Friday, December 24, 2010

A very Merry (White) Christmas

A very happy Christmas to everyone.

Well, it's finally happened. For the first time in exactly forty years, most of the UK has a proper white Christmas. I know for many readers in the USA, Canada and in northern and eastern Europe, a white Christmas is no big deal, but in Britain, (particularly in England), it really is something. We no longer have to dream of a white Christmas, like Bing Crosby, we've actually got one. Great stuff!

Coincidentally, back in 1970, the last time we had a proper white Christmas, we also had a new Conservative government in power, though one which was very different to today’s Con-Dem coalition. In fact you could say that its highly appropriate that given that we’ve got a government which wants to take us back to the darkest days of the 19th century, we’ve got a cold and snowy Dickensian Christmas to go with it. Ebenezer Scrooge lives on.... and he’s to be found at Number 11, Downing Street, living under the name of 'George Osborne'.

Meanwhile, the coalition’s latest extreme neoliberal measure- to sell off ALL of England’s publicly owned forests.

As usual, our Christmas sermon comes from the great Christian Socialist George Lansbury. I‘m sure that if George were alive today, he‘d be playing a prominent role in the protests against this truly appalling government.

Keep in mind the fact that the Son of Man, the Christ who lived and was executed by the government of His day, was a great leader, and leader of the common people. It was his great message of Love and Brotherhood which brought him to his death. He knew the poor of the earth were oppressed by the rich and wealthy, and in scathing terms denounced the money changers and all those who defiled the Temple and brought suffering to starving humanity.

George Lansbury, 1926.

UPDATE: You can hear me discussing the 'Winners and Losers' of 2010 on BBC Radio Five Live , here. (the discussion starts at 1hr 24 and a half minutes into the programme.)

Thursday, December 23, 2010

It's time to scrap the January transfer window

This piece of mine appears in The First Post

Neil Clark: That’s just the first measure needed to make the Premier League permanently exciting.

Most pundits, as well as English football's longest-serving senior manager, are in agreement: this is the most exciting football season since the Premier League started. Instead of the usual dominance of the same two or three clubs, top-flight football has at times been gloriously unpredictable and fiercely competitive this year.

Reigning champions Chelsea have recorded only one win in their last seven matches. Arsenal have already lost at home three times. Manchester United have drawn almost half their games. "The general public like what they're seeing now, ourselves dropping points, Chelsea dropping points, Arsenal dropping points," says Sir Alex Ferguson. And he's right.

You can read the whole of the piece here.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Why we should nationalise our airports

This piece of mine appears on the Guardian's Comment is Free website.

Neil Clark: The failure of BAA to deal with recent snowfalls has exposed the price we pay for having our infrastructure in private ownership.

"The government's objective with this bill is to liberate airport management from political interference … to enable airport operators to respond to the needs of their customers, rather than to the shifting priorities of politicians and officials," declared the Earl of Caithness as he moved the Thatcher government's 1986 airports bill in the House of Lords, which was soon to become the 1986 Airports Act. The privatisation of the state-owned British Airports Authority (BAA), we were told, would ensure that "better services are provided for all airline passengers".

I wonder if the Earl of Caithness (or even Margaret Thatcher herself), would have the courage to pop down to Hounslow and tell that to the tens of thousands of holidaymakers stranded at the BAA-owned Heathrow airport for the past three days.

You can read the whole of the piece here.

Monday, December 20, 2010

David Cameron's Winter of Discontent

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

Neil Clark: A prolonged Arctic winter could topple the Coalition

Britain crawls towards 2011 with petrol prices at a record high, unemployment rising and inflation catching hold. The trade unions, inspired by “the magnificent student movement”, are threatening nationwide strikes in response to the coalition’s "unprecedented assault" on the welfare state, according to the recently elected Unite leader, Len McCluskey, writing in today’s Guardian. While the Daily Mail counters that the Prime Minister is planning a showdown at Downing Street today with McCluskey and other union leaders .

2011 was always going to be a tough year for David Cameron and his coalition government. But Cameron’s biggest problem - and the one which could make or break his administration - is something no political commentator could possibly have predicted: the weather.

You can read the whole of the article here.
UPDATE: On the same theme, there's an excellent piece in today's First Post by Max Eilenberg.
Prime Minister David Cameron, normally to be found some distance behind the shit deflector that is Nick Clegg, is nowhere to be seen. London's Mayor Boris Johnson, never at a loss for a pointless phrase in Latin, has nothing to say.
Is this what the Tories meant by the Big Society? Did they intend the state to have no responsibility in crises like this? That people - families, the elderly, businessmen and women, tourists - should be stranded in Arctic conditions and left to fend for themselves?
You can read the whole of the article here.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Kosovo and the myth of liberal intervention

This article of mine appears in today's Guardian.

Neil Clark: Far from being Tony Blair's 'good' war, the assault on Yugoslavia was as wrong as the invasion of Iraq.

'The United States of America and the Kosovo Liberation Army stand for the same human values and principles ... Fighting for the KLA is fighting for human rights and American values." So declared the neocon US senator (and current foe of Wikileaks) Joseph Lieberman back in 1999 at the height of the US-led military intervention against Slobodan Milosevic's Yugoslavia.

It would be interesting to hear what Senator Lieberman makes of the report of the Council of Europe– Europe's premier human rights watchdog – on his favourite band of freedom fighters. The report, which cites FBI and other intelligence sources, details horrific rights abuses it claims have been carried out by the KLA, the west's allies in the war against Yugoslavia 11 years ago.

The council claims that civilians – Serbian and non-KLA-supporting Kosovan Albanians detained by the KLA in the 1999 hostilities – were shot in northern Albania and their kidneys extracted and sold on the black market. It names Hashim Thaçi, the former leader of the KLA and Kosovo's prime minister, as the boss of a "mafia-like" group engaged in criminal activity – including heroin trading – since before the 1999 war.

The report is a damning indictment not only of the KLA but also of western policy.
And it also gives lie to the fiction that Nato's war with Yugoslavia was, in Tony Blair's words, "a battle between good and evil; between civilisation and barbarity; between democracy and dictatorship".

It was a fiction many on the liberal left bought into.

You can read the whole of the article here.
UPDATE: The piece also appears over at the Stop the War website, where they've got a great picture of those two wonderful 'humanitarians': Hashim Thaçi and his mate Tony Blair.
More on the Kosovo organs scandal in the Guardian here and here.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Tony Blair's latest business venture: advising Kuwait for £27m

The Mail reports:

Tony Blair’s company stands to earn £27million for advising the oil-rich Kuwaiti government, it was claimed last night.

The former prime minister’s consultancy firm has been ­advising the Gulf monarchy how to govern itself.

Such a payout would indicate that estimates of Mr Blair’s earnings since he left Downing Street – ­usually put in the £20million to £40million range – could be well below the mark.

Kuwait was the first client of Tony Blair Associates, the London-based firm set up by Mr Blair in 2009 to recommend ‘political and economic trends and governmental reform’.

The firm was contracted to produce ‘Kuwait Vision 2035’, a report into the kingdom’s political and economic future which was delivered earlier this year.

But since then Mr Blair and his consultants have been helping to implement the report’s findings, while training a team of ‘super mandarin, British-style’ civil servants to run the country.

A government source in Kuwait said ‘at the moment they have gone over the 12million dinar mark’ for ‘on-going consultancy work related to the report’.

‘Mr Blair got the work because of his high international profile and vast experience of government,’ the source said. ‘The fact that he helped defeat Saddam Hussein’s Iraq didn’t harm his bid either.’

I bet it didn’t.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

John Pilger on The War You Don't See- tonight on ITV

The Mirror reports:

John Pilger’s quietly sensational and savage documentary exposes how governments routinely manipulate the media to promote their wars….

At the very heart of Pilger’s film though is the fact that a massive number of civilian deaths go almost entirely unreported.

At least a million people have died as a result of the invasion of Iraq.

But you won’t find their names on any war memorials because. As Pilger puts it: “They are not part of our remembrance.”

John's brand new film ‘The War You Don’t See' is on ITV tonight (Tuesday 14th December) at 10.35pm. If you’re in the UK, with access to a tv, do try and tune in. And if you're going out, don't forget to set the video.

Monday, December 13, 2010

How English cricket came back

This piece of mine, on the remarkable comeback of English cricket, appears in the Spectator (Australia).
I'd like to dedicate it to a dear, much-loved, cricket-loving friend of mine who died last week.

Neil Clark
Eight years ago, in an article for the Australian, I attempted to account for what I and many others saw as the irreversible decline of English cricket. It was certainly a deeply depressing time to be an England cricket fan. At the time of the Fourth Test in Melbourne, England were 3-0 down in the Ashes series, and looked on course to become the first England team to lose a series 5-0 in Australia for 80 years (we ended up losing 4-1).

Since 2003, however something quite remarkable has happened. England have regained the Ashes twice (in 2005 and 2009), thrashed the Windies 3-0 in the Caribbean and beaten the same opponents twice in a home series without losing a test. Then, this year, there was England’s first-ever victory in an ICC limited overs competition, as they crushed Australia by seven wickets in the World Twenty20 final in Barbados.

Of course, there have been setbacks over the past decade — the 2007 World Cup and the 2006/7 5-0 Ashes whitewash — but the fact remains that English cricket, as we saw from the stunning comeback at the Gabba, is in the rudest health it’s been in for years.

So what on earth’s gone right?

Friday, December 10, 2010

How Nick Clegg betrayed England's students

Not only did Clegg and co sign written pledges that the party would "vote against any increase in fees in the next Parliament", they were also considerate enough to warn students that tuition fees could rise to as much as £7,000 under Labour or the Conservatives.
"Labour and the Conservatives have been trying to keep tuition fees out of this election campaign. It's because they don't want to come clean with you about what they're planning," Clegg claimed in late April.

On 9th December 2010, that very same Nick Clegg voted for a near-trebling of tuition fees.

Nick Clegg is not only the Ramsay McDonald of modern British politics- he’s taken over from Tony Blair as the Pinocchio of British politics too.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

The Empire Strikes Back: Julian Assange arrested and refused bail

Read all about it here.

And how bail has been refused here.

U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates has hailed the arrest as 'good news'.

Well, he would, wouldn't he?

PS Bravo for Ken Loach, John Pilger and Jemima Khan for offering to put up the bail money.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Vichy Britain: The truth exposed by Wikileaks

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

Neil Clark: Even the Americans are turned off by our blind obedience to the ‘special relationship’.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen! A hundred years ago, Britain was the centre of a vast global empire, which controlled about a quarter of the world. Today, as the WikiLeaks disclosures reveal, the one-time rulers of the world have been reduced to the status of arch-crawlers to American imperial power.

Saturday's batch of leaked cables - published by the Guardian - reveal how leading Conservatives, when in opposition, promised to US diplomats that they would run a 'pro-American regime' and buy more US arms once they got into power.

The level of obsequiousness shown by the self-confessed 'children of Thatcher' to their imperial masters in Washington is quite extraordinary.

You can read the whole of the article here.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

John Pilger's Message to Britain's students

From the New Statesman:

Your action, and the action of your fellow students all over Britain, in standing up to a mendacious, undemocratic government is one of the most important and exciting developments in my recent lifetime. People often look back to the 1960s with nostalgia – but the point about the Sixties is that it took the establishment by surprise. And that's what you have done. Your admirable, clever, courageous actions have shocked and frightened a corrupt political class – coalition and Labour – because they know you have the support of the majority of the British people. It is you, the students on the streets – not the Camerons, Cleggs and Milibands – who are the authentic representatives of the people. Keep going. We need you. All power to you.

Here, you can hear an ABC Radio interview with John, asking fellow Australians to rally round compatriot Julian Assange, the editor-in-chief of Wikileaks.
(hat-tip Media Lens).

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Vichy Britain: Conservative politicians pledge their allegiance to The Empire (and to buy US arms)

Today's Guardian reports:

Conservative party politicians lined up before the general election to promise that they would run a "pro-American regime" and buy more arms from the US if they came to power this year, the leaked American embassy cables show.

Liam Fox, now the defence secretary, promised to buy American military equipment, while the current foreign secretary, William Hague, offered the ambassador a "pro-American" government. Hague also said the entire Conservative leadership were, like him, "staunchly Atlanticist" and "children of Thatcher".

The frontbencher admitted that there was an opposed faction within Tory ranks. "Fox asserted that some within the Conservative party are less enthusiastic, asserting that 'we're supposed to be partners with, not supplicants to, the United States".

Despite British leaders' supportive stance, the dispatches also reveal – in what some will see as humiliating detail – how US diplomats in London are amused by what they call Britain's "paranoid" fears about the so-called special relationship.

No one should really be surprised at Hague and Fox’s positions or that Cameron’s Conservatives are the 'children of Thatcher’ (as I warned here, shortly after he’d been elected as party leader with neocon support, Dave’s no moderate).

But even so, the level of obsequiousness towards a foreign power is still truly amazing, don’t you think? No wonder the Americans are 'amused'.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Letter of the Week: Suzanne Stanley on Tobermory

A real gem in the DT letters page from Suzanne Stanley- a fellow Saki fan.

SIR – The personal insults revealed in the latest round of WikiLeaks remind me of Saki’s short story “Tobermory”, in which an observant cat of that name has been trained to talk.

Brought into a polite house party to demonstrate his talents, he reveals the rude remarks guests have made about one another. The ensuing panic leads to the hostess’s decision to have him destroyed. The following day, Tobermory’s corpse is brought in from the shrubbery, apparently the victim of “the big Tom from the Rectory”.

I imagine lots of people would love to call on the services of a big Tom now.

Suzanne Stanley, Swarland, Northumberland

If you’ve never read ‘Tobermory’ by Saki, then I highly recommend it. You’re in for a real treat.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

How the neocons are spinning Wikileaks

Two great pieces, one from Seumas Milne in today’s Guardian, and the other by Sasha Cockburn in today’s First Post ,on how the neocons are spinning the Wikileaks disclosures to further their own hawkish anti-Iranian agenda.

The serial warmongers are trying to persuade us that because the King of Saudi Arabia (above) and a few other Middle East despots don’t like Iran, then that somehow that proves that the Islamic Republic is a ‘threat’.

These are the very same people, let's not forget, who told us that the governments in eastern Europe under communism had no legitimacy - and their leader’s views were of no account- because they were ‘dictators’.

But it seems the views of the unelected leaders of Middle East countries which don’t like Iran are of account. And in fact, are incredibly important. Strange that.

And while neocons have been falling over themselves to publicise the disclosure that the King of Saudi Arabia has urged the US to attack Iran, they’ve been much less keen to draw attention to another wikileak disclosure on Iran, discussed by Gareth Porter here.

I wonder why that is?

UPDATE: Mehdi Hasan has more on the neocon spinning of wikileaks over at the NS.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Great news: Wikileaks is set to target the banks

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

Neil Clark: Capital runs the world, not politicians, so the next ‘megaleak’ could be a real eye-opener

So Prince Andrew is "cocky" and Silvio Berlusconi has "a penchant for partying hard". If you're disappointed by the less than earth-shattering content of WikiLeaks' diplomatic cables, don't worry. Something far more interesting is coming next.

In an interview with Forbes magazine earlier this month, WikiLeaks' editor-in-chief Julian Assange announced that his site was planning another "megaleak" for early 2011, which would be from the private sector and involve "a big US bank"……

A WikiLeaks' shift from focusing on government to the world of big business would be hugely welcome. For the trouble with this week's release of US diplomatic cables is that it reinforces the belief that governments are the most important actors in world affairs. They're not. Capital runs the world, not politicians.

You can read the whole article here.
UPDATE: Here's more evidence of the power of bankers.