Saturday, April 26, 2003

The questions surrounding Galloway's Mariam Appeal led me to wonder about the broader issue of political finances. I know there is legislation to cover funding of political parties and MPs but what about political campaigns? Are Stop The War, for example, obliged to release details of their finances? What about non-parliamentry political parties such as the Socialist Workers Party? If not, why not? Mail me please if you know the score on this

posted by BA on 6:20 AM link

The ordinary anti-war protestor says it is unfair to tar them all by the same brush as their Leninist leaders. Most of the protestors were not Leninist supporters of a one-party state. Fair enough, but why did we hear so little dissent from within the movement? If they really believed the movement could make an impact among society as a whole why were they willing for their organisation to be in the hands of the ultra-nihilist cult called the Socialist Workers Party and Stalinists like Andrew Murray?

Why are people, who would define themselves as being on the democratic left, so unwilling to challenge the dominance of those whose overall political outlook should be alien to them?

The answer, in many cases, is simply fear. The control mechanism Leninists have always used. People who get involved with the far left know that if you dare to step out of line, to ask the sensitive questions, to challenge the right of the self-appointed leaders to lead that you will be labelled a 'scab' or a 'traitor' and made an outcast. There is a culture of conformity on the far left that in a lesser way mirrors the old regimes inspired by Lenin. People are afraid to lose their membership of the left club, lose friendships and fall out of their comfy social circles.

We saw it with the Militant mafia in the 1980’s. If you questioned their motives (which we all knew had nothing to do with building a viable Labour Party) you were in for a rough time whenever you came across them again. Many elements of the soft left, as it was known then, tut-tutted as Neil Kinnock finally moved to drive a self-described Leninist revolutionary party out of an organisation they had no right to belong to and who sought only to feed off it.

The reasoning given, and I used this argument at the time myself, was that an attack on Militant was an attack on the left as a whole. And indeed the exit from the Labour Party of the Trotskyists has left the radical wing of Labour numerically weaker. But so what?

Surely by now we have realised that you simply cannot build a viable radical, egalitarian and democratic socialist movement in alliance with people who desire dictatorship. It is not good enough any more to say these ‘comrades’ may be a bit wacky on the theory but they are good organisers who get things done. The whole issue of Iraq shows that if you support dictatorship in theory you will do so in practice.

So what should those of us on the non-Leninist left be doing?

The absence of a real, active campaigning democratic left has left a vacuum which the authoritarians have filled. There are also real issues of inequality, real social problems that are not being adequately addressed by the Labour Party. These are the very reasons people get involved in left politics but at the moment they are drawn into the orbit of sects who offer no hope of a real solution.

There needs to be a change of approach from the democratic left. It is no longer just good enough to criticise New Labour for failing to engage with a radical agenda, important though that is. We must also challenge those who offer a false alternative. We must not be afraid to expose the undemocratic nature of the ultra-left, to attack them with the same force we would attack other enemies of a democratic socialism. Ask them the tough questions, hold them to account.

For a few of us, the gloves came off over Iraq. More need to do the same.

posted by BA on 5:58 AM link

The Independent has now followed The Times and decided to charge for access to a large part of its online content including, sadly, opinion items. You can debate the rights and wrongs of this as a commercial strategy but I think this is a great shame in terms of global discourse.

The internet, helped by weblogs, has allowed an unprecedented level of debate and cross-reading among English speakers globally, particularly between American and British readers. Ten years ago an op-ed piece in the Independent would rarely have achieved an audience beyond the British readership of the paper. I know from looking at my site stats that items such as the recent John Lloyd piece on sovereignty and some of Johann Hari’s articles have been linked to and read by many American weblogs. I doubt many Americans will be tempted now to pay for that access though.

People sometimes snigger at the hyperbole that surrounds the ‘blogosphere’ perhaps with some justification but until I started reading blogs I would never have thought of subscribing to an American magazine such as the New Republic. The option was always there but a quick link from a blog helped to guide me to the most interesting stuff. I don’t read the Washington Post op-eds every day but thanks to blog links I will check out interesting items I am pointed to.

I can buy the Indie and read it every day. It is a waste of money for me to subscribe to it online. I can’t really link to anything from the paper or The Times as I would simply be leading most readers to an advertisement now and therefore wasting their time. The interesting discussions we had among ourselves on the comment boxes and across blogs on some of the issues raised by Johann Hari in the Independent will no longer be possible.

The Times charges ‘overseas’ readers accessing their site. UK surfers can get it for free. Someone, somewhere at News Corp decided it was time to cash in on the growing phenomena of Americans reading British papers online. Instead, like the Independent, they have taken a step to kill it off.

posted by BA on 5:51 AM link
There was a time when the comments boxes on this blog were an occasionally interesting forum for debate and discussion. However lately it is clear that one or two wreckers have been using it as a form of graffiti. I’m not at all bothered by the infantile personal comments, I get far worse in my email intray from people accusing me of class treachery and being in the pay of George Bush etc. It is the kind of debate I was well used to when I used to participate in far left mailing lists.

However I do spend a fair bit of time trying, in my amateurish way, to make this blog interesting and accessible to people who pop in. The first time visitor who sees a comment box full of snide comments and childish insults is not going to be attracted back. I’ve seen a few once promising discussion forums wrecked by such anonymous ‘trolling’. So I have taken down the comments option, which were pretty unreliable software anyway.
But I do want to hear readers views and opinions and I am more than happy to post them on the site. Critics such as Richard B have made good points and I don’t want the end of comments to stop him or others from making their case constructively. All you have to do is send me an email (the address is to the left) and every few days I’ll post a selection of the mail bag.

posted by BA on 5:51 AM link

Friday, April 25, 2003


"In the late seventies, Workers Revolutionary Party photographers took pictures of demonstrators outside the Iraqi embassy in London and then passed the photographs on to its paymasters sitting inside the building. The consequences could have been tantamount to a death sentence. This must rank as one of the worst atrocities ever committed by an ostensibly socialist organisation in Britain." Weekly Worker, April 24, 2003

Given those demonstrators would have been Iraqi exiles and their supporters in the UK this is shocking. It is a rumour that has been circulating on the left for years but I have never seen in it in print before.

edit: However the author of the above article, Dave Osler, has been in touch and says the matter has been published in some obscure left journals in the past.

Dave was kind enough to furnish this:

The following is a verbatim quote from an "International Committee of the Fourth International" internal document, which was a report of their commission of inquiry into the financial affairs of the WRP. It is dated 16 December 1985.

"The Commission has not yet been able to establish all the facts relating in the case of the photographs that were handed over to the Iraqi embassy. We do know that two WRP members were instructed to take photos of demonstrations of opponents of Saddam Hussein.
"One of the members, Cde. [name suppressed], refused the order. A receipt for £1,600 for 16 minutes of documentary footage of a demonstration is in the possession of the Commission."

An appendix adds that payments to the WRP from Iraq totalled at least £19,697.

So it appears I was mistaken to believe this was merely a rumour and my apologies to Dave if I suggested originally he had not done his homework - he clearly has. There appears to be no doubt that Saddam’s regime was funding a British Trotskyist group as long ago as the 1970’s – which is very interesting in the light of current events.

posted by BA on 9:06 AM link

Wednesday, April 23, 2003


"Iraqi information minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf’s briefings of the international media have attracted attention for their informative and often cogent content, in contrast to the contradictions of the coalition spokespersons, who have had to field numerous questions regarding the misinformation they were spinning the day before."

From the Weekly Worker

posted by BA on 9:06 AM link

If you didn't see it you can read the Galloway interview with Sky News in full here.

Quote: "I have strong support across the country. I speak, and my friends speak, for millions of British people".

Shouldn't somebody set up a website?

posted by BA on 3:01 AM link

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

If anyone is the man to deliver the blows to finish off the defenders of dictators on the left then it is Johann Hari of the Independent. As so often he hits the target more accurately than a gobful of Wayne Rooney's flem. "I'd rather it was money than belief that made George Galloway support Saddam," he says.

There are two possible motives for this behaviour: admiration for Saddam, or gratitude for his cash. Both options stink: either he was paid by Saddam, or Saddam didn't need to offer him cash. I for one will think better of Galloway if he is a crook. If he was just doing this for the old, foul motive of an extra £375,000 a year, he is a bit less immoral than if he backs Saddam's atrocities sincerely. As the French left said when Chirac faced Le Pen in the presidential elections last year: "Better a crook than a fascist."

And what about those on the left who have followed Galloway as the de facto leader of the anti-war movement?

It is a sign of how deranged the far left has become that one of their most prominent spokesmen can be seriously accused of being a paid agent of an appalling totalitarian regime, and it doesn't surprise anyone. Whether or not Galloway is actually Saddam's client (he says he'll sue the Telegraph), it should shake all decent people who followed Galloway's call to realise that he has only spoken in ways that would comfort Saddam and his gang of torturers. For this, he was applauded time and again at anti-war rallies by the very people who should be most repulsed by tyranny.

If you are one of the mostly decent people who cheered Galloway at the anti-war rally, now is the time to pause and ask yourself: "What did I do?" I am drawn to the left; it is my political home; but something has gone horribly wrong for us when Saddam-saluting Galloway can be seen as one of our leaders. The day when the left might not even have to be paid by a tyrant – when it might be offering him comfort for free – is a day from hell. We are living in that long, suplhur-scented day.

Read it all

posted by BA on 5:36 PM link

Spin is back with a superb Kinnockesque rallying call for a war on the anti-American left:

It starts from opposing American foolishness and bad policy, and ends up with the spectacle of a Labour MP, a Labour MP, scuttling from dictator to torturer, handing out compliments and support to corrupt regimes and oppresive neo-fascists.

I want to see a day when no Left-winger is tempted to support a dictator as a counterweight to US hegemony, when we see that the bigger chance for us is to join that better America, restrain the worse, but never flinch from choosing to be on the side of imperfect democracy against brutal dictatorship.

He's spot-on and for all the accusations, law-suits, denials and petty journalistic jealousies that will come out of the Gorgeousgate affair, the biggest lesson of this whole affair is that the oppositionalist left, having had their moment of glory on Feb 15, lost the argument, lost the war and have now lost their credibility. It's time to finish them off.

posted by BA on 4:58 PM link

I'll maybe post something on the wider implications of the allegations made against Galloway later on but central to the whole affair of his behaviour in general, rather than specific allegation made by the Telegraph, is the charity/campaigning group the Mariam Appeal. So I've done a bit of googling to see what can be found out in the public domain.

According to this report Galloway flew Iraqi child Mariam Hamza, who was suffering from leukemia from Iraq to a children’s hospital in Glasgow and launched a public appeal for money using her name. The Times say that on House of Commons notepaper, he wrote to donors telling them that the money would all go on hospital fees for Mariam and medical care for other Iraqi children.

But the fund, which is not a charity and refuses to divulge its accounts or trustees, has so far paid for 14 trips by Mr Galloway to 15 countries, including eight visits to Iraq, say The Times.

Where has the money come from? Well, for the first time, Galloway tells us in the Telegraph today

He said the three main funders were the government of the United Arab Emirates, the government of Saudi Arabia and Fawaz Zureikat, the man named in the (alleged) Iraqi intelligence document as the appeal's representative in Baghdad.

Asked about its income, he said: "I would have said that its total funding over its whole life was round about an Ecclestone [referring to Bernie Ecclestone, the Labour donor], around £1 million over five years, more than half of which came from the government of the United Arab Emirates."

So, regardless of whether you believe the intelligence report found by the Telegraph is true or a fake, or a stitch-up job (and we will likely found out in court) Galloway's political campaigns have been funded by some rather unsavoury sources.

What did the campaign do with the Saudi-UAE cash?

There are some examples of what Galloway activities were funded by the Mariam Campaign in Galloway's declaration of interests to the House of Commons. (The link to this was first provided by Spin)

Interestingly there is no mention of the Mariam Campaign in Galloway's most recent declaration of interests. It appears the little-known Great Britain Iraq Society, which Galloway chairs, has become the major provider of his expenses.

According to this article, which seems to promote the society, those interested in joining the Great Britian Iraq Society are asked to contact - the Mariam Campaign. And a circulated letter from Galloway to left activists, found on this site, has the address of the society to be c/o the Mariam Campaign.

update: the BBC has quite a decent claims and rebuttal item about Gorgeousgate - a good bet if you just want the matter summing up

posted by BA on 6:51 AM link
George Galloway, the anti-war Labour backbencher, received money from Saddam Hussein's regime for his campaigns, taking a slice of oil earnings worth at least £375,000 a year, according to Iraqi intelligence documents found by The Daily Telegraph in Baghdad. Story here

The slogan "No war - for oil" seems to come to mind. But if this is proven to be true - and it has to be said there is an awful lot of detail in the Telegraph report but Galloway has denied the allegations - then explusion from the Labour Party is likely to be the least of Galloway's problems. You also have to wonder what else is going to turn up in recently discovered Iraqi intelligence dossiers.

There are a series of links next to the main Telegraph report with copies of the documents plus Galloway's response.

update: Galloway says he will sue the Telegraph

posted by BA on 2:31 AM link

Sunday, April 20, 2003

Sina Motallebi, well-known Iranian blogger and journalist was arrested on Sunday. He is accused of threatening national security by giving interviews to Persian language radios outside Iran, writing articles both in newspapers and his weblog. See here for more details and Jeff Jarvis has begun a campaign.

posted by BA on 5:18 PM link
This has really cheered me up for all kinds of reasons. The first newspaper to hit the streets of Baghdad since the fall of Saddam is the paper of the Communist Party see news story. Many had suspected that there was little left of the once very powerful CP after the repression they suffered at the hands of the Ba'athist regime. Thanks to the internet you too can read the front page article which was the first printed criticism of Saddam seen inside Iraq for three decades - read the front page of Tareeq Al-Sha'ab here - well worth digesting.

posted by BA on 1:44 PM link

Jeff Jarvis reflects an understandable and widespread reaction to the anti-US protests in Iraq when he asks why in Friday prayers the religious leaders didn’t thank the US for liberating their country.

He is referring specifically to religious leaders, not exactly famed for rationale and logic, but the issue does beg the broader question of how long the Iraqis will tolerate the presence of foreign, specifically US, soldiers on their soil and whether frustration will lead to support for fundamentalism.

There is no doubt that the vast majority of ordinary Iraqis are delighted that Saddam has gone. Probably most of them will give credit where it is due and recognise the role that US and British soldiers played in liberating their country. But that doesn’t mean they want them in their country any longer than absolutely necessary and who can blame them?

Sadly for the neo-con utopians, a brief begrudging recognition of the fact that the Americans have freed Iraq, doesn’t mean that the free Iraqis will become a pro-American (let alone a pro-Israeli) force within the Middle East persuading their neighbours that American style capitalism and democracy offer the great hope for the region.

For a start what the coalition has done in Iraq over the past few weeks needs to be put in its historical context. Most of us might put the blame for the suffering of the Iraqis solely at the feet of Saddam Hussein and his regime but there are many Iraqis who will not so easily brush aside our own governments’ shameful role in sustaining that oppression.

There are few Iraqi families who did not lose a loved one in the war against Iran, a war that was actively encouraged by the United States, including some individuals who are once again in power. After that carnage, thousands were killed directly by allied forces during the first Gulf War. Then thousands more were tortured, imprisoned or executed in the crack-down that followed Bush Senior’s Great Betrayal at the end of the Gulf War One - the Iraqis won't forget that one quickly. Then, those who survived all of that were forced to live under sanctions imposed at the behest of the US and UK. We left the ordinary Iraqi to the humiliation of relying on rations handed out and administered by the dictatorship they despised.

The Iraqis know Saddam is the guilty one in all of this but can you blame them for not embracing those who aided and abetted him?

Then there is another potent factor. There is not a country in the world where foreign occupation, however necessary, however right, is welcomed for any length of time. Americans and Brits really have no idea of what occupation can feel like. In Eastern Europe, Red Army tanks drove out the Nazi invaders but then took over the show and became the enemy. If the idea that the US-UK might come to be seen in a similar light (however different their intentions are) is too much for you then look over the water to Northern Ireland where British troops took to the street for the apparently noble purpose of defending the minority Catholic community from attack but soon became their enemy in a long and bloody war.

Its not just places of continued conflict that show this reluctance to appreciate good-intentioned military interventions. Attend a liberation day ceremony in Italy and you will likely not hear a single reference to the foreign troops who gave their lives driving out the Nazis and helping bring down Mussolini. The Italians prefer to recall their own partisans. A selective memory? Perhaps, but no-one likes being reminded that they couldn’t free themselves.

Will an attitude of hostility quickly become widespread and hardened in Iraq? It is easy for us in the West to ‘look at the big picture’ but people who have no drinking water or electricity are quite reasonably going to be thinking short-term. Poverty is no great aide to global perspective. Eastern Europe was liberated from dictatorship 14 years ago, yet ask unemployed Ukrainian steel workers or poverty-striken Romanians about the benefits of freedom and democracy and they will bitterly laugh in your face.

Add to all this the fact that among the vast majority of Arabs, the US is seen as the main backer of Israeli oppression of their brothers in Palestine and the chances of a long-lasting love-in look even slimmer.

Is there a way to avoid these understandable emotions turning themselves into a seething discontent that can be exploited by those who feed on such despair and bitterness – the Islamic fundamentalists?

There is a way but it is one which, to say the least, does not fit easily into the outlook of George Bush.

First of all, the US has to recognise the benefits of reducing its visibility in Iraq. They have to swallow a bitter pill and let a multinational United Nations-backed presence take the bulk of the responsibility for the immediate post-war tasks assisting a broad-based Iraqi administration.

If the US is serious about a democratic Iraq and undercutting any support for fundamentalism it should realise that it is a lot harder to rally opposition to as multinational peacekeeping (or more accurately peace-winning) force, made up of states which have never attacked you, than to point the finger at the big power who can be blamed for your son’s death. It is in the US’s interest to make itself less of a target for discontent in post-war Iraq - a multinational force assisting an Iraqi administration is the best way to do that. At the very least it will spread the blame.

Secondly, the politics of reconstruction have to be aimed at winning the widest possible support from Iraqis and delivering real benefits for all layers of Iraqi society including, vitally, the poorest and most powerless. The solutions, however, are likely to be almost as unpalatable for the US as handing over operations to a multinational force.

Large-scale public works programmes, bringing job-creation but requiring public investment are the best way to get Iraq back on its feet. The lessons of much of Eastern Europe are that if you introduce free-market policies into a country with little in the way of a democratic political culture and where wealth and power have been concentrated in the hands of the few for decades you are not going to get a stakeholders market democracy. You will get corruption with local mafia cutting deals while the masses remain trapped in poverty – ask the Russians.

Old-fashioned social-democracy may no longer be the preferred method of advanced capitalist societies but irritatingly for some it remains the best model for post-war reconstruction – ask the Germans.

The alternative source of the needed investment for Iraq is of course private capital, which requires a privatised Iraq where local elites will have to cut deals with US corporations. Those local and foreign economic interests will, of course, require a compliant government willing to oversee the privatisation of Iraq’s public utilities and natural resources – a kind of psuedo-democratic Shah of Iran. If you need reminding where that can lead to – ask the Iranians.

Of course private capital will be needed as well. The Iraqis need to be helped in creating locally-owned small and medium-sized businesses that make up the heart of any functioning economy. But they need a solid framework and stable infrastructure to operate within.

Deliver a multinational commitment to bringing prosperity and democracy to Iraq and you never know – the Iraqis might have something to thank us for after all.

posted by BA on 6:35 AM link

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