Tag Archives: the-left

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.

David Cameron’s new pledge: “I’m a socialist jihadist conservative”

Cameron’s Conservatives have taken their broad church to new limits this week by recruiting a former RESPECT councillor in Tower Hamlets.

Ahmed Hussain, who is also a Muslim and a member of the Socialist Worker Party was welcomed into the fold by “four jobs” Bob Neill. His defection makes the Conservative Group the official opposition on Tower Hamlets council. Furthermore:

…his move comes as a bitter blow to council leader Denise Jones and Poplar & Canning Town MP Jim Fitzpatrick, both of whom are understood to have written glowing references to London party chief Ken Clark.

This is another chapter in the crazy world of Tower Hamlets politics, but it does seem remarkable for the Conservatives, of all people, to jump into bed with a socialist jihadist quite so merrily. Nor is this simply a little local difficulty. According to Respect Renewal (admittedly not the most impartial of sources), Cameron himself is due to put in an appearance next week.

How long can it be before Cameron is shown shaking hands with the Tories latest defector from the BNP? Does he have a bottom line?

Conspiring with lefties

This evening I attended the launch party of the Liberal Conspiracy, the latest brainchild of Sunny Hundal of Pickled Politics fame. Sadly, they didn’t supply us with sparklers or have any of those rubbishy indoor fireworks you used to be inflicted with at children’s parties, but a fun time seemed to be had by all.

As far as I can tell, I was the only Lib Dem there; to what degree I was the only Lib Dem who attended or the only Lib Dem who was invited was not clear, although I understand that a lot of people were at the Hackney Empire.

Sunny’s ambition is to produce nothing less than the hub of the liberal-left. First impression? It includes a lot of people I like and respect, but seems to lean more towards the left than the liberal, and that this is reflected by their ideals as well.

For example, the FAQ states:

You can join in as long as you somewhat share our broad goals and aims (social justice, equality, eradicating poverty etc.)

Where’s the emphasis on liberty? And:

The Labour party may represent the best vehicle for our political goals as they are in power, but our allegiance is towards liberal-left policies and ideas than specific parties.

Sure it may, but it may not. The inference I read in that statement is that the Labour party does represent the best vehicle for the liberal-left. From what I’ve seen so far, the left tail is very much wagging the liberal dog; indeed, their definition of liberalism doesn’t appear to get much more sophisticated that the Nick Cohen-esque critique of it meaning little more than moderate and middle class. Not so much a political philosophy as a belief in the importance of being nice.

The thing is, that’s almost the same definition of liberalism that I’m pretty certain David Cameron is thinking of when he calls himself a liberal conservative.

As for me, I’ve been thinking about it a lot recently and am reconciled to the fact that I am leftwing. I’ve been resistant to this, partly because it gets ingrained into you during your Liberal Democrat indoctrination that the party defies such lazy characterisation. At my first LDYS conference, Simon Hughes went on about how the party was “not left, not right, but forward!” I think I’ve heard him make the same speech at least once a year ever since.

Ultimately, equality is a leftwing concept and I believe in equality. As we’ve seen on this blog, it isn’t a concept that is without controversy within the Lib Dems. I plan to be returning to it soon following Andy Mayor’s laying down of the gauntlet this weekend (I have to say that I find it ironic being accused of being a paid up member of the “Church” of Leftology from someone who is demonstrably a member of the long dead cult of Manichaeism*, but that’s par for the course I suppose).

But even someone who is as unforgiveably leftwing in Andy’s eyes as myself believes that in the final analysis equality must always be subordinate to liberty. I wonder if the Liberal Conspirators feel the same way? Is it, in short, really liberalism – left or otherwise – that they really want?

I’m hopeful that they do. Sunny has showed himself to be on the side of liberalism time and again in recent years. If they plan to make progress, the robustness of liberalism will beat the mushiness of moderatism hands down, and we shouldn’t read too much into an FAQ on day one of a project. Lib Dems (of a liberal-left persuasion of course) could do worse than to help them hone themselves, and we know a thing or two about campaigning as well.

* I’m in despair at Lib Dems at the moment who seem determined to dumb down. The response on Lib Dem Voice to Chris Huhne’s interview on GMtv was to crow about his use of the word Gadarene. Many of his sternest detractors were Oxbridge graduate public schoolboys for fuck’s sake.

If you watched that interview unsuspectingly on the telly, I doubt you would even be aware of Huhne making a Biblical reference. I may have my criticisms of Huhne’s campaign and ability to communicate, and I know that to an extent this is Clegg-heads playing games but is it really so outrageous for party leaders to occasionally let it slip that they are rather more widely read than Janet and John?

Plus, nobody laughed at my bacon joke which was frankly fantastic. Philistines**.

** Presumably in Clegg-head Wonderland, that is too elitist a reference as well.

Labour’s capacity for self-delusion

Back from Labour conference and in a bit of a mess if truth be told. The problem with cheap B&Bs that haven’t been dusted in decades is that they can turn a mild cold into a nasty cough that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. I’ve got two days to recover before doing it all again with the Tories in Blackpool. I’m sure the B&Bs there can’t be as chintzy and grotty as the ones in Bournemouth. Er…

Anyway, it’s been an interesting week. Labour conferences – I’ve been to 3 now – are so completely different from Lib Dem ones its hard to know where to begin. Obviously, there is the security, although compared to 2004 where they wouldn’t let you bring fluids into the conference centre and insisted you prove your mobile phone was genuine before letting you through, this one was relatively low key. The beards and sandals combo – largely mythical these days – is replaced by the rather more sartorially challenged baseball cap and crumpled suit. Indeed, everyone who isn’t wearing a trade union approved t-shirt wears suits, making me stand out in my standard attire of jeans and a short sleeved shirt.

The psychology of the two conferences couldn’t be more different either. In Labour, collectivism is all. The mindset, even among relatively sensible people, is that you are either one of us, or you’re the enemy. Back in my student and BYC days I used to encounter this on a regular basis and it would drive me insane; you simply could not reason with these people who would back anyone who was a card carrying member in an instant, no matter how reprehensible they were. Back when I was a student, the Labour membership card was a passport which guaranteed you votes at NUS conference even if you publically denounced Labour and claimed to be an independent. On the other side of the coin, former IDS adviser Quentin Davies can rely on the party faithful to give him a standing ovation.

Labour is quite unapologetic about this mindset. Indeed, Brown’s emphasis on shared values and national identity seems to be a calculated attempt to sell collectivism to the wider public. Around the conference centre there were posters everywhere emphasising the “strength” to make Britain better.

At the Fabian / Centre For Um fringe, both Angela Eagle and Michael Wills readily cited it as the crucial difference between the Lib Dems and Labour and parodied the Lib Dems for flirting with libertarianism. I suspect that my friend Tristan Mills would have responded by saying “if only”.

The simple fact is, collectivism is in many ways a strength of the Labour party. It is what has made them electable over the past decade, and what has made the Conservatives so woefully unelectable. It is this key difference more than anything else which currently appears to be guaranteeing Gordon Brown a win whenever he chooses to call the next election.

And I should also point out that with a few exceptions, I don’t see many Lib Dems who are opposed to collective action per se, so long as it is ultimately centred on the interests of individuals. But I struggled to find any Labour delegates at this conference who placed any emphasis on the individual at all. The bitter irony is that I doubt any of them believe it. Why else have people been leaving in droves? Why else do super-unions such as Unite campaign so hard to defend the interests of the relatively few Remploy workers?

Fundamentally, I don’t believe that the Labour Party believes its own hype about unity through strength. It knows where that leads. But the inability of its members to talk about collectivism as anything other than an unalloyed good does cause me deep concern. We have seen how this attitude causes them to struggle to criticise their superiors. The fact that Tony Blair remained in power – purely because of the lack of enthusiasm for Parliamentarians and members to conduct a coup – ought to worry us. I can imagine far worse people than Tony Blair finding themselves at the top of a political party; if they rose to power in Labour would we see little more than the determined foot-shuffling we’ve witnessed over the past four years? For the good of the country we must hope that Labour reconciles itself with liberalism again before too long.

Back to the Fabian / Centre For Um joint fringe, much of this debate was taken up with allegations about “dirty tricks”. Most of the attacks came from a contingent from the Colchester CLP. Now, I don’t doubt those delegates’ sincerity, nor am I naive enough to believe that no Lib Dem has ever indulged in dirty campaigning, but it is rather ironic that almost a year ago to the day, a Lib Dem councillor in Colchester was outed in a national newspaper.

I was pleased that Vince Cable and David Laws did a grand job at defending the party’s record under pressure, not resorting to crowd pleasing tactics by condemning alleged activities that they knew nothing about. Yet Michael Wills was keen to continue twisting the knife, making the “no smoke without fire” smear that because Labour and Tory MPs agree that Lib Dems are the dirtiest campaigners, it must be true.

To make such a statement, without providing one scintilla of evidence, is to indulge in the very same groupthink that Miranda Grell manipulated in Waltham Forest last year. He ought to know better. The Lib Dems threaten an order that both Labour and the Tories have an interest in defending, and it is extraordinary how they can be blind to both their own faults and each others. The recent by-elections showed both parties at their worst, yet that gets forgotten. Tom Watson‘s reliance on the rent-a-mob got him promoted. The Tories’ attempts to portray Mark Hunter as a rapist in the Cheadle by-election even gave ConservativeHome pause for thought, but it was quickly forgotten. I could go on, but Rob Blackie has already done much of the work for me.

When senior MPs make such allegations in public, it is unfortunate politicking. When they do it in the relative privacy of an audience of mainly Labour members (albeit were at least one journalist was present), it smacks of self-delusion. No-one is pretending that the Lib Dems are perfect, but when Labour have been caught with their hands in the cookie jar so many times, it is time to stop being so precious.

Overall, my advice to Labour friends is to be careful. Don’t believe your own hype. This week I saw an awful lot of that. The biggest problem with Labour is not that it’s evil but that it still believes it is whiter than white. With the scapegoat Blair now safely dispatched to the middle east, that delusion will only continue. A party that believes that is capable of anything, which is how it ended up invading Iraq, doling out peerages to people it was indebted to and marginalising human rights in the first place.

Polly Toynbee – where do I start?

Polly Toynbee is waging her war against local democracy once again, insisting that only centralised super-states can be socially progressive and blithely ignoring the fact that all the Scandinavian countries she worships so much are far more decentralised that we can even dream.

This week, she has come up with the bizarre hypothesis that ‘localism’ and electoral reform are two mutually exclusive proposed solutions to democratic renewal. Of course, apart from the recent Tory and Labour converts to localism, the two reforms have always tended to go hand in hand. Indeed, how can you truly claim to want to bring decision making down to as low a level as possible while defending an electoral system that tends to ignore the votes of the majority of the people?

She bases her assertion on the fact that people voted on broadly national issues in the local elections, not local ones. Leaving aside the fact that I happen to think that isn’t true – the results varied wildly from council to council – why should we expect people to vote on local issues when local authorities don’t have any power? It’s not far off from bemoaning the fact that the votes cast in the Eurovision Song Contest aren’t about the quality of the music. Yes indeed they aren’t, but as it doesn’t really matter either way, so what?

If further prove were needed that Toynbee doesn’t really know what she’s talking about, she claims that the Lib Dem’s performance in the local elections was worse than Labour’s (it wasn’t), and that her preferred model for electoral reform is the Jenkins System which, erm, isn’t actually a proportional voting system. Indeed, it makes the partially proportional system used in Wales look representative.

While we’ll never know, I’m convinced that if Roy Jenkins was alive today he would be pleading for people to ignore the proposals he drafted for Blair back in 1999. They were an attempt to fudge the issue and come up with a system that Blair and the wider Labour Party would be willing to accept at a time when they were riding high with a 170 majority. Needless to say, they failed. He was too clever by half and didn’t satisfy anyone. Yet to this day I still hear people going on about it as if it were the Holy Grail. I’m convinced that in the centuries to come, whole organisations will be established to campaign for this system which no genuinely independent review body would recommend in a million years.

Toynbee’s objection to local democracy appears to be rooted in the perceived worst excesses of Conservative councils. In this respect it is entirely tribal and rooted in the typically Fabian notion that the people should not be trusted with too much democracy. Of course, with a fair voting system, the chances of the Tories or indeed any party wielding an unassailable majority in a local authority would be remote. The idea that we should have more representative local authorities but be content to leave them as glorified talking shops is faintly obscene. At least bread and circuses sounds a little more fun.

Crying Wolf about Fascism

I was deeply impressed with an article I read earlier this week in the Guardian magazine section by Naomi Wolf.

I was impressed because while individually I think she had managed to point to a lot of worrying trends in terms of US policy, it actually left me less convinced that the US was on its way to becoming a fascist state than when I started. Remarkably, it is actually less than the sum of its parts.

Her overlying thesis was deeply flawed in that while all these trends are worrying, many of them appear to have already reached their nadir and are beginning to turn around. We’re already seeing US scepticism about the War on Terror, it is hard to conceive how a law tougher than the Patriot Act might be introduced given the current balance of power in Congress and there is absolutely no suggestion of locking US citizens up in Guantanamo – itself something which the courts are making hay over. One doesn’t need to be complacent, as she suggests, to believe that the US isn’t heading towards Fascism – one merely needs something vaguely resembling a balanced view.

Could a disaster tip the US over the edge? Maybe. But then, a disaster could tip any country over the edge. It is inherently unpredictable. Making such outlandish statements is not a call to arms, it is a cry of apathy.

Factchecking Durkin

Rob Fenwick points me in the direction of the Great Global Warming Swindle website.

I’ve got my foot out of the door and was barely looking at the website, but two inaccuracies screamed out at me, one mere exaggeration, the other a bonkers, brainless, stupid factual error that only a complete moron would commit.

Claim the first:

A DVD of the film, The Great Global Warming Swindle, will be available in the next few weeks (despite the strenuous efforts of those who support the theory of global warming to prevent its release).

These ‘strenuous efforts’ amounted to writing Durkin a letter and asking him not to release it. What a big baby. Next, the website has a page explaining how the sun is responsible for global warming:

It would be surprising, surely, if the sun did not have a major influence on the earth’s climate (why is summer warmer than winter?).

Read that again – why is summer warmer than winter? The answer has nothing, zero, zip, to do with the temperature of the sun. It has everything to do with the Earth spinning on an axis which is tilted relative to its orbital plane (pre-schoolers struggling with this concept may find the diagrams here useful).

Durkin and WAGtv appear to be under the misapprehension that the Sun gets warmer in the summer and colder in the winter. They appear to be wholly unaware of the fact that when it is summer in the northern hemisphere, it is colder in the souther hemisphere. Indeed, one might even be so bold that they are unaware that the Earth is a globe at all, insisting that in fact it is flat (okay, maybe not, but the ‘sun gets warmer’ theory of how seasons work went out in medieval times).

Two screaming inaccuracies in 30 seconds. And people take these clowns seriously?

(I’m convinced that even Durkin might concede he’s wrong on this one, but in the interest of this little boo-boo being whitewashed out of history, I’ve included it here for posterity).

An Inconvenient Gaffe

I have to admit that, when I first read that scientists had written to Mark Durkin to ask him, out of the goodness of his heart, not to make DVDs of the Great Global Warming Swindle available for sale (credit: Rob), I blanched. I could more or less have predicted what a drama queen like Durkin’s response would be:

“I don’t believe they are interested in ‘adequate quality control’ when it comes to the reporting of science, or in a ‘balanced debate’ about the issues. Too many scientists have staked their reputations ­and built their careers on global warming.

“There’s a hell of a lot riding on this ridiculous theory.”

I hope, at least, he’s grateful to them for all the extra free publicity.

Having blogged today about the political genius of John Sentamu, I do wish my own ‘team’ would sort itself out sometimes. In my view, the proper response would have been to ask Durkin, since he’s so keen on opposing ‘censorship’, to allow a group of scientists to record an alternative commentary to the film and distribute it on the DVD. It is no a moot point as to whether he would have let them or not: either way, it would have been a win. Either he refused, and we could all point fingers at him and make him look silly, or he’d capitulate, in which case the DVD would be more balanced.

Meanwhile, I do recommend a read of this rebuttal of the Swindle film by the same group of scientists.


A loathsome backhanded compliment in the Brendan O’Neill’s editorial in this week’s Spiked email newsletter:

Bloggers made the news this week instead of simply leaching off it. There’s talk of a ‘code of conduct’, ‘warning signs’ if blogs contain crude content. But blogs aren’t the place to go if you want erudite debate; they’re the online equivalent of a loud’n’rowdy student bar. Why would you impose codes on something like that?

Bloggers often don’t have much to say of note, but I’ll defend to the death their right to say it to their three readers.

I’m sure we’re all very grateful for their protection.

For those of you who don’t know, Spiked is the internet successor to Living Marxism, which itself was the mutant spawn of the Revolutionary Communist Party. They are very shy of admitting to this* (unlike, ahem, the successor organisation of the CPGB), but are not very shy about their sense of self-importance:

spiked is an independent online phenomenon dedicated to raising the horizons of humanity by waging a culture war of words against misanthropy, priggishness, prejudice, luddism, illiberalism and irrationalism in all their ancient and modern forms. spiked is endorsed by free-thinkers such as John Stuart Mill and Karl Marx, and hated by the narrow-minded such as Torquemada and Stalin. Or it would be, if they were lucky enough to be around to read it.

I occasionally dip into it because I do think writers like Frank Furedi do speak a lot of sense and are broadly on the side of the angels. But that sophomoric sense of self-importance runs through it like words in a stick of rock and makes it impossible to actually like. A couple of weeks ago I wrote a massive rant about its support for politbureau-style elective dicatorship as an alternative to liberal democracy which my internet connection sadly ate (thank the Lord for WordPress 2.1 and its auto-save function) – maybe I’ll return to this topic another time.

For Spiked to accuse bloggers of leaching off the mass media is a very queeny case of pots and kettles. The entire website is a temple dedicated to the church of print and broadcast journalism. Sure, they spend all their time slagging it off (doesn’t everyone?), but it is quite clear that they are smitten (I could make an incredibly geeky comment about Buffy and, erm, Spike, but that would be intolerable. So I won’t).

But in the meantime, I simply ask this: who, aside from myself and Jonathan Calder, actually reads the thing? Is it really in any position to cast aspersions about the number of people who read weblogs? I don’t have any stats to back up my instincts, but somehow I doubt it, or they wouldn’t whinge every other week about how they need more money.

* Having said that, there is a section expounding the glory days of the RCP and LM in their hagiographic interview with fellow ex-RCPer Mark Durkin, maker of C4’s Great Global Warming Swindle.

The limits of collective bargaining

No-one can deny that collective bargaining has brought ordinary people very real rights that they could never have acquired through other means. Every employee in the country has a lot to be grateful to the Labour Movement.

But there comes a point where the disadvantages of the hive mind approach starts to outweigh the advantages. Arguably, that point was reached in the 1970s when the Unions began to behave as if they could order governments around, whether Labour or Conservative, which inevitably resulted in a backlash and thus their nemesis, the very much undead alive Mrs T.

I would argue that another example of its limitations is going on right now. For the last ten years, local authorities have been obliged to pay female workers on the same rates as male workers. Yet, fearful of job cuts, trade unions have been negotiating pay deals which undermine affected women workers, to the point that they have been frequently shown to be illegal.

In this case, collective bargaining has meant that unions have compromised womens’ rights, many of whom were never even consulted. Now, you might argue that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, but the law’s the law, and the union-brokered deals have relied on these women, some of the most vulnerable in society, being ignorant of their rights.

Women have had no recourse but to get solicitors to fight their corner, and there are plenty of solicitors willing to take these cases on on a no-win no-fee basis (not least of all because they have pretty cast iron cases).

This is, in fact, a classic example of capitalism working to empower and protect people’s rights. A cause for celebration? Well, according to trade unionists, the lawyers who are helping these women are, to quote Chris Mullin, “parasites”. This view was echoed by Phil Woolas on the Today programme on Tuesday. That vanguard of socialism Nick Cohen says much the same thing.

Some of us happen to think that rights are indivisible; if there is a genuine tension as in this case, then local authorities should consult with the whole workforce, not leave it to their buddies in the unions to stitch it up for them. If Labour truly believe that women’s rights can be negotiated away by (predominently male) trade unionists, they should simply put their money where their mouths are and scrap the Equal Opportunities Act. After all, we know they only consider their much vaunted all women shortlists a priority if one of Gordon Brown’s pals doesn’t want the seat.

The most grimly ironic thing about all this though is that it was Labour who introduced pro bono in the UK as a first step to their dismantlement of legal aid. Overall, I’m sure they will be comforted in the knowledge that where trade union incompetence hasn’t left them so open to legal action, vulnerable people will have much less recourse now.