Monday, October 30, 2006

Six piss-ups, no weddings and no funeral

Sorry kids, I've been gone for a while. But I'm back.

OK, I've had a great two weeks.

Favourite story: It was my great pleasure, two weeks ago, to meet the wonderful Stroppies, who made me stay in the pub throughout the first two hours of the most important feminist student conference since the last one. You two are a proper pair, and you should make more of yourselves than the ex-pab and her net-savvy mate than you pretend to be. And Louise, Denham would be pround to know you (he's really quite charming when he tries ;))

Burn, baby, burn!

The lastest anti-democratic, counter-productive piece of gesture-politics from the cops and the Blair government, in their "war against terrorism at home" (note that I do not put the word terrorism in scare-quotes), is the proposal to ban flag-burning.

It seems that the catalyst was a demonstration outside Westminster Cathederal lat month, when members of the al-Ghuraba Islamist fundamentalist sect harassed churchgoers. What the hell that has to do with flag-burning is anybody's guess; there are already laws in place to deal with harassment. Then there was the February demonstration in London against the Danish cartoons, at which (apparently) Danish flags were burned. But what got most of the media and ther public upset was not flag-burning, but placards saying "Behead those who insult Islam". Again, there are already laws in place to deal with incitement to violence: we don't need more.

And anyway, the right to burn the flag of your own nation - or, indeed, another nation - strikes me as being a pretty good mark of a democracy. It's enshrined, for instance, in the First Amendment to the US constitution, and attempts by the right- wing to overturn it, have been (narrowly) defeated by civil libertarians and consistent democrats and supporters of free speech.

Anyway, better that people burn flags than that they burn people.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Another victory for bigotry and communalism

Education Secretary Alan Johnson's withdrawal of plans to force religious schools to take 25 per cent non-faith pupils is yet another victory for the increasingly assertive religious lobby in Britain. This time the assault was led the Roman Catholic church, heading up a united front of Muslim and Jewish communalists. It is a victory for bigotry and sectarianism that will inevitably result in increased communal division. How the hell this government, actively promoting sectarian education (aka "faith schools"), thinks it can possibly be a good idea to have still more state schools that promote one particular religion, excluding pupils who do not 'belong' to that religion, when it recognised that an important part of the fight against sectarianism in Northern Ireland was to get rid of such schools, simply defies logic.

However, Johnson's quota scheme was always a half-baked nonsense. Where is the sense in encouraging "faith" schools, only to demand that some children of the faithful must be turned away in order to shoehorn in a quota of unbelievers? It was never clear, either, whether the proposed quota would apply only to "new" (ie: Muslim) faith schools, or all of them.

It was clearly unjust that there should be 6,850 Christian and Jewish state schools, while Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and other religions were denied that right. The answer is obvious: no new state-funded "faith" schools, and the existing ones to be secularised. Faith is no more acceptable a criterion for running or attending a school than race.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

A fight worth supporting

Hat-tips to my ol' pals the Stroppies and Will, for drawing my attention to this dispute, in which the GMB is taking on a truly horrible employer, JJB Sports, in Wigan, Lancs, England, for a meagre living wage. JJB's main shareholder, an asshole calledDavid Whalen, has the audacity to denounce the union and its members as "communists" for demanding a living wage - and then buggering off for a holiday in Barbados!

The workers have voted for strike action on 31 October and 2 November.

Anyone within 'striking' distance of Wigan on those days should support them on the picket line.

The rest of us should contact Neil Holden, GMB Lancashire Regional Officer on (UK) 07740 804070, or Steve Pryle, GMB Press Officer on 07921 289880, to see what we can do in support of these workers.

A Vile, Actionable, Calumny (Without Prejudice)

To: Ms. S. Bird
Brighton
England

Dear Ms. Bird,

RE: Our Client, Mr. James N. Denham of Shachtman Towers, Birmingham, England

We act for the above-named in the matter of a Foul, Libellous, Defamatory and otherwise Actionable "article" that appeared, dated Sunday October 22 2006, upon a so-called "Web Log" above your name.

In the aforementioned "article" a False, Objectionable and altogether Misleading comparison is made between our Client and a certain character (known as "Father Jack") in a popular televisual entertainment programme, "Father Ted".

This Defamatory comparison constitutes a Vile Calumny and has caused our Client considerable Personal Distress, such that he has become altogether Unmanageable and otherwise Incapacitated. Medical evidence is presently being obtained, which we are confident will confirm that our Client has suffered permanent Psychological Damage as a result of your Irresponsible, Reckless and altogether Malicious so-called "article".

The above notwithstanding, our Client wishes it to be known that he has no objection, in Principle, to being compared with with figures from the world of popular entertainment and, indeed, has frequently been compared with (and mistaken for) the likes of Mr Ronald Coleman, Mr Clark Gable, and Mr Cary Grant.

Indeed, our Client has no objection, in Principle, to being compared with a Catholic Priest, so long as that Priest is Father Michael Logan, as portrayed by Mr Montgomery Clift in the cinematic production 'I Confess' (Dir: Alfred Hitchcock, 1953).

We are therefore instructed by our Client, Mr James Denham, to require and immediate Retraction, Apology, and monitary Compensation of a sum comensurate with our Client's Distress, Injured Feelings, Loss of Earnings, permanent Psychological Damage, and Detriment to Good Name and Reputation.

If such an Undertaking is not forthcoming, our Client instructs us pursue this Matter with the full rigour and force of the Civil Law.

Yours sincerely,

Ephraim I. Grabbit LLB

Partner: Mss'rs Sue, Grabbit & Runne.

No to the ban on Palestinian students!

Engage, the campaign originally set up to oppose the academic boycott of Israel, has now taken up the cause of Palestininan students, presently banned from attending Israeli universities:

"At a time when Israeli professors are rightfully opposing attempts to prevent them from teaching - just because they are Israeli - Gisha (the Centre for the Legal Protection of Freedom of Movement) calls upon Israel not to prevent Palestinian students from studying - just because they are Palestinian. Academic freedom is universal", says Sari Bashi, Director of Gisha.

Engage believes that academic international exchange is a Good Thing in and of itself and can form part of the path to peace: "Engage unambigiously opposes all attempts to apply discrimination on the basis of nationality, to academic interchange, whether in the form of a boycott of Israeli institutions and individuals, or in the form of a universal ban on Palestinians studying in Israel".

Israel's universities are also taking a strong stand on this issue.

The Engage statement continues: "While ongoing calls to boycott Israeli Jewish academics and institutions are a vicious attack on academic freedom, a blanket ban on Palestinian admittance to Isreali universities is also a serious attack on fundamental human rights. Israel's academic institutions have a policy of open entry to anyone who meets their academic criteria without regard to gender, religion, ethnicity or nationality. They should be allowed to continue to make their own judgements on who they admit. The Government-imposed ban should be rescinded immediately".

Please help bring this issue to wider attention and help promote practical suggestions for solidarity with Israeli and Palestinian academics and institutions seeking the reversal of this ban, by following the proposals recommended by Dr Paul Frosh of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem here and Jon Pike and Engage here.

You can also write to the Israeli Education Minister Yuli Tamir (who has come out against the ban), supporting her position and demanding the immediate cancellation of the ban:

MK Professor Yuli Tamir, Minister of Education, Education Ministry, Jerusalem, Israel. Fax: 02-5602246; email: ytamir@knesset.gov.il

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Hungarian Tragedy

Fifty years ago this week, hundreds of thousands of Hungarian workers and students were fighting the Stalinist secret police (AVO) and the newly-arrived Russian tanks, in the streets of Budapest. Against the Russian tanks and the well-armed AVO, the demonstrators had home-made Molotov cocktails and relatively few (mainly old) guns. But they had their massive numbers, their courage and their solidarity.

It suited both the Stalinists and and the leaders of the West, to make out that the revolution was demanding capitalist restoration. Radio Budapest spewed forth lies about "fascists and reactionaries" leading the uprising. Inevitably, such a spontaneous movement did not have a clear-cut political programme, and certainly many of the rebels did harbour illusions about Western capitalism. But in fact, the main demands being put forward were for greater pluralism in political life, free elections, an independent (of the USSR) national policy, an end to forced collectivisation and for the factories to be run by workers and specialists instead of bureaucrats. Many of the rebels also demanded the return of the reformist ex Prime Minister Imre Nagy, sacked by the Stalinist ruling class a year earlier.

What is often forgotten is that although the revolution was eventually defeated, that defeat only came about because of a second intervention (in early November) by Russian tanks. At the end of October, the Stalinist government collapsed, the Russians agreed a ceasefire (in Budapest - fighting continued elsewhere) and Imre Nagy formed a reformist government. Nagy ordered the Russians out of Hungary, reinstituted political pluralism and announced Hungary's withdrawal from the Warsaw pact. It was probably that last announcement (and the knowledge that the West would be preoccupied with Suez) that prompted a second Russian invasion in November, with fresh troops, air strikes and artilliary bombardment concentrated upon working class areas.

The (London) Observer's correspondent Lajos Lederer described the "total savagery"of what he saw; "People swarmed to the Legation all day...hundreds more telephoned, imploring the Great Powers to intevene. 'Tell the world what they are doing to us!' they cried. And we could do nothing. The outside world was busy elsewhere, in Suez. We were ashamed. We could offer nothing but a promise that we would do our best to tell the world about these horrors"; (incidentally, Lederer wasn't quite right about Suez being the cause of Western inaction: recent research has shown that the Eisenhower administration never had any intention of challenging the Russians over Hungary, quite regardless of what was happening in Suez).

Even so, the resisters fought on, and a general strike continued for some time. It wasn't until the next year that Stalinist "order" was fully restored.

More than 2,500 Hungarians were killed, about 20,000 were wounded and another 200, 000 fled into exile (incidentally, creating Europe's first post-war refugee "crisis"). Stalinism was eventually overturned, of course, in 1989.

All of us at 'Shiraz Socialist' salute the Hungarian heroes of 1956.

(NB: For an excellent eye-witness account of these events, get hold of Peter Fryer's book 'Hungarian Tragedy'. Fryer was a British Communist Party journalist sent to Hungary by the Daily Worker. He was horrified by the Russian intervention and sided with the Hungarians. The Daily Worker first heavily-edited his reports and then suppressed them altogether. Fryer left the Party in disgust and joined the Trotskyist Socialist Labour League. Another excellent source of information is this account, from a 'Council Communist' stance. Anderson takes a less charitable view of Nagy than most commentators, arguing that he agreed to calling in the Russian troops).

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Larkin about

Philip Larkin , for a while, moonlighted as a jazz critic for the Sunday Telegraph in the sixties and early seventies.

He'd always liked jazz, and from a young age had collected records:

"...those white and coloured Americans, Bubber Miley, Frank Teschmacher, J.C. Higginbotham, spoke immediately to our understanding. Their rips, slurs and distortions were something we understood perfectly. This was something we had found for ourselves, that wasn't taught at school (what a prerequisite that is of nearly everything worthwhile!), and having found it, we made it bear all the enthusiasm usually directed at more established arts".

When he started writing about jazz and reviewing records, Larkin began to think about his audience, and was typically elegiac:

"My readers...sometimes I wonder whether they really exist. Truly they are remarkably tolerant, manifesting themselves only by the occassional query as to where they can buy records: just once or twice I have been clobbered by a Miles Davis fan, or taken to task by the press agent of a visiting celebrity. Sometimes I imagine them, sullen fleshy inarticulate men, stockbrokers, sellers of goods, living in 30-year-old detached houses among the golf courses of Outer London, husbands of ageing and bitter wives they first seduced to Artie Shaw's 'Begin the Beguine ' or The Squadronaires' 'The Nearness of You'; fathers of cold-eyed lascivious daughters on the pill, to whom Ramsay Macdonald is coeval with Rameses II, and cannabis-smoking jeans-and-bearded Stuart-haired sons whose oriental contempt for 'bread' is equalled only by their insatiable demand for it; men in whom a pile of scratched coverless 78s in the attic can awaken memories of vomiting blindly from small Tudor windows to Muggsy Spanier's 'Sister Kate', or winding up a gramophone in a punt to play Armstrong's 'Body and Soul'; men whose first coronory is coming like Christmas; who drift, loaded helplessly with commitments and obligations and necessary observances, into the darkening avenues of age and incapacity, deserted by everything that once made life sweet. These I have tried to remind of the excitement of jazz, and tell where it may still be found".

He had a way with words, didn't he? The miserable old sod.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Eye on Kelly

Kit says:

"So hang on; if we're all up for this "combatting extremism" lark (whatever that is when it's at home) by keeping an eye on people who consort with ultra-religious sects which preach a strict doctrine of adherence to a holy book, and is intolerant towards gay people and oppresses women...

Shouldn't we be keeing an eye on Ruth Kelly?

(Yes, indeed, we should: but last I heard 'Opus Dei' were not in favour of stoning adulteresses and homosexuals - JD)

Womens' rights trump "anti-imperialism"

This obituary in the Guardian reminded me of why womens' rights must take precedence over all other considerations - except class - and why I hate people who downplay the barbarity of the Taliban

Dog days of the British left

Poor old Dave Osler is pretty depressed about the state of the left ; both the extra-Parliamentary far-left and the Labour Party ("the end result is that Bameronism gets away with representing itself as all there is. Welcome to British politics without a functioning left").

Dave is a very thoughtful and serious guy. I, personally, share some of his misgivings about the state of the British left. In particular, I share his distaste for the collapse of the "left" into communalism (I should stress, at this point, that all views expressed in this piece are mine and not Osler's) and its retreat from class politics.

Since the defeat of the miners' strike in 1985, the mainstream British left has tended to downplay the class struggle. That is, to some extent, excusable: the class struggle itself has been at a low ebb for many years. But now, with the arrival of super-exploited migrant workers, there is no excuse for leftists to collaspse into communalism: the class struggle is back on the agenda in a big way. Organisations like "Respect" that foster communalism, should simply be denounced as the reactionary obstacles that they are. A big fight is needed to open up the existing organisations of the British working class (trade unions and Labour Party) to the new arrivals.

And, Dave, there are some signs of hope: the McDonnell campaign (the sillier claims of some of its young organisers notwithstanding) has gained real support in some unions; 'Blairism' /'Brownism' is now discredited in most unions and amongst many rank-and-file Labour Party members. And there are small, but hopeful signs of the class struggle re-emerging in places like Tesco and Heathrow airport (Gate Gourmet was not a "sell-out"): we must build upon these - admittedly limited - actions, and support the T&G's Organising Unit's campaign to recruit and organise migrant workers.

I long ago broke with James P. Cannon on matters of theory. But he was a damn good organiser, with a real "feel" for the class struggle: he knew what it was like to be a working class socialist in difficult times: he described them as "The dog days of the left opposition".

Hear Me Talkin' To Ya

I'm a mild and friendly sort of bloke, so I often wonder how the hell I ever got involved in:
1/ The Trotskyist left;
2/ Jazz.

Both are the most factional, aggressive and vituperative arenas imaginable.

However, there is some good stuff to be had in the wunnerful world of jazz sectarianism.

My two personal favourites are this murderous denunciation of Kenny 'G', allegedly penned by guitarist Pat Metheny; and this disastrous interview with the legendarily bad-tempered cornetist Ruby Braff, by Jim Godbolt (quite a curmugeon himself, but here overwhelmed by Braff's vituperation). Enjoy...and learn.

Shiraz Socialist

Respect has 10,000 student members, apparently

I found this absolutely hilarious.
With these sorts of numbers I fully expect Respect to elect themselves into every position on the student union in every university, leading to them taking over the NUS.

Of course this is complete bullshit on behalf of the SWP, even by their standards this is dense beyond belief.

I wonder if any of their activists actually believe this?
I probably shouldn't say this on an unrelated issue - I had a dream last night that I attended an AWL meeting last night, bizarrely being held in the basement of a tower block in Coventry. It was very strange, to say the least.

toodle pip

Larry C

Unity, yes! But not at any any price.

Here at Shiraz Socialist, we're organised by ACTS - the 'white collar' section of the Transport and General Workers Union. I think it's also fair to say that, in terms of T&GWU internal politics we could, broadly, be called critical supporters of the present General Secretary, Tony Woodley.

We - certainly - have been supporters of Woodley's drive for unity with Amicus, and for the creation of a 'new union'. It makes industrial sense: both existing unions organise in the same industries, and even alongside each other in the same workplaces:

Opposition to the 'new union' within the T&G has come mainly from the regions: the T&G has a powerful regional structure, in which Regional Secretaries wield a tremendous amount of influence, including the power to hire and fire officials and members of staff. This has allowed Regional Secretaries to build up their own personal fiefdoms based upon nepotism and downright corruption. The Regional Secretary of Region One (London), Eddie McDermott, recently resigned rather than have Woodley call the police in to examine his financial affairs. Something similar happened with the Scottish Regional Secretary, Andy Baird, recently sacked by Woodley for ballot-rigging.

Unfortunately, the "left" within the union is also prone to regionalism: Region 6 (Merseyside and the North West), controlled by left-wingers, seems to think that the union should exist for the benefit of its unemployed members and that there should be no national control over regions.

We at Shiraz Socialist believe that the success of the the T&G/Amicus merger is vital for the future of the trade union movement in Britain. Whatever the dangers, we wish the new union well, and we support the amalgamation against its critics from both right and 'left'. And also from bums like the present Deputy General Secretary of Amicus, whose stupid posturing seems almost designed to sabotage the merger; certainly the anti-merger forces within the T&G (eg: Barry Camfield and his corrupt Region One cronies) have made full use of this sectarianism for their own purposes.

The Joint Working Party set up by the respective executives of the two unions, has now reported, and drawn up 'Instrument of Amalgamation': the law governing union mergers requires that members must approve - in a secret postal ballot - the 'Instrument of Amalgamation', which must contain the following:

i) the name and principle purposes of the amalgamated organisation;
11) the conditions of admission to membership;
111) the structure of the amalgamated organisation;
1v) the method of appointing and removing the governing body and principal officials and of altering its rules;
v) the contributions and benefits applicable to members of the amalgamating organisations.

The document fulfills all the above legal requirements. However, it does not fulfill Woodley's promise to T&G members that this process would result in a "new union" - not just a traditional amalgamation. There are many things to object to in the Instrument of Amalgamation (probably obtainable at the T&G's website, but at the time of writing it's down), but - in fairness - some of these objections are probably necessary evils to enable the amalgamation to take place.

However, there are four essential reasons to oppose the document:

* The formulation of "all committee members must be accredited workplace reps" (the T&G Executive has already referred this back);
* The joining of the 'East' Region with London to make a Region (London should be a Region in its own right and if there aren't enough members in the 'East' to form a viable region, they would be better served in a joint Region with the 'South';
* There are no mandatory committees below region. The 'permissive' rule: "(Regions) may set up Area Activists Committees, subject to EC approval, to bring together activists in a given district across industrial sections". That "may" should be "shall", and areas should have the same staus as Districts have in the T&G Regions that still have them. Regional (industrial) Trade Groups should also be mandatory. As one T&G GEC member commented (with tongue firmly in cheek): "Allowing Regions to decide their own committee structure is what made Region One the model of democracy and good governance it was under Eddie (McDermott: allowed to resign, rather than be sacked for corruption).

I never thought I'd say this: but unless these proposals are radically changed, there may be a case for opposing the amalgamation.

P.S: Sorry if all the above seems boring to non-TGWU / Amicus members: it's just that the future of organised labour in Britain depends upon it.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Stroppier than ever

All of us at 'Shiraz' like the 'Stroppies' (aka: 'The Will Fan Club' - link on the right) , despite their cruel breaking of our tender hearts when they stood us up in Manchester recently. The Priest and I were so distraught that we turned to drink and were quite unmanageable for a while.

Anyway, the Stroppies have a new and very tasteful design on their site. I think it's inspired by Ms Nichole Kidmans outstanding portrayal of 'Catwoman' in a film. I am told that it has been created by that master of good taste and sound judgement, Will (aka 'The Jim Denham Fan Club' - link on the right), who also jazzed up Dave Osler's blog (also linked-to, on the right). As I remember, having redesigned the Osler site, Will (on his blog, 'A General Theory of Rubbish') said someting like: "What a good-looking site: shame about the contents".

The Stroppies' site always had good contents: now it's good-looking too.

We'll stick to austere minimalism.

Congrats to all involved.

Dannatt "joins anti-war movement"?

New head of the British Army General Sir Richard Dannatt's interview in the (UK) Daily Mail, has quite rightly, dominated today's (October 13 2006) news. After all, the General says that British troops' continuing presence "exacurbates the security problems" in Iraq, and opines that "our presence in Iraq exacurbates the difficulties we are facing round the world". He concludes that "we should get orselves out sometime soon".

He likes that word "exacurbates", doesn't he?

Despite attempts by Dannatt to row back (when interviewed on BBC Radio 4's 'Today' programme, for instance, when he considerably qualified his position on the troops' "continuing presence"), there can be no doubt that his comments are a tremendous embarrassment to Blair. It is also quite unprecedented (in recent British history) for a military appointee to publicly challenge an elected government...and leftists might like to think about that, regardless of their views on Iraq.

The SWP/'Respect' 'Stop the War Coalition' amalgam has, quite understandably, hailed the General's comments and welcomed him as a new "recruit to the anti-war movement". If I shared their politics, I'd do the same.

But what they conveniently leave out of the picture is that the General's comments are part of an on-going rift within the British ruling class, and have nothing whatsoever to do with the interests of the peoples of Iraq. Dannatt makes it quite clear that his number one concern is the well-being of the British military and the "military covenant" between a nation and its armed forces: "I said to the Defence Secretary (Des Browne) that the Army won't let the nation down, but I don't want the nation to let the Army down".

Dannatt also makes it clear that his aim is to re-deploy troops withdrawn from Iraq, to Afghanistan: "There is a clear distinction between our staus in Iraq and in Afghanistan, which is why I have much more optimism that we can get it right in Afghanistan".

And if that doesn't give the SWP/STWC axis pause for thought about whether or not the General really is the kind of ally they want, they should read his views (as what the Mail calls a "devout Christian") about the "Islamist threat", which he hopes "doesn't make undue progress because there is a moral and spiritual vacuum in this country. Our society has always been embeddedin Christian values: once you have pulled the anchor up there is a danger that our society moves with the prevailing wind".

Very progressive views for the SWP/STWC to be taking on from their "latest recruit", eh?

But, in fact Dannatt does have one thing in common with his pseudo-left cheer-leaders: a total disregard for the struggling Iraqi Labour movement. A precipitate withdrawal now would mean the triumph of the sectarian militias, who would massacre trade unionists, secularists and womens' organisations. Dannatt doesn't care about that: and neither does the pro-Islamist "left".

...And a little bit of humility

As, probably, the main culprit that "Wonderslore" had in mind when complaining about this blog devoting itself to attacking "other" left groups ("other" than the AWL? But I'm the only AWL'er on the team), I'd just like to say that though I enjoy a good factional ding-dong as much as the next comrade, I am aware that we need to keep a sense of proportion. None of us cyber space -cadet polemicists here in the West are putting our lives on the line like - say - Anna Politkovskaya, whose last (unfinished) article about murder and torture in Russian-controlled Chechnya can be read here.

She exposed and denounced both the brutality of the Russian federal forces, and the increasing brutality of the Chechnyan rebels. She continued her work even after she had been locked in a hole in the ground by Russian troops and threatened with rape, kidnapped, and poisoned by the Russian FSB (Federal Security Service). According to the Guardian's obituary (October 9 2006): "Her husband left her. Her son pleaded with her to stop. Her neighbours, cowed by the attentions of the FSB in an upmarket street in central Moscow, shunned her".

And now she's dead, shot very professionally, in the lift of her apartment block in Moscow.

It makes us posturing bloggers look pretty small-time, doesn't it?

Back to Basics

Can I just inject a slight criticism here of the blog - I'm getting ever so slightly bored of internicine sniping at other left groups. Yes I don't contribute that often but I have had a couple of sojourns in hospital so that's my excuse, and hence I'd like to throw in a contribution on a pretty basic issue.

I am Diabetic and rely on medication to control my condition. I have just discovered that the stuff I am prescribed while it does the job ,albeit with mildly unpleasant side effects, has been described by the hospital consultant as "old fashioned".

So, why don't I get the latest drugs that work more efficiently and effectively, because dear bloggers they are more expensive and hence would take a toll on my GP's budget.

How jolly selfish of me I can hear you cry. I would be prepared to accept this state of affairs, if I had not found out that I am being prescribed other drugs to lower my cholesterol levels which I don't need. This is because in a one size fits all NHS there is a certain regime of treatment that is prescribed and you have to fit into it.

Now you are all bored with my ailments, but my point is, by fitting in with this regime whether I need it or not, the GP is paid for hitting each target for me as an individual patient, hence they are paid to prescribe stuff whether you need it or not.

This makes me very unsure about the whole concept of professional clinical judgement. We have NICE (and just exactly who are they accountable to), on the one hand who won't license early use of drugs for Alzheimers because of the expense and then someone like myself who is wasting resources by taking stuff they don't really need ,and on speaking to people on the web who subscribe to various forums I am by no means unique.

Equally there is also a pressure on GPs to prescribe certain brands of drugs due to the pressure being put on them by certain drugs companies, but that's a whole can of worms in itself

If I refuse, I could face being struck off my GP's list

It 's enough to make you want to nationalise the pharmaceutical industry !

PS Whatever his motive, Jack is right !

Monday, October 09, 2006

Again and once more...on Jack "strip off!" Straw

I was just going to add my twopenn'orth to the Strawgate debate by way of Volty's esteemed if overcrowded comments box. Then I remembered that I'm a member of this blog, and have the privilege of boring y'all at greater length. So here goes!

The bourgeois press have been going crazy with silly stories about Muslims over the last week, the silliest being the taxi driver who wouldn't let a guide dog in his cab. Of course, the motives of the Evening Standard for running this very small story on its front page can be easily understood: they're a sad bunch of racist wankers. Nevertheless, the event does raise an interesting ethical dilemma (though not in the Evening Standard). When does a right or value trump another one - in this case, non-discrimination against non-discrimination? How much latitude can be given in such cases to religious peculiarities?

I think one has to ask whether or not the thing objected to is necessary, practically or morally. A human right must always trump a religious or cultural preference. Or to put it another way: something which applies to everyone equally takes precedence over something which applies only to a self-defined group of people. Everyone should have equal access to basic facilities like transport, and abolishing discrimination against disabled people is an important part of that. So the court was right to fine the taxi driver (though why didn't they fine the firm? If he felt he couldn't provide the required public service they shouldn't have given him the job).

With Jack Straw and his peculiar aversion to the niqaab, we are (to state the bleeding obvious) in a different case. There is no practical or moral reason why one should have to show one's face to the Leader of the House of Commons before speaking to him. (Maybe it should be Straw wearing the niqaab - he's no oil painting after all!) I say Straw's objection is peculiar because he says nothing about the veil or its patriarchal social function at all. In fact, he makes no rationally understandable criticism of it. Socialists and secularists should abhor the niqaab because it demeans and restricts women, brutally demonstrating male domination. Yet Straw seems to dislike it because it intimidates him!

If Jack Straw is so unnerved by talking to a woman wearing a veil that he feels compelled to criticise her clothing while she's asking for his help; if that's so important to him that he insists on shooting his mouth off about it when doing that will inevitably make a very sensitive situation even more tense - then he shouldn't be an MP. Actually, he shouldn't be an MP for many, many reasons. He's just added another one. "Well done" Jack: now sod off back to Blackburn and try keeping your mouth shut!

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Radio to die for

Non - UK readers must forgive me. I write this as I listen to Mark Tulley's "Something Understood" on BBC Radio 4. It's a programme so depressing that suicide would seem a merciful release, if the alternative was to have to listen to it for more than about one hour. Bloody hell: Tully's even put on a piece by Benjamin Brittan, sung by that dreadful Peter Pears. Before "Something Understood" , the most depressing radio show was, undoubtably, "Sing Something Simple", which used to come on the Light Programme/ Radio 2: if you've never heard it, consider yourself lucky. It involved a choir singing depressing songs by Steven Foster and others, accompanied by Jack Emblow's accordian. Someone said: "hearing 'Sing Something Simple' was the first time I realised that - one day - I would die".

The Archers, You and Yours, and anything on BBC Radio 4 that purports to be "comedy" are also on my list of worst-ever radio. But the ultimate prize must surely go to the late, unlamented Home Truths: surely the most twee, self-satisfied, middle class vomit ever to be broadcast. If you heard it, you'll know exactly what I mean: posh people giggling about going to the toilet and/or farting. Bring back the drunken bloke who did "The Fleet's Lit Up!", I say.

As I said, overseas readers must forgive me (although you can get Radio 4, if you try: some of it is quite good!): I had to get this off my chest. Radio 4 is a bit like Public Service radio in the US, except it's paid for by a universal licence charge. And the awfulness of certain Radio 4 programmes has driven me over to BBC Radio 3 (the "classical music" channel), thus educating me in Shostakovich, Stravinsky and Schoenberg.

On the plus side, BBC radio introduced me, as a kid - over steamy Sunday lunches - to the wonders of Tony Hancock, Kenneth Horne and...Julian and Sandy: anyone remember them?

Ignorant, SWP, student fucking fools

As most of you will have realised, the Priest and I are in some disagreement about Jack Straws' comments on the niqab (full veil). It's a legitimate disagreement, and the Priest has presented his case in reasonable terms. Fine! That's what debate should be all about.

Recently, however, I made the mistake of posting some comments on a website called "Through the Scary Door", run by SWP students. I should have realised just how "scary" that door is. They changed what I wrote. Get that: they CHANGED WHAT I WROTE. Not that they disagreed, or argued back, or called me a fucking idiot: no, they CHANGED WHAT I WROTE. That's Stalinism, plain and simple. It's a sad day when the ex-Trotskyist "S"WP have so miseducated their young members, that they (the young members) think interfering with people's postings is OK. They obviously have no knowledge of the "Stalin School of Falsification", the main victims of which were Leon Trotsky and his supporters. But, now, these ex-socialists, are the present- day perpetrators of Stalinist falsification. Have they no shame?

P.S: And I thought the "party" was supposed to be "The memory of the class".

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Straw the Man? I don't think so.

Having read my esteemed colleague Denham's piece on the Jack Straw mini-controversy, I must say that I wish I shared his sense of moral certainty about events such as this one. But I don't, and I hope that in this response I'll be able to explain why.

First, let me make it abundantly clear where I'm not coming from. I'm not an advocate of the sort of moronically censorious attitude that some people in SWP circles display, whereby any criticism of any utterance by any Islamic figure (provided, of course, that the figure in question is "anti-imperialist") is simply to be dismissed by yelling "racist" and "islamophobe" at the top of one's voice. Which is not to mention the specific, idiotically clownish statements made by SWP'er Lindsey German and by George Galloway, over this issue. I've been places like that and done stuff like that, it didn't work when I was a teenager, and it looks even more silly now.

Further, I think I should also make it clear that in my view, if someone doesn't like the niqaab, they have the right to say so. Just the same as if they don't like crucifixes, the yarmulke, Scientology e-meters or any kind of religious trapping. And any progressive (let alone "Marxist") who says otherwise, is either an idiot at worst, or badly misinformed at best.

But... for all that, I think there are problems here. They're problems regarding what precisely Straw said, why he said it now, and what effect it is likely to have. Let's take them in order.

Firstly, what he didn't actually do (contrary to what's implied in criticisms on both sides of the argument), was come out with any kind of comprehensive critique of the cultural practice of wearing niqaab. All he did was say that he doesn't like it, and thinks it makes it hard to communicate. Well, similarly I don't like people wearing shades and anonymous suits, but it's part of the world we live in. At the end of the day, Jack Straw is an MP, and his duty is to look after his constituents whether they turn up in a niqaab, a bikini, a chicken suit, or anything else. It isn't a public servant's role to bemoan the dress codes of his constituents.

Secondly, he's been MP for Blackburn since 1979. It may be that the niqaab has become more common in recent years, but I rather doubt he first noticed it last week. If he's so passionate about this, then why has it taken him 27 years to get around to mentioning it in public?

Third, finally and most crucially, there is the issue of consequences. What Jim's missing on this issue, is exactly what he and (the majority of) his AWL comrades missed in the debate about the Danish cartoons. Of course there is the right (as I said above) to talk about this issue. But a right does not equate to an obligation. And that when choosing to say things, we should always bear in mind what effect our words may have.

Let me put this simply. We all do it in daily life, right? You might think your best mate's new haircut is crap, but surely you don't therefore say "Oh my GOD, you look AWFUL", and when s/he expresses hurt at that statement, proceed to sanctimoniously proclaim that it's your "right of free speech" to say what you goddamn well like? Or at least, you don't if you plan to keep your friends for any length of time. So let's not pretend that always saying what's on your mind is a question of moral absolutes.

Now, let's apply this to the current social context. Straw said what he said in a context of steadily flowing "Muslim stories" in the press, mutterings about Muslim police officers being "excused" from protecting the Israeli embassy (and the inital reports there were shown to be gross misrepresentations of what actually happened), simmering discontent among some parts of the UK population about "privileges" given to immigrants and ethnic minorities, and the far-right actively campaigning against the so-called "Islamisation" of Britain. Not to mention a slow but steady flow of racial attacks on people perceived as being Muslim. In that context, for a senior, supposedly progressive politician to single out one of the most vulnerable groups in society for public criticism, is a dangerous gesture.

An anecdote, by way of supporting evidence. I heard about Straw's remarks last Thursday, on the TV news. Later on, I tuned into what must be the ugliest episode of BBC Question Time that I've ever seen. The sight of a horrified panel (including two Tories) trying to rebut some of the bile coming from rabidly reactionary audience members, was quite something to behold. "Muslims" apparently, get special privileges in the workplace, stalk soldiers recovering in NHS hospitals, and hide their nefarious motives behind the veil. The fact that most of it had no bearing on reality whatsoever, was neither here nor there. And such reasonable arguments about the niqaab as were raised, were lost in the general anti-Muslim background noise. Watch the programme here if you want to see for yourself.

And if all that reminds you of racist paranoias about an ethnic group that was vilified in 1930s Europe, then you're not the only one. I was thinking the same thing. Let's hope the consequences aren't the same.

Straw's remarks may have expressed his genuine opinion about the niqaab. But they neither amount to principled critique of the niqaab, nor to a harmless, consequence-free statement of one man's view.

Jim, don't kid yourself otherwise.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Veiled 'threat'; Straw man

The 'row' over Jack Straw's statement that he prefers to be able to see his constituents' faces, is a cynical exploitation of Muslims: another example of (mainly white) interest groups deliberately fostering a sense of victimhood amongst Muslim people.

What Straw said was entirely unobjectionable:

"Now, I always ensure that a female member of staff is with me . I explain that this is a country built on freedoms. I defend absolutely the right of any woman to wear a headscarf. As for the full veil, wearing it breaks no laws.

"I go on to say that I think, however, that the conversation would be of greater value if the lady took the covring off her face. Indeed, the value of a meeting, as opposed to a letter or a phone call, is that you can - almost literally - see what the other person means, and not just hear what they say. So many judgements we make about other people come from seeing their faces".

Straw might have added that the full veil is a clearly sexist peice of garb: men are not required to wear it. But, regardless of that, Straw's position is clearly perfectly reasonable. he has made it clear that he is not in favour of any sort of state ban upon the full veil: just that he doesn't like it. and will ask women at his surgeries to, please, remove them. What's wrong with that? And why does the (noticeably unveiled) Lindsay German denounce this as "racism" on 'News Night'? And the ultra-hypocrite Galloway state that this is asking women to "disrobe" in public? After all, 'Gorgeous George' quite deliberately built his reputation, in the early days ( before he courted consevative Muslim votes) as a man who -succesfully - encouraged women to "disrobe".

Anyway: Straw's request to Muslim women not to hide their faces, is clearly perfectly reasonable. Any suggestion of a state ban would not be: but Straw has not suggested that.

And, undoubtably, a lot of Muslim women in Britain will be thanking Straw for opposing their routine humiliation and debasement. To be able to show your face is just about the most fundamental human right: any culture that says women cannot do that, is simply inhuman.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Will Power

I suspect that Will ("A General Theory of Rubbish") does not approve of limericks, given their twee and middle-class origins with Edward Lear. However, the following, by a latter-day master, Robert Conquest, brought Will somehow to mind, and I couldn't resist:

A usage that's seldom got right
Is when to say shit and when shite,
And many a chap
Will fall back upon crap,
Which is vulgar, evasive, and trite.

There was a young fellow called Shit,
A name he disliked quite a bit,
So he changed it to Shite,
A step in the right
Direction, one has to admit".

Conquest's other great triumph was his book about Stalin's purges, The Great Terror: this was first published in the 1970's and widely dismissed as right-wing propaganda. After the collapse of the USSR and the Stalinist empire in 1998/90, and Soviet archives confirmed that what Conquest had said was true, his publishers suggested a new edition of the book. 'What about a new title, Bob? We won't pretend it's a new book, but a new title would be good. What do you say?'

Conquest answered: "Well, perhaps I Told You So, You Fucking Fools. How's that?

October 4 1936: They did not pass!

Seventy years ago 300,000 anti-fascists fought the police and stopped Mosley's Blackshirts marching through the East End of London. The 'Battle of Cable Street' dealt British fascism a blow from which it never fully recovered.

The united front of Jewish organisations, trade unionists, communists members of the ILP (Independent Labour Party) and individual working class people that routed the police and humiliated the strutting Blackshirts remain an inspiration to anti-fascists to this day. And it really was a 'battle': Thousands of Blackshirts assembled at Royal Mint Street, intending to pass through Whitechapel and on to four seperate street meetings in Shoreditch, Limehouse, Bow and Bethnal Green (all, at that time, areas of Jewish settlement). But they never even got started. Nearly a quarter of a million working class people stopped them in their tracks.

The 6,000 police (a third of the entire Metropolitan force) failed to cut a pathway through the anti-fascist forces and, instead, attempted to force an alternative route for the Blackshirts, around Wapping and along Cable Street. It was at Cable Street that the anti-fascists built their barricades of furniture, paving stones and abandoned vehicles. English, Irish and Somali dockers fought in police in hand-to-hand combat. Pretending to retreat, the anti-fascists lured the police forwards, then took up positions from behind secondary barricades while from the windows on tenements on either side, residents threw bricks, stones, bottles, marbles (for the horses) and boiling water onto the police. Some cops were even captured and taken prisoner! For a short while, the working class ruled in East London!

After a three hour battle, the Commissioner told Mosely that he could not be held responsible for the Blackshirts' safety and the march was cancelled.

That glorious day has, quite rightly, entered leftist and labour movement mythology. But "mythology"is, unfortunately, also an accurate description of the many untruths and misrepresentaions that have grown up around Cable Street.

Probably the biggest myth concerns the role of the official Communist Party of Britain, which to this day quite falsely claims to have lead and organised the physical force opposition to the fascists that day. The Stalinist Morning Star, today claims "And when the British Union of Fascists announced its plan to terrorise the East End by parading its uniformed thugs in military formation, the Labour Party and the Board of Deputies of British Jews urged non-resistance.

"It was local organisations, supported by the Communist Party, that adopted the Spanish slogan No Pasaran and declared that the Mosleyites would not be allowed to intimidate east London".

As is their wont, the Stalinists are being more than a little economical with the truth here (as well as getting in one of their frequent little digs at Jewish leaders): by 1936, the CP had largely renounced physical confrontation with the fascists and was pursuing the policy of the 'democratic anti-fascist front', or Popular Front. This meant building alliances with non-working class forces, up to and including 'progressive' Tories. They were desperately trying to gain respectibility and therefore shied away from physical confrontation: instead, they demanded state bans on the fascists, and that was their initial approach to the events that lead up to Cable Street.

In fact, the main left wing organisation building for physical opposition to the Blackshirts before Cable Street was the Independent Labour Party. But the ILP's role has been effectively written out of most accounts of events, because of the CP's massively greater weight on the left and its unscrupulous willingness to simply lie about events (see, for instance Phil Piratin's dishonest book Our Flag Stays Red - still widely accepted as the best account of Cable Street).

In fact, the CP only thew their weight behind the East End mobilisation a few days before the fascist march, when it was clear that rank and file CP'ers and sympathisers were rallying to the ILP's call to block the march. Up until then, the CP (like the Labour Party, most union leaders and mainstream Jewish organisations), urged their members and other people to stay away from the East End on that day, and instead to attend a Young Communist League rally in solidarity with the Spanish Republic, to be held in Trafalgar Square at the same time as the fascist march (see the memoirs of former CP branch secretary Joe Jacobs, Out of the Ghetto).

However, despite the lies and distortions of the Stalinists, past and present, Cable Street was, and remains, an inspiring victory for our class, and in particular for the beleagured East End Jews. Nothing can detract from that.

NB: In preparing the above, I have made very extensive use of this and this.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Not, perhaps, a time for heroes

With Tommy Sheridan embroiled in further controversy as the News of the World releases a tape containing a recording of someone who appears to be Sheridan confessing to various indiscretions, people have got to be wondering if the SWP/CWI/Sheridan split from the Scottish Socialist Party, calling itself "Solidarity", was really such a good idea. Sheridan's former SSP colleagues are already crowing over the new footage, which they claim vindicates their previous statements (in and out of court) about him.

I'm not going to comment on the footage itself. I'm not a fan of the tabloid press, and to a certain degree I also couldn't care less if political figures are indulging in Bacchanalian orgies, just as long as they do so outside of working hours. Sheridan is no exception to that, in my view - as long as he's true to the principles that he claims to hold dear when he's "doing" politics, that's fine by me.

But what I do think is a problem, is the way that this whole episode goes to show an innate fragility in that brand of politics which relies on a coalition being held together by a lionised hero-figure or "big man" leader, like Sheridan. This is by no means exclusive to the left, but it seems particularly weird when it manifests itself in that part of the political spectrum. Two obvious examples are Solidarity in Scotland, and Respect in England and Wales. I can already hear the denials brewing, but to those who would disagree with me, I offer a scenario. Imagine if tomorrow Sheridan or Galloway were to drop off the political scene. What would happen? In my view the answer is that not only would both the size and media profile of their respective political groups shrink radically (indeed, Solidarity would practically disappear), but also that the coalitions underlying them would fracture. Rather like houses with wonderful decor but no foundations, collapsing in bad weather.

Such is the problem with placing all your hopes on a hero - it might be fine in myth and fiction, but in reality heroes are human, and as such they will never be able to live up to inflated expectations.