Sunday, 29 December 2013

The best of 2013

So, it's that time of year again when we pick out the most viewed pieces at The Centre Left. 

This year, what's been encouraging to see is that, where in the past my most viewed pieces have often been at group blogs such as LabourList, Labour Uncut or elsewhere, in 2013 this little blog has come into its own with regard to traffic and Twitter retweets. For example, the this year's no. 1 post has had two-and-a-half times the traffic of last year's (hooray!) 

So thank you, everyone, and counting down from number 5:

5. Tramping the dirt down: why we should never be like Galloway
As with last year, one of the most popular posts has been about dear old George, surely soon-to-be-ex MP for Bradford West. This one was written after his ugly tweet on the death of Margaret Thatcher. Which would have rather revealed his true colours, if, of course, there were anything left to reveal.

4. A Falkirk coda: who leaked?A little speculation on how earth the press got hold of the Falkirk investigation report. Since I wrote it, a summary of the report has been published by the Sunday Times, so it seems all the secrecy was largely for nothing.

3. Twitter, jokes and Lutfur RahmanA salutary lesson in two things: (i) the malice that lingers in some corners of the political spectrum and (ii) why we should always think before we tweet.

2. My God, what have I done?After Parliament's shameful "Pontius Pilate" Syria vote, it seems that the outcome was not really what anyone expected, and Ed Miliband was no exception.

1. Woolwich, Islamism and the West
And, at Number One, following the foul and violent murder of Drummer Lee Rigby on the streets of Woolwich in broad daylight, we saw how this horrific event brought out the best in many Muslims and non-Muslims alike. However, two notable exceptions were our old friend Ken Livingstone and the notably unpleasant preacher Anjem Choudary, as ably demonstrated in their comments afterwards.

Anyway, hope you've enjoyed The Centre Left in 2013 as much as I have making it; the goal is merely to try and inform, make you think, perhaps annoy, hopefully entertain and keep the flame alive for some kind of moderate centre-left politics, in an age when things seem to be getting rather polarised on both left and right.

All the best to all of you for the coming year, one which is surely gearing up to be a pretty momentous one for my beloved Labour Party. I'll keep on writing as long as you keep on reading.

Friday, 27 December 2013

It’s a wonderful Labour life - a Christmas special

Jimmy Stewart as Bailey in the original "It's A Wonderful Life"
(With apologies to the late Frank Capra)

Christmas Eve, 2013: snow was falling fast in the small town of Leftford Falls, the stores were packing up for Christmas and Edward Bailey – known to his friends as Ed, and his detractors as “Red Ed” – had finished work for the day at his little family savings-and-loan business.

It had been a very difficult year: the business had been established a hundred years before, to provide help to “the many not the few”, as its slogan ran. This Christmas, it was just about keeping its head above water, in troubled economic times.

Meanwhile Lennie M. Potter, the power-hungry boss who owned half of Leftford Falls, was cooking up a plan to secure the one piece of the town he had never yet managed to get hold of – Bailey’s company.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Letter from Moscow: declining human rights, drifting economy and the return of “spheres of influence”

Moscow, I have recently discovered, has a decent daily English-language newspaper, the Moscow Times. Among the dull things which interest Western businesspeople (“Leasing Commercial Property: A New Approach To An Old Problem” - zzzzz), it has a lively Opinion section which is well worth a read.

Now, while its attitude to the Putin government tends to be a fairly balanced criticism rather than either cosying up it or vitriol against it, neither is it afraid to criticise, unlike a seemingly increasing number of other Russian media outlets. And the picture that it paints is that of a country in a state of transition; not so much to a bright new future, but one of slipping back into some rather bad habits of the past.

Some example headlines, with my own comments, below:

  • The New State Media Behemoth – The dismantling of the one state media agency, RIA Novosti, which had a reputation for objective reporting, and its replacement by one headed by a violently homophobic, pro-Putin TV host does not exactly bode well for a free Russian press.
  • Amnesty Bill Passes 2nd Duma Reading – Recently, President Putin has graciously agreed to the release of 20,000 prisoners (who probably should never have been locked up in the first place). These may include, potentially, three members of imprisoned punk band Pussy Riot, which is welcome news. On the other hand, it is difficult to see even this apparent concession to human rights as anything other than a transparent ploy to get Western commentators off Russia’s back in advance of the Sochi Winter Olympics, which various foreign politicians and dignitaries have already agreed to boycott in protest of his government’s current stance on homosexuality and human rights.
  • Putin’s Conservative State Capitalism – the current parallels with the Soviet era are not only tied up with civil liberties; the government is increasingly leaning towards state-owned companies with monopoly power, and central planning. Not a very sensible strategy in a country which has recently gone from a powerhouse BRICs economy to a net under-performer of world GDP.
  • Putin Wins Over Ukraine With Gas Deal and $15Bln Bailout – Not to put too fine a point on it, the Russian government has this week bought the loyalty of the Ukraine government with hard cash. A country whose population is split down the middle between its Russian-leaning east and EU-leaning west has had to choose which side of the fence to jump, and it is towards Moscow. Thousands of Ukrainians who understand the enormity of this decision have taken to the streets to protest it and, somewhat chillingly, it was reported that various Russian secret service agents had been despatched to Kyiv to help deal with the reaction. Putin, meanwhile, would like the Ukraine to join the deathly embrace customs union Russia currently enjoys with Belarus, affectionately known as “Europe’s last dictatorship”. Any freedom-loving Ukrainian should be worried.
  • Moscow's Largest Gay Club Comes Under Attack, Director Says – Not surprisingly, when the government legalises anti-gay discrimination and turns a blind eye to anti-gay attacks, such attacks start to become something of a free-for-all (something similar happened with Jews in the 1930s, after attacking them was given the nod by a certain government). And if – horror of horrors – you happen to be a gay parent in Russia, well, you had really better leave the country right away, if you want to hang on to your kids.
All of this points to a country whose creeping authoritarianism is slowly but surely becoming a danger to the wellbeing of its own citizens. But perhaps the most disturbing news item of the last few days was about it potentially becoming a danger to that of other countries’ citizens, and one which many citizens of both Russia and the West may still be blissfully unaware:
  • Missiles in Western Russia Are Legitimate, Defense Ministry Says – As a response to NATO’s European missile shield, the Russian government has decided to put nuclear-capable missiles in its little outpost of Kaliningrad, a piece of Russian soil snuggled between Lithuania and Poland. The Lithuanians, just like the Ukrainians over the bailout deal, are nervous of what looks like the early signs of a future programme involving naked expansionism. 
They’re right to be. We should all be, because we’ve seen this movie before. It’s what we used to call “spheres of influence”, behind the old Iron Curtain.

In short, the essence of all this is that Cold War: The Sequel looks like it might be coming soon, to a country near you.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

The Tories who failed to support Mandela’s “long walk to freedom” were not bad, merely wrong

With the thousands of pieces being written around the world about the death of a political giant, this is not about the great man himself – there are plenty of people better-qualified to write that one.

But it’s worth pausing to think about Mandela’s relationship with Labour.

Like many, I grew up in the late 1970s and 1980s constantly hearing about some or other horrific injustice from apartheid South Africa on the 6 o’clock news. We were too young for the Sharpeville massacre or the imprisonment of Mandela himself, but not too young to learn of the death of Steve Biko in police custody. In fact, you had only to listen to switch on Radio One – Peter Gabriel’s “Biko”, Little Steven’s “I Ain’t Gonna Play Sun City” or The Specials’ “Free Nelson Mandela”* – to be aware of what was going on.

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