Saturday, March 15, 2003


Barham Salih, Prime Minister of the Kurdistan region in Sulaymaniyah, northern Iraq, the liberated zone guarded by the RAF and a man often quoted by Nick Cohen and others on the left who oppose the Saddam regime, has written an impassioned plea to the British left to back liberation of Iraq.

Read it, copy it, post it to every anti-war friend you know. Stick it on message boards, link it on your blog and get his message across.

"The cost to Iraqis of sparing the Baathist dictatorship is rarely calculated. Iraqis are overlooked by an anti-Americanism that does not understand why we need military action to break our shackles. Some call for civil disobedience to impede the bid to free Iraq. In Iraq, civil disobedience is a death sentence. "

posted by BA on 5:31 PM link

It really says it all that today's protests in London by UK-based Iraqis merit just a footnote at the bottom of a Guardian round-up of the latest series of 'anti-war' marches

While the comfortably-off British middle-classes make their usual calls for nothing to be done about the fascist regime in Baghdad its victims show their support for Tony Blair's position and condemn France's line.

Unlike the Tarquin and Tabatha protesters, the Iraqi exiles won't get much coverage in the papers so I will put it in bold here:

Hundreds of people from Britain's Iraqi community were today protesting outside the Houses of Parliament in support of an attack on Iraq, and a petition was being delivered to the French embassy in central London to register opposition to the stance of the French president, Jacquest Chirac.

The protest coincides with the 15th anniversary of the Halabja massacre, where 5,000 Kurds were killed after the Iraqi government ordered a chemical weapons attack.

It really isn't so difficult to work out which side to be on is it?

AFTERTHOUGHT: I'm going to moniter the media coverage on Sunday, if there is any, of this protest. It may not have been a large demo but at a time when all manner of people claim to be speaking for the Iraqi people, surely it was significant.

If there isn't fair coverage of this demonstration then I think it is up to Blogland UK to make sure that people here and internationally get to hear about it. If the media let the protestors down I'd like to see a united front of UK bloggers to give this demo the widest possible publicity - see if we can't play the 'anti-war' crowd at their own game. It would just require all the UK political blogs to post the above two paragraphs from the Guardian website.

Then if the US bloggers note it, thousands of people will have heard about this protest and we will have given the Iraqi exiles a hand in letting their voices be heard.

But let's see what the Sunday papers come up with - if they fail I might see if I can't live up to that "Lancastrian activist" tag for once.

posted by BA on 2:15 PM link

Friday, March 14, 2003


Another sign of the developing political blog scene in the UK - Tom Watson, Labour MP for West Bromwich, has adapted his web presence and set up a snazzy-looking weblog.

Contrary to the Guardian's Matthew Tempest, Tom isn't the first MP to blog though, that honour appears to go to Lib Dem Edward Davey, who blogs on his local issues.

And talking of comrade Tempest, he has adjusted slightly his verdict on this blog. Having labelled me a right-wing libertarian he now says: "For Mr Steele, while ostensibly of the Left, seems to be more akin to David Aaronovitch's liberal SDP-ism, or even Rod Liddle's more right-wing libertarianism.Fairly straight, if a little lacking in character.

So welcome to the first SDP-ist blog in the world!

posted by BA on 7:31 AM link

If he receives the Guardian in his cell at the Hague, Slobodan Milosevic will enjoy today's edition which features a shabby little hatchet job on the man who led his overthrow - murdered Serbian prime minister Zoran Djindjic.

"For the great majority of Serbs, he will be remembered as a quisling who enriched himself by selling his country to those who had waged war against it so mercilessly only a few years earlier," is Neil Clark's description.

It really is an appalling article full of inaccuracy and shaped by the ludicrous view that the break-up of Yugoslavia was the result of some western plot to weaken a 'socialist' state.

So who is this Neil Clark then?

Well, the wonders of google allow us to check out exactly what Clark thinks of Slobodan Milosevic, thanks to the Pravda website which reprints his piece from the New Statesman entitled 'Milosevic, Prisoner of Conscience, Neil Clark raises a lone voice for a man whose worst crime was to carry on being a socialist'

This is what he believes are the reasons Milosevic is on trail for war crimes:"The trouble with Slobo is not that he is an 'ethnic cleanser' (three years after the original indictment, we have yet to see the evidence linking Milosevic to atrocities in Bosnia), but that he is stubbornly and cussedly an 'old', unreconstructed socialist. This is why the new designer 'left' parties of Europe have pursued him so mercilessly to The Hague."

Of course it was. And what lays behind Neil Clark's defence of Milosevic? In the same article we find out:

I always remember my first visit to Belgrade, in the summer of 1998. As an unreconstructed socialist, completely out of step with the spirit of the age, I had spent most of the Nineties trying to escape, as best I could, to a place where it was still 1948. So imagine my delight when I arrived in Belgrade and found a city that seemed miraculously to have escaped all the horrors of global grunge.

Bookshops, self-service restaurants and state-owned department stores abounded: a walk down the city boulevards reminded one of a British high street in the late Sixties. My delight turned to ecstasy when, on entering a state-owned bookshop, I saw on prominent display in the window a copy of that classic tome Arguments for Socialism by Tony Benn. What a truly wonderful place was Belgrade! "

And there was I thinking it was all those murdered civilians, the siege of Sarajevo, Srbenica and the slaughter in Kosovo that landed Slobo in jail, when really it was all because Tony Benn books were on sale in Belgrade.

All this would be funny if Clark wasn't being given a platform in national newspaper to insult the thousands of victims of Milosevic's policies and at the same time piss on the memory of a man who provided at least some hope of an escape to a better future.

posted by BA on 2:32 AM link

Thursday, March 13, 2003


I understand he is not fond of comparisons with Christopher Hitchens, but there was certainly an air of Hitchen's fall-out with The Nation in Nick Cohen's response to Red Pepper's shameful recent 'special edition' on Kurds.

Regular readers will be familar with most of the quotes former Red Pepper contributor Cohen cites in his piece and he again employs the powerful words of Dr Barham Salih, the prime minister of liberated Iraqi Kurdistan, when he spoke to the Socialist International in Rome recently and urged them to back a liberation of Iraq. Cohen rightly argues that the disgraceful avoidance of the Iraqi and Kurdish opposition's arguements by the left speaks volumes.

"The moral bankruptcy of the anti-war movement lies as squarely in its refusal to attend to or argue with Salih and his comrades as in the decision of Red Pepper to report lies as truth. But, then, why should you guys bother with Kurds? The uppity wogs actually think Saddam Hussein is worse than George Bush.

More presumptuously, they believe they have the right to deploy words like ‘democracy’ and ‘socialism’. They must be taught that they are nothing but mountain people and that the language of anti-fascism is dead."

posted by BA on 4:16 PM link

We know that there is a class divide in opinion over Iraq, with polls showing more working class voters willing to back action and of course the middle-class nature of the 'anti-war' movement has been well documented. But is there a North-South divide over the issue?

My gut feeling (hope?) has been that there is. After all 750,000 people took to the streets to protest in London while the Manchester march last weekend saw less than 2 percent of that figure. OK, it was only a regional demonstration but a source in Manchester tells me that only 5,000 people from the region had attended the national demo a month earlier.

A quick survey of local newspaper polls in the North, reported by the Guardian Online's The Northerner shows quite tight results:

Liverpool Echo: Should we go to war with Iraq? Yes: 43% No: 57%
Manchester Evening News: France - should it use its veto? Yes: 60% No: 40%
Middlesbrough Evening Gazette: As the rift grows over Iraq action, do you think we should go to war? Yes: 56% No: 44%
Huddersfield Examiner: Should we go to war with Iraq? Yes: 52% No: 48%

posted by BA on 3:54 PM link

Back in the day's when local Labour Parties were just begining to get a taste for what New Labour was about, I was in a very old Labour CLP that was getting very worried indeed about the direction the party was going under Blair in opposition.

I shared much of that concern but one area where I was totally committed to the leadership was over crime. I never for the life of my understood why the left, which claimed to represent the concerns of ordinary working people - the major victims of crime, took such a soft line and let the Tories portray themselves as the party of 'law and order'.

Some on the left really did believe that defending working class communities from drug pushers, muggers, thugs, vandals and assorted yobs was a 'Tory issue' and that the left should simply focus on the root causes of crime. Thankfully those views did not win out and the Labour government has been committed to a tough line on crime - but has it delivered?

"Tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime" remains a great aspiration, not simply a soundbite. But it has been undermined by a lack of effective policy," says Jackie Ashley in the Guardian.

She rightly argues against the knee-jerk liberal opposition to David Blunkett but what I like most about her piece is the way she points out how in this area Labour are rediscovering some of the forgotten values of the left:

Respect, order and self-discipline were once the watchwords of the progressive left. They were inherited from Chartists, the friendly and temperance societies and the union movement. Postwar politicians like Beveridge and Attlee, Cripps and Bevan, all took it for granted that, alongside state help, citizens would retain an intolerance of crime and yobbishness, and an instinct for self-help and saving.

So when Blunkett tells the Guardian that his job "is to provide some stability and order" and that "anti-social behaviour is actually at the foundation and root of instability" he is talking Labour language, and progressive language too.

posted by BA on 3:43 PM link

A group of satirical lefties with a sense of the absurd created the fictious organisation Lefts for Open Polemic last year and hilariously have now managed to get themselves listed as a supporting organisation of the main UK anti-war group Stop the War Coalition.

Stop the War say on their website that they only put links after "checking them out". You have to wonder though.

LOP's listing (here between Lawyers Against the War and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign) reads like this:

Polemicists against the War : We are a group of lefts committed to open polemic, and are also against the war. We believe that open polemic can be used as a vital tool in stimulating discussion on the net. BB for the CC

posted by BA on 11:40 AM link

Wednesday, March 12, 2003


Those on the ultra-left who have long fantasised about a 'socialist challenge to New Labour' may have had some grounds for optimism of late with 750,000 people marching behind their slogans in London, huge discontent with Tony Blair and a surge in media appearances for Stalinists like George Galloway and his Trotskyite sidekicks.

But while the ultra-left may have transformed themselves into pacifists of late, they are reassuringly still well capable of taking out their guns and shooting - themselves of course, firmly in the foot.

The Socialist Alliance - is a collection of various Trot sects and individual cranks which has been busy losing deposits in recent years and whose only significant impact in local elections was to split the left vote and hand a victory to the fascist BNP in Burnley.

But the Alliance was due to hold its annual conference just as war might be about to be declared and many hundreds of Labour Party members could be about to resign - it had a golden chance to finally give some credibility to its claim to be the 'socialist alternative' to Labour. But as usual they manage to turn an opportunity into an internal dispute.

Reassuringly for any Labour Party branches fearing an exodus a member of the Socialist Alliance, executive committee Marcus Ström writes in this week's Weekly Worker that the postponement of the Alliance's conference, effectively marks the end of the project.

"George Galloway and John Rees spoke at the March 3 ‘Where is New Labour going?’ meeting of the need to provide the working class with a party it deserves. The Socialist Alliance should be rising to that challenge, uniting in our conference behind a campaign to achieve just that - an anti-war party, a new workers’ party. It should then take that campaign to the anti-war movement. Instead the SA will be seen to have clearly failed the test - it has effectively liquidated itself," says Strom who is a senior figure in the Alliance.

Informed sources tell me that the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), the leading party in the Stop the War Coaltion and the Socialist Alliance (SA), have decided that if anyone is going to cash in on the anti-war movement it is going to be themselves, who have done all the hard work and not the smaller sects who are allied to them in the SA.

According to Strom, an internal email explaining the effective freezing of the Alliance mentions the heavy schedule of 'anti-war' activities "including the Ms Dynamite concert at Wembley on the evening of March 15".


posted by BA on 5:53 AM link

The best of the British Bloggers is back online and well worth a daily read. And as a centre-left, right-wing libertarian Lancastrian activist blogger I certainly feel less lonely now that there is another Labour Party member back on the scene.

British Spin's mission statement is that "Politicians always complain that the media don't focus on issues but on trivia. This site is for the political junkie who finds the issues a distraction from the serious business of power."

He has some good stuff today on how Donald Rumsfeld has made pro-action Labour Party members jobs in convincing doubters near impossible and also asks when the British blog scene will produce a blogger with, what he calls, dead tree equivilency?

British Spin's comeback started last week when he answered my challenge for Spin Doctors to produce a decent dossier on the Stop the War Coalition - in true New Labour fashion he plagarised most of it but it certainly fits the bill. Welcome back!

posted by BA on 4:21 AM link

Did you see that Trevor McDonald Tonight 'special' with Tony Blair and "an audience of women" the other night on ITV? The listings sold the show on how Blair had won a lot of support from women in the past two elections but now risks losing that backing due to his position on Iraq. Sounded interesting to me so I tuned in. I switched off after about 15 minutes in disgust at what was little more than a show trail by tv.

It was as if the jury had been hand-picked by the Stop the War Coalition (well, at least if they had suddenly devoloped some imagination). As Polly Toynbee puts in the Guardian today: "One woman was in the Bali bombing, her boyfriend blown to bits. One mother had three sons at the front in the Gulf. One woman's husband was a human shield at an Iraqi oil installation - would Blair promise not to bomb him? He writhed. An Iraqi victim of Saddam begged him not to attack her people. Worst of all, one mother lost her only child in the World Trade Centre and could not bear any other mother to suffer her agony. Their vehemence left him with a hunted air, his eyes flickering here and there, looking for escape. What's more, against all the rules of balance, Trevor McDonald himself weighed in with "Aren't you just Bush's poodle?" questions. It was unfair and impossible. "

It was emotional and it was simply impossible for Blair to challenge the raw pacifist arguements with any force without appearing to be callous. The programme had nothing to do with democratic debate about a vital issue - it was about hitting Blair hard and making him suffer as much embarassment as possible. It was the English media at their most vicious and unedifying. There is nothing they like more than sticking the boot into someone who is struggling - just watch will happen to nice Mr Sven Goran Eriksson when the tabloids finally turn fully against him.

Maybe the public enjoy this sort of humiliation of important people - but there are plenty of people who turn out to watch public stonings in some countries - is this not our own version?

We get the media we deserve of course and the real question for Blair is how on earth did he walk into such a trap? Why did he agree to such a programme or was he really stitched up. In which case, why haven't we heard anything from his spokesmen again?

Toynbee again: "It is a sign of sudden loss of authority that a programme could ambush the prime minister with not one word of complaint issued from Downing Street afterwards. Alastair Campbell was there in the next room watching this hiding-to-nothing on a monitor and saying not a word. Now it is open season and the prime minister was harpooned - again."

posted by BA on 4:03 AM link

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