Thursday, March 27, 2003

In the pre-war debate we heard quite a lot about how Iraqi exiles and the Iraqi opposition were supporting the idea of a war for liberation. Yet since the war has begun we have heard much less from them - as if they would just be given a phone call to "come on over" once the streets of Baghdad were safe. Kanan Makiya's war diary for The New Republic is a daily voice for the Iraqi opposition and he regularly gives lie to the disgusting anti-war slur that he and other exiles are 'CIA puppets'.

Makiya rejects the suggestion of some that resistance to US-UK forces is about 'nationalism' and say it is about fear and lack of evidence of real damage to the Saddam regime: "What is preventing them from rising up and taking over the streets of their cities is confusion about American intentions and fear of the murderous brown-shirt thugs known as the Fedayeen Saddam, who are leading the small-arms-fire attacks on American and British soldiers. The coalition forces have an urgent need to send clear and unmistakable signals to the people of Iraq that unlike in 1991, there is no turning back from the destruction of Saddam Hussein. And in order to do this effectively they must turn to the Iraqi opposition, which has so far been marginalized."

He wants the TV stations taken out (and properly) and he wants the Iraqi opposition networks to be given a 'French resistance' role. But is the US listening? "To date, however, my meetings with administration officials have given me the impression that some quarters of Washington are at war with Saddam Hussein and others are at war with the Iraqi National Congress. The administration still adamantly refuses to let the Iraqi opposition activate our networks to make the fighting easier for the coalition in the cities, towns, and villages. Why? "

Why indeed?

posted by BA on 4:26 PM link

From the Guardian: Yesterday President George Bush made his first public appearance since the start of the war, speaking to service personnel at the MacDill airforce base in Tampa in an obvious bid to reassure Americans and boost the morale of the armed forces. But how do we know this is the real George Bush?
Later in the day a man who looked and sounded like Mr Bush appeared alongside Tony Blair at Camp David, leaving intelligence experts to ponder whether a lookalike had been used, and whether the same lookalike had been deployed on both occasions.Full report here.

posted by BA on 1:45 PM link

Remarkably frank piece in the Times reporting on the way in which British Marines have handled Umm Qasr compared with their US partners.

It took five days and nights of intermittent American airstrikes and artillery bombardments to subdue this scruffy little town of 4,000 people that sits at the mouth of the Shatt al-Arab waterway. About the only time the US Marines got out of their vehicles was to raise the Stars and Stripes on the very first day, a move they were hastily ordered to reverse as it smacked of occupation, not liberation. Then on Monday morning the British took over. It took the men of 42 Commando barely 24 hours to win over the locals and by last night their commander, Brigadier Jim Dutton, was confident they had extinguished the last flickers of resistance from Saddam Hussein’s diehard Baath party loyalists. One senior British officer said: “The Americans don’t care for going in on foot as we do to secure a town, whether it be Belfast or Umm Qasr. They prefer to try and flatten everything in front of them which we think only scares the living daylights out of the locals, not get them on your side.” The Royal Marines had to insist that the Americans, who are under their command in southern Iraq, did not destroy the port as it is crucial to their humanitarian operation which is already behind schedule.

I suspect we are going to hear more of these kind of stories in the coming weeks. If I were an Iraqi I know who which coalition partner I would be hoping came to town.

posted by BA on 6:56 AM link

Peter Cuthbertson opts for a pale-blue background on his Conservative Commentary weblog and frequently describes himself as centre-right but I am afraid that in the past few weeks he has shown himself to be an extremist, albeit a youthful one. Recently he has called for the legalisation of firearms in the UK as a way to deal with anti-social behaviour, has placed himself on the extreme wing of Likud in posts over the Middle East and now plays his trump card when he says we should consider nuking Baghdad.

He asks himself the question - 'What should we do if Saddam uses chemical weapons?' and replies: "My instinct is an immediate nuclear attack. No discussion, no cooling off time: an automatic nuclear bomb. The reason is not vengeance, but deterrence." It is such a ridiculous suggestion that it doesn't even merit a response. Suffice to say that Saddam is no doubt praying that George Bush takes his strategic advice from people like Peter.

posted by BA on 5:18 AM link

I have given up watching 24 news coverage of the war and one of the many reasons is that as Rupert Cornwell puts it, in a fairly balanced review of the situation in the Independent today "the blanket coverage of the conflict, complete with the "embedded" correspondents, makes it seem it has being going on for ever." But the casual, self-indulgent thought that western TV viewers like myself may already be suffering from 'war fatigue' or even boredom is swiftly removed by images such as the dreadful bombing of the market place in Baghdad yesterday and the footage of the dead British soilders. They are worth seeing simply for a reality check, if any were really needed, that this is what war is about - brutal death and destruction.

No-one can fail to be moved in some way by such scenes. I am sure that the images will harden the beliefs of anti-war people that this is not a price worth paying. Those who supported the war are, in this moment, probably just holding tight and hoping that things will begin to turn in a more positive direction. That is the only reasonable thing to do - it is understandable, but ultimately worthless for webloggers or blokes in the pub to discuss military tactics. But the events of the past few days do not, in my opinion, change the question of right or wrong about this war - how can they? Of course, everyone hoped that the fascist regime would crumble at the first sign of serious force and some politicians were stupid enough to suggest that. The Iraqi people have not risen up against Saddam and who can blame them at this stage? They know what happened to the last group of brave citizens who did so back in 1991 and were left by the US to face the execution squads. I just hope George Bush Jr doesn't call on them to rise up - after what his father did last time that would be a sure way to make sure they don't.

It seems to me perfectly understandable that most Iraqi civilians will adopt a 'wait and see' attitude. The problem is one of trust - those of us who support the liberation of the Iraqi people have done so in the belief that the coalition forces will be liberators and I think they will. But it is easy for us to debate whether the US is a force for liberation - we didn't have our fathers taken out and shot in the street because they believed that 12 years ago.

posted by BA on 4:48 AM link

I failed my science GCE so I am certainly not going to pass judgement on the scientific basis of this report in Reason magazine but I am certainly willing to entertain the idea a scare story/propaganda has become an accepted 'fact'. Found via Matt Welch.

posted by BA on 4:05 AM link

"Democracy is under threat in the United States; anyone who objects to the conflict in Iraq is not allowed to say so," claims Gary Younge in the Guardian today. I am a bit sceptical about this but of course I am in no position to really judge. Some of you are - I'd be interested to hear the views of American readers on this. One certainly picks up a level of hysteria by reading right-wing blogs, but what is the overall mood. Have the intolerent sections of the right become so hegemonic? Email me if those useless comment boxes are not working again.

posted by BA on 2:50 AM link

This piece in the Guardian by Rory McCarthy may help some understand the different approaches of British and American journalists when faced with military spokesmen. I always thought journalists were supposed to ask awkward questions.

posted by BA on 2:45 AM link

Wednesday, March 26, 2003


Maybe Andrew Sullivan can organise one of his lucrative online cash appeals to pay for a plane ticket for him and Instapundit to attend this demonstration against BBC bias? I don't know, what does this all mean? "Objectively" of course.

posted by BA on 4:00 PM link

If we are going to have a new global order based on human rights and personal liberty then perhaps we should put some effort into Texas?

"Nine states ban consensual sodomy for everyone: Alabama, Florida, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah and Virginia. In addition, Texas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma punish only homosexual sodomy. " I learn via PolitX who take a look at the case of Lawrence v. Texas hitting the Supreme Court.

So gay sex is criminalised in 13 US states and even consensual anal sex with your wife/girlfriend is illegal in nine states?

posted by BA on 2:20 PM link

Lawrence Krubner, a regular poster of intelligent comment on this blog, turns part-time PR consultant for the anti-war movement on his own blog. He makes the very valid criticism that the anti-war slogans are just failing to win over people and are mere self expression rather than real attempts to win minds. So he offers some more thoughtful alternatives.

Like Lawrence I believe that the war is right, just and necessary. But in the future those of us on the left may find ourselves back in campaigns with people who we disagree with over this issue. Making the point that politics needs to be about constructive engagement rather than posturing might make that task easier. But then again....

posted by BA on 1:56 PM link

Not convinced that there are quality opinions convincingly argued on British blogs? Then you simply have to read British Spin's superb demolition of the anti-BBC brigade.

Some sample quotes:

Is our case so weak that we must become hysterical against any airtime given to our critics, however ludicrous and wild-eyed they seem. (Personally, I would bet money that every appearance of Saddam’s henchmen on our television’s reinforces the public view that this is a dangerous despotic regime).

Especially when they are waving AK-47s at the viewer and calling our elected leaders "stupid".

But sadly I suspect that the likes of Andrew Sullivan and Instapundit will not rise to the challenge of a debate over this issue - thus adding more weight to Spin's argument that:

"What disturbs me about the “no-to –objectivity “ movement that flows through Ms Amiel’s piece and through many blogs is how it seems to be a cry to be spoonfed with opinions that agree with the readers prejudice. "

Perhaps the NTO crew should read that George Orwell quote in the corner of this blog.

Update: Sullivan is now claiming the BBC are "objectively pro-Saddam" - and the bloke objected to me calling him 'hard right'?

posted by BA on 9:14 AM link

Bill O'Reilly is one of my favourite performers on the Comedy Channel, after all how can you not respect a man who makes a living purely out of winding up his political opponents?

His website has a list of his favourite films - they look ideal viewing for your next anti-war fundraiser.

posted by BA on 8:31 AM link

Another new feature bringing you regular updates on moving celebrity anti-war statements.

Today's featured artistes are the Beastie Boys, who have uploaded an anti-war protest rap to the internet

In a world gone mad it’s hard to think right
So much violence hate and spite
Murder going on all day and night
Due time we fight the non-violent fight

Now how many people must get killed?
For oil families pockets to get filled?
How many oil families get killed?
Not a damn one so what’s the deal?

What happened to Fight For Your Right to Party boys?

posted by BA on 6:53 AM link

Saddam's son Uday, has a Yorkshire accent

He was a "bit of a bad lad" apparently.

Found via Tom

posted by BA on 5:25 AM link

Continuing this introspective and self-publicising theme, Blogs of War produced by Dr Frank, in the USA by the way, wants to continue a discussion over my criticism of 'warblogging'. We appear to be heading in the direction of semantics and he recognises this be pointing out the dangers of over-categorisation.

The Doc writes: "I think (Harry) sees "warblogger" as a pejorative he'd like to duck out of. Maybe it is at that. You can call yourself anything you want. For the same reasons, people used to say "I'm not punk, I'm new wave"; then "I'm not punk, I'm hardcore"; then "I'm not hardcore, I'm post-punk"; then "I'm not post-punk, I'm alternative," etc. The main result of this process is that it's almost impossible to find anything at a British record store if you've missed more than four issues of the NME.

A fair comment.

And continuing the theme is blogging - independent, alternative, slightly anarchic, self-expressive, often crap, sometimes brilliant - not in fact the new punk?

And here is another thought - is there anything more tedious than bloggers talking about blogging?

I'll get my coat.

posted by BA on 3:34 AM link

I suspect most pro-liberation readers will have been particularly pleased to have heard the reports suggesting there was a people's uprising in Basra being given armed support by British soilders. If this is how things spin out (and lets see because the talk of revolt has receeded somewhat since last night's news) it would be the most vivid example of British troops acting as a liberation force.

Not so according to John Pilger in the Daily Mirror:

TODAY is a day of shame for the British military as it declares the Iraqi city of Basra, with a stricken population of 600,000, a "military target".

Dreadful stuff as you would expect. But The Mirror is a mixed bag at the moment as it finds itself in the unusual position of being an anti-war tabloid.

It was particularly interesting to see this item contrasting the 'Star Wars' might of the US military with Britain's more hands-on approach, headlined - USA HAS THE GEAR, BUT WE'VE HAD THE PRACTICE

It is written by Andy McNab, no peacenik leftie, of course, and the author of the best selling soilder's story, Bravo Two Zero, after describing the US's hi-tech weaponry says: "No computer can win this for you. From painful lessons learned in Northern Ireland, Bosnia and Kosovo, our troops know from experience that the local people's hearts will come later as they continue to fight the war while carrying out humanitarian missions at great personal risk."

I wonder, could this line be the Mirror's way out of their editorial conundrum? By backing our boys to the hilt and contrasting their successes with the 'cock-ups of the gung-ho Yanks' etc they would be able to be patriotic while still tapping into the populist anti-Americanism that was surely behind their peacenik stand in the first place.

After all how many Brits quietly wonder if it wouldn't be better if we were running the show and just borrowed the weapons off the septics? Actually in my pub last night there was nothing quiet about the bloke expressing just that view.

A hugely cynical and opportunist position for the Mirror? Of course yes, but I wouldn't put it past their editor would you?

posted by BA on 3:34 AM link


Someone just emailed me to say that BBC Radio Five Live had an interview with Instapundit about blogging and in particular about Salam Pax, the Baghdad blogger.

There have been a real growth of British media interest in blogging recently (such as this piece from but it is noticable that they have focused almost exclusively on US bloggers.

I suppose it is understandable given that we are dwarfed by the Americans in this area and the UK blogosphere is young, but it does make you wonder if the journalists concerned are even bothering to look and see if anything closer to home? Perhaps it will take a few more journos to follow Stephen Pollard's example and start a blog for people to realise that there is life over here as well.

Or are we just crap really?

Or is it just that we are all far too modest and don't go in for the hyperbole and self-publicity that US bloggers seem so comfortable with?

Most of the UK bloggers have shunned the warblogging option but if there was a UK warblog I suspect there might be more interest shown in the medium.

Perhaps one solution would be to create a Britblogging showcase site.

A single blog with highlights and links to the best British postings of the day? It could offer people a gateway into the rather closed world of British blogging and could also do the publicising that as individuals we appear reluctant to do?

Everyone would benefit from such a venture with increased traffic and a higher profile and all they would need to do was log on and paste up one of their posts.

Just an idea of course but I wonder what other bloggers think? What do you think?

posted by BA on 3:34 AM link

Now this is a serious criticism of the Beeb with credibility and weight - the BBC's coverage of the war has come under fire from one of its own correspondents in the Gulf who has fired off a furious memo claiming the corporation is misleading viewers about the conflict in Iraq, reports MediaGuardian.

I can take that seriously because it comes from a professional journalist inside the organisation rather than from people who oppose the BBC on ideological grounds purely because they are a public service.

The same source also has this report about a Sun journalist quitting her job over war coverage. Those bleeding heart liberals at NewsCorp......

posted by BA on 3:34 AM link

It is wierd to hear members of the Socialist Workers Party banging on about how this is an "illegal war", which breaks international law etc. After all these people claim to be revolutionaries committed to overthrowing parliamentry democracy, by violent means if necessary.

I'm not sure if there is a specific law about violent revolution in Britain, but I suspect the High Court might rule that is not strictly speaking legal to storm Westminster with machine guns.

What a strange world we now live in where Trotskyites, Anarchists and Stalinists insist on abiding by the letter of laws created by the combined efforts of the ruling classes of the world. Even liberals have argued for decades that it can be morally acceptable to break an unjust law. And the core element of progressive politics is the notion that if it don't work - fix it.

But when it comes to the already ill-defined notion of 'international law' then the 'revolutionaries' stand firmly on the side of a status quo that was created during the cold war.

It is nothing but opportunism of course, but there is a serious point here. The whole basis of international law protects states not peoples.

Johann Hari takes a timely look at this in the Indie today and says it is time for change.

Confronted with the evidence of Iraqis' feelings, many of the anti-war critics will, I fear, change the subject. They will say that, whatever the Iraqi people desired, the damage to international law was too great. In offering this argument, they fail to acknowledge a key flaw with international law as it now stands. The foundations for the present system were built in 1945, when the greatest threat to human life and dignity was war between nations. Its structures are designed solely to prevent conflict between states and to secure peace in the international arena – and in this respect, they have been phenomenally successful.

What international law cannot do, however, is secure peace within nations. The governments of, say, Burma, Saudi Arabia and Zimbabwe may be judged "peaceful"under international law, while they are butchering and terrorising their populations. There is no peace for people living under tyranny. International law must be changed to allow democracies to act where there are reasonable grounds (as in Iraq) for believing that the people of a country wish it, and where the regime is systematically breaching human rights on a massive scale.

In other words a system of international law that is based on the protection of human rights and not on the protection of tyranny.

posted by BA on 2:50 AM link

Tuesday, March 25, 2003


A new feature - each day Harry's Place will bring you the words of wisdom from the revolutionary new medium that is the weblog. Blogs are about bringing you the incisive analysis and 'out of the box' thinking that boring old deadtree old/big media just doesn't seem to deliver.

Where better to start than with the world's number one Blogger, Instapundit, the benchmark by which others are judged, the industry standard, a man who gets 200,000 hits a day and 600 emails on a Monday.

Here are the words of wisdom on the war from the man himself today:

WHY THE RUSH TO BAGHDAD? I've been wondering about this. There are obvious advantages to speed, of course, but we're moving very, very fast. I wonder if part of the reason is that we don't think that the Iraqis -- burned, as I note here by the failure of the United States to go on to Baghdad in 1991 -- will trust us to go the distance unless we, well, go the distance.

Remember the old saying: if you strike at a king, you must kill him. You certainly can't leave him as king. That's something we need to keep in mind.

It certainly is and I have one question. Why is the BBC ignoring this issue?

posted by BA on 9:20 AM link

After all the blogbull about the BBC coverage I decided to do a quick random satellite news survey this morning. The BBC was interviewing a correpondent in Quatar and then discussing the the coalition strategy with a military analyst who used to work for Jane's Defence. Sky News had a report from a correspondent in the desert with the troops. CNN was recapping the war news that I am sure I read in this morning's papers.

On Fox News a presenter went into a rant about Russians aiding Iraq, "makes you wonder huh?" and saying that probably the French were also getting worried that we were soon going to discover lots of things about their links with Saddam - there was much laughter, a few jokes and a jolly good time appeared to be being had by all.

Like I said, it was a quick survey but this might be worth a glance for some people.

Now enough of all this nonsense.

posted by BA on 5:18 AM link

My recent criticism of the lack of value of some of the 'warblogs' has raised some mirth in certain quarters. Dr.Frank at Blogs of War and Angela Gunnin USA Today's weblog both think I was rather silly to question the value of warblogs as (apparently) I produce one myself.

I don't though do I? While it is impossible to avoid the topic of war at the moment this is a blog mainly about political opinions and not about logging every bit of detail of the military campaign. I still believe the latter is best left to the professionals although I should add that sites such as Command Post do a very good job of collating all the news from the mainstream sources in one easy-to-find place.

I have no experience of military matters and next to no knowledge of war tactics etc - so I don't write about them, simple as that.


Another matter of confusion has arisen over my pen-name. This is all rather tedious but let me get it out of the way, Harry Steel (without the 'e') was the pen-name used by a writer in a very obscure marxist journal back in the 1980's and I adopted the name as little more than a wind-up on a Trot mailing list about three years ago. It worked, it stuck with me and I thought nothing of it.

However I was recently informed that this obscure journal is still publishing (although I believe with less emphasis on Soviet agricultural production statistics these days) and indeed that there is still a Harry Steel column in it. This is has understandably caused some confusion.

There are also a few people in the real world who are actually called Harry Steele (one of them an apparently successful American industrialist) and so I think that it would be the best bet to change my pen-name.

I gave it some thought on the train the last night while I was reading an excellent book about the history of British pop music, Black Vinyl, White Powder by Simon Napier Bell. I have just finished the chapter on punk rock and while wallowing in nostalgia and listening to the punk compilation cd's I have settled on a new pen-name - Harry Hatchet.

The name of the Blog remains Harry's Place but if those bloggers who link to Harry Steele could change their links accordingly it would be appreciated by myself, a US capitalist and an obscure marxist - cheers.

posted by BA on 3:50 AM link

Monday, March 24, 2003


British Spin has an excellent riposte to the now hysterical Beebbashing spewing forth from right-wing US bloggers.

Spin says: "I mean come on. Forget 60 years of relentlessly clear reporting. Forget the fact that the BBC has never been a simple propaganda tool for the British government, instead aspiring to be something more complex and more ambitious, a reporting of objectivity and fairness of the world around it. BBC reporters dare to be rude to Generals, they question whether things are going well, they curl their lips, they sneer, they pronounce words diferently to Americans, They.. *shudder* give air time to the Iraqi's."

And I might add they don't have union jack flags fluttering on their news channels - with 'OUR BOYS IN BATTLE - Day Five".

Its all good stuff from Spin and I highly recommend it all, especially to American readers.

I have been pondering what has been behind this sudden wave of criticism of old Auntie Beeb from the blogosphere and, at the risk of going into amateur psychology, I think there are some possible explanations that can be offered:

In the case of Andrew Sullivan a hard right US-based British expat commentator, it is clearly part of his going native ritual.

But for the real Americans I think there are other things at work. For a start the idea that you can have a public broadcasting service which is widely watched, popular and quite often very good, goes against everything that the US right stand for. How can it work? How can people like it? There are no advertisements, the market is not really operating and it is a public venture which is not censored by the state? Surely some mistake?

Ironically they are actually calling for a form of state censorship by constantly harping on about how the BBC are asking tough questions, broadcasting Iraqi statements and even allowing critics of the war to be allowed on to the airwaves. They want the Beeb to broadcast our government's line. Well I think we'll leave that kind of thinking to the Iraqi regime.

Also lets face it this is a way for a bit of disguised Brit-bashing. They have had a pop at nearly everyone in Europe who has opposed Bush's policy on war, the Axis of Weasels, the Frogbashing, Old Europe etc etc but our support means we have been off limits.

So they can get their anti-British prejudice out of their system via blasting our media.

It really makes me wonder what we would be reading if Blair had done, as many were urging him, and turned round a couple of weeks ago and said "Sorry George, no UN, no UK". What would have been screaming forth from the septics then?

"We defended them from the Ruskies", "Blair is Marxist after all, just goes to show you can never trust..", "they drink warm beer", "what is that game they play over five days?", "They ran away from Dunkirk" "We saved their ass from the Krauts and now this is the thanks we get...."

What? You don't think so?

posted by BA on 7:51 AM link

Is there some diplomatic or cultural reason why the US military or government has not deemed it suitable to at least offer an apology for killing two of our soilders on Sunday?

According to this report in the Daily Telegraph Major-Gen Daniel Leaf, spokesman for the US air force in Kuwait, blamed the "fog of war" for the accident, but offered no apology.

Why not? I would have thought that is the least a friend could do.

posted by BA on 6:38 AM link

So have there been any signs of the anti-war left taking on board Johann Hari's appeal for them to turn to a pro-democracy movement for Iraq? Well, not much evidence of a shift in emphasis from what I can see.

Surf around any of the anti-war left message boards and websites such as Urban 75 or Indymedia and you will find little sign of any change - if anything the anti-Americanism has hardened and the lack of interest in freeing Iraq from fascism all too evident.

I find the psychology of this interesting. These people will deny they have taken sides in this war but they are lapping up Al-Jazeera coverage and gleefully posting pictures of US POW's. There may be no comment of delight to accompany the photos but it says everything that the news being posted in excitement is that of allied casualties and setbacks along with silly suggestions of war crimes being committed by Tony Blair.

There may only be a nutcase minority prepared to march under the slogan 'Victory to Iraq' but sadly the 'nasty wing' of the anti-war movement is much more visible now that Middle England appears to have abandoned them.

Even the Stop the War Coalition didn't claim more than 400,000 people on their demo on Saturday, while others put the figure at closer to 100,000. Either way no-one denies that the demo was much smaller than the February 15 affair. That must have been very disappointing for the activists and on Urban 75 some lamented the decline in numbers and change in mood.

But never mind, replied one 'comrade' things can change: "I see what your saying, but i reckon that its still early, there is still a lot of highs and lows to come in the weeks and months ahead... as the death and damage being done starts to seep out through the media i reckon there will be a more militant mood amongst all anti-war protesters, even those just passsing through...

So death and damage will be a high point?

I don't want to demonise the anti-war position - I know full well that there are many decent people who are opposed to this war for serious reasons. But the fact is that when we talk about an anti-war movement there is no doubt that we are now talking about the hardcore. The problem with reasoned critics is that they rarely organise themselves. Let's face it the Trotskyite leadership of the Stop the War Coalition is not going to face a challenge to their authority from Charles Kennedy or Robin Cook are they?

Sadly the result will be that the Trots will have the ear of the students and schoolkids and the next generation of young activists will cut their teeth in a brand of politics that all those on the genuine left know leads ultimately to cynicism and despair - the enemies of progressive politics.

We are already having to deal with the result of Socialist Workers Party dominance of the radical left. The attitude to Iraq and Israel and a whole host of other issues shows that the SWP have been able to replace the old Communist Party as the hegemonic force on the far left with an influence that stretches well beyond their own membership.

Tony Benn used to call the old CP the 'University of the left', if the SWP have now taken on that role, and I think that they have, then sadly the radical left will continue to be dominated by the politics of nihilism for another generation.

Is there a way of halting this depressing process? The only one is to create an alternative movement of an internationalist and progressive democratic left. But the problem is that the Labour Party has long since killed off what remained of a genuine left activism in Britain. It has left the field clear to the Trots and presented itself as merely an organiser of local and national managers. Because the Trots don't pose a real threat to New Labour's dominance of the party anymore, the leadership don't see to care about the issue.

The result is if you are a student or a young trade unionist and you want to talk politics and get involved in campaigns there is basically no-one else but the Trotskyite left around.

The left alternative to nihilism needs to recapture its spirit of campaigning, of open debate and deal once again with that unfashionable phrase - activism. The non-Trot left must tackle head on the arguments, undercut the dominance of the ultra-left and be passionate about its politics.

In other words, Tough on Trots, Tough on the cause of Trots.

posted by BA on 2:54 AM link

Some good points raised by Neal Ascherson on the post-war needs of Iraq.

Incredibly, with American tanks half way to Baghdad, there is still no agreement on how to run a military occupation regime, let alone on a programme to reconstruct an Iraqi state. (The best suggestion so far is for a UN "blue police force" drawn from Muslim countries to restore order and justice at local level.) But last week's quarrel at Brussels is not as serious as it looks: Tony Blair is evasive about free elections in Iraq, but at least he and Chirac seem to agree that the security council must authorise a post-Saddam civil authority. The real trouble is in Washington.

No surprises there then. He goes on to ask what kind of state a post-Saddam Iraq might be, looking at some of the past methods used for what is rather patronisingly called 'nation building'.

What sort of state? The example of postwar Germany suggests that the best ideology for the purpose is social democracy. One of the first things the British did in their zone of Germany was to sponsor a new trade union confederation, the sheet anchor of democracy in the years to come. But this approach is now unthinkable. So is any "Mesopotamian Marshall plan". Instead, Iraq will probably be abandoned to the joys of an uncontrolled free-market regime, supervised by the World Bank.

He makes a telling point about the problems of going down such a road:

Iraq owes foreign financiers some $200bn to $400bn in debt. If the experience of Serbia after its own "regime change" is anything to go by, almost all the financial aid offered by the "international community" will be clawed back into debt repayment. Iraq's oil revenues of some $10bn a year will probably go on being managed by the UN oil-for-food programme. The Iraqis, in other words, will be generously permitted to go on paying for their own food and medicine. Moreover, the Saddam regime was maintained not only by terror but by an enormous network of kinship-based corruption. The tale of post-communist Europe suggests that if a one-party controlled economy is instantly opened to unregulated capitalism, party networks of clientship turn rapidly and naturally into relationships of organised crime.

He is right but of course we can all sit around and theorise about what might be the best system to impose on Iraq, the fact is that Iraq will have its own ideas. The left in democracies can put pressure on our government's to commit to a positive engagement, to provide real aid and assistance and to help strengthen Iraqi democracy but we must prepare ourselves to deal with the responses from our government's that the Iraqis won't like. As Ascherson puts it:

Liberation hurts. In Iraq, it comes with humiliation and fear about the future. A UN transition regime must replace the military governors as soon as possible, and must move quickly towards democracy. And the White House fanatics have to realise that a free Iraq cannot be designed to suit their ideology. It will be ungrateful. It will have policies they dislike. This is called independence. If it is denied, then the real liberation of Iraq will happen unpredictably, and bloodily, in the future.

posted by BA on 1:50 AM link

Roy Hattersley makes an appeal for opponents of Tony Blair in the Labour Party to stay in the party and, in the words of Hugh Gaitskell "fight, fight and fight again".

Certainly there is no point in people who are serious about progressive politics leaving the only game in town and the far left is littered with the skeletons of failed alternatives, although I don't think even Hattersley would mourn the departure of the Trotskyists who wrecked the party in the 1980's.

As the website Cut It Up shows though there are many decent democratic socialists who have been driven to leave the party over the Iraq issue and that is bad news for a party that needs an activist base.

I've always liked and respected Roy Hattersley - his brand of staunch social democratic politics have never really been fashionable. When he was deputy leader of the Labour Party under Neil Kinnock he was mocked by the left as being either a 'witchunter' or a rather stodgy right-winger. Now I suspect he is rather dismissed as a stodgy old-style statist social democrat. But his politics are guided by a strong mind and strong principles.

His attempt to present himself in recent years as the preserver of Labour's core traditional values, based on "the ideas of RH Tawney and Tony Crosland" as he puts it, hasn't been entirely a success however. I think has rather overdone the slightly self-mocking 'Look, even I seem a radical lefty compared with Blair' line.

His latest offering exposes what for me is the central weakeness with his analysis of New Labour - he thinks it is a tendency completely alien to his and the party's values.

He refers to the Blairites as an "invading army" and says it is time to take them on:

"The task of recreating a real Labour party is far from hopeless. In every constituency there are men and women who want to rescue the party from the cuckoos in its nest. They need to be convinced - as they were when Labour was saved from a less successful infiltration in the early 1980s - that there are like-minded people all over the country".

It is a worthy appeal and one which hopefully decent democratic socialists will head. But I think Hattersley does himself no favours by comparing the Blairistas to Derek Hatton's Militant tendency.

Peter Kilfoyle, the man who destroyed Militant so effectively in the heartland on Merseyside in the 1980's, has made a similar comparison not so long ago:

"Older members recall the internal triumph over sectarianism and wonder whether it was worth it, as a new sectarianism takes hold - one defined by the combination of a perceived neo-Thatcherite economic policy with a quasi-liberal social policy. It is little wonder that those who were committed to Labour before year zero of The Project feel so disaffected," he wrote in the Guardian.

While it is true that The Project has been characterised by dogmatism, zealotry, intolerence and authoritarianism throughout, the last few months have really moved the goalposts and there really is no point in pretending that Blairism is something totally alien to the Labour Party, imposed from outside. The likes of Blunkett, Prescott, Beckett and yes even Alan Milburn all have lengthy histories in the party and like many Labour ministers before them began their lives on the left of the party. They weren't imposed on the party, they didnt infiltrate the party, they have been part of a process. Whether you like that process or not, there really is no point in creating the illusion that Labour has been captured by an alien sect.

This is particularly useless as an approach at a moment when there are many people who might have easily been categorised as New Labour in the past who are open to a fresh approach - some even within the cabinet.

There is a recognition among many that Labour needs to reinject itself with a sense of genuine radicalism and begin to make an impact in key areas of policy. The debate about what direction that radicalism should go in is just begining. Peter Hain has offered his vision of a decentralised libertarian socialist approach but what are Hattersley and Kilfoyle offering? What are the discontented trade union centre-left offering? Are there any new ideas or do they really, as I suspect, wish to return to post-war statist social-democratic solutions?

If Labour is to re-energise the membership and re-unite, putting the divisions over Iraq behind it, there is a need for a real debate over the future direction of the party. Not an eighties style factional battle against an 'enemy within' carried out in committee rooms but a genuine attempt to marry the undoubted unorthodoxy and electoral success of New Labour with the commitment to core left values represented by the likes of Hattersley.

posted by BA on 1:28 AM link

Sunday, March 23, 2003


I'm glad that most of the British bloggers aren't doing much in the way of 'war blogging' and I hope it stays that way.

I spent a bit of time this morning checking out the American blogs that are linking away on every bit of news they can find and to be frank it is not very impressive.

Given the profusion of real-time media sources with blanket coverage to the war I really don't see the point in 'warblogs' . If you really need a constant 'fix' of news on the war (and I am not at all convinced anyone really does) you are not going to miss much by following 24 hour news channels or their related websites.

For me, blogs are simply about opinions and they proved to be a very useful addition to 'big media' during the pre-war debate. I have no doubt blogs will come back into their own after war. But for the moment I am just left feeling very uncomfortable about war junkies who seem to be transfixed to coverage of the battles.

Who among the bloggers can seriously offer a credible analysis of what is going on? Who honestly cares what some webhead thinks about the battle at Basra?

There is also a real danger of people publishing things on the spur of the moment when they are in an emotional state.

If, for example, I had decided to blog this morning after a British plane was shot down by a US missile I would have probably gone into an anti-American rant and drawn all sort of wild conclusions about the abilities of our allies and the history of 'friendly fire' and American incompetence in wars past. But does anyone really need to read such momentary emotional reaction? I don't think so.

Likewise do we really need a constant stream of links telling us how there are some wacky idiots among the anti-war movement? Have most of us not realised that by now, including most people inside the anti-war campaigns?

I get the strong impression that many of those bloggers who spend their free-time searching the web for the most stupid slogans and the most outragous opinions are either rather self-righteous people who think the stupidity of others reflects some wisdom on themselves or cynical bloggers who hope their 'discovery' will get a link from Instapundit and win a load of traffic for their site.

Ah yes, Instapundit, the most visited blogger in the world, the man invited to panel discussions on the 'future of blogging' etc. I read his blog now and then and if he represents the future of some exciting new media then I think I will stick to the professionals thanks.

Here are a couple of his nuggets of wisdom that he felt the world needed to know:

TOMMY FRANKS is doing a good job in his press briefing, which I'm watching at the moment. The reporters, also, don't look quite as dumb as they did at Rumsfeld's briefing the other day. Well, most of them.

Thanks for that Mr.Pundit.

Or what about this piece of incisive analysis?

HOW ARE THINGS GOING? Well, pretty well so far. Iraqis are surrendering, the biggest casualties seem to be from accident and friendly fire, not enemy action, and Iraqi leaders seem demoralized while Iraqi citizens seem pleased. Still, it's too early to say, really.

Yep, sure is buddy.

posted by BA on 8:02 AM link

Its easy to laugh at the western volunteer 'human shields' in Baghdad but as this article shows they are not at all stupid and at least one of them has learnt something from his trip.

posted by BA on 6:20 AM link

British Spin
Tom Watson
Stephen Pollard
Nick Barlow
Paul Anderson
Matthew Turner
Jeff Jarvis

Vox Politics
Conservative Commentary
Slugger O'Toole
Public Interest
Emily Jones
Edge of England's Sword
Au Currant
Natalie Solent
Brendan O'Neill
Look Back in Anger
Cinderella Bloggerfeller
Matt Welch