25 March 2008


There are some great archive clips here that catch the spizz-energy of the anarchist group Class War in its pomp in the mid-1980s.

I was there at the foundation, believe it or not. Class War started in 1983 after Ian Bone -- one of the two geezers ranting in the clips (the other is Martin Wright, the genius who invented the anarcho class-hatred thing) -- walked out of a meeting of the London Workers Group.

The London Workers Group was the early-1980s forum for class-struggle anarchists, autonomists and council communists that met every week in the upstairs room of the Metropolitan pub in Farringdon Road. I was a regular: the week before Bone came along I'd delivered a talk on the legacy of the council communist tradition at which two ancient militants, as the French call them, had nearly come to blows.

Whatever, Bone arrived in an attempt to recruit us to his new project for an in-your-face tabloid anarchist newspaper, and when he got a lukewarm response he flounced out, denouncing us as a bunch of fucking wankers. Fucking wanker.

24 March 2008


UK Polling Report is awesome for all sorts of stuff on British electoral politics and I've been meaning to give it a plug for ages.


I was planning to have a go later at the BBC4 programme on the Turin Shroud, shown on Saturday and fronted by Rageh Omar, that gave completely unjustifiable credibility to flakey "new research" that supposedly places in doubt the evidence that it is a fake. But there's no need for me to bother. Heresy Corner has done it for me. (Hat tip: Oliver Kamm.)


The Guardian leads today with news that the government is set to propose the introduction of the alternative vote for elections to the House of Commons – which, if true, would be deeply depressing.

Under AV, single-member constituencies are retained from the current first-past-the-post system, but voters mark their ballot papers not with a single "x" but by numbering their preferences. If no candidate gets more than 50 per cent of first preferences, the bottom-placed candidate is eliminated and his or her second preferences are added to the other candidates' totals, and so on until one candidate tops 50 per cent.

In practice, its main effect would be to ensure that results in marginal seats were determined in most instances by the second preference votes of supporters of third- or fourth-placed candidates. In nearly all the Labour-Tory marginals that decide British general elections, that would mean Lib Dem supporters deciding whether they'd rather keep Labour or the Tories out.

On one hand, this would reinforce the already stifling trend in British politics towards lowest-common-denominator populist politics. And on the other, as Lib Dem supporters' second preferences piled on the agony for whichever of the major parties they disliked more, it would also exacerbate the in-built tendency of FPTP to yield landslide election results.

Although in 1997, 2001 and 2005 this would probably have benefited Labour, throughout the 1980s, when Liberal and Social Democratic Party voters generally saw the Tories as less bad than Labour, it would almost certainly have given Margaret Thatcher even more commanding majorities than she actually won.

Under the present electoral system, Labour is in danger of losing its overall majority at the next election on a very small swing to the Tories (as the document referred to in this story from the Sunday Times yesterday makes clear). Labour supporters of AV, believing that Lib Dem voters would be more likely to make Labour rather than the Tories their second choice in 2009 or 2010, think that AV would be a neat way of saving those imperilled seats. But if their assumption about Lib Dem voters is wrong – as it could be – a change to AV could easily deliver a Tory landslide.

The problem, put simply, is that, far from yielding a House of Commons that more accurately reflects the spread of party support across the country – which should surely be the goal of any change to the electoral system – AV could make the Commons less representative. It is not a step towards proportional representation but a step away from it - and as such deserves nothing but contempt from democrats across the political spectrum.

21 March 2008


I might be missing something here, but since when has a post office been the key to the survival or cohesion of any community? OK, if it's also a village store or a pub, I accept, and it's important that old folk can pick up their pensions in a relaxed and reassuring setting. But most post offices have no social function whatsoever. They are shops where you can buy all sorts of stuff you can buy anywhere else. What exactly is the rationale for massive public subsidy?

19 March 2008


Paul Anderson, Tribune column, 21 March 2008

Events, dear boy, events... It's a cliché - but Harold Macmillan's famous line about what's most likely to blow a government off-course remains as apposite as when he is supposed to have uttered it.

And doesn't Gordon Brown know it this week. Amid an international financial crisis that sober experts say could be the worst for the world economy since the Wall Street crash of 1929, the opinion polls appear to have turned irrevocably against Labour. According to YouGov and ICM, Alistair Darling's attempt at reassurance in his first Budget last week has gone down with the punters like a bucket of dodgy oysters.

OK, it's not all over by any means. Precisely what the collapse of the US investment bank Bear Stearns signifies for Britain or indeed anywhere else is not yet clear - and there are always good reasons to resist the temptation to predict the imminent breakdown of the capitalist system. A dull Budget that enthuses no one is not necessarily an omen of electoral disaster. There are still two years before Brown has to go to the polls, and mid-term unpopularity is something governments should treat as the norm rather than the exception (contrary to Labour's experience since 1997). And the Tories are still a long way short of being a shoo-in.

But it doesn't look good at all. The panic in the stock markets might not last for long - indeed it might be over as I write - but the credit crunch is for real, and it's difficult to see how it won't at very least bring the British housing bubble to an end.

UK house prices have been ludicrously inflated for at least five years, and we Brits - or rather those of us who consider ourselves home-owners, though in fact we're not because we've borrowed to buy - have been binge-consuming on the back of more borrowing against our equity.

Now that is all grinding to a halt, it seems. If banks won't lend money to one another because they're worried about their competitors' US sub-prime exposure, they certainly won't lend to any but the least-risky Brit consumers. The scenario every Labour politician fears is that everyone who has lived the high life on equity-based credit tightens his or her belt, the bottom falls out of the housing market, repossessions rocket, businesses of all kinds go bust - and in six months we're into a recession deeper than that of the early 1990s.

Will it happen? I don't know any more than anyone else, but right now I'm not optimistic. And the thought that we might be facing recession makes me gloomier than I have ever been about Labour's chances at the next general election.

Governments do sometimes survive recessions: the Tories won in 1992, remember. It's not impossible to imagine public opinion rallying to dull, dependable Labour if times really were to get tough. Hunch tells me, however, that it wouldn't be like that. Voters would want to punish Labour for bringing the housing bonanza to an end - and the Tories would reap the benefit. Not a pleasant prospect, but has anyone got a more realistic one?

* * *

On a different matter entirely, I spent Tuesday evening at a meeting of the Suffolk branch of the National Union of Journalists. It was unusually full - in part, no doubt, because of the pulling power of the main speaker, Jeremy Dear, NUJ general secretary and fellow Tribune columnist, but also because of the subject of discussion: the announcement by Archant, the publisher of the Ipswich East Anglian Daily Times and Evening Star, that it was going to replace many of its sub-editors with non-journalist (and worse-paid) page-designers.

You might think this an arcane matter of obvious interest to those whose jobs are threatened but of little wider importance. But it's not. It's yet another example of aggressive newspaper management sacrificing quality journalism in pursuit of greater profits - part of the culture of "churnalism" attacked with such verve by the Guardian's Nick Davies in his book Flat Earth News. Getting rid of subs might save Archant several thousand pounds a year - but it would also inevitably mean stories being published full of grammatical, spelling and factual mistakes.

And that's not because the reporters and feature-writers on the Anglian and the Star are incompetent - just that they're human and fallible. I've been working as a sub at least part of the time for nearly 25 years now, and I have never come across a writer whose work has not been improved by subbing. Even the most elegant stylist will now and again misspell a proper name or attribute a quotation to the wrong person - and many of the best reporters do not write very well. It's true that technology has changed the sub's job out of all recognition since I started, but it hasn't rendered it obsolete - and never will.

10 March 2008


Congratulations to our comrades in the PSOE. Much more important than anything in Venezuela or Cuba; hardly reported.

6 March 2008


The 29 Europhobe Labour MPs who voted with the Tories for a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty:

Colin Burgon (Elmet), Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley), Frank Cook (Stockton North), Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North), John Cummings (Easington), Ian Davidson (Glasgow South West), David Drew (Stroud), Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe & Nantwich), Frank Field (Birkenhead), Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent Central), Roger Godsiff (Birmingham Sparkbrook & Small Heath), Kate Hoey (Vauxhall), Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North), Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley), Lynne Jones (Birmingham Selly Oak), John McDonnell (Hayes & Harlington), David Marshall (Glasgow East), Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby), Anne Moffat (East Lothian), George Mudie (Leeds East), Denis Murphy (Wansbeck), Alan Simpson (Nottingham South), Dennis Skinner (Bolsover), Graham Stringer (Manchester Blackley), Gisela Stuart (Birmingham Edgbaston), David Taylor (Leicestershire North West), Paul Truswell (Pudsey), Robert Wareing (Liverpool West Derby), Mike Wood (Batley & Spen)