Wednesday, 24 August 2016

My Small Rebellion Against This Evil Empire

Practising Muslims have only five fundamental religious obligations: we must commit to monotheism, pray, give to charity, fast during the month of Ramadan and go on pilgrimage to Mecca.

I try my best to discharge these duties but will not go to Mecca.

Our sacred city, unfortunately, is in Saudi Arabia, which is ruled by a base, cruel, corrupt, absolutist, tyrannical, filthy rich, destructive, ungodly clan.

They have even bulldozed precious historical and religious sites.

I hope God will forgive me for my small rebellion against this evil empire. Many other Muslims are similarly revolted by the Saudi regime. 

Yet for successive UK governments as well as our biddable royals, powerful elites in the US, France and other western states, these worst of Muslim rulers are the best of friends. 

The loyalist nations are complicit in abominable human rights abuses within the kingdom as well as catastrophic Saudi funded Islamo-fascism, wars and terrorism the world over. 

It can't go on. 

Our citizens need to hold politicians to account for aiding and abetting these crimes against humanity and political integrity. 

Oxfam issued a stark statement this month about the hidden war in the Yemen where the Sunni leadership is fighting Shia rebels. 

We sold the arms to Saudi Arabia now being used against the Yemenis. We are violating the Arms Trade Treaty we backed and signed up to. 

Yes, that old, shameless British hypocrisy again – this trade has brought in 6 billion pounds.

Indiscriminate bombing has killed over 8,000 people. 82% of Yemenis are now dependent on international aid. 

Our government remains intensely relaxed about this military adventure. 

The US too, has unconditionally backed the Saudi rulers.

But, unlike here, influential Americans are getting uneasy, more wary and outspokenly critical of this diplomatic love-in. 

Toby Jones is associate history professor at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. 

In February this year, he wrote a grim paper for the Hoover Institution, a conservative think tank: "The kingdom has become increasingly violent, beholden to dangerous pathologies and unpredictable." 

The US government knows all this. 

In 2009, Hillary Clinton wrote in a leaked email: "Saudi Arabia remains a critical support base for al-Qaeda, the Taliban and other terrorist groups." 

Yes, and Isis since then. 

Key parts of an official report on Saudi Arabia and the 9/11 killers have been redacted. Not one of them was an Iraqi, but Americans were directed to blame Iraq. 

Soon after the attacks, 144 Saudis living in the USA were flown home before they could be interrogated.

US activist Medea Benjamin in her new book, Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the US-Saudi Connection, tells it how it is, how it has been for too long: 

"It is not hard to connect the dots between the spread of Saudi intolerant ideology of Wahabism, the creation of Al Qaeda and Islamic State and the attacks in New York, Paris, Brussels and San Bernadino. 

"You can also connect the dots between Saudi Arabia and the failure of some of the historic democratic uprisings associated with the Arab spring, since the Saudi monarchy did not want calls for democracy to threaten its own grip on power." 

Did you know that Harry St John Philby, father of spy Kim Philby, was a colonial operator and Wahabi convert who helped to create Saudi Arabia? I have written about him in my book, Exotic England

Oil and arms trade and business interests explain the tolerance of Saudi Arabia in the west. But now that Islamicists are here among us, causing mayhem, public opinion will shift, is shifting. 

Saudi Arabia is not only sponsoring violence in the east and south, it is fomenting extremism in Europe, the US and UK. 

Two British Muslim men are currently being tried for the murder of Jalal Uddin, an elderly imam in Rochdale. 

Allegedly, they were Islamic State (IS) groupies who, according to the prosecution, hated Uddin's "un-Islamic" beliefs. 

Clerics sponsored by Saudi Arabia tacitly back the new unholy holy war against outside and inside "infidels". Our country is full of angry young Muslim men and women. 

I have talked to a few reformed jihadis and can see how intelligence, religiosity, identity clashes and duplicitous geopolitical games can lead to a nihilist mind set, set off furies. 

A good number turn to Wahabism because, like Bin Laden, they want the west to get out of their holy lands. 

But the majority cannot endure the lies, deceit and western support for dictators. Some fantasise about savage acts while others carry them out and end up in prisons. 

Now the government wants to separate extreme jihadis from those who are not that hardened. Again the government prefers to act rather than think. 

If ministers did stop to consider the factors that produced violent Islamists, they would have to accept that they are the bastard children of Saudi Arabia and British "diplomacy". 

How could they bear that responsibility?

Skyhawks, Indeed

Of course, this has been rumoured for years. But David Blair writes:

Israel sold weapons to Argentina at the height of the Falklands War in 1982, according to newly declassified Foreign Office files.

British diplomats cited evidence that Israel had supplied the Argentine military junta with arms that were used against the Task Force during the campaign to liberate the islands.

Israeli military exports before the war included the Skyhawk jets that would later be used to bomb British warships, killing dozens of soldiers, sailors and marines.

Four British warships were sunk by bombs dropped from Skyhawks, including RFA Sir Galahad, a troop carrier that was set ablaze while anchored in Bluff Cove, killing 48 sailors and soldiers.

Simon Weston, the badly burned veteran, was among the survivors. Another four ships were damaged by Skyhawks.

A book published in Argentina in 2011 exposed how Israel armed General Galtieri’s junta, dispatching weaponry to Buenos Aires on secret cargo flights routed through Peru.

The Foreign Office files provide further evidence.

The documents state that Israeli military exports to Argentina continued after the Falklands War and were still happening in 1984.

By then, Israel had abandoned its previous policy of denying that any weapons sales were taking place.

A book published in Argentina in 2011 exposed how Israel armed General Galtieri’s junta, dispatching weaponry to Buenos Aires on secret cargo flights routed through Peru.

The Foreign Office files provide further evidence.

The documents state that Israeli military exports to Argentina continued after the Falklands War and were still happening in 1984.

By then, Israel had abandoned its previous policy of denying that any weapons sales were taking place.

Instead, the country’s argument was that deals with Argentina were essential to sustain its domestic arms industry – and Britain was also supplying munitions to Israel’s enemies in the Arab world.

A memorandum from C.W. Long, then head of the Near East and North Africa Department at the Foreign Office, states:

“Israel was one of the few countries to supply Argentina with arms during the Falklands conflict and has continued to do so.” 

The document, released by the National Archives and dated Nov 16, 1984, adds that Israel was, at that time, poised to sell Argentina spy planes designed to gather electronic and signals intelligence. 

The document states that Sir Geoffrey Howe, then foreign secretary, had personally asked Israel’s government not to go ahead. 

But Mr Long thought Israel would pay no attention. 

“I do not believe the Israelis are to be moved on this issue,” he writes. 

“This is not satisfactory, but Israeli interests in Argentina will outweigh any readiness they might otherwise feel to be helpful to us.” 

The document is filed alongside a copy of an article from a specialist journal stating that Israel had sold Skyhawk jets to Argentina’s air force before the Falklands War.

In his book, Operation Israel, the Argentine journalist Hernan Dobry writes that Israel provided the spare parts and long range fuel tanks needed to keep these aircraft in action against the Task Force.

When British diplomats confronted their Israeli counterparts with evidence of arms sales, they were met with blanket denials. 

The official history of the Falklands War, written by Lawrence Freedman, states: “British troops entering Port Stanley at the end of the war came across Israeli equipment.” 

 Menachem Begin, then Israel’s prime minister, had begun his career as commander of the Irgun, the Jewish underground which fought the British in Palestine in the 1940s. 

A fellow Irgun fighter, Dov Gruner, was hanged by the British in 1947.

In Operation Israel, Mr Dobry suggests Begin saw arming Galtieri as a way of exacting revenge against Britain.

After authorising the sale of weapons during the Falklands War, Begin reportedly said: “Dov up there is going to be happy with the decision.”

There follows a chart of the damage done by the Skyhawks.

In all fairness to Margaret Thatcher, she had wanted to refuse to meet Begin when he visited London. After she had met him, she said that she wished that she had stood her ground.

Operation Israel is not on either the British or the American Amazon site. Time to put that right. In Spanish initially, if necessary. But in English as soon as possible.

Dress Sense

I am a fairly dedicated Francophile. But all countries have their nasty streaks; ours certainly has.

And as if it were not bad enough that middle-aged men prescribed exactly how much flesh women were allowed to show (these same seaside towns have had trouble before about bikinis that were considered too revealing), we now see men with guns using the full authority of the State to force women to undress.

If I were 15, 20 or 25 years younger, and this were done to a woman in my family, then I would be wrong to board the first vessel of any kind that was on the way to Raqqa, or to Google ways of taking more immediate action closer to home.

But that is what they are going to do.

We Need To Disband NATO


Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has said the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, or NATO as it’s otherwise known, should be closed down – and he’s right.

Following the signing of the North Atlantic Treaty in 1949, NATO itself was finally launched in 1952 as a military alliance whose purpose it was to defend Western Europe against a Russian invasion that never happened.

Its ultimate objective, however, was to fix the postwar military order in place. As its first secretary general, Lord Ismay, said privately, NATO exists to ‘keep the Americans in, the Russians out, and the Germans down’. 

NATO’s claim that it set out to defend democracy turned the truth on its head.

As a military alliance, it was profoundly conservative, and has been hostile to democracy throughout its 64 years.

From the outset, NATO included dictatorships like Antonio Salazar’s in Portugal, fostered military takeovers in Greece in 1967 and in Turkey in 1980 (carried out while the Turkish military were taking part in NATO manoeuvres), and cooperated with fascist Spain until dictator Francisco Franco’s death in 1975.

As many journalists and researchers have noted over the years, NATO’s military structure included secret armies put in place on the basis that they would make up ‘the resistance’, staying behind ‘when Russia invades’.

But as European Parliament investigations uncovered in 1990, these ‘stay behind’ armies were ‘a clandestine parallel-intelligence and armed-operations organisation in several member states of the [European] Community’. 

‘For over 40 years’, the report went on, ‘this organisation has escaped all democratic controls and has been run by the secret services of the states concerned in collaboration with NATO’. 

The most alarming of these secret armies was the organisation known in Italy as ‘Gladio’, which recruited neo-Nazis to carry out several bomb attacks and assassinations to terrorise and demoralise the population – culminating in the bombing of Bologna railway station in 1980, which killed 85 people. 

NATO’s secret armies were not only organising anti-democratic forces in Italy, but across Western Europe – in the very countries where NATO was tasked with defending democracy. 

With some restraint, the European Parliament resolved to protest ‘vigorously at the assumption by certain US military personnel… of the right to encourage the establishment in Europe of a clandestine intelligence-and-operation network’. 

NATO was vigorously opposed by left-wingers across Europe, with good cause. It was an organisation given over to militarism and repression.

But at the end of the Cold War, its purpose was looking questionable.

After the Berlin Wall came down, German foreign minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher crashed a meeting of the NATO and Warsaw Pact generals in Berlin and demanded to know what they thought they were doing there.

Without a credible Soviet threat, the ostensible point of NATO seemed to be at an end.

Across the world people looked optimistically towards a peace dividend, but the NATO powers made sure that did not happen.

Norman Schwarzkopf was made head of US Central Command in the Middle East in 1989.

He was in the doldrums: ‘Nobody except a few stubborn hard-liners believed we’d go to war against the Soviets in the Middle East.’ 

Unnerved at the pointlessness of the US military, Schwarzkopf was ‘determined that the scenario we’d rehearse that summer would be one in which the enemy was not the Soviet Union, but Iraq’. 

Such was the success of the US military’s public-relations effort that the war against Iraq in 1991 was not carried out under NATO, but under the wider United Nations. 

But NATO was not wound down at the end of the Cold War.

Instead, the Western powers used the NATO structure to award membership to those East European countries like Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary that displayed loyalty.

NATO forces bombed the Bosnian Serbs in 1995.

In 1999, the citizens of Belgrade protected their bridges from 72 days of aerial bombardment by making themselves ‘human shields’.

The Chinese embassy, meanwhile, was targeted and destroyed by NATO. NATO structures, then, turned out to be an important part of the post-Cold War militarisation of international relations.

NATO also led operations against Afghanistan in 2001, and against Libya in 2011.

NATO’s rewarding of its East European allies paid off when they voted alongside Britain and America in the United Nations resolutions to invade Iraq in 2003.

ATO is a military alliance that puts militarism and elite rule above the democratic right of countries to decide their own future.

Militarism has long been a resource drawn on by anti-democratic elites, and one that they have used again and again to subvert democracy.

That’s why Corbyn is right: we need to disband NATO.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Two Months On

And still no Article 50.

Not this year, says Theresa May. So, not without a second referendum, then.

As advocated by Owen Smith, whose programme the Conservatives will gradually adopt, having already adopted Ed Miliband's.

Only Jeremy Corbyn called for Article 50 on the only day that it could reasonably have happened, two months ago tomorrow.

All In The Mind

When Ken Livingstone made an off colour remark about the mental health of Kevan Jones, then all hell broke loose, and not without cause.

Tonight, Owen Smith called Jeremy Corbyn "a lunatic".

Un-Cooperative

The Co-operative Party once refused to allow me to re-join it, because I was not allowed back in the Labour Party.

It is a long story why I was trying to re-join the Co-operative Party, but never mind.

Has it expelled the MPs who have been trying to cut its links to the Labour Party altogether, in order to create a separate bloc as the Official Opposition in the House of Commons? If not, why not?

Jeremy Corbyn should insist that it if had not done so by the beginning of the Labour Party Conference, then those links would be cut from the other side.

And Owen Smith ought to be challenged to echo that, or to explain why not.

The Success of South Africa

The Left has been highly critical of the ANC for many years.

The election results in South Africa have come as no surprise to anyone who has been reading the Morning Star, or attending the events around the Durham Miners' Gala.

Or listening to Jeremy Corbyn.

But the fact that those results have been recorded, without apparent reprisal and without significant gains for the violent fringe, is a sign that the country that the ANC created does work politically.

To the extent that it even works against the ANC, when that is what the people want.

Mind The Gap

Cutting the pay of a 94 per cent female workforce by 23 per cent is certainly one way of addressing the pay gap.

Well done, Durham County Council.

Take The Strain

The carry on over Jeremy Corbyn's train journey now comes down to whom one believes, and why.

Why would Richard Branson want to discredit a man who wanted to renationalise the railways? Are Corbyn's supporters supposed to treat Branson's website as a reliable source? How sweet.

I had a perfectly good, if brief, journey both ways on Virgin Trains last night. But since when was the last train to Durham from Newcastle at 10:46?

And that was not the half of it. I was only able to go at all because a friend of mine could arrange to get me back from Durham to Lanchester.

The last bus used to be at 11:10. But no more. Nine o'clock, as if we all had to be up for school in the morning.

In many ways, I would like to re-join the Labour Party. In many ways, I am a more active member of it than a good many card-carriers, and far more so than most of its MPs.

But then I look at the atrocious Owen Smith-like machine in these parts.

£12,000 is more than many a full-time job in County Durham. It is also the Council Chairman's clothing allowance.

Yet, for those of us who are medically unable to drive, cuts to the bus service have turned Lanchester, which was previously very much on the beaten track and which is only eight miles from Durham city centre, into the middle of nowhere in the evenings, on Sundays and on Bank Holidays.

Red and Black

I tend to think of those as my campaign colours.

Social Democracy and Christian Democracy, reaching out to the wider Left and to the wider tradition of dissent from Whiggery and Jacobinism, capitalism and imperialism, neoliberalism and neoconservatism.

As well as a reminder of how, even as a light-skinned "Mulatto" (to use the preferred term of the man responsible), both of whose parents had been born with Scottish surnames, I was nevertheless deemed racially unfit to be a district council candidate for Tony Blair's unmourned New Labour Party.

Red and black are also the colours on the star-shaped badges of something else. I might even adopt that symbol, but with the colours reversed.

That should be enough to give dear old Oliver Kamm a seizure, considering how he once reacted to something else.

Red and Blue

I had a useful little chat with Ken Loach last night. He is recovering well from the death of Deirdre.

Seriously, I did have a useful little chat with Ken. All sorts of things are moving.

A recurring theme in The Spirit of '45, much discussed afterwards last night, is that, for all its stunning achievements, the 1945 settlement was overly centralist and bureaucratic.

It replaced private corporate bureaucracy with central government bureaucracy. In the first instance, it very often turned exactly the same private corporate bureaucrat into a central government bureaucrat.

That said, central planning was the whole point of the NHS, and of the nationalisation of transport (especially the railways) and of the utilities.

The lack of central planning is the very problem with the dismantlement of the NHS, and with the privatisation of transport (especially the railways) and of the utilities.

Many of us remember when privatisation very often turned exactly the same civil servant into a lavishly remunerated "captain of industry".

In the intervening three years, the people making the critique of 1945's centralism and bureaucracy have become staunch supporters of Jeremy Corbyn, or they have died, or both. Mostly, though, the first of those.

Tony Mulhearn, John Rees, the late Stan Pearce (whose uncompromising dialect must have caused quite a stir at many an international film festival): Trotskyists all.

Yet all articulating the exact sentiment that Blue Labour was also articulating, at exactly the same time.

I have yet to hear a Blue Labour stalwart express any enthusiasm for Owen Smith, even those who reluctantly intend for vote for him.

When Jeremy wins again, then the common ground is already waiting to be cultivated. Both sides bear some responsibility for the fact that has not already been going on for a year by now.

The Fake New Cold War and The Fake Old Cold War

The Lanchester Review: Clinton’s Transition Team, A Corporate Presidency Foretold

Norman Solomon is on very fine form.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

The People's Response To Chilcot

The booing of Sadiq Khan at tonight's Jeremy Corbyn rally, importantly held at the noted Trotskyist stronghold of Kilburn's Ruach City Church, put me in mind of the booing of Churchill in The Spirit of '45.

I shall be seeing that again tomorrow evening, in Newcastle, followed by a Question and Answer session with Ken Loach himself.

Hence, I shall not be able to make it, between half past five and seven o'clock, to Alington House Community Association, 4 North Bailey, Durham, DH1 3ET.

But you should.

There, you will hear no less a person than Andrew Murray, who presided over the largest demonstration in British history.

At which two million people were addressed by the then Mayor of London and by several Members of Parliament.

Including the then Leader of the Liberal Democrats and a future, namely the current, Leader of the Official Opposition.

Durham Stop the War starts as it means to go on. At the very heart of the movement.

In The Strongest Possible Terms

I do not know whether this made any of the papers (I am rather tied up with something else in that vein, of which more anon), but here it is:

Dear Sir,

In the midst of apparently never-ending austerity and war, it is absolutely imperative to defend and expand the space in which neoliberal economic policy and neoconservative foreign policy are subjected to a robust critique that is variously traditionalist and libertarian, conservative and liberal, social democratic and democratic socialist.

Whatever we may think of any one or more of the specific policies of Jeremy Corbyn, his election as Leader of the British Labour Party has been a significant victory in that defence and expansion, which would be set back very considerably if he were to be removed from that office. We therefore urge the British Labour Party, in the strongest possible terms, to re-elect Jeremy Corbyn as its Leader.

Yours faithfully,

David Lindsay (Lanchester, County Durham; @davidaslindsay)
Professor Pritam Singh (Professor of Economics, Oxford Brookes University)
Thomas Smitherman (Bergen, Norway; University of Zürich)
Adam Young (Burnopfield, County Durham; @JustALocalSerf)

Thomas and Adam are diehard paleocons, as dyed in the wool as it is possible to be.

Spooky Spad

Owen Smith was a Special Adviser at the Northern Ireland Office. Who gets to be one of those? The forces behind him are not even being subtle. They are screaming it at the tops of their voices, because they can.

As for his infantile and tribal "Don't have one" to the question of his favourite Conservative politician, that kind of thing is always the sign of people who have no political difference with the other side, so they have to be abusive instead.

Has Smith no admiration for, say, the house building programmes of the 1950s? Or is here merely unaware that they ever happened?

Be Careful What You Gloat Over, Be Careful Who You Blame

Channelling his inner Jeremy Corbyn and George Galloway, Peter Hitchens writes:

Who can fail to be moved and grieved by the sight of a small child in distress? But please do not let your emotions stop you thinking.

The picture of the shocked Aleppo survivor, Omran Daqneesh, like that of the drowned child Alan Kurdi last year, should not be allowed to enforce a conformist opinion on the world.

The death of Alan Kurdi did not mean that it was wise to fling wide the borders of Europe (as Germany’s Angela Merkel now well knows). 

The rescue of Omran Daqneesh should not make us side with the bloody and merciless Syrian rebels.

Why is Aleppo a war zone in the first place? Do you know? I will tell you.

Syria was a peaceful country until it was deliberately destabilised by Saudi Arabia and its fanatical, sectarian Gulf allies, consumed with hatred for the Assad government and, above all, its ally Iran.

Worse, this monstrous intervention was supported by the USA, Britain and France, all sucking up to the Saudis for oil, money and arms contracts.

In the hope of bringing down Assad, we made a devil’s bargain with some of the worst fanatics in the Middle East, people who make Anjem Choudary look like the Vicar of Dibley.

We know of Britain’s role for certain because of the very strange case of Bherlin Gildo, a Swedish man accused by British authorities of attending a terror training camp in Syria.

His trial collapsed in June 2015 because his defence lawyers argued that the terror groups he was accused of supporting had been helped by British intelligence.

The Assad state, as you might expect, defended itself against its attackers, helped in the end by Iran and Russia.

And the war which followed was the ruin of Syria, whose innocent people found their peaceful cities and landscape turned into a screaming battlefield, as it still is.

If you are truly grieved by the picture of poor little Omran, just be careful who you blame.

And:

Anjem Choudary, broadcasting’s favourite Islamist loudmouth, was and is a vain, bloviating, blowhard fraud, another boozy drug-taking low-life posing as a serious person.

He found a role and fools to indulge him, many in the same media who now queue up to rejoice at his imprisonment.

But I do not feel safer from terror now that he is locked up.

Worse, I feel less safe from Chairman May’s sour-faced surveillance state, which takes a dim and narrow view of free speech and liberty.

Choudary has been locked up not for what he did but for what he said. Claims he influenced anyone into crime are thin.

Even the sneaky wording of the Terrorism Act, in which he was charged with ‘inviting’ support for IS, is suspicious.

It sounds like ‘inciting’, and is meant to, for incitement to terror and murder is a real crime, even in free countries.

But it isn’t the same as ‘inviting’, a much weaker word.

You may gloat that Choudary is eating Islamic porridge. But be careful what you gloat over.

A law as loose as this could easily be used against anyone the state doesn’t like. I predict that it will be, too.

By the way, I spent several hours last week circling Government offices trying to find out how many such charges there have been – the CPS sent me to the Justice Ministry, they told me to call the Home Office, who sent me back to the CPS.

This pathetic pass-the-parcel evasion suggests they don’t care much.

This stuff is propaganda, not genuine security.

Feminism and Working-Class Boys

My friend Michael Merrick is a proud teacher in a comprehensive school, and a stalwart of the enormously expanded Labour Party in Carlisle. Sounding for all the world like one of the Corbyn Boys who look to me as a style icon (yes, really), he writes:

If you are a working-class boy, there is every chance that most of the professionals you will come across in your formative years are women.

If you are a working-class boy, there is every chance that most of the authority figures you come across in your formative years will be women.

If you are a working-class boy, there is every chance that your experience of women/girls during your formative years is that they are generally the high achieving and successful ones.

Unlike you. And your mates.

If you are a working class boy, there is also every chance that a good chunk of the males you encounter are proving less than successful in life.

If you are a working class boy, there is every chance that a good chunk of the males you encounter are underemployed and undereducated.

If you are a working-class boy, there is every chance that the places you are most likely to come across successful males – secondary school, celebrity culture and the professional services – seem so remote, sometimes even antagonistic, to your own everyday experiences as to be almost alien.

We paint in broad brush strokes, of course, but there is justification, if only to tease out the central point.

The idea that women are systematically disadvantaged in society might well be true.

For this reason, we might well deem it morally justified to address this, through our politics, through our legal system, through our education system, through our cultural norms and practices.

But by the frames of reference available to working class boys, this can so often seem only to contradict lived reality.

And if we then sit them down and tell them that they are part of the privileged, the winners in society, such that their interests must at times be circumvented to help girls and women be more successful, to achieve, to succeed in life – what do we expect the reaction to be?

To feel engaged in eradicating injustice, or to feel even more alienated? To feel empowered, or further disenfranchised? To feel magnanimous, or further slighted?

Working class boys have it pretty tough, though there is little political capital in making the improvement of their condition a priority.

And if one has already accepted that gender must trump class, then there is little moral reason to do so either.

In the meantime, we have a generation and more of working-class boys becoming a sink subsection of society, developing into the kind of men that only confirms the worst suspicions of those who would so readily write them off.

We must not deny moral agency here: oftentimes this is of their own making, engaged in a downward spiral, formed within a cultural landscape marked by precisely that transience and insecurity that shapes a view of life and living that schooling and learning is failing to counter.

And which only further feeds into that feeling of alienation, that perpetually unsuccessful attempt at the art of living well.

The result? Disengaged, angry young men. Lots of them. It is no surprise that this is beginning to shape our politics.

The condition of working-class girls is an essential part of this story, though it is legitimate to question how effectively feminism has captured this reality.

I am from a northern working-class family in which the women are hard, authoritative, confident – though their concerns seem a world away from the attentions of academics and professionals, that which characterises the principal cultural and political expressions of feminism.

My point is not that we must therefore choose between the two, but allow as valid a space where other narratives might appear.

And one of those narratives might be the impact social changes – economic and cultural – have had on working-class boys and men.

We might think these changes worthwhile, worthy, fully justified, but we must also take account of the experiences of those on the sharp-end of such progress.

Maybe a working-class feminism would better capture an understanding of the needs of working-class boys too.

Maybe it wouldn’t. I really don’t know.

But what is clear is that working-class boys are struggling. Economically, socially, culturally, they are fast becoming a dalit class.

We cannot claim to be a society that seeks justice if we stand blindly by and allow it to happen.

And if feminism is really the best vehicle we have for providing an account of the way gender interacts and impacts on one’s place in society, then maybe there are grounds for hope.

Because this seems to be precisely what working-class boys need right now. Maybe, then, working-class boys need feminists too.

I suppose the question is: would feminists be willing to address that need?

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Bad Housekeeping

There are far fewer lasting monuments to Thatcherism than is widely supposed.

But one such is the doubling in the last 10 years of the Housing Benefit paid to private landlords.

This is what has replaced the council housing that was sold off, and never replaced with any new housing.

Of All The Things

Remember all the carry on over Sadiq Khan's erstwhile clients as a solicitor? Well, who has the dodgy connections now, Owen Smith?

Meanwhile, the few right-wing media outlets that still allow comments below the line are being confronted with the fact that their readers support a candidate for President of the United States whose view on NATO and on relations with Russia is the unfiltered version of Jeremy Corbyn's.

Those who have, for now, rallied to Smith are truly mind-boggling. Of all the things that the Attlee Government did, the only ones that they wish to preserve, never mind restore, are NATO membership and nuclear weapons.

No, He Khan't

All of the Labour MPs who were trying to become the London Mayoral candidate nominated Jeremy Corbyn last year.

That candidate would probably have won, anyway. But the enormity of Sadiq Khan's victory was a clear expression of the Corbyn Surge.

So yes, I stand by my support for George Galloway, and I believe that he would have come third in the first preference votes, making his second preferences decisive, if he had been given a fair press.

He predicted that Khan would do precisely what he has now done.

Respect has voluntarily deregistered itself as a political party. What will it become? An online magazine? A network of activists across parties and campaigns? Watch that space.

Labour ought to permit members of other parties to become affiliated or registered supporters, although obviously not members, provided that those parties did not contest elections to the House of Commons, or to the constituency rather than to the list seats in the devolved bodies.

Friday, 19 August 2016

Bulk Data, Indeed

At least until it became led by the man who, as Home Secretary, had started the great assault on civil liberties, the Conservative Party was strong and admirable in its opposition to New Labour's continuation of Michael Howard's programme.

That mantle then passed to the Lib Dems, to most of the smaller parties most of the time, and to valiant bands of Conservative and Labour backbenchers, always including Jeremy Corbyn.

The Coalition meant that the Lib Dems' holding of the line also became confined to rebellious backbenchers. 

Theresa May's time as Home Secretary was a nightmare period for civil liberties. Her appointment of David Davis to the Cabinet has removed him from the ramparts.

And now, bang on cue, this.

Going Postal

The impending Post Office strike serves as a reminder of the demented separation of the Post Office from the Royal Mail, in order to privatise the latter, and doubtless the former in due season.

That has led to staff at adjacent desks whose respective employers are renting those desks from each other.

And yet it is Jeremy Corbyn who is said to be mad.

A Clear Choice

Which is worse, Putin's Russia or the Islamic State? Very distilled, that is the geopolitical question of the present moment.

Owen Smith has given one answer, Jeremy Corbyn the other. Therefore, there is now a clear choice to be made between the two.

Of course Corbyn is not turning up to show "hustings" organised by and for his enemies.

RT, Press TV, teleSUR, the Morning Star, Counterfire and The Canary ought to organise hustings, and see if Smith turned up.

Moderated by Paul Mason. Follow that link. It is sublime.

Care Quality, Indeed

Of course the facilities of Marie Stopes International are centres of disregard for safety, and for the rights of underage girls. 

Consumption is at its highest where birthrates are at their lowest. As is bound to be the case, when you think about it. A culture of self-indulgence.

Likewise, it is anything but counterintuitive that there is the most abortion where there is the most contraception.

But the anti-natal answer to every question is always, “There are too many proles and darkies, and we should be allowed to have completely consequence-free sex with every woman on earth.” 

Ever faithful to Marie Stopes, author of extravagant, versified love letters to Hitler.

Marie Stopes, who disowned her own son because he married a woman who wore glasses.

Marie Stopes, who campaigned for the compulsory sterilisation of “the C3 population”, of “half-castes” and of “revolutionaries”, among numerous others.

Marie Stopes, who opened dozens of clinics in working-class areas to reduce the number of “undesirables” by persuasion if force were politically impossible.

Yet those clinics now retain the right to “counsel” women considering the abortions that they have a gigantic financial and an immeasurable ideological interest in ensuring go ahead.

They still carry the name of Marie Stopes. Our televisions now carry their adverts. Our 50p stamps have recently carried her image.

And we all carry the shame.

As they do across the Atlantic, where tax dollars fund the heirs of Margaret Sanger, whose stated primary objective was always to prevent black babies from being born, the objective still pursued above all others by her successors, so that “Planned Parenthood” would more accurately be called “Planned Genocide”. 

The womb, the streets and the battlefield are the locations of the triple genocide to which the American black male, in particular, is now subject.

The Unholy Trinity is completed by Helen Brook, who in February 1980 wrote in The Times that, “From birth till death it is now the privilege of the parental State to take major decisions – objective, unemotional, the State weighs up what is best for the child.” 

In 1995, this deranged creature was given the CBE. The Conservative Party was not at that time in coalition with the Liberal Democrats or anyone else.

Femaleness has been classified as in itself a medicable condition by means of the contraceptive pill, which is simply not a medicine at all.

It is, in point of fact, a poison, designed precisely to stop healthy body parts from performing their natural functions, and accordingly attended by all manner of horrific side effects, for no reason except to make women permanently available for the sexual gratification of men, and despite the unrivalled effectiveness of Natural Family Planning if it is taught and practised properly, a practice only possible by a faithful married couple.

The Pill, in turn, has wrought havoc by filling our water supply with synthetic oestrogens.

If that is not both a social justice and an environmental concern, then I cannot imagine what could be, or what it is instead.

Following logically, maleness itself has also been so classified, leading to the heavy medication of boys purely for being boys, by means of Ritalin and other powerful “treatments” for largely or entirely invented conditions.

The impact of antidepressants on the rise of violent mental illness, especially among young men and teenage boys, also calls for the most unflinching examination.

As, while, we are about it, does the impact of cannabis on the rise of schizophrenia, and by extension also on lung cancer, mouth cancer, throat cancer, brain tumours, serial miscarriage, low birth weight, male and female infertility, impotence, and a huge number of other conditions.

We need an approach to climate change which protects and extends secure employment with civilised wages and working conditions, which encourages economic development around the world, which upholds the right of the working classes and of non-white people to have children, which holds down and as far as practicable reduces the fuel prices that always hit the poor hardest, and which refuses to restrict travel opportunities or a full diet to the rich.

Climate change is supposed to be anthropogenic. The human race makes the weather.

The burning of carbon is the foundation of the working class, the foundation of the Left, the foundation of human progress (problematic though that term is), the foundation of civilisation.

We need a celebration of the full compatibility between the highest view of human demographic, economic, intellectual and cultural expansion and development, and the most active concern for the conservation of the natural world and of the treasures bequeathed by such expansion and development in the past.

The problem with the world is not that it has people in it. Which people, exactly? We all know the answer to that.

Rather, people produce wealth, material and otherwise. People are wealth, material and otherwise.

The World Transformed, Indeed

There is no evidence that Jeremy Corbyn is in any sense a Marxist, and that is rather the point. There are not 10,000 people in every British Marxist organisation put together.

Corbyn’s mentor, Tony Benn, found inspiration in seventeenth century Radical readings of the Bible, and in his own Radical readings of the Bible.

Michael Foot looked to the literature of the eighteenth century, when numerous subcultures remained unconvinced of the legitimacy of the new Whig State, and of that State’s capitalism and imperialism. At every point of challenge to that State and ideology, those subcultures have recurred.

Benn’s stock speech contained a potted history of the Peasants’ Revolt, the Levellers, the Diggers, the Chartists, the Suffragettes, and so on. It attracted considerable ridicule, but it made an important point.

The Radical traditions of these Islands, and not least of England, traditions to which upper and upper-middle-class figures such as Benn and Foot have always been integral, provided and provide the context in which the tiny Marxist minority can participate.

Fear of being overwhelmed is altogether misplaced. Both the Radical and the conservative traditions, closer than is often realised or admitted and each present in all of the main parties, are more than capable of standing their ground.

Gramsci called for a broad social movement towards institutional hegemony, for a celebration of the “national-popular”, and for an organic and self-organising working-class culture that included worker-intellectuals.

We, on the other hand, already had those things, most obviously in and as the Labour Movement, including, but not restricted to, the extraparliamentary origins and the federal structure of the Labour Party.

Thus, and thus alone, was the Communist Party of Great Britain, which in fact started life as a secession from the Independent Labour Party, able to contribute to the General Strike, to the Hunger Marches, to the Battle of Cable Street, to the formation of the International Brigades (although see below on that one), to the occupation of the London Underground during the Blitz, to the Forces Parliaments, to the Dock Strikes after the War, to the Squatters’ Movement of 1946, to the creation of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe from 1947, to the Clydeside Apprentices’ Strike of 1952, to the foundation of the Notting Hill Carnival, to the work-in at United Clyde Shipbuilders, to the Grunwick dispute, to the three Miners’ Strikes, to the People’s March for Jobs, to the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, to the Movement for Colonial Freedom, to the Anti-Apartheid Movement, and to the Solidarity Campaigns with Vietnam and Chile.

Thus, and thus alone, was the successor Communist Party of Britain’s Andrew Murray able to preside over the largest demonstration in British history.

Does anyone seriously suggest that the CPB, as such, could have brought two million people onto the streets of London, even against the Iraq War, for a rally addressed by the Mayor of London and by several Members of Parliament, including the Leader of the Liberal Democrats and a future Leader of the Official Opposition?

Thus, and thus alone, were British Trotskyists able to find an audience for their guru’s equal opposition to Fascism and to Stalinism (although it was the ILP Contingent that went to fight the former only to be killed by the latter), and then to participate in the movement against the Vietnam War, in the student movement of 1968, in the industrial disputes of the 1970s, in the Anti-Nazi League, in the fully successful campaign against the Poll Tax, in the Stop the War Coalition, and in the anti-austerity movement.

Margaret Thatcher bitterly regarded the abandonment of the Poll Tax as the British State’s greatest ever concession to the Far Left. Yes, that was organised by Militant. But does anyone seriously believe that Militant could have done it on its own?

Thus, and thus alone, did Ken Livingstone become Mayor of London in 2000.

Thus, and thus alone, did George Galloway become MP for Bethnal Green and Bow in 2005, and for Bradford West in 2012; the first candidate to the left of Labour to win an English seat since 1945 is not a Marxist, and his profound religious faith informs the full range of his political positions.

Thus, and thus alone, did Corbyn become Leader of the Labour Party in 2015.

By participating in The World Transformed, everyone doing so is acknowledging the point: thus, and thus alone, will Corbyn become Prime Minister in 2020.

An Attack On All

No, of course we would not go to war with Russia. For anything, ever. We have not done so since 1856, so that's all right.

Owen Smith's suggestion that we would, should or could is as naïve as his suggestion that we should have a nice cup of tea and a chat with the Islamic State.

NATO already revolves around Erdogan's Turkey, while all and sundry are being let in. The next in the queue in the ghastly regime in Olympically corrupt, but strategically irrelevant, Montenegro.

With honourable, but very rare, exceptions, the Labour Right is hopeless on these matters. A kind of chest-beating international hawkishness was one of the ways in which it defined itself as a distinct faction or tendency.

In New Labour, that mixed with the anti-Soviet fanaticism of those who had very recently been Trotskyists or Eurocommunists.

Those were perhaps the only two factions or tendencies that ever truly believed that the Soviet Union had either the means or the will to invade Western Europe, as we now know for a fact that it did not.

Traditional Tories recognised that the USSR was a ramshackle operation waiting to collapse under the weight of its own contradictions.

Although they were also among those who recognised, when it and Yugoslavia disintegrated, that two geopolitical catastrophes had thus occurred, the unpleasant ramifications of which would be felt for generations, even for centuries.

Therefore, the heirs of Enoch Powell and Alan Clark ought to know better about NATO today. They have been as right as Jeremy Corbyn and the Morning Star in the past. They ought to be so again.

NATO membership causes us to give undertakings that we have no intention of honouring, and in reality could not honour even if we wanted to do so.

It causes us to give those undertakings to entities that do not deserve them, whether strategically, morally, or both.

And it subjects us to a supranational body that presumes to demand two per cent of our Gross Domestic Product. Not only that, but it really only expects a handful of states, including our own, to meet that in practice.

Imagine the reaction of the NATO zealots in Parliament and the Press, or at least of the Tory ones, if it were so much as suggested that the United Kingdom now accede to a body of that kind.

They ought to join those of us who demand that that body be dissolved, and that the United Kingdom begin that process by seceding from it unilaterally, unconditionally, and immediately.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Hard Power

The Conservatives failed to support those who were holding the line against what is now IS. Indeed, they wanted to bomb them.

But they have understandably issued an attack ad against Owen Smith on the subject.

Yes, Smith is soft on IS. But Jeremy Corbyn is not.

The Soft Left is called that for a reason. As is the Hard Left.

That latter is highly unlikely, for its own reasons, to support almost any war that the Anglo-American foreign policy Establishment is ever going to want to wage.

Throughout the last 20 years, it has been right about that. But it is not pacifist. Very far from it.

Nor is it anything less than clearheaded. Very far from it.

To Refocus On Class

Although this article does have a slight pre-Corbyn feel, Owen Jones writes:

British society hands out golden tickets to the privileged.

These tickets secure the lucky few, born into certain select families, disproportionate power and influence for the rest of their lives.

Growing up in a comfortable home with space to study; always having a satisfied stomach; being exposed to a wide range of books and a broad vocabulary from an early age; all these factors help guarantee academic success.

A private education can inject extra confidence; family connections and contacts can open the door to desirable professions.

Expensive postgraduate qualifications – increasingly necessary for certain careers – can be paid for by parents with the disposable income to do so.

Working for free in unpaid internships – another ever more crucial passport into elite jobs – is a financial non-starter for many, but not for those whose parents have healthy bank balances.

The housing crisis can be bypassed with a generous bank transfer from Mum and Dad, either helping with the rent or putting down the deposit.

No wonder, then, that British elites are so utterly unrepresentative of the wider population.

Private schools educate only 7% of Britons.

And yet, according to research by the Sutton Trust this year, private school alumni make up nearly three quarters of the top judiciary, over two-thirds of Oscar winners, six out of 10 top doctors, over half of the top journalists, and almost a third of MPs.

Unless you really believe “the most talented” and “the most privileged” are synonymous, this is manifestly unjust.

Only a programme of social transformation can address such inequality – from tackling the housing crisis to increasing investment in early-years education to a war on poverty.

This government, on the other hand, has opted for tinkering.

The Tory Cabinet Office minister Ben Gummer (himself the privately educated son of a Tory cabinet minister) proposes to ask all civil service applicants 12 questions

Their purpose: to assess where they stand in the social pecking order.

The questions are certainly eclectic, ranging from whether they spent time in care or previously held refugee or asylum status, to what school they went to, whether they were eligible for free school meals, and what their postcode was at the age of 14.

And then the question guaranteed to cause squirming – how the applicant would assess their own socio-economic background.

Such efforts are not worthless: they may provide a small boost to efforts to make elite professions more diverse, and at least foster debate about our class-ridden – indeed, class-defined – society.

Sure, the shift from a working class of mines, steelworks and factories to one of supermarkets, call centres and offices confused things, but merely discussing class is often regarded as subversive: after all, it not only makes us confront the issue of who has wealth and power, it also encourages us to ask why.

And then there’s the insecurity of the elite.

Everyone likes to believe their success is down to their own talent, hard work and determination. 

Questioning class privilege in elite circles can be construed as a personal attack: “You’re saying I’m only here because I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth!” 

(Cards on the table: I do not believe I would be writing for this paper if, like people I grew up with, I spent my childhood on a Stockport council estate.)

Discussions about class suffer from a lack of precision.

For example, the educational attainment of working-class white pupils is often discussed, but the statistics actually relate to “white pupils who are eligible for free school meals”. 

Only around 14% of pupils claim them, so “working class” simply becomes synonymous with the poorest families in society. 

But the working class has always included a broad variety of experiences: homeowners and social housing tenants, full-time and part-time, women and men, British-born and migrant, black and white, public and private sector, urban and rural, English and Scottish, and so on. 

Such differences often become divisions that are ruthlessly and effectively exploited, turning neighbour against neighbour, rather than directing anger at the powerful. 

The left desperately needs to refocus on class. 

From the 1980s onwards – as the Labour movement was crushed, old industries smashed and the cold war ended – class took the back seat.

Gender, race and sexuality seemed more salient and relevant.

In truth, it should never have been either/or: how can you understand gender without class and vice versa given, say, the disproportionate concentration of women in low-paid and insecure work? 

But this era left many working-class people feeling that not only did the left no longer care about them – worse, that these issues had become sticks to beat them with. 

Many felt insulted and written off as a bigoted, backward, knuckle-dragging mob, only happy when launching an expletive-ridden diatribe about a minority. 

The abandonment of class since the 90s has had profound consequences for this country. 

As in the United States, the populist right saw a vacuum and they occupied it: they adopted the language of class, spoke of how the metropolitan liberal set had nothing but contempt for working-class Britain, and championed working-class interests – not against bosses and bankers, but rather immigrants and benefit cheats.

And lo, a working-class revolt finally came, and it was Brexit. 

Let’s not generalise: millions of working-class people did vote to remain, particularly those from ethnic minorities or who were younger. 

But while a large majority of middle-class professionals voted for the EU, a decisive majority of working-class people opted to leave. 

Ukip chipped into a Labour working-class base that felt maligned and demonised. 

While Labour descends into a mire of introversion and internecine conflict, Theresa May is cleverly raiding the old language of the left.

Her government will only further entrench the concentration of wealth and power in very few hands.

But with so much of working-class Britain feeling culturally alienated from the left, that hardly matters.

A new rightwing majority could be forged by a swath of working-class Britain who feel the left inhabits a parallel universe.

It’s time for the left to return to class – or an eternity of Tory governments beckons.

I realise that this will set off the grammar schools nervous tic of those who suffer from that sad and sorry affliction. But absolutely nothing that Owen describes here would be affected in the least by grammar schools, as even Peter Hitchens readily concedes. Such institutions would not, do not and cannot affect how their current pupils are housed, or fed, or what have you. Those are the things that matter.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

You're Only Young Once

On this blistering summer's evening, some of you are waiting for your A-level results tomorrow, 20 years after mine.

To those of you on here, I say this: have a word with yourselves.

Beer doesn't drink itself, you know.

Which Is Which, Indeed?

For the benefit of Jeremy Corbyn, here are some photographs of Ant and Dec.



Get Crowing

Conservative councillors, no less, are asking me how they might fund the Bob Crow Brigade.

I have to tell then that that would be illegal.

Mind you, the Jo Cox Memorial Fund manages to siphon revenue to the White Helmets, significantly increasing the terrorist threat to the United Kingdom in the process.

That needs to be raised in the course of the Batley and Spen by-election campaign.

As does the fact that Owen Smith will sit down with the Islamic State, but will not sit at the Shadow Cabinet table of Jeremy Corbyn.

Unmaking A Mark

Unlike some, I do not deny that I knew Mark Clarke at university, or that he was my friend on Facebook until the moment that he deleted his account. I followed him on Twitter, although I cannot remember whether or not he followed me back.

I find this whole business terribly sad, since Mark is certainly not a man without gifts. Before anyone says so, it is of course a very great deal sadder for the family and friends of Elliott Johnson.

But Mark fell in with that strange thing, the Young Britons' Foundation, a cult as dangerous as any clique of Trotskyist newspaper vendors, and rather more so for its proximity to power.

Nothing on the Left propagates political opinions that are any more extreme than those of the YBF.

Yet right-wing cults, factions and groupuscules, like Loony Right opinions past and present, are almost never considered news, or even any bar to the very highest of office.

If one good thing came out of this whole sorry affair, then it would be that that was no longer the case.

Edging Closer

These are right-wing Members of the Knesset, demonstrating in support of IS because it is at war with Hezbollah.

But where is Owen Smith? Brushing up his knowledge of Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber, no doubt.

Whatever you do, don't tell him about this:

"The Bob Crow Brigade (BCB), a group of British and Irish volunteers fighting in northern Syria named after a famous British trade union leader, are edging closer to the Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa."

Today, I am more convinced than ever of the need to get George Galloway back into Parliament as soon as possible.

And of the need to get as many as possible of our people into Parliament in 2020.

And of the need of our own mass media.

Table Manners

Hopelessly out of his depth, Owen Smith wants "ISIL round the table".

To the visible shock of Jeremy Corbyn, who, whatever one may think of his specific views, has been informed about the Middle East for 40 years.

How are Smith's views acceptable, but Anjem Choudary's are imprisonable?

And what of Smith's support for the egregious, utterly failed, downright counterproductive Prevent "strategy"?

Avoiding The Issues

Or not.

The simple presence of Jeremy Corbyn as Leader of the Labour Party has already caused Theresa May to adopt much of Ed Miliband's manifesto.

Today, on tax avoidance, she and Philip Hammond have taken up much of  the very longstanding programme of John McDonnell.

May's party, and the dominant wing of McDonnell's party in parliamentary terms, have always maintained that tax avoidance was not in principle a problem.

But today, only one of them is still saying that. It is not the Conservative Party.

This morning, we heard Corbyn call, in the Spirit of '45, for greatly increased economic growth through investment in infrastructure and education.

By contrast, Smith's supporters, at least, are being funded by people who not only funded Liberal Democrat candidates after five years of the Coalition, but also funded the re-election campaign of Caroline Lucas.

Lucas is so far from the Spirit of '45 that she advocates zero economic growth.

One wonders what objection she could have had, then, to the Government of David Cameron, George Osborne, Nick Clegg and Vince Cable.

That last is a key intellectual guiding light of at least one of the backers of Smith's supporters.

One wonders, indeed, what objection Smith could have had to that Government, either.

Maintenance Allowance

While Owen Smith is pitifully affecting views that he imagines left-wing people to hold, the real Labour Party is getting on with campaigning for the return of the Educational Maintenance Allowance.

Angela Rayner is wonderful, a good friend of the Durham Teaching Assistants, and one of five women who were first elected last year and who are now in the Shadow Cabinet.

If you are not there, Jess Phillips, then that is because other people were better.