Thursday, 2 April 2009

Please God no....

Spotted, last night, dangerous ex-con Jeffrey Archer, Stephen Berkoff and Sir Peter Hall sheltering from the great unwashed in the rather nice St Alban Restaurant in Lower Regent Street. Might they have be discussing turning one of Archer’s books into a play? God help us? Lets hope some marauding anarchists got hold of them on the way home……

Monday, 23 March 2009

Jobs not bombs

Report from the protest against the army recruiting centre in Hackney.

'When we heard that the Army was opening a show room in a local shopping centre Hackney Stop the War rapidly moved into action. We called for a protest last Saturday 21 March. About 80 people came. These included people from the Green Party, the Labour Party, three Turkish community organisations, Hackney College (staff and students), London Catholic Workers, CND and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.
The protest itself was brilliant. We forced the closure of one of the entries to the shopping centre and forced the army to shut the show room briefly because it was occupied by protestors chanting jobs not bombs. We got lots of signatures for our petition and dished out publicity for the G20 protests. We aim to have another protest at 1.30pm on Saturday 4 April.'

Friday, 20 March 2009

The river squatters: a tale for our times

This week I paid a visit to some environmental squatters occupying Raven’s Ait, a little known island on the Thames. Predictably the local press has been full of stories about wild raves and lazy work-shy hippies sponging off the state.

But the truth is much more mundane. They have health and safety log books and wear fluorescent bibs. There is not a cider bottle in sight and they seem to survive on nothing more exiting than strong tea.

Eventually they plan to turn it into the world’s first eco-parliament by giving space to green groups and charities.

One of group, Pano Kroko, an environmental scientist, told me: ‘We want to turn this place into an eco-parliament so the green movement can discuss what we need to do to tackle climate change. Over 40 organisations have been in touch including Green Peace and Earth First saying they want to use the venue.’

But Lib Dem run Kingston Council, which owns the island, is not impressed. It wants to sell Raven’s Ait off or lease it to a private company.

And the courts agree. This week Kingston County Court ruled in the council’s favour and granted it the power to repossess Ravens Ait.

A council spokesperson told me: ‘Kingston Council is keen to regain full possession of Ravens Ait so that the island can be used to benefit local taxpayers. The court has given the occupiers until Monday 23 March to vacate the island.’

So there you have it. In power the Lib Dem's are just as bad as the Tories. And the free market may be in crisis but the ideology of private good public bad is still alive and well.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Steve Hilton Eat Your Heart Out

Thanks to Guido Fawkes for pointing out the opportunity for some childish japes. I could spend hours on it. Have a go yourselves, it's ace!

Army targets poor Londoners

Imagine you are a General in the British Army. Recruitment is difficult because those ungrateful Iraqis and Afghanis keep killing your troops. And opinion polls keep showing that the British people want you home and the Iraqi and Afghani population want you out. So what do you do?

The answer is simple and brilliant. Open a recruitment centre in Hackney - one of poorest boroughs in London, where unemployment, particularly among the young, is high and is getting worse because of the economic crisis. Hackney has 37 claimants for every new job.

The army press release for the centre or 'show room' as it puts it declares:

The Army is targeting people eligible to join the Army in the boroughs of Enfield, Newham, Lewisham, Brent, Southwark, Tower Hamlets, Hillingdon, Camden, Hackney, Wandsworth, Islington and Bromley. The London target boroughs were identified by looking at those areas with the highest proportion of people eligible to join the Army.
The centre, which will be located in Dalston shopping centre on Kingsland Road, promises all sorts of entertainment for the bored and the desperate. Visitors will be able to test-drive a virtual tank, explore a computer generated battlefield and beat up virtual Iraqi civilians (okay I made that last bit up).

As the local Stop the War group, which is planning a protest this Saturday, points out this is an obscene attempt to ‘sanitize the reality of war’.

In Iraq hundreds of thousands of civilians have lost their lives and nearly two hundred British soldiers have been killed - all for a lie about weapons of mass destruction.

And civilians and soldiers continue to die on an almost daily basis in Afghanistan - all to protect a deeply corrupt and unpopular administration.

Just think how many peaceful, useful, civilian jobs the government could create if it diverted money from the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. So far it has spent close to £10 billion.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Graphic of the Month

An occasional category which probably won't even be remotely monthly but whose temporal boundaries were arbitrarily decided by yours truly on the basis of it sounding (marginally) catchier than "occasional graphic i like and want to put on here so people who read this blog (and from what i can tell there is, at most, one of you) can laugh along with me" category.

Never let it be said that we lefties lack a sense of humour...

Enough about me. This, my friends, is the business:

Hat-tip: B3ta

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Dinga Dinga Dee - Bang!

This is a Bollywood-style music video made by Israeli arms manufacturer Rafael for a Bangalore arms fair. The singers have clearly never seen a Bollywood film before, the "lyrics" are ridiculously direct and, to cap it all (if you'll excuse the pun), they are dancing between two missiles.

Brilliant. If slightly disturbing.

Hat-tip: Popbitch

Thursday, 5 March 2009

A Day in the Life - Iraq Video

A rare insight into the relationship between the US army and the Iraqi police. I don't want to comment too much on what my thoughts are, I'll let you make up your own minds.

Hat-tip: Leninology

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Comic Disbelief

January 2007: Danielle Lloyd's remarks regarding Shilpa Shetty on "Celebrity Big Brother":

1) Refers to her as a "dog".
2) Says Shetty should "Fuck off home".
3) Is complicit in numerous recorded conversations in which Jade Goody, Jo O'Meara and Jack Tweed spout similarly prejudiced views, the "highlight" of which was a pathetic attempt to rhyme the word "tacky" with a well-known racist slur.

March 2009: Danielle Lloyd fronts programme on domestic violence on behalf of Comic Relief.

Conclusion: Publicly televised expressions of racism will be rewarded with high profile presenting roles on behalf of one of the most popular and recognisable charitable events in the country.

That's right folks, those sensitive and caring Comic Relief organisers have obviously reasoned that getting C-list Lloyd to host the programme would be a draw, regardless of her previous actions; that glamour girls and footballers' wives are latterday idols that can be used to disseminate a worthwhile message irrespective of their individual beliefs. That the ends justify the means.

"What, you kill puppies for fun? In the microwave? No sweat, just go on Celebrity Apprentice and we'll forget about it. "

"Believe in forced euthanasia? Just do this fun-run and we'll turn a blind eye."

God knows what paradoxical message that sends out to young women, or anyone else for that matter, but i'm sure CR would argue that this is the modern orthodoxy and they're just working within it.

Yet Jade Goody went on Indian Big Brother to try and salvage what little remained of her reputation. By this token, wouldn't it have been better if Lloyd was sent to Africa? Perhaps they're sending Ron Atkinson instead.

Let's be fair though, Lloyd is rightly regarded as one of the country's foremost: a) authorities on domestic violence; b) accomplished television presenters; c) dater of footballers. (Delete as appropriate.)

And, after all, a programme that is designed (as surely it must be if Comic Relief are at the helm) to provide comfort and support to women who are perhaps suffering abuse is an appropriate vehicle for Lloyd's rehabilitation into the TV community, isn't it?

Well, let's take a look shall we? According to the Home Office: "there is little variation in the prevalence of domestic violence by ethnicity. However, survivors from Black and other ethnic minority communities are less likely to access statutory services."

Will women from those communities be more inclined to watch a programme hosted by a woman proven to have serious prejudices against people of colour? Will they have forgotten her words?

Why should they be forced to sit through a programme fronted by someone they know holds them in contempt in order to find out information that could potentially save their lives?

Before anyone jumps down my throat, I realise she has been the
victim of domestic violence, and I feel very sorry for her because such acts are abhorrent and unforgiveable.

Just like racism.

Even if she regrets what she did, it can hardly be argued that she's the best person for the job, that there is no-one in the entire country better suited to presenting a serious programme about a serious issue; that with this appointment Comic Relief aren't telling the biggest, and sickest, joke of all.

You know, the one where our society is so stupid, so puerile and so superficial that it forgets even recent history and where even those who supposedly "do good" are prepared to sacrifice their principles at the altar of (minor) celebrity.

Let her get her clothes off for readers of Nuts and Zoo by all means, but let's not pretend she is a suitable rolemodel for British womankind, or for Comic Relief.

Next thing you know, people will be changing their opinion of Jade Goody just because she's become unwe... oh...

Man Looks Through Trees - Sees Woods

If anyone wants to know how, why and when this whole economic mess began (you'll be surprised) and some of the profound - yet oft unwritten - truths about it then you could do a shedload worse than read this analysis by Dan Hind at his ThreatToReason blog.

Clear enough for even the uninitiated to understand, pieces like this really should be more widely available.

I've never heard Peston say anything as insightful... or write anything as legible...

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Newsflash: Satire Resurrected - Then Killed

"NO2ID is a campaigning organisation. We are a single-issue group focussed on the threat to liberty and privacy posed by the rapid growth of the database state, of which "ID cards" are the most visible part." - NO2ID statement of purpose

So there I am, on the NO2ID website, getting myself all in a lather about the database state and the CCTV-monitored open-prison we call Britain when I decide to sign up for the email newsletter, so as to keep myself abreast of local and national developments.

I fill in my email address on the "stay informed" section of their homepage, but as I just want the email letter I don't want (or need) to give them my firstname, lastname, number, road, town or postcode.

Like them, I have a natural aversion to giving too much information out and believe sincerely in the rights and privacies of the individual.

So i just fill in my email address, copy the "magic word" and submit my request. This is what I got:

- "Input error

This form is designed for you to give contact details to enable NO2ID to get in touch with you. We will not pass your details to any third party. We will not send you irrelevant material.

But we do need to be able to ask for your active support when it matters. If you just want to read our newsletter and not hear from us otherwise, then we suggest that you read it as it is published on the website.

Supplying us with incomplete or misleading details will damage the campaign, since it costs us postage or takes up the time of volunteer workers

Please enter your forename in the 'forename' field" -

Ok, i think to myself, if they really want my first name i have no problem giving it to them. So I fill it in and repeat the process.

- "Please enter your surname in the 'surname' field" -

Now i'm beginning to get a little bit suss. Can it be? Surely not? Not them of all people? I try again.

- "Please enter your postal address in the 'address' field" -

It was at this point that I suffered from irony-overload. As I involuntarily sprayed my tea across the screen, the wall and the cat it dawned on me that, basically, the very people campaigning against the "database state" demand mandatory completion of personal information... for their DATABASE!

What. The. Fuck.

I appreciate it says that if I just want the newsletter I should check back to the site but what kind of stupid, wrong-headed, counterproductive methodology is that? What if I forget? What if I miss something important? Surely it is in their interest to maximise participation and surely it is one of their basic principles that people should give out only as much detail as they wish?!

Truly, I was staggered, and I emailed them, as "Mr X", to let them know exactly what I thought of their hypocrisy.

In response, I got a one-sentence email saying they would be most happy to put me on the list, as Mr-sodding-X, WITHOUT further details, which is even worse because it means they COULD do it for everyone but choose not to.

If you stop everything you're doing - just for a moment - and listen very carefully, you can hear our beloved Mr Orwell turning in his grave.

Monday, 2 March 2009

Baby, it's Coal-ed Outside

I was casually strolling back to Marylebone tube station last Thursday after football when I noticed what seemed to be half the Met police surrounding the Landmark Hotel - the grand old building that sits opposite the station.

With at least 10 police vans parked outside and more than 60-70 police officers on one side of the building alone, what, i wondered could require such costly police commitment? Had there been some new terrorist attack? Or worse, was Tom Cruise in town?

Nope. It was 50 boho, well-to-do, Chelsea-dwelling, Chateauneuf du Pape-supping luvvies dressed in 1920's eveningwear, who were protesting against The National Coal Awards through the media of dance and crap slogans.

Why is it the police ALWAYS arrive in disproportionately large numbers and generally behave like sneering bullyboys? They seem to have two distinct roles: one good (serving the needs of the community), one bad (serving the needs of the ruling elite) and switching heads - Wurzel Gummidge-Stylee - depending on the occasion. Talk about indoctrination.

Anyway, I digress. The very notion of a National Coal Awards tickles me. I mean, how boring would your life have to be for that to count as a good night out? What, for chrissakes, were the categories?

  • Black as coal Award (Positive Discrimination)

  • Coals to Newcastle Award (Selling it back to the miners at a huge mark-up)

  • Old King Coal Award (Best exploitation of a Third World country)

  • Coal-ition of the Willing Award (Pit with least Trades Union membership)
Now I salute anyone who actively participates in the political process by getting off their lazy fat arse and demonstrating, but these guys just looked bored .

They were clearly the kind of people who think "a night in the cells" is a reference to late night shopping at Harrods (think about it), yet, wonderfully, one of the organisers was handing out "arrest crib sheets".
And how do i know that this was a more refined class of protestor? One of the chichi throng was recognised by yours truly as being a Sunday Times "Style Magazine" hackette, who is probably doing some sort of piece on "Protest Chic". Hardly a direct action type of gal, hardly a revolutionary crowd.

As for the slogans, organisers Climate Rush really pushed the boat out with modern classics "No new coal", "No more death factories" and what sounded very much like "Meals on wheels" but was actually, i think, "Deeds not words".

Jesus, no wonder they were bored.

Best of all, rumour abounded that the Coal Awards people had changed venue at the last minute and weren't even there. We British sure give good protest.

I didn't stay long. Nor, I imagine, did they.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Liberty, E-polity, Maternity

A friend just emailed me another of John Prescott's frankly insipid youtube clips, this time directed at Peter Mandelson.

What with his recent online riposte to Iain Dale, that even garnered compliments from natural enemy Guido Fawkes, Prezza is getting a lot of kudos for these "vlogs", but i'm lost as to why. His messages are always facile; his delivery stilted and disappointingly gaffe-free. He's not even important anymore, if he ever really was.

All this leads me to believe that there remains quite a nerdy, wonky edge to political blogging in the UK which the US has been much better at shaking off.

It still feels all so parochial; an online extension of the Westminster village but without any policy decisions or statutory powers. Just bloggers reading bloggers and the odd journo looking for a diary story.

Obviously Guido Fawkes, Iain Dale (and to a lesser extent Labourhome and now Labourlist) penetrate the wider consciousness for those on the look-out but they're hardly brands in their own right in the way that, say, the Huffington Post has become in America.

Certainly there is an element of the mainstream "dead-tree" and broadcast news media shunning blogs. Ostensibly for their lack of accuracy but also, i'm reasonably sure, because they are frightened of opening the door to their future collective demise.

Look at the Huff Post, whose prominent role during the recent US presidential election has given it a springboard to continue beyond the intial thrill people felt at its inception. It forced its way onto the scene, became the news and then became (almost) an equal to the established news outlets. Nothing of that magnitude has happened over here.
Although one cannot deny the money Arianna Huffington threw at it as being a reason for its post-election lifespan, she was not a political "brand" in-and-of herself before the site went live, whereas Draper (Labourlist) and Prezza (Labourlost) are.

Baghdad blogger held our interest because he was the lone (english speaking) voice in a green-zoned conflict and had a monopoly on daily experience. Who on these shores read him on his recent return?

To what extent is it our, the reader's and the electorate's fault? Are we simply unengageable (that's not a word, i know) on any front? Is the internet really only good for porn?

Perhaps we should combine politics with porn - although several prominent Liberal Democrats have already tried it and it doesn't seem to have enhanced their reputations or polling figures... still, i bet they've had a few good nights out...

True, Iain Dale and friends are doing their best to give the online political community a snowball with which to roll by setting up the Total Politics blog database that is linked to their magazine.
But it all feels a little forced and most of the people are unknown and unlikely to be - I should know, i'm on their list.

When i say "unknown", i do not mean that we should be looking for every blogger to become famous or invited onto newsnight with a pixelated face, but blogging can only be considered democratising if: a) people read everyone else's material and: b) the best rises to the top as a result.

But the fickle, chaotic, tit-for-tat nature of British blogging renders these objectives almost impossible to achieve.

If you don't believe or agree with me, take the "Mother Test". If yours is anything like mine, she's only just worked out how to text using her mobile and send emails from a generic account. Ask her to find, without any help, five serious and well-known political blogs or websites that are not extensions of well-known media organisations with established offline content. No Times, Guardian or BBC, for example.

She'll struggle, i'll bet you, and what she comes back with will be arbitrary, random and will offer no insight into either modern British politics or blogging per se. She will have found it an entirely fruitless and unfulfilling hour spent on the computer and will be reluctant to do it again.

Perhaps when our mothers look for their favourite blogs each day, as well as for their daily papers or evening news broadcasts, the blogosphere will finally be doing something right.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Are Conservatives Really Anarchists?

Recent blog postings regarding the BNP being a left-wing party - most notably by conservative blogger Iain Dale (and his readers) - got me thinking.

Loathed as i am to getting involved in blogosphere tit-for-tattery, it's an interesting subject and not one to which rational lefties should offer only a knee-jerk reaction.

It cannot be denied that after various largely unsuccessful attempts, most people now naturally associate socialism with austere, dictatorial rule. With that comes an instinctive mistrust of "social solidarity" or collectivism; the not unreasonable fear that any such system would be coerced and therefore, by definition, empty and oppressive.

But ask many people on the street what they see as being one of the major social problems of our time and they will tell you that drugs, violence and high crime rates are all connected to the break down of common sensibilities; that family values no longer exist.

Problems that socialists believe would be solved in their "ideal" world.

However, history shows us that these are often the same arguments used by the far-Right to justify their xenophobic policies. Political "parties" such as the BNP thrive in areas where the essence of traditional "community spirit" has been decimated and replaced with economic and social migration and insecurity.

Where the Marxist would argue for revolution, so the fascist argues for expulsion. The same root, but different interpretations. So it is true that there exists a blur between extreme Right and Left in these cases.

In such delicate circumstances the Left must tread very carefully and, in my opinion, it usually does. It was, after all, the far-left who set up the Anti-Nazi League - a group that has done much good work opposing the National Front and British National Party movements in this country over the last 30 years.

Equally, in the same way that socialism and fascism overlap in some key places, can't the same be said of right wing, neo-conservative politics and anarchism? For example:

"To be governed is to be watched over, inspected, spied on, directed, legislated at, regulated, docketed, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, assessed, weighed, censored, ordered about by men who have neither the right nor the knowledge nor the virtue."

Who spoke in such damning terms of the ruinous effects of the leviathan state? Margaret Thatcher? Ronald Reagan? Nope, Pierre-Jospeh Proudhon, one of the founding fathers of anarchism.

Yet it is a statement with which many on the right would readily agree - though none on the right would subscribe to Proudhon's most famous notion that "property is theft", just as no socialist would seek to implement "lebensraum".

The point is that in such a politically fragmented world as the one we live in, it is hardly surprising that there are overlapping principles between even the most disparate ideologies. Surely then, the question must be: what is the ultimate goal of each ideology? What end product would we get if any of these rival systems was uniquely established as the global hegemony?

Clearly we would see stark differences in their respective "utopias".

A large part of this political befuddlement regarding the left/right overlap is down to what i would consider a fundamental misunderstanding of socialist thought. It is often beleived that individualism and socialism are incompatible. This is clearly not true - never has been. Even Karl Marx acknowledged that people "would not be individuals if they were not unequal." He never expected this natural imbalance to change, nor did he seek some artificial means of affecting one.

However, there is big difference between respecting- even celebrating - the individual and countenancing ruthless self-interest by a minority "elite" that repeatedly and increasingly exploits the poorer majority.

That is where socialists differ not just from those who rest fully on the Right but even those fascists whose opinions sometimes, on some points, drift to the Left.

Saturday, 31 January 2009

A Time for Unpopular Decisions

At a parliamentary reception earlier this week, one of the MPs who was co-hosting the soiree was overheard by yours truly saying that he planned "a lot more of these kind of events in the dying days of the Labour government." Flippancy aside, he was tacitly accepting that he will lose his seat at the next election.

A broadly popular, independent-minded MP who has not needed to follow the party line unquestioningly, six months ago he would probably have been confident of keeping his seat irrespective of pre-New Labour voting trends in his constituency. So why is he, like many other Labour MPs whose political roots precede the Blair takeover in 1994, at risk?

For many of those on the far and mid-left, the accession of Gordon Brown to the leadership of the Labour party was seen as an opportunity not just for renewal but revival. For some, Brown represented a direct link to "Old" Labour in a way that "Tory" Blair never could. Secretly, if cautiously, we hoped that the under- and working classes would again be the true priority of a Labour government, as some think - perhaps mistakenly - it would have been under a John Smith regime.

True, successive electoral victories on the back of what true leftists would consider a centre-right New Labour agenda were compelling in their efficacy - and for a long time overpowering - but again and again the question arose: "what has the government actually done?" There can be no denying that investment in Education and the NHS is far greater than it was under the Thatcher and Major governments. Equally, the introduction of the minimum wage and partial Lords reform ( just how partial we have seen in the last week) boded well. But think, really think, what major socially or economically redistributive policies have NL introduced since, say, 2001 or 2005?

I am probably not alone in considering the recent nationalisation of the banks as a welcome, if Pyrrhic, victory; a testament to the long-held view that capitalism is destined by its very nature to eat itself. But isn't this awful situation - where a dangerous mix of recession and immigration concerns lead ominously to wildcat strikes; where those that caused this global problem are allowed to get away unpunished while the havoc they have caused is calmed using the taxes of the very people who will suffer most - is this not directly a result of the laissez-faire, unregulated and deregulated economy that "Tory" Blair, Gordon Brown and the New Labour government allowed to run unfettered for so long?

What does it say about this country that at a time when the principles underpinning the free market system are at their most questionable, the Conservative party - the "party of business" - is gaining ground on a Labour government by arguing the case of the man on the street?

What does it say when the United States of America, the country whose vanguard role in globalisation, and via whose sub-prime mortgage market the domino-effect began, have elected (dare i say it) a left-wing president who has restored more confidence in his people than any leader in a generation? A man who will attempt to defy Republican opponents to push through legislation that will benefit the "little fleas" as much as those "bigger fleas" who have fed off the hard work of others for so long. It almost makes me wish i was American. Almost.

Isn't it time to admit that blindly following the system has been a failure, that toadying up to bankers and financiers has not worked, that the natural role for a Labour government is to the left and that this country - this world - can only be regenerated through a harsh, hard-line introduction of policies that may not be popular in the short-term but will give all of us greater stability in the long run.

Replacing traditional manufacturing industries (not that there are many left in this country) with "green" industries, for example. Or stringent regulation of the banking system with corresponding powers of control enforced by parliamentary act. And the radical and rapid adoption of alternative energy sources that will remove our need for crude oil, regardless of "Nimby" opposition. Or all of the above.

If the Labour government is going to lose anyway, as even its best and brightest MPs now believe, what has anyone got to lose?

Friday, 30 January 2009

Grogan Fingered

So to football last night, where the honourable Selby MP, John Grogan, suffered an unfortunate dislocation of his finger while in goal (a little known fact is that he's a sublime keeper).

His team, bereft of such defensive talent, went on to lose and the upstanding MP was last seen in the first aid room while attempts were made to relocate his susceptible digit (it's happened before, apparently).

Suspicions that the underinflated football had been tampered with by a NuLabour apparatchik in reprisal for his anti-Heathrow vote earlier this week are as yet unproven.

Get well soon, John!

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Pax Hysterica

Word reaches me that Newsnight stalwart and politician's scourge, Jeremy Paxman (for it is he), was happily minding his own business upon exiting the tube a few days back when he was suddenly accosted by a rather irate man who began shouting at him about the BBC's recent controversial decision not to air the DEC appeal.

Unwilling to been seen fleeing the scene but increasingly uncomfortable at the number of people now staring at him as this stranger aired his grievance, all Paxo could think to do was turn around and plead his innocence. "It was nothing to do with me," he meekly remonstrated, but to no avail.

Indeed, so harsh was the attack and so valiantly did Paxo take one on the chin for Auntie that he was approached at the top of the escalator by a sympathetic soul who rounded off the unusual journey with these choice words: "I'm not your biggest fan but even I felt sorry for you."

Seems old Jezza can take it as well as give it.

The Credit Crunch in verse, or, "A Banker's Tale"

Big fleas have little fleas
Upon their backs to bite 'em
Little fleas have lesser fleas
And so ad infinitum

And the great fleas themselves
In turn
Have greater fleas to go on
While these again have greater still
And greater still
And so on

- Augustus de Morgan (1806 - 1871)