Daily Archives: 16 February 2008

Being clear about the SWP

What is Alex Harrowell on? He has taken it upon himself to take me to task for calling Respect-cum-Conservative defector Ahmed Hussain a “socialist jihadist“, describing me as “offensive, stupid, illiberal and anti-democratic, not to mention libellous.” Well, I’ve been called worse.

If I had been shooting a little less from the lip, I would have been more precise in my language and described Hussain as a socialist and an apologist for jihadism, but if this disagreement boiled down to pure semantics, it probably wouldn’t have got this far: the essential difference between a jihadist and one who makes excuses for them is a fine one indeed. Harrowell demands I show my evidence. It isn’t difficult:

So the war in Iraq will continue. But what attitude should the global anti-war movement take towards the fighting? Many activists are wary of backing the insurgents, both because figures such as al-Sadr are Islamists and because of the tactics—suicide bombings and hostage takings—that some groups have used.

But as Walden Bello of Focus on the Global South points out, “There has never been any pretty movement for national liberation or independence.”

During the great Algerian war of independence of 1954-62, liberation fighters waged an urban guerrilla war that frequently targeted civilians.

“What Western progressives forget is that national liberation movements are not asking them mainly for ideological or political support,” says Bello. “What they really want from the outside is international pressure for the withdrawal of an illegitimate occupying power, so that internal forces can have the space to forge a truly national government.”

Let’s be clear here: whatever the rights and wrongs of the Iraqi invasion – and I am certainly of the opinion that we should not have gone in, the effect was to remove a dictator. It quickly became clear that jihadists were seeking to exploit the situation and impose their own bloody version of government on the Iraqis, a system not supported by the vast majority. They aren’t revolutionaries, they aren’t freedom fighters – they are totalitarians. The SWP are also strong supporters of Hizbollah.

As for providing proof that the SWP advocate violent revolutionary struggle, do I really have to spell it out? Apart from both the links supplied above, there is the simple fact that the SWP is a Trotskyist organisation. Trotsky was a believer in revolution. There ain’t no such thing as an unviolent revolution. Is that really such a contestable fact? If the SWP don’t contest it, then why does Harrowell?

And then of course there is the brute fact (pun intended) of the bruises inflicted on my friends by SWPers for wicked crimes such as beating them in a student union election. For too many SWP members and other Trots, the revolution part is distinctly subordinate to the violent part.

Harrowell then outdoes himself:

But it’s worse than that; the very notion that, as Graham says, there is a “difference between the Lib Dem opposition to the war and the Respect opposition” is repellent. We both opposed it because it was wrong and it was stupid. It has however been a consistent tactic of the Right, and of the Government’s pet columnists, to accuse opponents of the war of being pro-terrorist. It’s always been easier to push this at RESPECT because its membership includes the far Left, who are not respectable, and brown people. But push it they would at the Liberals if there were only more of us.

Wow – I’m part of some grand rightwing conspiracy? News to me. I’m sorry, but there was a difference between the Lib Dem position and Respect/Socialist Alliance/SWP’s. They wanted British troops marched up to the Hague for war crimes; we wanted them home and safe. They sidled up in solidarity with Saddam Hussain; we didn’t. Once the war ended and the insurgency began, we lined ourselves up in solidarity with the democratically elected government; they sided with the insurgents. We are under no compulsion to join hands with the SWP in opposition to the “right” – in the vast majority of cases, we are on the opposite side. To accuse me of racism (that’s the clear implication of the “brown people” reference) is deeply offensive and a slur I would ask him to retract.

Not content with hurling every other name under the sun at me, he also has taken to accusing me of McCarthyism. How he is wrong is quite instructive: Joe McCarthy went around accusing everyone he didn’t like of having secret links with communism and plotting against America. The SWP are communists and are actively plotting against the British state – they don’t exactly make a secret of it. It is awfully inconvenient to Harrowell’s thesis then that I am not calling for them to be locked up or otherwise restricted, merely pointing out that which is blindingly obvious.

Valentine’s Day, a business trip on Friday and other stuff today have conspired to prevent me from writing the “15/2/03 – five years on” article I intended to. It is sad that this is the closest I’ve come to commemorating what was a very special day for me. The Liberal Democrats were absolutely right to go on that march. But do we owe the SWP a thing? Not a bit of it.

If you can’t stand the Heath, get out of the kitchen cabinet

Brian Blessed as Prince Voltan in Flash Gordon (1980)Ming’s successor, the Emperor Barin, has demanded undying loyalty from Prince Vultan over his policy to block a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. Two questions arise from this. Firstly, should Barin have Voltan executed? Secondly, what does it say about iwantareferendum that they are targeting Heath anyway, regardless of his well-known views on the Reform Treaty?

The second one is easy to answer and it merely helps reinforce the point I’ve been making here for weeks. Iwantareferendum is of course a Tory front. Those people out there worried that the UK might eventually see US-style “soft money” derailing British politics simply haven’t been paying attention. In the last election the Tories did a great job at using the hunting issue (another fringe subject) to seize several seats via the “independent” likes of Vote OK. Iwantareferendum is remarkably similar.

Both purport to be democratic organisations, yet both are coincidentally partisan and are about exploiting a profoundly undemocratic electoral system that makes a few thousand swing voters in key marginal constituencies the ones who will decide the entire national election result. If we didn’t have first-past-the-post these campaign organisations simply would not exist. They don’t enjoy popular support and they are dependent on exploiting a broken electoral system. I’ve just returned from Amsterdam. You might expect that in the Netherlands, feelings would be running high over the fact that despite rejecting the constitutional treaty by referendum in 2005, Lisbon is simply being ratified by Parliament. Yet notwithstanding the usual suspects – who are in no fewer numbers than in the UK but who lack an electoral system they can exploit – it simply isn’t an issue for them.

Back to Voltan/Heath, Barin/Clegg is on dangerous ground if he intends to lay down the law here. Regardless of the rights and wrongs of our policy not to have a referendum on Lisbon, the simple fact is that it has not been approved by conference. Both candidates agreed with the Ming line during the leadership election so party opinion was not tested then either. As anyone who has followed the debate on the blogosphere will recognise, the argument over whether to have a referendum on Lisbon or an in/out one is at best finely balanced at worst obscurationist in the extreme. Fundamentally, the public are disinterested in such nuance. At least anti-referendum-at-all people like Jonathan Calder have a consistent, clearly put position.

I have to admit that I assumed that this matter had been resolved within the Parliamentary Party months ago, which was why Clegg was comfortable with taking it one step further and not merely abstain from the Lisbon referendum vote but actually oppose it. Clearly I was naive, but no less naive than Clegg and his kitchen cabinet were being by making this commitment.

David Heath is being asked to stick to his principles and lose his front bench job or blindly follow Clegg and lose his seat. It is absurd of Clegg to put him in such a position. And once again, there is a vague hint that he is doing so out of a desire to look “tough.” As I’ve written before, highlighting our own divisions at a time when the Conservatives’ splits are ripe to be exploited is a foolish course of action.

We’re a grown up party that can manage disagreement without going into meltdown. It is one of our greatest strengths. Yet it is one that in this instance the party establishment, as it so often does, has run scared from. We haven’t had a wider debate on this issue. If ever there was an issue to relax the whip, it is now.