Sunday, 31 March 2013

Chávez is gone...but still advising God

On this fine Easter morning, just a wonderful nugget that I saw this morning (thanks to the Times' excellent @DJack_Journo): Nicolas Maduro, Chávez' vice-president and, let's face it, likely successor, is turning out to have succeeded in a very difficult challenge: being more bonkers than his predecessor.

Frustrated with their inability to embalm the Great Leader's corpse (very likely on account of, er, some confusion in the actual date of death), they are persisting with the cult of personality via a kind of quasi-beatification; promoting the idea that, rather than a brutal demagogue, he was a holy man close to God. People collect Chávez-related artefacts, posters of him alongside religious quotes, and so on.

It gets better. A few weeks ago, according to AP:
"Maduro said Chavez had advised Jesus Christ in heaven that it was time for a South American pope."
Of course - Pope Francis was down to was Saint Hugo, advising God. Doh! Well, I'm glad we're all in such safe hands.

Would be delighted to see how all Chávez' fans on the British left, supporting Maduro for president, are now going to explain how this man is the key to Venezuela's future.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Berlin is still the key

Sometimes politics and the outside world display a beautiful, if apparently pointless, synchronicity.

As if trying to tell us something, David Bowie goes straight to number one in the album chart by revisiting a profound source of inspiration for him – in his own words, “walking the dead” – that of partitioned, Cold War Berlin. A place where he recorded some of his most important work, including the title track of “Heroes”: written while looking out on a pair of furtive lovers kissing by the Wall. A few short years after this peak of creative brilliance, Bowie would slide into a creative cul-de-sac which would arguably take him a quarter-century – or more, depending on whom you talk to – to escape.

It is a special city; a city which, thirty years before Bowie’s sojourn there, had been considered so important as a symbol of freedom that America played a game of brinkmanship with the Soviet Union to defy its attempted siege of the city. It was only through a massive airlift of supplies that Berlin was able to beat the siege and then survive intact, as a Western enclave behind the Iron Curtain, for the following forty years.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Post-Dave state of mind (ii)

Last night came the sad news that former Foreign Secretary and leadership contender David Miliband MP has, unsurprisingly, finally got sick of playing the ghost at his brother’s feast and opted to move to New York to deploy his considerable talents, where at least the press will not be watching his every move for signs of betrayal. We cannot blame him, but we shall miss him.
I shall do a longer post at some point about why he will be missed, but the blunt truth is that, unlike what many were speculating last night, it will probably make precisely zero difference to the future of the Labour Party. The cards were dealt a long time ago.
It seems many in both the main parties are, today, in a post-Dave state of mind.
Just with different Daves.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Post-Dave state of mind

The Telegraph’s Benedict Brogan wrote an interesting piece yesterday about backbench disloyalty in the Conservative Party, where he commented that many were in a “post-Dave state of mind”. Although I think even he would agree that we are a long way from prime ministerial defenestration, it was difficult not to be inspired by the turn of phrase.
So, the Centre Left went to canvass views with Tory MPs, and was surprised to find that one suddenly broke into song (with profuse apologies to the great Billy Joel):

Post-Dave State Of Mind
(to the tune of New York State Of Mind)

Some MPs like to get away, take a holiday from the neighbourhood,
Hop a flight to Cardiff Beach or Holyrood;
But I know what I need, I don’t want to waste more time,
I’m in a post-Dave state of mind.

It was so easy living day by day,
Out of touch with the country’s blues;
But now I need a little hideaway,
From the Daily Mail, constituents’ views, whoa

It comes down to reality, but that’s fine for me, ‘cause he’s let it slide,
Don’t care if it’s Gove or May, or some other guy;
I’m taking my vote, and I’m leaving him behind,
I’m in a post-Dave state of mind.

(And the real thing, infinitely better)

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Wanted: a 21st century internationalism for Labour

Society, and not just in Britain, is increasingly dividing up into two parts: the first, those who work in a national context: public sector workers, most lawyers, a lot of media and small businesses. Those for whom “abroad” mostly means a holiday. Their day-to-day is dealing with other Brits, who in turn deal with other Brits. That’s one part.

And the second comprises those who work in an international context. This need not mean people constantly jetting around the world or spending their lives in videoconferences. It also means people in ordinary jobs working for global businesses (an awful lot of us) whose livelihoods depend on international sales; on dealing with other countries; on understanding how things work there.

If you are a UK manufacturing worker, you may be aware that raw materials are arriving in your workplace from Russia, part-made goods from the Far East and that the finished product is destined for, say, Dubai, and you don’t so much as blink.

The risk is for Labour, that some of those opinion-formers it needs to win back, like some of the Tory switchers from 2010, are in the second bracket: people who are more aware, if sometimes only by osmosis, of the world outside. Myopia can scare off these people.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Labour discipline is in a woeful state, but there is more than that at stake with the Ahmed affair

My latest piece for Independent Voices, on how Labour's highly unpleasant Lord Ahmed finally has got his just desserts, is here.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Halabja, 25 years on: deafening silence from the far left's usual suspects

Today is a quarter-century since Saddam Hussein's massacre of the Kurds with poison gas. According to Wikipedia:
The attack killed between 3,200 and 5,000 people, and injured around 7,000 to 10,000 more, most of them civilians.
I look forward to an outpouring of sympathy for the Kurdish people, for this atrocity, which was committed by one Muslim people against another.

I look forward to the articles by Stop The War Coalition, Respect and their fellow-travellers, the remembrance of the indiscriminate murder of ordinary Muslims, whose suffering they repeatedly claim to identify with and support.

Or not.

It is strange, is it not, that people so vocal about who is right in Palestine, and who was right in Iraq, can be so quiet about massacres in Syria and Kurdistan?

Could it possibly just be that they only care about war and genocide against Muslims when the West is involved?

I mean, after all, if not, who is there to hate?

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

We are staring a lost European decade in the face. This has consequences for Labour

“Send in the clowns” ran the Economist’s front page last week, in a biting but wholly apt comment on the disastrous election results in Italy, which looks likely to stop its progress towards vital economic reforms in its tracks.

Italy’s very own Laurel and Hardy show tells the Italian public what they want to hear: that no reform is necessary. On one side we have the now thoroughly-discredited Silvio Berlusconi; on the other, Beppe Grillo, a real-life comedian fronting an anti-politics party. The frightening thing is that these two might have any say whatsoever in the running of a major world economy; much less holding the balance of power, as they do, in negotiations over who will form the next government (55% of the vote went to these two between them).

But we might still be able to see the comic side, if Italy’s tragedy did not have wider ramifications for the whole of Europe. Italy has, on and off, been in the eye of the euro storm for some time. However, unlike Greece or Portugal, which are modestly-sized economies, it falls into the category “too big to fail”.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Oh, what a circus, oh, what a show

David Essex, in character as "Che" for "Oh What A Circus"
The last few days have been one of those times when anyone who considers themselves part of the “sensible left” might reasonably think that the sense of many of their comrades had taken a short holiday. Following his death (rather a long time following, see previous piece) The foolish Hugo Chávez puff pieces in the Guardian and elsewhere, and the moist-eyed tributes from usual suspects on the left, to a man who has curtailed many freedoms and human rights in his own country have been particularly hard to stomach.

On Wednesday I debated Chávez: liberator or tyrant? at Left Foot Forward with Graham Morris MP, chair of Labour Friends of Venezuela, which can be roughly translated as Friends of Hugo Chávez. The arguments are probably quite familiar to regular readers of the Centre Left. 

Yesterday’s funeral was also a bumper occasion for any regular shoppers at Dictator-U-Like: Lukashenko, Raúl Castro and Ahmadinejad were all there. Sean Penn, an actor I admire a great deal, was sadly in evidence there, inspiring what seems to have been my most-popular-ever tweet (retweeted 66 times, mostly from Venezuela, I might add). Well, if I could do nothing else to support them in their hour of need, I hopefully made a few of those good people laugh.
But surely the thing that has capped it all has been the news – now I think about it, creepily fitting – that Chávez is to be remembered like the great dictators of the 20th century (the top 6 of which are beautifully captured in photos here): embalmed so that people can continue to see him day in, day out until the frail cells which compose his body can no longer take any more, not even in formaldehyde. 

The last few days remind us of nothing so much as the death of one of Chávez’ great South American models, the late Eva Peron, whose passing was immortalised in Tim Rice’s lyrics from Evita (you can watch this fine song here).

Oh, what a circus, oh, what a show, indeed.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

The Chávez tragedy turns to farce

NOTE: Yesterday, after this piece was published at Labour Uncut, Chávez was finally declared dead, the piece having anticipated the event by about eight hours. Not, we can reasonably infer, because it actually happened yesterday, but because the pressure from the Cochéz and ABC news stories, as you will now read, and the demonstrators chained outside the presidential palace, finally became too much to sustain the lie.
Now read on…
While the elusive state of health of Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez seems to have been delicate since at least 2011, it is finally starting to be recognised that he really is not very likely to return as leader, any more than Fidel Castro is ever likely to retake the reins in Cuba. But there is a great deal more to this tortuous tale.

The trouble is, accurate information is so difficult to come by, local media being highly polarised either for or against the man, that no-one can really quite work out the truth; even as to such a simple fact as whether or not the president is still alive.

The evidence that he might not be is circumstantial, yet substantial: he has not been seen in public since his cancer surgery on 11 December, and
failed to turn up for his inauguration one month later, leading to severe constitutional speculation as to whether he could legally continue as president in such circumstances.

Things came to a head last week, when a former Panamanian ambassador, Guillermo Cochéz, gave a surprisingly detailed report. It claimed that Chávez had been in a vegetative state since 30 December and had finally had his life-support switched off two weeks ago, at the request of his family. While Cochéz certainly has an
axe to grind against Chávez, as a public figure he has also staked his reputation on the claim, one that one simple public appearance by the Venezuelan president would obviously destroy. And, there has been no hard evidence from the administration to the contrary.

Something very odd is going on. The report also tallies with one from 2 January by Spanish newspaper ABC, quoting Cuban sources, that he was
in a coma, on life support and a switch-off could happen “at any moment”. Demonstrators outside the presidential palace are now chaining themselves together, rightly demanding to know who is running their country, and under what authority.

We therefore arrive at the bizarre odd situation where Chávez, like Schrödinger’s
proverbial cat, is in an indeterminate state somewhere between living and not living, because we have no access to definitive information to tell us which it is.

Now, the human tragedy of anyone who might die relatively young has, in this case, long been tempered by the fact that this is a man, a friend to the monsters
Mugabe, Lukashenko and Assad, who has long curtailed the freedoms of his own population, earning him harsh criticism from global human rights organisations (Freedom House gives Venezuela a freedom rating of only 5 out of 7, the worst in South America).

Economically, not unlike Saddam, he has succeeded in the truly challenging task of destroying its oil-rich economy, whose currency has just undergone its
fifth devaluation in a decade.

On his running for office,
Freedom House also says “his re-election in 2012 was ensured by the massive abuse of state resources”; and by tinkering with, or circumventing, the constitution a la Putin, he has attempted to make his stay in office permanent. Not exactly the actions of a competent, incorruptible and stout defender of freedom and democracy.

And it is those facts, rather than the state of his health, which represent the real tragedy for Venezuela. A tragedy which it now seems has turned full circle, and which Chávez’ aides seem determined to turn into farce.

I mean, at the risk of mentioning the elephant in the room, has it not all gone a bit Monty Python?

Does it not seem that the Chavez administration is trying to convince us, as Michael Palin might once have put it, that “‘e’s just resting”?

And it seems that the president is now claimed to be “resting” in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary. Apart from his absence from the public eye for nearly three months, he was
flown to Caracas after treatment in Cuba in the dead of night, at 2.30am on 18 February, presumably to keep to an absolute minimum the number of eyewitnesses to his return.

And, in all this time, there have only been a handful of photos of Chávez issued, apparently taken in Cuba; photos which have been widely accused of
being the product of “el Photoshop”.

We do not yet have the final truth: we cannot rule out the possibility that Chávez is indeed still alive in some meaningful sense of the word but, even by the skewed standards of the Venezuelan media, the evidence for this is starting to look more tenuous daily.

No, if It turns out that Cochéz’ version is correct, it would surely not have been the first time that the Chávez regime had misled the public, especially about his health: for example, before the November elections, he claimed to be in remission from cancer. Immediately after, miraculously, he suffered a relapse.

But it would have been one of the most open and obvious times. And after all, claiming someone is alive, when they are not, would hardly be the act of a trustworthy person, let alone a national government.

Oddly, his supporters in the UK, who include a
number of Labour MPs and the current secretary general of the TUC, either fail to grasp the enormity of the fact that they might just be being sold a whopping porky, or simply accept it as “a price worth paying” for the oil money Chávez has spent on the legitimate cause of the Venezuelan poor. But then again, those same supporters in the labour movement fail also, ironically, to grasp how the unpleasant president has simultaneously been oppressing the labour movement in his own country.

Perhaps, despite all this, some of us might just, by a supreme effort, be moved to feel some human sympathy for the condition of the man. But it is a man who, among many other things, has left an indelible stain on the lives of many others: for example, as author of the 1992 coup which left fourteen people dead and over a hundred injured,
including eighty civilians.

We also might, if only someone could cut through this farce and tell us what his condition actually was.

This piece first published at Labour Uncut

Sunday, 3 March 2013

9/11 - it was Mossad, obviously, says PressTV

Ok, I know, I know. I shouldn't be surprised after all this time.

And it was indescribably dumb of some Israeli dad to dress up his kids in Twin Towers costumes as a Purim (Jewish April Fool's Day) stunt. It wasn't funny.

But the whole Jewish diaspora around the world does not bear responsibility for that one idiot. And even I was surprised at the openness of PressTV, mouthpiece of the Islamic Republic of Iran, publishing this piece, essentially saying that the Israelis - or rather, more loosely, "tha Jooz" - are obviously directly responsible for 9/11.

For good measure, this delightful piece contains a bucketload of standard anti-Semitic tropes like lying Jews, Jews pulling the strings of governments, and so on.

Ok, so no surprises. And I fully expect the George Galloways of this world to be unabashed by such things.

But oh, Jeremy Corbyn MP, how can you, a Labour MP - a Labour MP - work for these unspeakable people?
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