Saturday, 30 April 2011

One last word on Chávez (I promise)

Further to my letter to the TUC, the response to it and my own response to that, I just wanted to add a final thought from Denis MacShane MP, the former Minister of State at the Foreign Office, who you might imagine to be well-informed on such matters (in 2002, he had a long meeting with Chávez in Caracas, as then minister for Latin America).

Denis, who last weekend was kind enough to retweet my letter to to Brendan Barber, wrote this Guardian article about Chávez  in 2009, which I quoted in my letter to Jennie Bremner of the Unite union and which you may have lost in the rather long response, so I repeat it here:
Unless you read the Spanish press, you are unlikely to have picked up his words of support to the Belarus strongman Lukashenko or his endorsement of Robert Mugabe. The Open Democracy website has a long piece by the Mexican leftist Enrique Krauze on Chávez's links to antisemitic ideologues in Venezuela”.
It is certainly worth pointing out that those who are not in regular touch with the Spanish-speaking media are not constantly inundated with film or newspaper coverage of Chávez saying mad things (being married to a Spaniard and a reader of Spanish media, I can tell you he comes up quite often). It is therefore possible from the UK to wilfully blind yourself to the state of his awful regime, simply because he’s not in the news that much.

We might also note the highly significant fact that the Zapatero government of Spain, usually way to the left of the Labour Party on most things, has no time for Chávez. Neither, as far as I know, does the mainstream UGT, the biggest Spanish union. Now, why might that be? Quite simply, they are better-informed than the British trade union movement.

If you needed any final proof on Chavez, you need look no further than his comments last week in support of that great, er, statesman and democrat, President Assad of Syria, currently in the process of brutally putting down democratic dissent in his own country.

The worrying thing about all of this is not so much that there are elements of the Labour Party and movement who still, against overwhelming evidence to the contrary, insist on supporting this demagogue. There have always been fringe elements in both and there always will be, just like the Tories have their own fringe right. 

These are not complex arguments, like about how far the state should be rolled back or not vis-a-vis the private sector. These are arguments which are not really up for debate; where to support the opposite is to to be wifully in denial about some basic facts, or to take refuge in propaganda, conspiracy theories or moral relativism.

But what has changed is this: the TUC is a mainstream body. Ken Livingstone is a candidate for the mainstream position of Mayor of London. Unite and GMB are mainstream trade unions. Simply put, it is a matter of some concern that they are all still showing support for Chávez, because it signals the real, if still remote, possibility of a return to the “loony left” politics of the 1980s – a politics which has been safely asleep in the mainstream left for nearly twenty years.

Let’s hope it’s not that, then.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Cameron: I’m loving your election campaign, Labour

In the Labour Party, we’re very excited about the Alternative Vote referendum. In Westminster, of course, it’s easily crowding out debate on the (not unimportant) Scotland, Wales, Northern Irish and English local elections.

Ooh, the Yeses. The Noes. It’s all that analytical, wonkish, procedural stuff that we love to debate. We seem to have spent the last month or so monopolising the media and the Labour blogosphere with this one issue. To be fair, there are some sensible arguments on both sides, such as this one from Anthony Painter, a fine analytical piece from normblog and a lot of lowest-common-denominator ones. Also there is the delightful “meh2AV” campaign for those who, like Labour Uncut’s own Mike Dugher MP, feel that it’s been a complete waste of time.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Chávez and the TUC - further correspondence

Further to my open letter to the TUC published here last Thursday, there was a response published on Easter Sunday at LabourList by Jennie Bremner, Chair of the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign (and Assistant General Secretary, I understand, of Unite: The Union).

So as not to subject LabourList readers to "Venezuela overkill", I have written my response here instead.

Dear Jennie,

Thank you for your letter of 24 April 2010. My response follows: I have tried to respond to all the areas you touched on as comprehensively as possible.

1.         The current TUC support for Chavez may well be consistent with its conference resolutions of 2005 and 2007, however:

a.     The fact that something is the subject of a resolution at a trades union conference does not make it good or right: and neither does the number of trade unions supporting this cause make it good or right. In the 1980s, Labour Party conference supported unilateral nuclear disarmament and nationalisation of a large number of industries, but this was not good or right either, in the opinion of the vast majority of today’s party members. Conference motions may be democratic but, I’m sure you’d agree, they are not always an unequivocally good indicator of correctness or common sense, either. Democratic process does not automatically bestow right upon an argument.

Friday, 22 April 2011

An open letter to TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber

Dear Brendan,

I am proud of much of the work that the union movement has done in the international sphere over the years, including its support of the anti-apartheid movement and supporting fledgling unions in new democracies. So I write, first of all, to applaud that work. I’m also writing to you to highlight something you may not even be aware of.

There is an organisation currently claiming that the TUC was backing its political conference last Saturday, although there is nothing about it on the TUC website, so I appreciate it may not have been given official sanction.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Two cheers for Ed and Yvette on the one-trick pony

Cameron does rabble-rousing speech to Tory Party faithful about immigration, pressing all the right buttons. Business as usual in the run-up to the locals. Ah, it must be nearly May, then?

Or was it a little more clever than that? And are we, at last, learning to be clever back?

Yes and yes.

First, I should like to congratulate Ed and Yvette for not falling into the bear trap set by Cameron - as identified by Dan Hodges - of a knee-jerk traditional leftist response, saying the speech was unfair or racist; f0r attacking Cameron’s execution of his own ideas, and the division in his ranks instead. This was perceived by many as an attack on Cameron from the right, although this is probably a semantic point. 

Thursday, 14 April 2011

That high risk economic policy again: ours

Recess. Time for us all to reflect on where we’re at before the elections are upon us. And what will people be wanting to hear on the doorstep this month? That the cuts are awful, and that we’re with them. Right?


The idea that we might be taking a risk with this line seems particularly wrong-headed, as the Tories are wrong and we are right on the pure economics of the cuts. Krugman, Stiglitz, and other luminaries agree (hmmm, which should we trust, two Nobel prize winners or George Osborne? Let’s think). The trouble is, we are taking a risk. As I have observed before, it is often not so much the economic policy itself, which is essentially right, but our positioning on that policy – the politics – which is risky.

Our approach is risky, perhaps as much as the Tories’, in its way, because it is predicated on the potential for economic disaster from cutting too far, too fast. And, of course, that disaster may not happen or worse, may happen, but not in a way which we can prove. It may be a little early to assume, as Liberal Conspiracy’s Sunny Hundal seems to, that we will be incontrovertibly proved right.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Two views on nuclear power and the green lobby

Two independent views I've heard this week from people whose worldview couldn't be more different. Firstly all power to green campaigner George Monbiot, whose astonishing revelations in the Guardian (thoroughly recommend the whole article) on the abuse of scientific argument by senior anti-nuclear campaigner Dr Helen Caldicott went against much of what he once believed, as a scientist, to be true:
Over the last fortnight I've made a deeply troubling discovery. The anti-nuclear movement to which I once belonged has misled the world about the impacts of radiation on human health. The claims we have made are ungrounded in science, unsupportable when challenged, and wildly wrong. We have done other people, and ourselves, a terrible disservice.
Something which is not only throws into question the whole scientific basis of the anti-nuclear argument, but is damaging for the general image of scientific investigation, something already under unprecented scrutiny thanks to the internet, as pointed out by the Royal Society's Sir Paul Nurse in his fine documentary Science Under Attack. Things like this play perfectly into the hands of the climate deniers.

And secondly, Tony Blair, observing in A Journey:

NGOs...are treated by the media as concerned citizens, which of course they are [but they are] also organisations, raising money, marketing themselves and competing with other NGOs in a similar field. ...And they've learned to play the modern media game perfectly. As it's all about impact, they shout louder and louder to get heard. Balance is not in the vocabulary. It's all 'outrage', 'betrayal', 'crisis'....It's like the Greens over nuclear power. The case for nuclear power is now so overwhelming that frankly it is almost irresponsible - faced with an energy crunch and climate change - to oppose its development. I bet many of them know that privately, but it would be such heresy to say so and would divide the movement.
In other words, Blair's words, written last year, turned out to be prophetic: the green movement was in a desperate bind over nuclear power, and its anti-nuclear wing was capable of playing the media game as well as anyone to achieve its ends. Including, it seems, basing part of its argument - and, I stress, only part - on false evidence. And it shows, of course, that NGOs are, in the final analysis, politicians as well: they are not, as they are sometimes portrayed, some morally untouchable group of universally good people and they get things wrong, too.

(By the way, on nuclear power itself, after Japan, the jury is still considering, as I said in a previous post. But that's not really the point.)

Thursday, 7 April 2011

School discipline: an open goal for the Tories?

The day before yesterday, I had an online discussion with a couple of comrades (Jonathan Todd and Tom Watson, if you must know) on the subject of Michael Gove’s proposals for blanket banning mobile phones in schools and the wider subject of school discipline. First of all, to be clear, I have always thought that one of the best things we did in government was make a real priority of education: Sure Start, pumping money in, pushing up standards; “education, education, education”: absolutely. It really is something we should, on the whole, be immensely proud of.

But let’s look at the issue. On the one hand, I like to think I am not so unthinkingly tribal as to automatically dismiss everything the Tories propose on principle; however neither am I at all a fan of Gove (and sometimes I automatically dismiss things Tories say out of hand anyway because, well, they’re Tories and I’m only human). For example, his proposals to allow faith schools to exclude teachers not of the faith in question, if they so desire, I find unpleasantly divisive to our schools and the wider community. 

Monday, 4 April 2011

Green stuff

Courtesy of Climate Progess and Bill Becker
I realise that, having been engrossed with the goings-on in the Labour Party recently, I have not done anything on green stuff, despite being a budding eco-entrepreneur and generally interested person in this area. I have to confess that, politically, my problem is finding people who think climate change is important, without being irretrievable sandal-wearers who tend to put me off. I should therefore like to share with you this rather good cartoon, which accurately sums up my thoughts on the somewhat foolish people who actively campaign against wind power, along with a link to David Mentiply's site which has some good links to other green stuff. Unlike many people in this area, David comes across as a highly sensible realist on general political matters (although we disagree on intervention - fair play to him).

On the subject of nuclear power, there is also a post there which points up the trickiness and balanced nature of the current debate. Speaking as one who has always been an unashamed nuclear supporter, even I have to confess to some serious wobbles on the subject after recent events in Japan, which I am hoping to resolve in my own head shortly. In the meantime, the link is here.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Demo good, media bad?

There is surely no need to add to the articles Saturday’s demo dissecting the actions of UK Uncut and the black bloc, although it seems uncertain whether these groups were not, in the end, a sideshow to the principal lessons from it all. Perhaps trickier to explain was the laying of any remaining blame, as many did, squarely at the feet of “the media”.

Politicians who complain about the media are, as Enoch Powell once sharply observed, like sailors who complain about the sea. But, although we are not all politicians but mostly activists, this is precisely the conclusion we have largely reached regarding the demonstration last weekend. It’s understandable. It seemed grossly unfair, to those who had in good faith given up their Saturdays for a decent cause, for a peaceful demo to be linked to the violence and disruption of a few idiots. But, the trouble is, it wasn’t unfair.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Cameron's new weapon: the Portuguese man-o-war

Read my first-ever article for Progress, on the Tories' clever use of the Euro crisis, here.
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