Saturday, May 24, 2003


Check out this article published in Arab News by former leading Trotskyist Tariq Ali. It's his take on the Iraq war for a Saudi-based audience. There's so much spittle on his lips I would recommend a closer look. In case the link is down I'll reproduce one of the choicer snippets.

"The existance of an independent Arab regime in Baghdad had always been an irritation to the Israeli military. With the installation of Republican zealots close to Likud in key positions in Washington, the elimination of a traditional adversary became an attractive immediate goal for Israel."

According to him Iraq was too "independent" to be allowed to exist by the Israeli army and their armed poodles, the USA . Hmmm...methinks independent has a different meaning in Tariq's dictionary.

I often wonder why people like Tariq Ali continue to churn out this sort of overblown sixth-form rhetoric long after their university years are over. Perhaps there are good Petrodollars in it...

posted by marcus on 3:18 PM link

Friday, May 23, 2003

Excellent piece in Spiked about the banning of competitive sports days in schools. This is an issue that has given much pleasure to the tabloid populists - the other night I saw Richard Littlejohn on Sky News, predictably lapping up this story and echoing the widely expressed view that "It is political correctness gone mad".

As Duleep Allirajah puts it in his article: "The notion that political correctness has gone mad is a strange anthropomorphism. The implication being that political correctness was once a perfectly sane and reasonable chap who only concerned himself with sensible pursuits, such as hounding Nazis and kiddie fiddlers. But then he suffered a breakdown, perhaps triggered by a humiliating sporting experience, and now Mr PC is a twitching, bulgy-eyed loon who has started stalking innocuous targets such as egg-and-spoon races. But in truth political correctness hasn't so much gone gaga as gone mainstream. The scrapping of competitive sports is the logical consequence of our therapeutic culture that assumes that children are vulnerable creatures whose self-esteem will be irreparably damaged by sporting failure.

I agree with this -- competition-free sport is as useful as alcohol-free beer. However I have some sympathy with one of the decisions of the Midlands headmistress who prompted this row - I can see the reasons for banning parents from sports days.

I once coached a junior football team and despite never having atttended a course in 'defeat counselling' had no problems in handling the impact of heavy losses on the egos of 14 year old kids. What I did have a problem with was bawling dads, either bollocking their kids and destroying their will to play the game or muttering about my team selection. The sight of grown men hurling abuse at someone who had voluntarily given up a Saturday morning to referee a kids match is truly disheartening for everyone involved.

If there is any emotional harm caused by youth sport it comes not from losing egg and spoon races but from the screwed up parents who vent their frustrations on their kids.

posted by BA on 4:34 PM link
I've commented before on how the Trotskyite Socialist Workers Party insist on blaming global capitalism for everything from cruelty to animals to SARS. But this has to take the biscuit - yes, the oligarchs are to blame for West Ham's relegation from the Premier League!

I have two words that might help Roger Protz get a broader perspective on the failures of his team - Glenn Roeder.

The article is a predictable rant about how the 'people's game' has been 'hijacked' by big business and is all the worse for it. This is a widely held view in liberal circles including the so-called fans' movement. But when it comes to football I have to break completely with the old left attitudes. The fact is that what football needs is not less capitalism but much, much more of it.

The game has always been controlled by wealthy people, often succcessful local businessmen who fritter away their fortunes on the vain hope of glory for their team. It is a plaything of capitalists consumed by the working class. But there is no alternative. I doubt turning West Ham into a co-operatives or state run club would go down to well in the East End. The middle class activists of the fans movement demand a seat on the board for supporters. But it is not schoolteachers in the boardroom that is needed but good businessmen.

The problem is that football is an example of the worst run capitalist companies. It is an old cliche but it remains valid that people who have astutely and carefully built up their businesses for decades, discard all that knowledge and experience when they get hold of the reigns of a football club.

They forget things like market value and get involved in silly bidding wars for players. They forget basic precautionary steps to take before major investments and go heavily into debt on ground re-development plans and even transfer sprees. And they treat their customers like idiots, demanding more and more money from them while doing little in the way of market research and having almost no interest in customer satisfaction.

Amazingly when things go completely pear-shaped, the businesses rarely fold. Leicester City has written off around 50 million in debt by going into administration and then effectively 're-forming'. Other clubs are going down the same path. Aside from hitting creditors hard the result is that well-run clubs who avoid debt are punished for their prudence. Everyone demands 'ambition' from club chairmen and that means getting the cheque-book out. Those fans who demand the club 'invest' money are the first to chant 'sack the board' when clubs like Leeds find their anarchic approach has got them in hot water.

What football needs is simply sound management based on the basic laws of the market economy. My experience as a Burnley fan is that supporters will accept limitations on spending if the reasons are clearly explained and if they have confidence in the management of the club. So forget blaming Rupert Murdoch, who for all his faults, has piled so much cash into the game that some of the best players in the world have been attracted to play in England. Football needs all the capitalist bastards it can get.

posted by BA on 3:27 PM link

Stephen Pollard has the goods on the New Statesman's list of Britain's top neo-cons which is even sillier than I imagined including the magazine's former editor John Lloyd as well as David Aaronovitch.

As Stephen puts it "Both of them are classic, straight down the line social democrats. The only thing they have in common with neocons - almost literally, the only thing - is that they supported the war in Iraq. But so did Anne Clwyd, so did Nick Cohen, and so did Christopher Hitchens"

It seems pretty clear that the term neo-conservative is being simply used as a term of abuse on the left to describe people whose views on terrorism and on Iraq, the reactionary left find hard to stomach.

Meanwhile, thanks to reader Gene Vitzer for providing a link to this Josh Marshall report in Forward on the recent gathering of Social Democrats USA and the debate they had with some old comrades who have become........neo-cons.

posted by BA on 7:53 AM link

The proposal to feed the children of the Scottish bourgeoisie at the expense of the working-class taxpayer, while unsuccessful in the Edinburgh Parliament, seems to have garnered reasonable support from generally left-leaning Scottish civil society.

Harry's Place posted on this issue recently and the post attracted a fair amount of comments (see I'll have the langoustine below).

The proposed scheme raises many questions. One which occurred to me was what would Karl Marx have made of it ?. Obviously any attempt to answer is pure speculation as Marx famously refused to write the cookbooks of the future and his writings on the role of the state before and after the revolution are contradictory and open to quoting out of context.

What is clear is that Marx operated in an intellectual and social world very different from our own. The mid-nineteenth century was an era in which the British working class was very busy. Not content with putting in long days at the mill some of the more active members set up the co-operative movement, the first building societies, workers educational associations and a whole host of lesser organisations which met the social and intellectual needs of the people. Some of these organisations still exist and some have been supplanted by aspects of the welfare state set up after the second world war.

The contrast with today's left is instructive. Most of the British (and international) left is more than content to let the state run the things which were previously in the hands of the people. The reasons for this shift is explained by the increasing complexity of providing social goods. Whatever the reason, the left seems to worship the state to the extent that it is happy for the state to feed it's children whether they are in economic need of such feeding or not.

Is it neccessarily a good thing to let the state run things which can be run by the people ? Marx and Engels were in favour of the withering away of the state. I'm tempted to agree that this withering away has much to recommend it and would probably be a good thing for the following reasons:

1. Having everything run on your behalf by the state does tend to encourage a certain submissive fatalistic mentality among recepients. This is never a good thing.

2. Civil society is much the poorer without a strong self-organising working class, as is the working class.

3. Social provision is in the hands of politicians rather than the people on the ground, who are more likely to be committed to whatever it is they are trying to do.

The long slow economic collapse of the Soviet Union should have alerted us to the perils of allowing the state to run everything, sadly not many on the left appear to have learned the lesson. I suspect one of the reasons for this is that the modern British left has not broken out of the post-war mindset which saw politics as a battle to attract funding, investment etc from the centralised state rather than discussing the production of wealth and it's distribution.

If the British left doesn't start seriously addressing the question of the role of the state and it's limitations it will remain a quaint echo of a post-war intellectual world which vanished 15 years ago. Useful as a protest vote but offering nothing for the future.

posted by marcus on 3:09 AM link

Tuesday, May 20, 2003

David Aaronovitch takes a shot at the wretched New Statesman for their 'outing' of him as a neo-con.

Then this magazine called the New Statesman runs a big cover piece, revealing that not only am I a neocon, but - hell - I'm one of the biggest. "Well", I say, "I figure an outfit like that has got to have done its homework, so maybe they know something I don't. Perhaps I am a barmy, war-loving, big-business Zionist with a penchant for conspiracies. After all," I say, "look at my name."

"Dead giveaway," agrees Wolfie. "Welcome aboard".

Aaronovitch is, of course, referring to the frequently heard view that the neo-cons are a Jewish clique. This is becoming a recurring theme in any discussion about the still (to my mind) ill-defined group labelled as neo-conservatives. Of course it emerged most blatantly in the infamous Tam Dalyell 'cabal' comments and is sadly heard more from the left than anywhere else.

I suspect Stephen Pollard, who is proud to describe himself as a 'neo-con' would laugh at the idea that Aaro, a liberal, ex-Eurocommunist, broadly New Labour type could seriously be considered a convert to neo-conservatism simply because he took a sensible position over Iraq and isn't afraid to call a terrorist a terrorist. But I would like to know who else was 'outed' by the New Statesman?

I am not paying NS a pound to find out - not only because I am tight-fisted but also because I am not financing a publication that is a disgrace to its own history. After all this is a magazine that believes anti-Americanism is profitable so shifted its orientation to tap that market. I'm not going to help their unprincipled profit chasing. But if someone who does could put the list of the other 'outed Brit neo-cons' in the comments box or email me I would be very grateful.

posted by BA on 9:29 AM link
It must be at least 15 years since the old Communist Party of Great Britain held its last annual summer discussion event, The Communist University, but now the political successors to the old deceased party have decided on a welcome relaunch, albeit with a scale-downed weekend version.

I think I might pop along and see some of the old comrades, there is a fair chance of a booze-up on the Saturday night and who knows maybe Dick Gaughan will sing some songs for us. I'll probably pick and choose which events to attend but this one looks a must: Party, class and revolutionary change - Andrew Murray on the dialectics of party and class in a world dominated by capitalist globalisation .

Wonder if Comrade Murray, who was head of the Stop the War Coalition and his comrades will be bother to ask themselves how this state of affairs came about?

The slogan for the event is 'question everything' - I wonder if they will?

posted by BA on 8:49 AM link

I don't claim to know much about the Social Democrats USA but I was told in the past they were a semi-retired organisation of old lefties with no real political clout.

However reading this recently published statement of values and ideas for the American left, I was refreshed by the positive tone and the willingness to criticise the 'fake left' that has come in for plenty of attention on this weblog.

The statement comes out of a recent meeting that brought some well-known names on the US left together: The event's speakers included: Donna Brazile, Campaign Manager, Clinton-Gore 2000; Richard Bensinger consultant on organizing to international unions; Andrei Markovits, Visiting Professor, Harvard; Jeffrey Herf Professor, University of Maryland; Michael Allen, contributor to Renewal, a journal aligned with the Blair wing of the British Labour; Penn Kemble, Notesonline; Paul Berman, author, Terror and Liberalism; Saad Ibrahim Director, Ibn Khaldun Center, Cairo; and Joshua Muravchik, author, Heaven on Earth: The Rise and Fall of Socialism.

Organizers of the event put forward a discussion paper that appears in full here. It stresses the importance of two themes that some on the left today consider incompatible: support for a strong labor movement, and vigorous US engagement on behalf of democracy abroad.

Richard Wilson, one of the organizers of the meeting, commented that "Any reactions to this statement should be interesting. As we note, a lot of effort is being put by both the right and the left today into wedging these two ideas apart."

I'd be interested in what our American readers make of all this.

posted by BA on 8:08 AM link

Ross Clark in today's Times gives vent to his spleen at Ian Duncan Smith's desire to reposition the Tories as "the party of the poor".

It is unsettling but entertaining to have a Tory trying to outflank Labour from the left but I suppose not totally unexpected (see IDS's earlier pledge of fee-free tertiary education ).

Clark appears to be a man of the right and his attack on the new direction the Tory's are taking is well-written but essentially what you'd expect any Conservative (without a position in IDS's organisation) to say. He contrasts the spirit of Smilesian self-improvement amongst the Nineteenth Century poor with the way, according to him, that poverty "became a source of group identity and pride" after the advent of the Labour movement. He goes on to explain the reasons he thinks poverty has such historical staying-power in our islands;

"The reason poverty persisted in Twentieth Century Britain was because there were so many organisations with a vested interest in maintaining the existence of this entity "the poor". Trade unions knew they owed their existence to a low paid monolithic workforce and so, in the decades of union power, low-paid is how their members remained".

Read that again if you like, I've quoted it accurately. One of the chief sources of poverty in Britain is the Labour movement and Trades Unionism. I've got news for you Mr Clark - poverty has many sources; unemployment in post-industrial areas, depressed prices for agricultural commodities, low-wage employment opportunities being just the first three that came to mind. To try to stitch-up the Trades Unions for the persistance of poverty in the Twentieth Century is astonishingly naive and betrays a worrying lack of understanding of how things work in the real economy not to mention the Unions.

Union leaders have actually been pretty successful in negotiating valuable material and other improvements for their members. Whether this was always in the long-term interests of the factory that employed them is really a different story from the one Clark wants to tell and one that I won't examine in this post. I'd also love to know how Union leaders kept the plans Clark says they had to keep the working class in poverty secret for so long.

The one thing on which Clark and I can agree is that it is not useful to define someone as suffering from "poverty" who is in receipt of 60% of the median income. The article correctly points out that this merely records differences in income and not poverty in any meaningful sense.

Right, I'm off to unionise some Welsh hill-farmers.......

posted by marcus on 7:24 AM link

Surely this must be against the Geneva Convention ?

posted by marcus on 5:41 AM link

Wouldn't it just be easier to watch a porno film?

posted by BA on 5:36 AM link
That is one of the better of Tommy Sheriden's Scottish Socialist Party's populist slogans - one that has survived their evolution from being the Scottish wing of the Militant tendency. But you won't catch Scotland's most famous left-wing MP signing up to it. According to George Galloway in an interesting profile in the Scotsman today: "As I told Tommy Sheridan once, I couldn’t live on three workers’ wages".

In fact he says he can't live on his annual income of £150,000.

posted by BA on 3:14 AM link

Monday, May 19, 2003


Stephen Byers has become 'Stevie' Byers again it seems according to this interesting piece on free trade and the developing world in the Guardian.

"The way forward is through a regime of managed trade in which markets are slowly opened up and trade policy levers like subsidies and tariffs are used to help achieve development goals."

posted by BA on 6:20 AM link

David Aaronovitch gives his backing to the government's support of a London Olympics bid. I don't.

I do think it would be great to have the world's top sporting event in the UK and I don't buy those stale stingy arguments that the money would be better spent on ____ (insert preferred single issue) than on such a magnificent occassion. But I can't agree with Aaronovitch when he reluctanctly says: "I have become reconciled to the fact that nowhere else in Britain would be awarded the games. It's London or nothing, and nothing comes of nothing."

Strange that Aaro's enthusiasm for the London Games comes from his enjoyment of the recent Commonwealth Games held in Manchester - an event widely praised from every perspective. That superbly organised and supported event in the heartland of British sport is one of the many arguments in favour of NOT putting on the Olympics in London.

There is nothing to suggest that the International Olympic Committee would reject out of hand any bid that came from a non-capital city ( remember Salt Lake, LA?) and scores of reasons why London is the last place we should be offering to the world. In this ludicrously over-centralised state of ours, London is now suffering from the effects of insisting on being the centre of everything. I have little time for the whingeing of Londoners about their transport system (how many other UK cities have publicly funded underground rail systems and such extensive regional train networks?) but if it is really so bad why the hell does the government want to invite the world to share it?

There is a long list of reasons why London does not deserve the honour of being our bidding city - the city is overcrowded, suffers from inflated property prices and already enjoys far too much favour from central government and is swimming in investment.

But the best reason against London is that there are so many other better places in the country. The England football team, temporarily freed from the misery of having to play at a half-full Wembley in front of half-interested crowd have lapped up playing at Sunderland, Leeds, Newcastle, Manchester and elsewhere. Yet the government has give the green light to the hugely over-priced New Wembley.

If the Games have the ability to transform cities and towns than lets take it to places that need transforming. Manchester's Olympic bid failed for several reasons - a major factor was that the government in London never gave it wholehearted support - now they are ready to put millions behind a bid for the capital. What a surprise.

Yet the city and the region around Manchester has plenty of space to build the facilities needed and crucially the North West has the added advantage of being the real heartland of British sport - with people who would revel in being visitied by sports fans from across the world. If the Olympics does have a boost on the local economy (a debatable point I am told) why not give a fillup to a region that needs it? Indeed the modern Olympic games involves so many events spread over such a large area that there is no reason why Yorkshire and the North East could not feature in a bid making it Northern Games.

Its too late - its not going to happen this time. The government has gone for London. Personally I think Northerners should take the same approach to this bid as London did to Manchester's -- ignore them, hope they fail and prepare for our turn. I hope the likes of Steve Cram, Bobby Charlton and other Northern sporting heroes won't give their backing to this bid. Say no to the London Olympics and build the Northern alternative!

posted by BA on 3:06 AM link

Sunday, May 18, 2003


A Saddamalike can be viewed here. And I got it from Tim Blair's blogspot which I'm also having trouble linking to. Apologies for the faulty link posted earlier, I blame Trotskyist wreckers.

posted by marcus on 1:25 PM 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