23 September 2008


Not a bad effort by Brown (here) – but I don't think it's anything like enough to turn his fortunes around.

22 September 2008


I was planning to get to Manchester for Labour conference but a mixture of work commitments, the utter hopelessness of Britain's railway system and my own incompetence means that I'm not going to make it.

Bah! But so far it seems that the comrades are making the best of a very bad job. Alistair Darling is never going to be the world's greatest orator, but his speech today (here) was a sober assessment of the current financial crisis and its implications, and I didn't disagree with much of it.

David Miliband (here) was rather hesitant and nervous but said all the right things about foreign policy – he made a credible, reasoned defence of the democratic left interventionist position – while managing to steer the fine line he had to between expressing loyalty to Gordon Brown and placing himself as the front-runner to succeed Brown if and when Brown's position becomes utterly hopeless.

For what it's worth, my own hunch, as it has been for some time, is that the shit looks very likely to hit the fan for Brown next spring as the polls remain as bad as they are and Labour is humiliated in the European and local elections – not before. But my old comrade Meghnad Desai demurs today in the Evening Standard, and he could be right.

I don't think, however, that Brown's speech tomorrow is really quite as make-or-break as most of the commentariat is claiming. It's certainly important, but it will be the key moment in his demise only if he really bombs, which right now doesn't seem too likely.

To sum it up in two hoary old journalistic cliches: this show looks as if it will run and run, but we shall see.

15 September 2008


I did a short piece on Tribune for Comment is Free last week, and today it seems that the powers-that-be at the Guardian are in sympathy...

14 September 2008


Who can disagree with this?


Well, I suppose it supplies some mood music, but a handful of Labour MPs demanding nomination papers for a leadership election hardly constitutes a serious plot against the hopeless Gordon Brown.

OK, if 70 of them nominated the same candidate there would have to be a contest, and I dare say that there would be one if they got to 50. But, er, who is the candidate? Presumably not David Miliband, who has effectively disowned the nomination papers rebels. Charles Clarke, maybe? Not since no one rallied to his New Statesman piece. John Reid? Jack Straw? It doesn't make any sense without an identified stalking horse, and there isn't one, so far at least.

And another thing. Surely the nomination form can be copied – so all it takes is for one of our brave rebels who has been sent the document to photocopy the thing and send it around or even post a scan as a PDF online? I only ask.

6 September 2008


Just to clear it up with Paulie:

Princess Diana's death — 31 August 1997
In bed in Hackney with my then girlfriend, with whom I’d written a book on the Labour Party that was about to be published. Someone called to tell us very early in the morning and woke us up. My first thought was that it would mean we'd get no reviews, but I was wrong.

Margaret Thatcher's resignation – 22 November 1990
In the Tribune office in 308 Gray’s Inn Road, doing an honest day’s work as reviews editor. John Booth came round with a bottle of champagne. The Tribune staff drank it then spent a couple of hours in the Lucas Arms across the road.

Attack on the Twin Towers —11 September 2001
On a TGV travelling down to the south of France to hitch up with my then girlfriend and others. The train was stopped just outside Lyons and I caught the explanation that it had something to do with “events in the United States”. But it was only when I arrived in Montpelier several hours later that my friends told me what had happened. I then spent three days glued to the television and wrote a piece about Victor Serge.

England's World Cup semi-final against Germany – 4 July 1990
Round my mate Graham’s place in Finsbury Park supporting Germany, to the disgust of his friend John, who has not spoken to me since.

President Kennedy's assassination — 22 November 1963
Well, it might not be true, but the family story is that I was in the living room in Ipswich on my own aged four watching television when a news flash came on announcing that Kennedy had been shot. I went into the kitchen and told my mum, who was making the tea: “Someone’s killed the president!” She replied: “Don’t be silly, dear!”

5 September 2008


Everything else might be miserable, but in Ipswich they're reopening town-centre pubs. A year ago the property speculators who own a vast swath of Britain's licensed premises saw their holdings simply as real estate to be flogged to the highest bidder: the only story anyone was telling was of pubs being shut to be converted into luxury flats or razed for speculative development. But the collapse of the property market seems to have changed the rules of the game. I've just had a couple of pints with my neighbours in the Horse and Groom, Woodbridge Road, Ipswich, which reopened tonight after a year dark. It's bit lager for my liking but it's there and friendly and I hope it survives. The Water Lily down the road is also reopening after a year shut. So can't complain ...

3 September 2008


Paul Anderson, Tribune column, 5 September 2008

There’s a lot that is simply depressing about the Georgian crisis of the past month. There’s the extraordinary stupidity of the Georgian president, Mikheil Saakashvili, in thinking he could retake the Russian-backed breakaway region of South Ossetia by force without the Kremlin using it as the pretext for rolling in the tanks already waiting to go in.

Then there’s the type of force the Georgian military apparently used: an artillery barrage against a small town, which, although small-scale by Russian standards in Chechnya and a long way short of “genocide”, presented Moscow with a better excuse for moving in than it could ever have imagined.

But most of all there’s the premeditated Russian invasion itself – prepared over years by issuing Russian passports to South Ossetians and over months by amassing a serious invasion force – and its aftermath of brutal ethnic cleansing of Georgians from South Ossetia and beyond, mainly by irregular paramilitaries. As I write, the Russians are still occupying swathes of territory they promised to vacate and have recognised the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, quite obviously with the intention of absorbing both into the Russian Federation in the not-too-distant future.

It should not have come to this, and that it has speaks volumes both of the sick state of Russian politics and of the failure of the western democracies to support Georgia.

Why did Russia invade? Forget the cant about protecting ethnic minorities and defending the right to national self-determination: this has been an exercise in blatant power projection aimed at showing Georgia who is boss. A large part of the Russian elite – backed by public opinion – cannot stand the humiliation of having been rejected by Georgia in 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union and has been spoiling for a fight ever since.

But the Kremlin would probably not have pushed it as far were it not for the incompetence of western policy on Georgia, particularly in the past six months.

Georgia is not an easy country to deal with. Its democracy is new and flawed. Corruption, endemic five years ago, is still widespread, and its record on human rights is patchy. South Ossetians and Abkhazians are so few in number they could never form viable independent states, but they have genuine cause to fear Georgian “territorial integrity” since the vicious civil wars of the early 1990s (though many more Georgians found themselves forced from their homes then than anyone else). And of course there is the role of Russia, backing the secessionist enclaves and professing outrage about western interference in its near-abroad – just as the west’s reliance upon Russian energy supplies has become critical.

Yet none of this can excuse the way the west has messed up. The first decade of Georgian independence – under the presidencies first, briefly, of the chauvinist Zviad Gamsakhurdia, then the increasingly corrupt and authoritarian former Soviet foreign minister Edward Shevardnadze – made it abundantly clear that Georgia still had a long way to go before it could be considered properly democratic.

Rightly, western governments and non-governmental organisations, particularly those funded by the financier George Soros, gave support to Georgians attempting to open up civil society and institute a real democracy – and as such played an important though hardly determining role in the protest movement against rigged elections that became the “rose revolution” of 2003, which led to Shevardnadze’s resignation and new elections in 2004 that Saakashvili won convincingly.

Saakashvili as president deserved western support, but not the wholly uncritical sort he got from the Bush administration. It should not have been beyond the EU and the US to negotiate a plan for Georgian accession to the EU after cleaning up Georgia’s human rights record and negotiating substantial autonomy for South Ossetia and Abkhazia – with possible Nato membership much later. Instead, stupidly, Georgian membership of Nato became the big immediate issue, on Georgian and American insistence, and as soon as it became clear earlier this year that France and Germany would not sanction it, Moscow knew it had the perfect opportunity to teach both Tblisi and Washington a lesson if it could provoke Saakashvili to act against its secessionist clients.

What next? Gordon Brown and David Miliband are surely right to argue that the world should not acquiesce in Russia’s aggression, but it is difficult to see how Moscow can be persuaded to return even to the status quo ante of the beginning of August. It’s a matter of making the best of a bad job, making clear in small ways that the democratic world disapproves of Russia’s actions while giving Georgia serious material and political support – say by offering it EU membership in five years and Nato membership in 10. Would that set off a new cold war? Probably not, but if it did the prime responsibility would lie with the irredentists in the Kremlin.