27 May 2006


Desmond Dekker is dead, and that's sad. In the early nineties he lived in the same road as me in Forest Hill, and I used to see him around a lot. I only ever spoke to him once, in a scuzzy pub, when I was drunk and he was very drunk indeed. I can't remember the conversation. But his music was great. RIP.


So the boys lost, but apropos Chomsky's apologist stance on Srebrenica I was reminded of this:
He says he is not a 'crypto-communist'. But of course he does! What else could he say? A pickpocket does not go to the races wearing a label 'pickpocket' on his coat-lapel, and a propagandist does not describe himself as a propagandist.
Orwell on Konni Zilliacus in Tribune, 17 January 1947.

20 May 2006


Paul Anderson, Tribune column, 19 May 2006

OK, and now for something to cheer you all up. It’s this magazine’s 70th birthday in six months and I’ve been spending some time beefing up on the history for a collection of George Orwell’s columns for Tribune that — with a bit of luck — should be appearing in time for the celebrations. In the meantime, here’s a quiz, and the first two correct answers to me get free copies of the Orwell book. Answers by snail-mail to Tribune Quiz, Tribune, 9 Arkwright Road, London NW3 6AN or (preferably) by email to tribunequiz@yahoo.co.uk.

1. Which Tribune editor had a younger brother who became the head of Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency?

2. When was the Tribune Group set up?

3. George Orwell was literary editor of Tribune from 1943 to 1945. What was his next job after he left the staff?

4. Which Tribune editor became news editor of Rupert Murdoch’s Times?

5. Which founder member of the Tribune board was interned as a Nazi sympathiser during the second world war?

6. Why did the headline “Lower than Kemsley” nearly put Tribune out of business?

7. Which former Tribune editors have been accused by the Sunday Times of being Soviet “agents of influence”?

8. How long was Sheila Noble the person who really ran Tribune — I mean editorial secretary and then production manager?

9. Which senior Tribune journalist of the 1940s became a regular contributor to the pornographic magazine Penthouse in the 1970s?

10. Who was the lover of Tribune’s first editor, William Mellor?

11. Which two Labour MPs put up the money to launch Tribune in 1937 and how much did they lose in their first year?

12. What did Douglas Hill do when he was not editing the Tribune reviews pages?

13. Five people who at Tribune’s launch were either journalists on the paper or members of its board became Labour cabinet ministers. Name them.

14. Three Tribune editors also edited Fleet Street newspapers at different times of their lives. Name them.

15. Which Tribune editor founded the Good Food Guide?

16. Three Tribune editors were MPs before, during or after their spells as editor. Name them.

17. Two Tribune editors also worked on the staff of the New Statesman. Name them.

18. In which year did the headline “DON’T LET THIS BE THE LAST ISSUE OF TRIBUNE” appear on the front page?

19. Which Tribune editor now works for Al-Jazeera in New York?

20. Who was Thomas Rainsboro’?

Right, that’s enough fun: on to the real business, which of course is Gordon and Tony. No, I don’t mean it. I’m sick of the pair of them, bored with the endless wrangling, can’t see the difference between them. Whether GB has shafted TB or TB has shafted GB doesn’t mean very much to me. What I want to see is a coherent left-of-centre Labour Party with some sense of where it’s going, and I’m not getting a lot of it.

But TB/GB is unavoidable. Now Charles Clarke is out of the running, I’m reluctantly prepared to accept that there is no alternative to Brown as Labour leader after Blair. But Brown can’t take over now: he’s not up to it. And he has got to get his act up to speed pretty fast if he is going to be more than a Jim Callaghan, hanging on for a couple of years before losing to the Tories. He has the numbers in the party to be a shoo-in as leader when Blair goes (I always said 2007, incidentally) but the numbers aren’t what matter now: he needs to inspire the voters with a programme for what happens next.

He’s fine on the vision thing with the party — African babies are lovely — but it all looks too much like a 1980s Anti-Apartheid photo-call run by the Communist Party. So far, he’s probably done enough to retain or regain the “Bush is evil” crew for Labour. But he hasn’t so far worked out how to woo middle-class mums who aren’t averse to doing the right thing in Africa but worry about getting little Jemima into a decent school. Nor does he ring the bell for geezers in the boozer cheering for England.

I’m not bashing Gordon: I’m reconciled, really I am. The point is that he’s got to become much more of a man of the people if he’s going to make a success of it. The idiotic way of doing that would be to echo the law-and-ordure slogans that are the last resort of the Blair claque. But that would just piss off the party. I hope he finds an alternative.

18 May 2006


Bad luck to the Arse and all that, but what struck me last night was the revival of an old song:
One-nil to the Arsenal
One-nil to the Arsenal
One-nil to the Arsenal
and so on ad nauseam or a brilliant goal. I remember a few old songs myself as an Ipswich supporter (and "One-nil to the Ipswich Town" went down pretty well at the 1978 cup final) but most of them are shockingly racist or make libellous claims about rival players or teams:
John Bond, John Bond shags his son
John Bond shags his son
sung by the North Stand when Bond was managing Norwich and his son Kevin was playing for them, and then:
Jigger, jigger, jigger
Kill that nigger!
which was probably from the same game; it was certainly directed at Justin Fashanu, then the Norwich number nine and in the frame to take over as England's centre-forward from our own Paul Mariner. Fashanu subsequently bombed as a player and committed suicide after being outed as gay.

Then there was:
What's it like
What's it like
What's it like to have no jobs?
directed at Liverpool every time we met them in the early 1980s.

I always loved:
We can't read
We can't write
That don't really matter

We come down form Ipswich town
Riding on our tractors

Oooh-aaargh, oooh-aaargh, oooh-aaargh, oooh-aaargh
Oooh-aaargh, Oooh-aaargh

Oooh-aaargh, oooh-aaargh, oooh-aaargh, oooh-aaargh
Oooh-aaargh, Oooh-aaargh
but that was a bit of a one-off self-parody. Does anyone have any footie chants that go beyond the obvious, the reactionary or the self-deprecatory?

11 May 2006


Look, she might be a bit unsympathetic on boring old homosexuality but these Opus Dei types are pretty fruity on masochism. Choose your deviation and enjoy, I say.


Ipswich Town are no longer Big Fat Joe’s blue-and-white army. I’m not altogether surprised, because Ipswich have had a disappointing season and he was due to retire in a year anyway. But he has been a good thing overall, steadying a club that could have gone into free-fall Forest-style after relegation from the Premiership three years ago. He did amazingly well on no money for two seasons. Despite the usual grumbles from the Portman Road whinge brigade, he wasn’t ejected by fan pressure.

Who takes over? My money’s on Tony Mowbray — currently with Hibs — unless Middlesbrough have got in there first. After that I’ve no idea. Terry Butcher would delight much of the North Stand but I’m not convinced his spell at Motherwell has been quite so brilliant; and surely we can’t nab another Colchester United manager (Phil Parkinson) just as he begins to do the business, as we did with George Burley?

Now, Burley. Hmmm. I’d have him back, but would he take it? All the players he fell out with have left. Still lives locally: I ran into him the other day on Princes Street. But there's still the major problem of David Sheepshanks, chairman of the board, who fired him back in 2003.

But to leave you with a little chant that caused a lot of offence in the 1970s — I can't think why — when sung away to Birmingham City, West Bromwich Albion and Aston Villa:
Ipswich Republican Army!
Ipswich Republican Army!

9 May 2006


Well, it looks like panic over for a bit. Blair has accepted that he can't go on and on, Brown seems to be calling for everyone to calm down, and now there are other stories to get gutter-press juices flowing.

But what an extraordinary couple of weeks we've just had. There hasn't been a media feeding-frenzy like the one in the run-up to last week's local elections since the bad old days of the mid-1990s — and I've a feeling it has been a dry run for the next general election. Two things are worth noting about it: first, the vehemence of the hard-core Tory press, with the Mail in the vanguard; and second, the acquiescence of the liberal press and the BBC in the Mail's agenda.

How should Labour deal with it? The buzz-word is "renewal", which is not far off the mark. But "renewal" isn't just a matter of (a) replacing Blair; (b) getting four or five 40-somethings into the cabinet; and (c) talking about policy for the long term, Compass-style. The party also needs a root-and-branch refreshment of Labour representation in the House of Commons. At very least, any MP in a safe seat who is over 60 or who was first elected before 1987 should be encouraged to stand aside in 2009 — and there's a strong case for making every MP go through a mandatory reselection process just as they had to do in the 1980s.

Don't worry, I've not turned into a Bennite: I'm just thinking Michels. Labour's problem, it seems to me, is one of bureaucratic stasis and atrophy. There is an awful lot of dead wood in the PLP at the moment, and the best way of reviving the currently close-to-moribund Labour Party on the ground — the foot soldiers who go out door-knocking and all the rest — would be to give the party a real say in choosing its 2009 candidates.

OK, I accept that this isn't the sort of thing that governing parties generally do. But wouldn't it be better than leaving the inevitable blood-letting until Labour has lost a general election and the knives are really out?

8 May 2006


And another thing... Appointing Jack Straw to the job of steering through reform of the House of Lords — which Blair described this morning as the reason for giving him leader of the Commons — is an absolute outrage. Unless he has changed his mind in the last three years, he's a hardcore supporter of an entirely unelected Lords.


I'm late on this, but so what. First, on the local elections:
1. They weren't that bad for Labour except in London. What counts is seats and councils retained, not share of the vote, and some 300 seats and 18 councils lost after nine years in national office is not meltdown.

2. It's perfectly possible for a party to do poorly in local elections and then win a general election: witness Labour's 2005 general election victory after a local performance in 2004 that was as bad as this year's. The Tories won general elections in 1987 and 1992 after local election results in 1986 and 1991 far worse than Labour's this year.

So there is no reason for Labour to panic — yet this what it has done, starting with Tony Blair.

His cabinet reshuffle, though certainly drastic, looks as if it was primarily driven by a desire to placate the Daily Mail.

Blair's starting point was the removal of Charles Clarke as home secretary, which can only be seen as a capitulation to the press scare campaign on non-deportation of foreign ex-cons. Clarke did not deserve to go, and understandably refused to be palmed off with a more junior cabinet position. His replacement as home secretary, John Reid, is a depressingly illiberal choice.

The other major victim of the reshuffle was Jack Straw, shifted from foreign secretary to leader of the Commons, for whom it is difficult to feel very much sympathy. He should never have got the Foreign Office in the first place because of his deep-rooted Euroscepticism and has at best been a lacklustre foreign secretary. But who replaces him? Why, none other than Margaret Beckett, like Straw a veteran anti-European with very little expertise in foreign affairs.

There are some good things about the reshuffle: the promotions of David Miliband, Douglas Alexander and Stephen Timms, the move of Alan Johnson to education. But these hardly amount to the massive influx of fresh blood to departmental briefs that the government needed, nor can they make up for the big mistakes.

It is not of course only Blair who has panicked over the local election results. Much of the rest of the Labour Party is now consumed in the argument over when Blair should go and whether he should name a day. It's as yet some way short of civil war. But the number of MPs who appear ready to demand that Blair accept a timetable for leaving is large enough to be significant. For the first time, it's not just the usual suspects — the hard left and other persistent rebels, embittered ex-ministers and other has-beens — kicking up a fuss. They are now joined by previously loyal or at least acquiescent MPs with small majorities who sense that Blair has become an electoral liability. Blair obviously doesn't want to go before late 2008 or even early 2009, but hunch tells me that he'll be off earlier. My money is still on spring or early summer 2007.

5 May 2006


This is getting depressing. BBC computer breakdown, Labour has lost Croydon, Hammersmith, Camden, the awful Janet Daly on the telly, time for bed. I blame Londoners.


Seven or eight seats for the BNP in Barking? Six of the bastards in Epping Forest? Aaaaargh!


Well, at 2.30am bad but not too bad, but now we're on to London... Hold your breath.


Nearly 2am and it's looking well survivable outside London (no London results yet): small number of Labour seats lost do far. It could get worse but...


As at 1.30am, looks bad but could be worse. Labour losing seats all over the place but so far non-catastrophic. No melt-down in Ipswich but we're fed up. No intelligence on London... So far not so bad.

4 May 2006


I am being taken to task for being rude. In previous posts I described people with whom I disagree as "tossers" and "cretins". "Tosser", I am warned, is a "playground insult" — and "cretin" is one of "many names ... now seen as insults ... derived from medical terminology" that are barred by Totnes NALGO for encouraging prejudice against disabled people. (I summarise.)

But I rather like insults. Some of my favourite writers and politicians are or were very good at them: Orwell's "once a whore, always a whore", directed at Kingsley Martin of the New Statesman for having endorsed Stalinism; Bevan's "lower than vermin" jibe agianst the Tories.

And playground insults are some of the best that I've known, and they have a remarkable capacity for survival into adult life: "tosser", "wanker", "arsehole", "bastard", "cunt" are all nasty words I learnt at Brittania Road primary school in the 1960s that have subsequently proved very useful in describing people in all walks of life and of every nationality and creed. It's the same for most Brits: they're the words we use to describe people we dislike in everyday impolite conversation. I emphasise impolite: you can't call your boss a bastard to his face unless you're prepared to be sacked, and if you call him a cunt you're asking for the P45. But down the pub...

First rule is: write and speak demotic English. And that means treating "cretin" — in some distant world a description of the unfortunate effects of thyroxin deficiency — as a synonym for "moron" or "idiot" or "shithead" or "bollock-brain". That's what it means to most users of the English language. Plain abuse. Live with it.


The local elections look like being a catastrophe for Labour on the same scale as the party's disasters in the late-1960s and late-1970s. Minimise the damage.

1 May 2006


Rather belatedly, I’ve signed up for the Euston Manifesto. The reasons I didn’t before are (a) that I've been busy and (b) that I’m not really much of a Popular Frontist. Although I’m happy with voting tactically against the Tories, the BNP or Respect at election time, something deep inside of me clings to the belief that clarity of critique is what matters most. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I share a lot of Socialism in the Age of Waiting’s reservations about Euston’s fudging of questions I don’t want to fudge.

But I’ve been convinced by the idiocy of the assault on Euston from the cretino-left, particularly the Communist Party of Britain's Andrew Murray — I'd link but Comment is Free won't allow me — that it’s worth leaving reservations to one side for a bit and putting my name to “the most conservative document that I have ever initialled” (as Christopher Hitchens described it while contemplating the possibility of signing).

Because the crucially important thing that the manifesto gets right is that the left needs to go beyond arguing about whether or not the Iraq war was right. Should the US and Britain have taken out Saddam Hussein by force? A fascinating question – as is, let’s say, “Should the Soviet Union have signed a pact with Nazi Germany in 1939?” – and a legitimate subject for argument. But it happened, three years ago, and now, for better or worse, the people of Iraq are living and dying with the consequences.

What matters most is what happens next. The manifesto’s position, with which I agree, is that, regardless of what we thought about the Iraq war, the left throughout the world should now be supporting those people in Iraq who want to create a tolerant secular democratic society. And they are not the people who have taken up arms against the occupation.

The schism on the left is not between “pro-war” and “anti-war” leftists, but between anti-totalitarian secular democrats and those whose overweening anti-imperialism leads them to support any opposition to capitalist pig Amerika. I cannot see Ba’athism, the Iraqi “resistance” or radical Islamism as in any sense “progressive”. And I believe that democracy is the best answer to imperialism.

So I signed.