Friday, October 31, 2008

Wally of the Week: Seth Freedman

No, this week's Wally isn't Russell Brand or Jonathan Ross (that would have been far too obvious), but a creature named Seth Freedman (pictured above).

Seth who? I hear you ask. Seth has written a quite hilarious- and at the same time disturbing piece for the Guardian's Comment is Free website in which he berates the British public- and the media - for taking delight in the plight of hedge fund managers who lost billions by short-selling VW shares.

The media have seized with glee upon the plight of hedge fund managers who have lost billions by short-selling VW shares. knowledge and comprehension of the events at hand were sacrificed in favour of uncontrolled delight at the outcomes.
The background to the VW affair is simple enough; what is less easy to comprehend is the kicking the press and public have meted out to the losing traders whilst they were down......
much-maligned minority of hedge fund managers – widely believed to be the root cause of all evil by arch-socialists, archbishops and politicians alike – are treated as social pariahs, mocked and ridiculed at every turn, whether they make or lose money.

Freedman whinges.

Then, in an extraordinary paragraph, he writes:

The public's refusal to acknowledge that traders and fund managers have also suffered during this spell of market turmoil means the market players are unlikely to feel compelled to offer much sympathy to the public's plight in return, sympathy that many commentators are demanding be extended by the City on an almost-daily basis.

So there you have it. Unless the public (that's you and I, dear reader) show more sympathy to the plight of those poor, poor 'market players', they're not going to show much sympathy to us.

Freedman, a former City trader clearly sees it as a battle between the Masters of the Universe-ie 'the market players' and the rest of us. We'd better show them some respect and stop laughing at their misfortune, or else.

I don't think any article I have yet read on the financial crisis demonstrates the extraordinary arrogance of those who 'play the markets' as much as this one.

They really do think they are a breed apart from 'the public' who instead of spending their days 'short-selling' companies actually do things which add to the wealth of the country.

It's good to see Freedman's disgusting article receive a mauling from CIF readers.

But I'm pleased he's written it: as it shows quite clearly the arrogant, elitist mindset of those who have it all their own way, for far too long.

UPDATE: It seems that Seth Freedman is carving out quite a lucrative little career for himself writing about such matters. report:

Viking have signed the former stockbroker turned writer Seth Freedman for "an insider account of greed, corruption and excess in the City", due next April. A mix of memoir, reportage and interviews, Viking hopes it will reveal the extent to which risking millions every day can be addictive, as well as explaining the inner workings of the market from short selling to bonds swaps.

Editorial director Joel Rickett paid what he described as a "healthy five-figure sum" for the book

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Rhineland Model 5 Locusts 0

Sometimes you read news stories that want to make you want to jump for joy.

This is one of them.

"I have had hedge fund managers literally in tears on the phone," said one London-based analyst yesterday. Others likened the Porsche disclosure to a "nuclear bomb going off in our faces", describing the resulting losses as "a bloodbath".

Hedge fund managers in tears? To quote the legendary RSM Williams (above):'Oh Dear, How Sad, Never Mind.'

UPDATE: Philip Delves Broughton has more in his great piece for the First Post
The geniuses at Porsche have just done what half the civilised world has been thinking of doing these past few weeks and stuffed it to hedge funds

FURTHER UPDATE: You really couldn't make it. You really couldn't, dear reader.
The DT reports on the anger of the hedge fund traders who have been shafted by Porsche:

One said “In any other country in the world, taking control of a company in secret and still not launching a bid would be illegal. We believe the reactions of the German regulators to be criminally irresponsible but we are confident that this will be sorted out.” Another said: “We are stunned by the unregulated nature of the German market. This is a complete fiasco. Forget buying a Porsche, traders around the world will simply avoid Germany after this.”

Yup, that's right. Hedge fund traders, who for years have railed against greater regulation of their highly secretive industry, and against government regulation generally, now attack Germany for the 'unregulated' nature of its market.
I told you, you couldn't make it up. I don't have enough money to go out and buy a Porsche to express my appreciation to the company for the service they have rendered us all, but I know which country Zsuzsanna and I will be going to on our next holiday.

Three cheers for Germany!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Tony Blair's millions

Today's First Post reports:

As the stock market plummets and house prices slump, Tony Blair, the man who as Prime Minister championed the "light touch" system of financial regulation blamed by many for the current crisis, is enjoying an unprecedented boom in his fortunes. The Times reveals today that the former Prime Minister's earnings in his first year since leaving Downing Street topped £12 million, more than six times his previous lifetime income.

The lion's share of his income does not come from his various advisory jobs, but from the lucrative international lecture circuit where he is now said to be the highest-paid speaker in the world. Since his first gig last October, Blair is understood to have earned £5.3m, which is even more than Bill Clinton did in his first year after leaving the White House.

Blair, who works exclusively through the blue-chip Washington Speakers Bureau, is certainly popular – there is currently a two-year waiting list for bookings, with clients prepared to pay $250,000 for a typical speech of roughly 90 minutes.

In my 2007 Spectator review of Geoffrey Wheatcroft's book 'Yo, Blair!' I wrote:
By his endless war-making, he has destroyed one English tradition which had found a home in the Labour Party — the radical tradition of pacifism and non-interventionism. And by his attack on ancient civil liberties, carried out in the name of the ‘war against terror’, he has destroyed another — the liberal tradition.

Why was it all done?

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

Anyone out there who still thinks Blair acted out of 'conviction'?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Hungary is counting the cost of capitalism

This piece of mine appears in The First Post.

It was the ex-communist country that did everything the West and its neo-liberal economic 'experts' said it should do. It privatised vast swathes of its economy. It allowed free and unhindered access to Western multinationals. It filed up obediently to join Nato and the EU and employed Goldman Sachs to give advice on privatisation.

Now, after 20 years of free-market 'reforms', Hungary, together with the Ukraine, sees the results of its policies: an IMF bail-out.

Hungary's economic collapse gives a lie to the dominant narrative that eastern European countries have thrived since the sweeping political changes of 1989.

I lived and worked in Hungary during the 1990s and saw at first hand the way that the economic 'reforms' insisted upon by the IMF, the World Bank and the EU adversely affected the majority of the population.

Ten years on, and times are even tougher. On a recent visit to Hungary I was shocked by the increase in street beggars and the number of old people I saw searching for scraps in trash cans.

Away from the swanky new Budapest bars around Liszt Ferenc Ter and Vaci Ut which cater for foreign businessmen and home-grown yuppies, the capital has a shabbier, poorer look than it did a decade ago. The fall in living standards became even more apparent when I visited other towns and cities in the country.

The statistics paint a depressing picture. Last year, real wages in Hungary fell by seven per cent. The UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation has reported that 200,000 people in Hungary, including 20,000 children, are under-fed. One in five children are being brought up in poverty, while campaigners predict that recent price hikes of electricity and gas could push a further 3m people into poverty.

The truth is that Hungary, like the Ukraine, has gone backwards, and not forwards since the fall of communism. Even Viktor Orban, the staunchly anti-communist leader of the main conservative opposition party Fidesz, has conceded that for the majority, life was easier in the relatively liberal 'goulash' communism era of the 1970s and 80s.

Despite the selling-off of millions of pounds worth of state assets in the government's mass privatisation programme, Hungary's public finances remain in a poor state. The scale of corruption has been mind-boggling: Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany (pictured above) - whose 'pro-reform' economic policies have been lauded in the West - has an estimated fortune of £10m, made from controversial privatisation deals in the early 1990s.

The new IMF loan, far from being the salvation that Hungary's political elite is claiming, is likely to make things even worse. The IMF is insisting the government pursues 'strong policies' to reduce its deficit - shorthand for yet more swingeing cuts in public spending. That would mean the final nail in the coffin for the country's chronically under-funded health service; my mother-in-law had to bring in her own toilet paper during a hospital stay this summer.

The IMF loan is also likely to mean the enforced privatisation of the few assets remaining in state ownership, regardless of widespread public opposition.

"What's the difference between communism and capitalism?" is the joke currently doing the rounds in Budapest. Answer: "Under communism we had a big government debt but we lived well. Under capitalism we have a big government debt but we don't live well."

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Arrogance of Empire

They're at it again. You know: the country that thinks it's above international law and believes it has the right to bomb, threaten and bully anyone who doesn't tow the line.

Yesterday, four US aircraft travelled eight miles inside Syrian airspace from Iraq and killed eight unarmed civilians on a farm.

The Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said those who died were a father and his three children, a farm guard and his wife, and a fisherman.

"We consider this criminal and terrorist aggression. We put the responsibility on the American government," Muallem told reporters following talks with UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband. "All of them [the victims] are civilians, Syrian, unarmed and they are on the Syrian territories. Killing civilians in international law means a terrorist aggression."

Killing civilians in international law certainly does mean a 'terrorist aggression'.

But what have Britain and America's neocon writers- normally so quick to denounce 'terrorist' acts when they are committed by swarthy people with beards and moustaches, have to say about this blatant act of state-terrorism?

Absolutely nothing. Their silence is matched by that of the US Government.
And Britain's puppet government too.

The BBC reports:

Mr Muallem and Mr Miliband were scheduled to hold a joint press conference, but Mr Miliband withdrew. The UK government has declined to comment on the raid.

Next time you hear a neocon talk of 'terrorism', and the threat it poses, just remind him or her of yesterday's events in Syria, and ask them why they failed to condemn it.

Meanwhile in Syria, anger is growing at the US aggression and at the Syrian government's lack of a military response.

"The people who were killed were harmless, they should have been protected. It is a very saddening experience. People talk about patriotism, but when it comes to action - nothing happens"

says one Syrian eyewitness to yesterday's terrorist action, as reported on the BBC's website.

Many are of the opinion that the US administration gave the go-ahead for yesterday's attack hoping it would draw a Syrian military response, which in turn would lead to a major Middle Eastern war: something which we know the warmongering neocon faction would love to bring about. We undoubtedly live in dangerous times and, as I've said before on numerous occasions, we will continue to do so unless the advocates of perpetual war are removed from anywhere near the corridors of power.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Peter Hitchens on One Party Britain

So here we see our new, one-party elite in all its lack of glory, interchangeable careerists from fake ‘Tory’ and fake ‘Labour’ front benches, floating around in lukewarm seas of money with Russian oligarchs, hedge-fund millionaires, foreign media magnates and who knows what else?

This, the Corfu set, is your choice at the next Election. You can have one thing, or you can have the same thing. If you want anything else, you can get stuffed. These individuals have no interest in you, or in this country, nor much idea of how the rest of us live. It is centuries since Britain was ruled by a set of people who have so little in common with those they govern.

What they’re really embarrassed about this week is that you might realise that this is what they are like. Peter Mandelson (above) is less troubled than George Osborne because nobody would be surprised by anything he did, or anyone he met. If Peter turned up in North Korea having cocktails with Kim Jong Il, it would be Kim’s reputation that got damaged.

But it is much worse for the Tories. They have spent millions (raised how, exactly?) on buying themselves a nice new image. Now they fear that the whole lot has gone down the plumbing.

They tried so hard to avoid this. David Cameron even had a pseudo-holiday in Cornwall, where he posed for pictures, before heading off for his real holiday in Yachtworld, where he wasn’t so keen to be seen.

How it makes me yearn for the much-mocked old days of the grouse moors, and even Harold Wilson’s expeditions to the Scilly Isles. Our political leaders may not have been much good but at least they were ours, not the trashy flotsam of the global elite.

writes Peter Hitchens in his excellent article in today's Mail on Sunday.

As regular readers will know, I’ve long argued that in Britain we live in what is to all extents and purposes a one party state. Does anyone out there have any doubts after this week’s revelations about the goings-on of the Corfu set? It‘s also interesting to compare Peter Hitchens’ observations, with those of Martin Kettle in The Guardian. Kettle, nominally a man on the ‘liberal-left’ wrote on Friday:

“The Rothschild pad is presumably at the luxury end of the market, but so what? Are politicians - Labour politicians in particular - not allowed to have rich friends?

Once again the Corfu revelations- and the reaction to them- have shown that the 'old’ left and the 'old' right have far more in common than they do with today’s globalist political elite and their media apologists- such as Martin Kettle and The Times' Chief Leader writer Daniel Finklestein (who after describing the Corfu revelations of his own newspaper as a 'non-scandal', then embarrassingly did a 'somersault')

PS: One small point I would take issue with in Peter Hitchens' brilliant post though (and David Lindsay makes the same observation) is his line that our political leaders in the immediate post-war era ‘may not have been much good.’ The likes of Harold Macmillan and Harold Wilson were actually very good- especially when you consider that unlike Prime Ministers from Thatcher onwards they didn’t have the benefit of the bonanza of North Sea oil. Harold Wilson was a particularly effective- and under-rated Prime Minister; (as well as being an exceptionally nice man), whose record looks better with each year which passes. And as Peter mentions, he spent his holidays on the Scilly Isles, not in the villas of the global financial/business elite.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Burt Bacharach: Genius

The word 'genius' is often overused and as a result it has lost a lot of its meaning. There are very, very few people to whom the epithet can accurately be applied: but songwriter Burt Bacharach, responsible for writing some of the greatest popular songs of all time, is surely one of them. Bacharach is in Britain to promote his new album and on Wednesday he performed at the BBC's Electric Proms in London. If you weren't there, or missed the tv recording, you can watch the concert, in full, at the BBC Electric Proms website. If you haven't seen the concert yet, you're in for a real treat: it's amazing.

Above you can watch a tribute to Burt and his great songs, from December 1967. Among those performing are Liza Minelli, Sergio Mendes & Brazil 66, Wes Montgomery, Herb Alpert (the compere, and brilliant trumpet player) and of course the maestro Burt Bacharach himself. Enjoy!

p.s. in addition to being a musical genius Bacharach is fiercely critical of the Iraq war. What a star!

Kapital's rich pickings in 'liberated' Montenegro

I have always maintained that the demonisation of the late Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and the destruction of his country came about not because Milosevic was an ethnic cleanser (he wasn't), nor because he was a dictator (he wasn't), but because he was running the 'wrong' sort of economy.

Yugoslavia under Milosevic had publicly owned petroleum, mining, car and tobacco industries, and 75% of industry was state or socially owned. In 1997, a privatisation law had stipulated that in any sell-offs, at least 60% of shares had to be allocated to a company's workers.

The high priests of neo-liberalism were not happy. At the Davos summit early in 1999, Tony Blair berated Belgrade, not for its handling of Kosovo, but for its failure to embark on a programme of "economic reform" - new-world-order speak for selling state assets and running the economy in the interests of foreign capital.

Now of course Milosevic is dead, and the Balkans have been 'liberated' from his 'tyrannical' rule (under which over 20 political parties freely operated). And Kapital is free to go anywhere in the region!

The newly 'independent' Montenegro is providing particularly rich pickings for the global financial/business elite, as this Daily Mail report reveals.

What was a Yugoslav army/navy dockyard in the Milosevic era is now a piece of real estate owned by TriGranit, Hungary's biggest property developer. And what do we know about TriGranit?

It is co-owned by a Hungarian-born Canadian billionaire named Peter Munk and Nat Rothschild. Munk, 80, is owner of Barrick Gold, the world's largest gold producing company. He was advised to invest in Montenegro by the Rothschild family, with whom he has long enjoyed business ties. Then he made a call to Deripaska. 'Oleg made the first phone call to the prime minister (Djukanovic)(pictured above) and opened the door for me,' Mr Munk explained. But Munk and Rothschild were not alone in the project. Also on board are Nat's father Lord Rothschild and two other business big names. One, Bernard Arnault, the chairman of luxury goods conglomerate LVMH, adds lustre.

The toppling of Milosevic and the destruction of his country has certainly proved profitable for some, hasn't it!

As Monsieur Verdoux, the eponymous anti-hero of Chaplin's classic film said: "Wars- conflict- it's all business!"

Thursday, October 23, 2008

George Osborne: Neocon Pin-up Boy (and why the Times chief leader writer rubbishes his own newspaper's story)

The Times has gone understandably big on its scoop about George Osborne’s activities in Corfu. Many have been taken aback by quite how hostile the tone of its coverage has been... But in all this there is one notable absence: The Times has not yet run a leader on the matter. On Tuesday, one of its editorials did refer to Deripaska but the reference was to his financial difficulties not to the hospitality that he had extended on his yacht. It does seem odd for a newspaper to lead on a story for two days in a row but not think it worthy of an editorial.

writes perceptive commentator James Forsyth in on The Spectator Coffee House blog.

Not only has The Times failed to run a leader on the Osborne affair, the paper (or at least its 'Comment Central' website) has referred to the story- one which the Times itself broke- as a 'non-scandal'.

George Osborne did not take money or arrange to take money from an illegal donor. Even Nat Rothschild does not say that he did. And Peter Mandelson did not distort aluminium tarrifs (sic) at the behest of anyone. Or at least no one has presented any evidence - not a bit - that he did. So what if he had a drink on a yacht?

I can't recall a time in all my years in journalism when a paper has rubbished its own story as much as The Times did today. The author of the article on 'Comment Central' was a certain Daniel Finkelstein, who also happens to be Chief Leader writer of The Times. Finkelstein is- and I don't think he'd take issue with this description-an uber neocon. He's written hawkish articles on the need to take tougher action on Iran. He was a strong and unapologetic supporter of the illegal Iraq war, a war in which up to 1m people have lost their lives. While comment editor of The Times (a position he held from 2004-8) Finkelstein shamelessly promoted neocon writers and transformed the comment pages of the paper into a British version of The Weekly Standard.

I've written before of how a small group of neocons within the Tory party engineered the successful rise to party leadership of David Cameron. This group- which included Finkelstein, the Tories' influential 'modernising guru', were terrified that the man they call 'The Beast'-Ken Clarke, would succeed IDS as Tory leader in 2005. But not only was it imperative to 'Stop Clarke', a man who had openly ridiculed the claims that Iraq possessed WMD and who opposed the Iraq war, it was also important to promote the career of George Osborne. Why? You see, Osborne, like Finkelstein, is a fanatical neocon. He was a strong supporter of the Iraq war. And like Finkelstein, he wants a 'tough' stance against Iran. In a speech to the Conservative Friends of Israel this summer, Osborne said "We should not rule out military options. It's not the same as ruling in military options, but it does mean not ruling them out, and I think we have to be very hard-headed and realistic about the world in which we live". Standing alongside Osborne as he made that hawkish speech- was- you've guessed it Daniel Finkelstein.

I don't think we need to wonder any more why The Times has not run a leader on George Osborne's recent embarrassments, especially when you bear in mind that the man that many grass-root Tories are calling to take over from Osborne is...... Ken Clarke!

While millions are now questioning his actions in Corfu, Osborne, is according to Daniel Finkelstein, " a person of integrity.....and huge ability - it is not an exaggeration to say that he has been the big driver of Tory success in the last three years - and if this affair had taken him out it would have been a disaster for the Tory party".

For 'the Tory party' read 'the British neocon movement'.

UPDATE: The Exile gives his views on this story here.

Bud Flanagan: In Memoriam

This piece of mine on the late, great, music hall comedian and singer Bud Flanagan, who also sang the signature to Dad's Army, and who died exactly forty years ago this week, appears in the Daily Express.

Our darling bud who kept wartime Britain smiling

He was one half of arguably the most popular double act Britain has ever seen-a partnership whose upbeat songs and gentle humour played an important part in maintaining morale during Britain’s darkest hour in World War Two.

He is also remembered for singing the signature tune to the nation’s best loved - and most enduring comedy series, Dad's Army. And together with his partner Chesney Allen, he was part of the great comedy ensemble, The Crazy Gang, who delighted British audiences for over thirty years.

When the entertainer Bud Flanagan died exactly forty years ago this week, on 20th October 1968, he was mourned by the whole of Britain.

“He had an individual charisma that was beyond pinning down. He just had something you can't bottle, as anyone who saw him live will confirm” says one committed fan.

Bud Flanagan’s life story is a remarkable one.

Flanagan- whose real name was Chaim Reuben Weintrop (he later changed it to Robert Winthrop), was born in 1896 in the East End of London to Polish Jewish immigrant parents- who had fled the anti-Jewish pogroms of Tsarist Russia. He began his lifelong association with the world of entertainment at the tender age of ten, when he became a call-boy at the Cambridge Music Hall. Two years later, he made his theatrical debut in a talent contest, performing conjuring tricks as Fargo, The Boy Wizard.

Flanagan was born with a sense of adventure and was keen to see the world. At the age of thirteen he gained free passage on a ship sailing for America by claiming he could cook- it soon became clear that he had no culinary talent whatsoever. In America his grand plan was to box as ‘Luke McGlook of England’. But his boxing proved no more successful than his cooking- he was K.O’d in his only fight. In America, Flanagan worked as a Western Union messenger, a worker in a feather duster factory and a newspaper seller- and appeared on stage in New York.

In 1915 however he returned to Britain to fight for King and country in the First World War. The war was to prove a turning point in his life. His Sergeant-Major in the Royal Field Artillery in Flanders was called Flanagan- providing Winthrop with the name he would use for his stage performances. And it was in a café in Flanders that he first met the man with whom he was to forge a lifelong friendship and who was to become his professional comedy partner- Chesney Allen.

It was still a while though before the men were to form the double act which made them both world famous. Flanagan, having failed to achieve much success in the theatre after being demobbed, was working as a taxi driver when he got the call to appear in the show of the legendary music hall singer Florrie Ford. The ‘straight man‘ in the show was Chesney Allen, who was also Forde‘s manager. Flanagan and Allen were not an overnight success- they even considered quitting the theatre altogether to become bookmakers.

Their big break came when the leading impresario Val Parnell saw them perform and booked them to play at London’s Holborn Empire. After that Flanagan and Allen never looked back. Their routine, which included jokes, mixed with quick-fire repartee and tuneful, sentimental songs, proved a huge hit with audiences. While Ches played the straight man, serious, sober and reproaching, Bud was the irrepressible child-like clown, with the wide cheeky grin.

Their jokes stand the test of time. In one classic sketch, Bud and Ches are walking past a grand hotel. As Bud lights up yet another cigar, Ches says to him 'Do you know Bud, I've calculated that if you had never smoked you'd have saved enough money to buy this hotel". Bud replies "Do you smoke, Ches". "I've never smoked, Bud" "Do you own this hotel?". "No"."Well, shut up then".

Dressed in battered top hats and ragged clothes, Flanagan and Allen’s stage persona as two likeable down and outs struck a chord with audiences during the harsh Depression years of the 1930s. The pair’s famous signature tune ’Underneath the Arches’ told of enduring friendship in harsh times and was written by Flanagan himself. Flanagan and Allen also performed as members of the hugely popular comedy troupe The Crazy Gang, along with high-wire act Nervo and Knox, comedians Naughton and Gold, and comedy juggler, ‘Monsewer’ Eddie Grey. Among the Crazy Gang’s biggest fans was the Royal Family- and in particular King George VI, the Queen’s father, who invited the troupe to play at Buckingham Palace.

The outbreak of World War Two saw Flanagan and Allen’s popularity rise still further. Their cheerful, upbeat songs such as 'Run, Rabbit, Run' and ‘Hang Up the Washing on the Siegfried Line‘ became huge hits and did much to boost morale. In fact, ‘Run, Rabbit Run‘ was the favourite song of wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill. In 1941, along with other members of The Crazy Gang, they appeared in the film ’Gasbags’ in which they cheerfully defied the Nazis.

Sadly, Flanagan’s partnership with Allen ended in 1945 due to the latter’s poor health, although they did appear together in several reunions, including at Royal Variety Performances. Flanagan continued to keep busy; appearing on stage with The Crazy Gang, and in films, radio and later on television. In 1960, he was awarded the OBE. Two years later, after 15 years playing two shows a day, The Crazy Gang gave their last performance at the Victoria Palace. There was hardly a dry eye in the house. In an interview he gave at the time, Flanagan expressed his fear that tastes in humour were changing. “Tastes have changed so much in entertainment that I’ve begun to feel old-fashioned. The funny thing is that we are still doing the same stuff we started with and the public who come to see us still love it. Yet outside the Crazy Gang that material doesn’t mean much anymore”.

Times certainly were changing. The 1960s saw the rise of a new generation of middle-class university educated performers whose comedy was more satirical- and some would say nastier- than the gentle humour of Bud Flanagan.

Flanagan had a long and happy marriage to Anne, but his life was not without tragedy. The death of his beloved son Buddy, of leukaemia affected him deeply, and in his will he endowed The Bud Flanagan Leukaemia Fund- in an attempt to find a cure for the disease.

In 1968, a swansong. Jimmy Perry, creator of a new BBC comedy series called Dad’s Army had co-written a signature tune for the series entitled ‘Who do you think you are kidding Mr Hitler‘? To his great joy Bud Flanagan agreed to record it. Shortly afterwards, Flanagan suffered a fatal heart attack. He was 72.

At his memorial service, fellow comedian Charlie Chester paid Flanagan a generous tribute. “No artist born was more loved by his brothers. No man gave more in human happiness”.

Bud Flanagan may have been a rotten ship’s cook and a poor boxer- but he possessed the greatest talent of all- of being able to make people smile.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Phil Brown puts the roar into Hull's Tigers

This piece of mine on the remarkable Hull City manmager Phil Brown (pictured above), appears in the First Post. With his intelligence and tactical prowess Brown is raising the reputation of English football coaches and is as unlike the manager 'Alan Latchley' the late Peter Cook's hilarious comedy creation, as one can imagine. If you've never seen 'Alan Latchley' impart his 'wisdom' on the Clive Anderson Show, you can watch it below- it's quite simply one of the funniest interviews you'll ever see in your life.

What is it about Hull and its men in dark suits? Philip Larkin, the poet never seen without a collar and tie; John Prescott MP, who asked "What are chinos?" when Tony Blair requested that he dress down for dinner; and now Phil Brown, manager of Hull City, always patrolling the touchline in his nifty black suit, urging his team on to greater triumph.

Before this season, Hull City had never played in the top flight of English football. They now sit proudly in third place in the Premier League, just three points behind leaders Chelsea and ahead of both Manchester United and Arsenal.

Hull's incredible metamorphosis dates from December 2006, when Brown took over. Hull were then facing relegation to the third tier. Not only did Brown save 'The Tigers' from the drop, he also led them to promotion to the Premiership in his first full season.

A journeyman footballer, who plied his trade at lower-division clubs such as Hartlepool and Halifax, Brown later worked for six years as the right-hand man to Sam Allardyce at Bolton, during which time the Lancashire side became established as a force to be reckoned with in the Premier League.

Under Allardyce and Brown, Bolton became renowned for their intelligent tactics, frequently getting the better of the Premiership's more illustrious clubs, and Brown has clearly put the experience to good use. This season, he has out-witted internationally respected football managers such as Arsene Wenger and Juande Ramos in Europe's top league.

Wenger was taken completely by surprise last month by Hull's positive, attacking approach. Eschewing the overly-defensive approach most teams adopt at Arsenal, Brown played with two strikers and put talented Brazilian Geovanni on the left-wing, from where he scored a brilliant equaliser. Wenger was so stunned by the subsequent defeat he referred to Hull as "West Brom" in the post-match press conference.

A week later, 49-year-old Brown took his side to Tottenham, where his tactics once more flummoxed the opposition, with Hull winning 1-0. On Sunday, in the match against West Ham, Brown again showed his tactical prowess, making half-time changes to his team's formation which changed the course of the game and led to another Hull victory.

In England, we tend to think that our managers, while being good motivators, are tactically inferior to European coaches. The late Peter Cook's hilarious comedy creation, manager 'Alan Latchley', who thinks football is only about "the three Ms: motivation, motivation, motivation and motivation" springs readily to mind. Brown has already done much to destroy the stereotype.

Will he last the course, and grow into a truly great British manager – a Brian Clough or Bill Shankly? Maybe. The fate of his mentor Sam Allardyce, who left Bolton for Newcastle only to lose his job eight months later, should help keep his feet firmly on the ground.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Friends in High Places

Did you get an invite to stay at the billionaire hedge-fund trader Nathaniel Rothschild's luxury villa in Corfu this summer?

No, me neither.

That’s because we’re not members of the global elite.

This Daily Mail reports tells us a lot about the world we live in - and the small band of powerful global financiers and billionaire businessmen who call the shots. Read it and it’s easy to understand why our political elite- whether they go under a ‘Labour’ or 'Conservative' label- put the interests of capital before ordinary working people, every single time. After all, what can we offer them?

The scandal is not so much whether or not Shadow Chancellor George Osborne (pictured above, together with Nat Rothschild in their days as members of Oxford University's notorious Bullingdon Club) or Tory party treasurer Andrew Feldman personally approached the Russian aluminium oligarch Oleg Deripaska for a £50,000 donation to party funds, but that our political elite spend their time in such company.

As this writer says:
Mr Osborne is the man calling for the British people to elect him as chancellor of the exchequer. Lord Mandelson is now one of the most important cogs in the government's attempts to get the country through the economic downturn.

Both these men will undoubtedly use the phrase 'hard working British families' over the next few days in relation to some financial measure or other. But when was the last time either of them actually met a hard-working British family? After all, these are not the men they socialise with. They socialise with the Rothschilds and Deripaskas of the world.

And because they socialise with the Rothschilds and Deripaskas of the world, they will always favour their interests, ahead of OURS.

UPDATE: Martin Kelly has put up a great post about this shoddy affair, which I can highly recommend. Here's an extract:

Just as politics has been described as showbusiness for ugly people, the decline and fall of George Osborne is the political equivalent of Madonna's divorce from Guy Ritchie; a space-filler based on the doings of spectacularly unpleasant, spiritually ugly people, but focussed on wealth and influence instead of celebrity. The logic of the warped morality on display here seems to follow thus - Rothschild does not seem to be indignant, does not seem to care, that an attempt to break the law may or may not have been made in the company he was hosting. Instead, what irritates him is the company's privacy was breached.

To my mind, this displays an amoral attitude. By writing his letter, Rothschild has made himself fair game for further enquiry. The plebs will be asking themselves how many other such gatherings he has hosted at which discussions aimed at lawbreaking may have taken place.

Monday, October 20, 2008

We are three!

This blog celebrated its 3rd birthday yesterday. A very warm thank you to all its readers, and in particular those who post comments on a regular basis.
In the past three years, there have been a total of 1333 posts, starting with this one. I hope you've enjoyed at least some of them!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Best Credit Crash Jokes

The Daily Mail has published some of the best financial meltdown jokes doing the rounds. Here's some of my favourites- I hope you enjoy them!

What's the difference between the BBC's Business Editor Robert Peston and God?
God doesn't think he's Robert Peston.

A young man asked an elderly rich man how he made his money. 'Well, son, it was 1932-the depth of the Great Depression. I was down to my last penny, so I invested that penny in an apple. I spent the entire day polishing the apple and, at the end of the day, I sold that apple for ten pennies. 'The next morning I bought two apples, spent the day polishing them and sold them for 20 pennies. I continued this for a month, by which time I'd accumulated a fortune of £1.37. 'Then my wife's father died and left us £2 million.'

You know it's a credit crunch when...
Your builder asks to be paid in Zimbabwean dollars rather than sterling.
The Inland Revenue is offering a 25 per cent discount for cash-payers.
Victoria Beckham is pictured shopping in Primark.

And my favourite joke of the lot:

What's the capital of Iceland?
About £3.50.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Martii Ahtisaari: Warmonger

Milosevic took the papers and asked, “What will happen if I do not sign?” In answer, “Ahtisaari made a gesture on the table,” and then moved aside the flower centerpiece. Then Ahtisaari said, “Belgrade will be like this table. We will immediately begin carpet-bombing Belgrade.” Repeating the gesture of sweeping the table, Ahtisaari threatened, “This is what we will do to Belgrade.” A moment of silence passed, and then he added, “There will be half a million dead within a week.” Chernomyrdin’s silence confirmed that the Russian government would do nothing to discourage carpet-bombing.

The ‘Ahtisaari’ that Gregory Elich refers to in this wonderful article for Counterpunch is Martii Ahtisaari. Does the name ring any bells?

Ahtisaari- the charming individual who threatened the carpet bombing of Belgrade in 1999- and the killing of a half a million civilians in the former Yugoslavia was the Finnish politician who last week- to a chorus of approval in the western media- was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Not only was Ahtisaari on the side of the warmongers in 1999, he also lined up alongside the Shock and Awe brigade four years later. He strongly defended the US-led aggression against Iraq, saying that he would have supported the military action regardless of the WMD arguments: "Since I know that about a million people have been killed by the government of Iraq, I do not need much those weapons of mass destruction".

By honouring a warmonger like Ahtisaari- a man who despite acting as an UN special envoy has shown contempt for the UN Charter- and international law- by backing the blatantly illegal wars of aggression against Yugoslavia and Iraq- the Nobel Committee have lost all credibility.

A Nobel Peace prize for Martii Ahtisaari? What will the Nobel Committee come up with next year I wonder? - a Peace Prize for Tony Blair?

Why stop at the banks? Renationalisation can cure other British failures

This piece of mine appears in The First Post

As the economics pundit Will Hutton put it, "It was only months ago that nationalisation seemed to belong to the world of big band music, ration coupons and nylons."

Now, of course, everything has changed.

The Government's acquisition of Northern Rock in February, and this week's £37bn purchase of sizeable public stakes in three of Britain's leading banks, means that the great nationalisation 'taboo', in force since the Thatcherite counter-revolution of 1979, is finally at an end. Even the Sunday Telegraph has been forced to acknowledge that "nationalisation is no longer a dirty word".

Now that the Rubicon has been crossed, the question that needs to be asked is: If the government can nationalise our banks, why can't they bring our malfunctioning railways, our profiteering utility companies and our widely condemned privately owned airports back into public ownership?

In the standard neo-liberal rewrite of Britain's post-war history, nationalisation is portrayed as an unmitigated disaster. Nationalised industries were - so the narrative goes - inefficient, badly run and a drain on the public purse.

But new quantitative research goes a long way to shattering this myth. It shows how productivity growth in publicly owned enterprises compared favourably to that in the private sector and in the US, where utilities remained in private ownership. And the profitability of the nationalised industries improved too, from decade to decade.

Advocates of privatisation claimed that the mass sell-off of Britain's public utilities, public transport and infrastructure would improve efficiency and benefit the consumer. In fact, the opposite occurred. Britain's railways are by far and away the most expensive in Europe, with fares up to 14 times higher than on the continent - despite the new train companies receiving four times more in taxpayers' subsidies than the state-owned British Rail.

It's a similar story with our privatised airports, which, with their tacky, shopping-mall atmosphere are widely regarded as an international disgrace. Those who hold to the dogmatic 'publicly-owned bad, privately-owned good' mantra should reflect that Manchester Airport, the one major British airport which remains in public ownership, regularly comes out top in surveys of customer satisfaction and was voted Britain's best regional airport last year.

As for Britain's energy utilities, with record price hikes in place and more on the way, is there anyone now prepared to argue that privatisation has benefited consumers?

As opposed to the arguments for privatisation, the case for re-nationalising the railways, utilities and airports is based not on ideology, but on common sense. Natural monopolies such as railways and utility companies are better in public ownership than in private hands where, because of the need to pay dividends to shareholders, prices paid by consumers will always be higher.

To see how different things could have been, we only have to look across the Channel. While Britain pursued an extremist path in the 1980s and 1990s by "selling off the family silver" - to use former Conservative Prime Minister Harold Macmillan's wonderfully damning phrase - our European neighbours preferred to take a more pragmatic approach.

No other major European country has yet followed the British example and sold off its railways. Even Switzerland, regarded by many as a bastion of the free market, has kept its railways in public ownership. And while British householders face record hikes in their energy bills this winter, the position is rather different on the continent where, due to greater state involvement, price rises are nowhere near as high.

The recent financial meltdown has done much to discredit the neo-liberal ideology that Britain has followed - under both Conservative and Labour governments - over the past 29 years. It's time to ditch that ideology and return to the common sense approach to public ownership that Britain followed after World War Two.

Our unhappy experience since 1979 shows that it's privatisation - and not nationalisation - which deserves to be regarded as a 'dirty word'.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Socialists for McCain?

Should the British left be hoping that John McCain wins the American presidential election next month? asks The Exile

He continues:

One of the giants of British socialism, the late Ian Mikardo, once said that you can't make a socialist omelet without cracking a fair few capitalist eggs. One of those eggs that is going to have to be cracked sooner of later is the NATO alliance, and there is more chance of that happening with a McCain presidency than with the version that Obama will offer. With Obama we are liable to receive a charm offensive that will aim at repairing the damage done to Anglo-American relations by the chimp, coupled with some solid Keynesian policies at home that could shore up the crumbling American economic system. If you look at things in that light, McCain might very well turn out to be the man for us.

I can’t fault The Exile’s logic (as always, its impeccable)- and the fact that the warmongering neocon loon and former Wally of the Week Christopher Hitchens is now urging people to ‘Vote Obama‘ hardly makes the case any weaker. Even so, I couldn’t bring myself to cheer if John ’Bomb, Bomb, Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Iran’ McCain does win (which admittedly seems unlikely) even though it might hasten the demise of NATO.

How about you?

Why we need more nationalisation- not less

Chris Dillow, over at Stumbling and Mumbling, writes:

At risk of sounding like an ultra-leftist, the problem with the part-nationalization of the banks is that it doesn’t go far enough. It doesn’t address the flaw in the system that got us into this mess. Darling says:
We want to return these banks to the private sector because I don’t think governments can run banks in the long-run.
But the lesson of the last few weeks is that the private sector cannot run banks either, at least when its ownership comprises dispersed shareholders none of whom exercise adequate control over chief executives.
And Darling is doing little to change this. Granted, he’s attaching some strings to his deal, such as ensuring the supply of mortgage and small business lending at 2007 levels - which is absurd given that demand won’t be at 2007 levels.
But these strings don’t change the basic structure of the control of banks. Darling is promising to run RBS “at arm’s length” - which just replaces one form of passive ownership with another.

Chris is right (although I do disagree with his later assertion that 'everyone knows that centrally planned economies are a stinkingly bad idea'). The government’s measures don’t go far enough. But at least the Rubicon has been crossed. Nationalisation is back on the political agenda after twenty-nine years and it’s our job to make sure it stays there.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Every cloud has a silver lining: Deutsche Bahn privatisation is cancelled

The website European Tribune reports:

On Thursday, the partial privatization scheme for Deutsche Bahn by the German government was postponed and, according to German commentators, it is unlikely ever to get back on track. The privatization scheme was disrupted by the worldwide financial crisis. Deutsche Welle reports 'The German Government Postpones Deutsche Bahn Share Listing'. The German government has announced that it will postpone an initial listing of shares in the national railway Deutsche Bahn "for at least several weeks," a source close to the matter said on Thursday...
Turbulence on equity markets caused by the international financial crisis prompted the delay of the sale of a 24.9 percent stake, in what is set to be the last major privatisation in Europe's biggest economy.

Handelsblatt, the German business daily says:

The fact is, the already botched, partial privatization of the Deutsche Bahn received on Thursday ... it's death blow. And that's a good thing.

It most certainly is. As one of the Euro Tribune commenters writes:
"In my (often expressed) view, the privatisation of the German Railways is the longest-running, most crackpot and most dangerous project of neoliberals in Germany".

It beggars belief that the German government was even planning to copy the disastrous British example and privatise its excellent state-owned railway.

On the privatisation front, there's more good news from Serbia, where the planned privatisation of JAT has also fallen through. The airline is to stay in in public ownership.

The tide is turning, dear reader. Twenty-nine years of neoliberal dogma is coming to an end. It's public ownership- and not privatisation- which represents the future.

The Sale of the Century

The Guardian reports:

The biggest ever sale of oil assets will take place today, when the Iraqi government puts 40bn barrels of recoverable reserves up for offer in London.
BP, Shell and ExxonMobil are all expected to attend a meeting at the Park Lane Hotel in Mayfair with the Iraqi oil minister, Hussein al-Shahristani.
Access is being given to eight fields, representing about 40% of the Middle Eastern nation's reserves, at a time when the country remains under occupation by US and British forces.
Two smaller agreements have already been signed with Shell and the China National Petroleum Corporation, but today's sale will ignite arguments over whether the overthrow of Saddam Hussein was a "war for oil" that is now to be consummated by western multinationals seizing control of strategic Iraqi reserves.
Al-Shahristani is expected to reveal some kind of "risk service agreements" that could run for up to 20 years, with formal offers to be submitted by next spring and agreements signed in the summer.
Gregg Muttitt, from the UK-based social and ecological justice group Platform, says he is alarmed that the government is pushing ahead with its plans without the support of many in Iraq.

Anyone out there still think that the invasion of Iraq was about 'liberating the Iraqi people', or countering the 'threat' posed by Saddam's (non-existent) WMD?

Like the earlier 'humanitarian intervention' against Federal Yugoslavia, it was a war for corporate profits- pure and simple.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

We're all nationalisers now (except Peter Hain)

According to the Sunday Telegraph, the government is preparing to take majority stakes in Britain's banks and put government appointees on the boards.
Well if I, or anyone else, had advocated such a measure earlier this year, we would have been denounced as a 'Stalinists' or 'hard-leftists'. Now we have the 'New Labour' government planning such measures- and the Conservative Party and Liberal Democrats supporting them. Funny old world, isn't it?

Meanwhile, former Cabinet Minister Peter Hain (above) is warning that the government must take "emergency steps" to prevent rail, water and power companies going bust in the global economic storm.

The Observer reports:
Hain, the former work and pensions secretary, urged the government to draw up reserve powers that could be used in the event of a major utility collapsing and taking vital services with it. His words follow jitters in the City about the damage a freeze in bank lending could do to some companies that have borrowed heavily to invest in infrastructure.

But while Hain wants a government bail-out of the companies concerned- he doesn't want public ownership.

He said it was 'moonshine' to think that the railways or private utilities could be re-nationalised but the government needed a contingency plan to re-capitalise critical services if necessary, just as it did last week by offering to buy shares in banks.

In other words, Peter Hain would like to see taxpayers money pumped into our railway and utility companies- without the taxpayer receving equity in those companies.

Billions of pounds of taxpayers money has already been handed over to Britain's railway companies since the disastrous privatisation of 1996. Hain seems to want even more taxpayer support. He claims that renationalisation is 'moonshine', but how come all the other countries in the EU- and indeed in the rest of the world- operate very well (and indeed much better than Britain) with publicly-owned railways?

Now that the Sunday Telegraph has informed us that nationalisation is no longer a 'dirty word' (not that it ever was in these parts), it's time to step up our efforts to get the railways and privately-owned utility companies renationalised. If the government can nationalise the banks, why on earth can't they bring back British Rail? Renationalisation is not 'moonshine', Mr Hain. It's plain common sense. And it's going to happen.

Peter Hitchens writes:
If we have all these billions available to nationalise the banks, could we just possibly also find a few bob to do the equally urgent and necessary job of renationalising the railways? The Tories could use the opportunity to admit that privatising BR was one of the most bottomlessly stupid things they ever did.

Hear, hear!

Friday, October 10, 2008

How to avoid a second Crimean War

This article of mine appears in The First Post.

In the Panorama Museum in Sevastopol last week I gazed at one of the world's most incredible paintings, The Defence of Sevastopol by Franz Roubaud. The 360-degree, 14 metres high, 2,000 square metre masterpiece, depicts in great detail one day's fighting during the siege of the city during the Crimean War.

That bloody conflict was brought about by Western attempts to push the Russian Fleet out of the Black Sea. Today, 154 years after the start of the first Crimean War, could history be about to repeat itself?

The prospect of a new conflict on this Black Sea peninsula seemed unreal on a beautiful late summer's afternoon. In Sevastopol's pretty seaside park, close by the port which is still home to Russia's Black Sea fleet, young and old appeared not to have a care in the world. Yet tensions in the region are rising.

When Khrushchev gave the Crimean peninsular to Ukraine in 1954 it was a pretty meaningless gesture given that Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union and under the Kremlin's control. But the majority of the two million people who live on the peninsula are ethnic Russians who were and remain loyal to Moscow, ­ unlike the majority of Ukrainians who were delighted to split from Russia in 1991 when the country became independent. I lose count of the number of Russian flags I saw flying in the streets of Sevastopol. By contrast, the yellow and blue national colours of Ukraine were nowhere to be seen.

Ukraine has been in political paralysis for the past month since the 'Our Ukraine' party of the country's pro-western president Viktor Yushchenko pulled out of the ruling coalition after the bloc led by Yushchenko's bitter rival, the photogenic prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, sided with the opposition pro-Moscow faction.
This week Yuschenko dissolved parliament and called a general election for December 7. The stakes for the future of the Crimea could not be higher.

What is fuelling anti-Ukrainian and pro-separatist sentiments is the determination of Yuschenko to forge ahead with his plans for Nato membership. "The Americans and their puppet Yushchenko want Ukraine in Nato and the Russian Fleet to be booted out of Sevastopol," student Misha Lebedev told me in a cafe off the city's main 'Lenina' street . "But here the people will never allow that. If Ukraine joins Nato then Crimea will leave Ukraine. It's as simple as that. We are Russians and we will never accept that Russia is our enemy."

From Kiev, Yushchenko plays the wounded victim. "I am convinced, deeply convinced that the democratic coalition was ruined by one thing alone - human ambition," he said, pointing the finger of blame at Yulia Tymoshenko as he announced what will be the country's third general election in three years. "The ambition of one person. Thirst for power, different values, personal interests taking precedence over national interests."

But nearly everyone I spoke to in Sevastopol was of the same mind: the West's desire to expand Nato to Russia's borders is seen as a blatant example of imperialist aggression ­ just as the British/French attack on Sevastopol was seen in 1854. "Nato is about encircling Russia. If they persist in this policy, there will be a war," warned pensioner Alexander Petrov. "The Russian fleet will never leave Sevastopol."

The best way to avoid a break-up of the Ukraine - and the very real prospect of war -would be for western hawks to accept that Ukraine, because of its internal divisions, will never be a suitable candidate for membership of Nato. But last month's hardline anti-Russian speech in Kiev by British Foreign Secretary David Miliband - in which he reiterated Nato's promise made in April this year that both Ukraine and Georgia would eventually join Nato - hardly augurs well.

On December 7 the dreams of the Nato expansionists may be dashed by the Ukrainian people themselves. Like the great pragmatist Yulia Tymoshenko, they may well decide that staying friends with Moscow is a more attractive alternative than a second Crimean War and vote accordingly.

A Times journalist's conflict of interest

I've always argued that journalists have a duty to reveal any financial interests they have in a topic they are writing about. Here's why.

PS I wonder if Richard Brooks' First Post exclusive will make it on The Times' Comment Central 'Best of the Web' feature? Somehow I don't think so, do you?

March in The City, Today at 4pm

For any London based readers: there is to be a march in the City of London, starting at Mansion House station from 4pm today (Friday 10th October), opposing bail-outs for the greedy bankers (who are still awarding themselves huge bonuses) and demanding that the government defend pay and jobs instead.

Try and make it if you can.(hat tip- Lenin's Tomb)

Wally of the Week: Alex Singleton

Well, Alex, you've not only blown away the competition for this week's award, you've also made yourself red-hot favourite to win this blog's much-coveted Wally of the Year Award too. Dear reader: take a look at this and ask yourself, has there ever been a more obnoxious- and wallyish- article ever published in a British mainstream newspaper?

Mr Singleton's website tells us that he apparently was President of something called 'The Globalisation Institute' which favours 'free market solutions' and advocates global water privatisation. It has a wikipedia entry, but it seems, no website. As Windsor Davis would say: 'Oh dear, how sad, never mind'.
Mr Singleton is now something called a 'leader writier' (I wonder what that is?) and he was also (surprise, surprise) a former 'Research Director' of the Adam Smith Institute. Yes, that's right, the 'free market' loons who lobbied (successfully) for railway privatisation and who now think that the problem is that the railways haven't been privatised enough!

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Victory for Serbia at the UN!

Three cheers to the following countries:

Algeria, Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bolivia, Botswana, Brazil, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Chile, China, Congo, Costa Rica, Cuba, Cyprus, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Egypt, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Fiji, Greece, Guatemala, Guinea, Guyana, Honduras, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran, Jamaica, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Lesotho, Liechtenstein, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mexico, Montenegro, Myanmar, Namibia, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Norway, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Philippines, Romania, Russian Federation, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, Solomon Islands, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Suriname, Swaziland, Syria, Timor-Leste, United Republic of Tanzania, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

All of them voted for the Serbian Resolution at the UN that the International Court of Justice rule on the [il]legality of unilateral secession of its southern Kosovo and Metohija province.

Against the Serbian initiative were, erm, six countries:
Albania, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau and United States of America.
(the 'international community' gets smaller by the day doesn't it?!)

The quote of the day in the General Assembly's debate came from Dumisani Kumalo, South Africa's Ambassador to the UN, who in response to the US Ambassador said:

"Perhaps 48 countries did recognize Kosovo independence, but it may be worth mentioning that the other 144 did not."

The most significant country of the list of countries supporting Serbia is Indonesia-the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country. The neocons and their liberal imperialist allies like to use their championing of Kosovan independence as a show that they’re not anti-Muslim. It’s great to see that Islamic countries aren’t falling for it.

And by the same measure, those Serbs who (mistakenly) think that Islam is their enemy(and not the neocons) should also look very carefully at the list of countries who supported them.

Too Much Success

This column of mine appeared in Friday's Morning Star.

Anyone else out there remember British Rail's Sealink ferries? They had one problem: they were far too popular and were far too successful. And for a state-owned company in an era of rampant neoliberalism that would never do.

Sir Peter Parker, former head of British Rail, used to complain that being in charge of the state-run railway during the Thatcher years, meant being on a hiding to nothing. If British Rail made a loss, it was called an inefficient nationalised company. If it was making a profit, then it was surely it was time for it to be flogged off.

I was reminded of Sir Peter’s observations while travelling on a cross-channel ferry over the summer. In the 1970s and 80s the most popular cross-channel ferry operator in Britain was Sealink, a subsidiary of British Rail. Being part of British Rail meant that ferry departure times could be co-ordinated with train arrival times- and ‘through tickets’ could be bought from any British station. The problem with Sealink, from the Thatcherite’s perspective, was that it was simply too successful. Sealink earned a profit before interest and tax of £12.8 million for the year ending 31st December 1983( the year prior to its privatisation) compared to £2.9 million for the preceding year. Its return on assets was almost 10% and on turnover 5%- both highly creditable figures. Ludicrously, given how well Sealink was doing, the government claimed that they were privatising Sealink in order for the company to “benefit from the stimulus of private sector status and access to private capital“.

For Sealink, the "stimulus of private sector status" proved to be none too stimulating. The company was bought by Sea Containers, a Bermuda based, American owned company- which was then subject to a hostile takeover by the rival Swedish-owned Stena Line- and the Sealink name passed out of existence.

The sell-off of Sealink, together with the privatisation of the profitable British Rail Hotels in 1982- and British Rail Engineering- all paved the way for the eventual selling-off of British Rail itself in 1996.

Yet you won’t hear supporters of that privatisation mention the fact that Britain's "efficient" privatised railway system receives over four times more in taxpayers‘ subsidy than the much-maligned British Rail did.

“Governments and civil servants can’t run businesses- that’s been proved a depressing times all over the world“ claims privatisation zealot Richard Branson in his new book “Business Stripped Bare”. I wonder if this is the same Richard Branson whose privately run (but of course, publicly subsidised),Virgin Trains are such a model of reliability and efficiency?

I am a fairly optimistic person by nature, but if you had told me earlier this year when I co-founded the Campaign for Public Ownership, that George Bush's neo-conservative administration in the U.S. would be following the CPO's pro-nationalisation agenda, I really wouldn't have believed it. As Simon English, writing in The Evening Standard puts it, "Large chunks of Wall Street, supposedly the home of capitalism, are now under government control".

Of course, the moves by Bush- and similar ones by the British government to nationalise Northern Rock are more about keeping afloat the banking system rather than a sudden conversion to the cause of public ownership, but they still provide us with a great opportunity to promote the case for further nationalisation. If the government can nationalise Northern Rock, why can’t they renationalise the railways- and our profiteering energy companies?

2008 is the year when public ownership returned to the agenda.

It’s our job to make sure it stays there.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

A Truly Wonderful Day!

"I never thought when I was a mere lad that I would live to see the Bennite vision of the nationalisation of the banks fulfilled, and with the full-throated support of the Tory party."
bemoans arch-Thatcherite Simon Heffer in today’s Daily Telegraph.

Well, ok- it's only part-nationalisation, but it is still wonderful news. I am a fairly optimistic person by nature, but if you had told me, when I co-founded the Campaign for Public Ownership earlier this year, that within a few months, the neoconservative administration in Washington would be embarking on the biggest nationalisation programme in America’s history- and that in Britain the 'New Labour' government would be part-nationalising Britain's eight biggest banks, I would have found it very hard to believe. But it’s happened.

2008 has been the year that the twenty-nine year nationalisation taboo has been well and truly broken. Now it‘s time for all of us who believe that extending public ownership should be a key element of economic policy, and not merely an ‘emergency measure’- to rescue failing enterprises- to make the case for the government to renationalise our rip-off utility companies, our airports, the railways and public transport. And of course to halt the creeping privatisation of the National Health Service.

The 1979 Thatcherite neo-liberal counter-revolution has run its course- destroyed by the very greed which it did so much to encourage. And in order for us to go forward again as an economy- and society- we need to turn the clock back to the collectivist days of 1945. Public Ownership is back on the political agenda, and Simon Heffer and his fellow Thatcherite ideologues are very unhappy little bunnies indeed, as their 'free market', greed-driven, turbo-capitalist world collapses before their very eyes.

It really is time to pop the champagne corks!