Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

Posts Tagged ‘USA’

MODERN TIMES: The Dinosaur Column

In Dinosaur on May 5, 2018 at 8:51 pm

Votes for Women!

It seems that this year we’re celebrating the hundredth anniversary of women gaining the vote in parliamentary elections. There’s been a number of events to mark the occasion, including one I rather liked – a train excursion to Severn Beach by latter-day Suffragettes dressed in period costume and the suffragette colours. I hope they all had a good day out!

Of course it didn’t immediately mean that all women had the vote. First, they had to be over thirty (those still in their twenties had to wait awhile, until the 1920s, to gain the right to the ballot box (in the so-called “flapper election”).

Earlier, votes for women had been bitterly opposed by the Liberal Government under Asquith. He described women as “hopelessly ignorant of politics, credulous to the last degree and flickering with gusts of sentiment like a candle in the wind.” Wow!

Today there’s a misconception that all suffragettes were violent campaigners who specialised in smashing windows, setting fire to buildings- and even throwing themselves under race horses. In fact there were two bodies campaigning for votes for women. More effective than the Pankhursts were probably those who were labelled the “Suffragists” who attempted to win over the newly emerging Labour movement (then largely organised through the ILP). It might be significant here that in the “flapper election” the result was a significant rise in the Labour vote.

UKIP IN STALLING MODE

Why, I wonder, does UKIP get itself in such a twist over electing a new leader? Since Nigel Farage announced his retirement from the leadership of the party they’ve managed to get through three successors (one of whom lasted only a matter of days). Even before then there seemed to a succession of switches in the party’s leadership.

Now the latest incumbent, a gentleman called Henry Bolton, has had a vote of no confidence passed against him by the Party’s executive. It seems that it’ll be only a matter of time before he’s out of the door.

The fracas is over Mr Bolton’s lady friend who’s been making some very nasty online comments about Prince Harry’s new American fiancee. I can appreciate that this would cause outrage amongst the UKIP faithful (and, indeed, further afield). All I can say is that I don’t know what came over her. Suffice to say, Mr. Bolton has broken off the relationship.

But to write off UKIP completely may be a bit premature. During its very chequered history it has faced other crises – and then metaphorically risen from the grave. It has had other leadership conflicts, and at one point in its history lost out in a contester for the racist vote in the form of the BNP (not, I hasten to add, that I’m trying to suggest that there was any comparison in terms of the two parties’ policies. Only in the muddled views of those who’d want to vote for them).

No doubt we’ll see. UKIP may well stagger on, but not necessarily as the kind of force that it was during the referendum campaign.

Amazon has it: if this turns you on:

Do we really fancy a new style of shopping where there are no checkouts and all you need is a sort of swipe card?

Amazon has just opened one such store – but it’s all right, it’s over in Seattle. To start your shopping, you scan an Amazon “smartphone app” to get you through a turnstile. Then you start your shopping. Whenever you take an item from the shelves, your account is charged. It you put the item back, the charge is automatically removed.

Amazon has admitted to some flaws in the system (such as small children who remove items from shelves but don’t put them back where they should be). But what this Dinosaur wants to know is whether this is really how we want to shop? Who do we go to for help in finding what we want? Do we always know what we want?   And does Amazon really care?

DINOSAUR

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ENDPIECE: Where’s the diplomacy?

In Editorial on July 4, 2017 at 12:37 pm

We think it was US President Theodore Roosevelt who coined the phrase “talk softly – but carry a big stick” as he set out to conquer various remaining Spanish colonies off the coast of America. He could be described as the founder of US imperialism.

We won’t dwell on his motives. After all, times change. But as for his famous quote, perhaps there’s something for Theresa May to think about.. She has a habit of speaking very loudly – and to all intents and purposes carries no stick at all. Perhaps she might just run to a handbag.

She has told her cheering followers that “when we say Brexit we mean Brexit!”. It’ s to be a “hard” exit from Europe. And then, with all charm she could muster she sets off to engage EU ministers in talks to try for improved trade deals with Europe. She even embarked on a disastrous election to try to bolster her slim majority in Parliament.  She mistakenly thought that it would impress EU leaders and give her more clout. And we all know what happened with that!

It’s not surprising that European leaders  haven’t been impressed. After all what could May put on the table after her own euphoric utterances to her own supporters?

She’s been told by EU leaders that she must guarantee free movement of European citizens to and from Britain, a point she may find it difficult to concede considering that (possibly) the majority of those who’ve been cheering her on voted for Brexit in order to put up the barriers against Johnny Foreigner. In their terms they might end up with a very soft Brexit indeed. Meanwhile, it’s interesting that an increasing number of UK citizens (both in Britain and in mainland Europe) have been seeking ways and means of gaining European citizenship.  Sometimes this is because they see it as being in their interest. But sometimes it’s because they identify with the soul of Europe, and don’t want to be identified with the “little Englander” mentality of many of the Brexiteers.

At the same time May and her Government have been busy trying to fix up trade deals with countries outside the EU bloc – such as China and Canada. Perhaps even a handout from Trump in the USA.  So far she’s had little luck. After all, these days what do we have to offer? Let’s face it, what industrial assets we might still have can be bought up wholesale by the Chinese etc., without bothering themselves with trade deals.

So far, all that May hasn’t tried is diplomacy. It can sometimes go a long way.

Clarion Comment: BEWARE THE IDES OF MAY

In Editorial, Uncategorized on April 25, 2017 at 12:44 pm

It’s interesting how quickly memories of Cameron’s premiership fade away, Now that Theresa May is at the helm, Cameron has become well and truly yesterday’s man.

So, what do we make of May’s reign so far? It’s been less than a year – but we can’t complain that it’s been uneventful. We’ve had her attempts to woo Donald Trump (the US president that most of us love to hate). There’s been her decision to opt for a “hard brexit” from the European Union. And there’s been her attempt to drive Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP into a corner which threaten to produce further divisions between England and Scotland – perhaps irreparable ones.

One of May’s major flaws as Prime Minister (or indeed as a politician) is her acerbic style. She’s like a bull terrier, constantly on attack mode. In her view, political opponents are there to be put down, their faces ground into the mud. But it may be that she’s taken on more than she can chew when she decided to take on Nicola Sturgeon.

BAD JUDGEMENT:

Another flaw with Theresa May is a marked lack of judgement. What on earth led her to invite Trump over on a state visit to the UK when he’d hardly got himself settled into the White House? Her haste flouted all existing protocols as well as offending millions of people.

Another example of bad judgement was her decision to go for a “hard brexit” from Europe. If we look at the overall figures, the referendum results showed deep divisions between those who wished to stay and those who voted to leave. Those who voted to leave won – but by a slender margin. In the circumstances might it have been better to aim for a course that respected the majority without trampling on the concerns of the minority? Let alone upsetting the European Union – the bloc that one way or another we will have to do business with.

REVIVING THE DODO?

Meanwhile, on the domestic front, she has chosen to take on the education establishment with her persistence in ploughing scarce resources into the setting up of new grammar schools. Selective education was phased out over fifty years ago. Most rational folk regard it as dead as a dodo, and in Parliament a cross-party alliance, including Nicky Morgan (former education Minister), Lucy Powell (Labour’s shadow minister) and Nick Clegg for the Lib Dems, has emerged to rally opposition to grammar schools.   So, the question is, why has May chosen to revive the whole controversy now, to the point where she’s even divided her own party?

The opposition to May’s plans led by Morgan, Powell and Clegg were spelled out in The Observer on 19th March. Whilst making the point that whilst they had their differences, they were all agreed that selection was bad for schools, and bad for societies that they served. Selection failed to tackle inequality or to boost social mobility.

A MATTER OF EXPENSES:

Another blot on the horizon that has rocked the Tory Party is the electoral expenses scandal in a dozen or so “key” constituencies (including the Thanet seat, where Nigel Farage made his bid for election). Inflated expenses involving the Tory electoral machine were not declared in these seats, possibly having an impact on the results.

Of course, May wasn’t guilty of involvement in this. It happened on Cameron’s watch. But it’s been an episode in which she’s chosen to take a low profile approach, despite the fact that it could have repercussions on her Parliamentary Party – possibly even a loss of a few of her MPs (a factor that should concentrate May’s mind considering the limited size of her majority).

Basically Theresa May seems to be riding high in the polls, with no overall opposition from within the Tory Party faithful – but it may well be that this degree of support is based on shaky ground. There are plenty of challenges ahead, starting off with how she manages to handle our exit from the European Union.

We’re indebted to Joy Johnson, in her Tribune column for these last words on Theresa May:

“It’s a Prime Minister that masquerades as the champion of ordinary working people as she sidles up to Donald Trump after racing over the Atlantic to be his first foreign visitor (after his election as president).

“It’s a government that has all the hallmarks of a harsh, hard right administration. Nothing that has been done so far can illustrate this approach so well as their policy to ignore Alfred Dubs’ amendment to the Immigration Act. Out of the thousands of unaccompanied refugee children who made it to Europe the UK was going to take in 3,000. Yet even this figure was too high for May’s administration. They pulled the plug at 350 children. Shameful.”


The brutal Indifference of Deportation

And it’s happening on May’s watch

from a Clarion correspondent

Are we suffering from an obsession? Or is someone at the Home Office just trawling through files to see who can be deported from Britain next?

Certainly there seems to be both a lack of any sign of compassion in the way that deportation is being used against those who are seen as “breaking the rules”. It almost seems to qualify as a vigilante approach.

Two cases have been highlighted in the media recently. The first was that of Irene Clennel. She had lived in Britain for over thirty years. She has a UK husband, two children born in this country – and even a grandchild. But this didn’t stop her from being seized by the authorities taken to a detention centre in Lanarkshire where she was transported to Singapore and left with the grand sum of £12 in her pocket.

Back home she’d acted as her sick husband’s carer. But earlier, it seems, she’d had to return to Singapore for lengthy periods of time to care for her dying parents. Because of this she lost her rights to remain in Britain. Now she’s back in Singapore, where (since the death of her parents) she knows nobody.

DETAINED AT YARL’S WOOD:

The other case concerns Sophia Kamba, from Kettering. She has been held in the notorious Yarl’s Wood detention centre for some five months.

Now she has learned that her 13-year old son Joel has sickle cell anaemia. With his condition deteriorating he has been admitted to hospital twice in the past few months.

Sophia Kamba (who has lived and worked in the UK for 27 years) has applied for leave from Yarl’s Wood to be with her son. Incidentally, Sophia was born in Britain, as was her mother, but she failed to get naturalised.

In response to her plea for temporary release to see her son, she was told: “you can Skype him from Jamaica.”

As this issue is being prepared, her appeal for temporary leave from detention is still under consideration.

 

Clarion Comment: THE MANY FACES OF DONALD TRUMP

In Editorial, Uncategorized on January 19, 2017 at 1:46 pm

Those of us who followed the US presidential election contest on television must have watched the performance of Donald Trump with increasing revulsion – mixed perhaps with a certain amount of dread. It wasn’t just his message. It was also the reaction of his cheering supporters – and the sneaking thought that maybe, just maybe, he could actually win and become the next President of America.

The pledge to build a wall to keep Mexicans (whom he described as “rapists”) from “flooding into America”, the promise to bar entry to Muslims, to abolish “Obamacare” and to impeach Hillary Clinton as a “criminal” got her opponents cheering – and (as far as Hillary Clinton was concerned) got them chanting in unison, “lock her up, lock her up!”

Lest we forget the frenzy, those were just a few of the headlines that we witnessed from the Trump campaign. As well there were the smears against women in business, and attacks on those of minority ethnic origin.

Then came the culmination of the election – the counting of the votes. Despite the fact that Clinton, on a straight head count, got a substantial majority of votes overall, she lost. Our worst fears had been realised. As the results were confirmed, those who opposed Trump in New York and San Francisco took to the streets in outrage.

ANOTHER FACE:

But then another face of Trump briefly emerged. From the moment he met Obama at the White House we saw a more conciliatory Trump. One who declared the need to work together for the “sake of America”. It seemed that the notion of building a wall between the USA and Mexico had been put on hold. “Obamacare” we were told wouldn’t be scrapped altogether but merely amended (whatever that would mean). Suddenly the rhetoric of confrontation was scaled down to the point where it became almost placatory.

So which Trump are we to believe? And does it matter? The answer must be yes, it does. It was his performance on the hustings that stirred up his supporters and brought previously hidden emotions bubbling to the surface, like a poisonous, putrid stew. They made the public face of UKIP in Britain seem almost cuddly by comparison (though the congratulatory visit to Trump Towers by Nigel Farage was all the more nauseating for that). Basically an ugly side of America was revealed during this campaign, and the surge of “Trumpism” won’t just go away.

Then, just when we thought that Trump himself was having second thoughts, he told us all that he was going to build his wall to keep out the Mexicans after all (and that Mexico would pay for it. Oh yeah?). It may be that the wall might be scaled down to a barbed wire fence in places, but it would be built, he declared. And he’s still going to “deport or incarcerate” up to three million “criminal aliens”.

We don’t of course yet know what the future will bring. In particular we don’t know what impact it will have on relations between the UK and the USA. Theresa May went through the obligatory motions of welcoming Trump’s election – whilst he made it clear that she wasn’t exactly on his list of priorities – or if she was on his list at all.

But more complex matters, such as his odd attraction towards Putin, the conflict in the Middle East, and the whole approach to international aid are likely to be affected by Trump’s entry to the White House.

But perhaps more serious in the long term is the fact that Trump is a climate change denier. He doesn’t believe in global warming – and his refusal to clear up his act could affect us all. Already he’s threatening to cancel America’s agreement to the Paris Accord (signed by leading nations to cut back on carbon emissions to tackle global warming). All this could be deadly serious news for our planet. More recently he’s been brandishing the nuclear military option, in a way designed to send shivers down the spine.

CONSPIRACY?

At this stage of the Trump saga signs of conspiracy began to emerge. Could it be that the vacillations over previous policy statements were less due to changes of heart and more the effect of manipulation?

Enter Steve Bannon. He’s been appointed the new chief strategist for Donald Trump.

He’s not a name that many of us know on this side of the Atlantic, but he is the executive chair of “Breitbart News” – described as a “white ethnic nationalist propaganda mill”. He’s been a strong supporter of Trump during the presidential campaign. And his appointment has been welcomed both by the leader of the American Nazi Party and the former head of the Ku Klux Klan. To be fair, we doubt if he asked for this support (or, indeed, welcomed it), but it’s a sign of where his more extreme support might lie.

And if anyone needs any more evidence of the kind of government that Trump will be providing then they only need to look at those he’s chosen to fill the rest of his Cabinet. They’re not a pretty sight.

What all this means for the future of the USA (or indeed the rest of us) remains to be seen. At present America remains a deeply divided country – one that looks as though it’s shifting ominously to the right. So, watch this space.

trump_may

TRUMBO: WITCH HUNT – the black days of McCarthyism in the USA

In John Wilmot, Reviews on January 3, 2017 at 1:30 pm
Review: Trumbo DVD

The reality of purges, witch hunts, or whatever else you wish to call them is always ugly.  Whether we’re talking about Stalin’s show trials in the USSR in the ‘thirties,  or the purge of all those hauled up before the so-called “Un-American Activities Committee” in the USA of the 1950s, such attempts to purify and cast out “undesirable” elements from any society are based on organised intolerance or bigotry, and lead only to suffering – or (in the case  of Stalin’s show trials) worse.

The film, “Dalton Trumbo” covers the Hollywood screenwriter’s attempts to fight back against the the so-called “UnAmerican Activities Committee”.  He won out in the end, but it almost cost him his family, and the lives of many of his friends. It was an ugly intolerant period for those who were caught up in it.

ATTACK ON HOLLYWOOD:

Although far too many ordinary folk suffered from the bleak attentions of the McCarthyite period, the film industry centred around Hollywood suffered particularly. Actors were blacklisted, as were directors and screen writers such as Trumbo. Only “good” Americans, such as Ronald Reagan or John Wayne were able to flourish, under the baleful patronage of Hollywood gossip columnist Hedda Hopper.

Trumbo found himself one of the blacklisted “Hollywood Ten” who attempted to fight back. They lost, and Trumbo found himself serving time in prison. On his release he found that he was now  unable to gain work – certainly under his own name. He was forced to take work writing scripts for cheap “B Movies” to scrape a living. His family  begins to fall apart, and he‘s shunned by those who he thought had once been his friends.

Despite all this he did succeed in winning an Oscar for his script of the film “Roman Holiday” – though he had to write it using a false name. But his big breakthrough was the film “Spartacus”. Not only was this released under his name but it also won an Oscar.  It was    to be the beginning of the end of the Hollywood blacklist.

Others were also to suffer of course, including such actors as Edward G. Robinson, and to a lesser extent, Humphrey Bogard, and his wife Lauren Bacall.  Others escaped the net by moving abroad – or leaving the industry altogether.

One example was Sam Wanamaker, who was to settle in  Britain. He went on to become responsible for the re-recreation of Shakespeare’s Globe theatre, whilst his daughter, Zoe became a prominent character actor in UK  film and television. Hollywood’s loss was to be our gain!

JOHN WILMOT

David Aaronovitch Interview

In Guest Feature, T. Chinnick on August 8, 2016 at 11:58 am

by Tyler Chinnick

{on-line special – full un-edited article in one piece, rather than split across two issues as in the print edition}

David Aaronovitch is a columnist for the Times and Jewish Chronicle (formerly The Independent and The Guardian). He is a winner of the Orwell Prize, chairman of the free speech organisation ‘Index on Censorship’ and author of ‘Voodoo Histories’ (about conspiracy theories). His new book ‘Party Animals’ examining his communist upbringing was published earlier this year. I caught up with David as he was padding up what he assured me was one of the steepest hills in London.

I think of you in the same bracket as people like Christopher Hitchens and Claire Fox who started out on the revolutionary left (Aaronovitch was a member of the Communist Party until 1987) and have migrated over the years to a point now where you’re post-political almost. Do you still consider yourself on the left?

[Laughter] Post-political?! I most certainly am not. And Hitchens wouldn’t consider himself as post-political.

I don’t think of myself as post-political and nor do I think of myself as a kind of classic journeyer from the far left over to the right. Some of the things that were actually the most important things to me politically when I was younger are still the most important things to me politically so I’m loathe to accept that classification.

And if it’s true that the kind-of people who regard themselves as being the cup-bearers for the left would not regard me as being of their number but to a certain extent I don’t care what they think.

You mentioned in the talk at the Hay festival that Internationalism is still one of your guiding principles are there any other principles that guide your politics?

Internationalism, inter-dependency, co-responsibility, feminism.

Without wanting to engage in any cheap psychologism it’s not difficult to see why a movement like feminism might have appealed to the young Aaronovitch. His parent’s relationship was not a happy one due mainly to his father’s serial infidelity. Painful enough at the best of times but to a mother who prized loyalty above everything else, almost unbearable. She coped with it by lying to herself, even in her own diary.

What about enlightenment values?

Yeah, actually, enlightenment is more important to me now than it was then because I didn’t really understand it as a concept, so in that sense I suppose you can say that is a kind of shift. You know gradually I’ve become much more militant in favour of freedom of expression, freedom of speech as the things that underline our capacity to be the people, to be the societies that we want to be. To take an example, I’ve become far more aware of the importance of say, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 than I would have been as a young communist.

Some people feel that those kind of values are under threat now in a way that they haven’t been in a while – would you share that fear?

In places, yes. After the fall of the Berlin wall we had a kind of view about the progress toward the acceptance of by-and-large the value of Western liberal democracy and I think for ten, fifteen years you could see that. So by the time we got to 2010 the number of democracies in the world had increased exponentially, through Latin America and so on and that’s still by-and-large been the direction of travel but there’s the substantial kick-back: Putinisation in Russia, Erdogan in Turkey, various other countries. We waited for a long time for a significant reform movement in Iran that has never really been successful, that has always been suppressed.

I was thinking specifically about here at home. With elements of the left cosying up and forming alliances with people who they may never have done so in the past.

No that’s true, and that’s irritating. But that’s kind of, quite a parochial concern in a way. I mean I do see that among certain sections of the left. A kind of relativism, an unthinking, a certain, basically a ‘find the underdog’ and whoever the underdog is, adopt their views – makes no sense. It depends on who the underdog is and what their views are whether you want to do that. So you can find people who are very strong say on women’s rights in the rest of society but that believe, effectively in withholding their solidarity from, let’s say Muslim women who are claiming the same rights – well, that’s not very impressive.

How has university and particularly student politics and freedom of speech on campus changed since you were there in the 70’s?

Well there were always people who, if you like, were keen to constrain the dangers of other people’s speech. Mostly they tended to be on the left and mostly the target tended to be people on the far-right and in a sense given that we were still only 30 years on from the Second World War and so on and we had a real problem of significant and violent racism – you could understand that even if it was slightly misplaced. But there were always people who tried to extend it then. So for example when I was a student leader you had a problem of some Trotskyists saying ‘well we have no platform for racists, the UN has just declared Zionism is racist, therefore we can have no platform for Zionists. And the Union of Jewish Students supports Israel which is a Zionist thing to do therefore we better ban them from speaking’! Some actually made that argument. It was always easily defeated but since then you’ve got a completely different thing that’s come in which is kind-of a degree of sensitivity, often hyper-sensitivity on behalf of someone else saying ‘we can’t bear to have these things said in this area because the speech itself constitutes an attack’ – almost as if it were a physical attack. This is not just restriction on speech it almost becomes a form of thought control.

Actually I’m beginning to think that we might have nipped the worst part of it in the bud now in Britain, if not in America. I think the Student Unions and others got the message that this is not the way to go. So I’m half-hoping that the problem will become less not more.

You opposed the Vietnam War when you were a student but you supported the Iraq war. What’s the difference?

There’s no similarity between them at all. The problem was that Saddam Hussein – was to all intents and purposes – was a fascist, ran a fascist regime by incredible violence, absolutely staggering violence and to effectively, in the end defend him from attack had nothing to do with the Vietnam war. But people will pose it in the way that they think it’s the same thing. The Vietnam war was, in a way, the arse-end of de-colonialisation, the Americans got hooked into because of the problems of the Cold War and their idea that almost anything was better than allowing countries to become communist. Saddam was a completely different kettle of fish.

What do your think attracts people to conspiracy theories?

As I said in ‘Voodoo Histories’ they’re better stories, they’re less complicated in some ways, they can give complete answers rather than the incomplete, unsatisfactory answers of real life.

So it has the attractiveness of a thriller is part of it and then the other part of it is the explanation for one’s own defeat, so, the kind of conspiracy theories which the Republicans threw at Clinton after they [The Republicans] lost the White House. ‘How could it possibly be”, they said to themselves “ that these Democrats who we hate so much have won more votes than we have, well, it must be jiggery-pokery because anything else has an explanation that lies in our unattractiveness and of course we don’t think we are.

Do you think we’re more susceptible to conspiracy theories now than we were because with the internet they have a viral quality that they didn’t in the past?

I think conspiracy theories get formed quicker and go round the world quicker but I don’t necessarily think that we’re more susceptible to them. I mean the anti-semitic conspiracy theories were incredibly widespread in Europe in the period after the first world war, ridiculously so. And they were probably more widely believed than any similar such conspiracy theories now. And of course once people have got them into their head it was hard to debunk them because you didn’t have a mechanism for reaching all those people who believed these things

Why do you think Communism was so socially conservative in practice?

Right at the beginning of the British Communist Party, interestingly, there was a puritan strain in that part of it was composed of temperance campaigners believe it or not. Then of course you had this notion of sacrifice for the working class and giving up everything to politics and to organisation, it’s quite a puritanical stance … so you had this strange combination of bohemianism i.e. we’re changing the world, everything is turned upside down and puritanism, everything for the sake of the class and so on and they sat in a kind of odd way. Now, at first after the Russian Revolution you had this explosion of experimental theatre, experimental art as all the artists think ‘well now we’ve thrown off the old shackles’ etc but the whole business gets very, very serious, you know about fighting off invaders, fighting off the counter-revolutionaries etc then the puritans gradually take over and what they say is actually your art should be entirely subject and your life should be entirely subject to the needs of the political moment. Now that becomes a very, very conservative position because it says it’s much less interested in experimentation now it’s much, much more interested in directing everything.

And I suppose the Party in Britain would have just been taking their lead from Russia?

To a certain extent but even to a quite late degree in the British Communist party you had the Bohemians, people who didn’t fit into the normal weft of Western life. I’ll give you a good example. You know the spy Guy Burgess, being a sort-of active gay guy in an era when that was frowned upon. You can quite easily see that some of his decision to oppose his country had something to do with his homosexuality. I’m not saying by the way by any means that homosexuals are traitors but what I am saying is that sometimes if you find yourself going up against everyone else you look for other affiliations.

And I suppose that would also explain why there were a disproportionate number of Jewish people in the Russian revolution?

Well precisely so. It does, and so a lot of forward thinking people or very imaginative people joined the revolutionary movement. But when that movement becomes a consolidation of power and then faces an existential crisis you know you’ve got an actual country there that you’re running then in that case it appealed to an innate conservatism. And so for instance Russian textbooks on anatomy for school would miss out the reproductive organs altogether, just wouldn’t mention them. Like Ken and barbie dolls really. When you got to that bit they were all gone. Not very helpful.

Among many things ‘Party Animals’ is a potted history of the major developments in Soviet history and how the CPGB, it’s leadership and members reacted to them. The Nazi-Soviet pact of 1939, the invasion of Hungary (1956) and Czechoslovakia (1968) and perhaps most problematic of all to a communist the 20th party congress at which Khrushchev revealed the truth about the Stalinist show trials and purges.

Did you ever talk to your parents about the revelations made by Khrushchev?

Thing is I didn’t have to talk to them about it because those had happened when I was a toddler, even younger than that and so by the time I would have been asking them questions about it it was already in the historical background. By the time I was in the party myself I – this sounds awful – but I didn’t care about their attitudes toward stuff was. I was not sufficiently enamoured of them to want to discover it.

Why did you decide to join the party?

Because I believed that the party was a good organisation that did the right things for people around the world and I wanted to be part of that.

But there were – and there still are – lots of Socialist and Communist groupings why the Communist Party?

Oh, I didn’t know that. I mean I knew there was the Labour party but I didn’t know there were all the other ones. I didn’t really know of the others until I went to college.

Though he says he was dimly aware of other left-wing parties he mistakenly thought that is was all more-or-less the same thing. He was soon disabused of that notion by a Trotskyist heartbreaker who slapped him across the face on discovering that in addition to joining her Trotskyist group he had also joined a Stalinist organisation. “She hated me” he recalls, the dismay still alive in his voice, “for being the wrong breed of leftist!”

Why did you decide to leave the party and how was that greeted by your family and former comrades?

I was already by then working in the media for five years. So I’d stopped really being politically active in any huge activist sense because it was incompatible with reporting on things to make yourself too much a part of them. In my house which I was sharing with other people we would put up things to do with help for the miners during the miners strike. I can remember writing things that were very sympathetic to the striking miners, if not to their leadership, but in terms of the party itself I’d more or less gone already. I mean I couldn’t really see myself the point of the Communist party already by ’87. I thought I would be better expressed probably in the Labour party. Also after I’d left being President of the National Union of Students I was just really politicked-out. I’d been an activist ever since I was a toddler. I’d been on countless demonstrations, I’d sold the bloody Morning Star on the student union steps almost every week for four years or something like that, I’d done my bit, I’d spoken on demos, been on demos, been arrested at demos etc. I’d just had enough of it.

All through my student life I was too political and I’d never really had any fun. I’d had some political fun but not really any other kind of fun. As it happens I’m not really a night-clubber or anything like that so it mattered less than to some people.

So you weren’t into night-clubbing and you didn’t particularly like Elvis Presley when you were younger and you’re disparaging about the drug culture … How did you rebel then – did you rebel at all?

I rebelled against my parents by taking myself out of the house and not going to anything with them, not going on holiday with them and so on. I mean it didn’t seem necessary to rebel more than that.

You weren’t tempted to become a Tory?

[Laughter] No! God no! I was not. That was the bloody last thing … [More laughter]. It’s extraordinary enough that I’m a Times columnist that’s kind of testing the limits without being a Tory. But if it seriously got to the point where I thought that the only way to keep a Corbyn government out was to vote Tory then that would be intellectually the right thing to do but it would be an incredible wrench. I mean I’ve never voted Tory in my life!

I was brought up thinking by and large that Tories were essentially devilish creatures and of course I’ve met quite a lot of Tories since and have discovered that some of them are quite personable. But I’ve never been even remotely tempted to be one.

What would your Dad make of Corbyn?

I think my mother would have been emotionally attracted to Corbyn on a very simple basis which is that he is the closest thing standing to what we used to stand for. My Dad was an autodidact, he taught himself Marxism and then economics. And one of my Dad’s favourite words was rigour – the idea that you must subject everything to rigorous work and rigorous analysis, you had to know all the facts and then you had to analyse them and that was really, really important to him. Say for instance you wanted to talk about the working class you had to have a definition of what the working class was, who is in the working class, how do they come to be the working class and when you say ‘the working class movement’ who are you actually talking about – which forces, in what kind of alliance, how would you get them together and how would they work and so on. I am pretty sure that he would have looked at Corbyn and thought this is an absolute bloody shambles, this is just not serious. And Corbyn has asked himself none of those sorts of questions, has no kind of intellectual interest in them as far as anybody can see and therefore is fundamentally unserious and therefore can’t lead anybody. I’m pretty sure that that’s what my father would have thought although I must say it’s very convenient for me thinking that that’s what he would think.

Do Labour/the left have an anti-semitism (AS) problem and if so how much, if any, is the fault of Jeremy Corbyn? The accusation is that he’s brought people into the party who would have been outside it otherwise.

I’m with my father in this respect really, which is I’m always interested in the question of what we mean by the words that we use – what do we mean by AS? I don’t regard it as anti-semitic per se to say ‘I don’t think Jews should go and live in a place called Israel and therefore I’m not a Zionist.’ I’m slightly more worried about people who of all things want to be anti-Zionist because that means that they’re against one particular form of national self-expression but not against any of the others but I don’t think they do that because they have a prejudice against Jews particularly.

So the anti-semitic tropes we’re talking about are the ones that are a transference to the word Zionist or the idea of Israel that are the old prejudiced perceptions about Jews. That they are incredibly and disproportionately financially successful and crafty and that they influence people by nefarious means, not open means to get their way. These would have been tropes that were highly recognisable to far-right people. And actually some of them come from far-right people so you now get this bizarre business that’s this cross-tweeting between Corbynistas – and I don’t mean people who are close to Corbyn particularly though some of them might be – and some sections of the far right, they just simply can’t tell the difference. They both claim to be for Palestinian rights above everything and that’s partly why all this has a particular salience really. It comes from this super-notion of the jewish lobby, or the Israeli lobby, or the Zionist lobby and so on you are essentially picking up on an anti-semitic trope which has gone down the centuries. That Jews are particularly tribal and close and manipulative. And I think that has infected sections of the Labour party or activists within the Labour party and I think it is a problem that the Labour Party now has.

The other aspect of this of course is that some of these attitudes are absolutely routine among some sections of the Muslim community. They’re just simply what Imam’s teach about Jews arriving out of the Koran and with no contradictory experience i.e. with no experience of actual Jews themselves to compare this against it is what an awful lot of people in the Muslim community including Muslim members of Labour believe – it’s what they’ve imbibed actually, which is even worse. In other words that’s almost the default position before you get to anything else.

Do you think there is any hope for socialism?

Now you remember what I said about my Dad – what’s your definition of socialism?

Let’s say Clause 4 the “democratic ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange”

Let’s dig down into that a little bit. If we replace private ownership and private profit with democratic control as an economic mechanism – so think about it, who is exercising the democratic control and where are they exercising it – what are we talking about there? Who’s doing what?

I’ve always been taken with Jean Jaures notion that for, say nationalised industries a third of the board would be elected by the government, a third by the workers in that industry and a third by the electorate.

The thing is people don’t want to spend their time electing and in a lot of meetings and they won’t run these companies particularly well and whenever this has been tried it’s not worked.

The question is what the optimum level of involvement in action is. When I was a student activist, Trot’s put an incredible amount of emphasis on the idea of direct democracy. They thought that if you were at a meeting the vote you took was ten times better than any vote you took if you weren’t at a meeting by virtue of having participated in the discussion and so on. I kind-of half thought that was true for a while but I just don’t any more. I don’t think you get good decisions that way and I don’t think it really works. In the sense that we’re talking about that kind of socialism, democratic control over the means of production etc. – I think it’s very good that you put it like that because you took the question seriously and attempted to create a definition which you’re probably aware is not what Corbynistas do. What they generally say is ‘oh well, we’re just going to do better things for everybody and life will be better for everybody’. And wave a vague stick at it. So you at least tie it to a proposition – even if it’s a proposition that we can then say once we’ve dealt with it won’t work.

By the time I was in the mid 80’s, late 80’s, I just didn’t believe anything like that would work. That’s not to say that capitalist system isn’t open to huge levels of reform, I mean after all the whole business of regulation, which has grown and grown and grown because we all know that you cannot simply leave it to the profit principle to decide how society is completely organised and who in the end absolutely gets what. It has to be mediated and how it’s mediated is always an open question but to set an arbitrary point about mediation and to say that this side of this point is socialism and this side isn’t when you haven’t fundamentally altered the system is I think a bit of a confidence trick.

Who do you think will win in November in the American election?

Hillary Clinton will win. And I’m saying that largely because I don’t really want to be on the planet if that’s not the case.

MODERN TIMES: The Dinosaur Column

In Dinosaur on March 5, 2015 at 7:12 pm

 

dinosaur

G4S and the Guantanamo connection:

Did you know that our old friends at G4S had been involved in security work at the notorious US holding camp at Guantanamo Bay?

No, nor did I. It seems that it won a lucrative £70 million contract last August to service the base, where 127 inmates are still being held without charge. What we don’t know of course is whether the company’s personnel were in any way involved with any of the torture practises carried out by US guards on those held there – such as “water boarding”, sleep deprivation or force feeding.

But it seems that G4S has since disposed of  its contract. At the end of 2014 it sold on its US subsidiary – which included its Guantanamo connection.  Now the civil rights group, Reprieve, has taken up the case, and referred the matter to the police. Amnesty International has also called for a full investigation.

Of course we don’t know what role G4S fulfilled in Guantanamo. But it does seem rather – er – injudicious to get involved in this notorious holding centre in the first place.

How fares the BNP?

We hear little of the British National Party (the BNP) these days. Its halcyon days were around 2008 to 2009, when it succeeded in winning over 50 council seats around the country, a seat on the London Assembly and two MEPs (including party leader Nick Griffin).

But then it all fell apart. It failed to win any parliamentary seats in 2010, and subsequently its tally of councillors just melted away. It lost both its seats in the European Parliament, and finally last Autumn, Nick Griffin found himself expelled from the party – and that seemed to be that.

But a visit to the relevant website indicates that the rump of the party is still active. And in one constituency members have been dishing out leaflets door to door, proclaiming that the “BNP is the Labour Party your Grandad would have voted for”.

Really?? I don’t think so!

It’s grim in Gloucester:

Recent figures published on the state of the economy broken down  city by city suggests that the North has been blighted most from austerity and recession – just like it was back in the hungry ‘thirties. Places like Rochdale or Hull, for instance, have been hard hit.. Meanwhile others, like Milton Keynes, London and Brighton are doing much better, thanks.

But one blip in the statistics caught my rheumy old eye. Bottom of the league table when it came to jobs was our own city of Gloucester. Here there was a decline in available jobs of 12 percent – even worse than Rochdale, home of the Co-op Pioneers and Gracie Fields.

That’s not the kind of picture you’re given if you read the business section of The Citizen is it?  Here you’d think that the city was on a roll.

But long gone are the days when the city was an industrial hub. It turned out Cotton motorbikes, the Gloucester Wagon Company made railway rolling stock that was sold across the world – and “England’s Glory” matches were on sale throughout the country.

Off the peg:

CND has started the new year with a vigorous campaign against the renewal of our Trident nuclear missile system. It’s an off-the-peg system, where we buy the missiles from the Americans – but, what with the submarines, it still costs loadsa money.

Hardened CND veterans may remember the days when Britain attempted to go it alone. Remember the campaigns against the Blue Streak missile? Or the Polaris submarine system? Not to mention Cruise missiles? They’ve all been consigned to the dustbin of history. Isn’t it time Trident joined them?

Dinosaur

MODERN TIMES: The Dinosaur column

In Dinosaur on July 7, 2014 at 8:32 pm

dinosaurAsda is as Asda does 

I have a confession to make.  Once upon a time, I used to shop at Asda.

Yes, I admit it.  But back then it wasn’t owned by that predatory American giant, Walmart.  It seemed to me to be a fairly harmless Leeds-based chain of stores with their own little quirks. Back then, the store which I frequented was in an old textile mill, up north. It filled several floors, and amongst its other goods, it stocked ex-bankrupt stock consisting of, well, whatever it could get its hands on, including crockery. I still have the plates and dishes I bought there many years ago.

Times change, of course, and so did Asda. In July 1999, it became a subsidiary of Walmart, and today is a wholly-owned division of the USA-based supermarket group.  Indeed, after the original takeover all its delivery lorries were re-labelled with the words “Asda: part of the Walmart family”.

Then it went further than that.  A number of Asda-Walmart “supercentres” were opened. They were huge. I mean big enough to hold a couple of airships with room to spare.

But about six years’ ago, the name “Walmart” mysteriously vanished from their signage. Instead they reverted to being merely “Asda supercentres”.  I’m not sure why – but could it be that the US bosses were planning to complete their takeover by gradually replacing the name “Asda” with that of “Walmart” – but then it dawned on them that Walmart over here was about as popular as cold porridge made from bird dropping? Or, being American, was there some confusion over how the word “centre” should be spelled?

Whatever, our council seems intent on foisting an edge of town Asda on the good people of Cinderford.  It seems that there’s a some deluded belief that this will be good for the town. But the notion that eager shoppers will flock in to Asda, and then whilst they’re about it, carry on to sample other shops in the town. Let’s face it – is that in any way likely? Dream on!

Not just a bookshop:

I was saddened to read in the local paper that Doug MacLean, owner of the Forest Bookshop in Coleford, is putting it up for sale.

This bookshop has become something of a local institution. It was opened 37 years ago, and since then thousands have flocked through its doors. It has been able to order and supply nearly any book that customers wanted (provided that it was still in print), and also ran its own book launches for those volumes with a local interest.

The last time I was able to attend an event at the bookshop was to hear about the life of A.A. Purcell, one time MP for the Forest of Dean back in the 1920s. The talk was given by Kevin Morgan who wrote his biography, Bolshevism, Syndicalism and the General Strike.  The bookshop was packed.

Sadly that’s not always the case, and now Doug has decided it’s time to hang up his bookselling boots. He’s getting on in years, he says (aren’t we all?!), but hopes he can sell it as a going concern. Whether that’s possible remains to be seen. There are fewer and fewer independent bookshops around these days, and it needs someone dedicated enough to take on the responsibility. Here’s hoping!

Call for an ambulance?

It’s a trend that those who watch the weekly hospital soap, Casualty may not have noticed. Here the ambulances are all bone fide NHS vehicles, with fully-trained paramedics in control.

But it’s now been revealed that about half the ambulance journeys made are likely to be in private vehicles – and the number is increasing. To put put it crudely, the service is being rapidly privatised.

It’s been reported that many of these private providers may also be running other services such as buses or car parks. Plenty of “on the job” training there then! The ambulance crews may, or may not, have paramedic training  – and few checks are done on their background.

As well as hospitals, such companies are also providing transport for care homes. It seems that the NHS today simply doesn’t have enough ambulances to cope with demand.

It’s tempting to ask, why? But meanwhile, maybe someone like S4C could step into the breach? It could convert some of its prison transport vehicles for the purpose. But already many folk are worried about the trend, including the Care Quality Commission. And this covert privatisation is now beginning to spread to our neck of the woods.

Dinosaur

WTF? the counter comment column by Tyler Chinnick

In T. Chinnick on October 17, 2013 at 12:18 pm

Autumn 2013

THE KISSING RITUAL

It’s one of the easiest (and most nauseating) rituals on any political campaign: the kissing of the baby. Not so for Tony Abbott, the leader of Australia’s conservative Liberal party who missed the baby altogether and kissed the back of the mother’s head.

This unfortunate photo opportunity has not, unfortunately harmed the campaign. Abbott who looks like the cartoon version of Adam West from The Simpsons and whose rampant homophobia is surpassed only by his misogyny ended up winning the election. pity the nation!

In other election news from down under the One Nation Party’s candidate for Rankin, Queensland – Stephanie Banister bewildered everyone by claiming in a television interview that Islam was a country, Jews followed Jesus and praising a government program that wasn’t due to start for another three years. She stepped down claiming her words had been taken out of context. They hadn’t.

JUST SAY NICE THINGS

But the ramblings of an inconsequential weirdo on the political fringes pales into insignificance when you consider news coming out of the Prime Minister’s office. The Prime Minister of Israel that is, Benjamin Netanyahu. According to Ha’aretz the Israeli govt. is offering students scholarships if they post pro-Israeli messages on internet fora.

The scheme is reminiscent of China’s ‘50 Cent Party’ where individuals are paid 5p for every pro-China message they write. How becoming more like China will affect Israel’s image abroad is yet to be seen.

HANDBAGS AT DAWN

Oprah Winfrey accused a Swiss shop assistant of racism for refusing to show her a $35,000 handbag. According to Winfrey the shop assistant tried to show her a different, cheaper bag instead – something which the woman in question denies. The owner of the store maintains that it was all a misunderstanding.

But what is more offensive: the alleged racism or the fact that Oprah Winfrey is willing to spend on a handbag what some people could only hope to earn in a whole year? In completely unrelated news Winfrey’s new film The Butler opened a week after the alleged incident.

MANNING WHO?

Bradley Manning, the U.S. soldier who heroically/treacherously leaked the largest number of classified documents in modern history has been sentenced to 35 years behind bars.

But before being transferred to Fort Leavenworth military prison in Kansas where he is due to serve his sentence the 25 year old released a press statement requesting that he be referred to as ‘she’ and be permitted to start hormone therapy as soon as possible.

The statement read “I am Chelsea Manning. I am a female . . . I also request that, starting today, you refer to me by my new name and use the feminine pronoun . . . I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible”. Good luck in prison, that’s all I can say.

NEED FOR FOOTNOTES?

The press continues to unearth examples of UKIP lunacy. The latest numb-nut is a man called Hugh Williams who self-published a book called “From Ur to Us, Everything you Need to Know about History”.

The stuff we need to know about history includes that the second world war was due to “Polish aggression”, that Hitler offered peace to Britain but was refused and that child abuse in the Catholic Church was “negligible”. He referred to the book as being “unencumbered by the shackles of political correctness” – unencumbered by the shackles of sanity would seem more accurate.

DINOSAUR: Modern Times

In Dinosaur on April 26, 2013 at 12:15 pm

dinosaurCOMING HOME AGAIN TO WALES?

Stuck precariously as we are on the border between Wales and England, I was intrigued to read an item recently on the appeal of moving across the Wye into the county of Monmouth. Or, indeed, even further afield in Wales if that takes your fancy.

According to a piece in the “i” newspaper, one attraction is the health care system. The pernicious Health & Social Care Act, introduced by the ConDem Government, doesn’t apply over the border. The Welsh NHS spends (on average) £100 more per person than it does in England. Prescriptions are free – and there’s even free hospital car parking.

It seems that it was this that persuaded the folks who live in the English village of Audlem (nine miles from the Welsh border) to hold an online referendum on whether to join Wales. 60 per cent of those taking part voted yes.

Of course, the NHS in Wales still has its problems, but it’s a system enjoyed by many Clarion readers who live on the other side of the Wye valley. And none of them so far have contacted the Clarion to tell us that they’d prefer the English health care system.

Gun law – US style

Somewhere that I really wouldn’t want to move to, though, is the town of Nelson, in the state of Georgia, USA. The council there recently approved a proposal weirdly called “the Family Protection Act”. This would make it compulsory for every household in the community to own a gun.

I kid you not. It seems that it may not be enforced – but what kind of message does this send in the wake of that tragic school massacre that took place in the US only a few months ago? Already there’s another town in the state of Georgia that forces residents to own firearms – a place called Kennesaw. It seems that in certain parts of America (particularly the deep south), the right not to bear arms just doesn’t apply.

Finding Cameron:

I was interested in a letter in one newspaper recently, bemoaning the state of the roads in the rural county of Oxfordshire. Potholes it seems are proliferating and many motorists are suffering a bumpy ride. And they don’t like it.

It goes on to point out that David Cameron has a house in the county. “the road that goes past it is a quiet country lane. It has been resurfaced from end to end.”

So, if anyone wants to find out where our PM lives, follow the one pristine rural road in the county!

Incidentally, I wonder how many spare bedrooms there are in Cameron’s country home?

Suffer the children…

Do you remember a recent piece in the Clarion about the number of schools offering breakfasts to kids who were turning up with empty stomachs – because their parents couldn’t give them any sustenance to start the day?

Well, sadly, because of spending cuts, over twenty schools have now had to abandon their “breakfast clubs”. According to a survey of teachers, it was thought that many cash-strapped parents were relying on the school to feed their children at the start of the day.

The “slash and burn” policies being pursued by Cameron and Osborne are in danger of blighting the future of an entire generation.

Public opinion – by telephone poll

According to a new poll reported in the newspapers, the ConDem government is still “more trusted to handle the economy” than Labour.

My first reaction when I read that was to wonder, “what planet do some people live on? Have we become a nation of masochists?!” And then I thought, no. It’s based on one of these unsolicited phone calls that so many of us suffer from. You know, the ones that are trying to sell us something like double glazing, or ask “have you got time to answer a few questions…?”

If you’re anything like me, you may well say, “not today thanks”, and put the receiver down. Or make up some excuse off the top of your head, like, “I’m sorry, I’m just going out” or “No, I can’t, the cat’s just been sick all over the carpet.”

No, I don’t trust polls over the phone. And I’d never regard them as representative of what people are really thinking.

Dinosaur