Friday, February 29, 2008

On ripping out poisonous trees

"In biblical terms, Blairism is the poisonous tree which can give forth only poisonous fruit and must be rooted out. In 2005 Blair had the votes of only 21.6per cent of the electorate. With the poisonous tree of Blairism planted in the shadow Cabinet, where can the other 78.4 per cent turn?"

argues former Conservative Minister Norman Tebbit (above) in a letter to this week’s Spectator. It’s a good question indeed. As I argued here, the vast majority of Britons who favour a mixed economy, a non-interventionist foreign policy, moderate social conservatism and the rich paying their fair share of taxes, are effectively disenfranchised in a country which styles itself a democracy.

But if Tebbit is looking to where the ‘poisonous tree’ of Blairism began to take root, he needs, as David Lindsay correctly points out, to look further back, and closer to home.

"the dispatch of men and women to fight without the equipment they need, the sensational increases in tax without measurable improvement in services, the debauchment of the civil service, the criminal justice fiasco, the surrender of British sovereignty to Brussels, the remorseless attacks on the conventional family, the despoliation of education, use of the benefit system to deepen the poverty trap, lesser incentives to work or save, and the fuelling of the culture of drugs, alcohol, yobbery and violent crime" were all features of the Thatcher years, too. Indeed, they largely began during those years.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Tariq Aziz: Political Prisoner

Today's Indie reports:

Boris Johnson is fuming about a police investigation into how he became the owner of a red leather cigar case that once belonged to Saddam Hussein's former deputy Tariq Aziz. Mr Aziz has bigger things to worry about than the loss of a cigar case. Captured by US troops in April 2003, he has spent almost five years in prison without trial.

The neocons and their 'liberal' interventionist allies assured us that the Iraq war was about spreading human rights and democracy. Well, I don't know about you, but one of the key aspects of human rights for me is that people are not held for long periods in prison without trial. If there's strong prima facie evidence that he has committed crimes, why hasn't Tariq Aziz (above) been charged?

It's difficult to escape the conclusion that Tariq Aziz is being punished simply because he was a member of a government that didn't kowtow to the US and Britain's demands.

Yes, Aziz was a leading member of a dictatorial government which infringed human rights, but there are lots of leading members of dictatorial governments which infringe human rights who don't get detained by the US and Britain for five years.

Tariq Aziz also committed another 'crime' in the warmongers' eyes: in a series of television interviews for western tv stations in the lead-up to war he made the likes of Richard Perle and co look very stupid. An erudite and eloquent man, he repeatedly denied that Iraq had WMD. He was regularly called a liar by the neocons, but five years on, we all know who the liars were.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Enemy of Democracy

The decision of the Information Commissioner to order that the minutes of the Cabinet meetings where the legality of the Iraq war was discussed is to be warmly welcomed. James Forsythe disagrees: on the Spectator's Coffee House blog, he argues that if cabinet minutes can be released so soon after the event, it effectively means the end of cabinet government. That would undoubtedly be the case if minutes of all cabinet meetings were to be released, but we’re talking about something very serious here- Cabinet debates on the legality of a war which has cost hundreds of thousands of innocent lives, and cost the taxpayer billions of pounds.

We could do with more open government in Britain, not less: secrecy has always been an enemy of democracy. And peace.

Spending a penny should be a bog standard right

This article of mine on the shocking decline of public toilet provision in Britain appears in the Daily Express.
I'd be interested to hear from readers based outside Britain, what the current state of public toilet provision is in your country.

Aldous Huxley once said "Most human beings have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted." For a long time in Britain, we’ve certainly taken the provision of free public toilets for granted. Being able to spend a penny- usually without actually spending one- was one of the things that set Britain apart from continental Europe.

Alas, free public conveniences in Britain are fast becoming an endangered species. In the last five years over 40% have closed, many more have introduced charges. To relieve yourself in Parliament Square in Westminster for instance, will now cost you all of 50p. The government wants to shift provision of toilets to the private sector and is encouraging local authorities to copy the ‘Community Toilet Scheme’ of the London Borough of Richmond, which pays pubs and cafes £600 for the public to be able use their facilities. Some councils opt for pay-as-you-go, space age-style pods that many would-be users find thoroughly intimidating. Once in, will they be able to get out? Worst of all are the telescope urinals that rise out of pavements at times of peak demand on Friday and Saturday night.

If this trend continues, it will not be long before the proper public toilet disappears altogether. “It’s a great shame” says Tony Rheinberg of Armitage Shanks, Britain’s oldest manufacturers of sanitary ware. “Everyone needs to be able to go to the toilet and we shouldn‘t have to rely on private premises to do so”. Anyone who has sneaked into a pub or food outlet just to use the washroom, will undoubtedly agree.

Free, (and clean) public lavatories are surely a hallmark of a civilised country. There is something fundamentally wrong in expecting people to pay for a call of nature. What if you don’t have enough money? In Hungary, a fearsome lady attendant once prevented me from using the facilities as I was all of 2 forints (about 0.005p) short. That couldn’t happen in Britain, I thought at the time, but sadly that’s no longer the case. Most of the new turnstile-operated pay toilets at railway stations, require the exact coinage- meaning that if you don’t have it, you need to traipse round for change-hardly ideal when you‘re dying for a pee. Life without loos undoubtedly makes us all much more uncomfortable. “Some people are limited to how far they can travel by what we have termed the 'bladder's leash'," says Professor Clara Greed, a “self-confessed toilet evangelist” and world loo expert. Free and easy access to public lavatories is, she proclaims, “a fundamental human right”.

There can be no one who has not felt the discomfort of being away from home and being “caught short”. Part of the problem is that local authorities are under no legal compulsion to provide us with WCs. Faced with cutbacks in funding from central government, many councils have decided to pull the chain on their lavatories. London has been particularly badly hit: six years ago there were 700 public toilets, now there are less than 400. The capital has one toilet per 18,000 residents, compare that to Beijing which has one toilet for every 1,948.

With property prices high, toilet conversions can be a profitable business. In Forest Hill in south London, a Victorian toilet which had been derelict for years was converted into two apartment rented out for £700 per week each.

Toilets have been refurbished as pubs, nightclubs and shops: in Great Malvern, Worcestershire, one has even been transformed into a theatre - to pee or not to pee, that is the question.

Other non-economic factors have also contributed to decline of public loos, such as vandalism and their use by drug users and for homosexuals’ “cottaging”. Fear of improper use has led to many WCs being closed in the evening - a policy that had unfortunate consequences for 77-year-old Gwyneth Coles. She was accidentally locked in a loo overnight in Pickering, North Yorkshire, triggering a 12-hour nationwide police hunt.

Professor Greed believes the state of public toilets in Britain today is a disgrace. “A nation is judged by its toilets, it's one of the first images tourists and visitors get and we should generally be ashamed in this country."

The closure of public toilets has undoubtedly led to a deterioration in public order.
Street urination has once again become common, as it was in the bad old days before public toilets. Uric acid is corroding public buildings, including the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square. “We're supposed to be a developed country, yet many High Street stores have to wash down their doorways to remove the urine." says Richard Chisnell of the pressure group The British Toilet Association, which campaigns for more and better loos.

Public loos are not only useful- they are, sometimes beautiful examples of late Victorian architecture. The award-winning toilets at Rothesay, on the Isle of Bute, built in 1899, incorporate mosaic floors, marble fittings, shiny copper pipe work and glass-sided cisterns. Hull’s lovingly-preserved public toilets, including the Victoria pier loos, have been described as ‘a tourist attraction in their own right’.

Yet, to our shame, we are allowing other historic toilets to disappear. The wonderfully ornate conveniences at Union Terrace Gardens in Aberdeen, have been closed to the public since 2000: in December, plans were announced to turn them into a Parisian style bistro.

The decline is particularly sad in a country that once led the world in loos. The first privately owned public lavatories containing water closets opened in Fleet Street in 1852, while the first municipal toilet was opened outside the Royal Exchange in 1855. The price was exactly 1d- hence the popular expression ‘to spend a penny’. The 1850s was a great decade for toilets- it was in 1857, that that most important of accessories-loo paper, invented by American Joseph Gayetty, was first used in Britain.

Gradually, more and more municipalities began to provide toilet facilities. By 1895 there were public conveniences(or ’halting stations’ as they were known), in 36 British towns and cities. All the toilets back then were men only affairs, writer George Bernard Shaw was one of the early campaigners for facilities for women.

But as gloomy as the picture is today, all is not yet lost.

Some local authorities, such as the West Wiltshire District Council, which won the public toilet entry at last year’s Loo of the Year Awards, still take provision of public toilets seriously. So does Canterbury City Council, which last year opened a £108,000 state-of-the-art block of new public toilets to replace old facilities that were regularly vandalised.

On March 6th, a steering group of companies, campaigners and local authorities will report and make recommendations for public toilet provision.

Let‘s hope for all our sake of all our bladders, that the great British public toilet may yet be saved from extinction.

UPDATE: Charlie Marks has more on the government's completely potty PFI plan for public toilet provision here.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Ralph Nader for President! (or at least Vice-President)

Great news from across the Pond: the anti-globalist and anti-war activist Ralph Nader has announced that he is to stand for President. Many progressives will be crestfallen at this news, believing that Nader will take votes away from Barack Obama, in the same way they believe that Nader's candidacy in 2000 prevented Al Gore from getting to the White House. Their analysis, is in my view, flawed. Gore lost progressive votes in 2000 primarily because he chose the fanatically pro-war hawk Joe Lieberman as his running mate. And if Obama doesn't want to lose progressive votes to Nader, then he has to do two things. One: shift his ground to an unequivocally progressive position- ie cutting the military budget, bringing US troops back from Iraq AND Afghanistan and making it quite clear that neocons and liberal interventionist hawks should have no input whatsoever in foreign policy decisions. Two: announce that if he wins the Democrat nomination, his running mate will be a true anti-war progressive. Preferably called Ralph Nader.

Nader's candidacy will help pressurise both Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama to take more progressive positions on globalisation, the war and US militarism.

Which can only be a good thing.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

A Tale of Two Embassies

What do you think about the attack on the foreign embassy pictured above in Belgrade?

Svetlana reports:
The AFP reported the US Ambassador to the United Nations said Thursday he was "outraged" by the storming of the US embassy in Belgrade by rioters protesting American-led West's recognition of the illegally declared independence of southern Serbian province of Kosovo and Metohija by the Pristina separatists.
"I am outraged by the mob attack against the US embassy in Belgrade," Zalmay Khalilzad told reporters, adding he would seek condemnation by the UN Security Council.
"The embassy is sovereign US territory. The government of Serbia has a responsibility under international law to protect diplomatic facilities, particularly embassies."

Hear, Hear, Mr Khalilzad! Embassies are sovereign territory and need to be protected. But the US's concern about the protection of embassies in Belgrade is, how shall we put it, rather selective. For the photograph above is not of the US Embassy which was attacked and torched by Serb protesters last night, but the Chinese Embassy, which was attacked during the US-led bombardment of Belgrade in 1999.An illegal- and murderous attack on a foreign embassy in Belgrade, which seems to have been quietly forgotten. George Tenet, former head of the CIA has conceded that the bombing of the Chinese embassy was organized and directed by his agency.
Clearly, his agency didn't share Mr Khalilzad's views on the need to protect foreign embassies.

The US's hypocrisy is not only restricted to the protection of embassies. It also applies to those who take part in political protests. The estimated half a million Serbs who took part in street demonstrations this week, and who attacked embassies and the US-financed and anti-Serb radio station B92, have been denounced as 'nationalists' and 'thugs'.

Yet, when a crowd of people set fire to the Serbian Parliament and attacked Serbian Television in 2000, as part of the State Department organised and choreographed coup d'etat to oust President Milosevic, the protestors were labelled 'pro-democracy activists'. 'Thugs' didn't come into it. As far as the US State Department is concerned a bit of thuggery and arson is ok, so long as the thugs and arsonists are on our side.

Still, the tide is turning against the aggressors in the Balkans.

This weekend, public demonstrations against the illegal seizure of Kosovo from Serbia are to be held in cities across the globe.(Serb Blog has details here). If you really do believe that international law matters, and that aggressors should not be rewarded, then please try and get to one. The Empire is teetering: it's up to us to give it its final push.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Britain's Deadly Penal Policy

Chef Mark Dixie has been found guilty of the horrific murder of 18-year-old model Sally-Anne Bowman (above). It's transpired that Dixie had 16, yes 16, previous convinctions for sexual offences. What on earth was such a dangerous man doing being allowed out on the streets? The ultra-liberal, criminal-friendly Roy Jenkinsite approach to crime and punishment, which puts the rights of reptiles like Dixie, above the rights of ordinary, law-abiding members of the public, is not only snobbish and patronising- it's also, as far as the British public is concerned, quite deadly.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Castro’s Cuba was no place for a socialist like me

This article of mine appears in the new edition of The Spectator.

It’s a country where the vast majority live in poverty, while a tiny, corrupt elite live in luxury. It’s a place where, 14 years after South Africa abolished apartheid, a form of it still operates. And it’s a country where you can be threatened with prison not just for criticising the country’s leadership, but also for querying a medical bill.

Welcome to Cuba, the ‘socialist’ paradise built by that great egalitarian Fidel Castro, who after 49 years at the helm has finally decided to hand over power — in the manner of a true democrat — to his brother Raúl.

My wife and I, as unreconstructed paleo-lefties who support Clause Four, free school meals and NHS dental provision, had long wanted to visit Castro’s Cuba. All the people whose views we respect had said that the Caribbean island was a progressive model whose policies on education and healthcare ought to be copied throughout the world. We went there last April desperately wanting to like the place — after all, if George W. Bush and other right-wing nasties hated Cuba so much, then the country must be on the right tracks.

But we returned home terribly disillusioned.

Neither of us had been to a country which was so utterly decrepit.
Stay on the officially approved tourist trail round the newly renovated streets of ‘Old Havana’ and you’d get the impression that Cuba was a tropical version of Switzerland. There are smart restaurants, designer shops and modern hotels. Wander a few streets away, however, and you’ll witness scenes of incredible dereliction. Dilapidated buildings with wires hanging out, streets that haven’t been resurfaced for more than 50 years, balconies that look like they’re going to fall down at any minute. In my travels in the Middle East and Asia, I’ve certainly witnessed squalor, but nothing prepared me for the back streets of Havana.

The average wage in Cuba is a pitiful $17 a month. The monthly ration which includes 283g of fish, 226g of chicken, ten eggs and 1.8kg of potatoes is barely enough for a fortnight, meaning most Cubans need to work the black market to stay alive. Things that we in Britain take totally for granted — such as toilet paper, toothpaste and pens — are luxury goods in Cuba. I’ll never forget the look of joy from an old lady when I handed her a couple of old marker pens and a coloured pencil.

For Fidel’s chums, life is somewhat easier. Despite its calls for further belt-tightening, the Cuban government last year ordered Series 1, 3 and 5 BMWs for all its ambassadors and a Series 5 model for Raúl Castro, who had taken charge of the country after his brother’s hospitalisation.

The heartbreaking consequences of Cuba’s currency apartheid were bought home to my wife and I on a Saturday afternoon visit to Havana’s Coppelia ‘Ice Cream’ park. To the right of the park gates was a long queue of Cubans who had only Cuban pesos. They have to wait on average two hours every weekend to get their weekly scoop of ice cream. On the left, there was walk-in access to tourists and the lucky locals who had convertible pesos.

Fifty years on, the Cuban revolution has turned full circle in a truly Orwellian fashion. Once again the locals find themselves excluded from the best beaches in their country, as they were under Batista. And prostitution, so rife in pre-revolutionary days, is back — the jineteras being the only group of Cubans allowed to enter the new purpose-built resorts.

US sanctions are routinely blamed by Cuba’s defenders for the country’s plight. But while sanctions are harsh and morally indefensible, there’s little doubt that they have been used by the regime as a smokescreen to cover up inefficiencies and corruption. Four years ago the head of the country’s largest tourism company, Cubanacan, was fired after millions of dollars went missing — the loss only coming to light after all state enterprises were ordered to transfer their US dollars into convertible pesos.

The totalitarian nature of Castro’s Cuba is no right-wing myth, but a reality. And you don’t have to be a political agitator to fall foul of the authorities, as my wife and I discovered. We had been told by our holiday rep that the hotel’s resident nurse would administer free basic medical care, but if we required the call-out services of a local doctor, we’d have to pay. After a day’s snorkelling I had a touch of ear-ache, so I popped along to the nurse’s office to ask if she had any medication. The nurse was a man, who after the most cursory examination of my ear pronounced that I had an infection which required antibiotics. How much would the antibiotics cost, I asked. About £60, he replied. As we were returning home later that day, I told him that I’d leave it till I got back. ‘Yes, but you still have to pay me £30 for this consultation,’ he replied. ‘But the services of the nurse are free,’ I said. ‘I’m a doctor,’ he replied.

Furious at being taken for a ride, my wife and I refused to pay and headed back to our room. But on trying to check out of the hotel later that morning, we were astonished to be told by the receptionist that if we did not settle the medical bill, she would ‘call state security’ and we would be arrested. We would not be allowed out of the country — ‘state security’ would apprehend us at the airport. The ‘doctor’ then reappeared to say that the rate — which had been set in stone — was after all negotiable, and that he’d accept £25. Forced into the corner and threatened with a night (at least) in a Cuban jail, we reluctantly paid up. ‘It’s nothing more than theft,’ I said to the ‘doctor’ as I handed over the money. ‘It doesn’t go to me,’ was his response. ‘It goes to the state.’

If the money from such scams really did go to the state — and towards improving the lot of the Cuban people — I wouldn’t have been so upset. But I strongly suspect that a share of my £25 will go towards the next fleet of BMWs for Castro’s cronies.

After the stress of our final day in Cuba, my wife and I were hugely relieved to leave the country. And when we were safely airborne, we both reflected that if any country was in need of a revolution, it was Fidel Castro’s Cuba.

Ripping Off the Public: It's a Gas

Quite a simple wheeze really. Jack up your prices 36%, blaming rising wholesale prices. Then, when those same wholesale prices fall quite dramatically- by 56% in fact, delay your price cuts to consumers- and even then only give them an 18% reduction. Then, hey presto, a few months later, you too can announce record profits of £571m- as British Gas did today. And to rip-off Joe Public still further, you can also announce that due to rising wholesale prices, prices will rise again by 15%!
British Gas is doing nothing illegal- it is merely doing as all plcs do- and trying to maximise profits for its shareholders. Millions of Britons are struggling to pay their energy bills and the blame for the situation lies with the neoliberal/Adam Smith-worshipping goofs who privatised our utilty companies in the first place.
Our utilities should be run to serve the public- not to make fat cat directors and wealthy shareholders even wealthier. When gas and electricity were in the public sector, bills were a small item in the household budget. Now they are a major expense, and for most people, a major worry. It's time to say enough is enough- and for the government to take our energy companies into public ownership. Let's end the Great Privatisation Rip-Off once and for all.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Cast your votes for the White House now!

I've always been a strong supporter of direct democracy, so why not have a little some of it on this blog? Each week, we'll have a different poll on a matter of topical interest. To kick off: who would get your vote for US President?
Do you think Obama really will change things? Or are you a McCain man/woman? (I sincerely hope not...) Perhaps you think Ron Paul is the man American needs. Or, despite all this blog's warnings, you still favour Hilary the Hawk? And of course, there's always Ralph Nader, who may still decide to stand. And we musn't forget Mike Huckabee. And of course, you might think, in the words of the immortal Terry-Thomas, that they're all an "absolute shower".

Cast your votes now, ladies and gentlemen!
And may the best man, or woman win (so long as it's not Hilary!)

UPDATE: There appears to be technical problems with the poll- votes are simply not being recorded. I've taken the voting box down and will try and get it sorted and posted back up asap.

Blocking Blair: We're making progress

From today's Guardian:

"Tony Blair's hopes of becoming Europe's first president are running into mounting opposition across the EU, with Germany determined to stymie the former prime minister.
A "Stop Blair" website run by pro-Europeans has launched a petition against him; a transnational, cross-party caucus in the European parliament is forming to campaign against a Blair presidency; senior officials in Brussels are privately dismissive about the new post going to a Briton; and senior diplomats in European capitals also doubt that Blair is the right person for the post being created under Europe's new reform treaty.
"There was surprise in Berlin when Blair's name came up so soon," said a European ambassador. Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany admires Blair and has "great personal sympathy for Tony", he added.
"But more generally the German political elite would be puzzled by the idea of Tony Blair. His track record on EU matters is not so great. There is unease about a Briton at the top in that job. And then personally with Blair, there's the Iraq thing."

A couple a weeks back I wrote in The Guardian: "The appointment of Blair as president of the European council, with extended powers in the sphere of defence and trade would be the culmination of the neocon dream: to fully neuter Europe as alternative source of global power."

The fact that the campaign to block Blair, and my Guardian article highlighting the dangers of a Blair Presidency, has been attacked by the pro-war newspaper The Wall Street Journal hardly disproves the thesis.

It's too early to claim victory of course, but things are certainly looking very positive.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Lead Balloons and Hitting Rock Bottom

There are good newspaper cartoonists. There are very good newspaper cartoonists. And then there is Steve Bell.

Bread and Butter Issues

This article of mine appears in The Guardian (Comment is Free)

"It is difficult to be kind when the price of everything is so expensive," bemoaned the Good Woman of Szechuan. Whatever would Berthold Brecht's heroine have made of Britain in 2008?

Make no mistake, what is making most people's lives a misery in Britain today is not anxiety about the distant prospect of sharia law, the infinitesimal chance of being killed in a terrorist attack, or the equally remote prospect of being arrested on terrorist charges, but how bloody expensive everything is.

We're being assailed on all sides: from our rip-off privatised utility and train companies, from local councils desperate to make up in increased council tax charges and fines the shortfall in funds they haven't received from central government- and of course from central government itself in the form of higher taxes on petrol, tobacco and alcohol.

The facts speak for themselves. Families are having to pay an extra £1,300 a year in household bills as food and fuel prices rise at their fastest rate for 17 years.
According to the AA, the monthly cost of filling up a car now exceeds £100 for the first time - with an average car now costing £106, compared with £90 a year ago. Our rail fares, which were already the most expensive in Europe, rose by up to 14.5% in the New Year.

Energywatch, the independent watchdog, calculates that the average household has to spend £1,020 a year on gas and electricity - over £100 more than a year ago.
And on top of all this, supermarket prices of basic essentials, such as eggs, butter, milk and bread are rising rapidly too. A report in the December edition of the trade magazine The Grocer records how the price of a basket of staple items was 23% higher than it was in July. Dairy prices are up 15.4% since January 2007, meat prices are 7.8% higher than a year ago.

And what do our feather-bedded, upper-middle class politicos do inresponse? Absolutely nothing. I'd wager that at least 90% of our honourable members wouldn't even know how much a pint of milk or half a dozen eggs now costs.

The rapid rise in the prices of everyday essentials affects the poor much more than the rich. "The richer you are, the lower the personal inflation you've got; the poorer you are, the higher personal inflation you've got," says the money-saving expert, Martin Lewis in Wednesday's Guardian. Millionaire City traders won't be much fazed by the rise in the price of a dozen free-range eggs from Sainsbury's from £1.62 to £2.35, but a pensioner forced to survive on the measly state pension of £87.30 a week (at 17% of average earnings the lowest in the EU), will be.

It's time the government stopped trying to remodel the world to the liking of a few neocon and "liberal interventionist" thinktanks and focused instead on ways to make life more affordable for hard-pressed Brits back home. That means renationalising our rip-off utilities and profiteering railway companies, bringing indirect taxes down by spending less on things we don't need - like costly illegal wars and hosting the Olympic Games, and, last but not least, bringing back that unfairly maligned 1970s body- the Prices Commission.

Bread and butter issues might not be as sexy as talking of Britain's "moral impulse" to spread democracy, or whether terror suspects can be detained for 28 or 42 days, but for most ordinary people in the country, they matter a damn sight more.
Or, as Brecht himself would have put it: grub first, then ethics.

Monday, February 18, 2008

One U.S. Puppet recognises another!

Guess which has become the first country in the world to recognise 'independent' Kosovo? Yup, it's that oh-so 'independent' country Afghanistan, led by the 'oh-so independent' Hamid Karzai (above).
As the old saying goes, it takes one to know one!

Oh what a tangled web....

'Shlick' makes the following observation on the comments thread to John Williams' execrable piece of lying propaganda, which appeared in today's Guardian:


February 18, 2008 2:42 PM
John Williams from his defence plea ie. the above article -

"I still find it hard to understand why a dictator who had possessed and used illegal weapons SHOULD HAVE CONTINUED PRETENDING HE STILL HAD THEM, up to the point when his deception cost him his job and his life."

Tony Blair from his foreward to the Iraq 'dossier' -

"DESPITE HIS DENIALS Saddam Hussein is continueing to develop WMD."

O what a tangled web of deceit, where the right hand doesn't know what the left is doing.

Five Years On, and still the warmongers lie

You would have thought that the lies about the Iraq war might have stopped by now. But still they continue. The latest neocon attempt to rewrite history is to claim that the war was all Saddam Hussein's fault because he 'pretended' to have Weapons of Mass Destruction.

The latest person to peddle this brazen lie is John Williams, in today's Guardian. Williams, the civil servant whose claim to fame was drafting Blair's dodgy dossier, writes:

"I still find it hard to understand why a dictator who had possessed and used illegal weapons should have continued pretending he still had them, up to the point when his deception cost him his job and his life."

I wonder if Mr Williams can produce any evidence to back up his claim that Saddam (above) the dictator her refers to, pretended to possess illegal weapons? If so, I'd be happy to hear from him.

The fact is that Saddam and his officials repeatedly denied that Iraq possessed illegal weapons. CIF commenter 'Edward Rice' posts an interview Hussein gave with CBS anchor Dan Rather in February 2003:

CBS anchor Dan Rather's "exclusive interview with Hussein that aired on 60 Minutes II on February 26, 2003."
"Hussein told Rather that Iraq was permitted to have missiles of a limited range under existing United Nations resolutions. As for weapons of mass destruction, Hussein offered a clear response:
RATHER: Saddam also rejected Bush administration allegations that besides the missile delivery system, he still has weapons of mass destruction.
HUSSEIN: I think America and the world also knows that Iraq no longer has the weapons. And I believe the mobilization that's been done was, in fact, done partly to cover the huge lie that was being waged against Iraq about chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. That is why, when you talk about such missiles, these missiles have been destroyed. There are no missiles that are contrary to the prescription of the United Nations in Iraq. They are no longer there."

"'Saddam's bluff' becomes conventional wisdom--with no evidence presented"

"...Iraqi officials practically pleaded with the world to believe their 12,000-page declaration of December 2002, which stated that Iraq had no WMD. The country's U.N. ambassador and chief U.N. liaison gave televised press conferences to stress this point (CNN, 12/6/02, 12/8/02)..."

In addition, I also have a video recording of Tony Benn's interview with the late Iraqi leader in which once again, he stated unequivocally that his country did not possess WMD.

It's astonishing how neocon lies can be accepted as truth without a single piece of evidence being presented. The Serbs committing 'genocide' in Kosovo. Milosevic being a 'dictator'. Hugo Chavez being a 'dictator'. Iran's 'nuclear weapons programme'. The lie about Saddam 'pretending' to have WMD is only the latest in a long line of deceptions.

UPDATE: CIF commenter Olching, who also occasionally comments here, is angered- justifiably- by Williams' article. He has left the following comment on the Guardian's website:


February 18, 2008 1:00 PM
A question for the Guardian (this will be deleted):

"How can you get an arsehole like John Williams to write for you? He deserves nothing, absolutely nothing but contempt. In a different place, a different time, he'd suffer the repercussions of leading a country into an illegal war. You're rewarding him with a column. Well done! There are several reasons why I don't buy your rag anymore. I'll add this wanker to the list.

Anyway, here it is pre-typed: [deleted by moderator] You can use it as a template for the ridiculous censorship that will come into force. How about if you delete that wanker's article, which is the biggest insult to your readers and more importantly to the 100,000s of dead Iraqis for which he is directly responsible! Laughable that you should give him a column. Laughable that this comment will be deleted unlike his justification for a war crime."

Sometimes, these things need to be said, and if the Guardian does delete Olching's comment, then at least we have a record of it here. If like me, you'd like William's lie about Saddam pretending to possess illegal weapons to be officially corrected, you can email the Guardian's Readers' Editor, Siobhain Butterworth at And if like me, you are concerned that The Guardian, since the replacement of Seumas Milne as Comment Editor, is turning into its pro-war sister-newspaper The Observer, by running a succession of deceitful, pro-war articles such as John Williams', you can email the newspaper's editor, Alan Rusbridger at

During his editorship of the comment pages Seumas Milne faced a barrage of attacks and complaints from the Eustonista/Henry Jackson crowd for the 'crime' of running articles from journalists (myself included) who did not meet with their 'official' approval. Now it seems they have got the compliant newspaper they want.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

1-0 to The Campaign for Public Ownership!

Well, The Campaign For Public Ownership has only been going a month and already we have the government following our very sound advice on the merits of public ownership. But now that the rubicon has been crossed, why can't the government also announce that it is renationalising the railways and the other public utilities and assets flogged off in the last 29 years? Nationalisation ought to be an integral part of the government's industrial and economic strategy not a 'last resort' as in the case of Northern Rock. Still, an important rubicon was crossed today, and even though the government says that the nationalisation of Northern Rock is only a temporary measure, we should still be delighted that after 29 years of 'free market' fanaticism, the pendulum is finally swinging back our way.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Great March: And what the warmongers said

Five years ago today, my family and I, together with 2m other people took part in the largest anti-war march Britain has ever seen. We were marching with one intent: to try all we could, even at a very late hour, to avert the Iraq war. Of course, we failed in our objective: the decision to illegally invade Iraq had long been taken. But to my dying day, I am proud that I took part on that march: I'm sure others who took part feel the same way too. We may not have stopped the Iraq war, but we highlighted the sham 'democracy' that operates in our country- a 'democracy' where a tiny band of greedy war profiteers - and not the masses of ordinary people- set the agenda. It's interesting to look back at the flak that the anti-war protestors received five years ago from the warmongers.

Here's the Blair hagiographerDavid Aaronovitch writing in the Guardian:

"what are you going to do when you are told - as one day you will be - that while you were demonstrating against an allied invasion, and being applauded by friends and Iraqi officials, many of the people of Iraq were hoping, hope against hope, that no one was listening to you?
You could still be right and I could be mistaken. A war could be far bloodier than I imagine, the consequences far worse than I believe they will be. It is just possible that a new Iraqi government, instead of moving towards democracy, might be a corrupt oligarchy. All I can say is that the signs look relatively promising in both Kosovo and Afghanistan.
On the other hand, what if you are wrong?

Well, we weren't wrong David. You were. Most emphatically. And what was your punishment for being wrong? Answer: Being awarded an even better paid column in The Times.(Incidentally, I wonder if you still think 'the signs look relatively promising in both Kosovo and Afghanistan'?)

Barbara Amiel, the wife of convicted neocon fraudster Conrad Black, didn't much like the anti-war march either:

"The most revealing aspect of the anti-war march in London was what you did not see. You did not see any messages to Saddam Hussein or criticism of Iraqi policy.
These earnest seekers of peace, with so many signs denouncing George W Bush and Tony Blair, had nothing to say to Saddam Hussein; no request to please co-operate with the UN inspectors. Not one small poster asking Saddam to disarm or destroy his weapons of mass destruction. "

Ah, those weapons of mass destruction? I wonder what happened to them? Could it not be that the reason there was 'not one small poster asking Saddam to disarm or destroy his weapons of mass destruction' on the march was that there were some people who, despite all the deceitful pro-war propaganda, didn't fall for one of the most outrageous conspiracy theories of all time?

But perhaps the nastiest of all the neocon attacks on the anti-war marchers was made by Mark Steyn in the Daily Telegraph. In an article entitled 'Marching for Terror', Steyn wrote:

"Today's demo is good for Saddam, but bad for the Iraqi people, and the Palestinian people, and the British people. One day, not long from now, when Iraq is free, they will despise those who marched to keep them in hell."

Really, Mark? I think the Iraq people will despise, for generations to come, those who for the basest of motives, illegally invaded their country, destroyed its infrastructure and started a conflict which to date has claimed the lives of hundreds and thousands of people. Iraq today is hell, and the fault for that lies not with the anti-war marchers, but those who opposed them.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Serbia's Fatal Mistake

"When Saddam Hussein forcibly annexed Iraq's "19th province" in 1990 - part of the former Ottoman province of Basra that had evolved under British guidance into the state of Kuwait - the world cried foul. Western countries noisily insisted that the sovereign integrity of the emirate's territory and borders was guaranteed by the UN charter.
Egged on by Margaret Thatcher, the then US president, George Bush Snr, drew his famous "line in the sand", setting in train the first Gulf war. The consequences are still being played out in Iraq today.
Less than 18 years later, these same self-appointed guardians of the international order are on the brink of turning their own argument on its head - by underwriting Kosovo's forcible secession from Serbia."

writes Simon Tisdall in The Guardian. Tisdall is right: the US and EU’s contempt for international law regarding Kosovo is shameful. But Sunday’s declaration of independence by Kosovo could have been avoided had Serbia done the one thing that the US and EU feared: made it quite clear that if the province was illegally taken from them, they would use force to reclaim it.

Instead, the Serbs have allowed themselves to be bullied into renouncing the threat of using force by countries that are only too quick to threaten force themselves, in pursuit of THEIR interests.

Don’t get me wrong- I’m not saying that I favour a war in the Balkans over Kosovo- far from it.

But in life, you don’t get what you deserve, you get what you can negotiate. And you need to negotiate from a position of strength and not weakness. Had Serbia made it quite clear that it would use force to defend its national sovereignty (as every country is entitled to do under international law)- and that the action would be backed by Russia, then the US and EU would not have risked the prospect of a major war in the Balkans. The threat of force would have been enough and Kosovo would have stayed part of Serbia. But in renouncing it, as Serbia’s Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic (above) feels obliged to do every time he talks about Kosovo, The Serbs, in the words of the late Aneurin Bevan, have gone naked to the negotiating table.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

How We Lost the Art of Loving

Happy Valentine's Day. I've posted above a video of one of my favourite love songs of all time, The Mamas and The Papas sublime rendition of 'Dedicated to the One I Love', a big hit in the Summer of Love, 1967. I do hope you enjoy it.
And here's my 2004 essay from the New Statesman on how, in our mad scramble for money, we have sadly lost the most important art of all: the Art of Loving.


This year on St Valentine’s Day, it is estimated that we will spend over £25m on flowers, send 15 million cards and more than 500m text messages. Worldwide, over $500m will be spent. The hijacking by global capitalism of a relatively low key event in the Christian calendar and its transformation into a multi-million dollar spendfest is of course only part of a wider trend which has seen the invasion of commercial values into all aspects of our lives. Yet the very same forces that are so keen to promote the annual festival of love, are themselves, largely responsible for the disintegration of love in our society.

The way in which modern capitalism destroys love is not a topic that many on the left have wished to engage. Far safer to discuss relative wage rates, constitutional reform and tinkering with the tax and benefit system than anything as fundamental as love. For a searing and profound exposition of the most serious charge against the economic system we all live under, we need to go back almost fifty years, to the writing of one of the most neglected, yet prescient thinkers of the 20th Century, Erich Fromm.

Fromm was a German psychoanalyst and social philosopher who fled his homeland when the Nazis came to power. Settling in the U.S. where he combined clinical practice with lecturing at Columbia University, most of Fromm’s earlier works were an attempt to reach some understanding on how totalitarian regimes could come to be accepted and supported by the people. In ‘Fear of Freedom’ 1937, he argued that such regimes, appealed to a deep-seated craving to escape from the freedom of the modern world and return to the womb. But having escaped from the horrors of Nazi Germany, Fromm was under no illusions about that the society he had emigrated to. He was among the first to see that life in twentieth century Western capitalist democracy, constituted in many ways, another escape from freedom.

In ‘The Sane Society’ (1955), Fromm took the ideas Freud had advanced in ‘Civilisation and its Discontents’ one stage further and argued that capitalist society, in which ‘consumption has become the de facto goal’, was itself sick. He developed his theory of social character- the idea that ‘every society produces the character it needs’. Early, Calvanistic capitalism produced the ‘hoarding character’, who hoards possessions and feelings- the classic Victorian man of property. Modern post-war capitalism, Fromm argued was producing another equally neurotic type- the marketing character- who ‘adapts to the market economy by becoming detached from authentic emotions, truth and conviction’. For the marketing character, ‘everything is transformed into a commodity, not only things, but the person himself, his physical energy, his skills, his knowledge, his opinions, his feelings, even his smiles’. Such people are not able to care, ‘not because they are selfish, but because their relationship to each other and to themselves is so thin’.

Global capitalism requires marketing characters in abundance and makes sure it gets them. Meanwhile, Fromm’s ideal character type- the mature ‘productive character’- the person without a mask, who loves and creates’, and for whom being is more important than having, is discouraged.

In ‘The Art of Loving’(1956), Fromm identified five types of love- all of which he believed were under attack in modern society. Brotherly love, ‘the most fundamental kind of love which underlies all others’, was undermined by the reduction of all human beings to commodities. Motherly love, ‘the most difficult love to achieve’ was threatened by narcissism and possessiveness. Self-love, without which we cannot love others- is destroyed by its polar opposite- selfishness, and the love of God, by the regression ‘to an idolatric concept of God’ and the transformation of the love of God into a relationship fitting into an alienated character structure. Finally, erotic love, which Fromm sees ‘as the most deceptive’ of all forms of love is debased by its separation from brotherly love and the absence of tenderness.

‘If love is a capacity of the mature productive character, it follows that the capacity to love in an individual living in any given culture depends on the influence this culture has on the average person’, wrote Fromm. ‘If we speak about love in contemporary Western culture, we mean to ask whether the social structure of Western civilisation and the spirit arising from it are conducive to the development of love. To raise the question is to answer it in the negative’.

Fromm wrote ‘The Art of Loving’ at a time of relatively benign regulated capitalism. Fifty years on, whatever would he have made of modern turbo capitalism ? His belief that ‘a healthy economy is possible only at the price of unhealthy human beings’ could hardly be better proved than by looking at contemporary Britain. Over the last decade we have witnessed the longest period of uninterrupted economic growth and seen the lowest inflation, interest rates and unemployment for forty years.

Yet we have also witnessed an unparalleled decline in our society’s collective mental health.

Over 2 million Britons are on anti-depressants, half a million on Class A drugs. Binge drinking, and what Fromm described as ‘destructive acts’ , crime, violence and vandalism, have reached record levels. Newspapers which carry features glorifying self-styled ‘property gurus’ run on the very next page articles reflecting on the loneliness and isolation experienced by vast swathes of the population - failing to understanding that the two phenomena of modern life are inextricably connected.

While the five types of love Fromm identified flounder, forms of pseudo-love abound in the Britain of 2004. ‘Egoism a deux’, in which two, self-centred people come together in marriage or partnership- to escape loneliness, but never arrive at a ‘central relationship’ is clearly thriving in a country where over one third of co-habiting and married couples keep separate bank accounts. And the narcissistic orientation, the overcoming of which is, for Fromm the main condition for achieving love, can now be witnessed everywhere: when we switch on the television, open a tabloid newspaper or overhear casual conversation in the street or on a bus. Meanwhile, Fromm’s marketing character, gaining in ground since the 1950s and given a huge forward push in the 1980s, has become the dominant personality type of the age. Each country, as Aldous Huxley one said, gets the leader it deserves, and in a time and a place where the marketing character rules supreme, it would be difficult to imagine a more appropriate Prime Minister for Britain than Anthony Linton Blair, a man who oozes insincerity from every pore.

Love, as defined by Fromm, can of course still be found in modern Britain.

But where it exists, it does so in spite of an economic system whose underlying principle is inherently hostile to it.

A plethora of glossy magazines encourage anti-love sexual permissiveness and the cultivation of selfish and materialistic lifestyles for a new breed of look after number one ‘Metrosexuals’. Multi-million dollar industries promoting the cult of narcissism have grown up, of which reality television is the latest and crudest manifestation. We are sold advice on ‘how to flirt’ and ‘how to dump’ our partners and are encouraged to view all human contacts as expendable, to be ‘traded in’ whenever we can get a better deal.

Conservative commentators, yearning for a gentler, kinder age, are, with one or two exceptions, unable to comprehend that the very economic system they defend, is, through its destruction of love and its desire to create a population of alienated automatons, responsible for most of the social debris. Matthew Parris, who recently spent a week on the dole in Newcastle, was right to say, on his return, that certain individuals will always be unhappy in whatever society they find themselves living in. But he failed to see that a society that is driven by rapacious commercialism, which lauds and promotes the cult of self and which quantifies success in purely material terms, will always produce less love and therefore more unhappy people than one which places human needs first. Global capitalism does many things, but building solidarity is not among them.

The challenge for all those who concerned with the seemingly irreversible atomisation of our society is to construct a society where Fromm’s productive orientation becomes the end to which all social arrangements serve, and in which man, and not economics, profit and capital is the centre of all things. Then and only then can love, - ‘the only sane and satisfactory answer to the question of human existence’ flourish.

Luke Johnson, the newly appointed Chairman of Channel Four and the epitome of the modern marketing character has said that Britain ‘would be a better place if we had 500 more Richard Bransons’. But we already have more than enough money makers. What Britain really needs is 500 politicians who have read Erich Fromm.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Tony Blair: The missing piece of the neocon jigsaw

The Pan-European petition to stop Tony Blair becoming EU President now has over 15,000 signatures. If you haven't already signed, please spare a couple of seconds to pop over to the European Tribune website to do so. Why is it so important to Stop Blair? Because his appointment as EU President would be the final piece of the neoconservative jigsaw. Here's my article from the Morning Star.


Almost five years on from ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom’, the neo-con dreams of imperial conquest have hit the buffers. Despite the lies about the ‘surge’ being a great success, Iraq remains in chaos: in the first week of February alone over 200 people have been killed in the violence. In Afghanistan the situation from the neocons’ viewpoint, is even worse. “There is no doubt that armed resistance to foreign occupation is growing and spreading. Nato forces' own figures show that attacks on western and Afghan troops were up by almost a third last year, to more than 9,000"significant actions", writes Seumas Milne in The Guardian.

The neocons had another setback late last year when the Joint Intelligence Report stated that there was no evidence that Iran was developing nuclear weapons- thus removing their favoured casus belli for military aggression against the Islamic Republic.

Most normal people when faced with defeat and humiliation on such a monumental scale would admit the game is up and make their exit from the political arena. But neocons, as surely the whole world knows by now, are not normal people.

Five years ago, Donald Rumsfeld arrogantly stated that the US, would, if necessary, go it alone in Iraq and attacked ‘Old Europe‘ for its opposition to the illegal war. But now, the empire builders realise they urgently need European support. With its own military forces overstretched and its economy heading into recession, the US desperately needs the EU to fall into line, and for European troops to be sent- in their thousands- to die on the front line.

That’s why Condoleezza Rice has been scurrying frantically around Europe’s capitals this week.

The opposition of most of the EU to the Iraq war still irks the neocons and they are determined to do all they can to ensure that Europe’s governments are much more pliant in the future.

The regime change last May in France, in which Jacques Chirac, who had opposed the Iraq war was replaced by the staunch Atlanticist Nicolas Sarkozy was warmly welcomed in Washington. And Sarkozy‘s choice of the "liberal interventionist" and Bilderberger Bernard Kouchner as Foreign Minister could not have been more to the neocons liking.

Kouchner was the only prominent member of the French Socialist Party who supported the Iraq war, elevation to the grandeur of Quai D’Orsay wasn’t a bad reward for being proved wrong. Already a shift in French foreign policy can be seen, with Sarkozy taking a much more hawkish line on Iran and saying he would like France to return to NATO’s military command. Charles De Gaulle must be turning in his grave.

Other recent elections in Europe have also gone the neocons’ way. In Poland, the new government of Donald Tusk announced last week that it had agreed to the United States plans to install a missile defense system on Polish territory. The foreign minister in the Polish government and the man who announced the controversial decision, is Radek Sikorski, a former Executive Director of the ‘New Atlantic Initiative‘, a part of the notoriously neocon American Enterprise Institute. Sikorski is married to the über neo-conservative Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum, who once said that France and Germany would “risk being completely disqualified as serious members of the international community” when Iraq’s WMDs turned up.

With Sikorski steering Poland’s foreign policy we can expect the country to play an even more aggressive role in undermining the democratically elected socialist government in neighbouring Belarus- a country where the US State Department would love to engineer a regime change.

In his excellent new book ‘The Last Soviet Republic’, Stewart Parker chronicles the way Poland, with US backing, has interfered in the domestic political situation in its neighbour. Back in 2004, Sikorski himself opened a conference held in the offices of the American Enterprise Institute, entitled ‘Axis of Evil’ Belarus - the Missing Link- which featured leaders of the Belarusian opposition and various US officials. Sikorski certainly hasn’t wasted time in pleasing his former colleagues in Washington; in addition to announcing the missile shield agreement, he also said that Poland supported the expansion of NATO to include Georgia and The Ukraine.

As welcome as recent developments in France and Poland are to the neocons, what the serial warmongers require most is to have control of the EU itself. Which is where a certain former British Prime Minister comes in.

The appointment of Tony Blair as President of the European Council, with extended powers in the sphere of defence and trade would be the culmination of the neocon dream: to fully neuter Europe as alternative source of global power.

While the election of Sarkozy has already neutered France, traditionally the main European source of opposition to Pax Americana; the appointment of Blair as EU President would be the final piece of the jigsaw. But while Blair's appointment would be a dream come true for the Empire builders of the Project for the New American Century, for the rest of the world, it would be a nightmare, making European involvement in US illegal wars of aggression far more likely.

Will the neocons succeed in their aims?

Whether they do or not they do, depends on us, the people of Europe. Already a pan-European petition has been launched to stop Blair from being EU President, it can be signed at the website course, signing petitions on its own, won’t be enough. The people of Europe need to wake up to what’s going on and withdraw their support from any leaders or political parties who favour closer military ties with Washington.

If the US neocons want more wars, let them do what Donald Rumsfeld boasted of five years ago, and fight them on their own. Europe, "Old" or "New", should have nothing whatsoever to do with them.

A Gap Year student and A Car Manufacturer

Foreign Secretary David Moribund's appalling Oxford speech, in which he talked of Britain's 'moral impulse' to spread democracy around the world, at gunpoint if necessary, has, I'm pleased to say, been widely condemned. But too many of the speech's critics, including Simon Jenkins, in today's Guardian make the mistake of believing that Moribund and his liberal interventionist/neo con allies are sincere in their desire to spread democracy. As I've long argued, the form of democracy the Eustonista/Henry Jackson crowd favour is not democracy in the popularly understood sense of the term i.e. rule of the people, but the much narrower 'Henry Ford' variety. True democrats believe that people should have the right to elect any government they wish, be it nationalist, communist, socialist, conservative, green or any other variety. Henry Ford democrats believe people should have the right to elect any government they wish so long as it's neoliberal and follows a pro-western foreign policy.

CIF Commenter 'Orwell is right' understands the deceit behind the neocon/liberal interventionist 'democracy' crusade perfectly and has written the best response to Moribund's speech I've seen so far:

"Every time they talk about "spreading democracy" what they're really doing is the exact opposite; that is, ensuring that genuine nationalistic or democractic movements are quashed and pliant puppet governments - usually tyrannical and repressive and always with Western interests at the front of their agenda - put in their place. The reality is that "democracy" is our enemy when it comes to foreign policy - there are countless cases throughout history where our intervention has directly hindered growing genuinely democractic movements in other countries. For example, Britain supported the successive apartheid regimes in South Africa and not the ANC; we supported the repressive regime in Bahrain and not the popular democratic opposition; we supported Suharto throughout his genocidal campaigns both at home and in East Timor and West Papua; we supported Saddam as he gassed the Kurds. In short we prop up decidedly anti-democratic regimes and take action to prevent democracy from emerging. And David Miliband knows all of this, which is why his enthusiastic pronouncements of "spreading democracy" are significant only of the continuation of the deceitful rhetoric presented to the public, wholly at odds with the government's real intentions. Not that any of this is new - the British government has been peopled by immoral duplicitous elites for as long as it's existed."

Still, there's one good thing to keep our spirits up. The "pillock on his gap year", as the anti-war Labour MP Bob Marshall-Andrews so memorably called the British Foreign Secretary, will soon have to go back to college to resume his studies.....

UPDATE: Charlie Marks, one of my favourite bloggers, has a great post on the Gap Year Student's speech:

"The purpose of Milibliar’s speech was to rebrand the invasion and occupation of countries by the US - with Britain tagging along - as being morally justified because it’s about “spreading democracy”.
The US oil companies getting access to Iraqi oil-fields was just a coincidence, then? And anyway, wasn’t the argument for invading Iraq based on the threat of WMDs?
Hmm. If he’s for democracy, perhaps Miliblair would like to spread a little here at home, and persuade Brown to let us have a vote on the EU consti-treaty? Or hold the promised general election?"

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

What's all the fuss about?

Why are so many people getting into such a flap over the fact that The Archbishop of Canterbury (above) says it's "unavoidable" that one day a certain US attorney will come to Britain?

Monday, February 11, 2008

40 Years On: Why we're still barmy for Dad's Army

Here's my 40th birthday tribute piece to Jimmy Perry and David Croft's wonderful comedy series from The Daily Express.
(For foreign readers who have never been introduced to Captain Mainwaring and co, I've posted above a classic clip from the series above. The clip not only features all the DA regulars, but Fulton McKay (of Porridge fame) as a hysterically funny sergeant major testing the platoon).

We've had quite a good debate over the last few days on this blog comparing the television programmes and comedies of yesteryear with those of today, but it's sad to say they really don't make programmes like Dad's Army any more.

(P.S. Do any American readers remember watching the US version of Dad's Army, The Rear Guard?)

It was 1968. The year of riots and revolutions, assassinations and anti-Vietnam war marches. And amid all the turmoil of that most dramatic of years, the BBC first broadcast a television programme that was to become the nation’s best-loved comedy series of all time.

Yes, Dad’s Army celebrates its fortieth birthday this year. And forty years on from the first appearance of Captain Mainwaring, Sergeant Wilson, Lance-Corporal Jones and the other members of the Walmington on Sea Home Guard, Jimmy Perry and David Croft’s classic wartime sitcom remains as popular than ever.

The show is still repeated regularly on television, earning high ratings and helping it to win over a whole new generation of fans. There is a thriving Dad’s Army Appreciation Society (www.dads, with over 1,400 members. There are two Dad’s Army museums and a Dad’s Army walking trail in the town of Thetford, Norfolk where many of the outside scenes for the series were shot. And last year it was announced that a bronze statue of Captain Mainwaring was to be erected in the centre of the town. Over the past 40 years, Dads Army has been enjoyed by people of all ages and all walks of life: celebrity fans include The Royal Family,( it was the late Queen Mother’s favourite programme), the veteran politician Tony Benn, and the comedian Ben Elton.

In light of this amazing success, it’s remarkable to think the programme very nearly didn’t make it on to our television screens. Actor Jimmy Perry, who had served in the Home Guard as a teenager, conceived the idea while on a train journey of a comedy series based on his experiences in the Home Guard while on a train journey. He wrote a couple of episdoes and passed them on to BBC producer David Croft to read. Croft was impressed and sent them to the BBC’s Head of Comedy Michael Mills, who commissioned a series. But then it hit trouble. “The BBC hierarchy had their doubts as they thought we were taking the mickey out of Britain in its finest hour. Top level meetings were held and the whole future of the programme hung in the balance“ Croft recalls. Fortunately, Mills fought the show’s corner and Dad‘s Army got the go ahead.

The original title for Dad’s Army had been ’Fighting Tigers’. But altering the title was not the only important change that took place. Actor John Le Mesurier had originally been cast to play Captain Mainwaring with Arthur Lowe as his deputy, Sergeant Wilson. But David Croft, who not only co-wrote the show, but directed and produced it, was not happy at the thought of the laid-back Le Mesurier being the man in charge. Then he and Jimmy Perry hit upon what was to prove the perfect solution: to switch the roles of the two lead actors. Arthur Lowe would be the pompous grammar school educated bank manager who appointed himself the officer, while Le Mesurier would play the ex-public school chief clerk and sergeant. The switch worked like a dream: the interplay between Mainwaring and his socially superior deputy being one of the highlights of the series.

Other wonderful characters too played their part in making the show such a hit. Lance-Corporal Jones, (played by Clive Dunn) was based on an old veteran from the Battle of Omdurman who Perry had served with in his Home Guard days and who really did say “They don’t like it up them’. Private Godfrey (Arnold Ridley), was a mild mannered-medical orderly always asking to be excused. Miserly Scottish undertaker Private Frazer (John Laurie) was convinced that the platoon was ‘doomed‘. Cheeky cockney spiv Private Walker ( James Beck), was of great help when it came to obtaining black market supplies. And of course there was ‘stupid boy’ Private Pike (Ian Lavender) based on Jimmy Perry himself.

At its peak, Dads Army regularly commanded viewing figures of 18.5m. In 1971, a Dad’s Army film was made. And in 1975 a stage show followed. All in all nine series of the programme were made- a total of 80 episodes. Among the most memorable were ‘The Deadly Attachment’ in which the platoon capture a German U-Boat team, ‘Sons of the Sea’, in which the platoon think they’ve landed in enemy occupied France and ‘My Brother and I’, where Captain Mainwaring’s alcoholic brother turns up in Walmington-On-Sea determined to embarrass him.

How can we explain Dad’s Army’s extraordinary long-lasting appeal?

“I always thought it was a good idea but it’s success totally overwhelmed me”, says the show’s creator and co-writer Jimmy Perry. “The secret was that everything was right. It was one of those rare things: the cast was right, the time was right, the subject was right”. Cultural historian Professor Jeffrey Richards believes Dad’s Army is a work of art. “I would go so far to compare it with the works of Dickens and Shakespeare”. Richards believes Dad’s Army is popular because it reminds us of a gentler age. “ In recent years the British national character has become sour, spiteful, prurient and coarse. I think people looking at these shows see a gentler, nicer, decent and better kind of Britishness and they look back with genuine nostalgia“.

Dad’s Army certainly takes us back to a time when there was a real community spirit in Britain. But the appeal of the series is not only about nostalgia for the 1940s.

Unlike much of what passes for comedy today, the humour in Dad’s Army is affectionate and never nasty. Even the pompous Captain Mainwaring is at heart, a loveable character, someone who we can feel sorry for as well as laugh at. “The most important thing with any sitcom is that it’s real; you care about the characters and you believe in them”, says Jimmy Perry. We certainly care about the characters in Dad’s Army, who have, over the years, become much-loved friends.

Perhaps most importantly of all, in an era where family entertainment is at such a premium, Dad’s Army is a programme that all the family can watch and enjoy together.

Will we still be laughing at repeats of Dad’s Army in another forty years? I think so.

Good comedy is timeless, and in creating Dad’s Army, Jimmy Perry has bequeathed to us all a timeless classic.

Some interesting facts about Dad’s Army.

The encounter between Captain Mainwaring and a captured U-Boat commander in which Mainwaring utters the immortal line ‘Don’t Tell Him Pike’ in response to the commander asking Pike his name, was voted the nation’s funniest TV moment of all time.

The signature turn of Dad’s Army ‘Who do you think you are kidding Mr Hitler’ was written by Jimmy Perry and performed by legendary music hall comedian Bud Flanagan.

James Beck (Private Walker) was the first of the cast to die, in 1973; Clive Dunn (Lance-Corporal Jones); Ian Lavender (Private Pike ), Bill Pertwee (ARP Warden Hodges) and Frank Williams (Vicar) and are the only main members of the cast still living.

An American version of Dad’s Army called ‘The Rear Guard’ appeared in 1976, but was not a success.

The last ever episode of Dad’s Army, ‘Never too Old’, in which Lance-Corporal Jones gets married to Mrs Fox, was broadcast on 13th November 1977.

A Just Cause

The Times reports:

"Two grieving mothers whose sons were killed fighting for the British army in Iraq took their long-running battle to force a public inquiry into the legality of the war to the House of Lords this morning.
Lawyers for Beverley Clarke and Rose Gentle will argue before an enlarged panel of nine law lords that the Government is obligated to hold an independent review of the decision to go to war under Article 2 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR), which protects the "right to life".
They will argue that the Government is bound by the convention to safeguard soldiers' lives by not sending them to fight in an illegal war. If the mothers win their appeal, it could result in Tony Blair, Lord Goldsmith, QC, the former Attorney-General, and Geoff Hoon, the former defence minister, called upon to give evidence in public"

Let's wish Beverley Clarke and Rose Gentle all the very best in their campaign. The job of British soldiers is to defend the realm- and not to take part in illegal invasions of sovereign states at the behest of Washington's neoconservatives.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Happy Birthday, Jules Verne

If you pop over to the European Tribune website to sign the 'Stop Blair' petition (and if you haven't done so, then please do, and tell a friend too,) you will see a little note to say that on this day exactly one hundred and eighty years ago, the great French writer Jules Verne, the father of science fiction, was born.
I loved reading Verne when I was a child and I also loved watching the various films and tv series made from his books. One particular favourite was a dubbed Czechoslovakian series called 'The Secret of Steel City', (Czech title: Tajemství ocelového mesta,) based on Verne's novel Begum's Millions. It concerned two feuding neighbouring countries, and lots of espionage and suspense and was broadcast in the early 1980s. Are there any other readers who remember this series? (Sadly, there are no clips available of it yet on You Tube).
Wouldn't it be great if the BBC repeated some of the classic series from western and eastern europe that it screened in the 60s, 70s and early 80s? The problem with the Beeb is not that it shows too many repeats, but, as I argued in a 2005 article for The Times, that it shows far too few.

Afghanistan: It's Time to get out

Martin Meenagh, whose excellent blog I can heartily recommend, has been busy making lists.

Here is a list of all those major powers who have invaded Afghanistan at one time or another. I do not pretend that it is authoritatively exhaustive, but believe that it may be, and if you want to comment further I'd be happy to hear from you.

Alexander the Great
Arab Islam
Mahmud of Ghazni and the Ghaznavids
Genghis Khan
The Turks
The Moghuls
The British Empire
The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics 1979-1989

Here is a list of those who managed to hold the place without any major massacres, corruption, devastation, or the ultimate collapse of their hold from exhaustion, bankruptcy or foreign invasion so far.


Here is a list of those who ended up being accused of overstretch, brutality, the collapse of self confidence, and folie de grandeur (and that was those of the group not remembered by a species prone to psychosis as monsters).

All of them."

Quite. As Seumas Milne writes:
The war in Afghanistan, which claimed more than 6,500 lives last year, cannot be won. It has brought neither peace, development nor freedom, and has no prospect of doing so. Instead of eradicating terror networks, it has spread and multiplied them. The US plans to send 3,000 more troops in April to reinforce its existing 25,000-strong contingent, and influential thinktanks in Washington are pressing for an Iraqi-style surge. But only a vastly greater deployment could even temporarily subdue the country, and that is not remotely in prospect. The only real chance for peace in Afghanistan is the withdrawal of foreign forces as part of a wider political settlement, including the Taliban and neighbouring countries like Iran and Pakistan.

But of course, the neo-cons and their liberal imperalist allies don't see it that way. They want us to 'stay the course'.

Rather easy to say when it's not you or your family doing the dying.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Thought for the Day: The March of the Globalists

"Regardless of who ends up with which nomination, it's doubtful that the next president will deviate from the Bushido of the last eight years to any great degree; so why bother working up a sweat?
In his book 'Europe', Norman Davies uses the expression 'bulimia politica' to describe Russia's relentless eastward expansion. To paraphrase him, they ended up with more land than they could ever use and yet they still wanted more.
Whoever wins the White House will be a globalist; and globalisation, that gypsy in leprechaun's clothes, is nothing but "bulimia oeconomica", borderless capital's relentless desire for profit wherever it can find it."

Martin Kelly is one of the most thoughtful of anti-war conservative commentators. Sadly, it's hard to disagree with his assessment.

How we can stop The Bliar: Sign the Petition

Many thanks to those who have emailed in or left comments on my post about the urgent need to thwart the neocon plans and stop The Bliar from becoming European President.
Commenters Mara Mn from Portugal and Afow from France point out that there is already a petition which European citizens can sign to express their complete opposition to Blair becoming EU President. You can sign it here.
If we all work together on this one, we can prevent the neo-cons' puppet from ending up as the most powerful person on the Continent. And then, once we've done that, let's make sure that the man with the blood of hundreds of thousands on his hands ends up somewhere far more appropriate.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

John McCain: Another Nightmare President

He believes Belarus, a country of 10.2m, to be 'a national security threat' to the U.S, the world's biggest superpower. He's made jokes about bombing Iran. He promises to 'stay the course' in Iraq for as long as it takes. He admits he has no real experience in economic affairs.

It beggars belief that such a man should even be in the running for President, let alone be the clear front-runner for the candidacy of one of the leading parties.

Those who thought things couldn't possibly get any worse after Bush, may be in for a rude awakening.

Blair, EU President? Non, merci.

This article of mine appears on the Guardian's Comment is Free site.

Ever since he attended his first Bilderberg conference in 1993, Tony Blair has never disappointed his powerful masters. He transformed Labour from a social democratic/democratic socialist party pledged to extend public ownership and reducing inequalities into a privatising, pro-big business party that was “intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich".

He took his country into a series of illegal and brutal wars- boosting corporate profits and helping to open up new markets for global capital.

Of course, for pursuing his neo-liberal, neocon agenda so religiously Blair has been richly rewarded.

But now, one thing more is required of the former British Prime Minister.

The appointment of Blair as President of the European Council, with extended powers in the sphere of defence and trade would be the culmination of the neocon dream: to fully neuter Europe as alternative source of global power. The election of Nikolas Sarkozy has already neutered France, traditionally the main European source of opposition to Pax Americana; the appointment of Blair as EU President would be the final piece of the jigsaw. But while Blair's appointment would be a dream come true for the Empire builders of the PNAC, for the rest of the world, it would be a nightmare, making European involvement in US illegal wars of aggression far more likely. With its own military forces overstretched and its economy faltering, the US desperately needs the EU to fall into line, and for European troops to be sent- in their thousands- to die on the front line.

We must not let it happen.

What is urgently required is a grass roots pan-European campaign to mobilise opposition to Blair‘s candidacy.

In all my regular visits to mainland Europe I have yet to meet anyone who expressed anything but loathing for the warmongering former British PM. I’m sure that if there was a public opinion poll as to the most unpopular politician on the continent, Blair would win by a landslide, so as blogger Mick Hall (Organised Rage) points out- the very thought of him even being considered for the top job in Europe is insulting in the extreme.

Although the decision on who will be the EU’s new President will not be taken directly by Europe‘s people, an anti-Blair petition, signed by millions and delivered to Brussels, in full media spotlight, would I’m sure, help concentrate the minds of EU leaders who are sure to come under intense lobbying from big business, the think tanks they finance and the State Department to get their man in the chair. And on top of that, why not organise public demonstrations every time Blair is due to speak in Europe? Let’s bring home to Blair and his tiny band of powerful backers, the revulsion that the vast majority of ordinary Europeans feel towards him.

Stopping Blair from becoming EU President is a noble cause.

And once we’ve achieved that, let’s make sure the man with the blood of hundreds of thousands on his hands ends up somewhere far more appropriate.