16 August 2006


Madeleine Bunting
is an affront to all that I hold dear. She is part of a mainstream media assault on atheists and secularists that insults us insistently and leaves us no option but militant resistance.

I used to be a moderate atheist secularist who was tolerant of believers, but the insistent vicious attacks by Bunting and her cronies leave me no choice. I’m getting so much grief from their condescending and uncomprehending assault on my culture, an assault reminiscent of the Spanish Inquisition, that I cannot contain myself any more.

In fact, I feel myself being drawn into a terrorist network that will burn down every fucking mosque, church and synagogue in the country! I wanna kill the religious indiscriminately! Yeah, that’s it! With car bombs and with knives! Suicide bombers for secularism! That’s me!

It’s no good blaming the government for talking only to extreme atheists: moderate humanists are out of touch with the anger of the irreligious masses, particularly us youth.

They need to talk to nutters like me if they’re gonna get a hold of the profound alienation that the atheist community feels today, particularly us youth. Otherwise the churches and mosques and synagogues will burn!

We demand vengeance – or at least representation on several Home Office quangos and a bit of understanding. Or else!

NOTE FOR IDIOTS: This is a satirical post.

12 August 2006


All right, I realise that the remastered stereo luxury version of Dr Feelgood’s Down By The Jetty came out a month ago, but I’ve only just got the Nectar points to get it. And what a stonker it is ... except that, er, it’s no more than a stereo version of a very fine mono record, and Wilko’s guitar sounds better on the original. OK, there are some decent out-takes, including a fine “Route 66”, and “She Does It Right” and some others sound pretty good in stereo. But what’s the point? The extra material wrecks the integrity of the austere small-but-perfectly-formed package that the original was – is. I’ve had the same experience too many times. I blame capitalism. All the same,
If you see my baby walking
I’m not walking by her side
Ain’t no need to look too far
Because I won’t be hard to find

I'm walkin’ twenty yards behind her
Cause I love the way she shakes behind

remains a great lyric. I can see it, but I can't quite believe anyone ever did it.

11 August 2006


Paul Anderson, Tribune column, 4 August 2006

As some of you might be aware, it’s Tribune’s 70th birthday this coming January — and boy, are we planning a party! I have been given a sneak preview of the celebration plans and can now exclusively reveal what is going to happen (with a bit of luck).

1. Anniversary special issue of Tribune
There will be a special issue of Tribune to mark the anniversary. As in 1987, 1992, 1997 and 2002, nothing will be done to plan the editorial side until two weeks before publication, when a desperate call will be made to the former member of staff who compiled the previous anniversary issue. He or she will be too busy to help. The special issue will therefore contain the same material from the archives that appeared in all previous anniversary issues. No one will notice.

2. Birthday rally in Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, London WC1

No left-wing anniversary would be complete without a rally in Conway Hall. The Tribune 70th birthday celebrations will be kicked off with an event that will rekindle comrades’ memories of the good old days.

Neither the heating nor the lighting will be working properly, so comrades will have the opportunity to savour all this historic venue’s traditional mid-January ambience. The legendary early-1950s public address system will also be in use, so the whole audience will appreciate the back-chat of those on the platform although no one sitting in the gallery will hear a word from any speaker.

The rally will be advertised to start at 7.45pm with eight speakers, but will not get under way until at least 8.15pm as the editor, in the chair, waits for stragglers from the pub. It will in fact comprise 15 speakers, 10 of them representatives of trade unions who have notified the editor the day before that there will be no more funding unless their man is on the platform.

The event will begin with an oration from a foxy international comrade whose command of English is uncertain and who reveals herself, after 30 minutes of fiery anti-imperialist rhetoric, to be an unrepentant admirer of J. V. Stalin. Everyone on the platform will retain rictus grins as the editor makes repeated unsuccessful attempts to bring her diatribe to a close before introducing a member of the Cabinet.

The member of the Cabinet will begin his speech by making it clear he believes he is wearing a famous ceremonial garment, the Mantle of Nye. He will go on to detail the success of the government in reducing paperclip wastage in Whitehall. Thirty minutes into his speech there will be an opportunity for audience participation as Mr Walter Wolfgang and assorted Trotskyist hecklers make an intervention, shouting: “This is rubbish!”, “What about Iraq?” and “You are not wearing the Mantle of Nye and I claim my five pounds!” A Tribune staff member will then pass a note to the editor telling him to get on with it because at this rate the meeting will end after the pubs shut. The editor will ignore it and call Mr Tony Benn to speak.

At 9.25pm, after Mr Benn sits down to warm applause from Mr Wolfgang and the Trotskyist hecklers, the general secretary of the largest trade union that subsidises Tribune will deliver a speech. By 10.55pm, after several other general secretaries and MPs have droned on at length, there will be fewer than two-dozen people in the audience, all either Tribune staff or relatives of the platform speakers. There will then be a collection, which will raise £12.47 and a £5 Argos voucher. There will follow a desperate search for a bar that is still serving and takes Argos vouchers.

3. Celebrity fundraising party, Queer Cavalier restaurant, London WC1

In addition to the traditional rally, Tribune will be holding a celebrity fundraising dinner orgainsed by Zhdanov Jenkins Associates at the exclusive Queer Cavalier restaurant in London’s Soho. Tables will cost a bargain £25,000 for rich bastards from the City who want to get in with Gordon (£2.50 unwaged and Tribune staff and contributors).

The highlight of the event will be a speech by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in which he will hint that he is wearing the Mantle of Nye underneath his suit. He will then make a coded reference — the import of which is made clear only to the political editor of the Daily Mail — to the effect that the owners of Britain’s newspapers can rest assured that the unions can expect no favours.

After the speech, everyone will get hopelessly drunk. At least one pissed hack will say: “I don’t know how to be an opposition journalist. I’m fucked!” — in homage to the great Mr Peter Oborne’s performance at Tribune’s 60th bash in 1997.

4. Article in Guardian Media

The editor will write an upbeat peice about Tribune for the Guardian’s Media supplement. The result will be a four-fold increase in circulation of the Guardian and a 20-fold increase in the circulation of Tribune. Really.

9 August 2006


The American left-libertarian polemicist Murray Bookchin, who has died aged 85, is rightly credited as a pioneer of the modern ecologist movement (and as a critic of its back-to-nature, anti-modern fundamentalists), but he also played an important intellectual role in the revival of anarchism and libertarian socialism in the 1960s and was a historian of note. The essays collected in Post-Scarcity Anarchism (1971) provided, together with the work of Colin Ward and his collaborators on Anarchy magazine in London, the most convincing case for considering that anarchism was of more than historical interest as a practical political philosophy. And his The Spanish Anarchists: The Heroic Years 1868-1936 (1977) remains the best available riposte to orthodox Marxist historians who dismissed the Spanish anarchists as a movement of "primitive rebels". The Guardian has an obituary here.

5 August 2006


The polymath French intellectual Pierre Vidal-Naquet, who has died at the age of 76, is best known on the Anglo-American left for his polemical demolition of Noam Chomsky for the latter’s defence of the Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson – part of which is available here. But he is worth remembering for more than that. He was a brilliant historian and classicist and an active left libertarian until his death. The Independent has an obituary here.

4 August 2006


Like it or not, only a two-state solution for Israel/Palestine could possibly be viable: a "democratic secular state" is a chimera. Israel needs to be persuaded to agree to lift the siege of Gaza, tear down the wall, remove the settlements from the West Bank and accept a deal based on 1967 borders – perhaps with the status of Jerusalem still to be decided, with the old city internationalised for a period. The Palestinians need to be persuaded that Israel will not do any of this until they renounce rocket attacks, suicide bombs and so forth. And of course they will not be convinced until Israel stops bombarding and blockading Gaza.

Again, sorry, but this seems to be roughly what Blair is proposing. Is there any credible alternative?


Hizbullah fires dozens of rockets into northern Israel, randomly killing civilians, then kidnaps Israeli soldiers and demands the release of prisoners held by Israel. Israel responds by air strikes on what it thinks are Hizbullah positions, killing civilians. Hizbullah continues to fire rockets. Israel responds with more air strikes, killing more civilians and creating a massive refugee crisis … OK, we all know the story.

Of course, it would be great if both sides just stopped. But both sides need to be persuaded to stop, because both have interests in prolonging the action. Hizbullah gains kudos with every rocket it fires; the Israeli government needs to be able to boast of success to frightened Israelis. The upshot is that pious expressions of the desirability of an immediate ceasefire have no chance of effecting one.

To complicate matters, although the Israelis have undoubtedly killed more civilians and caused more suffering in the past three weeks, Hizbullah is the greater long-term threat to peace. Supplied by Iran and Syria, it acts as a state within a state in Lebanon and is committed to elimination of the “Zionist entity”. Unless it is disarmed and the areas it controls are brought under the control of the Lebanese government, there will soon be another crisis like the current one.

This, roughly speaking, is the position taken by Blair and the British government, which have argued for a ceasefire accompanied by the disarmament of Hizbullah and introduction of an international force in southern Lebanon to oversee the process. The Lebanese government seems to agree, and there’s at least a hope that the Israelis can be persuaded to accept such a deal. Is there any credible alternative?


A memorandum to the prime minister from the outgoing British ambassador to Iraq suggests that, as things stand, low-intensity civil war and a de facto division of Iraq is more likely than the emergence of a stable democracy. Two senior American generals express much the same opinion.

Now, these are statements of the bleeding obvious – yet they are big news. Why? The legitimate reason is that it is newsworthy that high-ups are worried about what is going on in Iraq. Much more important, however, they give John Humphrys and other journalistic titans a chance to have another go at forcing members of the government to admit that the invasion of Iraq three years ago was a terrible mistake.

I’m so sick of this game I start shouting at the radio every time it starts. It’s not that the rights and wrongs of the Iraq invasion are not worth discussing – it’s just that they’re not now what matters. The issue today is what happens next and what, if anything, Britain and America can do to minimise sectarian strife and encourage the development of a democratic civil society in Iraq.

Now, one possible course of action is withdrawal of all occupying forces and either (a) replacing them with a UN force; or (b) letting the Iraqis get on with it unhindered. Option (a) would be fine if the UN had any worthwhile experience of counter-insurgency, which it does not. Option (b) would almost certainly lead to a civil war that is anything but low-intensity, with massacres and (quite possibly) direct intervention by regional powers.

Neither option is credible. At least if the US and Britain stay, there is some hope of keeping the civil war low-intensity. But isn’t the best hope for Iraq that the US and Britain do more than merely stay – that they actually increase their presence and make a concerted effort to suppress the low-intensity civil war? In other words, shouldn’t the left be supporting the current policies of the US and British governments regardless of what we thought about the 2003 invasion? Is there any credible alternative?