Thursday, February 25, 2010

Nigel Farage: The worst kind of Brit abroad

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

Neil Clark: Brussels will be glad to see the back of Nigel Farage if he can beat Bercow in the general election

The British have sent many loud-mouthed yobs to Europe over the years - rampaging football hooligans, drunken stag party revellers - but Nigel Farage, leader of the UKIP MEPs, takes the crown after his performance yesterday.

Already known in Brussels for his brash and abrasive style, Farage launched a scathing personal attack on the new President of the EU Council, Herman van Rompuy, in the European Parliament, one which left MEPs reeling in shock at its sheer nastiness.

"Who are you? I'd never heard of you, nobody in Europe had ever heard of you," Farage proclaimed. He said van Rompuy had the "charisma of a damp rag" and compared him to a "low-grade bank clerk". For good measure he also insulted the EU President's homeland, saying Belgium was "pretty much a non-country".

Farage's attack on the modest and mild-mannered van Rompuy and his equally inoffensive country will only confirm what many in Europe think about the British: that we are a country of arrogant, bullying xenophobes.

Farage, a former commodity broker, represents the worst kind of Brit abroad, a blazered, braying, over-confident public schoolboy, convinced of his own - and his country's - superiority over others.

You can read the rest of the article here.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Good news in the war on terror

….but don’t expect Nick Cohen, Melanie Phillips or Mike Blogger to write about it.

Tehran has said that it had captured the leader of a sectarian terror group with alleged links to Western intelligence services - that says it has killed dozens of Iranian civilians and officials over the past few years.

Iranian Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad-Najjar told a news conference that Abdolmalek Rigi, chief of the Jundallah Sunni islamist group, had been arrested outside the country as he was "preparing for a new act of sabotage."

After his capture, Mr Rigi was brought to Iran.

Iran's intelligence minister Heidar Moslehi claimed that US officials had provided Mr Rigi with an Afghan passport and that he had had contacts with the CIA and Mossad - and had met a Nato military official in Afghanistan in April 2008.
Mr Moslehi said that Iran "reserved the right to sue the US and UK" on the basis that they co-ordinated Mr Rigi's terror attacks in Iran.

Jundallah has claimed responsibility for numerous attacks in Iran.

According to Iranian state media, the group has "carried out mass murder, armed robbery, kidnapping, acts of sabotage and bombings" targeting "civilians and government officials, as well as all ranks of Iran's military."

In the group's latest attack on October 18 last year, more than 40 people - including tribal elders and 15 members of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards - were killed in a Jundallah attack in Pishin.

In July 2008 respected US investigative journalist Seymour Hersh alleged that US congressional leaders had secretly agreed to former president George W Bush's $400m (£260m) funding request for a major escalation of covert operations against Iran, aimed at destabilising its leadership by "working with opposition groups and passing money."

From: The Morning Star.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Is the Press out of control?

You can watch me debating this issue with Peter Hitchens, Sir Ian Blair, Professor Julian Petley et al on BBC1's The Big Questions, here.
The other debates on the programme, on religion and the police, are pretty lively and worth watching too.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Letter of the Week: Gordon Clack

From the Daily Telegraph.

SIR – If, as is more than likely, Hamas retaliates to the assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, will any action by them be described as “terrorism”?
Gordon Clack
Ducklington, Oxfordshire.

Hat tip for brilliant Garland cartoon: Organised Rage.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Lionel Jeffries R.I.P.: 'He seemed to represent a different era'


Well, we lost Ian Carmichael a couple of weeks back, and now, sadly we've lost Lionel Jeffries.

Above you can watch some clips from Don Sharp's wonderfully wacky and very funny 1967 film ‘Jules Verne’s Rocket to the Moon’ in which Jeffries appeared as the Victorian inventor Sir Charles Dillworthy, alongside Terry-Thomas(playing another dastardly cad) and Dennis Price (as the Duke of Barset).

Jeffries was not only an excellent comic actor, but also an accomplised film director, and, by all accounts, an extremely nice person.

“He was wonderful to work with, really a joy", says Jenny Agutter, (who starred in the Jeffries-directed The Railway Children), in today's Sunday Express.
"He created such a family atmosphere on set of The Railway Children and was very funny. People adored him. He was a larger than life character, a sort of Edwardian, and he is vividly in my mind.”
“He treated myself, Sally Thomsett and Gary Warren entirely as children in the most charming way..He would give us pocket money if a shot went well and wait up for Sally and I if we had been out late. He was very caring – just lovely... Lionel will be enormously missed. I suppose what one is mourning is the passing of a particular time. He seemed to represent a different era.”

Just like Ian Carmichael.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Douglas Bader: A Flawed Hero

It's exactly 100 years ago this week since the birth of the great WW2 fighter ace Douglas Bader. Here's my Daily Express piece on a very courageous- but flawed- British hero.

HE was the most famous fighter pilot Britain has known. a man who overcame the loss of both legs to command a Fighter Squadron during the Battle of Britain. Shot down and captured by the Germans, his numerous escape attempts led him to being imprisoned in Colditz Castle.

Douglas Bader, born 100 years ago this week, was a man of extraordinary courage and determination. Yet there was a darker side to this great British war hero. He could be arrogant, selfish and breathtakingly rude. He treated underlings appallingly and was thoroughly disliked by many of his comrades. He was prone to boasting and showing off.

The traditional view is that it was Bader’s accident at the age of 21 that made him into such a tenacious, aggressive and at times difficult man. But as a new book by SP Mackenzie reveals it was Bader’s harsh and unhappy childhood that forged his uncompromising character and instilled in him the iron will with which he was to overcome the enormous challenges he faced in his early life.

Born into a middle-class family on February 21 1910, the young Bader was neglected. when his parents returned to India to work they left baby Douglas behind, farming him out to relatives on the Isle of Man for the first two years of his life. According to a cousin, his mother, who had become ill with measles during childbirth and required a major operation, “hated” her new son and always took the side of his elder brother Derick in any dispute.

Bader’s father, a civil engineer, was “a remote gruff figure” who fought regularly with his wife. shorn of parental affection and subject to intense sibling rivalry Douglas cut a sad and lonely figure.

“The only times he cried,” writes previous biographer Paul Brickhill, “were when his parents and Derick went visiting in the car and left him behind, which they often did.”

After his father died from injuries he had received in the First world war his mother married a Yorkshire clergyman. But the mild-mannered Reverend ernest Hobbs failed to become the sort of father-figure the young Douglas lacked.

Meanwhile sibling rivalries intensified. During one summer holiday Derick shot Bader in the shoulder at close range with an air-gun. Unable to assert himself against his older brother, Bader started to pick fights with other children – a sign of the aggressive nature he would put to good effect when targeting enemy air- craft in the second world war.

At St Edward’s, his public school in Oxford, he failed to shine in the class- room but excelled at almost all sports. Yet here too trouble was never far away. He once was beaten up by an older boy, the future film star Laurence Olivier, after he had bowled him out during a cricket match.

“By the time he was in his final year at school the central elements of his nature were already manifesting themselves: the urge to compete and win, the desire to lead, the need to prove himself, the blustery self-confidence that marked a certain loneliness,” writes Mackenzie.

Bader admitted he had “no idea” about what to do after leaving school but a visit to a former pupil who was now a cadet at the RaF College at Cranwell whetted his appetite for a career in the air. He felt instantly at home in the rough and tumble world of the RAF and showed a natural talent for flying.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Sir Nicholas Winterton: First Class Wally

I’ve long argued that the great divide in British politics is not between Labour or Conservative but between the arrogant and pompous political elite and the rest of us.

Here’s another example of the snobbish attitudes of those who lord it over us.

Tory grandee Sir Nicholas Winterton today claimed that MPs should continue to travel first-class on trains because passengers in standard carriages are 'a totally different type of people'.

In an astonishing outburst, Sir Nicholas said that people travelling on cheaper standard tickets had 'a different outlook on life' and were unlikely to be working or studying during their journey.

The MP's extraordinary comments came after he told Total Politics magazine
said he was ' infuriated' that politicians had to travel with ordinary members of the public.

Sir Nicholas spoke of his outrage that he has to 'stand when there are no seats'.

Sir Nicholas told BBC Radio 5 Live's Stephen Nolan show today: 'If I was in standard class, I would not do work because people would be looking over my shoulder all the time, there would be noise, there would be distraction and, I am sorry, if I am doing work I want to concentrate on that. Why do businesspeople travel first class?'

Asked whether he thought standard-class passengers behaved differently from those with first class tickets, Sir Nicholas replied: 'Yes, I do. They are a totally different type of people.

'There are lots of children, there is noise, there is activity...
'They have a different outlook on life. I very much doubt whether they are undertaking serious work and study, reading reports and amending reports which MPs do when they are travelling.'

Well, I don't know about you, but I'm very pleased that I do have a 'different outlook on life' from the appalling Sir Nicholas.

Sir Nicholas Winterton: First class wally.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Murder in Dubai: the finger points to Mossad

video: dubaisession.

The so-called 'quiet' assassination of the Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in his Dubai hotel room last month is having wider consequences than even the assassins and their directors might have realised.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has called for a full investigation into how five fake British passports were used by the killers, and how they stole the identities of five men with dual British-Israeli citizenship.
The method of operation, down to the fake passports and stolen identities, points to Mossad, the foreign intelligence organisation of the state of Israel.

You can read the rest of Robert Fox's First Post piece here.

Meanwhile, even 'Neo' Con Coughlin has written a piece entitled 'Israel must come clean over its involvement in the Dubai murder plot’.

Is this, like their invasion of Gaza, another big p.r. disaster for Israel?

Only time will tell.

UPDATE: Mehdi Hasan makes a good point over at the NS.

Let me ask you this: can you imagine the reaction if members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard were suspected of assassinating an Iranian dissident living abroad in Dubai, or an Israeli politician or general visiting a foreign country?

Well, I think we can be fairly sure that Melanie Phillips would have written about it by now.


Seumas Milne writes:

Imagine for a moment what the reaction would be if ­Iranian ­intelligence was almost ­unversally believed to have ­assassinated a leader of one of the organisations fighting the Tehran government in a western-friendly state. Then consider how Britain, let alone the US, might respond if the killers had carried out the ­operation ­using forged or stolen passports of ­citizens of four European states, including Britain, with dual Iranian nationality.

You can be sure it would have ­triggered a major international storm, stentorian declarations about the threat of state-sponsored terrorism, and ­perhaps a debate at the UN ­security council, with demands for harsher ­sanctions against an increasingly ­dangerous Islamic republic.

Substitute Israel for Iran, and the first part of that scenario is exactly what happened in Dubai last month.

But instead of setting off a diplomatic backlash, the British government sat on its hands for almost a week after it was reportedly first passed details of the passport abuse. And while the Foreign Office finally summoned the Israeli ambassador to "share information", rather than protest, Gordon Brown could ­yesterday only promise a "full investigation".

You can read the whole of the article here.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Remembering Joyce Grenfell: The observational comedian who genuinely loved people

All strata of society were grist to her mill – she could turn herself into the grande dame at the opera, the bosomy good soul who does the flowers in church, or the young working-class wife on her day out, and she could portray all of them without malice or sneering.
She would also have thought that the self-obsession of today’s stand-ups was extremely vulgar (she could be right).

writes Rupert Christiansen in his wonderful Daily Telegraph tribute to Joyce Grenfell, who was born exactly 100 years ago this month.

Grenfell was a very funny observational comedian, but her comedy, as Christiansen notes, never involved malice. Although coming from a privileged background- her aunt was Lady Astor and she spent much time at Cliveden, she was no snob.

Her humour - based upon her genuine love of people- contrasts sharply with the nasty, sneering and misanthropic humour of today’s middle-class observational comedians.
Jimmy Carr, Sacha Baron Cohen, Lucas and Walliams, as I noted here, get their laughs by sneering at those they think are their inferiors- something Joyce Grenfell never did.

Christiansen begins his short tribute by saying:
"Perhaps somebody somewhere has marked the centenary of one of the truly great comic stand-ups, but if they have, I didn’t notice.”

Alas, it seems the dear boy doesn’t take the Morning Star.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Brussels train crash: it was bound to happen

Some terrible news: unconfirmed reports say that at least 20 people have been killed in a head-on collision of two commuter trains near Brussels. Here’s my First Post piece on why this was an accident waiting to happen.

A visit to the wonderfully retro Brussels Central station is a must for admirers of the work of the great architect Victor Hortha. And as the hub for the densest railway network in the European Union - Belgium has a staggering 3,454km of track - it's also a paradise for train spotters.

Researching a magazine article, I once spent 20 minutes there noting the arrival of trains on several different platforms. Out of a total of more than 30 trains, some of them international, all except one were on time, and that one was just 90 seconds late. Eat your heart out, Richard Branson.

Compared to travelling on Britain's unreliable and ludicrously expensive privatised railways, travelling by rail in Belgium is a positive delight. Not only are trains more punctual and more comfortable, but fares, based on distance-based pricing, are easy to understand and considerably cheaper than in the UK. And trains are incredibly frequent: on average they leave every half an hour between Belgian cities.

But having such a dense railway network also has a downside.

You can read the rest of the article here:

Ian Carmichael: An actor from the age of elegance

It’s just over a week since the sad death of the actor Ian Carmichael. Here’s my tribute piece from The Spectator.

Neil Clark salutes Ian Carmichael, the definitive Wooster, who died last week. He personified the good manners, loyalty and self-effacement of Britain in days gone by.

I don’t think I have ever been so nervous before a telephone call. I had written to Ian Carmichael, via his agent, to ask if I could interview him for an article I was writing on the late Dennis Price, who had played Jeeves to Carmichael’s Bertie Wooster in the 1960s BBC series The World of Wooster.

Carmichael had written back to say that he’d ‘try to oblige’ if I telephoned him at his North Yorkshire home. ‘I don’t think I’ll be very much help,’ he added. ‘Dennis was a very private man.’ Hardly encouraging.

I was nervous because Carmichael, like Price, was a hero of mine. I had been brought up watching his films, and although too young to remember The World of Wooster, I had loved his portrayal of the detective Lord Peter Wimsey on television in the 1970s.

Suppose Carmichael — the epitome of cheerful affability on screen, turned out to be an old curmudgeon in real life?

I needn’t have worried. Carmichael, from the minute he picked up the phone to the time he put it down, almost an hour later, could not have been friendlier. We chatted not only about poor Dennis Price, who had died a bloated alcoholic at the age of 58, but films, the weather (it was snowing heavily that day) and cricket (one of Carmichael’s great passions).

Carmichael was incredibly easy to talk to — it really did feel as if I was chatting to someone I had known all my life, which in a way of course, I had. We kept in contact, and after my article on Price was published I received a very generous hand-written letter from him saying how much he had enjoyed it. But with characteristic modesty, he declined the opportunity of an article about himself — one I would dearly love to have written. ‘I’d rather not go in for an article about my own life,’ he told me. Can you imagine any actor saying that now?

Carmichael’s long life sadly ended last week. And though the phrase ‘end of an era’ is often overused, I think it is entirely appropriate in this instance. For Carmichael was a product of a kinder, gentler and more decent Britain. We simply don’t make people of his calibre any more.

His heyday — the days when he received star billing in a succession of films, was the 1950s and early 1960s. It was a period of rising living standards — when the ordinary person had never had it so good — but also a time when the old aristocratic elite still lingered on in the corridors of power.

In those days, Carmichael usually played the likeable but accident-prone romantic lead: his most memorable roles included the naive university graduate Stanley Windrush, who unwittingly causes a major industrial dispute in the Boulting Brothers’ classic satire I’m All Right Jack, and Henry Palfry, who is one of life’s serial losers until he enrols in Alistair Sim’s ‘School of Lifemanship’ in School for Scoundrels and gains revenge on his caddish rival, played by Terry-Thomas.

As he got older, so his roles became more aristocratic. P.G. Wodehouse regarded Carmichael’s Bertie Wooster as ‘the definitive version’. And although Dorothy L. Sayers was not around to see Carmichael’s portrayal of her great detective Lord Peter Wimsey in the BBC series of the mid-1970s, it’s likely she would have been similarly impressed.

Carmichael regarded Lord Peter as a hero — according to the Daily Telegraph he ‘envied him his aristocratic insouciance, style and intellect’. Carmichael and Wimsey certainly had much in common. Both were bon vivants and connoisseurs of fine wines — Carmichael, when asked what he would do if he won a million pounds, said that he’d improve his wine cellar with a lot of ‘absolutely spiffing clarets’.

Like Wimsey, he was a man of effortless charm. ‘He had that love of life and love of people; he gathered people around him like other people gather butterflies or postage stamps,’ was one of the many tributes paid to him over the weekend.

He was also, like Lord Peter, an immaculate dresser. ‘He had a lot of style. He belonged to an age of elegance,’ said the actress Anne Reid. In one of the last interviews he gave, Carmichael lamented the dress sense of modern celebrities who ‘go on chat shows in scruffy open-neck shirts’. ‘I don’t think that’s right,’ he added. ‘You should always appear respectably dressed.’

Despite his considerable achievements, Carmichael was immensely unassuming. Although he had received the OBE, the headed notepaper he used simply had the words ‘Ian Carmichael’ on it. ‘He was never pushy. He sort of wandered through the world of film,’ recalls Richard Briers.

Carmichael was a product of a society where it was considered ‘jolly bad form’ to boast or to use one’s elbows to get to the top. He was from an age when the British were known the world over for their good manners — for apologising even when there was nothing to apologise for. It was an era when loyalty — to one’s country, one’s family and one’s comrades — came before personal advancement or monetary gain. Carmichael always turned out, whatever the weather, for the Remembrance Day service at Helmsley, where his old regiment — the 22nd Dragoons — was billeted at Duncombe Park.

Sadly, the Britain of good manners, loyalty and self-effacement, the Britain personified by Ian Carmichael, has been destroyed by 40 years of ‘me first’ social and economic libertinism.

The old elite which Carmichael so often portrayed — the elite of well-meaning but often bumbling toffs and aristocratic amateurs — has been replaced by a new, more hard-boiled and far less likeable ruling class who have only one motivation: making money.

The new age of materialism — enthusiastically encouraged by the new elite — has coarsened our everyday lives. Today’s icons are not self-effacing actors like Ian Carmichael, gentleman footballers like Tom Finney, or mild-mannered singers like Matt Monro, but charmless, foul-mouthed vulgarians like Alan Sugar, Gordon Ramsay and Amy Winehouse.

On Saturday night, I tuned in to the main BBC1 news bulletin to see what clips of Carmichael’s films they would show. And how did our national broadcaster mark the death of one our country’s best-loved actors? By ignoring it all together. Perhaps the BBC bigwigs decided not to feature Carmichael’s demise on their main evening bulletin because they thought younger people wouldn’t have heard of him. Or perhaps this very old-fashioned figure didn’t fit in with their brave new dumbed-down world.

Either way, we should remember Ian Carmichael, not just because of his wonderful performances on film and television, but because this most delightful of men reminds us of the country we once were.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Iran anti-government protests= News; Mexico anti-government protests= Not News

In my First Post piece earlier this week, I highlighted western double standards when it comes to post-election protests:

In the 2006 presidential elections in Mexico, official results showed that the neo-liberal, anti-leftist and pro-American Felipe Calderon had won by 0.58 per cent.
The left-wing 'Coalition for the Good of All' alleged voting irregularities in more than 30 per cent of polling stations and organised massive street protests. But the protesters' cause was not championed by Washington and the election controversy was barely mentioned in the mainstream western media. Why? Because the "right" side had won.

Unlike in Iran of course, when in last year’s election, the "wrong" side, i.e. President Ahmadinejad, won. And that’s why the BBC’s Newsnight are, we are told, ‘watching events in Iran closely.’ (hat tip Ed on Media Lens message board)

What I’ve seen from Iran today is hundreds of thousands of people gathering in Tehran to celebrate the 31st anniversary of the country’s Islamic revolution. How very inconvenient for the BBC and other hawk-eyed Iran ‘watchers’. But of course, in the view of the Biased Broadcasting Corporation, the opinions and views of the people who support President Ahmadinejad don't count, it's only the supporters of the Twittering 'democratic' opposition who matter.

If, like me, you are sick and tired of the BBC’s very biased reporting of events in Iran, and their highly selective coverage of anti-government protests around the globe, then details on where to complain can be found here.

Always remember, it’s meant to be our BBC.

The unfunny joke of energy policy, Joyce Grenfell and selling off Dover

This column of mine appears in the Morning Star.

Writing in the Observer in 2004, Anthony Barnett told of a little game that the fanatically free-market minister Nigel Lawson used to play when he was energy secretary in the early 1980s.

Lawson would turn up at energy conferences to give speeches entitled "UK Energy Policy" and then proudly announce that the government didn't have an energy policy.

How very droll. What a great wit that Lawson was. Except that now nobody is laughing.

Britain faces a very real energy crisis - and it's a crisis which has been caused by adherence to free-market dogma.

In its recent report, the energy regulator Ofgem - previously so enthusiastic about the "liberalisation" of the energy market - warned that the free-market approach to energy which successive British governments have followed since the 1980s will leave us short of energy supplies by 2015.

Ofgem said that only increased state intervention - in the shape of a new state-controlled energy buyer to sell gas and electricity to consumers - would be able to keep the lights on.

But as welcome as Ofgem's report is, it doesn't go anywhere near far enough. Ofgem still envisages a future for our privatised energy companies.

But as long as energy companies remain privately owned, they will continue to profiteer at our expense and put their short-term profits ahead of Britain's longer-term energy concerns.

This winter, the coldest in Scotland since 1914 and the coldest in many other parts of Britain since 1981, the energy companies once again have shown their true colours.

The wholesale price of gas fell by around 60 per cent between 2008 and 2009. But suppliers chose not to cut customer tariffs before the winter - meaning a profit bonanza of £846 million a month.

Public ownership of the entire energy sector would not only mean lower bills, as there would be no shareholders' noses in the trough, but it would enable Britain to make sensible long-term plans regarding its energy policy for the future. Either that or we'd better make sure we're well stocked up on logs and candles.


This week marks the centenary of the comedian and singer Joyce Grenfell, one of Britain's best-loved entertainers.

Grenfell (above), whose aunt was Lady Nancy Astor, the first woman MP to sit in the House of Commons, had a privileged upper-class upbringing, but like so many, her political outlook changed in World War II.

"The more I see people brought up the easy way," she wrote, "the more I incline to socialism. Things will never - can never - be the same as they were before the war."

And things were not the same as they were before the war. A Labour government with public ownership high up on its agenda launched the greatest programme of nationalisation in this country's history.

There are legitimate criticisms to make of the way it went about things, not least the overgenerous compensation that was paid to the railway owners.

But by the end of its period in office the fact remains that around 20 per cent of the British economy was in public ownership.

That remained the case for almost 30 years, until the Thatcher government began its work of overturning the post-war settlement.

Ironically Thatcher came to power in 1979 - the year that Grenfell died.

I'm sure that if Grenfell returned to life today she would be horrified and saddened at how all the achievements of the post-war era have been destroyed.


They've sold off our energy, our transport, our airports and our natural resources.
Now it's time to flog off the few remaining ports that remain in public ownership.

The historic port of Dover is being earmarked for sale, with the Nord de Palais District Council in France reported as being the main bidder.

The News of the World revealed that the government is being advised by merchant bank NM Rothschild. A source at the investment bank said: "This is an exciting sale. Selling Dover to Calais is a very logical move as that is where most of the business is directed."

Well, selling Dover to Calais for £350m may be an "exciting sale" and "logical move" for merchant banks like NM Rothschild, which has made enormous fortunes from privatisation down the years, but for the rest of us it is a sign of how financial concerns trump all other considerations in modern Britain.

Dover is a port which has played a key role in British history. Its white cliffs are a symbol of our defiance against the nazis in World War II, but all that counts for nothing as far as the money men are concerned.

The big scandal is not that Dover is being sold to the French - as the prospective Tory candidate for the town Charles Elphicke seems to think - but that it is being sold at all. Ports are national strategic assets and should be nationally owned.

"The port should absolutely stay in British hands. It always has been and it should always be. It means so much to the boys who have sailed away from it and come back," said Dame Vera Lynn, forces sweetheart and singer of the classic The White Cliffs of Dover. Dame Vera is understandably incensed by news of the sale. "How could they even think about selling it off? It is not right. Dover is part of England. It simply can't be part of anywhere else."

But for the global money men the whole idea of "national" ownership is anathema. All that matters to them is whether they can make a quick profit.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Ian Carmichael meets Eric and Ernie

video: canned carrot.

A real treat: the late, great Ian Carmichael (how it makes me sad to write the word ‘late’), making an appearance on the Morecambe and Wise show in 1970.
Eric and Ernie, as I’m sure you’ll agree, are in tip-top form and Carmichael proves once again, what a great talent for comedy he had.


Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Tony Blair: the world's greatest conspiracy theorist

The Daily Mail reports:

Tony Blair yesterday launched an extraordinary attack on the Iraq inquiry - as the chairman warned that he and others could be recalled over 'gaps' in their evidence.
In an outspoken interview in the U.S., the former prime minister dismissed the inquiry as part of a ' continual desire to sort of uncover some great conspiracy'.
Speaking on Fox News he said critics of the war were obsessed with conspiracy theories, and refused to accept that his motives were 'genuine'.

The biggest conspiracy theory of 1999 was that Yugoslav forces were committing genocide in Kosovo. Tony Blair peddled it.

The biggest conspiracy of the Noughties was that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq possessed WMDs. Tony Blair peddled it.

And the biggest conspiracy theory currently doing the rounds is that Iran is developing nuclear weapons. Tony Blair is peddling it.

Tony Blair: the world’s greatest conspiracy theorist.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Ukraine: Another election goes the wrong way for Uncle Sam

This article of mine appears in The First Post.

It's a fix! So claims Yulia Tymoshenko, the defeated candidate in yesterday's Ukrainian presidential elections. Even before a vote was cast, Tymoshenko had been warning her rival Viktor Yanukovych of "the kind of resistance he has never seen before" if he tried to rig the election. "If we are unable to guarantee the honest expression of the people's will and honest results, we will mobilise the people," she said. "I have no doubt about this."

Now that she has indeed lost we can prepare ourselves for days - even weeks - of protests as her supporters attempt to annul the result.

A sense of deja vu? Absolutely. We've been here a few times before.

In 2000, the self-styled 'democratic' opposition in Yugoslavia claimed that any result in the presidential election which did not show the incumbent Slobodan Milosevic defeated in round one would be a fix - and that they'd take to the streets. Which is what they did. In the so-called 'Bulldozer Revolution' which followed, parliament was set on fire and Milosevic lost power.

In 2009, the Iranian 'green' opposition declared that any result which showed the incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the winner in the country's presidential election would be fraudulent and that they'd take to the streets. Which is what they did.
So far Ahmadenijad's regime hasn't been toppled, but it's certainly been seriously weakened by the protests.

What the 'democratic' opposition in Yugoslavia, Iran and Ukraine have in common is that they were the favoured choices of the US. In the Ukraine, Yulia Tymoshenko may have modified her once fiercely anti-Russian position, but there's no doubting that the US would prefer one of the co-leaders of the US-backed 2004 'Orange Revolution' and a supporter of Nato membership to an opponent – i.e. Viktor Yanukovych - who is against joining Nato and wants his country to be neutral.

The opposition can make their claims about the election being fraudulent, before a vote is even cast, because they know that their cause will be championed by the US and its closest allies, including Britain. They also know that they will be sympathetically portrayed as 'democrats' in the mainstream western media - and that their rivals will be portrayed as 'cheats' and 'frauds'.

Youc can read the rest of the article here.

UPDATE: Neo-con commentator Anne Applebaum has penned a piece in today's Washington Post entitled "Ukraine's democratic evolution, on hold for now".
Vote the wrong way, i.e., not for Anne's favoured 'democratic revolutionaries' and there are real fears for 'democracy', it seems.
She also thinks that the Orange Revolution lost public support because it didn't introduce enough economic 'reforms'. "The Ukrainian government still has not gotten around to privatizing land or removing Soviet-era subsidies from the budget", she complains.
That's right Anne, if only the government had sold off the land and removed all subsidies, the 'Orange' side would have won the election. If you believe that, you'll believe anything (including the neocon conspiracy theories that Iraq possessed WMD and that Iran currently poses a nuclear 'threat'.)

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Ian Carmichael R.I.P.

I was very sad to hear the news that Ian Carmichael, the veteran comic actor has died at the age of 89.

All the tributes that have come in have stressed what an incredibly nice and pleasant person Carmichael was. And also how modest he was. I can only concur with that having interviewed him back in 2004, in relation to an article I was writing on the late Dennis Price, who played Jeeves to Carmichael’s Bertie Wooster in the wonderful 1960s tv series ’The World of Wooster'. Carmichael could not have been friendlier- he was totally devoid of any pomposity.

After the article was published, I received a lovely hand-written letter from Carmichael to say how much he enjoyed the piece. He was a true gent and a very good actor. But what a pity he never received the knighthood he so richly deserved. And it was also a shame and indeed rather scandalous that the BBC chose not to feature the news of his death in their main BBC1 news bulletin last night. Apparently the weather in Washington DC was more worthy of inclusion than the death of a much-loved veteran British actor. I'm sure Robin Carmody will have a view of the significance, if any, of that.

In his obituary of Carmichael in The Guardian, Dennis Barker writes:
What made Carmichael notable was that he could play fool parts in a way that did not cut the characters completely off from human sympathy: a certain dignity was always maintained, so that any pathos did not become bathos. He was at the opposite pole to Norman Wisdom, whose conscious pathos irritated some people.

I'd certainly go along with that. And I'm pretty that Robin Carmody, no great fan of Norman Wisdom either, would too.

Above you can watch a great clip of Ian Carmichael in action in the wonderful Robert Hamer film 'School for Scoundrels'. Dennis Price is in it too, as a very dodgy and very slimy car salesman, ably assisted by Peter Jones.


Friday, February 05, 2010

Ricky Tomlinson 5 Luciana Berger 0

Last week, in my First Post article on the continuing Blairite takeover of the Labour party, I mentioned how 28-year-old Londoner Luciana Berger, a former NUS NEC member and director of Labour Friends of Israel, had been selected as the party's candidate in Liverpool Wavertree, to the disgust of many local party activists.

Well, the London Blairite crowd must have been feeling very pleased with themselves.
But not anymore. There was this piece in last week's Mail on Sunday.

And now, for the ultra-ambitious Ms Berger, it gets even worse.

The popular Liverpool actor Ricky Tomlinson, star of the comedy series The Royle Family, is planning to stand for the Socialist Labour Party against her.

The Mail reports:

He (Tomlinson)said he was 'incensed' by Labour's selection of Londoner Luciana Berger, 28, for the seat. 'This woman that they have parachuted in from London could not even answer some easy questions about Liverpool,' Tomlinson said.
'It reminds me of when Labour parachuted Shaun Woodward into St Helens.
'At one time Liverpool had a contingent of working class MPs like Eric Heffer [Walton MP from 1964 to 1991]. 'People say if you want you could be letting the Tories in. But there is no difference between the Conservatives and New Labour.
The news will come as a further blow to Miss Berger who has been embroiled in controversy since she was chosen to fight the seat less than two weeks ago.
Miss Berger, the director of Labour Friends Of Israel, beat Liverpool councillor Wendy Simon and Joyce Still by a margin of around 2-1 to win the candidacy for the Wavertree seat from an all-women shortlist.
Veteran Walton MP Peter Kilfoyle branded her a student politician who lacked the experience to do the job.
Last week her lack of local knowledge was exposed when she could not say who Anfield legend Bill Shankly was or who sang Ferry Across the Mersey.

So at Liverpool Wavertree voters will, provided Tomlinson is officially selected as the SLP's candidate, have a choice between a young London yuppie who doesn't even know who Bill Shankly was, or a local working-class socialist.

Predicted scoreline: Ricky Tomlinson 5 Luciana Berger 0.

And let's hope that Bob Wareing, another local working-class, anti-war socialist, who is standing as an Independent, having been deselected by what he calls 'the New Labour mafia', gives the pushy uber-Blarite Stephen Twigg a good hiding in Liverpool West Derby too.

UPDATE: Today's Daily Mail has more on the 'ambitious networker' Ms Berger.

The questions were simple enough for any self-respecting Scouser - who was Bill Shankly, and who sang Ferry Cross The Mersey?
Even the dimmest pub quiz team in Liverpool would surely have come up with the answers in a flash.
But 28-year-old Luciana Berger, Labour's bright young hope to win the crucial Liverpool Wavertree seat at the next election, was forced to admit she didn't know.

Doesn't it show how far the Labour Party has gone from its original working-class roots that they put up a candidate for a Liverpool seat who has never even heard of Bill Shankly?

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Pro-Israel lobbyist Lorna Fitzsimons: foreign policy is an 'elite issue'

It seems we shouldn’t be bothering ourselves with foreign policy. It’s not for the likes of us, dear reader. Cos we aren’t members of the ‘elite’.

From today's Morning Star.

The chief executive of a British pro-Israeli lobby group has been condemned for making inflammatory comments flouting democracy and international law at a high-profile conference in Israel.

Lorna Fitzsimons, CEO of Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM) - a group which lobbies on behalf of Israel in Britain - was addressing the Herzliya conference on the state of the Jewish nation.

Former Labour MP Ms Fitzsimons is reported to have told the conference that "public opinion does not influence foreign policy in Britain. Foreign policy is an elite issue."

Veteran Middle East reporter Robert Fisk described this as "one of the most distressing moments" of the conference. "Deal with the elite and the proles will follow - that was the implication," he interpreted.


Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Clare Short is no anti-war heroine

She was a strong supporter of the 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia- a war just as illegal and deceitful as the Iraq war.

She defended the bombing of Serbian State television- in which 16 civilians were killed- and which was denounced by Amnesty International as a ‘war crime’.

In 2003, instead of following Robin Cook’s example, and resigning from the Cabinet before the Iraq war, she opted to stay in it.

And although she told Tony Blair the need for United Nations (UN) backing "was critical", to give the military action "maximum authority", she was quite happy to support a war without UN backing four years earlier.

Sorry, Clare, but you're no anti-war heroine.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Tony Blair may be over, but Blairism thrives

This article of mine appears in The First Post.

Neil Clark: Nauseated? Shocked? Sure, but he’s still Britain’s most charismatic politician.

Eight out of ten people think he lied on Friday in his evidence to the Chilcot Inquiry. There is a bounty out for his arrest as a war criminal. Twenty-eight per cent of British people think he should be prosecuted for war crimes.

But while Tony Blair the man is undoubtedly damaged goods, Blairism - despite the debacle of Iraq - lives on. And if anything, the influence that the former prime minister and his adherents have over British politics is only going to get stronger in the months ahead.

After the next election the Parliamentary Labour Party is likely to be more dominated by Blairites than it is today. Those hoping for an 'Old Labour' revival will be disappointed. As noted by George Eaton in the New Statesman, 10 members of the 23-strong Socialist Campaign Group, including the staunch anti-Blairites Alan Simpson and Bob Marshall-Andrews, are standing down at the next election.

In the safe Labour seat of Liverpool West Derby, the anti-war and solidly 'Old Labour' MP Bob Wareing has been controversially de-selected in favour of the uber-Blairite Stephen Twigg, a man who, when MP for Enfield Southgate, voted "very strongly" for the Iraq war.

In Liverpool Wavertree, according to the Mail on Sunday, the 28-year-old Londoner Luciana Berger, once linked with Tony Blair's son Euan, has been selected, to the anger of local Labour party figures, to replace the retiring Blairite MP Jane Kennedy. "There has been an operation to put this woman into the seat," claims the veteran Labour MP Peter Kilfoyle. "All the people who have mentioned her name to me I would describe as Blairites, with one or two exceptions."

You can read the rest of the article here.