Thursday, 31 October 2013

The web we have woven in Falkirk

“Oh, what a tangled web we weave
When first we practise to deceive.”

            - Sir Walter Scott, Marmion
Ah, Falkirk. We drew a line under it, didn’t we? Only we didn’t.

A couple of months ago Uncut noted that the Falkirk debacle was unfinished business. But even we didn’t expect there to be quite such a spectacular unravelling, as happened last weekend.

For the uninitiated, the story went like this: the Falkirk West selection process was suspended amidst accusations that Unite were fixing the selection process for Karie Murphy, Tom Watson’s office manager and friend of Len McCluskey. Unite cried “foul” and hinted that Labour had exaggerated on purpose for their own ends; local witnesses suddenly, fortuitously, withdrew testimonies; and by party conference an uneasy truce was in place between Labour and Unite, both saying “move along, nothing to see”.

Friday, 18 October 2013

To Norm

I didn’t know Norman Geras, or “Norm”, as he was known by the blogging fraternity, that well – we certainly never spoke, although I had a number of exchanges with him – but I feel strangely like I have lost someone important today.

As well as a blogger, I am aware he has been a highly-respected professor of politics and whom I also cite as one of the important signatories of the 2006
Euston Manifesto, which helped me re-examine the way I think about a few things. It challenged the sloppy, lazy way that sections of the left had got into thinking.

I mark him out, essentially, as one of the few people both rational and brave enough to challenge the prevailing orthodoxy of the left on such subjects as its relationship with non-democracies, racism, Islamism and other religious intolerance. I have often found myself checking
normblog to see what a super-rational, forensic view might be on a particular subject or, as my friend Nick Cohen writes today:
Whenever I faced a difficult moral question, I would at some point think “ah, what is Norm saying about this,” go to his blog and see that Norm had found a way through.
His pieces were always short, forensically focused and argued, but with a fundamental basis in humanity rather than cold ideology. I have never managed to edit myself so ruthlessly as his exemplary nuggets, though I should certainly one day like to learn how. If you have never yet visited the blog, I would strongly suggest you dip into its extensive archives here.

My own story with Norm is a short and rather uninteresting one: he contacted me about being one of his comprehensive series of blogger profiles, a
link to which I have proudly displayed here in the right-hand bar of my little blog ever since (no. 389, since you ask).

But you gave me that little push and encouragement into writing, Norm, and made me think that I might possibly be creating something of some small value to someone, somewhere. Most importantly, you reminded me that there were clever people out there, who were true comrades of mine and were not afraid to challenge the mental straightjacket that the left, my political home, sometimes works itself into.

For both these things I am profoundly grateful.

As Nick says, “rest in peace, comrade”.

This blog has been cross-posted at Normfest, a site set up today by Damian Counsell to celebrate Norm's life and writings. 

Thursday, 17 October 2013

With Labour’s lead narrowing, the next election is now too close to call

Setting aside for the moment the fact that the Westminster lobby seems to be yet to clock the political turmoil in store for Labour over the next six months as it approaches its special conference, there is another issue to which Labour must pay attention if it is serious about winning: its polling.

As we start to edge towards the home strait of the electoral cycle, new polling tells us some interesting things.

The conventional wisdom has become, owing to its consistent poll lead since early 2012, that “Labour is on course to win”. Meaning that, even if it means winning as part of a coalition, it would be hard for it to lose the election from here.

This is rather dangerous thinking, for two reasons.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Syria: no, we are not better off now

With the infiltration of jihadist groups into Syrian rebel forces, it was only a matter of time before they responded to Assad's massacres in kind, as it now appears they did during August in some Alawite villages.

Back in our own country and the US, depressingly, rebel killings will now be taken as retrospective justification for, rather than consequence of, Western inaction.

Phew, everyone says. That just shows we were right not to "rush to war", eh? They're all as bad as each other.

But the flaws in this reasoning are obvious: first, because the message now sent to everyone, the rebels included, has been that crimes against humanity are perfectly ok, because they will result in no meaningful sanction. 

That lack of sanction is obviously going to have affected the thinking of the rebels. The UN's nascent doctrine of Responsibility To Protect, which includes war crimes and genocide prevention, lies in tatters.

For those of you who think that "meaningful sanction" includes a hopelessly flawed decommissioning process, which will inevitably involve negotiation about which sites may or may not be inspected (not to mention some being in combat zones, remember Iraq's "presidential palace" no-go areas?) and which many observers think will probably merely result in pushing the weapons over the border into Lebanon: good luck to you.

No, given that it is impossible to say how large Syria's CW stocks are, we can never know when they have all been decommissioned. Unless full cooperation is given, there can be no realistic possibility of preventing further use.

In a somewhat bitterly ironic example of the West slapping itself on the back, Norway's Nobel Committee has now moved to award the Peace Prize to OPCW, the organisation responsible for "decommissioning" said weapons. Which has not, for the record, even carried out any decommissioning as yet. One is not sure whether to laugh or cry.

The second reason is simply that the longer we go on with our "hands-off" approach to Syria and allow jihadists to gain the upper hand within the rebel forces, the more we create a fertile breeding-ground for forces who will inevitably turn hostile eyes towards the West if they win.

When will we learn that, where Islamism is involved, we have to get involved early and not late? That jihadists will naturally flock to any kind of flashpoint, in order to make hay while the sun shines?

We may well look back in years to come and ask ourselves why it was that we managed to lose on two fronts; not only that we let thousands of civilians be massacred, but also created the ideal conditions for a new generation of terrorists to boot.

If you think the latter statement alarmist or that it does not concern us in our "safe European homes", I suggest you read what MI5 chief Andrew Parker has to say: that increasing amounts of Five's casework concerns radicalised Britons who have gone to Syria to fight.

And that's if we can avoid being dragged into the conflict at some point anyway, far too late to do anything but damage limitation.

One post script: all this is notwithstanding massacres that can conveniently take place using conventional weapons. For the last few days, the Assad regime has been shelling a refugee camp full of civilians.

What a mess.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Beneath the gloss of conference, storm clouds were gathering

I wrote this conference conclusion piece a week ago for Labour Uncut and forgot to repost it here, but I think it still applies perfectly.

Bottom line is that the next six months look set to be fairly momentous in the party's history.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Last Blairite standing: watch out for the sharks

A few days on from the reshuffle of all three parties’ ministerial or Shadow teams, a little perspective on Labour's, or what seems to have universally become known as the “Blairite cull”.

Jim Murphy, who was merely moved on from Defence to a rather less important department, DFID, is now clearly the only remaining outrider in the Shadow Cabinet for any kind of centrist politics, if you accept that the decent Douglas Alexander will continue to do what he has done for the previous decade-and-a-half during the Blair-Brown wars: keep his head down, accommodate the views of the major power players and avoid making enemies. 

As always, there is the story; and the story behind the story.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

The indefatigable Daily Mail

Thanks to the Daily Mail's rather unpleasant and ill-conceived trashing ("The Man Who Hated Britain") of Ed Miliband's Marxist father, Ralph Miliband, Tory party conference seems to have been rather eclipsed by the fallout from the piece, which has led to overwhelming support for Miliband.

What is most amusing is the "glass houses" element that they obviously never thought about: while Ralph Miliband, whose patriotism they question, served in the Royal Navy and fought for his country against the Nazis, the first Lord Rothermere, owner of the Daily Mail, was famously friendly towards Hitler. So today some lovely Rothermere history surfaced.

Compare and contrast the following (thanks to @ivanwhite48 for the first):

Telegram from Daily Mail owner, Lord Rothermere, to Hitler, 1938:
"I salute your Excellency’s star, which rises higher and higher."
George Galloway to Saddam Hussein, 1994: 
"I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability"
I would not suggest that the modern Daily Mail holds the extremist views of its founder. But in the end, the meeting of far right and far left, or "Molotov-Ribbentrop" as my friend John Rentoul calls it, after the brief wartime pact between the Nazis and the Communists, is almost an inevitability.

They never can resist a good dictator.

Labour Uncut book now available for download

Think I've probably already mentioned this but, just in case, I have authored Chapter Two of this fine tome, Labour manifesto: uncut, now available for download here.

Called Leadership and party, it's an essay on how, tricky though the whole party reform agenda is, it's thoroughly worth doing, should be extended to other areas and could even be the making of Miliband.

We launched it last Monday, in book form, at the Pragmatic Radicalism fringe at party conference. There are other chapters by my blogging friends Jonathan Todd, Kevin Meagher and Atul Hatwal.

Any problems accessing, tweet or email me and I'll send you the PDF.
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