Sunday, 21 October 2012

A company of heroes...

'A company of heroes......' Familiar with the Christy Moore song? Northamptonshire Libraries have invited me to launch my book 'Geordie's Story-the Life of Jack Brent'in the Carnegie Room at the Central Library in Abington Street on Sunday November 4th at 2pm. The small book is about my uncle Geordie,who was born in 1912 and died ,aged 39 in 1951. He was brought up in a wee village in South West Scotland, ran away to join the army,ran away from that,drifted through the depression in the 1930's and was wounded badly in a military engagement. Not a lot different from thousands of younf men, well that's true except he was wounded by a machine gunner in February 1937 in the defence of Madrid in Spain. Geordie was just one of many thousands from all over the world that volunteered to fight in the International Brigade in the defence of the elected Spanish government against the fascist insurgents led by General Franco. He was what we now call a premature anti-fascist. It is likely that the machine gunner was a German or an Italian, practising skills that they would later use all over Europe. It was during the Spanish Civil war that the fascists perfected the tactics that they would later use all over Europe.From the blitzkrieg to saturation bombing of civilian towns. Franco had no hesitation in calling on his fascist allies as well as his mercenaries from North Africa to destroy the Spanish Republic and it's legally elected Socialist government. Geordie was an ordinary working class guy, with little formal education but a clear understanding that fascism was the greatest threat to mankind. I'm not naive enough to believe that World war two could have been stopped outside Madrid, but what is clear is that had the west not believed that non-intervention and appeasement was the route then the fascists could have been delayed, and the world might have been better equipped to confront the fascist tide. The men and women who went to Spain went with no illusions, they didn't go for money or power or even glory.They went in solidarity with the people of Spain.It was a simple act of solidarity and internationalism. There were of course weaknesses within the progressive forces, the internecine conflicts between the Communists,the Trotskyists and the Anarchists did hinder the anti-fascist struggle. Yet they fought with astonishing bravery and showed a unity of purpose undimmed after seventyfive years. Geordie when he returned struggled with enormous pain for the rest of his short life.Yet despite endless hospitalisation he managed to be a Communist Party activist,managed or organise Londoners to occupy the tube stations during the blitz and as the General Secretary of the International Brigade Association campaign to free Brigaders in internment camps all over occupied Europe,save the lives of many imprisoned comrades and ensure that the British Government used the skills and experience of former Brigaders in the British army. Times have changed, and the possibility of such interventions are not really relevant any more.I remember many years ago when as an ardent young communist I was part of a group who wanted to go and fight alongside the National Liberation Front in Vietnam.We met a delightful representative of the NLF who thanked us very gently but pointed out that the Vietnamese people could really manage without us,but extra medical aid would be appreciated! Some might argue that the young jihadists who volunteer to fight in the Middle East are part of that tradition. I think not,whilst it is right to get rid of autocratic dictatorships it is not a progressive move to replace them with theocratic dictatorships.To attempt to kill a child because she wants to go to school just about sums up the monstrousness. Internationalism is no longer a question of armed struggle,but never has the world needed an internationalism more. The capitalist system is the most organised and systematic international power ever created.Capital can move its resources and power at a whim with the press of a button. We need to be able to do the same,when the powerful cabal decide to close a factory here and open one elsewhere we need to be able to mobilise,not just the workers in one factory-but worldwide and simultaneously. Effective communication is now possible, and international solidarity is essential.I have been impressed by the growth and resilience of the worldwide Occupy Movement. That is the new internationalism,that is the lesson we must try and take forward from the struggle back then. And perhaps to give more hope, what was the slogan thosebrave young women wore in Moscow when challenging Putin and the theocracy? No Paseran! Look forward to continuing this discussion on the 4th of November-its free!

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

One nation Labour?

                                                           One Nation Labour?

Am I the only person who finds it odd that the newest slogan that Ed Miliband can dredge up for the'Not the New Labour Party' is the 'One nation' idea first coined by a Tory Prime Minister over 140 years ago!
Disraeli first played with the idea in his virtually unreadable novel 'Sybil' and it has hung around in various guises ever since.
But then Tories have quite frequently wrung their hands and whimpered about the conditions of the poor.Why even that absurd apology for a caring Prince-Edward, Mrs Simpson's paramour visited the destitute Welsh vallies in the thirties and bleated about the need to do something.
Fat chance!

Of course there is something that Labour could advocate that would indeed start to build one nation,or rather demolish once and for all the gross inequalities that exist.How about a real land tax,indeed what's wrong with going the whole hog and promising land nationalisation of the 70% of the land owned by 0.28% of the population.
In a sense the Lib-Dems are ion the right track with their mansion tax, but frankly that only scratches the surface.
The real crime and dreadful inequality is that 42 million acres in this country are designated 'agricultural' and get between £3.5-5 billion in subsidies.On the other-hand domestic land use accounts for 5% (3 million acres) and pays £33.2 billion in land taxes.
Now if I thought that this vast dollop of subsidies were going to dear old Archer-style farmers, strimming their mangel wurzels and the like and growing produce for all of us-no problem-I'd even doff my plebeian cloth cap in their direction.
But of course it's not.
For instance in 2011 the hard pressed House of Windsor copped £730,628 in subsidies,
Chas Windsor £127,868
Prince Bander of Saudi Arabia a mere £273,905
The Vestey Family a stonking £1,069,731
and so it goes on, the Duke of Buccleuch,the Earl of Plymouth,the Duke of Devonshire,the Duke of Atholl...
Not to mention large multi-nationals,water companies and even Eton College.

They get subsidies simply for owning land, .it's part ofv the EU's Common Agricultural Policy and there is no requirement on the 'farmers'to grow any crops or indeed any other agricultural product.And the beauty of this little scam is the more land you have-productive or not-the more you get in subsidy and of course the less you pay in tax.

Now Comrade Miliband, in the week that Eric Hobsbawn died,perhaps it is time to restart the forward march of Labour.
Instead of piffling about with the one nation rhetoric and getting drooling admiration in Manchester, maybe it's time to consider some of the ideas thatb started the forward march of Labour in the first place.

What's so wrong about ridding this country of the parasitic land owners ?
How about adopting the slogan:
"Free the People's Grouse!".

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

CONFERENCES-Busy doing nothing....

On Sunday last BBC Radio 4 did the nation a great service.It presented a new version of that 1968 classic play by Alan Plater 'Close the coal-house door'  with music by  Alex Glasgow.
It was the story in words and music of the Durham miners, and featured the song 'the Socialist ABC'
If you are unfamiliar with it, find it on the BBC or just google it, I promise you it will be worth it if you have the slightest twinge of socialist ideology left in your battered social democratic body!
For those that remember it, I give you the final verse:
"W's for all willing workers,
And that's where the memory fades,
For X,Y,and Zed,'my dear daddy said,
Will be written on the street barricades.'
Now that I'm not a little tiny boy,
My daddy says to me,
Please try and forget those things that I said,
Especially the ABC.'
For daddy is no longer a union man,
And he's had to change his plea.
His alphabet is different now,
Since they made him a Labour MP.

Thyev song reminded me what instinctively I always knew, and just publishing the biography of my uncle who fought with the Internationals in Spain has reinforced the ideology that I have always held.
When in 1972 Marie and I came to Northampton it seemed a political wilderness after the heady times of Hackney and Islington.
In Hackney we had co-edited the 'Stoke Newington Peoples Paper', we were founder members of Islington CARD(Campaign against racial discrimination) we had be courted by the International  Socialists and were members of a tiny group called Theoretical Practice(based on the work of Althusser)
Northampton had no revolutionary ferment and we were getting older.The only game in town was the LabourPparty, and our neighbour then was the widow of a castle Ward Labour Councillor and the doyen of the local party branch.
We decided to give it a whirl,but set ourselves five years to change the party or escape to indolence.
That was of course the early 70's, within a year i was a castle Ward Councillor and the Labour party was in ferment.Of course we acknowledged that it would never be a full blooded socialist party,but there seemed then the possibility of a thriving social-democratic party that would create some change,some progress.

Of course time passed and we got seduced by the comfort zone that the Labour Party provided, small incremental gains seems possible, and there was always the challenge of debate and discussion, and battles aplenty at GMC,District party, regional and national level.

Being a Labour Party member in the difficult 80's was no picnic,but we battled on with a growing anger that how much longer would people put up with Thatcher and the accursed free market ideology.
Come 1997 we were all so tired of banging our heads against the obdurate brick wall of reaction that the merest possibility of a change in government allowed us to be seduced by the siren voice of Blair and New Labour.
We should have known, they stopped calling it a party and talked about 'the project', they cut the party loose from it's history-no clause 4,no ending the Tory proscriptions of Trade unions,and the willing continuation for two years of the Tory financial programmes!
We should have known then that it would all end in tears, we should have known that Trident would float on undisturbed and cruel tragedies like Iraq would happen.
the signs were all there, we just allowed the euphoria of winning to blind ourselves to the fact that the Labour Party was not even a social democratic party any more.
What exists now is a hollowed out shell, a vote gathering machine that really does not understand what its gathering votes for.In a Times editorial last week it was pointed out that in many parties fifty people can select amongst themselves 20 or 30 councillors.Instead of selection conferences in each ward,the process is self selecting.There are often more seats around than candidates-such is the poverty of experience.
Worse still MP's can be selected by aggregate meetings often of less than a hundred! So any old retread,even one with a dodgy dossier of fiddling expenses can get back.
That is of course true of all the parties,but the problems appears to be at its worst in the Labour party,where in the absence of political theory,the machinery of 'democratic centralism' appears to be order of the day.

Fifty odd years ago I was expelled from the Youg Communist league because I found myself at odds with the democratic centralist model.One of the reasons I remained for so long in the Labour Party apart from inertia)  was the sense that real debate happened in Charles Street and progress could be made.

We all looked forward to conference and fought hard,ward by ward,union branch bty union branch to get our resolution,first through the GMC and then to conference.
How many resolutions were discussed at Northampton South this year?
How did the mandating meeting for the delegate go? Was Northampton South following the National Executive line or opposing the centre?

Sunday, 2 September 2012

When politics get weird-the weird get going!

The big moment of the Republican Party Convention in Tampa Florida- the warm up act for candidate Romney-none other than Dirty Harry himself-Clint Eastwood!
Now some PR wonk in the bowels of the Republican political machine must have thought that a good idea.
82 year old movie actor famed for his tough guy roles to introduce the buttoned-up Mormon(maybe one too many 'm's there) and give the convention a touch of class.
Well it proved several things, Eastwood can only work off a script,and a monosyllabic one at that.Left to do his piece unscripted it was excruciating,mind you it will live for ever on You Tube as the ultimate in weird!
For not only did the strange old man ramble on fifteen minutes too long,forcing Romney to lose the end of his speech to the millions on TV-that was bad enough.
But Clint talked to an empty chair.
The poor delusional old guy thought he was talking to an invisible President Obama.
Perhaps he thought there was a six foot white rabbit called Harvey on stage with him,maybe he could see a six foot white rabbit!
That American politics is dysfunctional is an accepted fact, indeed a party that selects as the number two a numpty that believes rape victims have some sort of magical powers that can distinguish an evil rapists sperm from a benign lovers little fellows really is far from reality!
Imagine the un-fertilised hanging about in the womb seeing the wee tadpole wriggling towards it and turning to its fellow eggs:
"Don't touch this one girls-its a naughty rapists progeny!"
The politics of the surreal.
But its what you get in the absence of any ideology or theory or direction based on logical thinking.
It's as if the enlightenment has never happened and the world is consumed by brutish ignorant calibans with the crudest grasp on reality.
It's what happens when you allow sixteenth century religious beliefs come up against the rational.Increasingly the rational loses out to the emotionally stunted.
If I thought that it was only a feature of modern American society I would be worried but feel comforted by the thought that the enlightenment was a European concept and maybe the Atlantic is proving an obstacle.

But the great fear is that the world has gone backwards!
The founding fathers were rational men who wanted a state that was rational and whilst offering freedom for almost all, regarded the separation of church and state as essential.
John Adams,Tom Jefferson and the others were in favour of religious tolerance,after all many of the early settlers were fleeing religious persecution in Europe.But they also recognised the value of education,science and a democratic settlement.
Where on earth has it all gone wrong?
Presidential candidates who believe in blokes finding gold plates buried in fields outside New York that decreed that all adherents must wear dodgy underwear,and that was the promise of eternal salvation!

But their absurd and dangerous fundamentalism is just as daft and dangerous as every other sort of fundamentalism.There is in my mind no difference between the Taliban and the extreme Zionists in Israel and the Protestant extremists in Ulster and the Catholic dogmatists in the Vatican.
The brutal treatment of the Pussy Riot girls in Moscow is just one more sighting of the intolerance that seems everywhere.
And when we look at Britain, there is a growing trend of intolerance and bigotry.I have always assumed that the right of the spectrum have always held views rooted in pre-enlightenment days.But how can Liberal-Democrats buy into the new brutal-ism of the neocons in the coalition.
And finally the Labour Party, which long ago abandoned its socialist tolerance but now seems to have abandoned even its Methodist traditions too.listen to any recent Labour Home Secretary and you hear only the shallow rhetoric of the UKIP baroom.

Gordon Brown talked about his moral compass, he may well have had one,but in the rush to court the goodwill of the Daily Mail readership I think New Labour(because that's what it still is) has pawned the compass and bought a new blackjack!
So don't laugh too loudly comrades at Mitt and Clint and the other jackasses.
Think of the road New Labour has travelled, and think how often these days the fundamentalists in the cabinet can point to polices they are enacting and say:
"Not us guv, we inherited student fees,immigration controls,health service privatisation,welfare cuts ......"

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Prince Harry has an arse- big deal!

So it would appear that Prince Harry has an arse
Hold the front page!
As a matter of fact not only has Prince Harry got an arse but he is an arse.
He is a highly privileged younger son of another arse  who has even fewer redeeming features.
Harry is an average arrogant satrap whom the popular press are portraying as 'just a high spirited young soldier'.
Well if the British Army is full of 'high spirited young soldiers'who can afford to blow £450 on a bottle of vodka and rent a hotel room in  Vegas for a couple of thousand a  night then clearly we are paying our soldiers far too much.
Get rid of the National Debt? Simples-cut back the salary of army officers for a few weeks.

The story,such that it is,should not be about a 27 year old posh boy flashing his bollocks or wresting with a blonde bimbo in his hotel suite.
A suite incidentally where along with his expensive armed police protection unit he was able to fit in another 25 merry pranksters guzzling his vodka and champagne.
Sorry I got that wrong, it was NOT his vodka and champagne it was OUR vodka and champagne.
Of course we will be told that the boy billiard player is of course using his money, the vast sums he earns as an army officer supplemented by what his Mum left him in his trust fund,plus what his Gran doles out in pocket money (except of course he appears to have no pockets).
But none of that is strictly true other than the wage he gets for being in the armed forces.Whatever he gets from his mothers trust fund was money that she got in her divorce settlement from Charles.
And where did he get his millions from?
Why the same place his Gran gets all her millions from-us!

An awful lot of decent people are taken in by the romance and grandeur of a bunch of minor German aristocrats.Look how hard the Saxe-Coberg-Gothas work is a frequent refrain.
Well if putting one foot in front of another,shaking a few hands and behaving as ifv the world owes them a living-I suppose you can call that working.

The mantra ofv the coalition is that we are all in this together!-well it would appear that some of us can jet off to the fleshpots of Vegas at the drop of a coronet and have a fine old time at our expense.

The royals are a collection of parasites that have no capacity to inspire,no capacity to lead and deserve oblivion not fawning and amazement that they each have an arse.

Every time the issue of the purpose of the monarchy is questioned the loyal subjects bleat that the alternative would be too awful to contemplate.What would happen if we had a President Putin, or worse a President Blair.
Well if we had a President at some time they would have to stand for election(unless of course you were Putin) and even the worst of them would pass on  eventually.(Unless it was the Kim Il dynasty of course)

But the Presidential model is not the only one available,it is probably a good thing to have a ceremonial head of state,a bit like the Mayor of a town,but it is not essential.It would be perfectly possible for a mature parliamentary democracy like this one to get by without a Lord High Heid Yin.

And if all else fails there is always the Speaker of the House of Commons-Bercow the First! 

Friday, 27 July 2012

We're all professionals now!
Time to return to the blog now the book is finished.
You can still read my now monthly column in the now weekly Chronicle & Echo,but its time again to put on my despairing hat and further depress myself.
In the current edition of the London Review of Books,the historian Ross McKibbin casts jaundiced eye over modern British politics,and shares a miserablist view similar to Jones in 'Chavs',a much more polemical  but no less gloomy prognosis.There was a time when I felt part of the 'half full tendency-but not for much longer.
McKibbin says,not totally originally that a factor that needs to be taken into account for the current state of affairs is:
"The first one,now a cliché,is the extreme professionalism of politics.Politics today is now dominated by a comparatively young elite for whom politics is all of life.And politics is less a matter of legislative achievement-though that still matters-than of electoral success,and that is won by those who are part of the system,even if it means flying to Queensland9as Blair did)to impress the arch mediaman himself.
Social-Democratic political parties are particularly vulnerable-and not only in Britain.As they abandoned socialism,however defined,and moved to a vague progressivism,a vacuum was created which has been partly validated by electoral success.Although the revelations of the last year have most embarrassed Cameron,himself very much a product of the system,it was the last Labour government that brought that system to perfection."
I grew up in a family and a generation where we never talked about 'politics'-that was an abstraction, a bourgeois notion that belonged to a different world.I grew up thinking about socialism- the creation of a new world order,a world of equality,justice,without poverty or great wealth.
Silly old ,or rather little,egalitarian me! I was taken to concerts by Paul Robeson, listened to records of Woody Guthrie,read the' Ragged Trousered Philanthropists' and 'How the Steel was Tempered', joined the YCL and CND  and argued long into the night about the British Road to Socialism.
We never talked about politics!
Growing up I had contempt for the careerists in the Labour Party,but at least recognised that many of them were working people trying to get out of their overalls and into a suit.
I'm not a prolecult dinosaur, I have always recognised that the creation of a socialist movement requires everyone to participate(with the possible exception of the Saxe-Coberg dynasty who had a special place reserved for them) and that we needed the workers,the middle class,the intelligentsia-there was even a place for lawyers!(Remember the Russian revolution nearly floundered because nobody could work the telephone exchange )
But the history of the Labour Party has shown that many of the representatives of the working class,once elected to parliament or even council were more reactionary than anyone else.
And even in parliament today those remnants of the working class have been seduced by the comforts of the surroundings.Even an old lefty warhorse like Dennis Skinner,who now has spent far longer on the green benches than down the pit,has become a pet of thye house.
And when did Alan Johnston last deliver a letter/Or John Prescott serve a drink?
But at least those parliamentarians had a vestage of some sort of ideology that was once class based.
Now the 'profession ' is politics, and they could go anywhere-Blair joined the Labour Party not out of socialist conviction but because a moribund party was a good place for an apolitical young barrister to start out.
New Labour destroyed any socialist ideology that remained and in the hollowed out shell that remains all that exists is young careerists with employment paths not dissimilar to those in the other two parties.
And please, if anyone tries to tell me that Gordon Brown was in any way left wing or a socialist-he was the bloody chancellor who kept New Labour on the Thatcherite flight plan.
The only argument that my old comrades have is that labour is better than the others!
hardly a ringing endorsement of a socialist alternative.

Monday, 2 January 2012

New Year-almost new blog

The last time I blogged was in April last year.Being elderly and lazy I have relied on my weekly column in the Chronicle & Echo(every Wednesday in case you didn;t know!) to convey my thoughts and ramblings.
However a new year,a new dawn,a new epoch ...enough of the new already.
I have decided to try and do a blog a week to supplement the Wednesday opinion forming experience.
It will also help whoever has taken to tapping into my thought processes.
Consider the following:
Last week my column was a consideration of the political shifts taking place in this country and in general I drew attention to the rise and rise of Alex Salmond and the SNP.
The SNP have reinvented themselves from twenty or thirty years ago when they were simply 'tartan tories', tartan clad eegits more concerned about knitting porridge and hanging about on grouse moors communing with their flying relatives.
Salmond and a determined left of centre caucus has changed them into a radical social democratic party that have moved firmly into the place that Labour used to occupy in Scottish politics.
I have never had much time for Scottish Labour, for decades they have been corrupt sectarian bastards who have sat in huge majorities and done fuck all squared for the people of Scotland.
They got a bit of a fright a few years ago when Tommy Sheridan and the SSP terrified the bejasus out of them with a string of election victories in the last MSP elections.
But the SSP was built on too many sulphurous tendencies and internal conflicts to survivelong (ever the fate of small left wing groups) and the SLP breathed again.
But never lost its machine politics core or its exclusive brethren tendency.
After all Labour has been seen for decades as a nursery for Westminster shoo-ins, after all if they couldn't win a central belt seat they must have been real numpties.
So Labour neglected its heartlands and its natural constituencies.
The SNP picked up quickly that Scotland would not be won in the Highlands and Islands,but rather in the great urban centres and the west of Scotland.Jim Sillars the former Labour MP from Ayrshire proved that to them decades ago.
So Scotland will progress to independence,or a at least to an independent nation in a federal structure.Scotland may remain in a lose federation with England,Wales and a united Ireland but it will in due course have its own membership of the EU,its own foreign policy and its own defence capability.
having written my warning to Millipede and given praise to Alex, low and behold -'The Times',the day before my column announces Salmond as their politician of the year!
Now this week, my column, yet unpublished,speculates that the Republican primary in Iowa,due tomorrow,might well throw up Rick Santorum,the mildly barmy evangelical as the front runner.

Now I'm the first to admit that Obama hasn't lived up to his promise, after all Guantanamo is still open-for Christ's sake! and there is always the danger if things get squeaky for him then a pre-emptive strike on Iran is not out of the question-but compared to the crazies running for the GOP, Obama is at least on this planet.

Never in the field of human conflict can so many misfits,social inadequate s,religious bigots, dim bigots and simply the last remnants of a mediocre food chain have gathered together.
The only common feature is that they are all very rich and most would prefer to eat poor folk than have them vote for them!

With that background,I suggested the rise of Santorum ,though just as mad as a box of frogs,might be seen as a stop Romney candidate

My old comrade Don from SF put these thoughts in my mind in a private e-mail.
So what do I find in today's Times?
A editorial piece by John Bolton suggesting that mad Rick might be the winner!
Now Bolton is the former Bush ambassador to the United Nations and is the spitting image of Mr Pastry(or Jim Harker) and has all the political skills of Mr Pastry-but it is spooky!
Now knowing that Murdoch owns the Times what is going on here?
Are they intercepting my copy as it does to the Chron?
Are they intercepting my thoughts as they emerge from the keyboard?
Or am I the world's first political psychic?
In which case, can I tell myself the next winner at Towcester?