Saturday, June 30, 2007

Not so green with envy

Being green is where it's ‘at’. Everyone is concerned, or at least claims to be concerned, with the threat posed by global warming and climate change. If you want to win votes or up your profits there hasn’t been a better time to tell the great unwashed how green you are.

Al Gore has made a movie and is currently on a world tour telling us how to save the planet. Tony Blair asked the nation in April to reduce its carbon footprint, whatever that is. David Cameron takes the bicycle to work and has even injected a shade of green into the new Conservative Party logo. Supermarkets such as Marks and Spencer are doing their bit by charging 5p for every plastic bag sold. Even the arch capitalist demagogues of the airline industry such as Richard Branson and Michael O’Leary have attempted to stress their environmentalist credentials in recent times, with the latter hailing Ryanair as “the greenest in Europe”.

Green parties have been around for many years. I suspect they may even feel a bit cheated by the fact that rival parties, celebrities and private enterprise are now stealing their thunder. Nevertheless Green parties have been performing strongly in elections throughout Europe and the wider world. If you want to find out just how well they have been doing take a trip over to the website of the Global Greens (a sort of Green version of the Socialist International).

In this part of the world the Greens have been doing quite well. In the Republic the Green Party now sit in government with Fianna Fail and holds a couple of ministerial posts. In Scotland they have struck a deal with the governing SNP. In England and Wales the GP has two MEPs and over 100 councillors. It is sad that despite being such a large party in England and Wales virtually nothing is heard of the Greens in the news, primarily because of the unfair first past the post system. Even here in Northern Ireland, where we on the left have found it virtually impossible over the past 85 years to make any sort of an electoral breakthrough, the Green Party has had several triumphs. They have won several seats on a number of councils around the province and at the last Assembly election gained a seat in North Down. Up at Stormont the party has formed a progressive, anti-sectarian opposition front called United Community with the Alliance Party and the independent MLA Dr. Kieran Deeney.

Clearly the Greens, both in these islands and beyond, are a progressive force and represent a positive alternative voice in the political arena. There are some people though who feel that the Greens represent something even bigger than a novel protest vote. Some go as far as to argue that the Greens are the new left. Are they?

Back in 2000 the human rights activist Peter Tatchell left the Labour Party. A few years later he joined the Green Party and will now be their candidate in Oxford East at the next UK General Election. Now I am not going to blow the words spoken by a single individual out of proportion, but Peter Tatchell was a Labour Party member for over two decades, he was a candidate in the infamous Bermondsey by-election in 1981 and he has campaigned endlessly and admirably on the issue of gay rights from Birmingham to Baghdad. In short, he is man firmly on the left. This is what he said about his departure from his old home:

“The Labour Party is now beyond reform. The idea of recapturing Labour for the left is a hopeless dream. My values and aspirations remain the same. Labour’s have changed fundamentally and irreversibly. Winning back Labour to socialism and democracy is now impossible. No political party lasts forever. Even the most progressive party eventually decays or turns reactionary. Labour’s great, historic achievement was the creation of the welfare state. The current party leadership is in the process of privatising it.”

The Labour Party is beyond reform? Winning it back to socialism is impossible? Is this true? If it is then does that mean that Labour’s sister parties are also no longer socialist? Are the parties of the Socialist International really just the “capitalist workers parties” that Lenin dubbed them ninety odd years ago? Well, Mr. Tatchell certainly seems to think all hope is gone as regards the traditional organisations of the left. I’ll let the man himself speak for another bit on why the Greens are not just an alternative but (wait for it) an “anti-capitalist” alternative. Good lord:

“Leaving Labour does not mean giving up the battle for a fair and just society. There is an alternative option. The Green Party now occupies the progressive political space once held by left-wing Labour. The Green Party’s manifesto for a sustainable society incorporates key socialist values. It rejects privatisation, free market economics and globalisation, and includes commitments to public ownership, worker’s rights, economic democracy, progressive taxation and the redistribution of wealth and power. Greens put the common good before corporate greed, and the public interest before private profit. Forging a red-green synthesis, they integrate policies for social justice with policies for tackling the life-threatening dangers posed by global warming, environmental pollution, resource depletion and species extinction. Although the Green Party is not perfect (is any party perfect?), its anti-capitalist agenda gives practical expression to socialist ideas.”

Anti-capitalist agenda? Economic democracy? Progressive taxation? Redistribution of wealth and power? These are clearly not the words of someone who simply wants a reduction in the use of plastic bags at supermarkets. This paragraph could almost have been lifted from a 1980s Militant newspaper. But hang on a minute? Isn't this the Greens he's talking about? Perhaps Mr. Tatchell should take a look at the track record of his new comrades before criticising his erstwhile ones.

After all, this is the same brand of Greens he has attached himself to who in Germany ditched their principles of non violence to be part of a government that supported the invasion of Afghanistan (not something that I opposed but a remarkable turn around for a pacifist party). In the Republic of Ireland the Greens are in coalition with a Fianna Fail administration content on letting a motorway be built over one of the most historic sites on the island, the Hill of Tara. In the United States the party found themselves able to campaign on issues of 'common' interest with the reactionary conservative Pat Buchanan. Across the border in Canada the Greens had as their leader until last year Jim Harris, an ex Conservative and motivational speaker for large corporations. Anti capitalist? Hmmm.

Tatchell is correct in saying that the party is not perfect. Its Eurosceptic policies and opposition to the Euro moves the party away from the thinking of the mainstream left and towards a view only shared on this side of the political fence in Britain by the ageing Stalinists of the Communist Party of Britain. Its policy on drugs is naive to say the least - they propose a harebrained plan to legalise all recreational drugs. They also support the pointless, provocative and counterproductive academic boycott of Israeli universities.

I could go on. In short, while I can appreciate that Tatchell is frustrated with Labour's move to the right he is deluding himself if he genuinely thinks that the future of progressive politics lies with today's Green parties. Does he honestly believe that the Green Party of England and Wales will be any different to its sister organisations in Germany or the south of Ireland? What is it that will make the GPEW immune from 'selling out'?

Nevertheless, for all their negative points I am genuinely glad that the Greens are a rising force in British politics. I hope that someday the government does see fit to introduce a system of proportional representation in the UK so that parties like the Greens that perform so well in all other elections finally have a chance to get their voices heard in the place where it really matters, Westminster. However, we have to be wary of getting carried away with the potential they hold. After the initial enthusiasm of finding a new political home, people like Tatchell (or the misguided idiots who ran off to join RESPECT) can often find themselves stuck in a depressing cul-de-sac once the promised electoral breakthroughs fail to emerge.

There is only one force on the British left that has offers any sort of realistic long term hope, and it is that force which is currently in government. The Green Party may be here today. The Labour Party will definitely be there tomorrow.

Friday, June 29, 2007

One small step for Laois

Rotimi Adebari isn't a big name in Irish politics. Not yet anyhow. But Rotimi has made a little bit of history by becoming the first black mayor in Irish history. Not a bad achievement for someone who only seven years ago moved to a predominately rural region of one of Europe's least ethnically diverse countries. In 2004, standing on an independent ticket, he was elected onto the local council in Portlaoise. This week he was made first citizen of the town following a voting pact between Sinn Fein and Fine Gael.

Of course things haven't all been pleasant for the man in the land of a thousand welcomes since he fled his native Nigeria. Two years ago a resident of the town called Tom Duffy, a labourer originally from Belfast, launched a racist attack on Adebari on a live local radio chat show. Here's a little of what the halfwit has had to about his fellow citizen:

"I am a racist. My views represent about 50% of people."

"He is not Irish. He should not be in the council."

"Irish blocklayers can’t get jobs because of them working for nothing."

"These foreign immigrants driving around in cars, getting cars from the Government, while single Irish mothers don’t get the same is wrong. If I thought I’d get enough votes, I’d represent the Irish people. I’d look after our own."

"A new party is needed instead of Sinn Féin. I was a Sinn Fein supporter before Brian Stanley supported Rotimi."

In case you are wondering, Brian Stanley is a local Sinn Fein councilor in Portlaoise. I don't normally compliment Sinn Fein, but since hate crime against ethnic minorities here began to raise its ugly head a decade or so ago the party has been fairly solid on the anti racism front. As for Cllr. Adebari's, his response to the whole Tom Duffy episode was very dignified. He noted that Duffy had "forgotten that Irish people traveled abroad in search of work. We have short memories. When I was an asylum seeker, I couldn’t wait to get out and work because you cannot live life to the fullest."

While Rotimi's story is a stirring one, the abuse he has received from Duffy and others of his ilk who proudly declare their racism and blatantly make up statistics such as 'my views represent 50% of people' serves only to show that we have a long term battle on our hands to defeat racism in this country.

Rotimi Adebari, TD for Laois-Offaly? I bloody well hope so. If only to piss Tom Duffy off that wee bit more.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

A (Sick) Day in the Life

Yesterday was a strange sort of day for quite a few reasons. I have never done anything like a diary entry on this site and promise that I never will again. Jett Loe does these things far better on Letter to America. OK, where will I begin?

I awoke feeling awful (I’ll spare you the details) and decided to call in sick to work. Unlike the rest of Northern Ireland who seem to have no problems with calling in sick I always feel overcome with guilt, clearly a remnant from a rural Catholic upbringing in which sickness was no excuse for missing a days pay.

Days off work are much like days off school - you feel like you are in limbo. In a bid to break this feeling and rid myself of illness I took a visit to the doctor’s surgery, only to be then told that they had no space for me on their books. So by 9.30am I was back in my living room with nothing took forward to except for the days programming on RTE Radio One and a few repeats of old tennis matches on BBC while the rain delayed play at Wimbledon. Suddenly I started to wonder how pensioners and the unemployed actually make it through the day.

I went out for a walk and, as if by luck, it started to rain. So, after grabbing the umbrella which I had stolen from the Merchant Hotel on Waring Street last year, I ventured forth into the wilds of south Belfast. As things turned out, sickness aside of course, I had quite an enjoyable and productive day. I went to the bank to make sure I had been paid and do some other ‘things’. I went to the bookshop and picked up ‘God is Not Great’, the cheerfully titled new book by Christopher Hitchens. Is it just me or does the Hitch seem to be everywhere at the moment? I bought a paper and then went for a coffee. Now this was remarkable.

Number one, I don’t go to coffee shops because I always find them inhabited by annoying pretentious teenagers from the haughty Malone area attempting to recreate a scene from ‘Friends’ that they’d just watched on E4 (and I drink tea anyway). And number two, the newspaper I purchased was ‘The Daily Telegraph’. I haven’t bought ‘The Daily Telegraph’ now for a number of years. I know I bought a couple of times at university but that was usually at the beginning of the year when the freshers fayres were going at full steam, newspapers were on special offer and the good old DT could be utilised as an effective tool to ward off Trots. Anyhow, the coffee was nice. The ‘Telegraph’ just made me grumpy.

Next I popped into O’Brien’s for an overpriced ethical sandwich. I took the said product home sat down, all the while thinking that something was not quite right. Then it clicked with me: Gordon Brown! How could I have ever forgotten? Today was the day of the crowning of the new Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (I always loved the “and Northern Ireland” part of the country‘s title, as if we are some misguidedly adopted child that isn’t quite part of the family).

I spent the next few hours watching Andrew Neill and Huw Edwards. Special credit really has to go to Huw Edwards who performed miracles live on television for close to three hours by somehow being able to talk endlessly for long periods of time when it was quite clear to everyone that fuck all was happening. It struck me that the last day this had happened - May 1997 when Major left Number 10 and Blair took up residence - I had taken the day off school to ‘revise’ for some forthcoming exam or other, though to be honest I had probably just been knackered after staying up all night watching the Tories take a battering. Well, at least I was genuinely sick this time. No, I was. Honestly. As for the event itself, I won’t bother writing about the new PM just yet. A long winded entry will follow.

Once Huw had wrapped things up in his usual professional manner it was laptop time. I browsed the internet to see if I could find anything interesting and I did. It’s called a ClustrMap. Now these things have been around for sometime. Basically not only do they calculate the amount of hits your website gets in a day, they also can tell you whereabouts your visitors are coming from.

So, after 24 hours I can reveal my results for yesterday: fifteen people visited my site. OK, that is less than one an hour which is pretty poor. I doubt that my comrades at Harry’s Place are getting concerned at the current stats for yourfriendinthenorth. Nonetheless, I was quite pleased. This blog was set up last November and since then my tactic has merely been to let people stumble upon it. Oh come on, you didn’t think I’d actually take the time to go out and promote this? The real novelty came from seeing where the visitors came from. Four countries to be precise - Ireland, Britain, France and the USA. I don’t know how accurate the locations on ClustrMaps are but my American and French visitors appear to have come from New York and what appears to be somewhere in the north of France (the dot is quite large). Technology, eh?

After the excitement of the ClustrMap it really was all down hill from there. I watched my DVD of ‘Alphaville’ again to kill sometime. I made several cups of tea. Took some painkillers. Made more tea. Watched the BBC news. Listened the RTE news on the radio. Watched the Channel 4 news. Watched that episode of ‘Question Time’ from last week that I missed on the internet. Went to the shops with my partner to get some food. Came home and watched ‘Newsnight’. Retired to bed.

I wonder how jealous of my life that person from New York that was on my ClustrMap will be after reading this? Who cares. I'm off to watch the tennis.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Stickies: the rise and fall of The Workers Party

Out of the vast amount of literature concerning recent Irish history it has always struck me as peculiar that no author has as yet provided us with a definitive account of the fascinating story of the Official republican movement and The Workers Party. Nor have I ever really found a compelling explanation as to why such a lack of writing on this topic exists, especially when one takes into account the impact that the WP had on Irish politics and the even greater impact that they possibly could have had.

Some texts do exist. Finding them involves having a bit of time on your hands. I did come across some material as in the library of my old university a number of years back. Henry Patterson's 'The Politics of Illusion' was one I found that dealt with the Officials to an extent. However, most of what I found fell into two categories: tattered political pamphlets from the 1970s and 1980s lambasting the 'Stalinist Sticks' and obscure Phd theses written by equally obscure authors. I am aware of a book that was published last year called 'Official Republicanism, 1962 to 1972' by Sean Swan, though getting hold of it appears close to impossible. Beyond that? Merely the incoherent ramblings on political blogs by halfwits like myself pretending to be authorities in something or other.

At its height in the early nineties The Workers Party was a powerful force. They could boast a parliamentary party of seven TDs in Dail Eireann, councillors on local authorities across a number of towns and cities in the Republic and a member of the European Parliament. These are figures which their arch enemies in Sinn Fein have yet to capture, and may never capture if the recent General Election is anything to go by. Within the trade union movement the party controlled many top positions throughout the island. They also could call on the likes of ideologues such as Paul Bew, Eoghan Harris, and Eamonn Smullen to pack an intellectual punch as well as retaining republican heavyweights like Cathal Goulding and Sean Garland, the latter of whom was shot and wounded in the famous Brookeborough raid of 1957 that led to the deaths of two of the IRA's most venerated martyrs: Sean Sabhat and Fergal O'Hanlon.

North of the border they never managed to attract quite as substantial an amount of support. Their message of peace, work, democracy and class politics was undoubtedly the moral message to be sending out, but in the dark days of the troubles the Protestant and Catholic working class preferred to play it safe and cast their votes closer to home. Even so, they did have some capable leaders in John Lowry, Des O'Hagan and Tom French while the small WP successes at local government level in areas as far apart as Belfast, Craigavon and Enniskillen did show that someone out there was willing to back the anti-sectarian agenda. Sadly by the time the ceasefires, the peace process and all those trips to the White House had started the Sticks had gone through a crippling split from which they have never recovered.

To say that the split in the organisation in 1992 was bitter is only to tell a fraction of the story. Left wing splits are always bitter. Republican splits are always better. A split then in a party that styled itself as socialist republican was clearly going to verge on a verbal bloodbath. Fifteen years on, the hatred still lingers. No WP Ard Fheis these days is complete without Sean Garland having a good old swipe at the traitors of '92. A good account of the split, albeit from a WP perspective, can be found in a short booklet 'Patterns of Betrayal - The Flight from Socialism'. While the approach is from the standpoint of the Garland-Goulding wing of the party it does nevertheless provide speeches and articles from the people who went on to found Democratic Left.

In September 2001 I by chance met a former member of The Workers Party. The man had been a member of the Officials since he was a teenager in 1969 and had stood by the leadership through every twist and turn thereafter. While we were chatting he told me that he had been devastated by the split and had opted to stay with Garland, Goulding, MacGiolla and co in the hope (rather than the expectation) that they could reassemble the old masterplan. It soon became very clear that they could not. Following the schism, however, he said that the party had transformed overnight. From being active and dynamic it slowly became moribund; an old comrades association as he put it. Many of those who did not jump ship with De Rossa and Rabbitte to set up DL did not stay behind to redouble their efforts in rebuilding the WP. For a lot of grassroots members it was one split too many and retirement from political activism was their choice.

Today, with the exception of some urban locations in the Republic, it remains so. In Northern Ireland I have been reliably informed that the once mighty force of the Irish left is now basically dead, though that does not stop the leadership from putting up the same ageing candidates every few years to face a predictable electoral embarrassment.

It is impossible to say what could have happened had the split been averted in 1992. Could things have been different? Some form of separation was always going to take place given the climate of that period with the collapse of the USSR and its satellite states in eastern Europe. Perhaps the Marxist rump could have performed a much better damage limitation exercise. It is true that many of the WP's sister socialist, communist and workers parties in western Europe (in France, Greece, Portugal, Italy, etc) were able to maintain a weakened but nonetheless symbolic presence in everyday politics in their own countries long after the Berlin Wall had been knocked to the ground. Not so with the Sticks. All their Dail seats evaporated within months of the split and soon enough their councillors began disappearing too. These days all they have are two council seats in Waterford to show for nearly four decades of revolutionary struggle.

Even so, disenfranchised lefties like myself can still dream of what impact a breakthrough in the north would have done for progressive, anti-sectarian politics here. Always large enough to bag a few council seats, never big enough to challenge the big four's monopoly of the seats at Westminster, it would have been intriguing to see if a united Workers Party could have done enough to win its place at the multi party talks table and then perhaps even a seat at the first Assembly election in 1998. As I said though, all we can do is dream.

So what lessons does the fate of The Workers Party hold for us? For me there are both positives and negatives to take out of the party's story. The positive side shows us that the Irish people are not afraid to vote for a radical party of the left. It shows us that they admire hard working grassroots party activism, the type of which the WP excelled at, and are not frightened by red scare tactics from the right. The party also displayed a huge amount of imagination in its reanalysis of Irish history and will forever stand out in the history of Irish republicanism in the 20th century. In short: clear principled politics + hard working members + good organisation = vote winner.

There were, sadly, as many negatives as there were positives. Irish people did not cast their votes for De Rossa and MacGiolla and Rabbitte on the back of their interpretation of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin. They voted for them because they wanted an improved health service, better education for their children and an end to the unemployment levels that had spiralled to almost 20% in the Republic by the 1980s. Too many in the party though had become obsessed with the Marxist-Leninist model and the rigid democratic centralist structures that flowed from that. I also felt that their insistence on describing themselves as a 'republican' party led to too much confusion. The WP were truly a non-sectarian party, but for one million northern Protestants voting for a self described 'republican' party could have been seen as risky in an era when their coreligionists were being murdered on a regular basis by the Provisional IRA. Finally, for reasons that we may never fully comprehend, the party never did shut down its military wing. The bizarre and mysterious existence of the officially non-existent Official IRA and its alleged involvement in everything from assassinations to money laundering for Kim Jong-Il's North Korea really was the nail in the coffin. Like a lot of organisations to come out of militant republicanism the lure of the gun and covert conspiracy was simply too much to let go of.

Whatever our opinions on the Official republican movement it cannot be denied that there is at least a story to tell here and that the lack of any comprehensive study leaves a vacuum in the historical records of this country. Perhaps it is now time for one of the many eminent historians from this neck of the woods to put pen to paper. For the rest of us on the left striving to find a new vehicle for change both in Northern Ireland and throughout the island we can look at The Workers Party as an example of how to do it, and how definitely not to do it.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Reasons why things will be better under Gordon Brown: number 489

With the departure of Tony Blair as Prime Minister later this week we can now look forward to the future with the knowledge that we will no longer be forced to sit through interviews with his increasingly pointless Deputy John Prescott uttering the annoying phrase ‘traditional values in a modern setting’. Halleluiah!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

"Harman wins deputy leader contest" - BBC

Harriet Harman is the new Deputy Leader of the Labour Party. Only just though. She pipped Alan Johnson to the post in the final round run off where she garnered 50.4% of the second preference votes. I must say I was pleasantly surprised by the strong performance of Jon Cruddas, the man who received first preference when I cast my imaginary ballot last month. Anyhow, in the unlikely event that you happen to be reading this, congratulations Harriet. You wouldn’t have been my first choice, but at least you aren’t Hazel Blears.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Farewell Bernard

Bernard Manning is dead. I’m not going to gloat though. I’d like to think I’ve matured a bit since 2004 when I prematurely greeted the news that Brian Manning* had died with a bit too much amusement. So, almost exactly three years on, I shall refuse to indulge in anything so low as criticising the recently deceased. All I will say is that I wasn’t a fan (though to mark his passing I have included a video below of Manning singing the songs of four other men from Manchester). People on the left have more on their plate at the moment than getting drawn into debates about how history will judge what was basically a crap stand up comic.

Since he died a few days ago, two people have consistently rushed onto news programmes to defend the late comedian from further attacks on his character by those pesky kids in the ‘politically correct brigade’. One is Jim Bowen. The other is Frank Carson. I rest my case.

We now await Jim Davidson’s passing with anticipation.

*Brian Manning was a Marxist historian and the author of a number of books on the English Civil War. It is doubtful that he had much in common with the Mancunian comedian who is the subject of this entry.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

The slowest of the learners

When I was at university I used to live with a guy who had a few ‘problems’. Just in case I inadvertently reveal his identity in this entry he shall henceforth be known plainly as John. John liked a pint. He liked a pint so much that he decided there wasn’t much point in attending class. When I say he didn’t go to class I don’t mean that he missed one here and there. He literally never went. As friends got on with such worthless distractions as attending lectures and seminars, John would sit around the house waiting for night time to arrive and showing a mind-boggling disregard for personal hygiene. Soon disciplinary letters would arrive for John. People would take his side, give him a decent reference and he would get off with a stern warning while promising he had turned a new leaf. He got a job. Then he lost his job. Problems soon developed with the landlord who threatened to kick him out. Still we stood by him, giving him an endless string of ‘second’ chances. No matter what he would have done we could never have imagined selling him out. Eventually, after two years of what could only be described as ballsing about, John was kicked out. I can’t remember whether it was the college authorities or the landlord or perhaps even his parents, but he had obviously tried someone’s patience just a tad too much.

What am I rambling about? Well, nearly all of us know someone who is a complete pain in the ass who - for some inexplicable reason - you still can’t quite get round to telling to go and f**k themselves. For me, a few years ago it was John. Now, it is the Palestinians. When I say ‘Palestinians’ I should emphasise that I do not mean the ordinary people of the West Bank and Gaza Strip but the people who they have, sadly, chosen to lead them. I must admit that they have been trying my patience for sometime now. Seven years to be precise.

Giving support to the Palestinians was always easy. A poor, dispossessed people without a homeland standing up against an occupation force with the full backing of the United States of America. If you were on the left you were on the side of the Palestinians. The answers to any questions were always the same. Didn’t the Palestinians want to destroy Israel? Yeah, but they wanted to replace it with a secular democratic state. Anyway, Arafat long accepted the principle of a two state solution. Palestinian violence? All part of a legitimate liberation struggle. Anti-Semitism? Never. Sure the PLO was a coalition left nationalists and communists. Suicide bombings? Despicable acts by an unrepresentative Islamist fringe that only serve to show the desperation that exists amongst the population. And anyway, only the PLO was the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. How things change.

In the past few days all has changed utterly in the Palestinian territories. All the old myths have been shattered. Most Palestinians do want to see an end to Israel, though a secular democratic state would probably be an alternative proposed now by a minority. Anti-Semitism is as popular as ever - just take a peak at the Al-Aqsa TV station broadcasting kid’s programmes with a Mickey Mouse rip off (see above) preaching the same old rubbish about martyrdom. Nobody with an ounce of integrity would describe suicide bombings as the actions of a desperate fringe. Indeed, it was the political front for the suicide bombers that triumphed in the last election.

Following the recent violent feuding between the two main Palestinian factions an odd form of partition now appears to be the reality; Hamas running the show in Gaza, Fatah in control in the West Bank. Palestinians deserve better. Far better. Gazans deserve more than the clerical fascists and anti-Semites of Hamas. People on the West Bank deserve more than the corrupt, power hungry bullies at the head of Fatah. Beyond this immediate area it is now difficult to look at the wider Middle East now and not feel depressed. The Palestinian territories are firmly divided. To the north, old wounds appear to be opening again in Lebanon. To the east, the carnage in Iraq has become so bad that nobody really knows whether its 300,000 or 600,000 or 700,000 dead after four years of violence. Dictatorships remain firmly in place in Syria, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. If it’s a secure, stable democratic country you’re looking for in the region it is difficult to find anything beyond Israel.

The events of the past week have made me wonder just how would things have turned out in June 2007 if Yasser Arafat had agreed to proposals that were on the table at the Camp David Summit in the summer of 2000 and Taba in January 2001. He didn’t of course. We all know the story of how Arafat walked away, leaving everyone from Bill Clinton to Ehud Barak to Prince Bandar stunned by the rejection of a Palestinian state. I have read the arguments in favour of why the PLO chairman rejected the plan but none of them have ever convinced me. Even after the rejection things could have possibly been salvaged. What if the Palestinian Authority had used its powers to clamp down on Hamas in the nineties when they still were the Islamist minority? Even during the second Intifada surely the Palestinian security forces could have moved when the rest of the world was pleading with them to do something to stop the attacks on Israeli civilians? They didn’t. By the time Fatah did realise that maybe something had to be done about Hamas (last week) it was far too late.

The sad thing about all of this? The solution is obvious. We all know that the only solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a two state solution where the rights of both peoples are respected. At the moment that is unlikely. The Israeli right is as strong as ever. The Palestinians are divided between an extremist Islamist majority and a corrupt minority. Since the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq it is unlikely that the current White House could play the ‘honest broker’ role that the Clinton Administration did in the 1990s.

The situation at the moment is reminiscent of Northern Ireland in the wake of the collapse of the Sunningdale Agreement in 1974. It took two decades for a ceasefire to be brought around. It then took another four years to reach an agreement, the Good Friday Agreement, which in turn took a staggering ten years to fully implement. When Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams finally agreed on a settlement earlier this year it was done on the basis of that agreement which they had both destroyed thirty three years (and thousands of deaths) earlier. The SDLP’s Seamus Mallon called it “Sunningdale for slow learners”.

We can only hope that Israelis and Palestinians learn Taba a lot more quickly.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Nicolas Sarkozy: not just right-wing but also unlikely to look good in a bikini

One month on and surely now the people of France must be seriously questioning whether they made the correct decision...

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Kim Jong Il. Fashion designer. Eh?

Were it not so serious the footage featured below would be hilarious. Kim Jong Il, eccentric dictator and real life Bond villain, gives his views on fashion. I must admit to having a long held fascination with the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea, or North Korea as you and I know it. I’m not alone either. One phrase doing the rounds speaks of ‘Pyongyangology’. I spoke about this during an earlier post. If it is indeed a legitimate term then I suppose I am a card carrying Pyongyangologist.

Much of what we see and hear about the hermit kingdom is amusing and the oddball state is certainly fascinating, if only because it’s government has succeeded in cutting it off from the outside world. Travel to the country is virtually impossible. No media organisations from outside North Korea are able to cover what goes on inside. The citizens that live there know nothing of the wider world. In fact, as far they are concerned, they are living in paradise. Well, some do. A famine in the past decade killed millions. Many North Koreans did manage to escape and the tales they brought with them were shocking. If regime change is needed anywhere then surely this is the place.

Back to the video. Well, what more is there to say? Kim Jong Il is unlikely to be doing any business for Topshop in the near future. Incidentally, there are lots of these videos floating around YouTube and other websites on the net. Drop me a line if you come across them. A bizarre English language pro-DPRK blog can be found at It regularly posts videos from North Korea to show all of us unfortunate people in the west just what we're missing. ‘Enjoy’, if you possibly can:

Friday, June 01, 2007

Will they? Won’t they?

I got up this morning, checked Ceefax’s poorly updated regional service and learned that Alan Johnson, candidate for Deputy Leader of the Labour Party and he that a couple of days ago got my fourth preference in the wake of the Newsnight debate, was at a function in Queen‘s University in Belfast last night.

First of all, I hope he had a nice night in our wonderful city. Second of all, he brought up that old stickler of Labour Party membership in Northern Ireland. OK, here is a crash course in the debate in case you aren’t up to scratch:

1. Labour Party rules refuse membership to people in Northern Ireland.

2. NI residents apply to join Labour Party anyhow.

3. Labour Party sends back membership forms to NI (repeatedly).

4. The party allows NI residents to obtain membership cards in 2003.

5. Party threatened with court action by GMB trade unionist Andy McGivern.

6. Labour agree that a Forum can be set up once membership exceeds 200.

7. Alan Johnson comes to Belfast.

Right. I have written about this subject before and have written a response to Johnson‘s statement on Luke Akehurst‘s blog. Have a look down the archive section on the right of this page and you'll come across a few of the discussions - including the answer I received from Matt Jackson when I applied to join the party. A link to Luke Akehurst's blog is also on the right. Here is what Mr Johnson said in Belfast last night:
It is highly appropriate that on the 100th anniversary of the first ever Labour Party conference which was held in Belfast, we have seen moves to re-establish the link between Northern Ireland and the rest of the party. We had a ridiculous situation in the party where people in Northern Ireland could not even join Labour. Thankfully the party has allowed Northern Ireland members to join and under this deal they can participate in conferences and decision-making bodies. However, I think an unstoppable momentum is building up which will see party members here, in the not too distant future, being able to contest elections.
An “unstoppable momentum”. Members here will “contest elections”. Jesus Christ, this is pretty strong stuff for a senior member of the party to come out with. So fair play. He still wouldn’t be my choice for Deputy Leader but he is right on this issue. I think it will take quite a while for the party to be running candidates in elections (if indeed the banner of the Labour Party should be the manner in which party members here contest elections - see my reply on Luke’s blog) but we are slowly getting to where we should be.

At least if Alan does win the race for Deputy Leader I’ll know it won’t be all that bad.