Monday, May 25, 2009

"As a Jew he simply cannot stop cheating..."

Not my words but those of comrade Engels. More on the anti-Semitism of Karl and Friedrich from Norman Geras via Bob from Brockley. Is it wrong to say I laughed at Marx's use of the 'n' word?

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Not fare

"Translink marketing manager Ciaran Rogan says: 'To be fair, increasing bus fares by 2 per cent actually isn't a huge increase.' Perhaps not. But to be fair, bus fares in Belfast (where almost all journeys take place) are actually increasing by 7 per cent."

Newton Emerson
Irish News
May 2nd 2009

It is a pity that the Minister for Regional Development and Sinn Fein MP for Newry and Armagh Conor Murphy has not displayed any enthusiasm whatsoever to oppose in a more vociferous manner the latest rise in bus and rail fares by Translink. As someone who travels to work several days a week on a stretch of railway line which was frequently bombed by the Provisional IRA during the troubles, I would have been satisfied if Conor had displayed the same passionate dedication to fighting these extortionate rises as his fellow republicans displayed when they were going about the very different task of blowing our public transport system to pieces in the seventies, eighties and nineties.

I wasn't really asking for much from him. In fact, I wasn't even asking Conor to be successful in preventing fares escalating in a region which already suffers from particularly high public transport costs. All I wanted was some sort of resistance on his part; a grunt, a growl, a shake of the head, some sort of symbolic act to prove that he wasn't happy. Something. Anything. Unfortunately this is what I, and of course thousands of other citizens, got from the minister last Wednesday:

It's inevitable we'll see some sort of increase - my intention has to be to keep increases to a minimum… Obviously, the detail of each individual fare is something we'll want to work out between Translink, the Consumer Council and the department - that work has been going on all week and it's reaching a conclusion.

So, the line from Spud is that fares will increase, but don't be too concerned as they won't be rising by all that much. Not good enough.

Back in February a motion at the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis in Dublin welcomed Conor Murphy's "continued commitment to investment in efficient, high quality, affordable and accessible public transport." In many ways public transport is actually pretty good in this part of the world. The quality of trains and buses in Northern Ireland is first rate, from my experience they do actually tend to run on time and NIR will be receiving more new carriages over the next couple of years. Bravo. The one hurdle which is proving difficult for Conor to clear is delivering on that commitment to "affordable" public transport. Unfortunately it just so happens that at the present time affordability is a massive issue for everyone. Those, such as Ciaran Rogan, who point out that the price rises concerned here are not all that hefty are missing the point. Translink fares should not be rising at all. The cost of bus and rail journeys in Northern Ireland is much more expensive than most other European countries. To be hiking up already exorbitant prices in this current harsh economic climate is simply wrong.

Where is the outrage, I hear you ask? Nowhere, I'm afraid. From browsing through the websites of various local newspapers one is struck by the total absence of any anger from the Assembly parties at what is taking place. Only Green MLA Brian Wilson and the party's European election candidate Steven Agnew seem to be even slightly pissed off at the management of the public transport system in Northern Ireland, not that either of those two individuals will have that powers that be quaking in their boots.

While paying for my May train ticket last week the normally chirpy chap at Great Victoria Street station took a glance at the price as I reluctantly tapped in my credit card PIN. "Its not cheap," he said with a grimace that appeared to suggest that he shared my pain. Its not cheap. And the bad news is that the price rise hasn't even happened yet. I do love the new Northern Ireland, don't you?

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

There's no-one quite like Grandpa

For quite a while now I've harboured an unusual suspicion that Peter Hitchens is taking the piss. Some of his utterances on his Mail on Sunday blog can only be those of a man whose tongue is placed firmly in his cheek. Often he comes across as some kind of satirical character manufactured to poke fun at the stereotypical middle aged middle class English oddball who just wishes things could go back to the Hovis-like way they used to be when he was a lad. For instance, surely nobody could be acting seriously when they say that women who are raped whilst drunk deserve less sympathy than those that aren't, could they? Regardless of his sincerity in stating such claptrap, Hitch the younger really has outdone himself with his latest blog entry in which he suggests that Bob Dylan was actually a bit shit. As he puts it:

Sometimes I sort of concede that Desolation Row has some good lines. But the thing itself has no lasting power, is desperately trying to show off the author's learning, and doesn't really make sense. Dylan is distinguished from the unmemorable modern poets in that his songs quite often rhyme and scan, and therefore kick their way into memory, wanted or not... Is any of it really any good? If a serious culture survives 100 years from now will people still listen to it, or will they be baffled that we did? I think they'll be baffled. And I think that Mr Dylan's survival, like that of many other things, is a symptom of the permanent adolescence of the 1960s generation, yet another way of refusing to become adult.

While certainly not as repulsive as his views on inebriated rape victims, this is still guff. I don't know about you but I would be willing to risk my hard earned cash (in a bet I could never realistically expect to collect the winnings from) that in a century from now people will be reading considerably more about Bob Dylan than they will about Peter Hitchens.

If Hitchens really is a genuine individual and not the satirical comedy character I suggested at the start of this then what is that makes him come out with such balderdash on this and other matters? Could it be something to do with his new book The Broken Compass which has just been released and is available in all good bookstores (incidentally his books are much better reads than his hysterical crowd pleasing weekly column in the MoS)? Possibly, but I don't want to be too cynical about the man's intentions. I imagine the answer lies somewhere in the fact that Peter likes to think of himself as a visceral opponent of consensus. He appears to dislike sharing common ground. For example, Hitchens claims to have no time for UKIP, this despite the fact that they seem to agree on just about everything under the sun. Instead, his views on British politics are shaped by the madcap belief that the Conservative Party must a) lose the next general election and then b) disband so that they can be replaced by something more right wing. Not surprisingly, I cannot think of anyone else of repute who shares this view.

Even so, it is nice to have people like Peter around. He's one of those people you like to see on a Question Time panel (as opposed to the banal presence of, say, Ed Vaizey or Hazel Blears). But who knows what splendidly enunciated garbage will come out of that gob of his next. Shakespeare was bollocks? Einstein didn't know his arse from his elbow? Muhammad Ali couldn't punch his way out of a paper bag? Or maybe he'll propose Taliban-style laws in the UK decriminalising rape in the event that the victim had one too many Smirnoff Ices. Perhaps what Peter Hitchens has not yet realised is that being against the consensus is one thing. Being totally and utterly wrong is another thing altogether.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Stalinists + Liberal Party + Bob Crow = No2EU

Ever wondered what RESPECT would have looked like if it had been run by Stalinists and didn't have a Trot or Muzzy about the place? Well, now you know. It would most probably have looked something like the oddball platform set up for next month's European elections called No2EU. With the backing of those steadfast tankies from the Communist Party of Britain, the endorsement of The Morning Star newspaper and the support of old style trade unionists like Bob Crow, No2EU is probably more recognisably 'left' than the reactionary Galloway-led coalition (whose meetings infamously ditched crèches in favour of prayer rooms) but their anti-EU platform does seem a tad narrow even if the purpose of the upcoming elections is to decide who we send to Brussels and Strasbourg.

Much less narrow are the peculiar range of micro groups and trainspotter-only parties willing to lend their support to the election campaign. For instance, I was quite surprised to see that No2EU has the support of - wait for it - the Liberal Party. No, not that one. It's this one apparently. One would immediately wonder just what members of the Liberal Party and the Communist Party would have in common but I suppose when you take into account that both groupings are essentially rump minorities of defunct organisations now trying to keep alive political parties which died two decades ago then maybe this marriage of Eurosceptics isn't all that astounding (although they could have been a bit less rude and invited UKIP to join the seemingly all-embracing No2EU malarkey).

Less surprising is the inclusion of the Indian Workers Association in this unpopular front. The IWA will gain instant recognition from hardcore trainspotters only. Formed, as the name would suggest, by Indian workers in Britain in the mid-20th century, the organisation is a pro-North Korean sect whose bi-monthly magazine Lalkar is edited by Harpal Brar, Pashmina shawl manufacturer and leader of the anti-revisionist Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist). Other star-studded groups getting behind the project include Tommy Sheridan's Solidarity, Socialist Resistance, something called the Alliance for Green Socialism and the Socialist Party of England and Wales.

If you are still awake after that quick trip through the strange world of British political sects then you may be interested to learn that in the unlikely event No2EU actually win any seats in June's European Parliamentary elections then they will not actually bother putting their bums in them. This part of their campaign literature really jumped out at me. According to their website the rationale for this abstentionist tactic is to avoid their MEPs getting sucked into the "notorious EU gravy train." It strikes me as an extremely weak explanation given the fact that communists in mainland Europe have been happily taking their seats since the first wave of European elections in 1979, plus Lenin himself stated that participation in bourgeois democratic institutions was necessary in order for the revolutionary proletariat to prove "why such parliaments deserve to be done away with." Then again, I suppose the Bolsheviks didn't have to contend with the prospect of Tommy Sheridan getting elected and subsequently being unable to restrain himself from putting all that kinky stuff he gets up to on his list of parliamentary expenses.

I am now going to make a fairly safe prediction. No2EU will enjoy about as much success as other fronts such as the Socialist Alliance, the Left List and RESPECT have enjoyed over the past decade, and by that I mean none. Yes, there may be the odd half decent result in certain local areas but none of their candidates will be elected and generally speaking its impact on left of centre politics will be close to nil. The fact is that welding together a handful of small sects and giving them a nice new fancy title does not win votes. It never has and it never will. That does not mean that I do not sympathise with those people currently disillusioned after twelve years of Blair and Brown, however at the present time there is simply no realistic opportunity for building any kind of mass party to the left of Labour. My advice to those considering deserting the party in order to prop up some short-lived electoral platform would be the same as that offered last month by Harry Barnes on the departure of Alice Mahon from the party: "Labour still has the bulk of the Trade Unions affiliated to it. An avenue to developing a consciousness of socialism is via trade union consciousness... Why desert your comrades, most of whom are still pursuing the type of tasks they plugged away at in the past?"

Too much work went into building a democratic socialist party capable of winning general elections in the United Kingdom. Now is not the time to walk away from it from it in a fit of desperation. And if you do intend to walk away from it at least make sure you are walking towards something of more substance than the shabby mess of a vehicle that Bob Crow and friends have cobbled together.

Saturday, May 02, 2009