30 April 2005


What’s most interesting about the electoral campaign of George Galloway’s “Respect Unity Coalition” – aka Gorgeous George, the Socialist Workers Party and a gaggle of Islamist reactionaries – is how far it has shrunk. It’s now about Galloway versus Oona King in Bethnal Green and Bow and nothing else.

This is not a serious national political project. But it remains possible that Galloway’s ugly campaign (click here) will win the seat. Labour supporters in Bethnal say that the party’s organisation has left much to be desired – in part because it hasn’t been able to cope with the large number of anti-Galloway volunteers for King’s campaign. Labour needs to get its act together fast, though I dare say it will be helped by this.


Robin Butley writes:

The right-wing populists that looked most likely to provide a serious challenge to the Tories from the right, UKIP and Veritas, seem to have been seen off by the Tories’ nasty anti-immigration campaign. But the Tories don’t appear to have drawn the sting of the British National Party, by far the most extreme xenophobes standing a significant number of candidates next Thursday (for a list and much more see the excellent Stop the BNP website here).

My moles tell me that Labour is seriously worried about the level of support for the BNP in several key seats – particularly Margaret Hodge’s in Barking in outer east London. Hodge is unpopular locally; Labour’s organisation is almost non-existent; and the Tories, who are targeting marginal Hornchurch, are almost absent in the constituency. There was an anti-BNP day of action today in Barking: I wasn’t there, but more follows when I hear from people who were.

28 April 2005


Paul Anderson, Tribune column, April 29 2005

For the first time in a working lifetime of trade union membership, I’m seriously tempted to tear up a union card. Last Friday, one of my trade unions, the Association of University Teachers — I’m also in the National Union of Journalists — voted narrowly in favour of an academic boycott of two Israeli universities, Bar-Ilan and Haifa, with a boycott of a third, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, possibly to follow.

I think I am probably in breach of the boycott at the moment — though I can’t be sure because I have not yet received details from the AUT of what the boycott is to entail. Several of my students at City University are here on scholarships organised by the Olive Tree Educational Trust in collaboration with Israeli and Palestinian universities to foster dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians. It is a great scheme to which I am fully committed, and I’d rather leave the AUT than endanger it.

But it’s not just my personal interest in this particular project that is making me think about resigning from the AUT. I’m against the boycott on principle and think that it’s a disastrously stupid course of action to pursue.

This is not because I’m a great supporter of Israel. I’m horrified by the brutality of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and by the way Israel treats Palestinians who live inside its 1967 borders. I believe that the rest of the world should be encouraging Israel to withdraw from the Occupied Territories and to clean up its act. Although I consider that centuries of anti-Semitic pogroms and the Holocaust give Zionism a large measure of legitimacy (and I cannot accept the argument that Israel is an illegitimate state), I recoil from the idea that states should be based on religion or ethnicity. In an ideal world I’d like to see a secular democratic state covering the whole territory of what was British mandate Palestine, with people of all faiths and none and every ethnic group living in peace and harmony.

In reality, of course, such an arrangement is a pipe-dream — and the best that can be hoped for in the short to medium term is a two-state solution, with democratic Israel living peaceably next to a democratic Palestinian state and both of them (with any luck) eschewing religion- and race-based politics.

The question, however, is how we get from here to there. Such is Israel’s might both as an occupying power and as a regional military force that it is clear that the only way is through dialogue and negotiation. To put it crudely, Israel is not going to be made to leave the West Bank and Gaza to a Palestinian state: it has to be persuaded. And for that to happen it needs to feel secure and to trust its Palestinian interlocuters.

This is of course a matter for Israelis and Palestinians to sort out. The Palestinian leadership has the particularly difficult task of convincing Israelis that a Palestinian state is not a threat but an opportunity, at the same time as persuading its people that responding violently to the humiliations of occupation — however tempting it might be — does nothing but strengthen the hands of the diehard Israeli right.

But the rest of the world can play a small but significant part in helping the process along. By encouraging cultural, political and academic dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians at every level, we can help build the mutual trust and understanding that is a prerequisite of successful creation of a viable Palestinian state. Boycotting Israeli universities as part of a grand strategy of turning Israel into an international pariah is precisely what we shouldn’t be doing.

* * *

On a different matter entirely, I had yet another reminder the other day that I’m now middle-aged: an old comrade reminded me that this week marks the 25th anniversary of the launch of European Nuclear Disarmament at the House of Commons by Edward Thompson, Mary Kaldor, Ken Coates and others.

END played a major role in the movement against nuclear weapons in the 1980s, providing it with its leading intellectual spokespeople and ensuring that the pro-Soviet minority in CND was effectively marginalised. I worked for its magazine END Journal for three years in the mid-1980s — and I don’t think I’ve ever had a job that was quite as much fun.

Whatever, my old comrade and I got reminiscing, and we decided it would be a good idea to have an END reunion some time during the summer. We’ve not organised anything yet, but if you’re an ex-ENDer who’d like to come along, email me at Gauche.

27 April 2005


Apologies, no posts for a while. But lots of activity guaranteed in the next few days. In the meantime, Harry's remix of Gorgeous George is awesome.

21 April 2005


Donald Bruce, who died this week, was for most of his political life Lord Bruce of Donnington – possibly the most anti-European Labour peer of them all, though there was some competition. He was an MP very briefly (1945-50), in which role he served as parliamentary private secretary to Aneurin Bevan, then spent a quarter of a century making money as an accountant before being given a peerage by Harold Wilson in 1974. During the 1970s he was an MEP in the days before the European Parliament was elected or had any power – and after that, until not long ago, he made inumerable obsessive anti-European speeches in the House of Lords.

A dull cove? Yes. But in the 1980s and early 1990s, he played a bizarre but important role in the story of Tribune, which is why I’m noting his death here. Appropriating the mantle of Nye – has any Labour figure since Nye had a mantle? – he and John Silkin took it upon themselves in the early 1980s to rescue Tribune from the predations of Bennism, in the form of Chris Mullin, then the struggling weekly’s editor (now a struggling minister), who wanted to turn the paper into a workers’ co-operative.

Bruce acquired the shares owned by Bevan’s wife Jennie Lee, and he and Silkin threatened to use the full force of the law to assert their rights as proprietors to prevent the workers seizing the means of production. In the end, it fizzled out: Mullin left to write books and the dispute was sorted out by his successor as editor, Nigel Williamson, the late and much-lamented Norman Buchan MP and Michael Foot, leaving de facto control of the paper in the hands of the staff.

But Bruce hung around for ages. As a worker-director of Tribune in the late 1980s (no, I was, really), I sat opposite Silkin and Bruce in board meetings once a month to put the case for workers’ control – well, actually, to keep the two daft old gits happy by noting their concerns and carrying on regardless. And we kept on humouring Bruce for the best part of a decade afterwards, long after Silkin died and their tired and crazy anti-Europeanism had lost any credibility.

I am not speaking ill of the dead. Bruce was a man of his time. When I knew him, he was a red-faced old buffer who was pretty much compos mentis and perfectly pleasant socially on most of the occasions I met him. But politically he was – as Neil Kinnock might have put it – completely, totally and utterly useless. He lost every battle he fought. It's not entirely his fault, but Tribune is now owned by the trade unions. RIP.

20 April 2005


I didn't really know George Matthews, the last surviving senior member of the Stalin-era Communist Party of Great Britain until his death at the end of last month, but I saw him often while I was working as deputy editor of New Times, the last attempt of the former-CP (by then Democratic Left and well past any pretence of being other than a soft-left pressure-group) to conquer the news stands. He came into the office most weeks and was a very pleasant old gent, always friendly and solicitous. It was strange to think that he'd been one of the CP's most hardcore Stalinist apparatchiks – not least as editor of the Daily Worker – yet had been the one who blew the gaffe on Moscow gold once the game was up (but not before). Mike Power's obituary in the Guardian is here; a slightly bizarre piece on his role in the wartime National Union of Students here.

19 April 2005


Robin Butley writes:

UKIP’s manifesto, launched at the end of last week, is a slim document with as much detail left out as is decently possible. The party, which did well in the 2004 European Parliament election, winning 12 seats (up from three in 1999), is adopting the guise of the outsider for this general election – which is hardly surprising. It’s what right-wing populist campaigns always do, it fits with UKIP’s myth that we were once free-born Englishmen who have been stripped of our rights and identity by faceless Brussels bureaucrats and the conniving of the “old parties” – and UKIP knows that it hasn’t a hope in hell of winning a seat in the Commons.

It’s not just that UKIP’s support is too thinly spread for success under first-past-the-post. The creation of Veritas (see below) has split its core vote and has taken away its main man of 2004, Robert Kilroy-Silk, leaving the party in the hands of such charismatic figures as Godfrey Bloom MEP (“No self-respecting small businessman with a brain in the right place would ever employ a lady of child-bearing age”) and Nigel Farage MEP, who was photographed in June 1997 in conversation with two members of the British National Party, Mark Deavin, then the BNP’s head of research, and Tony Lecomber, who has served one prison sentence for possession of explosives and another for stabbing a Jewish schoolteacher.

UKIP doesn’t even have very much hope of inflicting real damage to the Tories – unlike the Referendum Party in 1997, which split the right-wing vote in many key constituencies on an issue that clearly separated it from the Tories. This time out, there is no meaningful difference in rhetoric. The only clear blue water is UKIP’s clear commitment to leaving the EU without a referendum. The Tory policy of an immediate referendum on the EU constitution followed by “renegotiation” clearly amounts to the same end, in the minds of potential voters oscillating between the two.

All the same, the UKIP manifesto says a lot about the obsessiveness of the right-wing Eurosceptic mindset. As its leader, Roger Knapman MEP, says in his introduction: “The UK Independence Party exists because none of the old political parties are prepared to accept that the real government of Britain is now in Brussels . . . People sometimes tell me that UKIP is a single-issue party. The point is that the single issue of freeing Britain from the EU over-rides all others – no other issues can be properly addressed while we remain in the EU.”

The manifesto proper is predictably focused on the EU’s supposed evils: “This alien system of government is bad for our economy, our self-respect and our prosperity. . . The only way for Britain is UKIP's way: we must leave. Until this is done, individuals and our businesses will continue to be strangled by all the ill-conceived intrusive regulation, supposedly to protect our environment, to ensure our health and safety, to uphold all our 'rights' and, most recently, to protect us from terrorism.”

“Formal withdrawal from the EU will be achieved by repealing the 1972 European Communities Act. This will release us from obligations under EU treaties and reestablish the precedence of UK law over EU law. We shall immediately stop paying into the EU budget and we shall resume full independent participation in international bodies such as the World Trade Organisation. It will be possible to scrap some EU rules like the working time directive without delay.”

But won’t this have some deleterious effects? Of course not. UKIP confidently predicts that “there is no question of threats to the 3 million UK jobs that are associated with exports to the EU” – despite clear warnings from reputable economists and significant foreign investors. But never mind, the EU depends on us to import their stuff: “We consistently buy more from EU countries than we sell them so it would not be in their interests to disrupt this trade –- they will still want to sell us their wine and cars . . . Our release from the EU's common external tariffs will also enable us to strengthen our trade relationships with countries outside the EU such as the countries of the North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA), the Far East and our natural trading partners in the Commonwealth who share our language and business methods.”

But it’s not just no to the European Union: “We also say NO to the culture of paperwork, performance targets and spin, NO to uncontrolled immigration, NO to a society in which everything is regulated and dissent is suppressed by fear and political correctness.” Needless to say, “Having taken Britain out of the EU, the UK Independence Party would aim to approach zero net immigration both by imposing far stricter limits on legal immigrants and by taking control, at last, of the vexed problem of illegal immigration.”

As for fiscal policy, UKIP says that there is an “urgent need for immediate tax reduction in several areas”, including income tax, council tax (which should be halved) and inheritance tax (the threshold for which should be raised to £500,000) – all of which would be paid for by “raising government borrowing to provide £30 billion per year”. In the long run, “UKIP would aim for substantial simplification all round and a lower overall tax burden … We are sympathetic to proposals for a 'flat tax'.”

OK, you might think, so UKIP comprises a bunch of reactionary right-wing anti-tax deregulationist xenophobes – but so what? They’re not going to win anything. Which is fair enough until you realise that, unless there is a major upset on May 5, UKIP is going to be at the core of the “no” campaign when it comes to the referendum on the European constitution next year (assuming France doesn’t vote no first). And the useless idiots of the British anti-European left – the Labour Party’s Eurosceptics, the Green Party (in England though not in Scotland and Wales), Respect, Sinn Fein, most of the Trots and Stalinists – are going to have to work out sooner rather than later whether they’re prepared to hold hands with these loons.

17 April 2005


Robin Butley writes:

Robert Kilroy-Silk's party Veritas is unlikely to win seats on May 5 – but it has had oodles of benign publicity from the media. Veritas (website here) advertises itself as "the straight-talking party" that stands up to "the bullying and the intimidation of the liberal elite in London" – and most coverage has taken it at face value. It's populist and right-wing, to be sure, but harmless: what the Tory party could become if it was a little more Eurosceptical and had a perma-tanned TV host as leader.

But a look at its manifesto shows that it's a lot nastier than that. Far from being "straight-talking", Veritas plays fast and loose with the facts. And its message isn't just Eurosceptic: it's xenophobic bordering on racist – and loopily right-wing.

The cavalier attitude to truth is most apparent on Europe. "Our membership of the European Union probably costs us around £40bn or more a year," the manifesto intones. "You can check the figures in the recent reports from the independent think-tank Civitas." In fact, Civitas (click here) is a right-wing free-market pressure group led by former big-wigs from the Institute of Economic Affairs – and the claim was made in a pamphlet written by Ian Milne, director of Global Britain, a whacko anti-EU pressure group (click here). Just to add to the suspicion that the £40bn figure was simply made up, it contrasts oddly with the claim of the UK Independence Party in last year's European election (in which Kilroy-Silk won a seat for UKIP) that the cost of Britain's EU membership was £20bn a year.

Then there's this canard: "The EU is removing our ability to govern ourselves and make our own decisions about our future. Decisions in the EU are made by unelected and unaccountable Commissioners, who now make 70 per cent of our laws." According to research by the House of Commons library, that's utter nonsense: only 9 per cent of UK legislation emanates from the EU.

As for the Veritas proposal to "secure an agreement with the EU similar to the ones Norway and Switzerland have. They have a free trade agreement and only have to implement a minimum number of EU regulations, paying a modest fee for the privilege of free trade" – well, it's barking. Not for nothing are Norway and Switzerland known as "fax democracies": they have no say in the development of EU directives that arrive by fax, but must obey them in order to trade with EU countries. And the "modest fee" for free trade for Norway is more than £150m a year, for Switzerland more than £90m. Norway has a population of less than 10 per cent of the UK's and sits on a lake of oil. Switzerland also has a small population and sits on a mountain of banks. Even the Spectator thinks the comparison is absurd.

But it's not just on Europe that Veritas allows its prejudices free rein. On crime, the manifesto states: "Countries like the United States, Spain and Ireland have relatively high prison populations, and relatively low crime rates. In Britain we have the opposite – high crime rates and a low prison population." In fact, as official statistics show (click here), Britain imprisons 141 people in every 100,000 – well behind the US (701 in every 100,000), but more than any other EU country. (Ireland's figure is 85 and Spain's 100, incidentally.)

Its take on immigration and asylum is equally slanted: "Britain is a soft touch for asylum-seekers." That is of course questionable: asylum applications have been down the past couple of years (click here), and two-thirds of them are unsuccessful. What cannot be doubted, however, is that Veritas's solution is draconian and unjust – to "dismantle the whole expensive and shambolic asylum operation of detention centres, advisory centres, courts, appeals, legal aid and the rest - saving the British taxpayer £2bn a year." How abolition of due process will help distinguish between "real" and "fake" refugees is never explained.

It's difficult to avoid the conclusion that Veritas simply doesn't like immigrants of any description – or indeed foreigners. "The British people are fed up with being made to feel ashamed of their history, tradition and culture," declares the manifesto. It's time to "stop this nonsense – and refuse to allow British people to be bullied and intimidated by the political elite telling us what to think and say" and to "fearlessly and openly speak up for the British people . . . and defend the British way of life". Veritas would review the work of Commission for Racial Equality with a view to abolishing it, would "train enough British people to become doctors, dentists and nurses" – no more GPs from India, then – and would "change the national curriculum to ensure that children learn about the history and culture of these islands, and take a pride in their nation".

Nor does the right-wing loopiness stop here. The Veritas fiscal policy is for a massive handout to the rich. It wants "a 'flat-tax' system with a single rate of tax that is only paid by the better-off half of the working population", to "replace council tax with a local sales tax" and to "completely exempt the value of the family home from inheritance tax". Every one of these measures would penalise all but the well-off. Just as iniquitous, in local government Veritas would "restore the powers of local county and district councils on planning and development matters" but at the same time "remove the disclosure requirements imposed on unpaid local councillors". So councillors get planning powers and keep their financial interests to themselves – a recipe for graft and corruption that could only be welcomed by wannabe John Poulsons.

What a shower.

15 April 2005


Thanks to Slugger (here) for picking up on an FT piece I'd missed on Rupert Murdoch's enthusiasm for the blogosphere. Be afraid, be very afraid.


The Stalinist Communist Party of Britain – the Morning Star party – is preparing to forfeit six deposits on May 5 – in Pontypridd, where its general secretary Robert Griffiths is standing against Labour’s Kim Howells; Glasgow Central (Elinor McKenzie standing against Mohammad Sarwar); Hackney South and Shoreditch (Monty Goldman standing against Meg Hillier); Newcastle-upon-Tyne East and Wallsend (Martin Levy standing against Nick Brown); Alyn and Deeside (Glyn Davies standing against Mark Tami); and Liverpool Crosby (Geoff Bottoms standing against Claire Curtis-Thomas).

I know it’s puerile, but if I were subbing on the Liverpool Daily Post I’d be doing my best in the next three weeks to have some fun with the name of the last-mentioned CPB candidate (a Catholic priest who is a big defender of Castro’s Cuba). Though on second thoughts
Bottoms call to ditch Blair
and back dictatorship
sums up in a nutshell what the CPB is all about.

Update The Weekly Worker has its say on the CPB here.


Tom Baldwin and Greg Hurst report in The Times today (click here) that the government has admitted secretly setting up a review of the first-past-the-post electoral system for the House of Commons. They go on rather about how the Lib Dems are miffed about not having been informed – but the very fact that Labour is thinking again about electoral reform is highly significant.

The party came to power in 1997 promising a review of the electoral system for the Commons to be followed by a referendum on its proposals, and Tony Blair entrusted the review to an Independent Commission on the Voting System chaired by Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, the report of which duly appeared in 1998 (click here). It recommended a hybrid quasi-PR system for elections known as AV-plus, using the alternative vote to elect 500 MPs in single-member constituencies and a top-up system to elect another 150 from counties or cities to ensure greater (though not absolute) proportionality. (Under the alternative vote, voters mark their ballot papers not with a single “x” but by numbering their preferences 1, 2, 3 and so on. 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.)

But Blair was opposed to even the modest move towards PR that AV-plus would have represented, most of the rest of the cabinet and a majority of the parliamentary Labour Party agreed with him, and in any case Labour had a massive majority – so the Jenkins report was quietly shelved and the referendum promise kicked into touch. It took a massive battle by supporters of electoral reform to prevent the possibility being ruled out completely in Labour’s 2001 manifesto.

That electoral reform is now being revisited could simply be a token gesture to rally the small but vocal constitutional reform lobby to the Labour cause. But my hunch is that it reflects real worries at the top of the Labour Party about the likelihood of the Tories winning under FPTP in 2009 or 2010. Which is of course a cynical self-interested reason to consider a long-overdue reform – but what the hell.

The danger is that Labour decides to drop the Jenkins proposals and go for AV alone in single-member constituencies – an electoral system that would mean lots of MPs being elected as “least bad” candidates but has nothing to do with PR. We shall see. Meanwhile, it’s worth noting that the pro-PR Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform now has a rather impressive list of supporters among Labour MPs and candidates (click here). If Blair does opt for AV alone, we can at least expect a bit of an argument in the PLP.

14 April 2005


Phil Edwards, with whom I've disagreed on protest voting, asks some salient questions of Islamophobia Watch (on whom I've posted here) in a long post that's worth reading in full here:
Is it "Islamophobic" to criticise anti-gay statements made by a Muslim cleric?

Is it "Islamophobic" to ask someone advocating a woman's right to wear the hijab whether their position is based on the liberal principle that women should be able to dress how they like, or on the conservative principle that all Muslim women should wear the hijab?


The Lib Dems launched their manifesto today, and I've now read it. (It's online here.) Not a lot to get excited about, I'm afraid: what you'd expect on Iraq, Europe and constitutional reform plus promises of a new 50 per cent top rate of income tax and abandonment of council tax, the Department of Trade and Industry, tuition and top-up fees and the Child Trust Fund (Gordon Brown's savings handout to 18-year-olds). Some of the fiscal policy is daft: there's no good reason to tax income rather than wealth at local level, and I can't see what's wrong with the Child Trust Fund. But there's nothing here to stop Labour supporters voting tactically for Lib Dem candidates where the Lib Dem is best placed to beat the Tories (click here).


Labour’s manifesto, launched today and available online here, is certainly long and wordy, but it is short on detail and short on promises (despite what the mainstream commentators say). The big idea is that there isn’t a big idea: a third-term Labour government would proceed pretty much as the current government – which the manifesto says has been a jolly good thing.

There’s no surprise in any of that. Tony Blair might have wanted at some point to go for a “radical” manifesto full of the rhetoric of “choice” for consumers of public services – but there is no way he could have persuaded Gordon Brown or the rest of the cabinet to back him. What Labour is advocating (even more explicitly than in 1997 and 2001) is “safety first” – the Brown doctrine.

Up to a point, fair enough: the purpose of the manifesto is to help win the election, and “We’ve done OK: don’t let the Tories ruin it” has to be at the centre of Labour’s appeal right now. But I wanted a little more.

The good news is that the manifesto makes it clear Labour will back a “yes” vote on the European constitution, will allow a free vote on how members of the House of Lords are chosen and hasn’t quite yet ruled out a referendum on proportional representation for the House of Commons.

Inspiring? No. But they're still better than the Tories.

12 April 2005


The comrades from Socialism in an Age of Waiting, after discursing learnedly and entertainingly on Marx, Engels and Kautsky, come up with three reasons to vote Labour (click here for the whole thing):
  • Even the most right-wing and useless Labour MP or government is marginally preferable to the most left-wing and effective Conservative MP or government – if not necessarily from the point of view of any well-paid professional, then certainly from the point of view of most workers in most industries, as has been demonstrated throughout the 77 years since universal suffrage became a reality in this country and Labour supplanted the Liberals.

  • The Liberal Democrats cannot form a government and would have no coherent programme to implement if they did, while voting for them in the hope that they might go into coalition with one of the major parties amounts to little more than voting for one of those parties by proxy. As ever, it really is a matter of Labour or Conservative, a choice between a lesser and a greater evil that is undesirable but, if you want to take voting seriously at all, unavoidable.

  • After the election, a Labour MP is slightly more likely to be responsive to representations (ranging from delegations to protests) emanating from his or her left than any Conservative or Liberal Democrat would be.


I’ve voted Green myself once – in 1989 in the European elections, when it didn’t matter – but I wouldn’t touch the Greens with the proverbial bargepole this general election, for two reasons.
1. Every one of the seats in which they think they have a chance – Brighton Pavilion, Lewisham Deptford, Norwich South, Leeds West and Holborn St Pancras – is held by Labour, and voting Green in these seats will benefit only the Tory candidate. Sorry, boys and girls, but you're a dangerous diversion.

2. Although I agree with rather a lot in the Green manifesto, including the proposals for a citizen’s income and for a massive rethink of environmental taxation, I can’t swallow the idiotic Euroscepticism. Campaigning against the European constitution as nominal pro-Europeans because you want a better one? Get serious.


Phil Edwards (click here) has responded to my post on the New Statesman’s hit-list of Labour MPs it doesn’t like (click here) by taking me to task for describing a few of them as “some of Labour’s best” MPs:
In which category he specifically includes John "friend of Radovan" Reid and Charles Clarke. Speaking as a socialist and a libertarian, I wouldn't feel any compunction about voting against Charles Clarke – in fact, I can't imagine voting for him unless the only alternatives were Alan Clark, Petula Clark, Ronald Stark and Mark Park, and even then I'd have to think about it. If this is "democratic socialism with a libertarian punch", Paul, I'd hate to catch you on an authoritarian day.
Now, as you might have guessed, I’ve known Phil for some time – he was one of my star book reviewers on Tribune when I was reviews editor there – and I generally respect his judgment. But on this one, I’m afraid, he’s wrong.

I’ll accept that Reid is damaged goods. His 1993 trip as a junior opposition defence spokesman to visit the Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic in Switzerland – expenses paid by a lobbyist close to Karadzic and not declared by Reid or his boss, the then shadow defence secretary David Clark – was indefensible.

But, one, he was not alone in taking an idiotic position on Bosnia (his pro-Serb line was shared by the Labour leadership and most of the Labour left, with the good guys who opposed it including Peter Hain, Angela Eagle, Chris Mullin, Calum MacDonald and, yes, Peter Mandelson). And, two, I’m just about prepared to forgive him. Bruiser he might be, but he has also been competent as a minister and is one of the most pro-European politicians in the cabinet.

That is crucially important, for the simple reason that, as far as it’s possible to read the crystal ball, Europe is going to be the critical issue of Labour’s next term (assuming, of course, that it wins on May 5). Getting a “yes” in the EU constitution referendum is a prerequisite of Britain becoming a mainstream European social-market capitalist country, and although I don’t think that’s the be-all and end-all, I think it’s the achievable priority for the left today. I’m not at all tempted to urge people to vote for some Labour candidates but not others on the basis of their views on the issues, as Tony Benn might have put it: I back simple tactical voting against the Tories, which means supporting all sitting Labour MPs. But if I were going to discriminate and argue that some Labour MPs are dispensable, I’d target the anti-Europeans rather than the pro-war or pro-top-up-fees loyalists. Dennis Skinner and Ian Davidson are much more dangerous to any thinking left than Reid or Clarke.

Clarke is, of course, another pro-European, which is a major reason I like him. But he has other qualities too. He was a breath of fresh air as education secretary, and as home secretary he has been reasonable and competent. I don’t buy the argument that he has been relentlessly authoritarian. I’m agnostic about identity cards and can see the rationale for post-9/11 emergency measures in the face of Islamist terrorism – although I’m as keen as anyone else to see internment ended. I don’t see any reason to believe Clarke thinks any differently.

10 April 2005


Paul Anderson writes: I can't be the only person who has been thinking this. Posted by Hello

7 April 2005


This week's New Statesman comes up with possibly the most idiotic scheme for voting in the general election yet devised: vote against Labour in any vulnerable seat where the sitting Labour MP is not a supporter of Gordon Brown.

Among the sitting MPs it wants beaten "to give Blair a bloody nose" are some of Labour's best, including quite a few who used to contribute to the Statesman in my time on the magazine.

Sorry, but a Parliamentary Labour Party without Charles Clarke, John Reid, Harriet Harman, Kim Howells, Calum MacDonald, Phil Woolas and Wayne David – to take just a handful of the Statesman's chosen victims – would be a lot worse than the one we've got now. Clarke in particular would be a serious loss: he's the only current member of the cabinet who might (in certain circumstances) stand a chance against Brown in a post-Blair leadership contest.

This can't be dismissed as a freak opinion piece: the list was put together by the magazine's editor, Peter Wilby, and one of the contributors he thanks is John Kampfner, his political editor. As a onetime deputy editor of the Statesman, I'm ashamed of them.


Welcome back to the artists still known as Former Communists (click here).


And the successor to Howard Flight is . . . Nick Herbert, flat tax enthusiast (click here).

6 April 2005


There has been a lot today on Paul Marsden, the retiring Lib Dem MP for Shrewsbury, elected as Labour in 1997, who has now re-ratted to Labour again. But no one has asked whether Labour will have him back. And there is a strong case for refusing him membership – not, I hasten to add, because Labour should not welcome back onetime renegades but because the man is a complete ass.


The hype about this being the bloggers' first election passed me by, I'm afraid, but something very wierd is going on: my site-meter tells me that twice as many people as normal are reading this weblog. Oo-er: at this rate Gauche will have a bigger readership than the Morning Star by May Day.

5 April 2005


The Association of University Teachers, of which I am a member, is contemplating an academic boycott of Israel (see story here). I am strongly opposed to it, not because I approve of Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza – I don't – but because:
Israeli universities are not reponsible for the actions of the Israeli government or the Israeli army any more than British universities are responsible for the actions of the British government or the British army.

I believe it important not only to maintain but to strengthen academic links between British universities and both Israeli and Palestinian universities because I think such links can play a small but significant part in encouraging dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians.

A boycott – whatever the intentions of its supporters – would have no effect except to give succour to anti-Semites.


A few useful tools for following the election: first, the BBC’s Poll Tracker, which allows you to compare all the latest opinion polls (here); second, from the excellent Keele University Political Science Resources website, comprehensive constituency-by-constituency results from the 2001 election (here); third, the Financial Times election site (here), which if 2001 is anything to go by, should be the best of the newspapers’ efforts; and, fourth, tacticalvoter.net (here), just in case you’re still in any doubt about how best to beat the Tories.


The defection to the Liberal Democrats of Stephen Wilkinson, hitherto Labour candidate for Ribble Valley, has been milked for all it is worth by Charles Kennedy and his chums, and you can't blame them for that.

But is it really that significant? Though the Lib Dems won it once in a by-election, Ribble Valley is now one of the safest Tory seats in the country, and Labour hasn't the faintest chance of winning. Here's how it voted in 2001:

Nigel Evans (Conservative) 25,308 (51.5%)
Mike Carr (Lib Dem) 14,070 (28.6%)
Marcus Johnstone (Labour) 9,793 (19.9%)

So Wilkinson's defection is that of a complete no-hoper. Did it really deserve the prominence it got on the Today programme?


So it's not going to happen – the royal wedding and the Pope's funeral on the same day, that is. But wait! The wedding now clashes with the Grand National. . .

4 April 2005


It appears that the Pope's funeral and the royal wedding could well coincide. "Thanks for that, Nicholas, and we'll be back to you for more from Windsor soon. Now over to Jeremy Bowen in Rome. What's the mood like there, Jeremy?"

2 April 2005


Oliver Kamm has a good post here.

Support for the overthrow of Castro’s tyranny ought to be as much an issue for progressive opinion as was opposition to the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile. It is clearly not regarded that way.

1 April 2005


I'm not making a habit of recommending The Nation, but this piece by Raymond Aronson on Isaac Deutscher's recently republished biography of Trotsky is excellent:
It has always been tempting, in the 1930s, in the 1960s and again today, to look for the original sin of the Bolshevik revolution. But what if it was the revolution itself? Not its radicalism and not its use of violence but rather the vanguard party's determination to assume power over a backward society in the first place, and in the single-party state that followed? . . .

It turns out that hope based on illusion is no more than a false hope, and has led, time and again, to disaster. But that is the easy lesson. The more difficult one is that sometimes it takes a lifetime, even generations, to dispel the power of illusion.