Friday, October 30, 2009

Oh Dear. How Sad. Never Mind. Tony Bliar's EU Presidency bid in tatters

The Daily Mail reports:
Tony Blair's audacious bid to become Europe's first president was in crisis last night.
As even Labour's socialist allies refused to back him, Gordon Brown clashed angrily with other EU leaders, telling them to 'get real' and support the Blair candidacy....
Leading German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung - a bellwether of opinion in Berlin - said Mr Blair's chances of becoming president were now 'approaching zero'.

More on this oh, so sad story at The First Post and The Guardian.

If you see someone jumping off a bridge today in London or Washington, it's highly likely to be a neocon.

UPDATE: Over at the Spectator blog, in response to this post by James Forsyth, commenter Paul Hughes writes:
I don't care if Satan gets the job. The man who allowed Brown to wreck the nation's finances, before ducking out in time to make his millions, is not going to have the opportunity to swan around in a job which he will mould so as to be able to outshine our next PM.

But Paul, Satan isn't going to get the job. The Europeans don't want him.

FURTHER UPDATE: The Mail on Sunday reports:

Tony Blair has been in talks with Tesco about helping them open supermarkets in the Middle East - allegedly in return for up to £1million.
It is believed the discussions between the former Prime Minister, now a peace envoy to the region, and the supermarket chain, whose slogan is 'Every little helps', ended after the two sides failed to agree terms.
The disclosure could further damage Mr Blair's hopes of becoming the first President of Europe, as critics will seize on it as evidence that he is as interested in making money as he is in reviving his career as a statesman.
According to one source, Mr Blair's proposed role for Tesco would simply have been to act as a figurehead for their drive to break into the Middle East market.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Larry David urinates on Jesus

In my First Post piece yesterday on gratuitously offensive journalism I wrote:
Journalism is following the path of British comedy where being shocking is deemed more important than making people laugh.

It seems the same thing is happening in US comedy.

The First Post carries the story of the outrage among Christian groups that so-called 'comedian' Larry David (above) has caused by urinating on a painting of Jesus Christ in his comedy show.

Deal Hudson, author and publisher of is quoted saying. "Why is it that people are allowed to publicly show that level of disrespect for Christian symbols?" he asked. "If the same thing was done to a symbol of any other religions - Jewish or Muslim - there'd be a huge outcry. It's simply not a level playing field."

What new depths will tv 'comedy' in Britain and America plunge to next?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Media monkey business in search for readers

This article of mine, on why British journalism has become truly shocking, appears in the First Post.

What was your reaction on reading AA Gill's Sunday Times column in which he boasted about killing a baboon because he wanted to find out "what does it really feel like to shoot someone, or someone's close relative"?

The hope that a 'close relative' of the dead baboon would one day kill AA Gill?

That was mine too.

Baboons are, as Guy Norton, a wildlife expert, told the Guardian, "sentient and feeling animals who display similar characteristics to humans with strong parental bonds and sociable group behaviour". Yet here's a Sunday Times columnist boasting about how he shot one.

Gill's obnoxious piece is only the latest in a run of articles in Britain's newspapers whose sole aim seems to be to shock as many readers as possible.

Earlier this month, Jan Moir's Daily Mail article on the death of pop star Stephen Gately, in which she seemed to imply that his sudden death from a heart attack was caused by his homosexuality, led to a record number of calls to the Press Complaints Commission.

While in yesterday's Guardian, Tanya Gold dances on the grave of another recently deceased pop star, Michael Jackson, claiming he was only a "good" dancer, whose "greatest passion" was not music, or dancing, but "to sleep with children".
Gold's "greatest passion" appears to be attacking much-loved figures who are conveniently dead. In September, on the flimsiest of evidence, she tried to portray the late Queen Mother as a "cruel" Nazi-sympathising racist snob. (She's also attacked the Pope in a recent article - no doubt Mahatma Gandhi is next in the line of fire).

Why are we getting more and more of these deliberately offensive columns?

The answer is that the newspaper industry is in dire straits and in order to boost falling sales and get clicks on their websites editors are running articles that would have been spiked five or 10 years ago.

As a commenter to the Guardian website wrote in relation to Gold's Michael Jackson article: "Columnists and editors use one standard: the column is good if it generates comments, responses and controversy. This is deemed to be the only benchmark that matters."

Of course, newspapers have always chased readers. But today, with the very future of print journalism under threat, there is an increased urgency to grab readers' attention. And that means out with mature, reflective and nuanced articles which deal with important issues, and in with gratuitously offensive columns which set out to raise readers' blood pressure. The number of complaints or hostile comments a piece generates doesn't matter - the main thing is that the article, and the newspaper in question, receives the maximum publicity.

Journalism is following the path of British comedy where being shocking is deemed more important than making people laugh. Think of Jimmy Carr's latest crack on amputee soldiers, the obscenities of Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand on Radio Two and the episode of the IT Crowd which featured cannibalism.

So far we haven't had a journalist write of his/her experiences of eating human flesh. Or a columnist talking about his/her necrophilia or passion for sexual intercourse with animals.

But the way things are going, it won't be too long

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Wally of the Week: A.A. Gill

Or rather Sicko of the Week.

The Guardian reports:

Animal welfare groups voiced outrage today after the restaurant critic AA Gill said he shot a baboon on safari "to get a sense of what it might be like to kill someone".

"I know perfectly well there is absolutely no excuse for this," he wrote. "There is no mitigation. Baboon isn't good to eat, unless you're a leopard. The feeble argument of culling and control is much the same as for foxes: a veil for naughty fun. I wanted to get a sense of what it might be like to kill someone, a stranger. You see it in all those films: guns and bodies, barely a close-up of reflection or doubt. What does it really feel like to shoot someone, or someone's close relative?"

I wonder if Gill is any relation to the equally depraved Teressa Groenwald-Hagerman?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Extremists in our midst

It seems the British authorities are building up lists of 'domestic extremists'.

I wonder if our old friends the neocons will be on the database and monitored by the authorities. And if not, why not?

For surely you can't get much more 'extreme' than propagandising for and urging illegal military attacks on sovereign states?

1m people in Iraq have died due to the neocons' extremism. (Mehdi Hasan has more on the latest victims of that 'war of choice').

How many have died due to the 'extremism' of environmental groups like Plane Stupid- who were are told will be monitored?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Vote for George Galloway!

It's time for the Spectator Parliamentarian of the Year awards.

I've voted for George Galloway. These are the reasons I gave in my nomination:

It has to be George Galloway. He's one of the few MPs not tied to the neocon/neoliberal junta that has dominated British politics for so long and which has embroiled us in a series of catastrophic and very costly wars. He has been proved right on Yugoslavia, Iraq and Afghanistan. The neocons, who even after Iraq, have such a powerful media presence, hate Galloway, which is a sign he is on the right track.
He has been attacked, smeared and demonised, but he hasn't let that stop him from speaking his mind.
The positions Galloway has taken- whether it be his opposition to the neocon war agenda, or his support for railway renationalisation, are shared by the majority of the British people. His views are mainstream, it's only the neocon/neoliberal elite who try to portray him as an 'extremist'.
On top of all of that, he is easily the best, and most inspiring, public speaker of his generation.

The Spectator has described me as ‘plucky’ for nominating Galloway and says that so far I’m a ’fairly solitary voice’ in voting for him. The ’fairly’ is positive- it means that George has got at least one other vote. Let's try and get him a few more.

Serb readers should remember that Galloway was not only one of the few MPs to oppose the criminal bombardment of Yugoslavia in 1999, but he’s also taken a very strong line on Kosovo.

The neocons would hate it if Galloway won the award. So let's try and make it happen.
Here is the link to the vote. But don't delay- voting closes on Monday 26th October.

Vote Galloway: the man the neocon warmongers love to hate.

Above you can watch George in action- giving neocon David Frum- the man who coined the notorious phrase 'Axis of Evil', a real roasting on Newsnight. Notice how Frum's first tactic is to try and smear Galloway, talking sarcastically about his 'integrity'. And note how George responds.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Bring back the guillotine for Goldman Sachs and co!

Sasha Cockburn makes the case in today‘s First Post:

Here in America, the corporate class is now entirely out of control, lawless and beyond the sanction of prosecutor, juror or ballot box. If corporate lawbreakers felt that somewhere along the line the retribution of the guillotine might await them, it would concentrate their minds marvellously, and cow them into lawfulness.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Britain a democracy? You're having a laugh

This article of mine appears in the Morning Star.

For all the parties' talk of 'choice', there seems to be precious little of it about when it comes to selling off our public assets.

Do you remember the days when political commentators in Britain used to sneer that US "democracy" merely meant the choice between two identical pro-big business parties?

That was when there were genuine differences between Labour, Conservatives and the Liberals on a variety of key issues. But those days are long gone.

The reality is that the Britain of 2009 is to all intents and purposes a one-party state.

Labour, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems are merely wings of the "Capital party" - the same Capital party which has governed Britain since 1979.

In 1997 capital decided it needed to change the faces at the top of the ruling junta as they'd got a bit stale, so we got "new" Labour and grinning Tony instead of the old Tories and the grey-haired John Major.

Now capital has decided that in order to keep up the charade that we live in a democracy it's time for another cosmetic regime change and so the "new" Tories, with Dave "Tony Blair mark II" Cameron, will be wheeled back in. Change we can believe in. Not.

Anyone who doubts the thesis should consider the recent pronouncements our three main parties have been making about privatisation.

Two weeks ago Prime Minister Gordon Brown - the man who wants you to think he's a social democrat - announced a fire sale of publicly owned assets including the Tote, the Dartford Crossing, the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, the student loan book and the Royal Mint.

The Tory reaction was not to criticise Brown over the principle of selling off state assets but to claim that the measures would "do little to solve the problems" of alleged government overspending.

"Given the state the country is in, it is probably necessary but it is no substitute for a long-term plan to get the country to live within its means," a party spokesman said.

The Tories then announced further privatisation of their own, with uber neocon shadow defence secretary Liam Fox telling the BBC's Andrew Marr at the weekend that the Met Office - in public ownership since its establishment in 1854 - may be flogged off too.

And we know that serial privatiser Ken Clarke is simply itching to privatise the Post Office if his party gets into power.

The Lib Dems, like the Tories, have no problem with Brown's fire sale in principle. Their quibble is with the timing.

"Given the state of the public finances, asset sales, at least in principle, make sense," said deputy leader Vince Cable. "However as we saw with the sale of the defence technology company QinetiQ, this government does not have a good track record in getting the taxpayer a good price from asset sales."

If the Lib Dems do have a share of power after the next election, then even our motorways and major trunk roads may be owned by the private sector, judging by the enthusiastic reaction Cable gave to a recent plan by investment bankers NM Rothschild calling for the government to sell off roads overseen by the Highways Agency.

The Financial Times quoted Cable as saying of the Rothschild plan: "This is an attractive, positive idea which could release considerable resources to the public finances and may have real environmental merits.
"The scale of it is vast - it makes rail privatisation look like small beer."

Let's recap. If Labour wins the next general election we'll get more privatisation, if the Conservatives win we'll get more privatisation and if the Lib Dems win - or hold a share of power - we'll get more privatisation.

All this when opinion polls show that it's public ownership and not privatisation that the public wants. Britain a democracy? You're having a laugh.

The sight of our three main parties trying to outdo each other on what public assets they'd flog off shows us quite clearly where the real power lies.
Capital won't be satisfied until every asset currently in public ownership is in private hands.

Privatisation may be terrible news for consumers, employees and for the taxpayer, who is nearly always short-changed. But for investment banks like Goldman Sachs and NM Rothschild - described by the Financial Times as the "architect of several privatisations" - it's a big money-spinner. And of course the companies and financial institutions which buy the sold-off state assets, often at knock-down prices, make a killing too.

And then there are the ministers who sell off public assets and then pop up on the boards of privatised companies shortly afterwards.

The question is what can we, the people, do about it?

The realisation that Britain is a one-party state where capital calls the shots may be demoralising at first, but the positive thing is that it can help to frame our response.

We need to focus on direct action outside Parliament and campaign on a local and national level.

Hungary shows us the way.

In the southern city of Pecs, rising anger from local people over rocketing water bills led the town's mayor to send security guards to the city's waterworks in the middle of the night to reclaim it from the French multinational privateer Suez Environment.

The company's spokesman has complained and has threatened legal action, but it won't get much sympathy from local residents, 94 per cent of whom support the mayor's stance.

The mayor of Pecs acted because the local people had had enough. It's time we followed their example.

Don't get angry, get even, the old adage goes.
But if we really are going to get even with the privateers and stop privatisation once and for all we need to get angrier.

Why should we put up with the highest train fares in Europe and being forced to stand in toilets when we have paid thousands of pounds for our season ticket?
Why should we accept having to pay rip-off bills for our water in a country famous for its wet weather?

We wouldn't sit back calmly and allow a burglar to enter our house and take away our furniture and television, so why should we let corporate thieves get their greedy hands on our public assets?

Working together to fight privatisation is essential. The battle our postal workers are fighting to save the 350-year-old Royal Mail as a public service is one which should involve all of us. The RMT's fight for a publicly owned railway is our fight too.
Never forget that we are the many. The pro-privatisation spivs are the few.

Important battles lie ahead in the next few months. It's high time we made our numbers felt.

Neil Clark is co-founder of the Campaign for Public Ownership.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Oh Dear. How Sad. Never Mind: 'NATO a corpse'.

Starting a new occasional series, featuring news items which are portrayed as being ‘bad’ news, but are in fact are quite wonderful.

NATO should have been put to sleep when the Warsaw Pact dissolved- if not earlier.
But it seems that the military alliance which illegally attacked Yugoslavia in 1999, and which the neocons want to transform into an organisation which operates worldwide to topple governments who don’t open their economies fully to western capital- is dying a natural death anyway.

Oh Dear. How Sad. Never Mind.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

We are Four!

This blog celebrated its 4th birthday last week. A very warm thank you to all its readers, and in particular those who post comments on a regular basis.
In the past four years, there have been a total of 1,556 posts, starting with this one, 'Reformers and Hardliners', on 12th October 2005. I hope you've enjoyed at least some of them!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Goulash and Solidarity: As Happy as a Squirrel up a tree

This article by my wife Zsuzsanna Clark, on her positive experiences of growing up under communism, (a digest of her forthcoming book ‘Goulash and Solidarity’), appears in today's Mail on Sunday.

Above, some memories of growing up in the Hungarian People’s Republic, put to that wonderfully poignant song Iskolatáska by Demjen Ferenc.(video by 'Agness 401')

Zsuzsanna Clark

Next month Europe will mark the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Zsuzsanna Clark was born and raised in Hungary but after meeting her British husband, she moved to the UK in 1999. Here she explains why, contrary to Western beliefs, there were many benefits to life behind the Iron Curtain.......

When people ask me what it was like growing up behind the Iron Curtain in Hungary in the Seventies and Eighties, most expect to hear tales of secret police, bread queues and other nasty manifestations of life in a one-party state.

They are invariably disappointed when I explain that the reality was quite different, and communist Hungary, far from being hell on earth, was in fact, rather a fun place to live.

The communists provided everyone with guaranteed employment, good education and free healthcare. Violent crime was virtually non-existent.

But perhaps the best thing of all was the overriding sense of camaraderie, a spirit lacking in my adopted Britain and, indeed, whenever I go back to Hungary today. People trusted one another, and what we had we shared.

I was born into a working-class family in Esztergom, a town in the north of Hungary, in 1968. My mother, Julianna, came from the east of the country, the poorest part. Born in 1939, she had a harsh childhood.

She left school aged 11 and went straight to work in the fields. She remembers having to get up at 4am to walk five miles to buy a loaf of bread. As a child, she was so hungry she often waited next to the hen for it to lay an egg. She would then crack it open and swallow the yolk and the white raw.

It was discontent with these conditions of the early years of communism that led to the Hungarian uprising in 1956.

The shock waves brought home to the communist leadership that they could consolidate their position only by making our lives more tolerable. Stalinism was out and 'goulash communism' - a unique brand of liberal communism - was in.

Janos Kadar, the country's new leader, transformed Hungary into the 'happiest barracks' in Eastern Europe. We probably had more freedoms than in any other communist country.

One of the best things was the way leisure and holiday opportunities were opened up to all. Before the Second World War, holidays were reserved for the upper and middle classes. In the immediate post-war years too, most Hungarians were working so hard rebuilding the country that holidays were out of the question.

In the Sixties though, as in many other aspects of life, things changed for the better. By the end of the decade, almost everyone could afford to go away, thanks to the network of subsidised trade-union, company and co-operative holiday centres.

My parents worked in Dorog, a nearby town, for Hungaroton, a state-owned record company, so we stayed at the factory's holiday camp at Lake Balaton, 'The Hungarian Sea'.

The camp was similar to the sort of holiday camps in vogue in Britain at the same time, the only difference being that guests had to make their own entertainment in the evenings - there were no Butlins-style Redcoats.

Some of my earliest memories of living at home are of the animals my parents kept on their smallholding. Rearing animals was something most people did, as well as growing vegetables. Outside Budapest and the big towns, we were a nation of Tom and Barbara Goods.

My parents had about 50 chickens, pigs, rabbits, ducks, pigeons and geese. We kept the animals not just to feed our family but also to sell meat to our friends. We used the goose feathers to make pillows and duvets.

The government understood the value of education and culture. Before the advent of communism, opportunities for the children of the peasantry and urban working class, such as me, to rise up the educational ladder were limited. All that changed after the war.

The school system in Hungary was similar to that which existed in Britain at the time. Secondary education was divided into grammar schools, specialised secondary schools, and vocational schools. The main differences were that we stayed in our elementary school until the age of 14, not 11.

There were also evening schools, for children and adults. My parents, who had both left school young, took classes in mathematics, history and Hungarian literature and grammar.

I loved my schooldays, and in particular my membership of the Pioneers - a movement common to all communist countries.

Many in the West believed it was a crude attempt to indoctrinate the young with communist ideology, but being a Pioneer taught us valuable life skills such as building friendships and the importance of working for the benefit of the community. 'Together for each other' was our slogan, and that was how we were encouraged to think.

As a Pioneer, if you performed well in your studies, communal work and school competitions, you were rewarded with a trip to a summer camp. I went every year because I took part in almost all the school activities: competitions, gymnastics, athletics, choir, shooting, literature and library work.

On our last night at Pioneer camp we sang songs around the bonfire, such as the Pioneer anthem: 'Mint a mokus fenn a fan, az uttoro oly vidam' ('We are as happy as a squirrel on a tree'), and other traditional songs. Our feelings were always mixed: sad at the prospect of leaving, but happy at the thought of seeing our families again.

Today, even those who do not consider themselves communists look back at their days in the Pioneers with great affection.

Hungarian schools did not follow the so-called 'progressive' ideas on education prevalent in the West at the time. Academic standards were extremely high and discipline was strict. My favourite teacher taught us that without mastery of Hungarian grammar we would lack confidence to articulate our thoughts and feelings. We could make only one mistake if we wanted to attain the highest grade.

Unlike Britain, there were 'viva voce' exams in Hungary in every subject. In literature, for example, set texts had to be memorised and recited and then the student would have to answer questions put to them orally by the teacher. Whenever we had a national celebration, I was among those asked to recite a poem or verse in front of the whole school.

Culture was regarded as extremely important by the government. The communists did not want to restrict the finer things of life to the upper and middle classes - the very best of music, literature and dance were for all to enjoy.

This meant lavish subsidies were given to institutions including orchestras, opera houses, theatres and cinemas. Ticket prices were subsidised by the State, making visits to the opera and theatre affordable.

'Cultural houses' were opened in every town and village, so provincial, working-class people such as my parents could have easy access to the performing arts, and to the best performers.

Programming on Hungarian television reflected the regime's priority to bring culture to the masses, with no dumbing down.

When I was a teenager, Saturday night primetime viewing typically meant a Jules Verne adventure, a poetry recital, a variety show, a live theatre performance, or an easy Bud Spencer film.

Much of Hungarian television was home-produced, but quality programmes were imported, not just from other Eastern Bloc countries but from the West, too.
Hungarians in the early Seventies followed the trials and tribulations of Soames Forsyte in The Forsyte Saga just as avidly as British viewers had done a few years earlier. The Onedin Line was another popular BBC series I enjoyed watching, along with David Attenborough documentaries.

However, the government was alive to the danger of us turning into a nation of four-eyed couch potatoes. Every Monday was 'family night', when State television was taken off the air to encourage families to do other things together. Others called it 'family planning night', and I am sure the figures showing the proportion of children conceived on Monday nights under communism would make interesting reading.

Although we lived well under 'goulash communism' and there was always enough food for us to eat, we were not bombarded with advertising for products we didn't need.
Throughout my youth, I wore hand-me-down clothes, as most young people did. My school bag was from the factory where my parents worked. What a difference to today's Hungary, where children are bullied, as they are in Britain, for wearing the
'wrong' brand of trainers.

Like most people in the communist era, my father was not money-obsessed.
As a mechanic he made a point of charging people fairly. He once saw a broken-down car with an open bonnet - a sight that always lifted his heart. It belonged to a West German tourist. My father fixed the car but refused payment - even a bottle of beer. For him it was unnatural that anyone would think of accepting money for helping someone in distress.

When communism in Hungary ended in 1989, I was not only surprised, but saddened, as were many others. Yes, there were people marching against the government, but the majority of ordinary people - me and my family included - did not take part in the protests.

Our voice - the voice of those whose lives were improved by communism - is seldom heard when it comes to discussions of what life was like behind the Iron Curtain.
Instead, the accounts we hear in the West are nearly always from the perspectives of wealthy emigrés or anti-communist dissidents with an axe to grind.

Communism in Hungary had its downside. While trips to other socialist countries were unrestricted, travel to the West was problematic and allowed only every second year.
There were petty restrictions and needless layers of bureaucracy and freedom to criticise the government was limited. Yet despite this, I believe that, taken as a whole, the positives outweighed the negatives.

Twenty years on, most of these positive achievements have been destroyed.

People no longer have job security. Poverty and crime is on the increase. Working-class people can no longer afford to go to the opera or theatre. As in Britain, TV has dumbed down to a worrying degree - ironically, we never had Big Brother under communism, but we have it today.

Most sadly of all, the spirit of camaraderie that we once enjoyed has all but disappeared.

In the past two decades we may have gained shopping malls, multi-party ' democracy', mobile phones and the internet.

But we have lost a whole lot more.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Hungary and the Great Myth of 1989

This article of mine appears in the First Post.

Twenty years ago this month, the downtrodden people of eastern Europe took to the streets and rose up against their communist oppressors. The corrupt tyrannical regimes, universally despised, were swept away by this unstoppable surge of 'people power'. Free elections were then held and everyone lived happily ever after.

So goes the standard Western version of the historic events of October and November 1989, brought to you faithfully by CNN and Fox News.

There's just one thing wrong with the narrative: it's a myth.

It wasn't the strength of public opposition that ended communist rule over eastern Europe - but the actions of leading communists themselves. And the country which played the pivotal role in the dramatic events of 1989 was Hungary.

It was Hungary's communist government which in early January 1989 permitted the establishment of non-communist parties and allowed freedom of assembly and association. It was Hungary's government which made the fateful decision to open to East Germans the country's border with Austria, triggering the exodus of thousands of East German holidaymakers to the West. ("It was quite obvious to me that this would be the first step in a landslide-like series of events," Hungarian Foreign Minister Gyula Horn said later).

Even before the demonstrations of the autumn, the Hungarian government had already negotiated with anti-communist groups over the country's transition to a non-communist system.

From 1956-88, Hungary had been led by a committed communist, Janos Kadar, 'The Good Comrade' of Roger Gough's 2006 biography. Kadar had warned that "those who joined us (the communist party) for selfish, personal reasons for a career or other motives will be asked to leave". But by the 1980s, the upper echelons of Hungary's ruling communist party was full of people who had little - if any- ideological commitment to the ideals of Marx and Lenin.

These self-styled 'reformers' ousted Kadar in May 1988, and after Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev told the UN Assembly in December that year that Soviet troops would withdraw from eastern Europe, the final decisive moves to destroy communism could be made.

In an interview with the BBC earlier this year, Imre Pozsgay, Hungary's Minister of State in 1989, admitted that he had been working from within the government in order to bring the system down. "I came to the conclusion that I could do more for my country from the inside, in a position of power than as a marginalised opposition figure."

The great irony is that in Hungary in the late 1980s, there was more support for communism among ordinary people than there was among the ruling communist elite.

Because the accounts we read in the West are nearly always from the hostile perspective of upper or middle-class émigrés or dissidents, the achievements of communism in eastern Europe have tended to be ignored.

For all its faults, communism provided job security, generous welfare provisions (Hungary's system of maternity leave, which provided working mothers with three years' paid leave of absence for each of her children was described as "unique even by international standards"), and good standards of education and health care. It also engendered a spirit of camaraderie that more individualistic, capitalist societies often lack.

Even those who did take to the streets in eastern Europe in 1989 to protest against their governments were not calling for the introduction of free-market capitalism - but for a less authoritarian form of socialism. "Back then we still did believe it would be possible to create another type of socialism. There were many things that disturbed us and made us angry, but nevertheless we had a good life in many ways," Andreas Blazejewski, a street protestor in East Germany said in the BBC documentary The Lost World of Communism.

Of course, the people of eastern Europe didn't get what they wanted: the positive aspects of life under communism were lost along with the negative. As their economies were "reformed" millions lost their jobs and, for many, living standards plummeted.

But for the Hungarian 'insiders' who played such a key role in destroying communism, it was a different story:

• Miklos Nemeth, Hungary's last communist Prime Minister, was appointed Vice-President of the London-based European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

• Gyula Horn, Hungary's Foreign Minister in 1989, was lauded by the West as he put his country on the path to Nato and EU membership when elected Prime Minister in 1994

• Peter Medgyessy, deputy prime minister in charge of economic affairs, became chairman and chief executive officer of Magyar Paribas Bank (a part of the French banking group) before he, too, returned as Hungarian Prime Minister, in 2002.

• Laszlo Kovacs, an important figure at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from 1986, became the Foreign Minister who negotiated Hungary's entry into Nato in the 1990s and is now a superannuated EU Commissioner in Brussels.

The 'reformers' claimed to be acting in the best interests of Hungary. The system had to change they said - the economy was stagnating and there had to be major 'restructuring'.

It all sounds very reasonable, but when you look at the lucrative careers Hungary's faux-communist elite pursued after 1989, it's hard not to be cynical about their motivation.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Hungary: Privatisation on parole

This article of mine appears in the New Statesman.

Twenty years ago, Hungary's decision to open its border with Austria triggered the dramatic events that led to the fall of communism in eastern Europe. But today the country is fighting the neoliberal economic model imposed after 1989.

In Pécs, a historic city in the south, the local authority has reacted to public anger over soaring water bills by sending security guards to seize the local waterworks from the French company Suez Environment and to prevent its management from entering the building.

A 48.05 per cent stake in the city's water company was sold to the French multinational, which supplies water to 76 million people worldwide, in 1995. The company also receives an annual "management fee" of 120 million forint (£419,000).
The mayor of Pécs, Zsolt Páva, has accused Suez of profiteering and a lack of transparency, and the town cancelled the contract with effect from the end of September. Suez is countering with legal proceedings. "If 20 commandos arrive at 3am and occupy somewhere, that is not a European solution, and is undoubtedly illegal," a company manager said.

But Suez, whose turnover last year was €12.4bn (£11.5bn), should not expect much sympathy from local people, struggling to make ends meet in an economy where real wages are forecast to fall by up to 3.5 per cent this year. In a poll, 94 per cent said they supported the local authority.

It's not the first time the French company's record has been challenged. The pressure group Food and Water Watch charges Suez with a "range of abusive practices that place profit before the human right to water", including refusing to extend services to poorer areas, cutting off water if people are unable to pay, and "raising rates to unaffordable levels".

Opposition to privatisation is high, so, with a spring election looming, even neoliberal politicians are having to change their tune: in June, Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai said he would prevent privatisation of the water supply.

Multinationals may not like it, but 20 years on from capital's conquest of eastern Europe, public ownership, not privatisation, is the vote-winner.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Vaclav Klaus: The man who won't budge on the EU Treaty

Here's my First Post piece on the man of the moment- Europe's 'Mr Awkward', Vaclav Klaus.

Given up trying to think of a genuinely principled politician in Europe who is beholden to no-one? Well, there is one, and he resides in a ninth century castle in Prague.

Czech President Vaclav Klaus is coming under enormous pressure from Brussels and other European capitals to sign the EU's Lisbon Treaty. The treaty needs to be ratified by all 27 EU member states to come into effect and after the Yes vote in Ireland earlier this month and the assent of Poland last week, only the Czech Republic's formal consent stands in the way.

Klaus is refusing to sign the treaty as it currently stands because he is concerned that its clauses would enable the families of Germans expelled from Czech territories after World War Two to make legal claims for the return of confiscated property.

His delay has infuriated Brussels and led to warnings that the Czech Republic may be denied EU privileges. "It is in the interests of nobody, least of all the interests of the Czech Republic, to delay matters further," says EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso. "If there is no Lisbon treaty, there is no guarantee for the Czech Republic to have a commissioner."

But if Klaus's track record is anything to go by, we shouldn't bet on him caving in to such threats. The hallmark of his career to date has been a stubborn contrariness.

A committed Eurosceptic, he has slammed the EU's lack of democracy, claiming that "one single option is being promoted and those who dare think about a different option are labelled enemies of European integration".

Unlike other post-communist leaders in Central and Eastern Europe who have followed a staunchly pro-US foreign policy line, Klaus opposed the US-led bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999, criticised the Iraq war, and has taken a more pro-Russian stance, siding with Moscow during its war with Georgia in 2008.

A fearless iconoclast, he has labelled his predecessor as president, the West's favourite Czech politician, the playwright and anti-communist dissident Vaclav Havel, as "the most elitist person I have ever seen in my life".

He has also been a strong and vocal critic of the idea of man-made global warming - claiming that "communism has been replaced by the threat of ambitious environmentalism".

Opponents describe Klaus as a narcissist who loves being the centre of attention. They also call him a hypocrite: the man who said that Europe should be based on a "genuine moral conduct of life" has been exposed as a serial adulterer who has had not one but three affairs with airline stewardesses.

But whatever we think of his private life, or the policy stances he has taken, one thing is undeniable: throughout his career, Klaus has marched to only one tune - his own.

According to some reports, German and French diplomats have been in talks with their Czech counterparts to explore two ways of circumventing Klaus's opposition to the Lisbon treaty. One would be to impeach Klaus, the other to take away his right of veto. The Sunday Times quoted a German diplomat as saying that Klaus will "need to face the consequences" for his obstructionism.

But such moves - and such provocative statements - are only likely to add to his domestic popularity and strengthen his case against the EU and its supporters.

Klaus still has a further four years of his term as president remaining and the fact is that if he continues to hold his ground, it's the Brussels bigwigs who will be forced to make the concessions.

If not, then the Lisbon treaty will fail, and the future of the European project will be put in jeopardy. The stakes could not be higher.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Sir Winston Churchill: More left-wing than New Labour

When Tony Benn recently declared Sir Winston Churchill to be ‘well to the left of New Labour’, he was rounded on by the media Benn-bashers.
But once again, it's Tony who's right and not his detractors.

Yesterday a Labour government- yes a Labour government, announced its plan to privatise the Tote. The Tote, which had been set up in 1928 as a publicly-owned body by none other than Winston Churchill.

Labour want to sell a publicly owned asset that was set up by Winston Churchill and the Tories and which even survived the pro-privatisation Thatcher and Major Conservative adminstrations.

It beggars belief how anyone who considers themselves on the left, or on the 'progressive' side in British politics could even consider voting for today's Labour Party. The fact is, if Sir Winston Churchill returned to life today, he would find that his views on public ownership of the Tote would put him to the left of all our three major parties.
Doesn't that tell you something about the desperate state of British democracy?

Below is my 2006 Guardian article on Winston Churchill's 'Nanny Goat', and why selling it would be such a terrible idea.

Considering his other political achievements, it is understandable that setting up the Tote - or Horserace Totalisator Board - in 1928, only features as a minor footnote in the extraordinary career of Winston Churchill. But for lovers of racing, the impact of Churchill's creation has been immense.

For 78 years, the "nanny goat" has enjoyed a monopoly of horse-race pool betting in exchange for a guarantee that its profits are ploughed back into the sport. The arrangement has helped make British racing what it is today - a compelling, richly varied pageant which enhances the lives of millions of people.

But now racing's beneficial relationship with the Tote is under threat. The government is hellbent on privatising Churchill's creation in a move which has caused consternation throughout the racing world. Despite the opposition of the late Robin Cook, one of the few politicians in Westminster to understand horseracing and the role the Tote plays within it, in 1999 the government announced a "review" of the options for the future of the Tote. The outcome was a 2001 manifesto commitment (repeated in 2005) to sell the Tote to a Racing Trust "to allow it to compete commercially" - a favourite catchphrase of the pro-privatisation lobby which we have heard ad nauseam in relation to the planned sell-off of the Royal Mail.

To placate critics of privatisation, the government made it clear that they would not countenance a sale to another big bookmaker. But when racing, in the shape of a consortium of Arena Leisure, the Racecourse Holdings Trust and an owners group did come up with a bid, they were told that their offer was far less than the official £400m-plus valuation and that a sale at a "knockdown price" of £310m would contravene EU state aid rules.

The government has subsequently backtracked on its commitment to keep the Tote in racing, saying recently that its aim in the sale is "to achieve value for money for the taxpayer, while recognising the racing sector's legitimate interest in the Tote by ensuring that racing benefits from the sale". In reality, racing will benefit very little, regardless of what cosmetic measures the government put in place when the sell-off goes through. The Tote made a £10.7m contribution to racing last year, and the absence of shareholders means that the Tote's post-tax profits (which last year were £6.5m) remain in the sport as well. Contrast this with Ladbrokes, Britain's largest retail bookmaker, whose profits from racing have, until recently, helped its parent company Hilton embark on an ambitious programme of hotel acquisitions.

None of the arguments regularly put forward by supporters of privatisation apply. A Tote sell-off to one of its rivals will not increase competition - it will do exactly the opposite, leaving millions of punters with much less choice than before. The Tote is no inefficient loss-making enterprise, on the contrary it is inherently profitable and, in its 78 years of existence, it has never taken a penny from the government in subsidy.

Why then, when virtually everyone in racing was happy with the status quo has the government been so determined to privatise? The boosting of Treasury coffers to the tune of £400m is of course a factor, but the real reason for the sell-off is, I believe, ideological.

The privatisation of the Tote demonstrates just how wedded to neoliberal dogma New Labour is. When a Labour government tries to sell off an institution that was set up by the Tory government of Stanley Baldwin - and which escaped even the attentions of the serial privatising Margaret Thatcher - you realise how far down the road to market fundamentalism we have travelled.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Gordon Brown: Fire-sale starter

video: Prodigy Channel.

In Britain in our wonderful democracy, we have three main parties, all with different names, but all the support the same pro-capital, pro-privatisation, pro-cuts agenda.
Today Labour will announce a fire-sale of state assets- the biggest privatisation programme since the early 1980s. And what do the opposition parties say?:

Vince Cable, the Lib Dem Treasury spokesman, cautiously welcomed the move to sell off assets.....
Last night the Tories said the move was "probably necessary" given the state of the finances. A spokesman said: "Given the state the country is in it is probably necessary....

Does anyone still doubt the view that we live, to what all extents and purposes is a one-party state?

(More on the fire-sale over at the CPO)

UPDATE: The Daily Mail reports:

The pound fell to its lowest level in six months last night on news of Gordon Brown's £16billion asset sale to ease the growing national debt.
Sterling plunged after the Prime Minister announced the plan to sell central and local government assets over the next two years.

Nice one, Gordon. You're such a financial genius.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Whatever happened to Hungarian football?

video: BuffONgigi.

So the long wait continues. Last night's 3-0 defeat in Portugal means that once again Hungary have missed out on playing in the finals of a major football tournament. It's now 23 years since Hungary competed in the finals of a World Cup or European Championships. And all this from a country that used to be one of the greatest footballing nations in the world. What's gone wrong?

Below you can read my Observer piece from 2003 enitled 'Do you remember when Hungary ruled the world?'- looking back on the golden age of Hungarian football and attempting to find the reasons for the sad decline. And above you can watch 'The Magnificent Magyars' (Ferenc Puskas and co) in their heyday-beating England 6-3 at Wembley in 1953. All football romantics must hope that Hungary will once again be a force in world football. But at least there's one piece of good news from last night's World Cup qualifiers: Serbia will be going to South Africa to compete in their first ever World Cup finals (Serbia and Montenegro competed in 2006), after their stunning 5-0 win over Romania.

Do you remember when Hungary ruled the world?
Neil Clark.
The Observer, November 2003.

While England's heroics in Turkey grabbed the headlines after the final round of Euro 2004 qualifiers, little attention was given to the significance of a match played the same night, 700 miles away in Budapest. A 2-1 home defeat by Poland meant that Hungary had failed to qualify for the latter stages of a major international tournament for the ninth consecutive occasion.

To anyone under 35, it must be hard to believe that there was a time when Hungary had the best football team in the world. Yet 50 years ago they unquestionably did. In fact, three great judges - Sir Bobby Robson, the late Billy Wright and my dad - have rated the Hungarian Arany csapat (Golden Team) as the greatest football team ever. 'The Magnificent Magyars' were so sexy that they made Johan Cruyff's Dutch side of 1974 look positively frigid.

Hungary walked away with the 1952 Olympic title in the middle of a three-and-a-half-year unbeaten run. Between June 1950 and November 1955 they scored 220 goals in 51 matches, an astonishing average of more than four goals a game. The side's greatest moment came in 1953, when England's Wembley invincibility was finally breached in a thrilling 6-3 victory. It is difficult to exaggerate the impact that result had on world football. The revolutionary use of a deep-lying centre-forward, Nandor Hidegkuti, with inside-forwards Sandor Kocsis and Ferenc Puskas acting as spearheads, had England's defence in tatters and coaches all over the world rewriting their manuals. There seemed no doubt that the Hungarians - who repeated the mauling of England in a 7-1 win in Budapest the following spring - would be crowned world champions in 1954. But everyone had overlooked the Germans, about to embark on what became their habit of denying sexy football its rightful reward. The Hungarians swept their way to the final, racking up an 8-3 victory against the Germans in the group stage. But Germany, with the aid of a visually impaired British linesman, triumphed at the last. Hungarian football never reached the same heights again. Two years later, the Soviet tanks rolled into Budapest and Puskas and co (taking with them half the youth team, too) jumped ship, preferring the lure of Spain to the challenge of building a socialist utopia at home.

Even after the exodus, Hungary continued to produce decent enough international teams (the 1966 World Cup side defeated Pelé's Brazil, 3-1), but from the mid-1980s the decline went from relative to absolute. In 1997,, there was a glimmer of hope - a play-off against Yugoslavia for a place in the 1998 World Cup. But after just nine minutes of the first leg, at home, Hungary were three goals down; the Yugoslavs won 7-1 (12-1 overall).

Speak to most people over 50 and they will blame the new democracy for the decline. Under communism, football in Hungary was collectivised and most of the Golden Team played week in, week out for the same club, the army team Honved. The fall of communism cannot wholly explain the demise: countries such as the Czech Republic, Romania and Bulgaria have continued to produce good international sides since the Iron Curtain came down. Whatever the source of the malaise, the once football-mad Hungarians now seem to be past caring; they've been through the pain barrier too many times.

The national team has become a taboo subject. Football is as unfashionable in Hungary today as it was in England back in the mid-1980s. For traditionalists the world over, brought up from childhood on tales of 'The Magnificent Magyars', that surely is the saddest thing of all.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Letter of the Week: Ian Parsons

Short and to the point. (from Friday's Guardian).

You couldn't make it up: private and public sector workers paying the price for inept regulation of a corrupt financial services sector, with no difference between the parties. Revolution anyone?

Ian Parsons

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Some Barking electoral manoeuvres

Our old friend The Exile has more on a very interesting story........

A Freudian slip

Peter Wilby has a must-read piece in the new edition of the New Statesman:

One of the architects of the Tories' "work programme", announced at their conference in Manchester, is Lord (David) Freud (pictured above).

Freud's talent for inventing ways of getting skivers into useful work is misdirected. For 20 years up to 2003, he was an investment banker, eventually for S G Warburg. His activities included floating Railtrack at far below the market price, losing UK taxpayers far more money than they will ever recoup from getting a few people off Incapacity Benefit. Warburg, with Freud still working there, later became part of UBS AG, one of those Swiss banks that help rich folk avoid taxes in their home countries. It was heavily involved in sub-prime mortgage investments. Freud has said that he worked for a "piratical industry" which made up rules as it went along.

Given this knowledge, perhaps Freud could devote some of his time to getting bankers into useful work, weaning them off the dependency culture that leads them to expect the rest of us, as investors, savers or borrowers, to finance their annual bonuses and, as taxpayers, to continue paying them when things go wrong. The £7.6bn that, according to the Office for National Statistics, bankers received in bonuses between December last year and April this year (the peak period for handing out bonuses) is more than half the annual ­Incapacity Benefit bill. That's in hard times: they got £13.2bn in the equivalent period of 2007-2008.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

George Osborne- the neocon millionaire who advocates austerity for the rest of us

So there you have it. If Boy 'Flipper' George becomes Chancellor, Britain will experience the biggest cuts in public spending in 30 years. The pension age will be raised to 66 and anyone earning over £18,000 a year in the public sector will have their pay frozen.

Osborne wants us to believe that such measures are necessary given the poor state of the public finances. But why are our finances in such a poor state? Partly because of the enormous sums of money the government has handed over to the banking sector to keep the global capitalist system afloat. Partly because of the way our economy has been de-industrialised by neoliberal fanatics, who put the needs of finance capital above manufacturing. And partly because of the enormous sums of money spent on neocon wars of aggression.

Osborne is not proposing to introduce new taxes on financial transactions, or to make those responsible for the financial crisis- greedy bankers and vulture capitalists- pay for their anti-social behaviour. Neither is he calling for big cuts in military spending-how could he?- he's a committed neocon.

No, he wants the burden to fall on ordinary people.

Osborne's speech was a grim reminder of what we can expect from a future neo-Conservative government (not that a New Labour or a Neo-Liberal Dem one would be much better).

As hardline as Osborne’s speech was- there’s one man who is still not satisfied.
He attacks Osborne for not scrapping the 50% top rate of tax. And he writes: "I criticise his plan to raise pensionable age only for his not going further."
Guess who?
I think 'Pancrack Charlie' says it all in the comments section:

Your priceless Simon,

Cut the tax rate for the richest, take wheelchairs from the crippled, force sick,lame, lazy into non existant jobs. ? In no time at all we will have a return to the cardboard cities, we saw under Thatcher, where the mentally ill were tipped out into "care in the community"...
Pancrack Charlie:

Against that- there's a really scary comment from 'Anne C'

The screaming little parasites who think they are entitled to other people's incomes are really just criminal scum. Paying taxes is for slaves.

So there you are- if you believe in any taxes on the rich- you are 'criminal scum'.

Martin Kelly writes:

The Bullingdon Club boor George Osborne has stated his intention to raise the retirement age for men from 65 to 66. What right does this scion of a dynasty of soft furnishings salesmen have to believe he will withhold from me what I have paid for other men when my time comes?

What right indeed?

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Jack Jones a KGB agent? They're having a laugh...

Talk about 'Reds under the Beds'.

We're now expected to believe that Jack Jones (above) was a KGB agent.
Does anyone seriously believe that the Kremlin would think that a butcher who was a member of the Walmington on Sea Home Guard would gain enough important information to justify being kept on the KGB payroll?
Captain Mainwaring may have thought the work that he and his platoon did was extremely important, but I doubt if the Soviets shared his opinion. Besides, the Soviet Union were our allies at the time.

What will the 'reds under the beds' brigade come up with next I wonder?
That Arthur Wilson was working for Moscow too?

Sunday, October 04, 2009

The Ten Wrong Sporting Endings

This piece of mine appears in the Observer Sport Monthly magazine.

From Tom Watson at Turnberry 2009 to Holland in the 1974 World Cup, proof that some results just go the wrong way

1 The Open, 2009

When Tom Watson's tee shot found the middle of the fairway on the 72nd hole of the tournament it seemed that we were on the cusp of the most remarkable sporting story ever. A 59-year-old with a replaced hip, who hadn't won a major for 26 years and who had started the tournament at odds of 1500-1, only needed a four to make the fairytale come true. But Watson's 8ft putt for par came up short and the resulting play-off, in which he was easily defeated by the unheralded Stewart Cink, was one of the great sporting anti-climaxes of all time.

2 First Division, 1975-76

The records say that the title was won by Liverpool, but the season belonged to QPR. The west Londoners played the league's most scintillating football, including a 5-1 demolition of champions Derby County at the Baseball Ground. QPR finished their fixtures ahead of Liverpool and for 10 days were champions elect. Liverpool needed to win their last game, away at Wolves, and when the home side went 1-0 ahead it seemed QPR would take their first league title. But three Liverpool goals in the last 15 minutes shattered their dream.

3 Italian Grand Prix, 1967

Jim Clark, the best driver of the season, led until the 13th lap, but after going into the pits for a wheel change found himself in 16th place. He then delivered what many consider to be one of the greatest performances ever seen on a racetrack. By halfway, Clark had moved up to seventh, and with nine laps to go he was third. Two laps later he had regained the lead. It would have been the most sensational grand prix win of all time, but with just over a lap remaining Clark's car developed fuel problems and he finished third.

4 Prix de l'Abbaye, 2008

It should have been Hungarian racing's finest moment for over a hundred years – the victory of national hero Overdose in Europe's top sprint race. The British-bred colt, unbeaten in his 10 previous races, broke quickly from the stalls and soon powered clear of the field to pass the finishing post in a time just outside of the course record. But to the consternation of romantics everywhere, the race was declared void due to a non-opening stall. Overdose was withdrawn from the re-run, which was won by the French-trained favourite.

5 England v India, the Oval, 1979

India, one down in the series, needed to score 438 in 498 minutes to win the fourth and final test at The Oval. Mission impossible? Led by the brilliant Sunil Gavaskar, who scored 221, the tourists batted heroically, reaching 366-2 at one stage, and with one over to go were 15 shy of the total with two wickets remaining. It would have been the highest score ever chased successfully by a team in the fourth innings of the Test match, but the gallant Indians could only score six in the final over and ended nine runs short.

6 Wimbledon, 1973

Popular British player Roger Taylor had failed in Wimbledon semi-finals in 1967 and 1970. But in 1973, with many of the leading players boycotting the tournament, he looked to have a great opportunity of reaching the final. In an epic quarter-final he beat the 17-year-old Björn Borg: a match famous for Taylor's act of sportsmanship at match point, where, having already been declared the winner, he voluntarily offered to replay the disputed point. Alas, in the semi he lost to clay-court specialist Jan Kodes 9-8, 7-9, 7-5, 4-6, 5-7.

7 World Middleweight title fight, 1951

Two months earlier, Randolph Turpin had caused a sensation when he defeated Sugar Ray Robinson on points to become the first British holder of the world middleweight title for 60 years. In the New York rematch, Robinson started the better, but by the ninth round, he was nursing a nasty cut above his left eye. Fearing that the referee would stop the fight, Robinson launched a furious barrage of blows on his opponent, prompting the official to stop the fight in Sugar Ray's favour with just eight seconds of the 10th round remaining.

8 World Cup final, 1974

With their original brand of Total Football, and inspired by the genius of Johan Cruyff, Holland enchanted the world in the 1974 tournament. En route to the final, the Oranje scored 14 goals and conceded just one: highlights included a 4-0 demolition of Argentina and a 2-0 win over holders Brazil. It only took them two minutes to take the lead in the final against home nation West Germany, but a controversial penalty dragged the Germans level and when Gerd Müller added a second, the tangerine dream turned into a nightmare.

9 Super Bowl, 2009

The Pittsburgh Steelers shared the record for most Super Bowl wins while the Arizona Cardinals had only won five play-off games since 1947. The Cardinals' run to the final had been inspired by veteran Kurt Warner, who had worked as a shelf stacker while waiting for a team to take him on. The Steelers took a 20-7 lead, but, in a blistering spell, their underdog opponents scored 16 points to lead with just over two minutes remaining. Then, with 35 seconds left, the Steelers regained the lead, to register their sixth success.

10 World Snooker Championship, 1994

Perennial bridesmaid Jimmy "The Whirlwind" White, who had been a beaten finalist on five previous occasions, led the final frame against Stephen Hendry 37-24 and had an easy chance to pot the black. Surely this time, "The People's Champion", after so many near-misses, would land the sport's greatest prize? But White missed the pot – he later said he twitched as he took it – and Hendry went on to make a break of 58 to land the fourth of his seven championships. For White, it was his last – and best – chance of world championship glory.

Neil Clark defends his selection

A "wrong" ending is one where a fairytale outcome is cruelly denied, where superior play or heroic performances go unrewarded. Often they involve underdogs narrowly losing to more seasoned winners, as in the case of QPR in 1976. Above all, they are endings which, to the neutral observer, just don't feel right. Apart from friends of Stewart Cink, was there anyone watching who didn't feel enormously deflated by Tom Watson's fate at this year's Open? Lots of options were considered – Devon Loch at the 1956 Grand National, the Magnificent Magyars losing to West Germany at the World Cup two years previously – but I feel special affection for Scott Norwood of the flamboyant Buffalo Bills. Facing up to the defensively minded New York Giants in the 1994 Super Bowl, Norwood missed a 47-yard field goal in the dying seconds – to make it worse, it was the first of four finals they lost in a row.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Vote No- to stop a war criminal from becoming EU President

In case there are any Irish readers still unsure about which way to vote in today's EU Referendum on the Lisbon treaty, this surely is the clincher.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

EU Report: Georgia to blame for 2008 war with Russia

The Guardian reports:

An investigation into last year's Russia-Georgia war delivered a damning indictment of President Mikheil Saakashvili today, accusing Tbilisi of launching an indiscriminate artillery barrage on the city of Tskhinvali that started the war.
The war started "with a massive Georgian artillery attack", the report said, citing an order from Saakashvili that the offensive was aimed at halting Russian military units moving into South Ossetia.
Flatly dismissing Saakashvili's version, the report said: "There was no ongoing armed attack by Russia before the start of the Georgian operation ... Georgian claims of a large-scale presence of Russian armed forces in South Ossetia prior to the Georgian offensive could not be substantiated ... It could also not be verified that Russia was on the verge of such a major attack."

Back in August 2008 when this conflict took place, the vast majority of commentators in the MSM took the line that Russia, and not Georgia, was the aggressor in the conflict.

So did most blogs-(even many so-called ‘leftist’ blogs); this blog was a rare exception.
There was a wave of Russophobia in the British and American media, which I commented on here and here. If you’d wanted to read the truth as to what was going on, and to who caused the conflict, you’d have been better reading the blog of our old friend The Exile, written from thousands of miles away in Mexico, than any anti-Russian columns from neo-con/’liberal’ interventionist ‘experts’ in ’serious’ British and American newspapers.

These people told us lies about the non-existent genocide in Kosovo, lies about Milosevic’s and Serbia’s ‘wars of aggression’, lies about Iraq’s non-existent WMDs and lies about Russia’s ’aggression’ against Georgia.

And now they’re telling us lies about the ’threat’ posed by Iran’s non-existent nuclear weapons programme.

The lesson again, just in case anyone still hasn’t got it: don’t believe a word these serial liars ever tell you.

UPDATE: On the subject of the serial liars, John Pilger has a cracking piece in the new edition of the New Statesman.