27 January 2006


I was a student at the London College of Printing at Elephant and Castle in 1982-83, which meant that the Bermondsey by-election was very much on my patch. I have a vivid memory of the Labour rally in the LCP refectory at which Michael Foot (a little belatedly) turned out to back Peter Tatchell, the Labour candidate he had previously disowned. (He had apparently got him confused with Peter Taaffe, the editor of Militant.) I was an anarchist at the time and heckled Foot -- I shouted "Whitewash!" when he explained his previous disavowal of Tatchell -- and was told by a burly proletarian steward to shut up, get out or have my face smashed in. I shut up ... hey, but did I get feted like Walter Wolfgang?

Whatever, I'm intrigued by Simon Hughes -- who beat Tatchell in that by-election as a Liberal and has been MP for the constituency ever since -- coming out as gay. Bermondsey was an utterly vicious by-election campaign, and the viciousness was all down to Tatchell's opponents -- in what had been a safe Labour seat -- making a big thing of his sexuality.

I don't remember the leaflet "Simon Hughes: The Straight Choice" that has been much mentioned in the past 48 hours as evidence of Hughes's hypocrisy, but that's small beer. It was playing the anti-gay card but with a measure of restraint.

I do however remember the "Which Queen Are You Voting For?" stickers and posters that were all over the lamp-posts and billboards in the last week of the campaign -- pics of Peter T and HM the Q next to the slogan. I might well have one somewhere, though it would take some time to dig it out.

I'd always thought that it was the old corrupt Labour right, supporters of Bob Mellish, the retiring MP, that was behind those. Their candidate in the by-election was the Tammany Hall Labourite John O'Grady, former leader of Southwark council, and their campaign was defined by its disgusting and crude homophobia. O'Grady toured the constituency on a horse-drawn brewer's dray, if I remember rightly, singing a song about how Tatchell liked it up the bum.

But today in the Independent, Tatchell is quoted as saying that he was told by a Liberal activist that the "Which Queen Are You Voting For?" material was put out by Hughes's campaign.

If Tatchell is right, Hughes is a complete scumbag.

24 January 2006


My alma mater, the venerable left weekly Tribune, has a problem: it has been sued for libel by a Tory, and it needs serious money -- because he has settled out-of-court for a five-figure payment.

The cash is tight, but as Bob Dylan put it, I think it can be very easily done. A hundred donations of £100 makes £10,000 -- so please, comrades, cough up.

Send £50 or £100 -- or more if you can afford it -- to Tribune Special Appeal Fund, c/o Finance department, Tribune, 9 Arkwright Road, London NW3 6AN. Make cheques payable to Tribune Publications Ltd.

Here's the story, from an ad in the current issue:


Tribune's recent success in putting the magazine's future onto more secure ground and improving circulation has suffered a serious setback in the form of threatened legal action for libel.

In spite of our best endeavours to check the accuracy of a story, we got it wrong. And in spite of publishing a full apology we have been obliged to meet substantial legal costs and damages. In our edition of 29 July 2005 we wrongly stated that the Conservative Leader of Westminster Council, Simon Milton, had offended the gay community in that borough by opposing the flying of the rainbow flag. In fact Cllr Milton is on record as supporting the liberalisation of planning law to enable the rainbow flag to be displayed in establishments in Westminster.

Tribune accepted that the article was defamatory and at the earliest opportunity we published an unreserved apology to Cllr Milton in the same prominent position within the paper as the original article. However, the demand for damages was pursued and the outcome, including costs, was a substantial bill to Tribune. Although Cllr Milton has allowed us time to pay, this is a highly damaging blow at a time when, with scant resources, we were planning a period of continued growth and development.

Many thanks to the following for their generous assistance: lan Aitken, Tony Bodley, AJ Hurt, Barry and Ann Camfield, James Dickens, David Fearnhead, Michael Foot, Simon Fowler, Margit and Geoffrey Goodman, AJ and T Hesp, Peter Jones, Kenneth May, Nicholas Mole, Lawrie Nerva, Keith Rennolds, Tricia Sumner.

If you feel you can help Tribune overcome this current problem and help ensure our survival please send donations urgently to:


22 January 2006


Here’s how Charlton Athletic lined up against Chelsea away in the Premiership today:
T Myhre, L Young, J Fortune, H Hreidarsson, C Powell, D Rommedahl (40 M Bent), M Holland, R Kishishev, B Hughes, D Ambrose (90 S Bartlett), D Bent
And here’s how Ipswich Town lined up against Bradford City away in the Championship on 1 February 2003:
A Marshall, C Makin, T Gaardsoe, M Holland, F Wilnis (45 D Bent), H Hreidarsson, T Miller, J Wright, J Magilton (78 M Reuser), P Counago (53 D Ambrose), M Bent
Strange, huh?


Just because Lady M thinks I shan't, I shall. Here is my take on the 7/7 meme:

7 things to do before I die:

1. Finish my book on the British left and the Soviet Union.
2. Go freelance again.
3. Visit Georgia (the country not the American state).
4. Finish decorating my study and get a carpet for it and sort out the lighting so it’s easy to read.
5. Get some new specs.
6. Quit smoking.
7. Learn to drive.

7 things I cannot do:

1. Play any musical instrument.
2. Drive.
3. Quit smoking.
4. Write coherently while drunk.
5. Marriage.
6. Read comfortably in my study with the lighting as it is.
7. Religion.

7 things that attract me to London:

1. Work.
2. Friends.
3. It’s not too far from home and I can get breakfast on the train if I want.
4. The Prince Arthur, Charles Square N1.
5. The British Library.
6. Hampstead Heath, Blackheath, Hyde Park.
7. Fleet Street, Clerkenwell, the East End.

7 things I often say:

1. Er…
2. An Adnams please.
3. Twenty Marlboro Light.
4. OK, everybody – could you all just shut up? Like now? OK, this week I’m going to be looking at…
5. Ah, hello Roy, thanks for getting back, how are you? I’ve just got a small query on your copy.
6. Can I have a period return with a Network Card?
7. That’s complete bollocks.

7 books that I love:

1. Homage to Catalonia (George Orwell)
2. The Making of the English Working Class (Edward Thompson)
3. New Grub Street (George Gissing)
4. The Talented Mr Ripley (Patricia Highsmith)
5. Paterson (William Carlos Williams)
6. Memoirs of a Revolutionist (Dwight Macdonald)
7. Twentieth Century British Political Facts (David and Gareth Butler)

7 movies I watch over and over again:

1. The Front Page (Wilder)
2. Some Like It Hot (Wilder)
3. Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday (Tati)
4. Mon Oncle (Tati)
5. The Third Man (Reed)
6. Way Out West (Laurel and Hardy)
7. Kings Of The Road (Wenders)

7 people I want to join in too:

I'm not going that far.


A truly shocking fact in the story of Mark Oaten, who withdrew from the Lib Dem leadership race just before the News of the World revealed his liaison with a rent boy. As the Observer puts it:
The man recognised him from the TV last February.

Well done, that rent boy.

17 January 2006


Now, I don't really want to get into this, but it has to be said. Every single one of the contenders for the Lib Dem leadership is, as Neil Kinnock would have put it, completely, totally and utterly hopeless.

Ming, oh dear. Simon, oh gawd. The dynamic Mark Oaten — you just can't have a haircut like that in modern politics. Chris Huhne — er, who he?

It's excruciating.

13 January 2006


David Aaronovitch now has a blog. It's got to be better than Catherine Bennett's spoof Norman Johnson column in the Guardian. Hasn't it?

12 January 2006


A big post-bag on this, and most respondents seem to agree with my hit-list. But I'm tempted by this alternative from Padraig Reidy of New Humanist, which grasps what's worst on R4 much better than I did:

1. Something Understood
2. Sunday
3. Quote Unquote
4. Midweek
5. Thought for the Day

No. Please, turn it off!

11 January 2006


Oliver Kamm (click here) has returned fire on my post on his book, saying that I’ve misread his remarks on the Labour left in the 1940s and that I’m wrong about the political character of the 1980s peace movement. So it's time to get personal.

On the first point, he writes:
So far from grouping the post-war Tribune left with the pro-Soviet elements, I stress that the pro-Soviet elements were a minuscule minority, with almost the entire labour movement ranged against them.

The Crossman-Foot-Mikardo line was undermined almost as soon it was published, by Stalin’s opposition to Marshall Aid, Czechoslovakia and Berlin – and to their credit its authors understood this. So far from thinking Tribune left-wingers were useful idiots – a spurious phrase often attributed to Lenin and that I’ve never used – I praise them for realising that an independent socialist commonwealth of Europe was unattainable…

In the 1940s the democratic left was almost monolithic in its acknowledgement of the threat of Soviet totalitarianism.

To which I can only riposte that, even on a third reading of his chapter, I still don’t think he makes it clear enough that the communist fellow-travellers – the likes of Konni Zilliacus, D. N. Pritt and John Platts-Mills – were a tiny minority on the Labour left. And I still don't think that he accepts that "an independent socialist commonwealth of Europe" was an entirely worthy goal (maybe even one we can aim for again in the 21st century?) – even if it was put in abeyance by Stalin's seizure of Hungary, Poland, Czechoslovkia et al. But never mind.

As for the 1980s peace movement, Kamm writes of my claim that the dominant political tendency was the European Nuclear Disarmament group, which stood for “a nuclear-free Europe from Poland to Portugal” and engaged in a long and fruitful dialogue with dissidents in the Soviet bloc:
This is mostly wrong. I certainly accept that END and Edward Thompson had no sympathies for the Soviet Union. But they were not, as Paul claims, the mainstream of the peace movement, let alone the dominant faction. Having been there, Paul will recall the debates within CND on whether to campaign against Nato membership, when John Cox of the Communist Party of Great Britain defeated the line argued by Thompson and Jonathan Dimbleby at CND’s annual conference in 1981. Moreover, Thompson’s argument that disarmament and human rights were inextricable causes clearly didn’t survive the collapse of Communism. Finally, the END call for a nuclear-free Europe from Poland to Portugal had more alliterative appeal than political realism; the troops in Poland weren’t there by invitation. It is quite correct that Vic Allen and the Stalinists were far from the mainstream of the 1980s peace movement. But I do consider that those in CND, such as Paul, who reviled Allen’s support for the GDR had a responsibility to rupture the Popular Front, and they didn’t. How could they, when the dominant voice of the British peace movement was, in fact, affable, silly Bruce Kent glorying in the coalition of Communists and Quakers?
Here, I’m afraid, I’m standing my ground. I accept that END and its allies were defeated in several political battles in CND during the 1980s, but overall we won more than we lost. For most of the 1980s, ENDers and END sympathisers ran the CND campaigning apparatus. We never managed to get CND to embrace our support for dissidents in the Soviet bloc, but we did ensure that it demonstrated for “No cruise, no Pershing, no SS-20s” -- opposing nukes west and east -- and that it participated in the European Nuclear Disarmament Convention process, engaged seriously with the Labour Party and never turned its nominal commitment to withdrawal from Nato into a campaigning priority.

OK, it’s old stuff. But it still matters to me.

10 January 2006


Andy Kershaw has started something. My top five for the chop now Home Truths has met a deserved end:

1. You and Yours
2. Money Box
3. Midweek with Libby Purves
3. Thought for the Day
4. Woman's Hour

What do you think?

8 January 2006


The removal of Charles Kennedy as Liberal Democrat leader has been a particularly unpleasant business, and I have a hunch that it’s going to be very difficult for the Lib Dems to get over it. I can see why so many of his fellow Lib Dem MPs thought he had to go: he was a shambolic leader, too fond of the pop, apparently clueless about what to do next.

But now he’s gone, they’ve got a bigger problem – because, for all Kennedy’s faults, they don’t currently have anyone better. Menzies Campbell is an insufferable patrician toff; Simon Hughes is a happy-clappy vicar. And that’s about it when it comes to recognisable faces. There’s that bloke with the glasses, and the other one who’s bald – no, not the bald one with the glasses, the other one. Oh, and there’s that woman who won … where was it? No, not her, the blonde.

Add to the mix the arrival of David Cameron as Tory leader, and the Lib Dems look set for a dire time post-Kennedy – and that’s if they manage to keep under control their increasingly fierce internal ideological divisions. Of course, they might just find their own Cameron, a hitherto obscure but dynamic young figure around whom they can unite, and go on to sustain or even improve on their electoral performance in 2005. But hunch says it will be Campbell and a vicious circle of falling opinion poll ratings, panic and internal squabbling.

Some on the left would no doubt welcome a Lib Dem implosion, but I’m not one of them. The main beneficiaries of a collapse in the Lib Dem vote would be the Tories. Not only are they the main challengers to sitting Lib Dem MPs in the overwhelming majority of Lib Dem seats, they would also gobble up the anti-Labour vote elsewhere.

Until now, I’ve been sceptical about claims that the Tories could win in 2009, even after Cameron’s victory. But now I’m not so confident. Indeed, if Cameron manages to complete his centrist repositioning of the Tories, the Lib Dems collapse and Labour botches the succession from Tony Blair, they could even be a shoo-in.