Archive for October, 2007


October 31, 2007 10 comments

Hey everyone. Besides being interested in progressive politics in the United States, I have a keen interest in issues of sex, gender, gender relationships, and how our society views all of these things. In my (admittedly limited) experience attempting to get men involved in issues of violence prevention and in discussing these sorts of issues, I find that men are extremely resistant.

I have some theories on the problems of feminism, specifically regarding its failure in communicating its ideas, whatever they may be (and it means different things to different people) to men. Below the break is my attempt to summarize my thoughts on feminism, and how a social movement for men can be constructed.

Read more…

Bourn to step down

October 28, 2007 Leave a comment

Well this is something that has been coming for a while. Countless Private Eye’s, a grilling by the Public Accounts Commission and a great deal of political pressure have each conspired to push Sir John Bourn out of his office at the head of the NAO.[1]

I don’t have much to say that hasn’t been said already on the subject. The NAO is a farce, which is both politically supervised by the government of the day and often ignored completely. It is an office where jobs are under threat of outsourcing and generally no one wants to rock the boat. That such a bon vivant was using taxpayers money to live well, whilst leading an organisation the point of which is to ensure government spending efficiency…well that was just icing on the cake.

The previous coverage of Lib-Dems demanding Sir John Bourn’s resignation made me laugh though. Norman Lamb, MP, commented that there was a great deal of scrutiny for the spending of MP’s, and that should be extended to other parts of government service.[2]

I should be forgiven for chuckling aloud when I read that. MPs are already well paid and basically get additional allowances which amount to them creaming money off. Thousands for running offices in their constituency, thousands for accommodation allowance, travel allowances, family travel allowances…they even get a winding up settlement. Don’t even get me started on the ridiculous situation where Members of Parliament can hold additional positions in the Welsh, Scottish or Northern Irish Assemblies.

The last occurrence in particular should be legislated against even more harshly than it currently is. The government already banned MEP’s from being MP’s; the same rule of thumb should be applied to MSP’s, MLA’s and AM’s. For those looking to investigate the situation, a good paper can be found on the website of parliament.[3]

Then we come to the register of members’ interests. What a fun show that is, demonstrating where else MP’s work and to whom they prostitute themselves whilst they’re meant to be representing their constituents. Actually I have to confess, for the most senior civil servants, it’s even more amusing than for MP’s.

Given that the Tories have threatened to pull out of talks on party funding unless Labour agrees to cap Union donations, the issue of parliamentary prostitution is one to which I will be returning no doubt.

Categories: General Politics

“Unthinking Leninists”

October 24, 2007 Leave a comment

Dave Osler has posted a great article on his blog today, cataloguing the responses of the the SWP, the AWL and the Socialist Party to George Galloway’s recent denunciation of the Socialist Workers’ Party as unthinking “Leninists.”[1]

He quotes from an editorial in this week’s Socialist Worker:

“He [Galloway] denounces members of the SWP as unthinking “Leninists” who listen to nobody but their shadowy and unaccountable leadership – a classic right wing stereotype of revolutionaries. Inside Respect a campaign has been launched against the SWP in an attempt to drive us out.[2]

Not to descend into the sectariana so beloved of right-wing pundits because of how ridiculous it makes the left look, but Galloway isn’t the only one who would denounce the SWP in such a fashion.

I suspect Galloway would be hard pushed to come up with a substantive definition of Leninism without resorting to clichés but I don’t think we should dismiss the criticism just because the man voicing it is a bit of a scumbag.

The denunciation is not so effective in the label it uses as the accuracy of what it says about the leadership of the SWP – and certain other revolutionary left groups which I decline to name for the moment.

The Socialist Workers’ Party is famed for the easy-come easy-go approach to membership which it has, as a result of basing most of its activities on students going through their anti-establishment phase, students who rarely if ever translate that phase into a more substantive critique.

It’s leadership is so entrenched as to be virtually unaccountable. Sure, they have the national conference, which elected delegates attend to elect their national committee. At this as with most other left wing groups, it’s the same faces time after time, with occasionally the odd new face being thrown in for the sake of appearances.

The vacillations of the SWP between revolutionary politics and reformist politics are a case in point. Deprived of a stable membership base which grows and learns as it grows, the rapid turnover in members as they move in, become disillusioned and move out, leaves the organization with leaders who jump at any chance to get their party noticed.

To call the SWP Leninist is a joke; ask anyone who has ever read any of the books by its so-called ideological minds; from Cliffe to German. To call its leadership shadowy and unaccountable has too much of the ring of truth, regardless of whether or not it is a right wing cliché.

Most of the left-wingers that I know, from London as from further afield, have been repeatedly disgusted by the RESPECT coalition and its surrender to the Muslim right. So many people I know were appalled when the idea of RESPECT was mooted with Gorgeous George at its head.

On the surface, the basic platform of RESPECT is one that virtually anyone on the left can support[3], but I know of not one blow struck by RESPECT in defence of those goals that matches the energies that have been devoted to a political positioning on British foreign policy (for which read “Anyone-but-America”) that Sayeeda Warsi would be proud of.

Osler also quotes the AWL response to the latest round-robbins twixt Galloway and his erstwhile partners. In so many ways it sums up exactly what most on the left, both within Labour and outwith it, and as such it deserves repeating, despite the smug “I told you so” tone common to such Trotskyist bantering.

“Missing from the editorial is any suggestion why Galloway should want to do such bad things. In fact Galloway has never been anything better than a Stalinist-minded one-time Labour ‘soft left’ with dodgy connections (admitted) to the Saudi and Emirates monarchies and successive Pakistani governments and to Saddam Hussein’s hideous regime in Iraq.

The SWP leaders know that, and have known it all along. Only, they can’t say it, because for five years they have been dishonestly boosting Galloway as a great anti-imperialist and a good socialist.

As a result, they can give no more credible account of the row in Respect than that Galloway is trying to ‘drive out’ the SWP. How could he do that, when the SWP controls the machinery of Respect and probably has the absolute majority of Respect’s small membership of about 2000? …

Some SWP members will remember how the SWP trashed the Socialist Alliance, ditched socialist approaches in elections in favour of the claim that Respect were the best “fighters for Muslims”, and steamrollered the rejection of mildly-worded pro-secularist motions at Respect conference with the allegation that they were ‘Islamophobic’, all with the excuse that this was going to get the SWP into the political ‘big time’.”

All I can say is that I pity Poplar and Limehouse at the next election. They basically get a choice between Jim Fitpatrick (Lab) who, being Assistant Whip, has voted for every bloody measure you can think of that a lefty would oppose, or Galloway.[4]

Categories: General Politics

Abortion, Abortion, Abortion!

October 24, 2007 1 comment

About a year ago, I was warned by a friend who is well-informed and influential within certain political circles that increasingly a resonance was being found in certain areas by those who wished to restrict the right of a woman to choose whether or not to have a baby.

I thought nothing of it at the time, since I figured that this is Britain. We have the occasional pro-life group and the far right of the Conservative Party occasionally mount the podium to have a bash at those who wish to protect the right to abort a pregnancy. We’re not America, with the hysterical religious right.

No one in the mainstream is really of such a character that they would lead the charge to end the (admittedly half-assed) system by which we allow women to get rid of an unwanted foetus.

The last few months have increasingly shaken my faith in this regard. Alex Salmond wants to cut the abortion period.[1] Catholic clerics are quitting Amnesty International in protest at the adoption of a pro-choice stance by those experts in fence sitting.[2] The Pro-Life Alliance is up in arms to cut the abortion period.[3]

The Science and Technology Committee is taking up the question, relating specifically to medical advances rather than the ethical and moral question.[4]

It has fallen to a Liberal Democrat, of all things, to come out and not only defend the right to abortion but to attack the so-called conscientious objectors who refuse to sign off on abortions. Rightly, Dr. Evan Harris (of Oxford West and Abingdon, and who I had the good fortune to meet last year) has demanded that such doctors step back and have no role whatsoever in counselling pregnant women, lest they try and influence the women not to have abortions.

All eyes will be on Dawn “Postmaster Idiot” Primarolo’s testimony before the committee. Aren’t we glad Mr “Wants to be a Catholic” Blair isn’t in charge anymore! With the debacles over faith schools and adoption agency exemptions and so on, I don’t think I could take much more of a section of the party dangerously close to letting religion dictate politics.

Categories: General Politics

Cyberspace paedophilia and other related incidents

October 24, 2007 1 comment

There has been a sizeable amount of news recently on the subject of grooming and such like.[1][2][3] A recent statistic suggests that somewhere around half of all children online have experienced an unwanted ‘incident,’ whether grooming or bullying or just general harassment. An additional statistic suggests that 64% of it occurs via chat rooms.

When I say “sizeable amount” I am explicitly ignoring that sort of sensationalist gossip-mongering engaged in by the tabloid press and related outlets.

Perhaps it is because I’m not a parent, but more and more the charities are beginning to irk me with their constant output on the subject. It may appear that I’m arguing against myself by first demonstrating just how prevalent the problem may be – but hear me out.

What is irritating me is that the charity campaigns seem to be lapsing from the promotion of responsible internet use into paranoia around who young people talk to online. I view that as a harmful development.

Of course, when one actually reads the material passing between the groomers and the groomed – available in some of the links above – one cannot help but be disgusted and angry that such people are allowed near children. It is made worse by the fact that the children who seem the easiest prey are the ones with difficult home lives.

Yet it seems ill-fitting to cast out such rich possibilities as those carried by the internet in a bid for the ever elusive security each of us seek for ourselves and our families.

From the point of view of a young person, it would have been irreparably restrictive for me to have my parents linger over my shoulder. Those parts of sex education which a Catholic grammar school left out were largely acquired by reading the internet. Similarly for meeting Jews, Hindus, Buddhists and for that matter Americans and other people with different perspectives, the internet is invaluable.

What most of the charities suggest doesn’t of itself restrict investigative activity, but suggestions like having the family PC in a communal room and so on brings parents into the equation. Parents have strong political, religious, moral and other views – and its not rare for parents to wish that their children should be of the same mind.

Even more common is the reaction that parents have to kids spending a couple of hours online on net games which the parent doesn’t see the point of. I’ve been in that situation, and yet the game in question taught me a lot about human behaviour not to mention different political cultures and mindsets. It also taught me a lot about myself.

It’s all very well to say that young people should be out and about and getting their experience in a real-life setting rather than through a computer screen – something that I hear pundits repeat as thought it were a talisman. Yet isn’t the behaviour of our children just mirroring the fractured social fabric of society, where people are of so little hope that they would rather stay indoors and watch TV than actually be making a difference?

Moreover, what is to stop young people acquiring their experiences in both ways?

If we take under consideration that 64% of these incidents occur in chat rooms, we might well question why chat rooms should be allowed to persist. Years ago MSN turned their chat rooms into a pay-per-chat service on the pretext that it would stop paedophiles from soliciting young people. Of course it didn’t do that, since the demand for chat rooms is a constant and all concerned parties simply shifted their custom to other free-use chat sites.

The underlying lesson, I think, is that these national groups are much too often giving ammunition to the less salubrious and more agenda-ridden agents within our society. Internet security should be taught in school, probably in ICT classes – which are being brought to an ever younger audience thankfully. It’s something that will never be full proof – but that is no excuse for applying limitations to internet usage.

Categories: Miscellaneous

Bloody Unionists and the Irish Language

October 17, 2007 6 comments

Edwing Poots, dessicated old fartLanguage has always been a political football in Northern Ireland. As language and culture have been weapons in the hands of the nationalist movements in Scotland and Wales, so in Northern Ireland, the Irish language is a weapon in the hand of Sinn Fein.

Despite my dislike for Sinn Fein, I must confess to some sympathy for their wishes in regard to the Irish language. After all, though by sheer accident, Irish was and is the indigenous language of the island of Ireland – and a significant body of literature, poetry and polemics exist in that language.

That’s not to say I’m a Gaelic Revivalist; that movement was all too connected to cultural Conservatism and brought Catholicism along on its coattails. Yet still, I do feel that Irish speakers should have certain rights in respect to the Irish language. Particularly, and most strongly, I feel that they should have the right to communicate with all the organs of the state in Irish should they so choose.

Many Irish speakers in Northern Ireland send their children to Irish-only schools, to perfect the fluency of their children in this language. Some deliberately holiday in areas that are Irish-speaking, the Gaeltachtai. They will know the shops in which they can speak in Irish.

Though they cannot speak Irish in every aspect of life, as it is not so widespread as that, it is my view that they should expect to be able to correspond with the state in their native language. They should be able to speak Irish if called to Court, they should be able to fill forms in Irish and so on.

I will not indulge in the often-heard pompous speculation on how this ability might defuse Nationalist desires to be independent of the UK etc. That is not my concern in this case. I am not a Nationalist; I do not believe in a change of borders while capitalism still exists. What should be highlighted, however, is the flagrant abuse and ridicule which Unionists have heaped upon the desire for equality of status in languages.

Though few will say it outright, it is evident in their behaviour. The attempt to establish Ulster Scots, essentially a dialect of English spoken by six farmers somewhere in Antrim, as a language on par with Irish is an example of just this unspoken disdain.

When I lived in the North, I regularly listened to David Dunseath’s programme on BBC Radio Ulster, known as Talkback. When the matter came up, a suspicious number of Unionist politicians would be on the telephone to the show, speaking of how under-represented Ulster-Scots was on road signs etc. Essentially Ulster-Scots was used  as a political tool to undermine the unequal status of Irish and English in the North.

The DUP, never known as a bastion of progress, have been at the forefront of this, though rarely has the matter gone beyond populist mutterings to extend into the chambers of the Stormont Assembly. That changed yesterday with the announcement by Culture Minister Edwin Poots. Apparently Poots and his party, the DUP, are not in favour of an Irish Language Act which would firmly outline the responsibilities of the Assembly and local government to Irish speakers.

The St. Andrew’s Agreement of 2006 declared:

“Government will introduce an Irish Language Act reflecting on the experience of Wales and Ireland and work with the incoming Executive to enhance and protect the development of the Irish Language.”

Poots and his party, signatories to that agreement, have now reneged on their part in it. The justification Poots gave in his speech yesterday was the cost of such an act. He objected to the fact that £20.62 million was spent in the last fiscal year by the NI Civil Service and NI Office, of which some £10 million was spent on education in an Irish medium. Poots’ speech to the NI Assembly can be found on his Departmental website.[1]

It is my view that the financial argument is largely bogus; a smokescreen to bolster political support for the DUP, who will as a result of this be seen as standing up to Nationalists.

According to the Minister’s own speech; the costs would be an additional £3.4 million on top of the £20.62 million figure. What the Minister’s speech does not easily admit is this; the £20.62 million does not include amounts already spent in the Court service and so on. Thus this additional £3.4 million is a nominal figure, and the real increase in spending would be lower.

Not that I would like to argue with the calculations of senior Civil Servants, nor cast aspersions upon their political opinions, but it is probable that there are ways around spending so much money annually; rather the Minister’s proposed cost is largely a set-up fee. A small price to pay to humble the ignorance and arrogance of Ulster’s Unionists.

Categories: General Politics

The Role of Party Whips in British Democracy

October 16, 2007 Leave a comment

From the point of view of a left-winger, Whips are often the super hacks of the Labour Party. They are put in place to prop up policies propounded by the party leadership, regardless of the popularity of those policies amongst the electorate.

Though the government whips come in many different shapes and sizes, every time I think of the Whips, I am reminded of the student hacks that I know.

These two groups, vastly separated by political experience, tenure of public office and prestige, are so alike. They are both terriers of the ruling clique within the party. They do not respect disagreement. They seem more willing to criticise and to indulge in character assassination than to productively critique.

On the Conservative side, this assessment is nigh unchallengeable. Though of utterly indescribable politics, Teresa Gorman’s book, “The Bastards,” details the behaviour of Conservative colleagues during the backbench revolt over the Treaty of Maastricht.

Physical bullying, lists kept by Whips on sexual indiscretions to be used at a necessary juncture, threats of being de-selected…the possible box of tricks described by this book makes British Democracy seem a joke.

For Labour, the terriers are just as fearsome, one supposes. Certainly one would get that impression by speaking to the Whips. Last year at an OULC meeting, I had the chance to speak to Jacqui Smith. At the time, John McDonnell’s bid for leadership was all the talk amongst party members and it was on that theme which she was quizzed a little.

Was there a right to defy the whip on matters of conscience? Of the left-wing rebels who voted against the war, did the government not seek a mutually acceptable solution? These were some of the queries arrayed before the then Chief Whip.

Her stentorian replies were unequivocal; there was no such right, and all the left wing MP’s who defied the government Whip didn’t come to meetings to discuss their problems and were most unreasonable, etc. They were only interested in their own media profile. This criticism was not subtle intimation; it was stated outright in words similar to those by which I have laid out the sentiment.

One might justifiably wonder from whence these thoughts originate. I have recently been reading of the Soviet constitutionalism of the Bolsheviks in the immediate aftermath of the October Insurrection.

The contradiction of democracy and Party run through that approach also, I simply believed that using a modern British context to be more relevant.

The question to be posed is this; does not the idea of a Whip contradict the idea of the MP’s as representatives of the people and with it the idea of British democracy?

The official mandate of the Whip comes from the Party. All MP’s of the Party in theory campaign upon the Manifesto, a centrally devised document distilled from the wider cloud of policies passed by Conference. Each MP additionally campaigns using Labour members as his foot-soldiers and using the name of the Labour Party as a rallying flag.

Using this reasoning, it is fairly logical to ensure that there is a means whereby the Party can ensure the loyalty of its representatives to the Manifesto used during the election campaign. The argument of the Party is potentially this; people voted for you because you were a Labour candidate, they campaigned for you because you stood on our ticket. Thus your democratic responsibility is to vote with the government.

There are a few counter-arguments that could be advanced. First of all, there is no guarantee that people voted due to Party allegiance. Many MP’s are well-embedded into the social fabric of their constituency, campaigning in the local press and so on in a way that can distinguish them from the official Party line.

In this regard, the left are not unique. In fact many relatively establishment politicians have voted against the Party line and many have campaigned locally against the results of Party policy. Andrew Smith voting against Trident replacement and Hazel Blears coming out against proposed changed in the NHS in her constituency of Salford are two examples which come to mind.

To reinforce the earlier point, the people who had a large role in choosing the parliamentary candidate for that constituency, the activists, knew the mind of the candidate. They selected their candidate on the basis of policy and personality, weighting each against the chances of winning the seat. If Labour is an organization based on grassroots democracy, then this impulse conflicts with the idea of a Whip, managing votes from above.

For the Bolsheviks, this question was a less acute one, since Soviet democracy permitted the recall of representatives by the groups of soldiers, workers and peasants who had sent them. If the matter to be voted upon caused grave concern, the representative in question could be recalled, regardless of Party affiliation. This is a democratic process that still exists in certain places, as it does for the Venezuelan Presidency.

It is more acute when elections occur at intervals of up to five years, are not fought upon any specific issue and, in the interim, there is no right of recall.

I wish to throw the matter open to the readership, to see what they have to say on the matter. In considering it, I wish to bring up a few other points.

If we consider for a moment the issue of NHS reform, the matter of privatization is referred to by the last manifesto (2005, p57ff). The language used, however, is relatively opaque. Additionally, the manifesto promises that new providers (i.e. private firms) will only be introduced where they provide innovation or additional capacity.

From the point of view of an anti-privatization left-wing MP, there’s a point to be made that the policy of the government has not lived up to this. The argument could be made that many new providers have not such much achieved additional capacity as capacity which is now in private hands when it could be in public hands for less expense.

On that basis, is it justifiable for an MP to openly vote against the government? The language of the manifesto is not so specific as to identify explicitly by what proposals the Party will attempt to enact the proposed changes. There is a case to be made that, throughout virtually all the manifesto, members could agree with the spirit and text, but disagree with how the leadership decides to implement it.

Secondly, what of issues never thought of? On the question of Iraq, the idea of sending thousands of British troops does not occur in the Labour manifesto in 2001. Yet there are specific references to foreign engagement. Some of these are quoted below.

“Instability around the world can affect us directly and we have a global responsibility to play our part in reducing international conflict, controlling the spread of weapons of mass destruction, and contributing to international peace-keeping and peace-making operations.

We have shown what this means in practice in Kosovo and
Sierra Leone, and our servicemen and women have responded magnificently.”

Undoubtedly, this language is written in a spirit of humanitarian interventionism. It promotes, where necessary, the use of the British military to give peace a helping hand. One might disagree with the sentiment, but it’s there in the manifesto (2001, p70).

Yet we might question whether anything on the scale of Iraq was envisioned by this language and, additionally, we might make the point that the dissenters genuinely believed the invasion of Iraq did not fit into the benevolent spirit of the manifesto. The controversy over WMD’s will lend weight to that particular argument.

To summarize, not only must conceptual questions be considered in answering the question, practical examples must be considered. When they are so considered, it is my opinion that the role of Whips is sustainable, but not to the degree they are currently used. Whips should be a measure against indolence, not a tool to break conscience-based voting. They should encourage genuine discussion and debate within the PLP, when what they do currently is stifle it.

Similarly, on the flip-side of that, there has to be some degree of responsibility on the part of those who would flout the Whip. Most people don’t read the manifestos of the respective parties, but given media coverage and polling data, it is relatively easy to find out the key subjects on which the election was fought. Members should think twice about voting against such measures as were the core platform of the elected government.

Ultimately, all this amounts to a constitutional nicety in a system riddled with corruption, root and branch. Yet even still, though our faith in British democracy might be misplaced, we should endeavour to control that which we most assuredly can; party democracy.


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