Saturday, December 14, 2002


PROFESSOR Mona Baker, the leader of the movement to boycott Israeli academics, is "in cahoots with Britain’s leading anti-semitic lunatic, David Irving" says Giles Coren in the Times.

"One is so often implored to remember that not all anti-Zionists are anti-Semites. But not all of them aren’t. And Irving is one who is, " points out Coren in his article based Irving's comments that he received an email from Baker.

Egyptian-born Baker, a lecturer at UMIST in Manchester, dismissed two Israeli scholars, from a journal under here directorship as part of her campaign to boycott Israeli academics.

This story has been picked up by Stephen Pollard and Conservative Commentary but I think it is worth repeating here given that some on the left have offered their backing to Baker's campaign to boycott Israeli academics.

One of the academics she fired for the 'crime' of being Israeli citizen was Miriam Schlesinger a former chair of the Israeli branch of Amnesty International and was noted for being very much part of the left peace camp - which just goes to show the ridiculous nature of such blanket boycotts - hurting those the left should be supporting.

posted by BA on 2:46 PM link

Six Iraqi opposition groups met in London on Saturday but the chances of this being similar to the Bonn meeting that helped create the post-Taliban Afghan government look limited. Nonetheless lets hope that the US administration's attitude is more constructive than the one outlined by an official in this recent Washington Post preview of the meeting.

There appear to be some in Washington who see the Iraqi opposition's wish for a role in the liberation of their country as being little more than technical consultants.
"Other than that, I don't see anything rapid about giving Iraqi exiles much authority," a senior US official told the Post, "They can't even get their act together."

Given that the opponents of Saddam range from Communists to bankers, monarchists and Kurdish groups to Iranian-backed Islamists it is not surprising that there are divisions. Perhaps a more explicit commitment to a plan for a post-Saddam Iraq from the US will help to unify the groups however.

A more positive (or optimistic?) approach is taken by Ghassan Atiyyah in a piece for Open Democracywhich also looks at the history of such opposition fronts.

The question of what role for the Iraqi opposition is obviously an important one for people on the left debating the pros and cons of war. This New York Times article (Reg required) goes through the debate currently ongoing among people on the left in the States.

posted by BA on 1:15 PM link

Thursday, December 12, 2002


ROLLING IN money, completely cut off from the vast majority of people, and stark staring bonkers. That's the picture of the Blairs and their circle that emerges from the scandal surrounding Cherie Blair's property dealings.

OK, which tabloid do you reckon led their Cheriegate story today with the above? The Sun? The Daily Star? The Daily Mail?

Nope - 'twas none other than our friends at the incisive and analyitical Socialist Worker

"The two flats scandal is part of the whole filthy rich world the Blairs live in. Cherie pockets over £200 an hour as a top lawyer and part time judge, " they shout with indignation.

Two hundred quid eh?

Just wondering of course but how much does the Socialist Worker's Paul Foot, the aristocratic son of the former governer of Jamaica get paid for his newspaper columns? I wonder how much Socialist Workers Party resident 'comedian' Mark Steel gets paid for his weak efforts in the Independent or for his tv appearances and live performances?

And as far lawyers? Perrlease!" Almost a third of the SWP-backed Socialist Alliance's named supporters in the general election were lawyers! Even so-called 'human rights lawyers' like Cherie?

Obviously all part of the filthy rich world in which the SWP live.

But wait. We might not be surprised that an ultra-left tabloid is echoing the line of the Tory 'popular press' but there is actually a bit of juicy tabloid info buried underneath all the ranting - the word of an ex-Labour Party member who applied for a job with the Blair family as a nanny before Tony became leader of the Labour Party.

"I was asked to attend an interview at their house in Trimdon, County Durham, where he has his constituency. Trimdon is an ex mining town. It is a very depressed area with high unemployment. Yet the Blairs' four-bedroomed house was the biggest in the whole village. Blair had a private secretary, a housekeeper and a cook.

"I was interviewed by Cherie in the kitchen. I didn't even get introduced to the children. Cherie laid down the rules. I was supposed to look after the kids, who were all pre-school, all day. I had to be prepared to get up in the middle of the night. I had to do washing, shopping and meals. At the time I was in the Labour Party.

Tony Blair phoned me in the evening and offered me the job. Then he told me I would get £65 a week. I just laughed. It was well below the going rate and the minimum wage"

Hmm, call me cynical but while Paul Foot and Mark Steel earn their lucrative salaries how much do staff at Socialist Worker get paid?

Wouldn't by any chance be well below the going rate and the minimium wage would it?

posted by BA on 9:11 AM link

Ex-Trotskyist Christopher Hitchens gives his take on the new world order in this piece for Slate.

The plain fact remains that when the rest of the world wants anything done in a hurry, it applies to American power. If the "Europeans" or the United Nations had been left with the task, the European provinces of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo would now be howling wildernesses, Kuwait would be the 19th province of a Greater Iraq, and Afghanistan might still be under Taliban rule.

posted by BA on 8:35 AM link

Wednesday, December 11, 2002


So Cherie Blair has finally 'broken her silence' and dealt with the whole Bristol flats episode. A storm in a teacup affair of course but as Jonathan Freedland points out in his guide to handling a scandal, the actual content doesn't really matter.

It is the attempt to cover-up which is always what sticks from these episodes and if Mrs Blair had come out with her afternoon chat show stuff right at the start the thing might have blown over rather more quickly.

But the attempt by some to portray a Q.C and part-time judge, wife of a Prime Minister and a woman with half a million quid to spend on student flats (or speculate on the property market?) as some working class hero is a bit rich. I am sure she is a busy lady but I suspect those single mothers who had their benefits cut by Mr.Blair's government have a few more headaches other than needing friends to help with fashion tips.

Those who say she should now stay out of public life though are out of order. We have no need for a first-lady in British politics that is true (we spend enough on the woman who is actually head of state) but there really is nothing wrong with Mrs Blair helping out charities nor helping her husband out at functions - indeed if all she did was focus on her career she would be accused by some of showing no interest in the disadvantaged and just looking after number-one.

Just one thing though - that cheesy smile really does my head in - oh yes and she is a scouser.

posted by BA on 3:48 AM link

Tuesday, December 10, 2002


Matthew Engel was a great cricket writer but I haven't really followed his writings since he moved to the US. Not surprisingly as he writes for the Guardian the right-wing US bloggers have not taken kindly to a liberal Englishman daring to pass observations on their country and its politics - so I have decided to keep an eye out.

Engel raises two interesting items in his column today. One is the emergence of an alternative to Al Gore as Democratic candidate for the next presidential election - John F Kerr (what initials for a Massachusetts liberal!).

The other is the outragous comment of Trent Lott, leader of the Senate Republicans, who last week paid tribute to Strom Thurmond, the pro-segregation candidate in the 1948 presidential elections, who recently celebrated his 100th birthday. It is not exaggerating to say this is the equivelent of a senior frontbench Tory praising Oswald Moseley.

Lott recalled the fact that his own state had voted for Thurmond as president. "We're proud of it," he said. "And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either."

In other words if the US had voted to maintain segregation of blacks and whites things would have turned out better. This is a senior US politician representing the ruling party arguing that apartheid would have been a better than democracy.

There are plenty of bloggers in the US who never tire of claiming there is some liberal bias in the US media (we have a few with the same fantasy in the UK) but as Engel points out, these comments have hardly made waves in the US:

"Lott's remarks have been picked up by a handful of newspapers and TV stations and none of the news agencies. What does a Republican have to do to cause outrage in this place? Demand the return of slavery? "

posted by BA on 3:25 AM link

The Tories have rounded upon Michael Heseltine after his call yesterday for the parliamentary party to get rid of Iain Duncan Smith and the language being used illustrates again the bitter divides within a party once considered 'the natural party of government'.

There is a trend for eighties nostalgia in pop music at the moment with The Human League, Five Star and Kim Wilde all on tour and this eighties revival is crossing-over into politics - Heseltine returns and so Norman Tebbit is brought out to bark back at him.

Indeed we are seeing quite a lot of Tebbit of late, he was on Question Time last week and he has been doing a number of newspaper interviews. The former Tory chairman denounced Lord Heseltine as "a serial Conservative assassin". He said: "It cannot be a coincidence that just as the Blairs are floundering in a sea of sleaze, lies and incompetence, Michael Heseltine comes to their rescue with an attack on the Conservative leadership. He did it to William Hague. Indeed, he did it to Margaret Thatcher. I suspect he would do it to any leader except Michael Heseltine."

Good old Norm, he never pulled any punches and it is great to see him back adding a bit of life and colour to the Tory infighting. And is this not classic Trot talk? "It cannot be a coincidence?" - a clear accusation of betrayal of being a fifth-column.

But there should be a limit to this revivalism - do we really need to hear from the odious Sir Norman Fowler again? What next Kenneth Baker?

Of course the most strikingly eighties aspect of all this is the very obvious comparison (made by many people already) between the modern Tories and Labour under Michael Foot and the early Kinnock years.

Iain Murray on Edge of England's Sword rejected the view that there is a similarity between the extremists in local Tory parties and the Trotskyite Militant tendency in the Labour Party in the eighties he said: "The comparison to Militant is ludicrous. Militant did not represent the wishes of the average member of the Labour Party and Hezza used to say as much".

There is a limit to this analogy of course. In Labour the problem I think was not so much with party members attitude to Militant but the public's. The average Labour Party member in the mid-eighties quite liked the Militant proposal of nationalising the top 200 monopolies. They may not have warmed to Militants style and method (who could?) but the fact that Militant was able to worm its way to positions of influence showed two things - 1. A latent sympathy to these 'good socialists' among many on the left and 2. The moribund nature of so many consituency parties which allowed the hard left to easily take control.

The fact for the Tories, who have a fair few moribund local parties, is that they too are not connecting with voters. However much people may be disappointed by Labour or turned of by the Blair clan there is little sign of this converting itself into popular support for the Tories - the choice within the Tory party is remarkably similar to the one that Labour faced with one crucial exception.

The Clarke-Portillo Tories (like the Labour modernisers of the past) want to move to the centre ground in a bid to connect with potential voters while their opponents (like the old left) believe a more radical (in their case particularly anti-Euro) approach will attract greater support. However Labour was able to capture the centre ground under Smith and then Blair because it was perceived to have been vacated. Now Labour firmly occupies the centre - is their room for the Tories?

As a final thought on this - one thing that really riled me in the eighties was Tories who lectured the Labour Party on how to run its affairs - as if they cared. I am not going to take sides in this battle - I don't support the Tories at all and while I agree that a lively and effective opposition aids a healthy democratic debate the battle that concerns me is the one to win Labour back to some decent social-democratic principles.

As far as the Tories are concerned I think I shall sit back and enjoy the nostalgic experience of all the colourful language, bitter accusations of betrayal and entertaining in-fighting - and after Heseltine, Tebbit and Fowler, I can't wait to see who is going to be next up. Is she up to it?

posted by BA on 2:40 AM link

Despite government claims that their Private Finance Initiative programme is closely monitored, a study by a think-tank traditionally close to the Prime Minister has found that, out of 378 PFI projects completed by central and local government, only 23 had been given any independent evaluation by official audit bodies.

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) study also reveals that there is little evidence that this controversial policy is delivering benefits to hospitals and schools and not surprisingly for anyone with any experience of the public sector, found that decision-makers feel pressured into adopting PFI because they believe it is the only way to win government approval for their projects. Story

posted by BA on 2:00 AM link

Monday, December 09, 2002

I have often wondered how full-time professional journalists managed to earn a living from weblogs - today one of the top US-based bloggers Andrew Sullivan explains it all -- they don't.

Sullivan produces a high-quality site full of his well-written and articulate conservative views, a far cry from the rabid warblogs I have complained about elsewhere, but he is now asking for donations to help him carry on producing the site. His idea is a pledge week, with regular readers donating $20 each to help make it slightly worth his while to carry on blogging.

"If we succeed this week in providing a financial basis for the next year, I'll keep on bloggin'. If we don't, I'll have to rethink. I simply can't do what's becoming a full time job for nothing any more. And I really want to avoid making people pay for the site, through a toll-booth or paid-only access. After two years of voluntary work, it's time to move forward."

Sullivan's material is mostly original comment and I imagine that there would be some readers of his who would be willing to pay a regular subscription to access his thoughts - but he is surely among a tiny handful of bloggers that could charge. It is early days still in Blogland but already the market logic that led to the end of so many free services on the web is coming into play.

I wouldn't expect many to turn commercial however. Those such as Instapundit, who provide rapid-fire links to breaking news stories as well as scouring the web for interesting comment/features, get a huge amount of hits but rely so much on other people's material that they would surely come across legal problems in going pay-per-blog.

What the Sullivan statement does reveal for sure is that all those ads for Amazon books and the donation jars, probably aren't making the bloggers as much money as some may have imagined.

Which reminds me - I better get back to work.

posted by BA on 7:21 AM link

Roy Hattersley presents a stirring defence of Gordon Brown in a piece which shows him at his sarky best. Dismissing the whispering campaigns suggesting Brown could be on his way, Hattersley says:

"In fact, Gordon Brown will remain in office until, having succeeded Tony Blair as prime minister, he decides that the time has come for reading and writing - two other characteristics which set him aside from the rest of the Labour leadership."

He also says that the claims the late John Smith wanted Blair not Brown to succeed him are nonsense: . "That is not what he said to me a fortnight before he died. Arguing over the graves of dead heroes is a demeaning way to conduct political debate. But when I read the claim about John Smith's preference, I could not help counting the attributes which Smith and Brown had in common. One of them might explain some of the briefing against the chancellor. Brown, like John Smith long ago, does not plan to put Peter Mandelson in his cabinet. "

So that's what its all about then?

And I would have thought the Blair family might have had enough trouble from strange, power-hungry, egotistical opportunists of late.

posted by BA on 5:31 AM link

So who is to blame for the state of the Conservative Party? Michael Heseltine has returned to the political scene with a bang this morning in an interview with the Independent.

Heseltine astutely observes that the party is suffering not only from a dud leadership under IDS but also from an extremist membership that could block any hope of the party regaining the centre ground.

"The members of the Conservative Party are repeating, in a worrying way, what happened to the Labour Party in the early 1980s. They have closed in on themselves and withdrawn to the more extreme wing of the party. You see that now in their selections for candidates for the European elections. You see it in elections for the leadership of the party. It is not working. We are at around 31 per cent in the polls when we would need to be at 48 to 50 per cent to have a ghost of a chance of winning the next election. There's no prospect of achieving those ratings under the present management," says Heseltine.

The solution is remarkably Blairite - if you don't like your membership - ignore them and disenfranchise them. Heseltine suggests a seperate leadership for the parliamentry party to the party 'in the country' .

His hope is for a 'dream ticket' of Kenneth Clarke as leader with Michael Portillo as deputy - a line-up that would certainly worry Labour much more than current non-entities but one which would without doubt rile the right-wing of the party.

Of course Labour solved this problem by expelling Militant and closing down entire branches. It will be fascinating to see if the Tory party is in any way ready for the kind of bloodletting that would come from Heseltine's proposal. I doubt it.

posted by BA on 5:13 AM link

Guardian-bashing is probably the second favourite pastime of the right-wing American bloggers (Fisking being the undisputed number one) and so I suspect we are in for some fun now that one of the paper's most left-wing columnists Gary Younge is to become the New York correspondent.

Younge looked set to become a politician at one time when he was among the saner elements on the Trot-infested left of the National Union of Students - instead he has made his name for himself as a journalist by becoming one of just two black broadsheet columnists in Britain.

In his final column he deals with those critics who felt he allowed himself to be 'pigeon-holed' by writing so much about race. I suspect it was a no-win situation. If he had ignored race he would have had to deal with accusations from others that he forget his 'responsibilities'.

posted by BA on 4:58 AM link

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