Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Hypocrite? Coward? No: conciliator!

I have been accused (and not just on this blog) of being dogmatic, confrontational and unwilling/unable to see the other person's point of view.

I have also been accused (libellously) of being, shall we say, intemperate with regard to alcoholic beverage.

The following should put all these myths and libels to rest:

I live in an area of Birmingham (Bournville) which, thanks to those patronising, religious (Quaker), anti-union scum, the Cadbury family, has long been 'dry'. Those of us who like the occasional social drink have to plan well ahead, because there are no 'offies' in the vacinity.

So I was well pleased to hear that Tesco (who have a pretty rotten "sweetheart" deal with USDAW, by the way), planned to open a store selling - amongst other things - booze -within staggering distance of where I live.

Then I received this, from my local (Tory) councillors:

"Dear Resident,
"You may already be aware that TESCO are currently converting the old petrol station on Linden road into a TESCO Express site. This will be a site that sells a full range of foodstuffs and petrol from 7am intil 10:30pm
"However, TESCO have also recently put in an application to the City Council for permission to sell alcohol once this site is reopened.
"This is something that your local councillors are opposed to. We believe that the selling of alcohol from such a site may lead to underage sales to young people and may lead to an increase in anti social behaviour in the area fuelled by alcohol from this site.
"We have organised a public meeting at the United Reform Church on Beaumont Road to hear the views of local residents.
"We look forward to seeing you on Sunday.
"Yours sincerely,
"Nigel Dawkins
"Councillor Niger Dawkins".

Well, I don't mind telling you, I very nearly went along to tell Cllr. Dawkins and his fellow prohibitionists exactly what I thought of them. But I didn't in the end. Because I was down the pub.

Then, a couple of days ago, my next-door neighbour came knocking at my door. She's a lovely, kindly, public-spirited lady, who takes a great interest in all local matters, especially what's happening on our road....she had a petition in her hand: it was from the Tory councillors, about Tesco's application for an alcohol licence: what do you think I did?

Clue: I'm a natural-born coward : I mean, conciliator.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Tamimi denounces "fundamentalism"!

Another great moment in journalism from the British Guardian today. Stuart Jeffries (usually one of their less annoying journalists) has a piece on the "vicious and uncompromising battle between believers and non-believers". It is admirably even-handed, in just the same way that, no doubt, a Guardian article discussing the "battle" between followers of Darwin and supporters of creationism would also be even-handed: after all, science and rationality should not be given preference over superstition and belief in the supernatural - that would be judgemental, wouldn't it?

After quoting such profound thinkers as Colin Slee, the Dean of Southwark, saying things like "Atheists like the Richard Dawkins (sic) of this world are just as fundamentalist as the people setting off bombs on the tube"... (think about that statement for a moment, folks)...the article goes on to quote one Azzim Tamimi, billed as "director of the Institute of Islamic Political Thought", saying: "I refer to secular fundamentalism. The problem is that these people believe that they have the absolute truth. That means you have no room to talk to others so you end up having a physical fight". So Mr Tamimi is some kind of peace-loving, liberal, pro-dialogue, anti-fundamentalist opponent of the idea of anyone having "the absolute truth"? Eh, well...perhaps not: what the Guardian article failed to mention is that Mr Tamini isn't just the "director of the Institute of Islamic Political Thought". He's rather better known as the representaive in Britain of Hamas. You know, those peace-loving anti-fundamentalist folk who's charter explicitly rejects "so-called peaceful solutions", who opposed the Oslo accords, who support suicide bombings against civilians and who seek the total destruction of Israel: all in the name of their faith, which they believe to be the absolute, irreducible and uncontestable Truth, and that all who disagree are infidels who should be conquered -or in the case of Jews, wiped off the face of the earth. And Tamini, whose membership of Hamas is not even mentioned by the Gruaniad, is quoted denouncing "secular fundamentalism" on the grounds that it leaves "no room to talk to others"...

What would we do without the good old Graun, eh?

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Carnival coming soon...

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingI am still doing the 13th Carnival of Socialism, but I'm gonna put it up next weekend rather than this. I just got carried away with the Meacher stuff. Thanks to all who've sent contributions, I promise I haven't forgotten you.

The plus side is that if you still want to send something in that works around the approximate topic area of "Why is the left obsessed with the Middle East?" , then you have a small extension time within which to do so. I'd particularly invite contributions from people who don't come from the same traditions as me or share my gripes about the left. After all, it's intended to be a provocative topic, and I know that some of you who read this blog enjoy a row. So here's your chance to do exactly that, in a medium other than the comments boxes. Although those will doubtless be busy next weekend too!

Contributions and comments, as ever, to

More on Meacher

I don't often agree with or endorse stuff written by AA Gill, but this from today's Sunday Times is both to the point and utterly priceless:

"There’s a company trying to find ways of marketing the pristine emptiness of Michael Meacher. So far, all they’ve come up with is having it said by the mechanical voice in lifts when the doors are opening but there’s no one there."

You just know it could so easily be true!

Anyway do your own Google News search on "Meacher" and you'll find about a squillion other mocking stories blossoming from journos both left and right. Meacher is sinking faster than the Titanic, and good riddance to him as well.

(Hat Tip: Dan in the comments)

Whackjob Sunday... Yes, It's Meacher!

I wonder if his campaign will be using this fascinating video? It's in two parts; watch the top one first. Enjoy.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Remember when we talked about the C-Word?

... To those of you who felt the word should simply be barred from general discourse (what the right would call "polite society"), I would only say to you that I've heard Michael Meacher is running for leader of the Labour Party. And V has something to say about it.

I don't care what your views are on the word itself. Meacher is vilified by the vast majority of the left. The right think he's a figure of fun. And yet he thinks he's the man to challenge Gordon Brown. If ever any man richly deserved the accolade "Cunt of the Week", 'twould be he.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Back off, Meacher!

What the hell does Michael Meacher think he's playing at? This fake-left poseur has announced that he's standing for Labour leader on a supposedly "centre-left" platform. He claims to have more support from MP's than the genuine left-winger, John McDonnell who announced his intention to stand months ago. In fact, neither of them has anywhere near the 44 nominations required to get onto the ballot paper, but there is simply no evidence that Meacher has more support than McDonnell, even amongst MP's.

The most likely effect of Meacher's campaign will be to damage John McDonnell sufficiently that neither of them get on the ballot paper, giving Brown a clear run.

As for Meacher's claim that he is somehow "more credible" than McDonnell: well, this comes from someone who voted for the war in Iraq, foundation hospitals, cuts in lone parent benefit, tuition fees, etc, etc. He supports wacky conspiracy theories about 9/11 (the CIA was behind it!) and owns approximately a dozen homes. Crucially, he has virtually no rank and file support anywhere in the labour movement. McDonnell, on the other hand, has been endorsed by ASLEF, the RMT, FBU, Amicus Unity Gazette, the T&G, CWU and Unison Broad Lefts, Welsh Labour Grassroots, Scottish Campaign for Socialism and the Labour Representation Committee - not to mention CLP's and union branches across the country.

What you can do:

1/ Write a letter to the Guardian and/or Mirror, explaining why you're backing McDonnell and calling for Meacher to back off.

2/ Email Meacher at - asking him to back off and / or to support McDonnell.

3/ Write to your local Labour MP - go to

4/ If you've got a blog, write what you think about Meacher and/or leave comments on other blogs. Do a search for "Michael Meacher" at to find posts about this.

Meacher's vainglorious act of conscious or unconscious sabotage against McDonnell must be stopped.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Wystan Hugh Auden, 21 February 1907 - 29 September 1973

He was a rather sad, lonely man and his formal politics - even at their best - were pretty crap (he supported the Stalinist "popular front" movement in the thirties, then became a pacifist and anti-Marxist).

But his heart was in the right place: he was personally kind and generous, and he did his best in the Spanish civil war, despite being (by his own admission), a pretty useless soldier. Above all, he was a humanist.

Here's one of his best:

Musee des Beaux Arts

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position; how well it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the plowman may
Have heard the splash, the foresaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

...And here are some excerpts (lines 45-46, 89-93) from Spain 1937, about the civil war: he later tried to have this expunged from the record of his work:

And the life, if it answers at all, replies from the heart
And the eyes and the lungs, from the shops and squares of the city:
"O no, I am not the Mover,
not today, not to you. To you I'm the

"Yes-man, the bar-companion, the easily-duped:
I am whatever you do; I am your vow to be
Good, your humourous story;
I am your business voice; I am your marriage.

"What's your proposal? To build the Just City? I will,
I agree. Or is it the suicide pact, the romantic
Death? Very well, I accept, for
I am your choice, your decision: yes, I am Spain."

The stars are dead; the animals will not look:
We are left alone with our day, and the time is short and
History to the defeated
May say Alas but cannot help or pardon.

Eagleton: beyond stupid

Terry Eagleton (John Edward Taylor Professor of English Literature at Manchester University), used to be a self-proclaimed Marxist of one variety or another. These days, he's a pretentious purvayor of vacuous, dishonest excuses for moral and cultural relativism. His crass denunciation of Richard Dawkins' brilliant "The God Delusion" is but one recent example of this buffoon's ignorance and stupidity. But his offering in today's Guardian takes the proverbial biscuit. In the course of completely misrepresenting the terms of the debate about multiculturalism, the learned Professor appears to call Tony Blair a "cultural supremacist" for objecting to the bombing of tube stations...I'm (nearly) sure that Eagleton doesn't really mean this, but that is, indeed, what he appears to say. As one commentator, "Waltz" (about twenty comments down), says "This is the stupidist article I've ever read in the Guardian. It'''s beyond stupid".

Considering the pack of idiots and moral degenerates (including Madelaine Bunting, Andrew Murray and Osama bin Laden) that Seumus Milne has published over the years, to call an article "the stupidist" is quite something. But, in this case, I think, justified.

And folks, if you're reading this on Wednesday 21st February, there's still time to go onto the Guardian's "Comment is Free" website and tell the professor exactly what you think of him.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Monbiot Tears the Bastards Apart

There are few things that raise my ire more than the 9-11 conspiracy crew. Most annoying is seeing them, seemingly getting a hearing, at every anti-war demo I have attended in Britain. They walk around with thier crap signs showing a poorly drawn plane and the towers with "9-11" and "Truth" written somewhere on the signs.

They've approached me, and I've given it to them. I will continue to do so. What is most disturbing is that they seem shocked that I should have such a reaction to them. It is as though they truly believe that they are simply another group with a cause who does no harm by being there. However as Monbiot points out in his article in today's Guardian nothing could be further from the truth. Monbiot makes the point that I have made all along with these people and that is that they discredit the left and the real movements that we are trying to build.

So this weekend, if you're going to the demo, make sure to let them know how much they are not welcome. I usually find that saying "get that shit outta my face" in my best NY accent when they try to hand me a leaflet works. There really isn't much point in an American who was there engaging them in conversation. They'd probably look on with wonder at someone who must be "in on it"......

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Whackjob Sunday

You can't beat a good conspiracy wacko for laugh-out-loud entertainment. Enjoy.

Anti-Imperialism and Waves of Rage

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingBrendan O'Neill is editor of Spiked Online, the organ of one of the successor bodies to th Revolutionary Communist Party, an eccentric ultra-left organisation that converted en masse to libertarianism in the 1990s. Still, whoever he is, this post of his (from Comment is Free) is very interesting.

He's commenting on the way that "Muslim Rage" seems to have replaced political analysis at the root of the politics of many in the anti-war movement, and among the self-appointed "community leaders" so beloved of both the government and sections of the left. This has disastrous consequences in terms of a crisis of representation that leads all sorts of people to think they can set themselves up to speak, unelected, for the UK's Muslim communities.

Bizarrely, the prevailing wisdom among liberals and left wingers is simply to buy into this kind of politics as though it were self-evident fact. For instance, many people seem to simply accept that the war in Iraq and/or the Israeli occupation of Palestine were the cause of 7/7, as though the relationship were a direct and causal one. As O'Neill puts it:

"The idea that it somehow 'makes sense' for Khan and his three mates to kill themselves and others in protest at British foreign policy shows the triumph of the narrow and divisive politics of identity. There is also something uncomfortably racial about it. The assumption seems to be that there's something in Muslims' ethnic or religious make-up that makes it more acceptable, or at least more understandable, for them to carry out murderous acts in response to wars abroad, as if they are unthinking automatons driven more by emotion and instinct than rational political thought."

It's uncomfortable terrain, but he has a point. Could you seriously imagine progressives arguing, that David Khoresh or Tim McVeigh were driven by root causes based in unfair US policies towards the white working class, as though that was just the obvious explanation for the former's arming of his followers or of the murderous outrages committed by the latter? I certainly can't imagine a set of circumstances in which that would happen.

Have a look and see what you think. It's food for thought, anyway.

(Hat Tip: Modernity Blog)

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Meanwhile, over at the Drink Soaked Trots...

The Scylla and Charybdis of international politics, Will and JohnG, are just beginning the predictable row about a putative invasion of Iran in the comments on this post. I found the as-yet very short exchange interesting, because it throws into stark relief some of the issues between the so-called "stopper" and "decent" tendencies on the left.

Peculiar discussion, this. Especially when it's held between two people who are both putting arguments with virtually mirror-imaged flaws. Will is by far the politically sharper of the two, and quite rightly berates John's (and most of the left that gravitates around the SWP's) substitution of a simple disidentification with "imperialism" and de facto identification with any forces that oppose it - however reactionary - for actual political innovation, theory and analysis in politics on a global level. The consequence, he argues, is apologism for regimes that are brutally oppressive and/or actually fascist, purely on the grounds that they find themselves ranged against "imperialism". This is true, and can be applied to many people on that spectrum, even those not quite so stupid as to get all jelly-kneed over Muqtada Al-Sadr.

However, where he and his chums, pro-war leftists who happen (unusually for those under that label) to actually be mostly left-wing, go wrong, is that such a critique seems to the translate somehow into backing for ideologically driven offensives against various regimes in one particular region of the world, led by one of the most right-wing US administrations in that nation's history. They seem to have some kind of collective mental block that prevents them from disentangling neo-con rhetoric about spreading democracy in the Middle East from real liberatory goals. In other words, he (and they) would seem to have done a Cohen - ie, allowed legitimate criticism of glaring flaws in the politics of a section of the left, to lead them to have illusions in political initiatives led by a particularly malevolent section of the right.

By way of criticising the SWP-dominated left, Will says:

"The category of 'imperialism' so dominates and negates all other options that the imagination, the faculty of forming new ideas, the ability to be creative or resourceful is made reduntant."

Very sadly, in this political area at least, he would seem to have fallen into exactly the same trap, even if he is led to the opposite set of political conclusions. At least, that's the case if he (and other pro-war lefties such as Transmontanus, who wrote the actual post) is working himself up towards supporting an attack on Iran. Which I rather get the impression he is.

JohnG, on the other hand, manages to come to the right conclusion for all the wrong reasons: he rightly opposes the prospective attack on Iran. But then if the USA started distributing free apples to children the world over, John and his chums in the SWP would find some reason to oppose it. So I guess if you oppose anything and everything that one nation does in the field of foreign policy, then you're guaranteed to be right at least some of the time. And as a little Brucie Bonus, much of the closed and shrinking circle that is the trot/ex-trot left will say you've got "sound anti-imperialist politics". Oh, and you might get on the SWP Central Committee.

You pays your money, you takes your choice, I guess.

Update: Hak Mao has written a response to this post on the Drink-Soaked Trots site. As ever, it's very good - albeit that I'm apparently having a "fit of the vapours" according to Ms Mao. Take a look.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Big Al, Bugs and that massacre

On this day, 78 years ago, the forces of Big Al rubbed out key members of George 'Bugs' Moran's organisation in a Chicago garage.

This incident has long posed a quandary for principled anti-imperialists: which side would we have supported? On the face of it, the answer is easy: Big Al's mob was the biggest, most powerful outfit in town, whereras the Moran gang were the underlings: plainly, we support Moran (this analysis will have the added appeal, for some, that Moran was a deeply religious man, whose hatred of Big Al was motivated, he claimed, by his moral objection to the Capone mob's involvement in prostitution).

But here comes the problem for us principled folk: Moran's outfit, though predominantly Irish, were Anglophones, and therefore the historic oppressors. The Capone organisation, on the other hand, were Sicilians - long the victims of anti-Italian stereotyping and Siciliaphobia. Their strike against Moran was, therefore an entirely justified symbolic blow against the forces of oppression and racism worldwide, and would have to be supported on that basis, even if their methods were not ours.

Just goes to show, doesn't it, that your initial response to events isn't always the correct one. A little thought and analysis always pays off, especially when dealing with crucial issues like this one.

Sunday, February 11, 2007


"Trying to put music -especially improvisatory music-into words is somewhat like trying to bottle an ocean breeze. Yet it's not entirely impossible, as Whitney Balliett...demonstrates".
-Nat Hentoff

There are some specialist writers who are just so good, that you can appreciate them even if you don't give a damn about their subject. Philip Larkin summed it up well:

"There is a kind of imaginative journalism that one suspects has its roots in Wilde's 'The Critic as Artist'. When Cardus writes 'During his first few overs , Grace's bat was like a stout door bolted against evil', or Liebling reports a boxer throwing a right 'like an old woman throwing a pie', Wilde's sentence about the relationship of the critic to the work of art being precisely that of the artist to the visible world comes irresistably to mind".

What Neville Cardus was to cricket and A.J. Liebling to boxing, Whitney Balliett (who died 1 February 2007), was to jazz. There is a further connection with Liebling: both wrote for the 'New Yorker' magazine, and both -inevitably-came under the influence of the great 'New Yorker' writers James Thurber and S.J. Perelman. Unlike Liebling, Thurber and Perelman, Balliet was not a deliberate humourist, but his jazz writing nevertheless contained the wit and peception of his great predecessors.

Doug Ramsey has commented that jazz writing "generally takes one of two paths, analysis or appreciation. Whitney Balliett was not a musicologist, but one of the field's most gifted appreciators". Ramsay goes on to cite the following example of Balliett's brilliance - a passage about Thelonious Monk:

"His improvisations were attempts to disguise his love of melody. He clothed whatever he played with spindly runs, flatted notes, flatted chords, repeated single notes, yawning silences, and zigzag rhythms. Sometimes he pounded the keyboard with his right elbow. His style protected him not only from his love of melody but from his love of the older pianists he grew out of - Duke Ellington and the stride pianists. All peered out from inside his solos, but he let them escape only as parody".

As Ramsey coments: "Musicians and academic analysts often found more poetry than accuracy in some of Balliett's lyrical descriptions ..."

However, I would defy anyone to fault Balliet's ability to describe the great personalities of jazz - their sounds, and their characters: Billie Holiday, Henry 'Red' Allen, Mary Lou Williams, Pee Wee Russell, the Count Basie rhythm section ("its ball-bearing motion through an almost Oriental casualness and indirection, as if the last thing in the world it wanted was to supply the rhythm for a jazz band), ... right up to Ornette Coleman.

Balliet's ability was to both describe the individual (often in great physical detail), and his/her music. He was especially good with drummers, Big Sid Catlett being a particular favourite. Here's Balliett's description of the man:

"Catlett was nobly constructed. He was six feet three or four inches tall, and everything was in proportion: the massive shoulders, the long arms and giant, tapering fingers, the cannon-ball fists, the barn-door chest and the tidy waist and columnular neck...big men are often more graceful than small men, and Catlett was no exception. He could swim, play football and basketball, and dance beautifully. But he never learned to drive a car".

Now here's Balliett's desciption of a Catlett drum solo:

"There is a section of his long and empyrean solo in "Steak Face" on the Decca "Satchmo at Symphony Hall" album in which he plays a repeated figure with a loose, and then increasingly complex, arrangement of rim shots, and it is astonishing. It makes you want to dance and jig and shake. Its timing and taste and impetus are such that the passage stands at the very heart of rhythm. One of his simpler solos might start with unbroken, surging, snare-drum rolls, whose volume rose and fell sharply, and whose wavelike patterns became more and more intense before suddenly exploding into rim shots. Then a stunning silence-followed by lightening shots delivered all round his set, by another silence and several choked-cymbal beats, and the solo was over"... (this description of Catlett's playing, by Balliett, continues and intensifies - see "American Musicians"- Oxford, 1986).

...If anyone knows of a better written description of a drum solo, I'd like to hear of it.

The only complaint about Balliett that holds any water, IMHO, is that of Philip Larkin (who very much liked Balliett's writing style): " None of the complimentary remarks about Balliett...uses the word 'critic', and that may be significant...(since criticism) is alien to Balliett's purpose".

Larkin had earlier commented;

"His chief characteristic, as a critic, is that he has virtually no characteristics: in a potted biography published in 1959 it was said that Balliet 'professes equal interest in all types of jazz'."

In fact, Balliett did once come close to expressing a clear-cut opinion, about the avant garde jazz of the sixties (and it was an opinion with which Larkin would most certainly have agreed, had he known about it):

"At its worst, then the new thing is long-winded, dull and almost physically abrasive. At its best - in the hands of Ornette Coleman or (Cecil) Taylor - it howls through the mind and heart, filling them with an honest ferocity that is new in jazz and perhaps in any music".

But back to Balliett's amazing ability to capture in words, both the sound of a musician, and their personality. I think the best example of both is his description of the eccentric, alcoholic clarinet genius, Pee Wee Russell. First, Pee Wee's sound:

"In his final chorus, he moves snakily up towards the middle register with a series of tissue-paper notes and placid rests, adopting a legato attack that allows the listener to move back from the edge of his seat".

...Now, Pee Wee's personality:

(From his wife, Mary, describing to Balliet a time when Pee Wee left her and then came crawling back): "Once when Pee Wee had left me and was in Chicago, he came back to New York for a couple of days . He denies it. He doesn' remember it. He went to the night club where I was working as a hat-check girl and asked to see me. I said no. The boss's wife went out and took one look at him and came back and said 'At least go out and talk to him. He's pathetic. Even his feet look sad.'"

That's why I miss you already, Whitney.

Oh fer fuck's sake.

Just a quick one now.

Some of you may remember that some days ago I wrote another post explaining to the thick and uninspired why Jon Cruddas isn't very left wing. In the course of that I had a less than subtle dig at Dave Osler, who at that time had just written something to the effect that he might vote for Cruddas if no-one better showed up. Predictably, Dave remained splendidly aloof from my barbed words - showing himself to be one of the few political class acts remaining on the left in the process.

However, in the course of the same post I tangentially mentioned some more certain Cruddas supporters, including one Antonia Bance, an ex-student leftie from Oxford University and now Labour councillor, whom I called "allegedly left wing". I'd always thought this was a fairly simple phrase, meaning that someone claims to be left wing, but that I can't see how that claim is justified. Not a big deal, and an opinion that can be retracted on production of some evidence to the contrary.

But no. First in the comments her (presumably) pal Don Paskini took me to task for my "spiteful attack" on her. He was, however, pacified once I explained that this was not a plot on part of "my comrades" (by whom one presumes he meant the AWL) to undermine her by, err, being mean. So all was well.

But now... she's bloody posting about it herself! Apparently my little chiding words count as a "denunciation" in the rarefied atmosphere of Oxfordian politics. All I can say is that politics amid the ivory towers must be fairly Queensbury rules compared to the rest of the country, if "allegedly left wing" is an excessively pejorative thing to say about someone. Perhaps someone should introduce her to Will for a bit of toughening-up...

Antonia, I'm sure you're a jolly nice person, left wing or not. Chin up. Pip-pip. TTFN.

Saturday, February 10, 2007


Photobucket - Video and Image HostingPant-pissingly funny interview of the week can be found in the current Weekly Worker, where Peter Manson interviews Yasir Idris, the recruitment consultant who beat SWP full timer Helen Salmon to the Respect nomination for a seat in the next set of elections to Birmingham City Council. The article reveals a lot about the state of Respect and its internal politics - remember before reading it that Birmingham is one of their better areas, with the politically credible Salma Yaqoob standing an outside chance of taking a parliamentary seat at the next general election.

Idris certainly has a firm social background in the West Midlands:

"My father has been a businessman. Back in 1978, when I was born, my father owned most of the Ladypool Road. It’s known now as ‘Balti junction’ because of the number of restaurants there. He owned various retail units - clothes shops, newsagents, travel agents, restaurants, etc, etc. My father owned a good 20 shops on that stretch."

What's more, the family's prestige may have helped with the (alleged) joiners on voting day who helped put Yasir over the top in the candidate selection ballot:

"It’s probably because of my influence as well. I’m well known among these people and my family are well known. I helped convince these people - hey, we do need members. Respect needs to move forward among the Asian community. We need to join together as a coalition, in unity with everyone else, to show these people that, yes, we can live side by side and we can live united."

He's not entirely au fait with Respect's policies, but is apparently reading up on them. This news will doubtless come as a comfort to the SWP, who were so careful not to allow anything too radical through when writing them. Perhaps they had Yasir in mind?

Anyway, read the rest of it here. It really is incredibly funny. Unless you're Helen Salmon or the SWP, that is.

13th Carnival of Socialism

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingOkay then, I've settled on a topic. This came to me via a problem that Stroppy had when she did the last carnival. Namely that in a carnival with a topic as supposedly broad as "liberation politics and the left", she was (dismally but predictably) deluged with posts about Iraq and Palestine.

Now, before you all start going on, I know that they're important issues. I know that the implications for global politics in both cases stretch well beyond the borders of either nation. And I know that most of what is written about them by people on the left is part of a genuine effort to show solidarity.

But... nevertheless I'd argue that the disproportionate coverage of both issues on the left is indicative of biases that we need to address. To read the sheer volume of left-wing writing on those subjects, you would think that nowhere else in the world even existed. Or that if it did, then there's certainly no problem there. Uzbekistan? North Korea? Chad? Western Sahara? Algeria? All minor diversions from the struggle to liberate Palestine, comrade (although we'll allow for a quick "Ooh ah Hezbollah" on the related issue of the Lebanon if we're in a particularly moronic mood). Oh, and let's not forget the struggle of those great progressives in the Mehdi Army, who so carry the banner of anti-imperialism in Iraq!

Ok, maybe I'm exaggerating. But not much. You only have to take a couple of steps backwards to see just how crass and myopic this obsession looks to the wider world.

So, following from that drumroll, the topic for the 13th Carnival of Socialism is "Why is the left obsessed with the Middle East?".

Deadline will be February 24th 2007. You therefore have a fortnight folks - contributions to me either by email to or if you prefer, via link in the comments. From long posts to acidic one-liners, anything contributed (however mad) will be most welcome.

Watch this space

Seeing as I faithfully promised Angliss that I'd do the next Carnival of Socialism, I suppose I'd better pull my finger out and do something about it. I shall have a ponder, and by the end of today I'll have a topic and a deadline for all you incisive political bloggers out there. Watch this space for details.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Big man, big voice (Ave Frankie, 1913-2007)

High Noon ("Oh Don't Forsake Me Oh Mah Dahlin'"), Gunfight at the OK Corral, Rawhide...etc; etc: those of us brought up on cowboy films and television series, will immediately recognise the voice of Big Frankie, (March 30 1913- February 6 2007) which was usually much more memorable than the film or TV series whose opening credits he sang over.

His big-vibratoed, emotive voice (early influences included Bessie Smith and Enrico Caruso) was - perhaps- little over the top, but ideal for horse operas, which are essentially melodramas.

He was a much more sophisticated musician than you might assume. His friend, the late Richard Boston quotes him from a 1974 interview: "In Lucky Old Sun (1957) in the middle of the bridge going into the last eight bars, I come in a fourth higher, which is startling -yet in this song it seems natural. A third higher is more normal.You don't expect a fourth". Boston comments: "When did a singer last say anything like that in an interview?"

Boston closes with: "He was a great singer, and a really nice man".

So it's perhaps not so surprising to learn that Frankie always regarded himself first and foremost as a jazz singer, whose early role model was Nat "King" Cole. And in 1955 he made a truly top-class jazz album with an all-star band organised by trumpeter Buck Clayton, entitled "Jazz Spectacular"; it's well woth obtaining (last I heard, it was available on a' Columbia Legacy' CD CK 65507).

But none of that is intended to disparage his cowboy songs (including the theme for Mel Brooks's Blazing Saddles!): so long pard'ner.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The dishonesty of (some) "independents"

You probably know the type: the leftist who claims to be completely "independent", a "non-aligned socialist", who just happens, on every issue, to back up the "line" of a particular party (usually the largest and most powerful one on the left). Present day examples to be found on the blogosphere would include one "Sonic" who pops up all over the place, backing the SWP whilst strenuously denying any connection with them; then there's that irritating prat Benjamin (Mackie), who plays much the same role, with the additional twist of adding that none of these arguments matter much anyway (then why bother joining in, Benji?); finally there are a few genuine "useful idiots" like this guy. But on the whole, you can't escape the conclusion that the pig-ignorance of these people is willful.

Anyway, the phenomenon of the predictably partisan "independent" is nothing new, and I must thank the New Statesman (29 January 2007) for reminding me of one of the most craven, dishonest and shameless exponents of the art: Kingsley Martin. It is rather noble of the Statesman to republish a particularly loathsome piece by Martin ("Trotsky in Mexico"), given that he edited the mag between 1932 and 1962.

Martin went to see Trotsky in exile in Mexico, in the house of Diego Rivera ("an exile could scarcely hope to find a lovelier refuge") in 1937. Martin's main purpose, it transpires, was to question Trotsky on the subject of the Moscow trials:

"What possible pressure could have been brought on all these experienced revolutionaries which would make them not only confess, but stand by their confessionswhen they had the opportunity of publicly repudiating them in open trial?" asks Martin, to which Trotsky replies (very reasonably, I'd have thought -JD), that Martin "did not understand the methods of the GPU. He described how they first got hold of a woman and questioned her until she made a confession which incriminated her husband; how this was used to break down her husband's resistance and how he in turn was induced to incriminate his friends...The GPU knew, he said, how to attack each of its victims in his weakest spot, this man signing because of nervous exhaustion, that one because of a threat to his wife and children, and the other in the hope of pardon and release".

But this explanation was not good enough for Martin:

"I still did not understand why none of the prisoners had repudiated his confession in court...the trial itself was free and open...most of them knew they were going to die anyway. Trotsky grew very animated. I was wrong. Even after the example of the first trial these men did not know they were going to die. There was a world of difference between certainty of death and just that much hope of reprieve - here Trotsky made an expressive gesture with his fingers to indicate even a millimetre of hope".

I suppose you've got to give Martin credit for reporting Trotsky's argument so accurately, even though he was plainly unaware of how willfully obtuse it makes him (Martin) appear to any halfway rational reader, especially when Martin concludes as follows:

"Afterwards, turning over this conversation in my mind, I did not find that it had cleared my perplexity about the Moscow trials, and I came away from our talk rather less inclined to scout (ie: scorn, or dismiss -JD) the possibility of Trotsky's complicity than I had been before, because his judgement appeared to me so unstable, and therefore the possibility of his embarking on a crazy plot more credible...I shall not let myself become partisan in this controversy. But I fear this open-minded attitude will have no effect on Trotsky except to convince him that I too am a prostitute in the pay of Moscow".

That reference to being a "prostitute" may have been, subconsciously, what lay behind a bizarre and hilarious episode in 1944, when George Orwell (who'd hated Martin ever since Martin had suppressed his articles denouncing the role of the CP in the Spanish civil war), wrote a piece in Tribune that mentioned no names but concluded thus:

"Don't imagine that for years on end you can make yourself the boot-licking propagandist of the Soviet regime or any other regime, and then suddenly return to mental decency. Once a whore, always a whore".

According to Orwell's biographer Bernard Crick ('George Orwell -A Life, Penguin 1980), "This last unspecified jibe brought Kingsley Martin...shouting down the phone threatening Tribune with a libel action", until it was patiently explained to him that "an action would make him look ridiculous and that Orwell was not the man to retract, but would probably compound the libel and then claim justification in open court. Nothing more was heard..."

Elsewhere in the biography, Crick speculates about the motivation of Martin and people like him in the 1930's and 40's:

"...there were objective reasons to believe that many prominent Left-wing intellectuals were not as dedicated to truth and liberty as they were to the illusion of being close to the future levers of power..."

Well, at least you can't accuse "Sonic", Benji or John Harris of that, I suppose.

Monday, February 05, 2007

America: As I See It

Since moving to Britain two years ago a number of my experiences have been shaped with the recognition that I am a citizen of what many people here consider to be the worst government in world in our current day and indeed a main cause, if not the cause of many of the world's problems.

I have claimed many times that the hostility to the Bush regime is understandable and indeed it's a hostility that myself and many of my fellow citizens feel very deeply. However, there is a line that is crossed, again and again - and not just on the left - when Bush's foreign policies get applied to me and other Americans and it is we who are considered stupid, dumb and brutal.

I'll never forget the feeling that I had when I saw the cover of the Mirror the day after myself and a number of my friends stayed up all night in NY wishing Bush out of office and hoping he would lose - this after protesting in the searing heat with a couple hundred thousand other New Yorkers against the Republican National Convention earlier that year: "How can 59,054,087 people be so DUMB?"

I was offended. No, I wasn't one of the people that they were calling "dumb", but this is my country, my home, where my family lives. This was the place I grew up, a place of childhood memories, the country of New York City, San Francisco and Chicago. The home of rock and roll and baseball. The home of the brave civil rights movement. It's also a place of incredible beauty, particularly the deserts of the west.

There was no such headline in Britain after Blair was re-elected, even though his participation in Iraq and constant covering for Bush gave him a massive boost. Most worrying was that in the coverage that I monitored in Britain from the states after the election, time and again the focus was on those who had voted for Bush. There was very little coverage on just how heart achingly close the results were - even if a good deal of us wanting Bush to lose had no faith whatsoever in John Kerry.

What it was that offended me about the Mirror's question was that people like me didn't exist. The people I had met on demos, the people in line to see Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9-11" giving each other high-fives while standing in line or standing up in the theatre after the movie to ask others to support their soldier son's plea for proper body armour - they were all disappeared.

I moved to Britain a month after Bush was re-elected and it is this seeming non-existence that bothers me. People seem surprised that an American born in Idaho and raised in Utah can be against the war, or even left-wing or a Marxist for that matter. I know that Marxists are pretty rare these days anywhere, but I suspect my opposition to the war would be similarly surprising. I find this incredible given the radical and proud tradition of union militancy and activism in the states - yet people in Britain, even on the left, appear to be mostly ignorant of that heritage. (If you want to learn more pick up a copy of Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the United States").

Further, the context in which many people did vote for Bush extends well beyond Iraq and the idea that everyone was simply mentally inferior is too often taken for good coin. I recognise that it may be difficult for a population which a few generations ago saw very heavy bombardment within its borders to understand fully the significance of an event like 9-11, but it did indeed change entirely how America saw itself in the world and how Americans more generally feel about their personal security.

The dream of working hard enough to get a house and a car and the whole lot shattered instantly in the insecurity of the real world which the majority of the earth's population is a daily reality. This was a massive factor in people voting back in the Bush administration - not because they are moronic or stupid.

There are numerous experiences of anti-Americanism that I could raise - from my friend who was a bartender being harassed by guy who kept making explosion noises at her from behind the counter after asking where she was from, to my visit to a Moroccan restaurant in Paris where the man taking my coat handed me a ticket and when giving it to me smiled and said "don't be afraid" - the ticket read "911". Of course he had no idea I'd actually been there - what are the odds?

Further I realised earlier this week that the SWP in this country refused to condemn 9-11. This was a blatant act of anti-Americanism on the left if ever there was one.

Yet this is a problem that many on the left don't want to talk about. When you raise the issue you either get odd looks or uncomfortable conversation meant to steer you away from the topic - or a contention that it's not deserving of much time given that there are bigger problems. Maybe this is true, but the damage that has been done by anti-Americanism will take many years to be rectified and in its own way is yet another result of the attacks on the Twin Towers in New York over five years ago.

I know I am certainly not ashamed to be from America, although I was for some time after moving here. I had a bit of a crisis of conscience. Would people think I was stupid? Would they think I was racist? I used to not speak on tubes because I was ashamed and knew people would clock my accent. I knew others still who wore Canadian flags on their backpacks so as not to be recognised as an American. If a leftist like me feels this way, you can bet there are people who may not be at all involved in politics and come to Britain who have these experiences. The left should be open and honest about this issue and take a stand. No one should have to be ashamed of where they were born, as much as their government may be despised. That is something that socialists and Marxists must be clear about.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

On the wireless right now...

... I'm listening to James Whale wiping the floor with the bigoted religious-ultra pillock who runs "Revelation TV", over the issue of homosexuality. Ah, if only all talk radio shows exuded such passionately progressive views on the issue...

Carnival Time

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingThe sadder among you (and I count myself amongst your number, brothers and sisters) will be aware of the phenomenon of "carnivals" among certain political bloggers. They're basically back-slapping fests where someone posts links to blogs that they think people who are like-minded, would enjoy reading. The first of these, unless anyone knows better than I, was the Carnival of Capitalism, of which you can see an example here. In the main, participants would be libertarian right wingers, Guido types, albeit generally lacking his sense of humour. All affable enough, albeit not very interesting; I prefer to get my libertarian anti-PC fix from South Park.

Then, there was the Carnival of Socialism, which was a similar thing, this time coming from the left. If I'm perfectly honest, I didn't pay it the attention that perhaps I should have, until Stroppy did a rather good one on liberation politics recently. This was all the more remarkable because her efforts left a carnival on that subject which, amazingly for the UK left, managed not to just be 20 posts repeating the usual mantras about Palestine and Iraq.

But now a spectre is haunting the world of internet carnivals. Yes, prepare yourselves one and all, for... the Carnival of Denham!

(PS - note to Carnival of Socialism people - I'll do the next one if you like!)

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Let us Speak of Cruddas and Credulity

It never ceases to amaze me the way that Labourite lefties have such short memories. It's as though otherwise intelligent people had this one political achilles heel, an area where try as they might, they couldn't help but be as trusting as a small furry animal that has never met humankind, innocently approaching the trapper as he waves a tasty piece of meat. As surely as night follows day, yet another right-wing candidate learns to "speak socialist", whispers sweet nothings in their ears, and they once again troop off to vote for him/her. Just as inevitably, the right-winger reverts to type, and the left again gets to cry "betrayal". It's like a really old and really, really oft-repeated, hoary old dance routine. Except it's not entertaining. Or comforting.

So it was with no great surprise, albeit also with a sigh of resignation, that I read Dave Osler's latest post on Jon Cruddas. Albeit expressing some (some?!) skepticism about the so-called-left-wing challenger for the Labour deputy leadership's credentials as a genuine socialist, Dave seems to have decided that, at least if Jeremy Corbyn does not stand, he might well vote for the Crudster. In a moment of particularly staggering naivete, Dave says of Cruddas:

"His most interesting comment of the lot is the insistence that Gordon Brown cannot take his support for granted in the race for the prime ministership"

Ooh, exciting. Except of course, as Dave quotes in that very post, what Cruddas actually said was:

"I want to hear what John McDonnell has to say, or anyone else who comes in, like Michael Meacher"

Hardly a passionate declaration of socialist intent, is it? In fact, it sounds rather more like typical political flannel of the sort that a trained journalist like Osler should be able to smell a mile off. I'm not a betting man. However, I think I speak for the sensible majority when I say that if William Hill would give me odds, I'd be putting my entire worldly wealth on Cruddas voting for Brown.

Dave isn't alone in considering voting for Cruddas - although given his political pedigree he's perhaps the most striking example of the folly. The soft-lefties of the Compass group are generally behind Cruddas, as are Kerron Cross, Miranda Grell and the allegedly left-wing (although I can't quite see how) Antonia Bance. Have a good look through the latter three blogs in particular, and you might get more of an idea of where Cruddas is more likely to be coming from.

And just to round off, let's just remind ourselves of what Cruddas really stands for. As previously reported on this blog, Cruddas wants to reduce the voice of the organised labour movement in the Labour Party. In the pamphlet "Fit For Purpose: a Programme for Labour Party Renewal", co-written with John Harris (read the whole thing here if you're desperate, it's a pdf) , Cruddas argues:

"Labour's decision-making bodies - the National Executive Committee (NEC), the National Policy Forum (NPF), the annual conference - should be founded on a model in which a third is given over to the membership, a third to the unions, and a third to a new force made up of MPs, MEPs, Labour representatives in local government, and socialist societies"

One third. Read it again. One third. That's not what left-wing people argue for. I don't know how to put it in simpler terms.

Even for the less sophisticated and/or those who have no interest in internal Labour Party politics, it's still bloody obvious. The man has no record, whatsoever, as a left-winger. He has either voted for, or at least not prominently opposed, every major Blairite piece of legislation bar one (top up fees) since 2001. He voted for the Iraq War. He then had a Damascene conversion to (not very) leftish politics, co-incidentally around the time that it became clear there would be a race for the deputy leadership in the near future.

Even his very honourable record of campaigning against the BNP, which his supporters like to wave around as proof of his left wing credentials, is not actually proof of anything of the sort. Let me be clear - Cruddas does have a good record in this area, certainly better than that of neighbouring MP Margaret Hodge. Indeed, Searchlight's Nick Lowles is the most prominent figure among his campaign staff. But he's far from the only MP in the party with such a record, and he also has the driving incentive that, unlike in most of the country, the BNP are a major electoral threat in his part of London. Furthermore, he has spent most of the past decade as an uncritical supporter of the very government that fostered the sense of hoplessness on working class estates, which allowed the BNP to grow in the first place.

And yet, in spite of all these (easily verifiable) facts, a section of the Labour left continues to troop dutifully through the doors of the Cruddas campaign. They do this even though that campaign is little more than a latter day Barnum & Bailey show, where promised wonders turn out to be cheap illusions. They've been let down before, they'll be let down again, but somehow they can't escape the thrill which comes from the idea that this time, it might just be different.

On Osler's blog, the post above the one which set me off has a heading which calls on people to "Wake up, Smell the Coffee". Couldn't have put it better myself.