Saturday, May 31, 2008

Behind the scenes with Hillary

As May draws to a conclusion so too does Hillary Clinton's chances of getting the Democratic nomination for this autumn's US Presidential election. I can't say I have much sympathy for this woman and her long overdue demise. Quite the opposite in fact. I'm actually quite enjoying the slow motion car crash that is her refusal to face the inevitable and throw in the towel, though I don't think I can take much more of her campaign speeches in which she continually walks out onto a podium and points as if to recognise a supporter who we all know doesn't actually exist. Sort of like those snipers in Bosnia.

I can appreciate why a lot of people out there would have loved to see a woman in the Oval Office, but remember that this is Hillary Clinton we're talking about here. The female population of the United States - and indeed the wider world - can do much, much better than this opportunistic halfwit.

Anyhow, here's a fascinating insight into the debate raging within the Clinton campaign team:

Hat Tip: Inveresk Street Ingrate

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Red skies at night a geeks delight

As I seem to be one of the few people around these days who is still genuinely fascinated by space exploration I have been keeping a very geeky eye on the fortunes of NASA's most recent toy, the Phoenix robotic spacecraft which touched down on the surface of Mars last week.

Perhaps it’s a sign of my years but there is something remarkable about this man-made object being sent off on a two year journey to another world, arriving there safely and then it being controlled remotely by people millions of miles away in order to carry out experiments. The first pictures beamed back by Phoenix were also enthralling for an aging nerd like myself, though at the same time I suppose I can't really complain if people half my age aren't getting all worked up about photographs of sand, red skies and a few rocks. Even Peter Smith, one of the people overseeing the mission, accepted that the images the probe was sending to Earth did bear a slight resemblance to a car park (a reference to the lack of even the customary rocks that litter much of the Martian surface and have been a notable feature of pictures sent back from previous craft).

Still, we can't really complain. Imagine if some superior form of civilisation sent an unmanned vehicle to this planet, landed on Ireland and sent some snaps back to its homeland. What would they make of us? Advanced? Backward? Or would they be too busy trying to decipher what all the large buildings with 'Tesco' and 'Lidl' on top of them represented?

And I jest not. Those clever boffins at NASA have already planned for the possibility of some future space travellers popping in at Mars before they make our way to us so what have they done? They've sent a DVD to Mars along with Phoenix. You think I'm joking? Take a look at the picture at the top of this item and you'll see exactly what I mean. The DVD is designed to withstand thousands of years of being pounded by the strong Martian winds and contains greetings from scientists, sci-fi writers and others. Whether its available in Blu-ray is not known.

One last thing. Can all newsreaders and reporters refrain from including the title of the David Bowie song Life on Mars in every single report they do on this story? Go on. Do it. I dare you.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

An inconvenient truth: abortion, Ireland and the left

"It’s still very hard for the majority of women who have an unplanned pregnancy in the six counties to have an abortion. What happens is women take the boat to Britain and that happens regularly. In the twenty-six counties, there is no abortion at all, under any circumstances... The struggle’s not over yet... We republican feminists argue that, in fact, what’s been happening is that Ireland is exporting its abortion problems to England."

Daisy Mules
Former Sinn Féin Ard Comhairle member

'Unionist's (sic) don't want British rule in Ireland' was the peculiar headline I spotted last week on the nationalist website Balrog. Sadly the story by county Armagh blogger Chris Gaskin is not a reference to a landmark policy shift by unionists on the question of partition but instead a rather eccentric way of viewing the continuing debate surrounding the UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill. The proposal by Liberal Democrat MPs at Westminster to amend the Bill so that it would extend the 1967 Abortion Act to Northern Ireland has been met with the hysterical response you would expect in western Europe's last bastion of 17th century theological idiocy. The united front against abortion taken by parties representing approximately 90% of northern voters has once again shown just how poor a state progressive politics in the six counties remains in.

Firstly, I would imagine that the dismissal of proposed legislation from London by unionists could not be interpreted by any rational individual as their rejection of Westminster’s jurisdiction in Northern Ireland anymore than support by nationalists for progressive laws made in Britain constitutes an endorsement of the union. That is fairly uncomplicated and requires no further time.

Now to the main point - abortion. That the Democratic Unionists and the Ulster Unionists are opposed to women having the right to choose what they do with their own bodies should not really come as a surprise. Both are openly conservative parties, both are dominated by males over the age of 50 and both contain an American style religious right wing (and more than a few high profile members are men of the cloth). Pro-life posturing of this kind is clearly their sort of territory. However, pompous moralising is not the sort of thing you expect to hear coming from the left. The deceptively named SDLP have always adopted a solidly pro-life line, but then that party is on the verge of putting to sleep any lingering pretensions it has of being even a moderate social democratic party by allowing its members to become the northern cumainn of Fianna Fail.

From Sinn Féin one would expect better. A party that prides itself on being the inheritors of the revolutionary mantle of Connolly should be expected to assume a more sophisticated position on this subject than a party run by an ultra right religious clique from north Antrim. We do not get any such thing. Sinn Féin's official policy document on this issue states unequivocally that they are "not in favour of abortion", that they do not "believe that the 1967 British Abortion Act should be extended to the Six Counties" and that they consider the best way to reduce the number of women seeking abortions as being "comprehensive sex education, full access to safe birth control options, full access to child-care and comprehensive support services, including financial support for single parents."

The list of proposed ‘alternatives’ totally miss the point. By all means provide young people with comprehensive sex education but that alone hardly addresses the question concerned. Similarly full access to childcare and financial assistance for single parents is also to be welcomed but neither should these two things be viewed as substitutes for abortion. Decent sex education and good childcare should be a basic part of any society. The question at the heart of this debate is whether Sinn Féin support the right of a woman to have an abortion and the answer I am sorry to say is an unambiguous no.

It should be highlighted that not all Sinn Féin members concur with the view that the best way to help thousands of Irishwomen in their time of crisis is to pack them off on planes to have their terminations carried out in Great Britain. The not-on-our-soil approach of the reactionaries has been challenged vigorously at several Ard Feiseanna over the past 20 years. Addressing abortion back in 1986, Gerry Adams warned that while he did not wish to "gag the Ard Fheis on this or any other issue" it was important that the movement "avoid issues which are too local, partial or divisive." In other words, for the sake of clan unity, whatever you say say nothing.

According to Alliance for Choice activist Goretti Horgan more than forty women each week leave Northern Ireland to access abortion services in GB. Add to that the numbers leaving from the Republic and you are faced with a situation which cannot be allowed to continue and to which there is one straightforward response. If Irishwomen are going to have abortions would it not be better that they are accommodated here rather than be forced to undergo what must be an unimaginably horrific journey to have it carried out in another country?

Cast aside for a moment the screams of “murder” and the employment of repulsive shock tactics by the fundamentalist goons of Precious Life and the thugs of Youth Defence and deal with this subject on less emotive terms. Even if you as an individual are opposed to abortion what gives you the right to veto someone else from having one? In one sense we are back to the debate which raged in the Republic for many years about divorce. In the end the majority of people voted to permit divorce in the south, but was that really necessary? Would it have mattered if 99% had voted against the legalisation of divorce? Matters such as these are matters of individual liberty and nobody has the right to put up barriers to a woman’s right to choose. I heard a very responsible approach to this question recently during a BBC interview with Dawn Purvis, the Progressive Unionist Party MLA for Belfast East. Ms Purvis stated that while she was personally against abortion she recognised that the law in Northern Ireland had to be changed to facilitate the hundreds of women here each year that are being needlessly driven out of the province for treatment. If only more could view this topic with such an open mind.

It is time that both Northern Ireland and the Republic brought themselves into line with the rest of the developed world and made abortion available to women on request. It is the task of all genuine progressive and left wing forces to help bring this about.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Odd even by Kim’s standards

You may not have seen the following movie. You certainly won’t find it in Xtra-Vision.

Pulgasari was made in North Korea back in 1985 and was directed by the South Korean filmmaker Shin Sang-ok. Shin was kidnapped in Hong Kong in 1978 on the orders of Kim Jong-il, the man who want onto become leader of the DPRK following the death of his father in the mid nineties. Apparently Kim, a fan of Hollywood movies, wanted to build a film industry in his father’s madcap Orwellian police state. However, as one of the major obstacles would obviously be convincing the Martin Scorseses of this world to up sticks from LA, Kim decided it would be best to speed up the whole process and use North Korean secret agents to kidnap his favourite directors and actors and bring them to the, ahem, bright lights of Pyongyang (sure had it not been for the false consciousness generated as a result of living under capitalism they probably would have been there years ago anyway).

Bizarrely, what Kim wanted more than anything else was for someone to make him a sort of Stalinist version of Godzilla (as you do). In Shin Sang-ok he had found his man. The result was Pulgasari. According to Jonathan Ross it is a “propaganda metaphor for the effects of unchecked capitalism and the power of the collective.” I had actually been looking for this film for quite some time on places like eBay and Amazon so to discover it floating around on the internet for free came as something of a pleasant surprise. Strange? Weird? Peculiar? Yes, its all of these. Yet somehow I don’t think words exist to accurately describe this movie and the exceptional story behind how it came to be made. The good news is that the whole affair had a happy ending. After eight years living in Kim Jong-il’s captivity Shin and his wife (who was also abducted) escaped to the United States.

I should at this point admit to being something of a geek in this regard - I love trash films, B movies and monster flicks. And if it’s a choice between Pulgasari and P.S. I Love You I know what I’d choose:

Friday, May 23, 2008

The overt shallowness of the bourgeoisie

I'm a pretty laid back sort of person. I can tolerate most individuals though that doesn't mean that I don't have limits. I suppose it goes without saying that racists and homophobic types don't really do that much for me. The same goes for fans of Celtic and Rangers living in Northern Ireland (I say 'living in Northern Ireland' because I haven't met enough of the actual Glaswegian ones to be able to pass judgement on them). There are some environmentalists that I simply can't abide either - and not just the celebrity Leonardo DiCaprio types. The struggle against climate change and pollution is an extremely honourable one but the green movement has within it a faction that is to them what anarchists are to us good souls on the left. You could call them green puritans, the type of people who make you feel guilty if you take a plastic bag from Supervalu. While I'm mentioning people I can't stand I should refer to the natives of Tyrone. Don't ask. There's just something about them. However, I reserve a very special loathing for contestants on BBC One's reality-show-its-OK-for-the-middle-classes-to-like The Apprentice.

The Apprentice must have come as a godsend to those people who felt that they were a cut above Channel 4's Big Brother, even if they did secretly watch it. This series is to television what the Daily Mail is to newspapers. The politics of the Sun and the politics of the Daily Mail are essentially the same (catering for, to quote, Kelvin MacKenzie "the bloke you see in the pub, a right old fascist, wants to send the wogs back, buy his poxy council house, he's afraid of the unions, afraid of the Russians, hates the queers and the weirdos and drug dealers") but the latter occupies that market niche for the people who like what the former has to say but wouldn't be seen buying it. Yes, the Daily Telegraph is there but this is the idiot section of the middle class so the words are probably too big for them. In TV world the Beeb have managed to win over these middle income halfwits remarkably well, possibly because the philistines are able to relate to the people they see on screen.

At the risk of sounding ever so crude, were every contestant that has ever entered The Apprentice to tragically perish in some peculiar accident the world would not have sustained any great loss. I despise them. I hate their deceitfulness. I hate their attempts at trying to look like Michael Douglas in Wall Street. I hate their snappy little motivational quips they've plagiarised from the book they picked up in HMV for 50p on how to become a manager. I hate the bollocks they spew out about 'team work' during the show, all of which is then rapidly discarded when in the last ten minutes of the programme they each savage one another in front of their boss in a grovelling attempt to save their arses while incessantly uttering in the most nauseating fashion the words "yes Sir Alan." Respect? Dignity? All of those basic human emotions are discarded in the race to become the one tasked with holding 'Sir Alan's' manhood every time he needs to relive himself.

Lucinda Ledgerwood is one of those names that could only belong to someone completely detached from the real world. The 31 year old is a contestant on this year's Apprentice and she ticks all the boxes that you need to be admitted to this exclusive 'club'. She has a job that sounds completely pointless - a risk assessment manager if you must know - though undoubtedly pays her enough cash to keep her in pink berets (more of which later). She was born in Singapore and comes from what has been described as a 'privileged background' (no shit). She pretends to be super confident by coming out with statements like "I always win so it's a natural conclusion, I will win." She tells blatant lies, as can be seen from her claim never to have watched the show before (you do wonder then how she ended up being a contestant). Her choice of clothing has also attracted a lot of attention. Condemned by the Daily Mail and celebrated by the Guardian, LL's vast suitcase of dresses and berets has apparently been a hot gossip topic among Britain's 4x4 driving yummy mummies when they go for their morning coffee following the obligatory school run. And, last but not least, where would any Apprentice entrant be without possessing a very haughty name?

On this last point it appears that all is not as it seems. Lucinda has taken a look down her checklist of entry requirements for the being a contestant on this show she has never actually seen before and decided that she'd fallen short. You see, Lucinda Ledgerwood's real name is the much less graceful Cindy Burger. According to a friend (one of those friends who happily chats about your personal life to a Sunday Mail journalist) 'Lucinda' "changed her name because she wanted to be treated more seriously in the world of business." Now hang on a minute - Alan Sugar sharing his name with a crystalline substance clearly didn't hamper him in any way from amassing a fortune estimated to be somewhere in the region of £800 million. I can understand how having a name that is the fusion of a little girl's toy doll and a popular fast food may be embarrassing if you happen to be a 13 year old and everyone is making fun of you at school, but a 31 year old woman attempting to make her way in the world of business? Shallow.

But then I never did understand The Apprentice. Some people I know get completely absorbed by the show, have to watch all twelve episodes as well as tuning in for the half hour spin-off show that follows it every week. Me? Each year I tend to stumble across an episode or two of the show and then grumble about the same things I moaned about in the previous series (for example, just why does the Prokofiev-backed intro to the show take so bloody long). It surely is a sign of times though that a job interview is the basis for almost three months worth of entertainment.

Back when Tony Blair was reforming the Labour Party he made a statement I still cringe at. He said that young people in the UK should idolise businesspeople in the same way they treat footballers as heroes. Those remarks were made more than ten years ago. Over a decade on and the people who were children then are now contestants on a reality show were the main messiah-like figure is, well, a man who owned a company that performed well during the technology boom of the 1980s. I don't know about you but if I were 13 again I think I'd be more inclined to stick with the Cristiano Ronaldo or Pete Doherty posters on my bedroom wall. Incidentally, if you are 13 and still undecided on this matter just take a look at those two incredibly glum people that flank Alan Sugar every week. You don't want to be them when you grow up.

So anyway, 'Lucinda Ledgerwood' concocted her own name. Now take a few moments and ask yourself this: do you hate her more or less than you did ten minutes ago? The answer to that one should be simple enough.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A highly entertaining distraction for the masses

If you want a good barometer to judge how despised the football team you support is then ask neutral supporters who they would back if your lads played Manchester United. If the majority side with Man U then you really are in trouble.

I spent my day off work today being utterly unproductive by channel surfing on both TV and radio to get myself psyched up for tonight's European Cup final (sorry, but I still can't bring myself to call it the Champions League). Most of the coverage was mind numbingly tedious. When will journalists and everyone else in the media world finally realise that ordinary people aren't very entertaining? Throughout the day reporters in Moscow would approach groups of fans there to see the game and ask them something marvellously mundane like 'who do you think will win' or 'so, did you fly here direct or did you get a flight to Riga from Stockholm and then take the train'. Yet somehow it was all compulsive listening and viewing.

If I learnt anything today it's that Chelsea aren't liked very much. I could probably have told you that this time yesterday so I suppose I didn't exactly 'learn' it as such but it's the intensity of the dislike that's striking. Liverpool fans, Man City fans, Arsenal fans and fans from stacks of other clubs around England called phone in shows all morning and afternoon to say that while they hated both of these teams with a passion they would opt ever so slightly for United if they were forced to choose. Even I was going with United. It wasn't all one-way traffic to be honest. The infamous Anyone But United faction were vocal as well but I had never before experienced a game were so many neutrals were taking the side of the reds.

Something that irritates me about Chelsea is Chelsea fans. No, not David Mellor (though admittedly he is a prick) or the far right thugs they tend to attract. I'm talking about the sort of fans that you get outside London. Take where I live for example. Walk through the centre of Belfast any day of the week and you're sure to spot a few Chelsea shirts. This of course begs the question about exactly where all these people were five years ago. Was there secret Chelsea fans living a subterranean existence in the backstreets of the city?

I think I can speak about this as a genuine neutral. I don't support any English or Scottish sides. As much as I enjoy watching the game across the water I just don't feel enough of an affinity with Salford or Merseyside or Kensington. There is a long history of support in this country for Liverpool and Manchester United, not only as a result of their success, but because of the strong links between these cities and Ireland as a result of decades of emigration. The same goes for Celtic and Rangers. In a way I can understand the attraction in these clubs even if I'm not the type of person to buy replica shirts and pay bucket loads of cash to see them play once a year. But Chelsea? How does someone from Ballyhackamore end up supporting Chelsea?

I call it the 'Blackburn factor'. Back in the mid-nineties there were a lot of people I went to school with who considered themselves Blackburn Rovers fans. Blackburn had been a lower division team for many years until Jack Walker, a Lancashire businessman who made millions in the steel industry, pumped wads of cash into building a team that would eventually win the Premier League. However, when Blackburn faded away as title contenders so did their apparently vast reservoir of Irish support. Similar things took place when Newcastle was flying high under Kevin Keegan. Perhaps the Chelsea fans doing the rounds at the moment in this part of the world are simply all the ex Blackburn and Newcastle fans from the nineties.

And then there is the money. If ever a team could be said to have literally bought success then Chelsea is that team. United, Liverpool and Arsenal aren't exactly stuck for a few quid but they can at least claim to have a long history of success and have produced some of the world's greatest players. On the other hand, before a Russian billionaire arrived in the scene Chelsea had in a century of football won one league title plus the European Cup Winners Cup, a now defunct third rate continental competition. Thankfully, as Mr Abramovich will now appreciate, money can't buy penalty shoot outs. Yet while I was pleased to see a team known for playing attractive football triumph over a team more renowned for grinding out a dreary 1-0 I was still saddened to see John Terry's shot come back off the post.

So, as the sound of drunken Manchester United fans pass my window, the club season has now come to a conclusion. The good news is that the European Championships start in a few weeks, though unfortunately for Irish people we aren't going to get the chance to indulge in our biannual pastime of rejoicing as England are knocked out in the quarter-finals of a major tournament. On penalties.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Fuckwit turns Tory fuckwit

If you don't know George Lamb then consider yourself lucky. The current 'rising star' of British radio is the latest in a long line of extraordinarily irritating 'yoof' presenters (see Alexa Chung and Steve Jones for further clarity on this particular stratum of society). Quite recently, for some reason, the Beeb decided to give this idiot his own show on their surprisingly half decent DAB station BBC 6 Music. A deluge of complaints from angry listeners followed. Why? Well, if you know him you'll understand exactly what I'm talking about.

The show is, in the absence of a more sophisticated critique, absolutely abysmal. Admittedly I only listened to it once but then as Will Self once said of Richard Littlejohn's debut novel To Hell in a Handcart you didn't have to read it all the way through to realise you hadn't got a potential rival to Tolstoy on your hands. Lamb doesn't have any such delusions of grandeur though. Mr G seems to be modelling himself more on Russell Brand than the author of War and Peace. Brand though can at least be amusing at times and, more importantly, doesn't tend to discuss things he knows nothing about. Things like, for instance, politics.

I came across a piece from Tuesday's edition of the Guardian this morning and discovered that on the day of the London Mayoral election George Lamb declared that he knew who he was "going to vote for" and that they had "blonde hair." Whoever could he have meant?

As I am sure you are well aware the BBC is a public institution and the Great British public are not the type of people who like their cash to be spent on employing a pampered Tory twat to use his programme as a vehicle for encouraging the 'yoof' how to vote. Now, I know what you're going to say - Lamb's endorsement wasn't exactly over the top and he certainly isn't marking himself out as Britain's answer to Bill O'Reilly, but this is the BBC. After all, aren't they meant to be impartial?

Still, for an organisation which for years was labelled the Bolshevik Broadcasting Corporation by the right, conservatives should now be able to feel safe knowing that the future of youth entertainment is in the hands of one of their own. You also have to ask yourself the following - is it now trendy to be a Tory? If they win the next election will we be treated to the sight of David Cameron sipping tea with Fearne Cotton or some other useful idiot from T4?

On the bright side I can inform you that James Whale has been sacked by talkSPORT. Other than that, things can only get better.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Where to now?

"Let's not mess about - our people are abandoning us, we're sinking fast and no amount of hand-wringing and promises of 'listening and learning' from election night will change that... The New Labour attitude that you can kick the workers from pillar to post because 'they've got nowhere else to go' has reached its ludicrous conclusion with the election - with working-class votes - of the SNP in Scotland, independent radicals in Wales and the BNP in industrial English towns like Stoke-on-Trent... We don't need to play one half of Britain off against another. It's not too late to change - but choose change we must."

Jon Cruddas
Daily Mirror
May 4th 2008

One of things about being a socialist that those individuals not of the left often find difficult to comprehend is our almost sacred belief in the concept of internationalism. Many may wonder why someone from Belfast should give a damn about the electoral fortunes of the Australian Labor Party, the struggle of Iraq's trade unionists or the fate of Zimbabwean pro-democracy activists. The answer of course - for want of a better word and at the risk of sounding a little clichéd - is solidarity. Being a democratic socialist means being a part of a global political family and when one part of your family tastes success you can share in it as well. Unfortunately, it also means that when your comrades' crash and burn you tend go down with them.

On Thursday night and the early hours of Friday morning I endured the sickening sight of Jeremy Vine's digital council map of England and Wales turn a horrible shade of blue. As I looked on my partner kindly attempted to reassure me with words along the lines of 'oh well, it doesn't really affect us'. And she was right of course. None of the parties concerned organise in Northern Ireland and why the hell should two people living in a flat in south Belfast care whether the residents of Burnley have their bins collected on a weekly or a fortnightly basis. Yet it does affect us, not just because of some notion of left wing camaraderie (though that remains a crucial factor for me) but because if the mood of the British public remains as it is at the moment we poor souls here in Northern Ireland may be faced with a nightmare scenario which we have no way of influencing - a Conservative government at Westminster.

In truth Labour should be home and dry at this stage. They should have the next General Election well and truly in the bag, maybe even already bagged. However, somehow they have blown it and blown it in a spectacularly short space of time. Anyone remember the 'Brown bounce'? Of course you do, it was only a few months ago. Anyone remember the talk of Cameron being in big trouble? Remember Michael Portillo's weekly predictions of his leader's imminent demise on the This Week sofa? Perhaps you recall the talk of the new PM calling a quick General Election, grabbing an easy victory and driving a stake through the heart of whatever plans the laughing stock hug-a-hoodie Tories had of a revival? Less than a year on and now Labour lies in the wreckage of its worst election result for 40 years, the Tories have romped to a crushing victory in the council elections and David Cameron is light years ahead of Gordon Brown in the opinion polls.

There are a number of reasons you could offer as explanations or contributing factors for the current catastrophe. The first has to do with personality and leadership. Saying that personality is irrelevant in politics may do wonders for your intellectual credibility but the truth is personality is a hugely important factor. Sadly, Gordon Brown just does not have one. Where this comes across most clearly is during Prime Minister's Questions. PMQs was one of Blair's strong points and there are few better things to excel at in British politics than the fine art of tearing apart the leader of the opposition once every week. Blair regularly wiped the floor with Major, Hague, IDS, Howard and Cameron at the dispatch box. Brown just does not seem cut out for it. He looks like a lumbering docile old Saint Bernard to the ruthless Rottweiler of his predecessor. No wonder the Conservative leader was so happy to order his fellow MPs to get to their feet and give the departing Blair a standing ovation last June. He was probably just glad to see the back of him.

What makes the current Tory revival so hard to stomach is the fact that Cameron has had to do virtually nothing to see his fortunes change radically. There was no tactical shift, no strategic manoeuvring or no masterstroke of leadership on his part. You would almost think that the Tories had been simply biding their time, waiting for Gordon Brown to come in and do all the hard work for them by buggering everything up. Indecisiveness, ineptitude, inviting Maggie round for tea - has there been a high point since the man entered number ten? However, without a doubt the worst move made by Brown's government so far has been the idiotic decision to abolish the 10p income tax band. I say idiotic for two reasons. Firstly, it goes against everything Labour supposedly stands for as it punishes working class people rather than help them. Secondly, assuming that they knew this would trigger a massive uproar, why on earth did the government opt to do this immediately before an election?

It is now time for Labour to start thinking about how it is going to rectify the wretched state it is in. I would not yet go as far as Paul Anderson of the left wing weblog Gauche who has called for Brown to leave office immediately. After only being in power for less than a year the man still deserves more of a chance (though I will admit that if there had been a leadership contest last year between GB and David Miliband I would have been siding with Ralph's son). What is needed is some fine tuning in other areas. I have commented before on this site about a statement made in a Fabian Society pamphlet back in 2001 by Anthony Giddens when he suggested that what the current Labour Party lacked was a "compelling ideological framework." Complaining about being locked into an ideological straightjacket is one thing but under Blair the party tended to drift to the opposite extreme.

I am a believer in that which Gordon Brown claims to believe in - conviction politics. A party has to believe in something, it has to have some basic guiding philosophy or set of principles. Following the prevailing wind and reacting to developments as they happen can only take you so far. Pragmatism - the great watchword of the Blairite reformers - has its limits and once those limits are crossed it is no longer pragmatism that you are practising, but opportunism and populism. On a day when the Work and Pensions Minister has announced that £1.5 million will be spent on lie detectors to monitor telephone calls by benefit claimants its not hard to see just how far over the line the party has gone.

Perhaps then the antidote to Labour's ills lies in some of the things it discarded. Brown and the party as a whole must realise that they cannot please everyone all of the time. In trying to be some kind of great unifier GB has ended up turning the vast bulk of the electorate against him. He has failed miserably to woo middle England in the same manner as Blair, while at the same time he has lost crucial ground at local level to the Tories in the traditional Labour fortresses of Wales and northern England. It is time now for the party to dust itself down and assume its traditional position. Cameron's Conservatives are recognisably right wing. Clegg's Lib Dems are also clearly in the centre. Quite where Brown's Labour Party is at the moment is anyone's guess. I am not calling for the nationalisation of the companies listed on the FTSE 100 but simply for the party to unashamedly place itself once more on the left of British politics. This is not to suggest that the reason tens of thousands of English and Welsh people chose to switch their vote last week to the Tories, the Liberals, the Greens or even the BNP was because they felt Labour lacked a coherent philosophy. As Polly Toynbee commented in the Guardian on Monday, it was about "basic political competence" rather than abstract ideological concerns. For me though there is a strong connection between the lack of ideology in the New Labour project and the political incompetence which we have been witnessing in recent months.

Precisely what policies are required to turn around Labour's fortunes I'll leave for another post, though a quick u-turn from Mr Darling on a certain issue may be a good way to kick start things.

Back in 1995 Clause IV of the Labour constitution was amended to present the organisation as a "democratic socialist party" whose goal was to place "power, wealth and opportunity in the hands of the many, not the few." Barely a decade on and Gordon Brown's current government is finding it impossible to live up to even the superficial sentiments expressed in that diluted statement of intent. Tony Blair once remarked that power without principle is barren but that principle without power is futile. Unless things change radically in the short term Labour will be a party with neither power nor principle.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

When Franco won the Eurovision (well, sort of)

I think it's fair to say that the strangest news story of the week popped up this morning in the Irish News. According to the current edition of the paper, the Derry song writer Phil Coulter "was robbed of victory in the 1968 Eurovision Song Contest due to vote rigging by General Franco's fascist regime." A television documentary due to be screened in Spain this weekend claims that the Spanish victory at the Royal Albert Hall was bought by the crooked head honchos in charge of the Caudillo's state run media.

Coulter has described the allegations as "hilarious" and to be fair there isn't really any other word available to describe a conspiracy theory involving General Franco, a man from Derry, Cliff Richard and the number one UK hit single Congratulations. Old Phil did concede that he felt "something odd" had taken place on the night although he didn't suspect the malevolent tentacles of the Madrid administration in any of it.

A good old yarn, regardless of whether it's actually true or not (which it probably isn't). I wonder what other Eurovision myths will crop up between now and the contest in Belgrade later this month? My money's on a botched attempt by Thatcher in the 1980s to bring down Johnny Logan.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

On the first day of May

“The first of May demanded the introduction of the eight-hour day. But even after this goal was reached, May Day was not given up. As long as the struggle of the workers against the bourgeoisie and the ruling class continues, as long as all demands are not met, May Day will be the yearly expression of these demands. And, when better days dawn, when the working class of the world has won its deliverance then too humanity will probably celebrate May Day in honour of the bitter struggles and the many sufferings of the past.”

Rosa Luxemburg
Selected Political Writings of Rosa Luxemburg, tr. Dick Howard, Monthly Review Press, 1971, pp. 315-16