Monday, July 31, 2006

Ahlan°° Min°° Maghreb°°

Hello from Morocco!!!

I hope all are well...

I wanted to add some points about the reaction I am seeing over here... People are getting exposed to loadsa horrific images of civilian casualities in Lebanon and Gaza, over the many Arab satelite TV channels... They are seeing stuff I would never see on UK TV... like the attack on Qana... I was eating my brekky to images of countless corpses of bloodied children being lifted out of the wrecked buildings, their parents heart ravaged with absolute horror and grief. Also the images of Children crying, who have witnessed their parents, aunts, cousins dying or injured... Let alone a group of disabled people who were trying to shelter, some lived, others did not... all these people could not escape, due to having no means of transport.

I am usually resiliant to such things.. but I was crying and very emotional, along with members of my family who were also watching the same coverage... I don't think it was just because of the moment of identifying with how it must be and feeling the loss...but it was also out of frustration and hopelessness. So little is being done to stop this carnage and the needless deaths of civilians. The refusal to discuss a ceasefire or to call for negotiations. Even with the 48 hour let down.. is a lie... a representative from Oxfam and BBC journalists were still hearing shelling.

The feeling here is quite fearce... Even national celebrationso f the Throne have been cancelled in respect of the death and war going on in the ME. I don't think I can put into words the stuff I have been hearing from people.. maybe I will talk about it once I am back in the UK.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Why I don't trust the PSC

Yesterday (Saturday 29th July) I went on a march, in Birmingham (UK), in protest against Israel's actions in Lebanon and Gaza. The event was organised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), about whom I have previously expressed doubts on this blog. Nevertheless, I felt it essential to protest at Israel's brutal and disproportionate collective punishment of innocent Lebonese men, women and children.

My experience of previous pro-Palestinian rallies and demos has not been good. Those of them organised by the "Stop the War Coalition" (ie: the SWP and their new friends, the Muslim Brotherhood), have not been exactly pro-Palestinian, so much as anti-Israeli. At first, I was pleasantly surprised by the Birmingham event. For a start it was clearly organised by the PSC, with the SWP/Respect/Muslim Association of Britain/Muslim Brotherhood, nowhere to be seen: excellent!

The rally before the march was good: a Palestinian PSC speaker condemned Israel, saying "If you want to fight Hisbullah, then go after Hisbullah, not the people of Lebanon!" The same speaker called unequivocally for an immediate end to *all* attacks on civilians, whether Lebonese, Palestinian or Israeli. I had no hesitation in applauding this man's speech.

Then Richard Burden MP (Labour: Birmingham Northfield) spoke, making many of the same points as the Palestinian guy who'd preceded him, but adding " We all want a two state solution". The crowd (about 200 of us) applauded, but I thought "actually, most of the organisers of this rally do *not* support a two states solution, Richard - whether you know that or not".

My old sparring-partner Sue Blackwell spoke and, to be honest, I can't recall exactly what she said; but - precisely because I can't remember what she said- it can't have been all that bad.

Then, just before we were about to set off on our march around the City Centre, a bunch of characters turned up, headed by a mullah in full Khomeinite gear - the full regalia of an Iranian clerical fascist. Behind him were about 50 young men carrying Hizbullah flags, pictures of Hassan Nasrallah and the Ayatola Khomeini, and carrying placards with the slogan "Israel's dream: the world's nightmare".

A lot of people on the demo were clearly upset by the clerical fascists, and a female Yemeni work colleague of mine was hard at work telling people to ignore them. I was standing in the company of a group of Iranian political refugees, who were horrified by the picture of Khomeini, and some of them very nearly left the demo there and then. One of the Iranians identified the Mullah as an agent of the regime (why do they need agents, when they've got the SWP at their beck and call?).

But even so, I said to myself, you cannot blame the PSC for these interlopers. The PSC organisers were clearly not in a position to turn the Khomeneites away, and all they (the PSC)could do was to deny the fascists a platform and attempt to drown out their chants.

Except that leading Birmingham PSC'er Chris Khamis gave the mullah a microphone, and held the megaphone whilst he (the mullah) spouted his anti-semitic filth.

I was proud to be on a protest against Israel's brutality in Lebanon and Gaza. but I didn't like the company I was keeping.

British MP and women activists deported from Israel

And no, it wasn't George Galloway.

According to this news story, Lynne Jones, Labour MP for Birmingham Selly Oak, Yvonne Washbourne, President of Birmingham Trades Council, and Salma Iqbal of Respect (the article calls her a "Councillor" - actually this isn't true, she did not win the seat she stood in at this year's local elections), have been deported from Israel after arriving at Tel Aviv airport en route to Ramallah. They were to pay a visit and do some work building links with women's groups in Palestine. Again, this really shows just how paranoid the Israeli state has become.

I've met two of the three people on that delegation, one being the long-standing trade unionist Washbourne (at the time of writing the BBC article has her name wrong, calling her "Washbrook"), and the other being the left-wing Labour MP Jones. Both are utterly decent, and the idea that they could possibly constitute any threat to Israeli security, is a nonsense. I also have no doubt that the same is true of Iqbal, whom I have not met personally, but who gives one no reason whatsoever to suspect her of any sinister intent. So, in the absence of any legitimate security concerns, one is led towards the conclusion that the deportations can only have been either the product of paranoia or political motivation.

Either way, it's the wrong thing to have done. And given the rate at which Israel is currently losing international credibility, it's also utterly stupid.

Why The Hell Not?

Just when I was beginning to give up hope on Texas, a state with a proud tradition for political characters, home of Sam Rayburn and Lyndon Johnson, but a state that has declined to such a degree that its most recent political alumni are Kay Bailey Hutchison and Rick Perry. If you haven't heard of them, it's probably not your fault - these anonymous Bushites are, respectively, Junior Senator for, and Governor of, the Lone Star State. It seemed, as elsewhere in the South, that the right wing get out the vote machine was going to make Texas a shoo-in for the GOP. Johnson, Rayburn and Lloyd Bentsen are long gone, and the Democrats have not won a state-wide office since 1994. Their nominee this time (a one-term congressman from Houston called Chris Bell), appears to have the charisma of a wet lettuce, and would be better suited to working in an accountant's office, than he is to running for state-wide office. The GOP dominates the socially conservative state, and the evangelical churches turn out its vote as reliably as the rising of the sun.

Step forward, Kinky Friedman.

This year, cigar-chomping, beer-swilling author and musician Richard.S. "Kinky" Friedman has declared as an independent candidate for state Governor, challenging Perry in his re-election bid. Initially derided as a joke candidate, he has already defied expectations by getting on the ballot, in spite of Texas' byzantine electoral laws which require an independent candidate to gather a large number of signatures by nominations deadline (45,540 this year) - from voters who have not already voted in either the GOP or Democratic primaries. Friedman turned in 169,574 valid signatures, of which over 80% were valid: more than three times the required amont.

Now, nobody's pretending that this guy's a socialist, or even a very orthodox liberal (he's probably the only candidate running anywhere in the USA that seems to support both gay marriage and school prayer). But viewed from the outside, it looks like he's the sort of person who just might break the GOP monopoly. His appeal over and above rigid conservative orthodoxies can be seen from the arguments he uses for his more liberal views - for instance on gay marriage, he's in favour because "they have as much right to be miserable as the rest of us" - and the ruthless mockery of the GOP establishment's politicisation of religion in his "Kinkytoon" campaign ads, is just delicious to behold.

And besides, any man whose campaign slogan is "Why The Hell Not?", just can't be all bad.

Good luck, Kinky.

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Saturday, July 29, 2006

Another victory for the book-burners?

It started with the fatwa against Salman Rushdie in 1989 and has been gaining momentum ever since: the idea that if you are offended by a book, play, film or whatever, and you then whip up a sufficiently vigorous campaign to get the book (or whatever) banned, you will probably succeed in at least some of your aims.

I for one didn't appreciate at the time, the importance of the Satanic Verses business, or how significant the weak-kneed response of sections of the liberal-'left' intelligentsia would prove to be, in setting a precedent and encouraging the enemies of free speech and free thought. While the majority of the majority of the literary/intellectual world gave some degree of support to Rushdie, a significant minority (notably Roald Dahl, John Le Carre and Germaine Greer) scabbed. 'Mainstream' politicians including Roy Hattersley and Norman Tebbitt took the opportunity to direct their fire at Rushdie, rather than those who threatened to kill him. The majority of tthe 'left', after initially supporting Rushdie, got cold feet and backed off.

The Satanic Verses was not, of course, withdrawn or banned. But a paperbeck edition was put on hold, booksellers took it down from display and - all in all - the bigots could claim at least a partial victory.

Apres nous les deluge: militant Islam exposed the weakness and decadence of the post -Chatterley trial liberal consensus in favour of free speech: inevitably, other religious, ethnic and communal groups followed suit. Since then we have witnessed the (ultimately successful) Christian fundamentalist campaign against Jerry Springer: the Opera, the closure of Gurpreet Bhatti's play Behzti after Sikh "community leaders"and their supporters picketed Birmingham Rep, and the closure for "security reasons" of an exhibition of paintings by MF Hussain after protests by the so-called "Hindu Human Rights Group". I would include in this list of shame the craven failure of the mainstream British media to publish the Danish "Mohammed" cartoons earlier this year, though I am aware that that is a somewhat more contentious example in the eyes of other contributors to this blog: I'll discuss it later if anyone wants.

Anyway, now we have the splendidly named Campaign Against Monica Ali's Film Brick Lane: they have succeeded in preventing the filming of scenes in Brick Lane itself and now intend to burn copies of the book at a rally in London tomorrow. The exact motivation of the campaign is not clear to me, but it seems to have something to do with the fact that Monica Ali's father is a non-Sylheti Bangladeshi from Dhaka, and that Sylheti Bangladeshis (the vast majority in the UK) believe that Ali has insulted them in various unspecified ways. In fairness, it should be noted that quite a few Brick Lane Bengalis have come out against the campaign and even one of the campaign committee members, Lutfur Ali, says his aim is not so much to stop the filming, as "to sensitise the film-makers to our concerns" (Guardian, July 27). needless to say, very few of the campaigners have actually read the book (the Guardian found just one who had).

Once again the wretched Germaine Greer has weighed in against free speech, supporting the campaign against the film and sneering at Monica Ali as a "proto-Bengali writer with a Muslim name" (Guardian G2, July 24).

And once again it is an ethnic minority artist who is under attack from self-appointed, reactionary, male, "community leaders". The least that monica Ali has the right to expect from the white liberal/'left' intelligentsia is some elementary support: and not to be scabbed upon by the likes of Greer.

Killing of workers in Iraq

The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) is one of the two major Kurdish parties in Iraq, and an assocaite organisation (observer status) of the Socialist International, the body whose full members include UK Labour, the French PS and German SPD. It has a significant number of elected MPs in the Iraqi Parliament. Its leader, Jalal Talabani, is the current President of Iraq.

However, the PUK has a history of gangsterism and repressive behaviour towards dissent in its own territories. And if you believe that it's changed, you'd better think again.

This is the text of a recent Iraq Union Solidarity appeal:

This morning (27th July) the PUK killed 3 workers and injured 13 more at a factory in Tasloja in Sulaimaniya in Iraq. The workers only crime was to be taking part in a picket of a cement factory calling for an increase of wages. This is a clear infringement of democratic rights and basic freedom of expression. We the undersigned call on Trade Union Branches and human rights organisations to send messages to Jalal Talabani who was selected as president of Iraq in April, condemning this action.

Dashty Jamal IFIR

David Broder Convenor of Iraq Union Solidarity

Karen Johnson No Sweat

Appeals to: Mr. Jalal Talabani, President, Republic of Iraq, Convention Centre (Qasr al-Maaridh), Baghdad, Iraq

If you have a fax, please send appeals via the PUK offices abroad and ask them to be forwarded to President Talabani:- PUK office in United Kingdom: fax: +44 20 7 840 0630

- PUK office in United States: fax:+1 202 637 2723- PUK office in Germany: fax: +49 30 863 987 94

- PUK office in France: fax:+33 1 409 00282

- PUK office in Italy: fax:+39 06 50 37120 (if someone answers ask for the fax line)

- PUK office in the EU: fax:+31 703 895832 (if someone answers ask for the fax line)

- PUK office in Sweden: fax: +46 8 917693 (if someone answers ask for the fax line)

COPIES TO: International Federation of Iraqi Refugees -, TEL: 07856 032991

I need add nothing more. Please register your protest and give the developing Iraqi labour movement all the assistance that you can.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Why can't y'all just get along?

You know, I've been thinking about the Alliance for Workers' Liberty and the Socialist Party.

Neither of them will thank me for saying this, but there's no reason on this earth why they couldn't share the same organisation.

Hear me out now, folks.

One of the real complaints that you always hear from people who consider themselves on the left, but who won't join one left group or another, is that they are sick of seeing people refusing to work together because of ostensibly petty disagreements on specific issues. There's then a corollary push-back from the left groups, who insist that the disagreement over the class nature of the (now non existent) Soviet Union is the biggest deal on this earth, and that besides, Comrade XYZ, the guru of ZXY group that they simply won't join with, was always an arsehole, as was shown by his attitude on the Buggins' Fishworks dispute of 1962. Whilst I do find the intra-left disputes tremendously amusing from an anorak point of view, I must confess that the non aligned are largely right on this one.

For instance. The AWL and the Socialist Party formally disagree on the issue of the Labour Party, for all sorts of historical reasons. Both in the 1980s saw the Labour Party as (to use Leninist terminology) a "bourgeois workers' party", which to translate to English, meant that they saw it as an organisation torn between bourgeois inclinations and a working class base, a terrain on which leftist organisations could fight to win class-conscious working people. The Socialist Party changed its view shortly after - in its previous incarnation as the Militant Tendency - it was booted out of the Labour Party. The AWL has also loosened its ties with Labour, but less so, and retains the same class analysis of the Labour Party that it previously held. The two organisations also disagree about particular issues, for instance specific union disputes.

Oh, and they disagree about the class nature of the Soviet Union as well. But then, senior figures within at least one of the two groups disagree amongst themselves about that. And besides, who gives a toss?

But... on every other major contemporary national or international issue that I can think of, not counting differences of public tone and tenor, they agree. About the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon. About the NHS. About the education system. About immigration and asylum. You name it.

I remember when I was a 19-year old student, a member of the AWL telling me that "if the SWP allowed us to organise openly within a joint organisation, and let us freely express our ideas in the public press, we'd join with it." Or words to that effect. That's the Alliance for Workers' Liberty talking about the Socialist Workers' Party.

So, AWL and SP, what the hell's your excuse for not doing exactly that sort of merging, into one democratic, joint, socialist organisation? Or are your mutual historical antipathies more important to you, than the ideal of the left speaking to the people of the UK with one voice?

I'll tell you one thing; if those old intra-left wars are more important to you, then neither one of you deserve to call yourselves decent advocates for working people in this country.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Joint statement on ITF/ICFTU complaint to ILO regarding treatment of Tehran busworkers

Global unions launch UN complaint over Iranian repression

25 July 2006

Global union the ITF and international union body the ICFTU today made a formal complaint against Iran to the ILO (International Labour Organization) following the continued use of terror tactics against one of the ITF’s member unions there.

The union bodies today submitted a dossier detailing coninuing repression against the Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company (Sherkat-e Vahed) that is not just contrary to all norms of justice and human rights but is in direct contravention of the very principles to which the Islamic Republic of Iran signed up when it joined the ILO.

Since it was set up as an independent trade union in 2005 the Syndicate, which is affiliated to the ITF, has been subjected to an ongoing campaign of harassment, arrests and physical attacks. These include the continuing detention of the union’s President Mansoor Osanloo - see
Guy Ryder, General Secretary of the ICFTU, commented: “The Iranian government is mistaken if it believes that a continued campaign of terrorising the Sherkat-e Vahed workers will stifle either their resolve to fight for the fundamental right to belong to a union of their choice, or the international trade union movement’s resolve to support them in that fight. We will continue raising the plight of these workers with all the relevant authorities and applying pressure wherever possible to convince the Iranian government to respect workers’ rights.”

Mac Urata, Secretary of the ITF’s Inland Transport Section, said: “The request by thousands of workers at the bus company that they be allowed the basic right to represent themselves has been answered by boots, batons and beatings. This union has become a beacon both inside Iran and beyond. Maybe that’s why the government and its puppet ‘Workers’ House’ organisations are so determined to stamp it out. Only they’re forgetting that the eyes of workers around the world are now on them, and we intend to keep exposing their terror tactics until Mansoor Osanloo is released and workers are allowed the freedom of assembly that Iran, through its very membership of the ILO, is sworn to uphold.”

For more information see also and A number of protest letters have been addressed to the Iranian authorities, and can be seen at

Press contact details: For more information please contact Sam Dawson at the ITF or the ICFTU Press Department on tel: +32 2 224 0204 or +32 476 621 018, email:

(This is a copy of the ITF and ICFTU's statement - please give them, and the Tehran busworkers, any support that you can - VP)

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

You couldn't make it up

For those in need of something to help them vomit, here's that pinup of pencil-necked chickenhawks everywhere, Ann Coulter, on the current Israeli attacks on the Lebanon:

"Some have argued that Israel's response is disproportionate, which is actually correct: It wasn't nearly strong enough. I know this because there are parts of South Lebanon still standing."

Wow, Ann. You really are a dirty stain on the crotch of politics, aren't you?

Welcome one, Welcome All!

A belated hello to the two latest additions to the Shiraz team, Wanderslore and Larrycain!

Wanderslore is a former Marxist turned lefty Christian, with many a tale to tell about her time in the Militant Tendency in the 1980s. She's apparently sympathetic to, but has not signed, the Euston Manifesto - see, I might blast you guys but I do give you a bite of the cherry too. And before anyone asks, no she's not here just so's we can say Shiraz has a member who's more right-wing than Jim!

As with all of us, Wanderslore is here to amuse, entertain and infuriate you. She is, as she has said, a "virgin" blogger, so please be kind to her for, oooh, a couple of posts.

Larrycain is a former Socialist Party full timer who is still a regular feature of that party's activity in one of its urban strongholds. Remarkably young for a Trotskyite "veteran", he nevertheless knows more about Papua New Guinean Stalinist groups than any man should. An inveterate sectariana hunter and wit about town, his raconteurish ways will undoubtedly entrance the trainspotter tendency that I know exists amongst some of you, my dear and cherished readers.

It would seem that they've mind-melded already, posting simultaneous obituaries to Ted Grant (yes folks, you saw it here first - the new sport of synchronised obit writing!). An excellent team building exercise, if ever there was one.

Welcome one, welcome all!

Sunday, July 23, 2006

A neocon movement in the UK?

Those of you who follow this site rather more closely than is healthy, will recall that the other day I had a spat with one of my commenters, SWP'er Morbo, over my linking to Harry's Place. This can be re-read here, if you are so inclined. I would still hold that I was essentially right and he was essentially wrong, about linking to sites with which you may not agree politically. But... it got myself, Lala and, perhaps surprisingly to some of you, even Jim, talking about the specific case of Harry's Place, as well as the wider Euston Manifesto phenomenon of which it forms a keystone building block. Given that the "pro-war left" is such an internet-driven phenomenon, and also given that the Eustonite "line" seems to be to strenuously deny being neocons of any kind - albeit with the occasional slippage into "you don't have to be a neocon/pro-war/pro-Bush to sign the manifesto" language - I thought a cursory examination of this claim, along with the recent political evolution of one of Euston's most important components, might be in order.

Now before we really get going, it is true that there are political differences among Eustonite bloggers. The folks at Fisking Central, who have as I understand it signed the Manifesto, differ among themselves on the war on Iraq, as well as on other questions. I think the reason why they can all agree with the Manifesto is because it is so vague as to be agreeable to anyone from David Cameron to John McDonnell, but nevertheless it's also therefore possible for someone to be both essentially decent and a Euston signatory.

Right then gentle reader, let's move on to Harry's Place.

Harry's Place is one of the most-read political websites in the UK, and is almost certainly the number one in terms of comment that it attracts in the mainstream media. It's run by people who would loosely describe themselves as (though the term seems to be going out of fashion) "pro-war left". I.E, they're people who would claim in some sense to be left-wing, who supported the war on Iraq because they believed it was a liberationist war which would empower the masses in Iraq to democracy and freedom. Complete nonsense in my view, but there you are.

Now, let's look at their recent response to the crises in Israel, Palestine and the Lebanon. On the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit, strong support for Israel, with posts including one that starts sympathetic, but then appears to accuse a Palestinian mother (writing about her family's suffering under the Israeli barrage in Gaza), and the Gaza population in general of complicity in the kidnapping. And of course, although in this post it is unsaid, there is then the further implication that they brought it all on themselves, didn't they? The cutting off of electricity and water supplies? Perfectly reasonable because Ms El-Farra's so complicit that she practically snatched the guy herself, right? And her kids... well that's very unfortunate but it's all in the name of enlightenment values you know - and these Arab fundos sometimes need to be taught a lesson...

And if you think that's offensive crap, then take a look at the comments underneath the post, which give something of a flavour of the type of "left" that HP attracts these days.

Now, look at their coverage for the past week or two, of the crisis in the Lebanon. Post after post with pictures of Hizbollah soldiers doing one-armed salutes, posts accusing the UK anti-war movement (which, in HP parlance, appears to consist of the SWP, George Galloway, Azzam Tamimi and the MAB, and no one else) of being "pro-fascist" because of speeches that Galloway and Tamimi have given in the recent past. A positive exhortation to people, to attend today's rally "in solidarity with Israel" in London. You name it, they've done it - apart from get to the basic point that it is morally reprehensible, and bordering on war crime, for Israel to be doing what it is currently doing to innocent men, women and children in South Lebanon.

OK, basics time. As any fool who's ever glanced in the direction of a military history book knows, you can't defeat an anyonymous guerilla movement by aerial bombardment. It has never worked, and it won't work here. And if this fool knows that, then you can safely presume that the IDF's commanding officers know it too. So, we can safely discount (as it would seem, do certain representatives of the usually pro-Israeli UK government) the idea that these are the proclaimed "surgical strikes", intended to knock out Hizbollah whilst minimising harm to the Lebanese people in general. Flattening of towns, naval blockades, attacks on Beirut airport, etc, would all seem to bear this out as well.

All of which is obvious to you and I. But not, it would seem, to the "pro-war left".

There is a term to describe people who believe in using western military might to enforce freedom (a contradiction in terms to most of us) in countries across the world, people who believe in virtually unconditional strategic support for Israel as the state capable of quelling religious fundamentalism, and people who define any kind of stance against western imperial adventures as being irredeemably reactionary. "Liberal interventionist" and "Liberal imperialist" have been used. But the real heritage is that of the US neocon movement. Ex-Democrats all, still socially liberal on many domestic issues - witness Irving Kristol's statement in the book "Neoconservatism" that he would expand social security for the elderly - but believers in using the co-ercive power of the state to enforce forward-looking enlightenment values upon the world. That's a description of neoconservatives, and it's a description that also fits the core values of the pro-war "left" in the UK as well. Postings on HP being the most obvious expression of those values.

There is a lot more to be said about the core group organising the various public faces of Euston, but that's a post for another day.

It was a particular concern of mine prior to the AWL's Ideas for Freedom event this year, that certain younger comrades of theirs were falling into the trap of thinking that the pro-war Euston crowd were somehow "better" than the mass of the left in the UK, because they share and reiterate many of the AWL's (largely correct, albeit vastly over-reiterated) criticisms of the SWP. Because of that superficial agreement the deeper issues where the AWL and the SWP are closer than either group would care to admit - ie their basically socialist vision of how the world should be, their opposition to wars like that in Iraq, etc, were being forgotten. As I've mentioned in a previous post, that particular concern was laid to rest in a magnificent debate between the AWL and two hapless Eustonites at that event.

But nevertheless, I would seek to reiterate my point to anyone on the left, who thinks that the neocon core group of those who composed the Euston Manifesto are a positive influence on progressive politics in the UK. They're not, and if you're one of the many good people people who is considering signing the manifesto, and I know you're out there, then I'd ask you to consider very carefully the political project that you're signing up to before you put your name on the dotted line. Similarly, if you're one of the several good people who have already signed it, I would ask you to consider removing your name. You're not signing up to a progressive project in the sense that most would understand it, you're not even signing up to a vaugely Blairite centre-left statement of intent. You're signing up to a nascent UK neoconservative movement, and unless you're fully aware of the implications of that, you should not put your name on its founding document.

And my link to Harry's Place? It's staying up for now, but for information purposes only. An interesting read it may be, but "left" or "liberal" in any sense, it simply is not. I don't support the politics of the so-called pro-war left, and neither should you.

Just for the sake of balance...

Here's a quickie folks, just to balance my post about Azzam Tamimi's gross-out speech to an "anti-war" rally the other day. It's not only pro-Hizbollah rants like Tamimi's that are doing the rounds on the internet, as this rather slick piece of pro-Israeli propaganda shows. Nothing like whitewashing of history by ignoring inconvenient truths, is there? For instance, the withdrawal from the Lebanon is mentioned, whilst Ariel Sharon's stroll on Temple Mount is not. The Shalit kidnapping is mentioned, whilst the Jenin massacre is not. Israel is presented as a whiter-than-white innocent state responding to attack, whilst the Arabs (and it's of note that the author skips and slides around the Lebanese Shia of Hizbollah and the Gaza Palestinians of the as-yet-unconfirmed group that kidnapped Shalit, as though they were the same thing) are presented as untrustworthy liars who indiscriminately shell Israeli civilians.

Sorry, did I say "slick" propaganda? There's probably an "l" in there that I should take out.

Friday, July 21, 2006

A sort of Fond Farewell to Ted

First of all as avirgin blogger, apologies if this message is only half sent or whatever. I promise I will get the hang of it.

It seems very appropriate for my first blog to say goodbye to my former leader Ted Grant. I have sat through many a conference, and many meeting listening to the same speech which always ended with that chopping hand gesture and his usual mantra - "A Socialist Britain, a Socialist Europe and a Socialist World".

During the eighties when I was a dedicated Millie member (even though there was no such organisation, with no members who never met regularly !),I met Ted several times. He always stuck me as a rather dotty but sweet old uncle who was wheeled out at family occasions to add a bit of gravitas now and again. I could never understand why so many of the "comrades "held him in such awe. Undoubtedly a smart bloke, but being in his company was a bit like wandering around some dusty old department store that had really had its day.

Probably my enduring memory of him is swapping vegetarian recipes in the back of a taxi ,on a cold Birmingham night and him addressing me as "young lady".

So bye Ted, and bye to dawn paper sales outside factories, nationalising the top two hundred monopolies, donkey jackets and doc marten boots and making large contributions to the Fighting Fud.

Just where exactly did all that money go ? But that's another story !

Ted Grant passes away

Well thats a cheery title for my first post. Ted Grant, also know as Isaac Blank, passed away yesterday morning aged 93. He was a leader of the International Marxist Tendency aka Committee for a Marxist International aka Socialist Appeal, or more appropriately, the Grantites. So what do I, as a Socialist Party member (Taaffeite) think about it all?

Well just a bit of background, very briefly. Ted was a pioneer of the British Trotskyist movement, a leading member of the Workers International League, then Revolutionary Communist Party, Socialist Fight and then the Militant (RSL). The Militant grew to become a serious force on the Left, Liverpool, expulsions from Labour, Poll tax etc etc. It then underwent a serious split in Britain and in the Committee for a Workers International (the international org that it was affiliated to). This was mainly over the Labour Party, Stalinism, economic perspectives etc etc. A minority left (actually expelled as they had set up their own organisation), with Ted Grant as its leading spokesman, to set up Socialist Appeal and the CMI.

I never met Ted, having joined the 'tendency' in 1999 i was way too late, but have heard some very funny stories about him. Apparently he was tee total, though i have heard things to the contrary. His books and writings were very interesting, although slightly inpenetrable to mere 'Taaffeite activists' like myself, his demolition of the Cliffite theory of state capitalism being particularly amusing (if you like that sort of thing).

I have also heard stories that Ted supplemented his meagre income (and trust me it is meagre - i know from a previous life) as a Millie full timer by being a door to door vacuum cleaner salesman, and i have every reason to believe that this is true.

Of course relations soured between the CWI and the CMI with the quite frankly disgusting articles written by Alan Woods and Rob Sewell regarding the history of Militant. They believe that only Ted was responsible for the growth of Militant - of course Ted played a massive and important role, as did Alan and Rob, but also no more than comrades like Peter Taaffe, Keith Dickinson, Clare Doyle, Tony Saunois and countless others. They have falsified history to further their interests. But despite all that, Ted should be remembered as a self sacrificing Marxist who dedicated his life to the Marxist movement.

Right all thats far too serious, time to get back to the split in Workers Power, I need some light relief.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Ridley Didley... ok you get it already

This one's especially for Stroppy, who appears to think I have an Yvonne Ridley fixation.

Many of you will be familiar with my little series of scribblings about la Ridley, looking (not always with due reverence) at her political actions and stances. But it seems this time she's got something extra special to tell us.

In an article in Muslims Weekly from a couple of months ago, Yvonne brings to our attention a phenomenon which is eating away at the moral core of Muslim communities across the UK, and which is clearly a diversion from the concerns that should always be at the forefront of those communities' minds, such as Guantanamo and Iraq. The name of this disturbing, diversionary phenomenon? Errm... it's nasheed music.

In the article, Ridley berates nasheed superstar Sami Yusuf in particular, for his encouragement of "pop culture" amongst young Muslims. She was horrified, it seems, to see Yusuf's "stage groupies" (I presume this is Yvonne-speak for "staff") encouraging people to get up and sing along. This, she considers is comparable to the "fluffers" who Yvonne thinks operate in lap-dancing circles. Well, being a boy of such high moral standards, I wouldn't know.

And she finshes off with a crescendo warning to all, lest they fall under the spell of this latter day pied piper:

"Will you climb on theater chairs and express your rage over Guantanamo Bay and other gulags where our brothers and sisters are being tortured, raped, sodomized, beaten, and burned? Or will you just switch off this concerned sister and switch on to the likes of Sami Yusuf because he can sell you a pipe dream with his soothing words and melodic voice?"

Wow, Sami. You're a bad bad man. You and your mind-controlling charity concerts, trying to hypnotise the world and stop its citizens from hearing Yvonne's words of wisdom. And here was me thinking you just sang nice songs.

Yusuf has written a dignified response to Ridley, which can be read here, and which sets a few things straight:

"What shocked and even angered me was the way you shamelessly insulted our pure innocent sisters who were supporting a charity concert by describing them as “fluffers”! (Incidentally, these very sisters managed to raise over £100,000 for orphans all over the world.) I – like the vast majority of those who read your article – was blissfully ignorant about the very existence of this disgusting obscene word, and I would question the wisdom of introducing it to the vocabulary of your readers."

Want my advice, Sami? Just ignore the strange lady and keep on making that great music.

But then I'm a blogger, and as Yvonne knows, we're evil.

"Slippin' Around": Miff Mole and the trombone in jazz

Did you know that today has been International Trombone Day? No, neither did I, until ran into a man in a pub (a french horn player with the CBSO) who told me about it: apparently 800 trombonists from all over the world today converged on Birmingham (UK) to perform the premier of a new work for "massed trombones, tabla and dhol by Rick Taylor".

All of which is simply an excuse for me to tell you about Miff Mole , and to reproduce a rather good (IMHO) piece of writing by Otis Ferguson. As both Mole and Ferguson are, these days, forgotten figures, it gives me great pleasure to draw your attention to them both. You'll have to ignore some 1920's/30's jazz references (a "Friar's Inn background", for instance), but I still think the piece is very descriptive and poweful.

First, Irving Milfred "Miff" Mole (1898-1961): the first jazz trombone soloist of any significance. In the 1920's he was a leading figure on the jazz scene and in the studios. But in the 1930's and 40's he retreated into studio work (becoming what would now be called a "session man") and gradually dropped off the jazz radar. By 1960 even his "session" work had dried up, and someone recognised him as he sold pretzels in a New York subway. When the New York jazz community heard about his plight, they started organising benefit gigs, but it was all too late: he died in April 1961, and was buried in a pauper's grave.

Otis Ferguson was one of the very first serious jazz critics (in the 1930's), and a contributor to the seminal book "Jazzmen", edited by Frederick Ramsay Jnr and Charles Edward Smith (published in 1939, and still worth reading). Like Ramsay and Smith, Ferguson was a leftist, but unlike them he had no time for the CP. He died on September14, 1943 when his ship, the Bushrod Washington, was hit by a radio-guided bomb: his friend, Malcolm Cowley commented: "The other seamen escaped before the vessel burned to the waterline, but the bomb had exploded in the messroom, to which Otis, as was his custom, had gone down alone for a cup of coffee". Anyway, here is Otis Ferguson on Miff Mole and the Trombone in Jazz:

"Milfred (Miff) Mole was born in Long Island, studied piano and violin through his school days, and then learned trombone from A to Z. He heard jazz and wanted to play it, but he patterned his instrument on the work of the trumpet. He was a slight and studious-looking youngster when he first bobbed up in the Manhatten studios in 1922, with a round face and round glasses (he looked as young as the others, though born in 1898). But he could do things on his jazz instrument no one else could do, and so all through the twenties, till the late arrival from Texas of Jack Teagarden-perhaps only until just before that, when Glenn Miller came in with the Pollack band-everybody who thought of organising a hot band thought of Miff Mole.

"He could raise the tension of any band with a four-bar break, he could swing into the pattern of a trumpet solo with a middle eight bars, he could take thirty-two by himself, and double that, and keep the line of interest clear and free. What is more, he was old reliable himself in studio work; he could play straight when he had to and when you wantedsomething else it was there.

"The word that has slipped into the talk about him is "technician", which is short of the fact and a little slighting. Mole is a fine technician of course, but much else besides. his harmonic sense is impeccable; his taste is clean. With everybody else muffing weaknesses with shakes, slurs, repeated phrases, and high notes, he sticks to a rounded phrase of notes struck dead center. His slide is as easy and noiseless as a trumpet valve without sacrificing that typical and exhilarating capacity of the instrument for rolling into a note; more, he knows, as few have discovered, how to use the full lower register to give a phrase an upward spring. He never tries something he can't pull off, and yet there seems to be little he can't pull off-and probably the "technician" stuff comes from the way he will blandly jump five positions or an octave and a third with nothing more of effort between each full note than the slight tonguing effect which cuts each out, with the clarity of good brass work.

"He played jazz when jazz was pretty crude; he played on the beat and on the chord, and he played with a certain easy bounding zest. He was so far ahead of Brunies and Pecora when he started that there is no telloing what a Friar's Inn background would have done for him. He is still so much more interesting in any stretch than all but Jimmy Harrison and Teagarden that I would not guarantee what might now be said of him if he had died ten years ago in rather horrible circumstances. But he is forty-one now, boys, and forty-one is no age for cutting the brash capers of youth. He has settled down to a peaceful and secure middle age in the studios. He might have been greater if he had been pushed around more by more of the right people at the right time and place; but he was one of the first jazz names I knew; he was a lasting influence on an instrument I admire most for its grand depth and brilliance; and I can still put a Miff Mole's Molers on the machine and feel a genuine living interest-which is not to be confused with the scholastic excitement of archeology. Regardless of influences, I don't imagine Mole ever had what Teagarden has inside him. For that matter, neither has any other trombonist in the world, for my money. But before you follow the crowd in letting him go as merely an expert in plumbing, go listen to ten or twenty good records out of nearly a thousand-perhaps just a couple of casuals he did with his own band, "You're the Cream in My Coffee" or "Moanin' Low"".

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Oh. Dear. God.

Azzam Tamimi, speaking at a meeting of the UK's largest "peace" movement, the Stop the War Coalition:

"Israel cannot exist in peace with anyone. Israel, the Zionist entity, is made of evil."

For some more utterances from this Great Man Of Peace, watch and listen here. Note the loud cheering from assembled "peaceniks". Who presumably have forgotten what the word "peace" actually means.

You know, I dig my heels in and argue with people like the Eustonites (and Jim!) who think that the UK anti-war movement is a sick joke. After listening to and seeing that godawful spectacle, I wonder why I bother.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Solidarity: Way Down Yonder

In the present depressing political situation, I found the following (from the UK Musicians' Union), encouraging and rather moving:

"£43, 000 raised for musicians in New Orleans.

"Within ten days of hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastating New Orleans, a band was playing in Southampton High Street in order to raise funds for the musicians who had lost their homes, instruments, and livelihoods. £514.00 was raised that day and from this start, the New Orleans Musicians' Appeal Fund (NOMAF) was formed. The Charities Commission statement was to collect money for musicians without any deduction for administration or expenses (excepting minimum bank charges) and they would pass it in lump sumsto organisations in the city who knew the musicians, their needs and had also pledged hat they would take no money for running costs from the money that we had sent to them.

"Immediately after the hurricane, bank accounts were inaccessible. So the first need to be addressed was money for temporary housing and everyday items; anything from cleaning materials to apair of socks. To this end NOMAF almost immediately sent £1,500 to the Tipitana's Foundation, to help in the cost of temporary re-housing and another £1,500 ...(to be) handed out in parcels of 500 dollars to needy musicians. At the same time £3,000 was sent to the Musicians' Clinic - an organisation that treats musicians free of charge and boasts that they can turn a one-dollar donation into twelve dollars of care. Their New Orleans base had been flooded, all of then patient records were underwater and they had lost access to any money. The clinic relocated temporarily in Lafayette and set about the task of tracing their patients, getting prescriptions to them and urgent medical equipment such as oxygen tanks. All this was done on newly donated money.

"The second stage was to deal with more long-term needs. Another£4,000 was sent to the Musicians' Clinic, who had returned to their premises in New Orleans. They were beginning the massive task of drying out the building, patient records and replacing water-damaged medical equipment. Yet another £4,000 was sent to NOMRF, who this time did a deal with Conn-Selmer and re-equipped the New Wave Brass Band with instruments that had been lost in the flood. This was done at below cost price and the band was able to march once again at Mardi Gras. £3, 000 was sent to The Preservation Hall charity. The new Orleans Musicians' Hurricane Relief Fund (NOMHRF) provided furniture for Bob French, a jazz drummer, after he had found a new apartment. Bob's apartment in Treme was heavily damaged in the storm and being an older gentleman with a drum kit, he needed a new place of his own. Bob is a bandleader, and an outspoken advocate for New Orleans music. Furnishing his apartment will provide a base of operations for him to continue playing and educating the world about music from New Orleans.

"At the special request of two of our donors, another £5,000 was sent to NOMRF. This helped Eddie Bo, a piano player, to repair his roof, as well as aiding Jean Brazeale, a singer/pianist and a young band 'The Morning 40 Federation'.

"Another request by the donors was for money totalling £5,200 to be sent to the (US) Musicians' Union: they have an Altruist fund for hurricane relief, which was also being administered without deduction of expenses.

"The fund has to date collected over £43,400.00 and the administrators feel that it will soon be time to close the fund which was only ever meant to give immediate relief. Not only the jazz lovers in this country contributed money: donations have also been recieved fron France, germany and from Spain. Chris Walker will be visiting New Orleans in april and the rest of the funds will be distributed at that time".

"Chris Walker
"Vice Chairman of the M.U. Jazz Section Committee)

The ban on Al-Ghurabaa and the Saved Sect

Well, I'm sure you'll all have seen by now that there's a ban about to be imposed on Al-Ghurabaa and the Saved Sect, two successor groups (which I'd always thought were one group under two "front" names, but hey, John Reid's more clued up than me, right?) of Al-Muhajiroun. Al-Ghurabaa were the ones on the tiny demo with the "Stick pins in the eyes of those who insult Islam" banners after 7/7.

Now, these are not nice people. They do promote hatred between Muslims and non-Muslims, they actually do "glorify terrorism", they do support suicide bombing, and they do publish deeply inflammatory material, which they propogate and distribute. They are in no way to be supported as "fellow anti-imperialists" or as any sort of progressives, by anyone who considers themself to be on the left.

But the idea that these posturing extremists, or their clownish leader Anjem Choudhury (who first came to my notice when he got his butt kicked by Tariq Ramadan and several others in a debate on BBC Newsnight a while back) are a threat to national security, is a nonsense. Aside from anything else, the security services plainly know exactly who they are, where they are, and what they do. Therefore the likelihood of Anjem and his chums - even assuming they did have the balls to do so - sneakily making bombs and detonating them without anyone noticing, seems to me very remote.

So, what's this ban really about? It's about gesture politics at its worst. The government need the population to believe in a massive and sinister ongoing terrorist threat in order to justify their whole security policy rationale, ranging from the raids on houses belonging to innocent UK citizens of Muslim religion and culture, to the war in Iraq (which was about stopping international terrorism, remember, at least after the "45 minute threat" proved to be a load of cobblers), to more general attacks on civil liberties like ID cards. And proscribing 300 losers who go on demonstrations wearing loo rolls tied to look like bomb belts, obviously makes for an ideal gesture.

Don't be fooled. Al-Ghurabaa are a nasty bunch, for sure. But they're tossers, not terrorists. And being a tosser shouldn't be an arrestable offence in a free country.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Just Bloody Awful

I remember, about twenty years ago, talking to Sean Matgamana about Ireland. At that time, sectarian attacks between Protestants and Catholics, were rife. The British "'Sunningdale' peace attempt had been destroyed by a 'Loyalist' general strike in 1974. The 'Republican' movement, widely supported on the English 'left', seemed to be opposed to any concesions to the "Loyalists" in the Six Counties: all they (the 'Republicans') were willing/capable of saying was that the Proddies were the aggressors, and the Catholics the innocent victims. Historically, that was (very roughly) true, but it didn't help either side reach a resolution. There seemed no way out of the impasse. Sean (from an Irish-Catholic- Republican background), who had started his political career as a left-republican, but had developed (as an auto-didact) into a Marxist, was very, very gloomy; he said something like: "It's just bloody awful. We have the programmatic answer to all this slaughter - but no-one is listening to us". He went on to say something like: "I'm in despair: if you want my honest opinion, I think we'll lose and nothing can be done. but still we have to keep putting our prgramme forward: it's all we can do".

I feel very much the same way about the Middle East. I'm close to despair. The Isreali bombardment of Lebanon, and the civilian deaths that are resulting, is just awful. it *is* collective punishment, completely disproportionate, and the civilised world should cry out that it's unacceptable.

I've just recieved an e-mail, inviting me to attend a rally this coming Saturday, called by the Palestinian Solidarity Committee (PSC). The slogans seem to be OK: "Stop the Israeli attacks on Gaza and Lebanon"; OK, I can agree with that. I'll almost certainly attend. But I won't be easy in my mind: I'm never be at ease attending Palestine Solidarity events. Why not? Because I know that most of their leading members are for the destruction of Israel. Not for the "whithering away of the state" in the Marxist sense, but for the destruction of the Israeli state in an immediate sense that the PSC and their co-thinkers on the British 'left' (eg: the "S" WP), do not apply to any other state. They occassionally, when asked, claim to be for a "two state solution". But I know that they are liars about that. Betty Hunter and the other leaders of the PSC are deliberately ambiguous about "two states" because they know that to come clean as advocates of the destruction of Isreal would cost them the support of mainstream figures in the Labour Party and the unions. So they stay schtum.

So what should those of us who support a "two states" solution, do in the present situation? It is essential that we make it clear - first and foremost - that Israel's actions in Gaza and Lebanon, are unnaceptable in terms of loss of life, are politically counter-productive and in every respect disproportunate. We should join any and all protests against Isreal's miltary actions, except those called by Islamists, the SWP and anyone else calling for the destruction of the state of israel. which is where the problem with the PSC comes in: they are *not* officially for the destruction of the state of Isreal: but I know that their leading members *are*. So what do we do about PSC demos? What those of us who are unabigiously for 'two states' should be doing now, is organising our own protests against the killings in Lebanon and Gaza - but also condemning the murderous and hypoctitical role of Syria in encouraging Hizbollah to attack Israeli civilian targets. We must also condemn Syria, Hizbollah, Hammas and all those who work against any "solution" that does not recognise the right of Israel to exist behind 1967 borders..

To go back to Sean Matgamna, and Ireland. Sean reckoned that - on balance - all was lost and that all we, as socialists, could do was to put forward our porgramme in the forlorn hope that *someone* might take it up. Actually, Sean's pessimism has been been proved wrong. A programe for reconcilliation and peace (not exactly that proposed by Sean, but not altogether dissimilar - the Good Friday Agreement) has been cobbled togeter and sectarian violence has diminished, though not altogether disappeared. Massive problems remain; but the the spirit in the Six Counties is now one of hope, not despair. If the Isreali peace movement can be supported, and Palestinian secularists and non-Islamist nationalists can be supported, then there is still hope. Maybe -like Sean on Ireland- I can be proven wrong on Isreal/Palestine.

The Cost of War

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We often see images of aftermath of destruction - this image was flashed around the world shortly after the Coalition started their *shock and Awe* campaign against Iraq...

The story behind this - was this girl called Ibtihal Jassem, she was born both deaf and dumb - in the instant that her legs was blown off, she also lost all of her family - in the picture you see her uncle, carrying her body.

Ibtihal - is a survivor, but will live for the rest of her life, not only having severe communication issues, in a society that does not cater for her special needs - but also severely physically disabled, with mobility problems that now thanks to the war, will leave her dependent on mobility aids, which are hard to come by. For a moment reflect on what must be going on inside this girls mind...

Here is a link with more information about Ibtihal

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Sunday, July 16, 2006

Not bad... could do better

That's my verdict on yesterday's NHS SOS demonstration in Birmingham, which started from Dudley Road Hospital and finished up at Centenary Square in the city centre. Called by the North Staffs NHS SOS community campaign, but largely organised by the Socialist Party, it was meant to pull together community activists and hospital workers from across the Midlands region. This is the sort of thing that I support, so I duly hopped on a coach kindly laid on by my local Socialist Party, and headed over to Birmingham.

We arrived following the usual in-journey chat about left-wing sectariana (the demise of Workers' Power is a favourite thème du jour) to find about 200 people assembled ready for the demonstration. These included in the main hospital and blood service workers, as well as people from advocacy groups working on behalf of people with conditions such as MS. The Socialist Party were there in force, as would be expected given it was their baby, the SWP managed to rustle up a few members - although not even a significant fraction of their numbers across the West Midlands - and other notaries included a member of the AWL from Leicester, and a rather desolate looking chap selling Workers Power.

It all started off, we marched, it was noisy, the local media were there, jolly good etc. We eventually reached our destination, got through the various speakers including SP councillors Dave Nellist and Jackie Grunsall, NHS SOS, the MS advocacy group and a couple of others. Then everyone headed off into the Birmingham Midlands Institute for a post-demo meeting about where we go from here. This, whilst interesting, was primarily notable for the magnificent sight of one particular SP luminary and former Militant councillor, famed for his love of beer and hearty meals, wandering into the middle of proceedings (about half an hour late) carrying a plate of sandwiches. He then promenaded statesmanlike around the room, apparently oblivious to the meeting, until he had carefully selected a spot from which to observe the bemused speaker whilst enjoying his lunch.

Overall, it was a good day, but there were problems. Firstly, where was the turnout from the UK's second city? There were coaches from Staffs and Coventry, and the odd person from further afield, but the turnout from Birmingham itself was derisory. There may be some reason for this, but it needs sorting out. Secondly, where were the SWP? They turned out a few members, but nothing like what they're capable of doing when they put their minds to it. They have a lot of members in Birmingham, some of whom work in the health service, who were not there.

Thirdly, where were you, Denham? I know the Jazz Festival's on but still it's a poor show, old chap. Finally, and most importantly, since when do you have a fringe meeting in a building with no bar?

Good start guys, but the campaign needs to gather momentum if it's to become a real force to be reckoned with.

Ridley Didley Doo, Number Three

Yes, it's the return of the column that charts Yvonne Ridley's ongoing commitment to non-eccentricity and left wing politics. This time we're going to talk about tax, and it's a subject that requires us to take a short trip down memory lane.

Whatever brickbats one might want to throw at the Respect Coalition, and there are many, and however one might want to question what right the SWP have to claim that it is a socialist project, it does retain some vestigial left-wing characteristics. One of these is a policy, which you can see in the founding declaration on the link above, to:

"Tax the rich to fund welfare and to close the growing gap between the poor and the wealthy few"

All good social-democratic stuff.

Now, to the second part of our little tale. Prior to the last general election, an eccentric anti-tax group called "Tax Pledge 2005" contacted most sitting MPs and candidates, seeking to get them to sign a declaration that the group had drawn up. Again, it's visible on the link to the Tax Pledge site, but for the lazy, this is what it said:

"I pledge to the taxpayers of my constituency and to the British public that, if elected to the next parliament and except in the event of a national emergency, I will vote against all increases in tax rates unless accompanied by an equal or greater reduction in the overall tax burden within the same proposals."

They didn't have a lot of success with this. Of the MPs contacted, not only Blairites such as Hazels Blears and Liberals like Sir Menzies Campbell would not sign it; Thatcherites like Julian Brazier, John Redwood and Sir Peter Tapsell also took a pass.

In fact, overall the pledge only got seven signatories; two from Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party, one Ulster Unionist, one Tory, one (presumably rather odd) Green candidate, one from the "Official Monster Raving Loony Party", and... Yvonne Ridley, Respect candidate for Leicester South.

One has to raise the question - had Yvonne actually read her own party's founding declaration? Was she aware that socialists (and for that matter liberals, social democrats and Heathite Tories) are generally in favour of paying for extra public services through taxation? And what deeply felt commitment to left wing politics was it, that led her to take a position on tax which was to the right of John Redwood?

As to what this sorry episode says about the political calibre of some Respect candidates and their understanding of progressive ideas, I leave the final judgement to you.

Friday, July 14, 2006

It's offical - John's running for leader

And no, we're not talking Prescott.

More power to yer elbow, Mr McD: you've got my vote.

John McDonnell for Leader of the Labour Party

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Talking of "Inviting Commentators"...

... if anyone would care to comment on this open letter in the Weekly Worker (I promise not to source from them every week), then I'd be interested to hear about it.

I'd be particularly interested in the views of anyone (mentioning no names) who thinks that we need to subordinate criticism of reactionary regimes that happen to be anti-US, in the name of "anti-imperialism". Anything ranging from sophisticated political theory, to explanations as to how you sleep at night, would be most welcome.

I look forward to hearing from you.

All Quiet on the Shiraz Front

I'm a novice at this blogging game, but I understand that in order to keep interest up, you should try to post at least something every day (Eric Lee - an expert- told me that, so it must be true). So I wonder why my two esteemed colleagues have let things here lapse, since my post on Catholicism? I also hope that the Priest will not excommunicate me if I give a plug to a rival: over at "Dave's Part" (see link to "Dave Osler", on the right), there is an hilarous discussion about the SWP's line on Somalia. Go and have a look, and check out the comments- especially those of the unbelievable "Paddy Garcia" (who I do not accuse of being a member of the SWP: even they are not *that* bad) and the wonderful "stroppybird".

By the way: the Priest tells me he is actively in search of contributors to this blog: he wants a (preferably sane) Eustonite and an "anti-Imperialist", broadly of the (gawd-help-us) SWP variety, but (obviously) not actually a member - as a member wouldn't be allowed to join a blog like this. I've persuaded an ex work colleague who used to be in the 'Militant' Tendency and is now a Christian (!) and Eustonite(!!) to join the team: but if you think you might fit the bill, contact the Priest.

Monday, July 10, 2006

How Far Can You Go (or: the Trouble with Catholicism)

I have, occasionally, been accused of "Islamophobia". Never by a Muslim. Always by someone in or around the SWP, or that part of the 'left' influenced by it. My standard reply is: "Yes I am Islamophobic: just Like I'm Judeophobic, Hinduophobic, Christianophobic, Buddistophobic and Tree-Huggerophobic. This might strike you as a somewhat facetious reply, but I mean it. The European and American left is in danger of losing its tradition of militant secularism, atheism ( yeah, I know they're not the same thing) and general hostility to religion both organised and unorganised, in the trendy rush to cultural relativism and the patronisation and infantilisation of non-European/non American "peoples". The brain-dead campaign to equate hostility to religion with racism hasn't helped, either.

David 'T' over at Harry's Place (must get the hang of these links- in the meanwhile, use the one on the right), has an interesting and (I think) broadly accurate commentary on Muslim alienation /victimhood in Britain today.

However, although Islam is the most militant and self-confident religion at the moment, and is clearly providing an inspiration, example and piggy-back to more decadent superstitions like Christianity, Sikhism and Hindusim in their battles against free speech and rational thought, it is not necessarily the most reactionary or misogynistic religious force in the world today: I would argue that that accolade goes (by a short head) to Catholicism.

The present Pope, Benedict XVI (at the Catholic 'World Meeting of Families'), has given his unequivocal backing to the Spanish Catholic Church in its battle with the Spanish Socialist (ie: reformist) government over such issues as marriage and adoption rights for homosexuals and a relaxation of the divorce laws. Well he would, wouldn't he? Is the Pope a Catholic?

But ol' Benedict's henchman Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, the head of the Pontifical Council for the Family, has gone further, threatening to excommunicate scientists who carry out embryonic stem cell research. This sanction will (according to the Cardinal), be applied "to the women, doctors and researchers who eliminate embryos and to the politicians who approve the law".

Dr Stephen Minger, of King's College London said (to the UK Daily Telegraph), "Having been raised a Catholic I find this stance outrageous. Are they also going to excommunicate IVF doctors, nurses and embryologists who routinely put millions of embryos down the sink (instead of using tthem for research)? I would argue that it is more ethical to use embryos that are going to be destroyed anyway for the benefit of mankind".

Professor Julian Savulescu, an "expert in applied ethics" at the University of Oxford told the Telegraph: "You can say it's a step back to the Inquisition. This amounts to religious persecution of scientists, which has no place in modern liberal societies. Presumably God will be the one to judge the scientists, not Church leaders".

Professor Cesare Galli, Italy's leading expert on cloning, likened the Vatican to the Taliban. "I was raised as a Catholic, I share Catholic values but I do not need to be told by the Church what to do or to think. Having been nearly arrested foe having cloned Galileo, a bull, I think I can bear the (threat of) excommunication".

But all this is only the most recent manifestation of the utterly reactionary nature of the catholic Church (not, incidentally, of all Catholics - many of whom are decent people) : what about the Church's support for Franco and the fascists during he Spanish civil war; or Pope Pius XII's less than heroic attitude towards Hitler (I avoid use of the term "collaborationist", for fear of being excessively provocative)?

However, the Catholic Church's geatest crime against humanity is its continuing opposition to the use of condoms. What was once (in the long-ago wonderful world before Aids) merely an inconvenient and routinely cruel piece of irrational dogma, is now a criminally irresponsible continuing act of violence against the peoples of Africa and the world.

David Lodge (a lapsed Catholic) , in his tragi-comic novel about decent Catholics in the swinging '60's, How Far Can You Go?, discusses Pope Paul VI's long-awaited 1968 encyclical letter on birth control, Humanae Vitas (stating "no change" in the Church's opposition to contraception):

"Of course, if the Pope had come down on the other side of the argument, there would no doubt have been am equally loud chorus of of protest and complaint from the millions of Catholics who had loyally followed the traditional teaching at the cost of having many more children and much less sex than they would have liked, and were now too old, or too worn-out by parenthood, to benefit from a change in the rules - not to mention the priests who had sternly kept them toeing the line by threats of eternal punishment if they didn't...

"Thus it came about that the first important test of the unity of the Catholic Church after Vatican II, of the relative power and influence of conservatives and progressives, laity and clergy, priests and bishops, national churches and the Holy See, was a great debate about - not, say, the nature of Christ and the meaning of his teaching in the light of modern knowledge - but about the precise conditions under which a man was permitted to introduce his penis and ejaculate his semen into the vagina of his lawfully wedded wife, a question on which Jesus Christ himself had left no recorded opinion".

The above was written (in 1980) about the 1960's before Aids. What was simply cruel and bloody ridiculous then, is now criminal. We should not tolerate it.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

What a Bloody Shame!

I'm talking about Zinedine Zidane... his glorious career ending LIKE THAT!

I wonder what Marco Materazzi actually said to him to cause Zidane to lose his rag.. the people on the radio are speculating that it might have been a racial remark.

Seeing that before all matches - each team would publicly commit themselves to making football (and the wider world) a tolerant and non racist platform... if it was somehow proven true, in that Zidane had been subjected racial abuse... should Italy be stripped of its world cup title?

From the eye of the storm

It has been reported that 40 people died in Gaza on Friday... 7/7/06

It has also been reported that the father of the soldier who is being held hostage by Hamas, has said that Israel preplanned the incursions well before his son was captured and has requested that what is happening should not be done in under that guise... homemade rockets being fired over the border and tunnels have been happening for years - why is it now that Israel is taking such terrible actions within Gaza?

The Israeli authorities keep spewing rhetoric about carrying out a systematic operation and minimising civilian casualties - when in fact Gaza has been used as a test site for sonic booms - an experiment that could not be carried out when there were Jewish settlers in the area - since Israelis have been using sonic booming, there has been a rise in miscarriages in pregnant women - it is traumatising the children and elderly - cos such are being done at ungodly hours of early mornings and late evenings.

This last week civilian infrsatructure is being eradicated, through Israelis blowing up the power station (which will take many months to sort out) - that is making normal life even more intolerable for the people of Gaza and restricting even more aid and medication going to those who need it.. How does that help their mission to find their missing soldier - or to root out the militants..

I believe this has been the plan, even before Israelis were marching through Tel Aviv to support the withdrawal of Jewish settlers in Gaza - I have always thought that action was not taken with good intention - but to make the area safe for Jews (by shipping them out) and leaving the Palestinians in Gaza to eat each other alive in one of the most cramped locations on earth and have a civil war... before Israel re-occupied Gaza, possibly with the hope that the Arabs would have moved on to a better life else where.

Anyhow, here is an article I was reading over the weekend.

From the eye of the storm In Gaza, an apricot tree stands in symbolic defiance of Israel's shameful retaliation Sami Abdel-Shafi in Gaza Friday July 7, 2006

The Guardian

After causing long term damage to civilian life and inflicting mass punishment on the Gaza Strip, it is perhaps the Israeli leaders who deserve sympathy, for having to live with the guilt of what they have done. Gazans will not send a mayday from the eye of the storm. Instead they will continue to survive and improvise in the intolerable conditions that they have been subjected to for so long.
This crossed my mind as I paced by an apricot tree I planted about a year and a half ago, during what I thought was one of the darkest periods for Gaza, to renew my hope for better times. A shoot then, and a young tree now, the apricot tree grew in defiance of Gaza's unfriendly skies, where Israeli airforce planes have replaced the birds.
The tree shakes to the low altitude sonic booms which Israeli F-16 jets blow into Gaza's skies. But its steadfastness inspires people, like me, to hold on and remain sane until the next unannounced breaking of F-16 hell, the humming of Apache helicopters and heavy artillery. It reminds me how difficult it must have been for people who had their orchards uprooted by the Israeli army in previous years in Gaza. Now it seems the army is back to uproot an entire population.
But Gazans would not compromise their humanity, even with the escalating military operation. Contrary to the insinuations of Israel's media and public relations machine, the majority of Gazans truly hope that Israel's hostage soldier is treated humanely and eventually freed. Palestinians dearly miss the basic human rights that Israel's military occupation has deprived them of for so many years, and would not wish their loss on any soldier.
Ariel Sharon's government conjured up every possible measure to drown Palestinians in every aspect of life. It stretched for so long that the world grew used to it. Ehud Olmert's government, which started out ostensibly dovish, responded to the disappearance of the Israeli soldier in Gaza with shameful haste. What is not understandable is why Israel chose to disable Gaza's power station and blow the major arteries of infrastructure that are necessary for life. This is Israel's response to Palestinian attacks that used homemade, less harmful, rockets. Whether Israel's action is reactionary or not, the nature of their retaliation is going far beyond any reason.
It is already too late for Israel to pretend to be avoiding civilian death. Civilians were compromised by the first attack on Gaza's infrastructure. Still, Israel has the audacity to boast that it is acting on world opinion that civilians must be spared. Moreover, Israel's admittance of food and fuel to Gaza in the wake of their initial attack seems humanitarian, but the supplies are far below the minimum requirements of the 1.4 million residents.
Mass destruction and punishment of Palestinians amounts to questionable morals. In future years it will embarrass the state of Israel. It probably already saddens every peace-loving Israeli.

article continues

Friday, July 07, 2006

Sectarians' Corner 2, The Revenge

The Weekly Worker (go on, you know you all read it) is better than usual this week, with some interesting stuff on Tower Hamlets Respect and some trouble a't' mill therein between SWP and non SWP members. They also have some more material on the Workers' Power split, and a short-and-to-the-point letter from Jim expressing some forthright views about a series of WW articles on Zionism.

Further, there's an interesting, well written and deliciously critical article about George Galloway himself, in the July 2006 edition of the Socialist Standard. For those of you who don't know what this is, it's the publication of the Socialist Party of Great Britain (not to be confused with the ex-Militant Tendency, who have a similar name). Its main claims to fame are that it's been going since the dawn of time, that its members do an entertaining line in rhetorical debate in Hyde Park of a Sunday, and of course that Darren is a member. However, most of its written materials make for a more entertaining read than the average Trot mag, and the article on Galloway is just to die for...


Wednesday, July 05, 2006

I Remember Clifford

...Or rather, I forgot that at the end of June 2006, it was 50 years since Clifford Brown died.

The history of jazz is full of brilliant young things who would, no doubt, have gone on to create wonderful music, apart from the fact that they died prematurely. Many of them (notably Bix Beiderbecke, Bunny Berigan and Charlie Parker) died as a result of drink or drugs. But a self-inflicted death is not necessary for cult status. Even the world of classical music has its "what if" heroes and heroines, entirely innocent of booze or narcotics: pianist William Kappell (killed in an airplane crash in 1953, aged 31), and violinist Ginette Neveue (also killed in a 'plane crash in 1949, aged 30). Buddy Holly in the world of rock, died an uncannily similar ('plane crash) death: Jimmy Hendrix and Curt Cobain belong more to the Beiderbecke / Parker school of self-inflicted early destruction.

The most important point about Cifford Brown was he was an absolutely brilliant trumpet player. He had a 'fat' tone, virtually unknown then, in jazz, except for his immediate inspiration Theodore "Fats" Navarro. Brown's phrasing was immaculate, even at ultra-fast tempos. By the early 1950's he was as well-known in jazz circles as Miles Davis. But Clifford was a much better player than Davis would ever be. And, whereas, Davis was an asshole of a human being, Brownie was - by every single account - a loveable, delightful and modest character. Years later, Sonny Rollins (attempting to break with heroin addiction when he met Clifford), would say: "Clifford was a clean-living person. That was a tremendous influence on me, to see that a guy who could play at that level was clean of drugs".

By the late 1940's, Brownie had established himself as a force to be reckoned with on trumpet, around the Philadelphia jazz scene. In 1948 the Philadelphia bandleader Jimmy Heath was playing at a club when ...

"This young guy came up, head bowed, a very humble person, and asked if he could sit in"...of course, Brownie (aged 17) blew them away.

In 1950 Brownie was seriously injured in a car crash and was very lucky to survive at all. It was - looking back - a co-incidental, but nonetheless eerie, foretaste of his fate six years later.

By 1953 Brownie had recovered from the car wreck and was making records with top modern jazz players in New York, and touring Europe with Lionel Hampton's band. While in Paris with Hampton, he sneaked away to to make several remarkable records with local musicians and fellow-American Gigi Grice (alto sax); Hampton's manager (allegedly) threatened Brownie with a knife over this breach of contract, but the records put Brownie on the jazz 'map' in Europe.

Back in the US, Brownie formed a a quintet with tenorist Harold Land, bassist Paul Morrow, pianist Richie Powell (brother of the more famous pianist Bud Powell) and drummer
Max Roach. This group pioneered the style of jazz that would become known as 'hard bop': Phil Schaap of the Lincoln Centre says "Hard bop is the predominant style of jazz played today... the bar was set very, very high, and it certainly has not been eclipsed".

Happily, during the early 1950's. Brownie made a large number of albums, including "Study in Brown", "Clifford Brown with Strings", "Brown & Roach Inc" and "At Basin Street": all of which are, quite simply, masterpieces of the jazz trumpet to set alongside Louis' Hot Fives and Sevens, the best of Roy Eldridge and anything by Dizzy Gillespie. You may notice that I have not included Miles Davis in that roll-call of the greatest jazz trumpeters. The reason is simply that Miles is not in the same league as Louis, Roy, Dizzy or Brownie. Miles was a superficial, limited and rather pretentious trumpet player: Brownie could blow him off the stand.

So why, you may ask, is Miles Davis a household name, whereas Clifford Brown is all but unheard of? The answer is that Clifford died fifty years ago, before his work was done. The story isn't quite clear, but it culminates on a night ( Monday, June 25 1956), when Brownie 'sat in' at a Philadelphia jam session, 'en route' to a proper gig at Chicago, the next night. There is even a bootleg recording, perporting to be from that night, ending with Brownie saying to the audience: "You've made me feel wonderful, but I have to go now". Those of us, listening, who know what happened next, can hardly keep from blubbing. Never mind that jazz scholars have spoiled that moment by revealing that it was, in all probability, recorded a year earlier in May 1955.

Let jazz musician and writer Richard M. Sudhalter, take up the story, in the kind of nightmare-cum- fantasy that we all indulge in, in these situations, imagining that we are there, on that night:

"...And you also know that sometime between now and dawn , Brown's new Buick, with Nancy (Richie Powell's wife) at the wheel, will go off the Pennsylvania Turnpike at speed and plunge down an eighteen-foot (actually, seventy five foot - JD) embankment, killing all three occupants (Brownie, Nancy and Richie Powell) instantly...

"What will it take to keep him -keep them all - from leaving? Steal the car's distributor cap? Slash the tires? Beard the young man in a corner and tell him - what? That you're an emissary from the future, and that his life depends on staying in Philly tonight, at least till daylight? That however exhausted he and Richie might be, they're under no circumstances to let Nancy, a novice driver with poor vision, barely able to negotiate a U-turn, behind the wheel?"

Sudhalter spoke to Brownie's widow, LaRou Brown Wilson in March 1995 ( Brownie died on her birthday and their wedding anniversary: she died last year, aged 72) :

"He and his friend Quincy Jones would sit around for hours...talking about the business end of music. At that time, don't forget, there were very few black people on the production side of things. They, both of tem, had a vision that one day they would do all that.

"As you know, Quincy was able to go ahead and realise those dreams. By then Clifford had been dead many, many years; but who knows -everything Quincy achieved might as easily have been open to Clifford".

When news of Brownie's (and Richie's) death reached Max Roach in Chicago the next day, he locked himself in his hotel room with two bottles of cognac.

Sonny Rollins said "I just picked up my horn and played all night".

(hat-tip: Matt Schudel, Washington Post)

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Farewell, Workers' Power

Those of you who are as geekish as I am, will probably already be aware that the Trotskyist group Workers' Power has imploded, with its international section - the comically named "League for the Fifth International" - expelling a large number (possibly a majority given the parlous state of the group's membership) of its British section. They in turn have formed the "Permanent Revolution Tendency"... WP always did have a thing about sounding dead 'ard. They also had a thing about forming internationals; hopefully the PRT comrades will continue in this great tradition and form the League for the Sixth International, as soon as sufficient proletarian forces can be rallied to their standard.

It's a shame they've collapsed though. I always did enjoy their barmy interventions in meetings - I'll never forget seeing one of their comrades at a Socialist Alliance meeting, scarlet faced with r-r-r-r-revolutionary ardour, leaping out of a chair on hearing that a Catholic nun was considering joining the Alliance. If their motion was passed (I even forget what it was about) said he, gesticulating wildly, then "for every Catholic nun" (verily, he did spit forth the words as though they offended his mouth) who would not join, "ten anti-capitalist youth" would sign up to join the new and radicalised alliance, presumably due to WP's inspiring political direction. Absolute bollocks of course, but wonderful theatre. It was their schtick, to give the bonkers, frothy-mouthed speech at every meeting that accused everyone else of being a petty bourgeois dilettante, and by George they did it to perfection.

And now they've blown up, apparently by expelling the largest section of their largest section. Another one of those wonderfully eccentric institutions on the British left has faded away, leaving us all a little duller for its demise.

So farewell, Workers' Power. This blog awards you a tinfoil hat, in affectionate memoriam.

Monday, July 03, 2006

The day you AWL made me proud

Well, I never thought I'd see the day.

I spent this past weekend at the AWL's annual shebang, "Ideas for Freedom" in central London. It's one of those "summer school" type events that most left groups put on, although the AWL's is usually more diverting than most. This is because (whatever my political differences with them) they have a broadly democratic internal culture that encourages debate and dissent. Their healthy internal culture feeds over into their public meetings as well, and as a consequence they tend to attract a wide range of opinion to their events too.

However, when I saw there was a "debate" on the Euston Manifesto scheduled, I almost shrank away from going to it. Not only are several of Euston's architects ex-members of the AWL. Since Euston's inception, the AWL as a group (with the surprising exception of its chieftain, Sean Matgamna) has tended to pull its punches in criticising what I truly believe is the first step towards an organised neocon movement in the UK. This is because (as you'll see from the comments elsewhere on this blog) there is a prevailing view among AWL members that Eustonites are "liberals who we disagree with on the war", basically decent types with whom one can have a discussion. Notwithstanding that those "decent" types support a disgusting, illegal and unfounded war on a country that had no weapons of mass destrution, which had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks of which it was accused, and whose people suffer daily under military occupation. Is that a "decent" stance? Well, I'll leave that for you to decide.

Anyways, so I attended the meeting. There were two Eustonite speakers, the very pleasant Phil Spencer and his (apparently rather more right wing) colleague Marco Hoare. Marco, I hope I've got your name right. Anyway, they began by setting out their stance. Ex-IS'er Phil gave probably the most left-wing speech in favour of the essentially vapid manifesto that I've ever seen, which presumably is why Jane Ashworth's group of chums thought he'd make a good speaker for an AWL event. Marco was, I suspect, rather more representative of the political currents that Euston represents, claiming that much of the left has turned nationalist, and that on many international issues conservatives can be "more progressive". Which is presumably why he signed a document that a liberal Tory could easily support. He went on to have the good grace to concede (I kid you not) that "I'm not going to pretend that the outcome of the Iraq war has been universally positive". No shite, Sherlock. I awaited the AWL response with some trepidation, expecting a lot of mealy mouthed "we understand your concerns but..." type of talk.

And then it came.

It was beautiful, it was magnificent, it was the sight of a group of people reclaiming their collective soul. First, Pat Murphy, the AWL's designated platform speaker, forensically took the manifesto apart, clause by clause, showing it to be the combination of political vacuousness and apology for US expansionism that it actually is. Then came the floor speeches, led by my own good buddy Jim Denham who, with typical rhetorical flourish to which I can't do justice here, called the Eustonites a "mirror image of the SWP", taking the same my-enemy's-enemy-is-my-friend approach to politics, but substituting the USA for theocratic and reactionary anti-US political forces in the Middle East.

He was followed by speaker after speaker who denounced the Eustonites in cutting and telling style, in a way that took me by very pleasant surprise. I won't do a complete roll-call, but of special note was a comment from Dan Randall, in a speech which was dripping with casual contempt, that "a group of Blairite media types" launching a manifesto "based on a meeting in a pub", can hardly be said to represent "epochal change" on the left. Quite right, sir.

The Eustonites took some umbrage at this - in particular Phil seemed to find it personally offensive that Jim had compared him to the SWP. Which, given that he was actually a member of it in its previous incarnation, was rather odd. Although not quite as odd as when he was listing the "morally corrupt" political forces that upset him so, and included among these not only the SWP and Respect (no great surprise from a Eustonite), but also the BBC and Channel 4. At this point I was about to mutter in the chair's ear that Phil might need a lie down, but I thought better of it. He was then followed by Marco saying in defence of George Bush - once he had been disabused by AWL hecklers of his quaint idea that Bush supports gay civil unions - that "at least he doesn't execute gay people for being gay". Well, that's alright then.

It was genuinely exhilarating to watch the Eustonites wilt under sustained attack, and indeed it made my ticket worth the investment in and of itself. But what was even better, was watching a group almost seeming to recover its political self-confidence before my very eyes. The AWL has a tendency to curtail its political points on Iraq and Palestine, filling them with caveats and qualifiers that distance the group from the SWP. But on Sunday they found their range and remembered that it's the right who are the real problem, not the rest of the left. I was glad I got to see it. And it made me proud that I know them.