Friday, June 04, 2004

AL Kennedy has been at the funny tasty cough drops

I don't know what AL Kennedy wants us to think of her Op-Ed page missive. Unless it's "AL Kennedy, oooh she's a bit mad, but in a brilliant, genius way."

The columm starts off by saying she went to see the Dalai Lama with a cold, then (unsuprisingly) compares the Dalai Lama favourably with the Prime Minister (to put it mildly) then has a vision of Jesus that appears to be a manifestation of everything she hates. Or somtething. Then she ends it with a "but it was all a dream" line.

It's crap. What's more, It'd be crap if I agreed with it.

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Thursday, June 03, 2004

Let's talk about the War.

For some, your attitude to the war is the sole defining characteristic of your political decency.

I don't share that view. There are many who opposed the war who I respect, and many who supported it I despise. John Denham's piece in the Guardian today is one example, and anything that human trashcan Mark Steyn has written is another (to reverse cummings, Is there any shit Steyn will not eat? ).

So I defend no-one's opinions but my own. For me, the War in Iraq was justified. The overthrow of Saddam Hussein was worthwhile. The Bush presidency has done about as bad a job in managing international opinion and in building a stable Iraq as is possible to be done, I wish Tony Blair would launch a stinging screaming indictment of Bush now that Saddam has gone, but he won't and I can live with that. After a year in Iraq, the world is still better off than it was with Saddam in power.

Some people will be utterly outraged by this assertion and no matter what evidence I present to support it will regard it as tantamount to an endorsement of every failure, every mistake of the occupation. Nevertheless, it is true. Freedom is returning to Iraq, a nation ruined by the fantasies and paranoia of a dictator is slowly emerging as a constitutional government. Iraq will be a nation of laws, not of dictators.

Yes, there are bombings, and terror campaigns launched by militants and Ba'ath loyalists. There are also schools, free and democratic local councils, freedom of the press, schools, investment in infrastructure, food distribution and new power stations. Who is responsible for the one and who the other? With whom should we sympathise? I stand with those Iraqi's who wish to build this new constitutional, democratic nation, not those who wish to bomb it.

No matter what, Western governments and the UN must fund the rebuilding schools, restore electricity, distribute food aid and ensure safe water for all. That's our job in Iraq, our justification for remaining.

It is not a justification for any crime or any cover-up. No-one should say, we make mistakes, but look at how good we are, so let's forget about our moral failings. If western forces commit crimes then they should pay the price. No exceptions, no pardons, no soft option.

There have been abuses. They must be held up to the world and scoured out. Expect me to defend the practises that led to prisoner abuse? Expect me to say I think Rumsfeld, Cheney or Bush are my kind of politicians? Don't be ridiculous.

Any crimes committed in Iraq, are a stain on the rebuilding of Iraq. Those who commit them or authorise them, no matter what rank they hold should be punished. Not only that, they should be tried in full view of the Iraqi's, so that the citizens of that country know that the Coalition Military will be held to account if they overstep the line.

What I will not accept is that these crimes undermine the legitimacy of the War itself. Did Dresden undermine World War Two? Did the undoubted horrors inflicted by the Vietnamese in Cambodia undermine the overthrow of the Khmer Rouge (unilaterally, and against the expressed wishes of the UN, the US, the UK and the SWP)? How about the bombing of Belgrade? Did that undermine Kosovo's liberation from genocidal forces? No. They tarnished it each action. They made it less good, less worthwhile, but not less vital.

What would worry me would be if we failed to examine our failings, if we ignored them or said they didn't matter. That opinion, held apparently by some on the American right, is wretched and craven. It is a denial of everything the coalition set out to do. If those people in the Bush administration who apparently support that view hold sway, if they feel that in some way we have earnt the right to abue, to treat Iraqi's with contempt, then we will lose, and deserve to lose. It's one reason why I am desperate to see Bush lose.

Others will say, "You can talk about the humanitarian case, and I have some sympathy, but what about the WMD?" It's a fair point. I've made this case before. You have a known murderer, out from prison on license, who is holding hostages in a house. The police have surrounded the house, there are reports that the murderer has a gun. The police ask repeatedly for him to surrender either the gun or himself. He refuses. The police storm the house and take him prisoner. It turns out that he's was holding a crude replica. Are the police to be condemned as reckless?

I supported the war for two reasons. First, I believed that Iraq under Saddam was a threat to the world. It's now clear that he did not have stockpiles of WMD. Yet he acted as if he did. He had used them before. He had invaded his neighbours, committed genocide, and slowly starved his people while turning his country into a prison state. I make no apology at all for believing him to be a threat to the world. WMD or no, he was a threat to the security of the world.

The second reason, the humanitarian case, I believe was reason enough on its own for the invasion (and here, I recognise, I stand apart from Blair, Straw, Hoon, et al) We invaded Kosovo because of internal oppression and genocide. Saddam Hussein's regime was guilty of that and much, much more. I make no apology for supporting the overthrow of that regime.

Need this war have happened? Perhaps not.

If Saddam Hussein had been open about the decay of his regime, the fragile nature of the bonds that held his people in subjection, then we would have been able to avoid this war. I don't know why he did not open the doors wide- why he kept hiding, and lying and deceiving. Even when there was apparently nothing to hide.

I sometimes wonder if perhaps Saddam thought that if he admitted his weakness then he would be overthrown. If he admitted that the Iraq he had built was brittle, vicious and desiccated then his supporters might ask to what purpose had they allowed so much sacrifice, so much misery.

Why he didn't I can only speculate. What I do know is that if he had, and the west had then not invaded, then Iraq would be still under the control of a genocidal dictator and I would be wishing we had overthrown him.

Mea Culpa? Absolutely not.

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The BNP must be panicking.. two of their candidates are arrested for assault today… and then they post this as their good news.

Labour angst.

Meanwhile in the North East of England, a well respected but dissident Labour source has revealed to the BNP that the Labour Party is now genuinely worried that the BNP could win the 4th seat and secure Dr. Alan Paterson, the BNP Lead Candidate a seat in the Brussels Chamber.

Except, errmmmm there are only three Euro-Seats up for grabs in the North-East.

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Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Gorgeous George's party…

George G. has got himself an op-ed in the Guardian today.

Whatever else one says about him, George Galloway can write. Stylistically, he reminds me of Mark Steyn. There's the same use of macho war rhetoric to shock the reader into submission, the same heady rush into controversy and the same brazen disregard for such petty things as details, facts, and the opposing viewpoint. Preening themselves at either end of the divide, Steyn and Galloway are the demagogic bookends of the Iraq war debate.

(A quick stylistic comparison- Steyn: "Okay, a freaky West Virginia tramp leading a naked Iraqi round on a dog leash with a pair of Victoria's Secret panties on his head and a banana up his butt, maybe that wasn't so inevitable. But, that innovation aside, the aberrations of war have nothing to do with the only question that matters: despite what will happen along the way, is it worth doing?"

Galloway: " It's true Charles Kennedy marched with us, but when the shooting started he fell in, saluted the colours and "patriotically" backed our boys.... ...Supporting Respect, however, can have only one unambiguous meaning: no more war, no more occupation. That's why we go over the top into no man's land next week full of hope. And this time we are determined to overrun the enemies' lines."

But what of the article itself?

It seeks to set out why those who are opposed to the war should vote for George and his Respect colleagues.

His argument is threefold and is untrue in every respect.

1. A big enough vote against Labour will bring down Blair. That would in turn bring down Bush. " Give Tony Blair a hard enough slapping and they (voters at June election) can bring him down. And umbilically connected as they are, Blair's defenestration would surely be the last straw for Bush's already fading re-election hopes"
While I it is possible that a Blair denunciation of Bush could bring down Bush, a Blair defenestration would not or at least, there is absolutely no evidence to support the contention. There's no evidence, for example, that the Socialist victories in Spain and Germany have helped overthrow Bush. On top of that, George knows that the Labour Party leadership rules effectively mean that the only way a Labour leader can be removed is via resignation. Does he seriously believe Blair will resign because of the result of the Euro-Elections? Of course not.

2. Other "Anti-War" parties are not Anti-War enough; First, the Lib-dems appease the Jews ("Simon Hughes's somersaulting between attacks on Muslim youth and telling the United Jewish Israel Appeal he was "a lover of Israel" must cause some unsteadiness in the thin yellow line"), while the Greens do not support immediate withdrawal of western troops.

I'm not sure how this works. Is George saying that it is not enough to oppose the war, to be anti-war one has to oppose a UN presence in Iraq too? I understand tha George's preferred solution is an Arab League peacekeeping operation. bet the Kurds would go for that one.

3. A vote for Respect can only be seen as a vote against the war- and nothing else, So a Respect vote is more powerful than a vote for LD's or greens with their other agendas . "a vote for the Lib Dems or the Greens can have many meanings - from endorsement of the former's plan to deregulate the pornography industry* to the latter's policy on free-range eggs. Supporting Respect, however, can have only one unambiguous meaning: no more war, no more occupation."

This presumably makes the entire Respect manifesto irrelevant. Points 2 through 13 of the Respect coalition's statement of principles are also presumably untrue. I don't know if anyone was considering supporting Respect because of their plan to raise the minimum wage to £7.40 an hour, for example, but certainly George Galloway doesn't. After all, supporting respect has only one unambiguous meaning. Whether their other plans are ambiguous or meaningless is unclear.

* Which made me wonder, until the dreaded Liberal victory, if one could apply for a job with OffPorn, the Pornography Industry regulator?

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Tuesday, June 01, 2004

The politics of National Insecurity…. A set of elections in search of a theme.

What are the June 10 elections actually about? Let's quickly dismiss the heretical view that the elections are about local and European issues. A few council seats will be won on local campaigns about bus passes. A couple of notably incompetent or corrupt councillors will be unceremoniously dumped and any council stupid enough to mismanage their council tax rises will face a backlash, but that's about it.

These elections aren't about Europe either. Sure, there's the rhetoric about enlargement or the Common Agricultural policy, but the debate isn't about European policies. I'm sure there are a few Euro-MP's desperately trying to talk about such things (bless 'em) but even they've mostly given up.

Nor, surprisingly, have these elections been about Iraq. I thought they would be. The vision I had was of rampaging Liberal Democrats cutting a swathe through two core Labour demographics, inner city Muslim and White collar public sector voters. It looks like they still will, just that there's not enough of them to turn a polling uptick into a rout. The results will be good, but not that good.

So let me advance an alternative theory. These elections are about Britishness. They're being played out against a background of a debate about what it is to be British and the argument is all coming from the right.

In part, this is because these elections don't matter. If this were a General Election, the Labour efforts to discuss "schools and hospitals and crime and police and you should know the rest off by heart by now" would have some impact. I think Labour's "vote Tory and sack a nurse" message is effective and motivating- just not at these empty elections.

The meaninglessness of these elections has meant we British can talk to ourselves about ourselves and what we want to talk about is our national fears. The narratives that have been most effective, most striking, in this election have been the fringe narratives of the nature of Britishness and the danger it is in.

The United Kingdom Independence party (Pause for a moment to consider the full colonial impact of that name) fears Europe. Superstates. Hegemony. Bureaucrats. Reds under the Bed. (Sorry, wrong bogeyman).

The British National Party fears darkies. They groom our girls for sex. They steal our jobs. They turn us from being a Christian nation into a mongreloid mish-mash. They stop honest thugs putting in an honest days work at the cornershop. Or something.

If it's not the French bureaucrats threatening the Englishman's ancient rights, it's the Muslim sex pests groping his daughter. John Bull must be a real beta-male. This is British poujadism. It's bitter, small, petty and paranoid. So how have the conventional parties responded to this resurgence of negative nationalism?

Michael Howard spent today desperately trying to set out a more positive message of Britishness, a confident Britain in a looser union. Trouble is, he sounds less than convincing talking up Europe. You want to believe he means it, but the Tories have been so negative about Europe for so long, that it's not too surprising that a substantial minority want to leave.

Ironically, the worst thing Howard can do for the General Election is to secure these sceptic voters for the Euro-elections. That will paint him into both the extremist and opportunist categories that Labour long to put him in. UKIP voters will come back for the General, but the centre ground can still be scared off.
The Liberals say they have a positive and clear message about Britain and Europe, and here it is "The Liberal Democrats tell it like it is. We don't scaremonger about Europe. But neither are we supine..." Well, that is possible the most meaningless statement ever. Whoop de doo. Try that formula on any policy you like. "I don't scaremonger about the danger of a mashed potato only diet, but neither am I supine about it." *

Well, what can you expect from a party whose electoral heartland is in the most Euro-Sceptic region of the country?

As for the left, it's too busy turning on itself, or more accurately trying to destroy moderate Social democracy to think about Britishness, negative, threatened or otherwise. Anyone remember when the left and Muslim groups were calling for intervention in Kosovo? The Lib-Dems were too. Now theocratic Muslim groups are in bed with hard left political activists and a populist braggart in the mould of Horatio Bottomley. (Not that I've got anything to be proud of here, as the gorgeous carbuncle was on my boat for a long, long time)

And what about my beloved party? Well, Not much. Labour activists don't tend to think much about Britishness. Especially not the Scots and Welsh ones. Labour has a vision of Britain and it's a little bit devolved, a little bit European, a little bit House of lords. In short it's a logically incoherent mish-mash that seems to rumble along despite it's evident inconsistencies and flaw. And what could be more British than that?

Personally I'd like to see Labour wrap itself in the flag a little more. Not in the narrow nationalistic sense of the BNP or UKIP, but because the Britain of today is something to be proud of, something worth struggling for and claiming as our own. If I were an English Labour MP, I'd be signing up for Tom Watson's St George's day campaign in a heartbeat. Scottish and Welseh MP's have no reluctance in doing so for their flags and saints days. And for those who point out that this isn't even the slightest bit British, celebrating our three separate identity I'd simply smile sweetly and say that actually, nothing could be more British.

After all, after an election in which it's been virtually the only issue, the negative nationalists will land below 15% or so in irrelevant etlections. The rest of us will putter on with our messy but working Britishness.

* To be fair their website goes on to say " We should see the European Union for what it is: a way of tackling shared problems, upholding shared values, settling disputes between traditionally fractious neighbours and applying the rule of law to agreements that have been entered into."

To which one can only say: EU. Federal Union or International Residents association?

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Human wallpaper…

These days no major policy speech by a party leader is complete without a crowd of extras assembled behind the main man. Once upon a time, these second bananas were leading politicians. Then everyone realised they were ugly and distracting so they were removed.

Then little messages started appearing over politicians shoulders for the benefit of TV viewers, who otherwise wouldn't know what was being talked about because they are busy talking on the phone or something. They usually say something upbeat like "Creating Jobs for All" or "making Healthcare work".

However, the biggest sign of political pulling power is the ability to gather twenty or thirty people to gaze outwardly at the TV cameras from behind the leader while he is speaking. I've decided to call this phenomenon Human Wallpaper, in the hope it will become as common a phrase in political circles as "doughnutting" did a few years back.

Tony Blair and George Bush have human wallpaper all the time and Michael Howard was at it today, with four or five attractive young women positioned behind him for his Europe speech. I'm sure there's some deep significance in how these people are chosen and what they represent but I'll be buggered if I could work out why a Tory European speech equals attractive young women.

So, as a few staffers read these mumblings, I invite you to share your stories of being human wallpaper. Why where you there? How were you chosen? What did you do? Did the politician concerned have a remarkable rear - or was their posterior deadly dull? Tell all, as enquiring minds want to hear your story.

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