: to try to draw the defamatory postings to the attention of readers- and the editors of the publications in question-and to try to intimidate me into quitting journalism for good. The pseudonymous posters believe they will eventually tire me out; I'll get so bored of checking websites that my work appears on for defamatory comments that I'll eventually decide there are a lot less stressful ways to earn a living. But they have, I can assure you, picked on the wrong person. The attacks, far from disheartening me, have only spurred me on.

I wrote in September on how the case had now entered a new, more serious phase. The continued and repeated nature of the attacks, after almost two years, clearly constitute criminal harassment. Given the incredible malice of the persons involved, I am not surprised that despite my latest post on the matter, the attacks have continued, most recently on the website of the Spectator magazine. But those behind the harassment ought to understand one thing very well. As I said in September, I will not rest until those responsible for such cowardly, malicious and utterly dishonest attacks are standing directly opposite me in a court of law. A recent landmark legal judgement held that websites are now under a legal duty to provide the IP details and email addresses of those who post anonymously, or pseudonymously, defamatory comments about others in public forums. I suggest that the persons responsible for the campaign of harassment against me should study that judgement long and hard.

In this battle, there will, I can assure you, be only one winner.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Carry on Invading

I said earlier this week that I very rarely post entire articles from other writers on this blog. But this has been a special week. On Tuesday, I posted a quite excellent article from Peter Wilby on the media and the war with Iraq. And from today's Guardian, here's another gem- from Seumas Milne (above). It beggars belief that after the bloodshed their policies have caused, the advocates of 'liberal intervention' still have the nerve to call for even more military adventures. But they'll continue to do so- until we- the ordinary people who end up paying for their wretched wars- and whose children end up dying in them- say 'enough is enough'.
I'm currently working on the formation of a new group, which will campaign for an end to such illegal military adventures and for Britain to jettison the doctrine of 'liberal intervention' once and for all. Such interventions- whether they be in the Balkans, the Middle East or anywhere else, have nothing to do with 'spreading democracy' or 'human rights', but are merely a smokescreen for extending The Empire and opening up new markets for global finance and western multinationals.

Carry on invading
The government is happily airbrushing our role in foreign interventions: it will lead to worldwide aggression and lawlessness

You might have thought that the catastrophe of Iraq and the bloody failure of Afghanistan would have at least dampened western enthusiasm for invading and occupying other people's countries in the name of humanitarianism. But if the past week or so is anything to go by, such chastening has proved short-lived, at least in Britain. First there was Gordon Brown's reassertion, in his speech at the Lord Mayor's banquet, of the west's right to intervene behind state borders, followed within a couple of days by his foreign secretary David Miliband's declaration in Bruges that the European Union must be prepared to deploy hard military power beyond its own borders.

Then came what was described as an "impassioned defence of liberal interventionism" by Jonathan Powell, who until a few months ago was Tony Blair's chief of staff. Sounding like an apologist for a defeated regime who has learned nothing from its worst excesses - perhaps understandably - Powell restated the case for what another former Blair adviser, Robert Cooper, praised as "a new kind of imperialism" as if the last six years had never happened. Or, rather, happened differently.
The problem with the Iraq war, Powell seems to have convinced himself, is simply that "we were not successful on the ground". Nobody would have bothered about the lack of UN resolutions or the absence of weapons of mass destruction, he seems to believe, if the occupation had somehow worked or been accepted by Iraqis - though perhaps some international support would have been useful as well.

He draws this conclusion from the fact that none of the other three of what he calls "our four wars" - Sierra Leone, Kosovo and Afghanistan - was fought in self-defence or directly sanctioned by the UN. Yet "no one" in the west questioned them or complained, he claims, because they were a success or at least a short-term success. This is nonsense. Every single intervention was widely challenged and it would be hard to chalk up the reverse ethnic cleansing of the half-frozen conflict in Kosovo, the thousands killed in Afghanistan this year or even the misery and corruption of semi-colonial Sierra Leone as western achievements.

Like Blair, Powell clearly itches to invade Zimbabwe and Burma and claims "we" would tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran if only it were democratic. Like Pakistan, presumably. And after praising a string of unilateral interventions, the former Downing Street chief of staff only ends up favouring some kind of "rules-based system" of international relations because "other big countries" may too become superpowers and want to throw their military weight about as well.

This mentality is a recipe for global aggression and lawlessness. The experience of the past decade has driven home the incendiary dangers when the global powers arrogate to themselves the right to attack or invade other countries under the banner of human rights, acting as judge and jury in their own cause and in the certain knowledge that they will never be subject to the same violent sanction for their own violations of humanitarian and international law.
"We should have been clear we were removing Saddam because he was a ruthless dictator suppressing his people," Powell now declares. He should have added: "who defied western power, unlike other ruthless dictators we support in his region and around the world."

Any rules-based system of international relations has to apply to the powerful as well as the weak, allies as well as enemies, or it isn't a system of rules at all: it's a system of imperial power enforcement. By invading Iraq on a false pretext and bathing the country in blood with complete international impunity, the US and Britain have made the chances of a genuinely universal, rules-based system for humanitarian intervention even less likely. And of course Jonathan Powell has played his part in that to the full.

A Cuban Revolution

The fightback against New Labour's fascistic ban on smoking in public places has started. Here's my piece from The Spectator on how cigar smokers are leading the way.

For British lovers of La Diva Nicotina, 1 July 2007 was a black day indeed. The government’s draconian ban on smoking in enclosed public places was a blow to all puffers, but perhaps for Britain’s 800,000 cigar smokers its impact has been worst of all.

Popping outside for a quick Marlboro Light on the pavement is one thing, smoking a Montecristo Especial No. 1 in such circumstances is something else altogether. Cigars are meant to be savoured, not rushed: something which the ban makes almost impossible outside of one’s own home. Gentlemen’s clubs have been badly hit. ‘The ban has completely changed club culture as the post-prandial smoke is no longer to be enjoyed. I think it makes it much more difficult to really get to know someone,’ bemoans Piers Russell-Cobb, managing director of Media Fund. For female cigar smokers, the situation is even worse. ‘In the past I’ve had to get used to the fact that some people see cigar smoking as unfeminine,’ says Sallyann Everett, a tobacconist. ‘Now, I’m worried that whenever I light a cigar I might be committing a crime. The ban has made me feel paranoid.’

However, all is not lost. After a depressing four months in which smokers, in the words of Sallyann, have been made to feel ‘like third-class citizens’, there’s light at the end of the tunnel. The fightback against New Labour’s particularly noxious brand of killjoy illiberalism is being led by the charismatic figure of Ranald Macdonald, elder son of the 24th Captain of Clanranald. Macdonald has worked tirelessly, over 19 years, to build his wonderfully cosy Belgravia club/restaurant Boisdale into an oasis for cigar smokers. Boisdale has the largest selection of Cuban cigars you’ll find in such an establishment (19 brands and over 120 different sizes and vintages). But the ban has hit business hard. ‘My sales were 15 per cent down in September,’ Macdonald told me over a Hoyo de Monterrey smoked on the little seated area outside his restaurant. ‘The evening trade has been badly affected. We have live jazz every night and jazz and cigars go together. You can listen to jazz without a cigar, but it’s somehow not quite the same.’Macdonald’s assault is two-pronged. On 1 November, Boisdale opened Britain’s first cigar terrace, a 6 x 9 metre roof area, where patrons will, once again, be able to smoke their Havanas legally.

At the same time, Macdonald, together with fellow cigar aficionado Jemma Freeman, managing director of Hunters & Frankau, Britain’s exclusive distributor for Cuban cigars, is launching a new single-purpose campaign to gain exemptions from the ban for bars, pubs and clubs. ‘Seventy-four per cent of the population in Scotland favour exemptions,’ says Macdonald. ‘It’s a question of convincing the politicians that such a move would have public support. The lie put out by the pro-ban lobby was that Britain was only following the European example in imposing a total ban. It wasn’t. Other countries have worked out compromise solutions.’ Macdonald prefers to use the phrase ‘bully state’ to describe the sort of country Britain has become: ‘nanny state sounds too middle-class’. ‘We’ve certainly become a lot less tolerant than we were 30 years ago. I’m afraid there are a lot more unhappy people out there who seem to derive pleasure in telling people what not to do.’

Jemma Freeman is also aggrieved that Britain did not follow the example of other countries. ‘I’ve just been to Spain and it’s so dismal to return home and not be able to enjoy a cigar while out with friends or colleagues. The ban is destroying the culture of bonhomie — I sometimes think the government doesn’t want people to meet up in public and would prefer it if we all stayed at home.’ Jemma is keen to stress that the battle for exemptions is not ‘an upper-class campaign’. ‘The ban has hit working men’s clubs hard too and it’s very sad that they are threatened. Many establishments spent thousands of pounds in installing air ventilation systems for smoking areas, yet Parliament still voted for a total ban. I can’t see why you and I can’t sit in a fully ventilated smoking room into which no staff would need to enter during service hours and smoke to our hearts’ content.’

Britain’s draconian ban is also causing cigar lovers from other countries to think twice about visiting the country. ‘If I’m not allowed to smoke, then I won’t come to Britain,’ says Swiss artist Tatjana Tiziana, who says cigar smoking aids the creative process. ‘Instead of banning smoking, the government would be better off doing more about climate change. It’s a far bigger danger to the world than cigar smoke.’

Support Hungary's Day of Solidarity

I've written plenty in the past year or so about the ever-worsening conditions for ordinary people in Hungary, where the privatising, neoliberal government of the millionaire Ferenc Gyurscany (above, left, with his good pal George W. Bush),has imposed swingeing cutbacks in state provision. But the Hungarian people are stirring: and today there will be widespread transport strikes across the country. The strikers are protesting not only about the government's plans to close large chunks of the country's railway network, but also about the planned part-privatisation of health care. There will be a big rally at Kossuth Ter at 6pm tonight. The event is being supported not only by leftist groups and unions, but also by Hungary's conservative opposition, who, to their credit, reject the heartless neoliberal dogma of the current governing coalition, and who oppose the privatisation programme.
If you're reading this and are in Hungary, (I know from sitefeeder statistics that this blog does have many Hungarian readers), then please join up in these protests.
The present Hungarian government is a national disgrace, and that was the case even before the Prime Minister was exposed, on tape, as a liar. Hungary- and the Hungarian people, deserve much, much better.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The First Casualty

It's very rare that I post an entire article from another writer on this blog, but this piece in today's Guardian by the former New Statesman editor Peter Wilby (above) is just so good- and so important- that it deserves the widest possible circulation.

It is a matter of record that the British press, and the American press even more so, failed badly to expose the flimsiness of the case for going to war in Iraq. Will it fail again as the threat of an attack on Iran grows? The verdict from a conference on "War, truth and the media", attended by some 250 media workers and students in London in Saturday, was an overwhelming "yes". We have already started to accept, without significant questioning, that Iran will shortly develop nuclear arms, that it will then threaten Israel and the rest of the Middle East, and that it is responsible for much of the conflict in neighbouring Iraq. The assumption that Iran is a wicked aggressor is buried in the language we use. As Tony Benn pointed out, British and American nuclear weapons are "deterrents", Iran's will be "weapons of mass destruction".

The media's failings are systemic. Whether it's Iraq, Iran or our domestic "fight" against terrorism, the official, government-approved narrative dominates. To be sure, facts that don't fit the narrative are frequently reported: for example, the Guardian revealed last year that tens of thousands of small arms now in the hands of private Iraqi militias were secretly shipped from Bosnia by the Pentagon. But suggestions that the anarchy in Iraq suits America perfectly - because private capital can step in to buy up the country's assets and the US can retain control of the oil - are discounted. Alternative narratives of this sort have been developed by, for example, Naomi Klein in her book The Shock Doctrine and the New York Times and New Yorker journalist Jim Holt. But they are treated as marginal, eccentric curiosities, which never inform the media's day-to-day approach to Iraq and Iran.

We live in what has been called "the public relations state". Governments try to control the news agenda to a far greater extent than even 20 years ago and, as media organisations slash their editorial budgets, official PR steps into the vacuum. Titbits of information about the "threats" from Iran are fed to the media, often through selected journalists and often from intelligence sources. Reporters and editors, delighted with their "scoops", are not likely to subject them to too much critical scrutiny. In any case, they lack the resources to verify them. Their rivals, finding the stories confirmed by official sources, follow them up and give them further credence. Stories that don't fit the official narrative are denied and derided and therefore quickly die.

There is no conspiracy, no direct censorship. It is just the way the system works, with information from official sources crowding out everything else. In 2008, the truth about Iran will be as elusive as was the truth about Iraq in 2002 and 2003.

Spot the Difference competition

Some start of the week fun courtesy of Martin Meenagh.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

An Important Principle: No Subsidy without Equity

One of the great myths about the turbo-globalist neoliberal model is that it is "free market". The reality is that the system requires enormous state support to survive: in Britain for instance, having a privatised railway system costs the taxpayer four times more in subsidy than it did when the railways were publicly owned. And our privatised bus services are no different, next time you're in the Scottish Highlands, take a peak (from the road, because they won't let you go any nearer) at either of the two huge castles, Ann Gloag, the co-founder of Stagecoach now owns, thanks in no small part to the enormous public subsidies her company has received. (And in 2003 she was still after more taxpayers money!) A more accurate way of describing the turbo-globalist neoliberal model is to call it theft on a massive and audacious scale. And the theft is from you and me, dear reader, as it's our money that is being spent in keeping afloat the privateers, bankers and the other financial insitutions who because of the state safety cushion, are really on a no-lose bet. Just think back to the summer, when central banks in the US, UK and Europe used taxpayers money to bail out financiers who, in order to make even higher profits, had lent with incredible recklessness. Now, at last, some respected commentators are saying enough is enough, and calling for the state to take banks which it bails out- like Northern Rock- into public ownership.

But this issue is not just about Northern Rock. In the interests of fairness, it's time to campaign for the adoption, by the government, of a very simple principle: not a penny of taxpayers money should be handed over to a privately owned company without the public gaining equity in that company.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Britain's Bipolar Disorder

Here's an extract from a long essay of mine, on the parlous state of democracy in Britain, which appears in the anti-war magazine 'The American Conservative'.

In a classic episode of the 1970s comedy series Fawlty Towers,
hotelier Basil Fawlty has to hastily improvise a menu for his guests-as the only meat on the premises is duck.

Colonel Hall: Duck with Orange; duck with cherries; duck surprise.
Mrs. Hall: What's duck surprise?
Basil Fawlty: Er... that's duck without oranges or cherries.
Colonel Hall: I mean is this all there is - Duck?
Basil Fawlty: Yes... done of course in three extremely different
Colonel Hall: And what do you do if you don't like duck?
Basil Fawlty: Well, if you don't like duck... you're rather stuck.

Flash forward 30 years, and the choice on offer for the British electorate has become as limited as the one which faced Colonel and Mrs Hall at John Cleese's notorious hotel.

Britain's two main parties- the only two who, thanks to our first past the post electoral system, have a realistic chance of winning a general election, have converged to such an extent that their policies on the major issues of the day are virtually indistinguishable.

On the economy, both parties enthusiastically endorse the globalist neoliberal model, which is mistakenly described as “free market” but which in fact requires massive state support. Britain's privatised railways, for instance, receive four times more in taxpayers' subsidy than they did when they were publicly owned; it was for that very reason that the genuinely free-market Conservative transport minister Nicholas Ridley opposed privatisation in the 1980s.

The Conservative's Private Finance Initiative scheme, whereby the government pays private companies to build new hospitals and schools and then leases them from those companies under lengthy contracts, has been extended under Labour, even though once again, the taxpayer ends up paying far more in the long run.

Regarding the level of tax and spending there is not even the width of a cigarette paper between the parties. In the same way that the incoming Labour Chancellor Gordon Brown vowed to stick to the outgoing Conservative government's spending plans when coming to office in 1997, so Conservative Party spokesman George Osborne has promised to adhere to Gordon Brown’s plan of increasing public spending by 2 per cent in real terms over the next three years, if his party wins the next election. And although the Conservatives have recently announced that they will raise the threshold for the inheritance tax, there will be no overall reduction in the tax burden if the party comes to power.

Both parties rejoice in the fact that Britain is one of the most 'open' economies in the world. In the last ten years, a succession of industries and flagship companies have passed into foreign ownership. Even our airports are foreign owned, and the Stock Market probably won't be long in joining them either. While other European countries have maintained a level of national ownership in key sectors of their
economy, Britain, following neoliberal orthodoxy to the book, has allowed the family silver to be flogged to whoever comes along.

The parties are equally blasé about the spiralling wealth gap. 'New Labour is intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich' said the party's ideologist Peter Mandelson in 1998, and after ten years of Labour government, the gap between Britain's rich and poor is at its highest level for more than 40 years.

On foreign policy, both parties continue to sing- with gusto- from the same pro-war, pro-intervention hymn sheet (words and music courtesy of the late Scoop Jackson). Thought Tony Blair was a hawk on Iraq? Then you should have met his opposite number Iain Duncan Smith, who had wanted Saddam toppled in the first Gulf war of 1991. IDS’ idea of 'opposing' Blair on Iraq was to criticise him for waiting too long to attack. Five years on, the Tories, like Labour, are still in the grip of warmongers.
The leadership campaign of David Cameron was masterminded by the neo-conservative trio of MPs Osborne, Michael Gove and Ed Vaizey and while Cameron and his front bench team have criticised strategy in Iraq, the party still says the invasion was justified and is firmly opposed to British withdrawal. And Cameron, like Foreign Secretary David Miliband, refuses to rule out a pre-emptive strike on Iran.....

Of course, there's nothing inherently wrong with consensus politics, if the consensus genuinely represents the view of the majority. But as the Guardian's Seumas Milne has observed, what is described as the 'centre ground' today in fact reflects not the dominant views not of the people, but of the political, media and corporate establishment. What percentage of the public support a neo-conservative foreign policy? How many people believe that allowing 'market forces' to govern every aspect of our lives, represents the best way to order our society?

Today's cosy cross-party consensus in fact has very little public support. The increasing alienation with mainstream politics is reflected by the dramatic fall in voter turnout- at the last two general elections, only around 60% of the electorate bothered to vote: compare that to a high of 84% in 1951.
For the millions of Britain who are moderate social conservatives, who are sick and tired of our country being embroiled in military conflicts which are none of our business, and who would like to see the needs of people put above the profits of Goldman Sachs, the sad truth is that there is simply no one to vote for.

In the Britain of 2007, if you don't like duck, you really are stuck.

If you'd like to read more, the full essay is available online, through subscription, here,

If you’ve never read The American Conservative, then I heartily recommend taking out a subscription, it really is one of the most thought provoking political/current affairs magazine in the US. Leftists and progressives should not be put off by the magazine's title: The American Conservative as well as opposing neo-liberal dogma and modern turbo-capitalism has also been implacable in its opposition to the neo-conservative war agenda.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

History according to Monty Python

David Lindsay has an interesting post here on history according to Monty Python.
But it's not just medieval history with which the Pythons seem to take, shall we say, a few liberties. They're not too hot on the more modern stuff either. In the chapter on Serbia in his book 'New Europe', written to accompany his BBC television series of the same name, Michael Palin (above) writes that "Slobodan Milosevic, ex-President of Serbia, died of a heart attack at The Hague after his conviction for war crimes".

Now, I followed the trial of Slobodan Milosevic on a regular basis. And if Milosevic was ever convicted of war crimes, my name is John Cleese.

Fortress Britain: Another neo-con 'achievement'

"Train passengers face routine airline-style bag checks and body searches as part of a new counter-terror crackdown announced by Gordon Brown.
More than 250 busy railway stations, airports and seaports as well as 100"sensitive" installations like power stations and electricity substations will be given extra security.
This could include screening luggage at major stations like London King's Cross or Manchester Piccadilly using mobile checking devices that can be moved around the country"
reports The Daily Telegraph.

Two questions need to be asked:

1. Why are all these steps necessary now, when they weren't deemed necessary during the height of the IRA's campaign of bombing on the British mainland in the 1970s and 80s?

2. Why is Britain the only country in Europe that is taking such steps? Other countries in Europe have large Islamic populations: Belgium, France and Germany, for example. Yet none of them feel the need to screen luggage at major railway stations or turn their countries into fortresses. It couldn't just be that Britain's aggressive, neo-conservative foreign policy has made us more of a target, could it?

UPDATE: Railway expert Christian Wolmar has written a great response to the government's ludicrous over-reaction to the terror threat here.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Putting local into the left

One of the nicest things about winning the 2007 Weblog Award for Best UK Blog is the way that traffic to this site has more than doubled. A very warm welcome to new readers: I hope you will enjoy this blog and stay with us in the weeks, months and years to come. If you just want anti-war/anti-neo-con articles and posts, you've come to the wrong place; if you want anti-war/anti-neo-con articles mixed up with sport, films, horse-racing, football and the odd You Tube comedy/music video, you're in exactly the right place. Many of the posts you will read are specially written for the blog. But I also post here many of my published articles from the various newspapers and magazines that I write for. Because of time away, a family bereavement (my grandmother died recently at the age of 100) and the 2007 Weblog Awards, I'm behind with the posting of articles of mine which have been published in the last few weeks.
For starters, here's my column from last week's Morning Star, on the welcome backlash against the global chains which have done so much to destroy High Street diversity.

The charge sheet against the Anglo-Saxon neo-liberal model is a long one. It leads to greater inequality and, by encouraging selfishness and materialism, creates social breakdown. Its devastating impact on the environment has also been well documented. And, as the war against Iraq proves, it’s an economic template that leads inevitably to war.
But one of the most overlooked aspects of contemporary turbo-capitalism is the way it makes our everyday lives more boring.
The Anglo-Saxon model, by favouring big business and global finance over small, locally owned enterprises, has, in a comparatively short space of time destroyed high street diversity in Britain.
Just compare the vibrant high streets of the towns and cities of mainland continental Europe with the main streets in any British and American city- and you’ll know what I mean.

I recently spent a week travelling around Belgium, a country where, despite the enormous external pressure from big business and the think tanks that they bankroll for it to be discarded, the mixed economy ‘Rhineland’ model still holds sway. In Belgium, individually and family owned shops, bars and cafes still dominate the high streets. Despite being the base for the EU and NATO, two agents of globalisation, Brussels, the capital of Belgium, is one of the least globalised cities in the whole of Europe, with the lowest per capita number of Macdonalds, and not a single Starbucks or Pret A Manger in sight. How very different to the UK! It‘s always demoralising to arrive back home after spending time abroad and be greeted with the sight of banks, chain stores and fast food outlets which have turned our towns and cities into such soulless, homogenous places.

There are those on the left who will question whether the issue of high street diversity is one they should get involved with. Does it really matter if global chains- and not locally owned businesses- dominate our high streets? The answer, most emphatically, is yes. The importance of locally- owned businesses, rooted in the community- and responsive to that community, cannot be underestimated. The owner of say, a small café in Brussels, of course wants to make a profit, but his ambitions are very different from that of a large multinational corporation. The café owner, can, if he/she wishes, give free drinks to his friends or allow regular customers to keep a slate. The atmosphere in an individually-owned establishment is entirely different - and much more personal than in a global chain.

Just compare the way the nature of the British pub has changed, since large profit-hungry plcs started to dominate the industry. The friendly ‘local’, which attracted- and catered for- people of all ages, and which provided priceless social capital for many communities, have, up and down the country, been replaced by ‘vertical-drinking’ bars, where only young drinkers will feel at home. It’s no coincidence that the huge increase in binge-drinking in Britain has coincided with changes in the ownership of pubs- the big corporate chains who now dominate the market care about only one thing- profit maximisation- and that means out with the elderly drinker slowly sipping his pint of mild in the corner, and in with young drinker, who, market research tells the companies, will spend a lot more money.

In global chains, the spontaneity and personal touch which you can find in individually owned cafes and bars, has been eradicated. And consequently, all our lives are the poorer. Unlike our café owner in Brussels, Starbucks doesn’t just want to make a profit, it wants global domination. It pursues an aggressive expansion strategy, similar to that adopted by other global chains like Macdonalds and Burger King. Starbucks is currently opening seven new stores a day and now has over 13,000 global outlets. But this is still way short of the company’s stated aim of having 40,000 stores. The way aggressive global chains eliminate the local competition can be seen most clearly in London, which now has more Starbucks outlets than Manhattan.

A world in which the main streets of every city were as globalised as London’s would be a sad and colourless place in which to live. So it’s great to report that the fight-back against global chains is gaining momentum.

In Paris, the city’s Socialist deputy mayor Lyne Cohen-Solal has recently launched a £21m plan to save the historic Left Bank’s independent booksellers, arthouse cinemas, art galleries and writers’ cafes by buying up properties to stop them being converted into yet more bland chain stores. "All the cities all over Europe are starting to look the same. London, Berlin, they're going to have the same streets with the same shops," Mme Cohen-Solal said. Last year, over 250 independent cafes and restaurants closed in Paris; the city now has around 30 Starbucks stores, so it is clear that action is urgently required to preserve the character of one of the most unique cities in the world.

In Britain, opposition to high street uniformity is growing too- a leading newspaper recently launched a campaign to save London’s small shops.

Of course, all these initiatives should ideally have been taken years ago, before global chains had made such inroads. But it does seem that more and more people are waking up to the simple truth about modern turbo capitalism- that far from increasing competition- it actually destroys it. Big chains don’t want diversity, but uniformity- a world in which everyone eats the same food, listens to the same music, and wears the same branded clothes.

The world is still a wonderfully diverse place, so let’s keep it that way. Because if the global chains get their way, there will be no point in ever setting foot outside our front doors again.

Bouquets and Raspberries

Well, five days on from our landslide victory in the 2007 Weblog awards, it's time for a few reflections. When it was announced that this blog had been nominated for the Best UK blog award, the opposition tried to disparage both me and the award's organisers. There was more than a whiff of anti-Americanism in the air- "fancy these out-of-touch Americans nominating someone like him- shows how much they know about British blogging" was the standard jibe. I also received some very nasty emails - which I did not publish- sneering at the fact that our share of the vote was, on day two, only around the 1% level. The reason our share of the vote was so low to begin with was I didn't even know about the award until the second day of the competition, when I received an email from The Exile. Seeing me trailing at the bottom, the opposition thought they'd put the boot in. In response to a pseudonymous commenter who asked the question "Neil who" on his blog, a fellow nominee wrote that I was the blogger "who wrote terrible things nobody agreed with". The blog of the nominee in question ended up polling 135 votes, mine polled over 1116. I believe the correct psychological term for the condition of the blogger in question is transference.
(I wonder incidentally what these "terrible things" are: my opposition to illegal wars of aggression, my support for renationalisation of the railways and the privatised utlities, free care for the elderly and the reintroduction of a top rate of income tax for the very rich?)
When our vote started to pick up and gain ground on the leaders, the opposition started to change their line of attack. Desperate pleas for their readers to vote tactically to stop me winning were published. The result: our lead got bigger and bigger.
If you want to read more about the gracelessness of the opposition's campaign, The Byzantine Sacred Art blog and the blog of Chris Paul go into further details.
Five days after the competition ended not a single one of the other nominees for the Best UK blog award has had the decency to email me with their congratulations.
And when a self-proclaimed liberal-left website posted a note of congratulations to me on winning the award, a nerdy warmongering cyberbully called Francis Sedgemore waded in with some of his black-shirted chums to bully the poster in question to retract the message of congratulations. (The same thing happened today on the website of Chris Paul, with the posting of some highly malicious and defamatory comments about me by "anonymous")
Faced with the landslide victory of someone who they did everything they could to smear, disparage and marginalise, not just through the campaign, but throughout the last few years, the pro-war bloggers, "free market" fanatics and 'liberal' interventionists have now decided to simply ignore the poll result altogether.

But enough of bad losers, sour grapes and graceless, wretched excuses for human beings.

The main thing is that thanks to your support, we handed out an enormous and humiliating defeat to the warmongers, the bully boys and the smear merchants. Thank you once again, to all who voted for this blog and to those blogs who supported the
campaign. Without The Exile, I would not have known about the award until it was far too late, and I'd also like to give special thanks to Svetlana of the Byzantine Sacred Art blog for her fantastic support.

What the last week demonstrated was that if we all stick together, we can achieve anything.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Many, many thanks!

What more can I say? Subject to official confirmation, we have won the Best UK blog award in the 2007 Weblog Awards by a very wide margin. Our final vote toll was 1116 votes, compared to second placed EU Referendum on 697 votes, a lead of 419 votes.
Many, many thanks to every single person who voted for this blog, and many, many thanks too to those blogs who supported the campaign. I will be writing a longer post about the award, and posting a full and proper 'thank you', later.

UPDATE: The result in the 2007 Weblog Awards has been officially confirmed. We won it! And we won it by a landslide! You are now reading the Best UK Blog!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Almost there- but no room for complacency!

Well, after another great night's voting, our lead in the 2007 Weblog awards is now heading up towards the 300 mark. Many, many thanks to all those voted. But even though we have a big lead, there's no room for complacency, and we still need to carry on voting right up to the deadline in order to guarantee victory. So let's have one final push! If everyone who has voted over the past 24 hours, does so again today, then we will win! You can vote here

UPDATE: 10.15 GMT. Our lead is now 300 votes and we're now just 67 votes off the 1000 vote figure. Please keep the votes coming in!

Democracy- Georgia style

"The President of the former Soviet republic has declared a 15-day state of emergency after security units forcibly dispersed protesters outside parliament with teargas and took an opposition TV station off air.
At least 500 people were treated in hospital after riot police fired gas and water cannon on crowds calling for the resignation of the president, who has been accused of corruption. The only television station now allowed to broadcast is state television."

And in which former Soviet Republic are these undemocratic, dictatorial measures being imposed? Belarus, described (inaccurately) by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as 'the last dictatorship in Europe? No, they are taking place in 'pro-western' Georgia, a country whose President Mikhail Saakashvili is a huge fan of NATO. So come on, Ms Rice, if you really are so concerned about dictatorships in the former Soviet republics, let's hear you denounce, loud and clear the recent undemocratic developments in Georgia. Demand that the government allows people to protest- as your department encouraged them to do in Georgia only a few years back, when the country had a different President. Otherwise, heaven forbid, people might believe that your enthusiasm for opposition street protests only extends to cases when they are protesting against governments that you don't like. We wouldn't want people to think that, would we?

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

In the lead!- but still work to do!

Well, after a great night's voting from those of you based in the 'New World', we've now pulled clear at the top of the poll, overhauling the long-time leader Kickette. But we can't afford to relax- the other blogs are sure to pull out all the stops in an attempt to catch up- so it is important that we play- and carry on voting- right up until the final whistle. As I said earlier in the week, if everyone who has voted for this blog does so on every day of the competition, we'll win. Having done so well to come from last to first, let's make sure we finish the job! Many, many thanks again for your support!
You can vote here.

UPDATE: 19.15 GMT. Well, after a terrific day's voting our lead is now up to 135. But as I said earlier, there is no room for complacency. To win the award we need the votes to keep coming in right up to the final whistle tomorrow at 10pm GMT, so please keep on voting! And once again, many, many thanks for your support!

UPDATE: 21.15 GMT. The website for the weblog awards is working very slowly tonight, probably due to the heavy traffic it is receiving. A few people have written in to say that they are having difficulty in voting and that the site keeps crashing. I hope this is only a temporary problem. I'll keep the sitation monitored.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Red Rum v Crisp anyone?

Well, thanks to your support, we're now just 80 votes off the lead in the 2007 Weblog awards, with just over a day of voting to go. Let's hope the Weblog awards mirror the 1973 Grand National, the classic race where Crisp, having led nearly all the way, was collared in the final strides by Red Rum.
To make sure it does, please keep the votes piling in. (You can vote here)
This one looks like going right to the wire!

UPDATE: Tuesday 22.15 GMT. Just passed Iain 'Spanish Steps' Dale into third place... just 70 votes off the overall lead.

Monday, November 05, 2007

2007 Weblog Awards latest: Up to fourth place

Well, we're firmly established in fourth place now, polling over 12% of the votes and with the third-placed pro-war blogger Iain Dale in our sights. If everyone who has so kindly voted for this blog over the last 24 hours does so again tomorrow and on Wednesday and Thursday, we have every chance of overhauling the leader. Once again, many thanks to all who have taken the trouble to vote, your support is hugely appreciated. You can vote here.

UPDATE: 21:40. Pro-war blogger Iain Dale, clearly perturbed by the sight of us advancing in his wing mirror, has republished his original post about the awards, which has resulted in a brief surge in his share of the vote. Let's keep up the pressure on him, so please keep on voting!

UPDATE: 9.00 Tuesday. It's been a great night, with our share of the vote up to over 14%. We're now just 140 votes behind the leader. Please keep the votes coming in, we can win this one!

UPDATE: 17.00 GMT Tuesday. We're now up to 15% of the vote and are now just 100 votes behind the leader. Please keep voting!

Britain's Greatest Ever Actress

94 years ago tonight, on Bonfire Night 1913, Britain's greatest ever actress, Vivien Leigh, was born. As an only child, Vivien was constantly reminded by her mother that she was special. Once when she asked why fireworks were being let off on 5th November, she was told 'it's for your birthday, darling".
For those who missed it, here's my Daily Express appreciation of this wonderful actress, written to commemorate the 40th anniversary of her death in July.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Weblog Awards Update: Keep the votes rolling in!

Many, many thanks to all who have taken the time to vote for this blog in the Weblog Awards. We've now passed the 100 vote mark and are closing in on fifth placed Guy Fawkes. If everyone who has voted for this blog in the last 24 hours or so, does so again, every day until Thursday, we've got a great chance of winning: no other nominee has gained so many votes in the last day.
So, please, please, keep the votes rolling in!

UPDATE: It's been a great few hours, and we're now just 18 votes behind fifth-placed Guy Fawkes, with our share of the vote up to nearly 10%. If we keep this progress up, we can win it! Please keep on voting!

UPDATE: 13.30 Monday. We've just passed Guy Fawkes (sorry to do that to you on your day of the year Guy!) and moved into fifth place, just five votes behind the fourth-placed Devil's Kitchen. Many thanks again to all who have voted for this blog, if we keep this up, we'll get there by Thursday.

UPDATE: 15.15 Monday. We've just moved into fourth place, overtaking Devil's Kitchen, and are closing in on Iain Dale.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

2007 Weblog Awards: Vote for Me! (please...)

Ken Bell, aka The Exile ,very kindly informs me that this blog has been nominated in the 'Best UK Blog' category in the 2007 Weblog Awards. If you enjoy reading this blog, then please go along and cast your vote here. You can vote once every 24 hours. And please ask your friends to vote too!

UPDATE: Currently leading the poll is a blogger who, in his own words, supported the Iraq war "100%". If you don't want a pro-war writer like Iain Dale to win the prize, then you have the chance to vote for someone opposed the illegal aggression from the outset- and who, before the war started, was one of the few British journalists to openly ridicule the government's claims that Iraq possessed WMDs. Oh, and someone who said that the "genocide" in Kosovo was a complete fabrication too...
And if that still isn't enough to get your vote, ask yourself if you'd ever see anything quite as wonderful as this on the blogs of any of the other nominated bloggers!

UPDATE: Many thanks to all who have voted for this blog so far. We're now up to 7th and with five days to go I'm sure we'll continue to make progress. Remember, you can vote every day. Let's show the warmongers that they can't have everything their own way!

UPDATE: Sunday morning: We're now up to 6th place. Please keep the votes rolling in!

Friday, November 02, 2007

The case for p.r. is unanswerable

"If this government is happy to go into the next election chasing 8,000 miserable votes, then let's hear less high-flown talk about national unity, Britishness and public engagement. What voters need is a fair voting system - and something clearly worth voting for."

writes Polly Toynbee in today’s Guardian.There are many things that need to be done in order to democratise Britain. Moving to a voting system in which every vote counts is one them.

Here’s my Times article making the case for proportional representation, from 2004. It’s a case that grows stronger with each passing day.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Why it's time to break the chains

There are many charges to be made against the US/UK turbo-globalist neo-liberal model. It leads to greater inequality- creates social breakdown, by encouraging selfishness and materialism-and it also makes our lives immeasurably more boring. Just compare the vibrant high streets of the towns and cities of mainland continental Europe with the main streets in any British and American city- and you’ll know what I mean. In the continent, where the Rhineland mixed economy model still holds sway (despite the enormous external pressure from big business and the think tanks that they bankroll for it to be discarded), there is still high street diversity, with plenty of individually/locally owned shops, bars and cafes. But in Britain and the US, global chains dominate, destroying small business and making every high street look the same.
It’s clear to anyone who values diversity, that something must be done to stop the growth of big business, yet incredibly the Competition Commission suggested yesterday that Britain needs even more Tescos and other supermarkets. Supermarkets destroy local business and rip out the traditional hearts of our towns and cities. We need to be banning the opening of any more supermarkets in Britain, not calling for more of them. And anyone who has any doubts on the impact supermarkets have on the life of our towns and cities, should read the words of Charles Leakey, owner of Leakey’s Bookshop in Inverness, in today's Independent.
"The centre of town has been eviscerated from a commercial point of view.The heart has been torn out and most of our customers relocated to the big superstores. Before the supermarkets arrived it was a thriving, socially cohesive and a great place to be."
Social cohesion? 'A great place to be?' If you're looking for either, head to mainland Europe- and not Tescopoly Britain, where everything has a price, but nothing has a value.

UPDATE: If, like me you feel strongly about this issue, then please give your support to the Evening Standard's 'Save our Small Shops' campaign.