Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Britain's privatised railways: They're not getting there

The Daily Mail reports:

Commuters faced a nightmare journey home tonight as London's transport network ground to a halt in the face of snow and freezing conditions.
Passengers at Victoria Station were told all trains into and out of the terminal were cancelled while other services around the capital were severely reduced.
In angry scenes, passengers at Victoria remonstrated with station staff demanding more information.
One passenger, who asked not to be named, said: 'It was hellish. Every platform had a train on but they were going nowhere.
'When we were finally allowed on one it was completely filled and arguments were breaking out everywhere. I cannot believe this is happening again.'

I don’t know about you, but I can believe anything as far as Britain’s privatised railways are concerned.

It’s interesting to compare the way that Britain’s privatised railways grind to a halt as soon as there’s some snow, with how the state-run European railways, like Austria’s , cope with wintry conditions. But of course, as the ever so-clever and ever so well-educated British neoliberals keep telling us, private ownership is far more efficient than state ownership, isn’t it?

Terrorism in Iran

I’d call blowing up scientists on motor bikes terrorism wouldn’t you?

And it’s not the first time this has happened.

The attacks were similar to the assassination in January of Masoud Ali Mohammadi, an expert on particle physics, killed by a remote-control bomb strapped to a motorcycle as he was leaving his Tehran home on his way to work.

Who is killing Iran's nuclear scientists and carrying out other acts of sabotage against the country’s nuclear facilities and infrastructure? Some of the likeliest suspects are discussed here.
UPDATE: On the subject of Iran, David Lindsay has a very good blog post up on the hawks circling the country. And what strange bed-fellows they make.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Irish people v The Bankocracy

John Millington reports in the Morning Star:

Over 100,000 Irish working people turned out in freezing conditions in Dublin on Saturday to show their total opposition to the EU/IMF-led austerity measures.

No2EU - Yes to Democracy spokesman Brian Denny welcomed the demonstration, pointing out that the Irish government was hell-bent on "bailing out the finances and the banks at the expense of public services and their own economy.

"The whole point of the bailout is to institute massive structural adjustment. It's an example of monopoly finance capital effectively running the country," he said.

Labelling the EU a "bankocracy," he added: "The banks are ruling the state - all in line with EU rules and policies.

"Ireland is being sacrificed on the alter of the eurozone - it will not end with Ireland. The overarching objective of the EU is to hand over power from people to the finance capital."

How Tom Clarke, Arthur Griffith, James Connolly and Eamon De Valera must be turning in their graves.

Independent Ireland is no more- the country which fought so hard and so long for its freedom from Britain is now an EU/IMF colony. And what a great irony it is that it’s Fianna Fáil -the party of Eamon De Valera- formed from the anti-treaty faction, that has ended Ireland's independence.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Denman shines in heroic defeat

Well, he didn’t win the Hennessy for the third time. But didn’t he put in a great effort in his attempt to concede so much weight to his younger rivals?

As to pointers towards next year’s Gold Cup, the one to take out of the race could be second-placed Burton Port, who has some good Festival form to his name having finished second in last year’s RSA Chase. Denman will be 11 next March and it's hard to see him winning the Gold Cup at that age, (though it would bring the house down if he did), and while Diamond Harry was excellent yesterday, he did flop in the RSA at the Cheltenham Festival last year.
Anyway, what a great race we saw yesterday. If the Gold Cup is half as exciting as the Hennessy was, we're in for a real treat.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The corporate takeover of the NHS

Today was a very historic- and very sad day- for Britain's state health service: the first corporate takeover of a district general hospital in the history of the NHS.

Louise Nousratpour reports:

A private company headed by a former banker was chosen to run an entire NHS district general hospital today in an unprecedented step towards a fully privatised US-style health system.

Circle - headed by former Goldman Sachs banker Ali Parsa - was named as the recommended bidder to run services at Hinchingbrooke Hospital in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, by the NHS East of England.

It is believed that the operating franchise is the first of its kind for an NHS acute hospital in England.

Former Goldman Sachs bankers taking over the running of state hospitals?

Anyone who died in the 1970s and came back to life in Britain today would not believe just how much we've sold out to capital. And of course, as I've argued many times before, capital won't be satisfied until every single publicly-owned asset is in their hands.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Mrs Thatcher and her Blue Children

This column of mine appears in the Morning Star.
(And, on the subject of privatisation, have you read the latest news about Britain’s wonderful privatised railways- already by far and away the most expensive in Europe?)

Neil Clark

It's exactly 20 years ago this month that Margaret Thatcher, the longest-serving British prime minister of the 20th century, left Downing Street.

Thatcher's negative impact can be seen in many areas. But arguably the most toxic legacy was her privatisation programme.

Thatcher broke with the policy of previous post-war Conservative governments which had accepted the mixed economy post-war consensus, instead embarking on a major series of sell-offs when she first came to power in 1979.

British Telecom, British Gas and British Airways were three of the biggest state-owned companies that Thatcher flogged off.

She also broke up the National Bus Company and Sealink - the highly-profitable publicly owned ferry company.

But the great tragedy was that privatisation did not end with Thatcher's eviction from Number 10 in November 1990.

John Major's government took privatisation even further than the Iron Lady dared to go - embarking on the disastrous sell-off of Britain's railways.

To its credit, the Labour Party opposed the Tory sell-offs of the 1980s and '90s. But, to its great shame, when finally returned to government in 1997, it not only did nothing to bring privatised industries back into public ownership, it actually extended the process still further.

Now, after this year's election and despite the fact that privatisation has never been so unpopular, we have the most pro-privatisation government in our history.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Margaret Rutherford: Dreadnought with good manners


Just a month off Christmas Day and it’s time to think about presents. I can heartily recommend Andy Merriman’s wonderful biography of one of the most memorable British actresses from the golden age of post-war British cinema- Margaret Rutherford (who also happened to be Tony Benn’s cousin). She was not only a great actress, but more importantly, a great person too.

Here’s my Spectator review of Dreadnought with good manners.

The face of a muffin
Neil Clark

Margaret Rutherford: Dreadnought with Good Manners
by Andy Merriman.

What was it about post-war British cinema? Our films were lit up by a collection of wonderfully idiosyncratic performers. Think Alistair Sim, Terry-Thomas and Robert Morley. Perhaps the most idiosyncratic of them all was Margaret Rutherford. The drama critic, J. C. Trewin once remarked, ‘When you have seen any performance by Margaret Rutherford you are certain to remember it.’ How right he was.
She stole Blithe Spirit with her portrayal of the exuberant bicycling medium, Madame Arcati. She was wonderful as Miss Whitchurch, the domineering headmistress of a girls’ school mistakenly billeted at a boys’ school in The Happiest Days of Your Life. And she was a far more colourful and entertaining Miss Marple than the rather grey character in Agatha Christie.

Rutherford, modest to a fault, said her ‘English muffin’ face, with its ‘five chins’ and many wrinkles may have had something to do with her success. But the truth was that she was a highly accomplished actress, who, although associated with comedy roles, showed that she could play it serious with the best of them when the opportunity arose, as she did when cast as Mistress Quickly in Orson Welles’ Chimes at Midnight.
In his splendid biography, Andy Merriman charts how Rutherford rose from being a struggling actress, who combined playing minor roles in occasional stage performances with music teaching, to achieve international stardom by the 1960s.

But for a person who generated so much laughter on stage and on film, Rutherford’s life had more than its fair share of tragedy and trauma. To her dying day, she kept a terrible secret: her father was a murderer, who had killed his own clergyman father by smashing his head with a chamber pot. William Benn escaped the gallows on grounds of insanity and was sent to Broadmoor.

Rutherford — a cousin of the politician Tony Benn — was born after her father had been released, and shortly after her birth her parents moved to India. There, tragedy struck again: her mother hanged herself from a tree in the garden.

Rutherford remained haunted throughout her life that she too would suffer from mental illness. She did have a series of breakdowns, and succumbed periodically to depression. Yet that is only half the story.

Despite her inner torment, what comes over most in Merriman’s book is Rutherford’s delightfully sweet character. Endearingly eccentric, extraordinarily generous and devoid of any airs and graces, she was loved by all who came into contact with her.

When the actress Judy Parfitt said that she admired Rutherford’s emerald paste earrings, the next day she found them left as a present in her dressing room. Benjamin Whitrow recalls an occasion when a party was given to celebrate Rutherford’s 70th birthday on stage after a show. Two trestle tables were set up — one down stage with champagne and three- cornered sandwiches for the cast, another way up stage with beer and four-cornered sandwiches for the crew. Rutherford was having none of it. ‘Margaret went straight up stage and grabbed the nearest stagehand, hauled him to the centre and started jiving with him. I have never forgotten this wonderful gesture.’

It was only one of many ‘wonderful gestures’ and acts of kindness by Rutherford which are documented by Merriman. When we add in the pleasure her performances have given to so many people, then Rutherford’s life was truly a life well lived.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A century later, was Dr Crippen innocent?

It's exactly 100 years today since the execution of Dr Crippen.

Here's my piece on the famous murder case, from the Daily Express.

A HUNDRED years ago this week Dr Hawley Harvey Crippen, one of the 20th century’s most notorious convicted murderers, was led to the gallows at Pentonville Prison in London. He smiled as a black hood was put over his head. And then he was hanged.

Crippen’s was the first murder case to get global attention. The case contained all the elements of a classic Agatha Christie novel: an overpowering, promiscuous wife who had bullied and nagged her mild, self-effacing husband, apparently disappearing into thin air; the badly mutilated remains of a body found in the cellar; the flight of the wife’s husband, with his mistress disguised as a boy, on a transatlantic liner; the fugitives’ dramatic arrest in Canada.

It took the jury just 27 minutes to find Dr Crippen guilty of murdering his wife Cora at their North London home. But 100 years on from Crippen’s execution, the controversy surrounding the case refuses to go away.

Crippen always protested his innocence, maintaining that his wife had deserted him after a fierce row. But while there was much sympathy for the doctor, for whom no one had a bad word, very few thought he was telling the truth.

However, new scientific evidence appears to indicate that the body in the cellar was not Cora Crippen after all. So could it be that Dr Crippen really was innocent?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Why Lord Young had to go

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

Neil Clark: Cameron’s enterprise tsar exposed the inconvenient truth - that a huge divide has opened up in Britain

Lord Young of Graffham had no choice but to stand down as David Cameron's 'enterprise tsar' having seriously embarrassed the Tory party by claiming that most people in Britain had "never had it so good" since the "so-called recession" began.

But while I'm no great fan of Young's politics, I must admit to feeling a little sorry for the bow-tied, multi-millionaire Thatcherite politician. After all, from his perspective, he was telling the truth.

The reality is that there is a chunk of British society that has never had it so good.

You can read the whole of the article here.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Britain: Paying the cost of greedy firms

This piece of mine appears in the Sunday Express.

DID you think Britain was an expensive enough country to live in?

If so, I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news for you. Over the next few weeks things are going to get a whole lot worse… Take energy prices. On December 1, Scottish and Southern Energy, Britain’s second biggest supplier, is raising gas prices by 9.4 per cent. Ten days later British Gas is putting up its gas and electricity rates by seven per cent. Household bills will go even higher from January 1 as VAT rises to 20 per cent. Just what we need to get the New Year off to a good start.

Whenever they raise their prices, energy firms trot out the line that its very poorest customers will receive “extra help” but what about the millions of hard-working Britons who, while not actually living in poverty, can in no sense be regarded as being well-off and will be hit hard by the planned increases? Then there’s train fares. Britain’s railways are already the most expensive in Europe and fares will rise again by as much as 10.8 per cent on some commuter routes from January.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Stop the War in Afghanistan- and the next one against Iran

It’s the big Stop the War anti-war march in London today, starting at 12 noon at Speakers Corner. Speakers include Seumas Milne and Tony Benn. Full details here.

We don’t just need to stop the war in Afghanistan, but to stop any aggression against Iran too.

Therefore it was very pleasing to see Stop the War adopt the Campaign against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran’s resolution at their recent conference.

The Stop the War Coalition will demand from the Cameron and Clegg government:

(i) to publicly oppose any military intervention and any new sanctions against Iran.

(ii) to revoke the EU and UN Security Council sanctions against Iran, including those against Iran’s civilian aviation industry which have already resulted in dozens of domestic air plane crashes killing thousands of passengers.

(iii) to enter into unconditional negotiations with Iran to resolve the stand-off in a peaceful way by respecting the Islamic Republic of Iran’s sovereignty and its civilian nuclear programme.

If you want to lend your support to the CASMII, here’s a link to their website.
And if you're a fellow anti-war blogger, do consider putting up a link up to CASMII on your blog roll.

There’s some very evil people out there who would like to destroy Iran in the same way Iraq was destroyed.

We can’t just sit back and allow it to happen.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Unelected House of Cronies

Pro-war, pro-privatisation New Labour groupie Oona King was kicked out by the electors of Bethnal Green in 2005 and failed in her attempt to become nominated as Labour candidate for the London Mayor election. Her reward: to be given a peerage and a place back in the legislature.

Susan Kramer was kicked out by the electors of Richmond Park in 2010 (she also failed to be elected Mayor of London in 2000). Her reward: to be given a peerage and a place back in the legislature.

The Guardian quotes Peter Facey, director of the pressure group Unlock Democracy, who says:

"If politicians and prime ministers want to reward their friends, instead of sending them to the House of Lords, what's wrong with a gold watch?
"People who make and amend our laws should be elected by the public, not selected for good deeds done in the past by grateful politicians.”

He’s absolutely right.

Harold Wilson was pilloried for his Resignation honours list. But this list of cronies, political donors and failed politicians is even worse.

It’s time to axe the honours system once and for all.

David Lindsay asks: And will the consolation prizes for Oona King never end? She was notable for nothing except having been beaten by George Galloway, until she also became notable for having been beaten by Ken Livingstone.

Yes, David but she supported the greatest war crime of the century, so she must be ‘rewarded’.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Major-General David Fraser: Witness for the Prosecution

A former United Nations officer made a significant disclosure during his recent testimony at the trial of former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic at The Hague which, perhaps not surprisingly, did not receive much - in fact, any - coverage in Western media.

Newspapers, magazines, television and radio in most parts of north America and western Europe have been resolutely pro-Muslim and anti-Serb in their coverage of the trials and tribulations of the Balkans.

But the evidence offered by the UN general, who was called, ironically, as a prosecution witness, is really quite extraordinary.

He stated on oath that, during the civil war in Bosnia, Bosnian Muslim forces fired weapons at their own civilians in Sarajevo and then blamed these atrocities on the Serbs.

The revelation by Major-General David Fraser, who was military assistant to the UN protection force's (UNPROFOR) sector Sarajevo commander from April 1994 to May 1995, has of course the potential to become a Pandora's box for the West - if it was to be widely reported by the media.

The bitter fighting which engulfed Bosnia was a result of the United States encouraging the Bosnian Muslim President Alija Izetbegovic to unilaterally declare independence, viewing the geostrategic benefits accrued for itself from this.

You can read the whole of Marcus Papadopoulos’ brilliant Morning Star piece here.And its not comfortable reading for the neo-con cheerleaders of Alija Izetbegovic.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Get Clegg! Jilted students target Lib Dem love rats

This piece of mine appears in the First Post.

Neil Clark: Students who once loved Nick Clegg are now threatening to rally outside his home.

Hell hath no fury like a student scorned. Seven months ago, in the build-up to the general election, the love affair between Britain's large student community and Nick Clegg’s Lib Dems was at the height of its passion. Today they’ve fallen out so badly that students in his Sheffield constituency are contemplating a protest outside his home.

How did it go wrong?

You can read the whole of the article here.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Why western war criminals go free

How can Bush and his disciple, Tony Blair, smugly conclude they were right, pushing out self-serving memoirs suggesting that history will be kind to them when they are responsible for so much death and destruction?

Because they are protected by their successor governments from the consequences of what they have done. Both the U.S. and Britain are keen on jailing or hanging foreigners for war crimes, yet we consider our own leaders immune from prosecution.

There’s another complication, too: the Tories were Blair’s allies over Iraq. Hence their disinclination to pursue Labour over its so-called dossier on Saddam’s non-existent WMDs....

You can read the whole of Peter McKay’s brilliant piece on the toadying to western war criminals- and why it is so important that Bush and Blair are held to account for their crimes, here.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The joys of privatisation: British Gas hikes gas and electricity prices by 7%

From the Daily Mail:

Around eight million households face punishing utility bill hikes after Britain's biggest energy supplier raised tariffs just before winter.

British Gas will push up prices by 7 per cent from December 10, which will amount to an increase of £1.50 on the average weekly dual-fuel bill.

Half a million public sector job losses. VAT hiked to 20% from January. Privatised rail fares- already the most expensive in Europe- set to soar in the New Year.
Massive cuts in government spending. And now big rises in gas and electricity prices just before Christmas.

It’s going to be a long, tough, winter.

But not for everyone.

Isn't neoliberalism wonderful!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Dave lectures the Chinese on 'democracy'

"The people of Britain are what is called a democracy," said Moung Ka.
"A democracy?" questioned Moung Thwa. "What is that?"
"A democracy," broke in Moung Shoogalay eagerly, "is a community that governs itself according to its own wishes and interests by electing accredited representatives who enact its laws and supervise and control their administration.
"Its aim and object is government of the community in the interests of the community."
"Then," said Moung Thwa, turning to his neighbour, "if the people of Britain are a democracy-"
"I never said they were a democracy," interrupted Moung Ka placidly.
"Surely we both heard you!" exclaimed Moung Thwa.
"Not correctly," said Moung Ka, "I said they are what is called a democracy."

From The Comments Of Moung Ka in The Square Egg by Saki.

I don’t know about you, but the first thing I thought of when I read this- was Saki's wonderful story.

Some good comment on Dave’s hypocrisy on lecturing China about ‘democracy’ and ’human rights’ from Andrew Alexander in the Daily Mail and in this Morning Star editorial.
Let's try and get a 'government of the community in the interests of the community', before we start lecturing others.

Monday, November 08, 2010

The Left must deal with the new Chingford Polecat

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

Neil Clark: The Archbishop and Labour MPs may be angry, but IDS has White Van Man on his side.

In my copy of Birds and Wild Animals by H Trevor Jones, the polecat is described as "a furtive hunter, now rare, but still found in the Welsh mountains".

Since the book was published in 1952, it seems that mustela putorius putorius has moved eastwards - and seems particularly fond of a town on the Essex/London border called Chingford.

The original 'Chingford Polecat', first sighted in the 1970s, was, of course, Norman 'On yer bike' Tebbit, the abrasive working-class Tory cabinet minister who introduced legislation curbing the trade unions and who castigated the work-shy.

Today's Chingford Polecat is Iain-Duncan Smith, who took over Tebbit's seat at the April 1992 general election. The former 'quiet man' of British politics, IDS is now Work and Pensions Secretary and sinking his fangs into the long-term unemployed.

You can read the whole of the piece here.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Al Qaeda in Iraq

Well they weren't there when Saddam Hussein was in power. But they are now.

Well done the neocons and their 'liberal' interventionist allies.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

George W. Bush: Still telling WMD porkies

From the BBC News website:

Former US President George W Bush still has "a sickening feeling" about the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, US media report.
Mr Bush admits that he was shocked when no weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq.
"No one was more shocked and angry than I was when we didn't find the weapons," he writes.
"I had a sickening feeling every time I thought about it. I still do."
Sorry George, but I don’t believe you. Because if you had genuinely believed that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction you would never have invaded.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Hyping up the 'terror threat'

Another day, another ‘war against terror’ scare. Did our wartime leadership go ­public on every single threat from our German and other enemies? Of course not. So why do they do it now? To ramp up our fear. Do they think this will make us support them and their ‘war on terror’ policies?.....

You can read the whole of Peter McKay’s brilliant Daily Mail piece here.

It’s also interesting to contrast the current ramping up of fear by Britain‘s political elite, with the way our leaders downplayed the threat from IRA bombs in the 1970s. Is it simply that we are living in a more hysterical era, where everything is overhyped- or is there a political agenda at work?