24 April 2008


Paul Anderson, Tribune column, 25 April 2008

Unlike dozens of 40-something lefties I know, I'm not going to be wandering around the Love Music, Hate Racism carnival in Victoria Park this Sunday reminiscing fondly about the day 30 years ago when the very same place was the site of the first Anti-Nazi League carnival with the Clash, the Tom Robinson Band, Steel Pulse and others.

Don't get me wrong: I've got nothing against Love Music, Hate Racism and I'd be there if I could, but I'm working. And even though I can't make it, I shall pause during my shift to indulge in a little misty-eyed nostalgia for the 1978 carnival.

I hitch-hiked down from Ipswich for it with a posh girl from Colchester called Gabriel whose parents would have gone bananas if they'd known where we were going and how. And it was one of the two best days of many good ones I remember from that spring. (The other best was Ipswich beating Arsenal 1-0 in the FA Cup final a week later.) Victoria Park was heaving with people – something between 80,000 and 100,000 showed up – and the gig was brilliant. On the way home Gabriel kissed me... I wonder what she's doing now?

But enough of that Miss J Hunter Dunn moment. I hope everyone has as good a time on Sunday as I had 30 years ago – and that no one spends too long thinking seriously about historical parallels between 1978 and 2008, because that could all too easily spoil the party.

The context for the 1978 carnival was of course the rise of a xenophobic far-right gang in electoral politics, the National Front – and obviously there is a contemporary equivalent in the shape of the British National Party. If Sunday does anything to galvanise opposition to the BNP in the run-up to next week's London elections, it will have performed an extraordinarily useful function.

Yet, unpleasant as the prospect is of the BNP sitting in the London Assembly, the rise of the far right in London is not the most disturbing similarity between 1978 and now. That distinction goes to the national political scene, where now as then a deeply unpopular Labour government seems to be stumbling towards oblivion in the face of a Tory revival.

I know there are differences. The Labour governments of the 1970s had bigger problems than Gordon Brown has today - runaway inflation, growing unemployment, dire industrial relations, a currency crisis - and from 1977 Labour had to rely on a pact with the Liberals for a majority in the House of Commons. By contrast, Brown has (on most things) a comfortable parliamentary majority, growth has been continuous for a record period, inflation is relatively low and unemployment is falling. The unions – teachers' days off aside – are supine.

But Labour's economic prospects today look much less rosy than its recent record – and the Brown government shares with the Callaghan government of the late 1970s an aura of aimlessness and exhaustion that augurs very badly.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the crisis over the abolition of the 10p starting rate of income tax. The measure was announced in Brown's final budget as chancellor of the exchequer last year as part of a package that included reduction of the basic rate of income tax from 22p to 20p – and at the time nearly everyone heralded it as a master stroke. (I demurred but so limply it is embarrassing.) The very few critics who asked how it would affect people on low incomes were reassured that any ill-effects would be minimal as tax credits would compensate.

This was simply not true - as Labour backbenchers came to realise long after they had voted the tax changes through parliament. In fact, abolition of the 10p rate means that some 5 million low-paid people will be worse-off, some of them by nearly £4 a week.

It's difficult to fathom what was going on in Brown's head when he hit on these tax reforms. If he did not realise what their impact would be he was stupendously careless – and if he did realise but thought no one would notice he was plain stupid.

Not that the MPs who were this week threatening to rebel over the issue have much to be proud about. It should not have taken Labour backbenchers the best part of nine months to discover that rather a lot of people would be hit hard by Brown's changes. To mix metaphorical clichés, the threatened backbench rebellion was one of headless chickens trying to shut the door after the horse has bolted. They got Brown to U-turn, in the end, but at a massive price to not only his but their party's credibility.

Will Brown survive this fiasco? I think so, but whether he does or doesn't I'm starting to get a feeling in my bones that the next prime minister will be David Cameron. It would take a massive swing for the Tories to win the next general election. But on the evidence of the past few weeks, I have a hunch they could do it. Right now, Labour isn't working – as the famous 1978 Tory poster had it.

19 April 2008


I was in a great mood this morning until I read this pernicious nonsense from the playwright David Edgar in the Guardian – the point of which is that Christopher Hitchens, Nick Cohen, Andrew Anthony and others who have objected to the left getting into bed with reactionary Islamists are defectors from the “progressive” cause who have abandoned any commitment to defending the most exploited people in our society. Edgar fails to explain how Hitchens, Cohen et al have "defected" – he simply takes it as read – and does not engage with any of the supposed defectors' arguments. But he does claim, on the basis of the scantiest of evidence, that Islamists are getting more “progressive” on homosexuality and women’s rights as a result of their engagement with the left intelligentsia. I'm used to reading utter bollocks in the Guardian, but this really takes the biscuit.

18 April 2008


I've been doing some saddo cleaning up and indexing on this blog – OK, I'm so 1999 HTML – and found this.


I had no idea that Aimé Césaire, the Martinique poet, playwright, political intellectual and politician, was until yesterday still alive, when he died at the age of 94. I have never been an uncritical admirer, but his 1939 poem Cahier d'un retour au pays natal (translated as Return to my Native Land) is one of the most stunning works of 20th-century Modernist poetry – up there with the best of T. S. Eliot, William Carlos Williams, the Surrealists and the Futurists. The Times has an obituary here.

3 April 2008


Members of Suffolk National Union of Journalists braved the wrath of a major hotel chain to protest against plans by Ipswich's daily papers to axe sub-editors' jobs.

They distributed leaflets opposing the cuts to members of the Suffolk Chamber of Commerce, which was holding a meeting at the Ipswich Novotel where senior executives of Archant, owner of the East Anglian Daily Times and the Evening Star, were speaking.

The two activists were asked to leave the hotel carpark by a Novotel employee but refused to go until they spoke to a senior manager. The delay this caused allowed them to hand out more than five extra leaflets.

Suffolk NUJ member Paul Anderson said: "It's mad to think you can produce newspapers or websites or anything else without subs. We are essential if publishers are going to avoid major libel actions and serious embarrassment over inaccuracies."

Archant recently announced that it would be replacing sub-editors on its Ipswich titles with advertising layout production staff.