Friday, April 04, 2003

Things I never knew- Lyrics of "War", not actually about war

As one of my occassional diversions into political music, here's a nugget. Just read the obituary of Edwin Starr, famed singer of War (what is it good for?). It transpires that the good for nothing War in question is not the Vietnam war, but gang-war. Which means the lyric is not only insanely catchy, but also undeniably spot on.

Originally penned as a Temptations number for their LP Psychedelic Shack, Starr’s lyrics for War were intended as a plea to end the inter-gang rivalries that sparked the Chicago and Los Angeles Riots of 1968.

This makes me so happy. after all, a song that poses a question like that, sets you up for the obvious response "Well, quite a bit actually" as Peter Cuthberson pointed out recently. So now all we Pro-war left wingers who spent our college years dancing to War! (usually just before Free Nelson Mandela) can look back at that time and tell ourselves that in fact, we were protesting against the rise of Gangster culture (and just as successfully as ever for our student protests, so there's symmetry there too)

There's also just the fact the protestors who adopted the song, and the anti-protestors who mocked it were all missing the point of the song entirely. I just like that.

Starr was against the Vietnam war (he later released a follow-up- stop the war, now.) He also served in the Army, so clearly not a total pacifist).

Anyway, the obituary also has a superb quote that bears remembering for all pop stars tryng to be political.

"when campus demonstrators adopted the song and demanded it be re-released as a single, Motown baulked at the idea: opposing the Truman Doctrine was not part of the Temptations’ easygoing image. So Starr performed War by himself. "

Of course, the Temptations were not exactly S Club 7. 'Ball of Confusion' and Cloud 9 (possibly the best anti-Drug song ever written), were both social commentary songs. I just love the Truman Doctrine line.

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Trust your instincts, young spin..

Well, I should have gone with my gut.. John Reid becomes Leader of the House and Ian McCartney becomes Party Chairman.

In a very perceptive post (though I suspect by the tone of it, that he is coming from a slightly different perspective from me) in the comments for my post below, Dan says

"If it's a tribune like Cunnigham, Blair is looking for reconciliation.... If it's a thrusting young Blairite then TB is more confident than ever"

Well this reshuffle combines the two elements. Politically, it's confident, culturally its conciliatory. What do I mean? Both Reid and McCartney are modernisers, but they are modernisers the party instinctively likes. They are tough, but decent, clearly not posh Labour party arrivistes, and they clearly have the Labour party in their veins.

In a way, I think that Labour party activists know that these politicians have suffered with them in the tough times, and would stick with the Party no matter what. They are New Labour, but they are Labour through and through. I don't mean to be unkind, but even such loyal Labour ministers such as Ben Bradshaw, Stephen Twigg and Douglas Alexander do not seem to have this quality. You never get the sense that they have gone through the hard times. rather they seem to have glided effortlessly to the top just in time to miss the hard battles of the 80's and enjoy the fruits of power (I'm not saying it's true, I'm just saying it's the perception and less so for Alexander- perhaps it's an accent thing) , and in some sense, the Labour Party doesn't like that. I remember a former member of the anti-Militant fight in the North-East, a man who had spent most of the decade trying to keep Labour on a sensible path, spitting with anger about "Blairites". He didn't mean Blair, and he almost certainly wouldn't mean Reid or McCartney.

So in policy terms, I think Blair will push forward with the Domestic policy agenda, but cleverly, using trusted Labour party figures to sell this to MP's, Unions and Activists.

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Thursday, April 03, 2003

New leader of the Commons tomorrow, probably.

Downing Street is dropping heavy hints that they will be announcing a new leader of the Commons on Friday. in the PM lobby briefing the following exchange took place: (via gallery news)

The spokesman was also asked about the replacement of the Leader of the Commons, but he replied he did not comment on reshuffles.

"I don't think we will be troubling you with this issue tonight, " he said. Asked whether news desks should make sure all staff were on duty tomorrow, the spokesman said, " Your staffing arrangements are entirely a matter for you. "

Asked whether there would be replacements for all three ministerial vacancies in the near future, the spokesman replied that he thought there would be a replacement for just one rather than all the posts.

I don't know whether it's Godric Smith or Tom Kelly briefing, but he's marvellously laconic today. Those answers would suggest that perhaps the call will go to a retread minister, rather than a round the houses reshuffle. This would hint at Jack Cunningham, and scotches my predictions of moves up for some of Hilary Armstrong, John Reid, Adam Ingram and Ian McCartney. As I've mentioned before, having the reshuffle also a hint that TB thinks the war will continue for another couple of weeks at least- otherwise why not wait till you can shuffle the whole pack?

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Upcoming treats

For people who like this sort of thing, I shall be returning to the red raw meat of politics soon with two posts- a detailed (ish) survey of the council Elections, and a political/tactical argument in favour of all-women shortlists (which is not an argument you hear often made by men, whch is indeed what I am). i tell you this now, because they're both going to take a little while to produce and fact check, so excuse any pause in activity..

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Militia, Tactics, Ambushes and Hearts and Minds

I'm not a military historian, I just play one on TV, but I was musing on the consequences of possible Guerilla warfare by the Iraqi's last night, and the likely response to this by coalition troops. Anyway, one thing led to another and I found myself reading the following quote.

Head Quarters Trentown 12th of December 1776. Small stragling parties, not dressed like Soldiers and without Officers, not being admissable in War, who presume to Molest or fire upon Soldiers, or peaceable Inhabitants of the Country, will be immediately hanged without Tryal as Assassins. British General Howe, 1776

Which, amongst other factors, might be the reason why "the severity of British retaliation and the brutality of their actions against the region helped swell the ranks of patriot militia, and, as happened numerous times during the Revolution, citizens fled to the rebel militia as much for self-preservation and protection as out of ideology." (Quote from "Washington as Strategist" by JD Morelock, though to be clear, he is talking in the context of 1780- and the loyalist militia's)

Compare and contrast with:

“Seeing young, healthy males in the middle of a firefight makes you wonder what they’re doing there,” said the senior officer. “They’re the only well-fed Iraqis in the area.”

“These are bad guys and it would be insane to let them roam the battlefield,” said a senior officer who did not want to be identified. “If we get a few who are innocent, I’m sorry, but we can’t just let them go out there and start shooting at us again.” (from MSNBC March 31,2003)

I'm not saying that those soldiers shouldn't protect themselves. God knows it must be an unnerving situation to be in and I would never wish to impute anything other than the finest intentions to thse soldiers doing a difficult and dangerous job incredibly well. All I want to point out is that any mistake made by a soldier in an "occupying" army can lead to difficult consequences, which policymakers need to be aware of.

These tough circumstances, which in a sense are inevitable when you have a Militia that is willing to de in ambushes, should be condemned, but also should increase the importance of the humanitarian programme. There may well be an understandable temptation, when British and American soldiers die from ambushes, to pull back from humanitarian aid and society building. This might especially be true if, for example, a number of Iraqi families are killed by mistake and a sense of fear or anger settles over some of the Iraqi population.

All of which leads me in a roundabout way, to how operation rebuild Iraq might work. It has struck many people recently that we have not been asked to sacrifice, while our soldiers suffer and ie and place themselves at risk. So here's a modest suggestion. Alongside soldiers in the post-war Iraq, we shold recruit a force of say 40,000 civilians organised along military lines and under military command perhaps, to go into Iraqi communities and help the rebuilding. It would be difficult, dangerous work, with the risk of death. But it would be noble, worthwhile and I for one would long to go.

I'm sure that charities and voluntary groups will want to do this work, and perhaps there is an argument that this process would not be effiecent in rebuilding a country, but my point is that it is the willingness to go among a people, share their sacrifices, work with them, help them and take risks for them which leads to genuine affection. Anyone can build you a road, but only a friend will sit with you after a long tiring days work and share a drink. That way you can win hearts and minds. For me at least, this programme should be explicitly part of the operation to liberate Iraq, as much as the Army, Navy and Halliburton is seen as being today.

Perhaps something like this is already being planned, but I don't know about it.

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Wednesday, April 02, 2003

Can you say this?

I picked this up from Harry, but while he was concerned by the political implications of the concern that pro-war liberals feel in the dark of night that this perhaps will turn into a disaster. I, being of a calmer and more stoical sort am more concerend by the fact that David Aaronovitch uses the word cunt in it. Twice. In the Guardian.

I want advice about this. Is this a part of the marvellous tapestry of British journalism, where a serious journalist can use cunt at will, or is it a step too far? Are cunts a merely UK phenomenom, or are there cunts spread liberally over the pages of the worlds quality newspapers? Are there rules about this sort of thing? For example, can you only use cunt if you're talking about yourself? Or can you call someone else a cunt with impunity? Is using cunt in, say an article about Quentin Tarantino or Hugh Hefner, more or less offensive than using it in an article about War?

My moral compass is mixed up. I don't know whether to celebrate the freedom embodied in the open use of cunt in a national newspaper or to shake my head at this vulgar display of cunt, merely to shock in a tawdry attempt to sell newspapers and generate a bit of interest in an otherwise dull report.

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Why George Galloway should be expelled from the Labour Party

I assume that most readers of this blog are familiar with George Galloway MP. He is the Labour MP for Glasgow who, long associated with (let us be kind) a certain tolerance for the Iraqi Ba'ath party. He vehemently denies this, recently demanding a parliamentary apology when a Junior Minister (Hugh Grant-a-like Ben Bradshaw) called him an apologist for Saddam.

However on Sunday Mr Galloway gave an interview to Abu Dhabi TV in which he compared Blair and Bush to wolves and (again, let us be kind) at least gave the impression that he had sympathy for those who were fighting against the British soldiers.

This is, to my mind, despicable. On moral grounds alone the man should be expelled from the Labour Party. However, There is also a strong tactical case to be made for it.

Now, This is unpleasant politics, so the fastidious amongst you may wish to hold your noses and look away.

First, let us assume that Mr Galloway is not a front rank serious political figure. He has all the attributes of a useful enemy. Inflated self importance? check. Gift for oratory but not logic? check. Tendency to stretch a point so far it looks crazy. check. History of embarrassing comments? check. A bit of an embarrassment to his loyal constituency? check. He's more Gerald Nabarro than Dennis Skinner.

He has already declared that he is considering leaving the Labour party, So what would the consequences be of saying. George old boy, thanks for everything, but really, we'd much rather have you outside the tent pissing in?

First, Geroge Galloway would be the first true martyr of the anti-War movement. This would be a huge boost for everyone else. His position is unpopular, verging on the loathed and despised.

Second, it would change the dynamic of the Scottish election campaign.Any party that stood alongside galoway would be associated with his views and Labour spokespeople would be able to slam them for it (A nice chance to beat up on the Scottish Socialists and Greens, for example)

Thrid, it would draw a line in the sand. Within these bounds, it would say, is acceptable dissent. Beyond this is political death.

Fourth, One of the difficulties of having a mature, frank and civilised debate about a difficult issue is that you don't get to cut off any balls afterwards. What I'm saying here is that we need to do something akin to a strategic decimation for mutineers. What I mean here is that when the Romans had a mutiny, obviously you can't kill everyone in a mutinous army as you'd have no army, so they killed some of them really nastily, and made the others watch. Now most Iraq rebels are fully decent, intelligent and rational people. So we should have no wish to punish them overmuch. However... George Galloway.. well.. frankly, who would shed tears over his decimation, and it might have a salutary effect on the rest.

Finally, look, the guy is unpopular and an avowed opponent. Labour party people need to be able to go after him. They can't do that effectively if he's on our side (frankly just thinking that he is makes me shiver).

George Galloway should face the three X's. Expel. Expose. Exact Revenge.

Finally, it would put the debate on the right terms for the Government. George Galoway has taken a ludicrous, uplesant and indeensible position on Iraq. He has sat in the same meetingsas Saddam's henchmen. Put him up againt even the most incompetent minister.

In sum, the Government should be doing everything they can to make George Galloway the poster boy of the Anti-War movement.

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Tuesday, April 01, 2003

Apologies for the lack of content.. or "Shorter British Spin"

Real life does have an awful habit of intervening. So here, in tribute to the "Shorter Stephen Den Beste" series here is a quick digest of my views on the major political events of the weekend

Robin Cook in the Sunday mirror? see, what have I been telling you? He wants to be leader but he ain't got the moves.

George Galloway? He should be expelled from the PLP. No if buts or maybes. Labour may be a broad church but this man is over the edge. Let him go and start his own party.

The election season? I broadly concur with Gove in the Times today. However, I'm dubious about the chances of a SNP/LD coalition in scotland. I also think Labour will do reasonably well in the North and badly in the south and this will benefit the LD's as much as the Tories.

Leader of the House Two weeks with three missing ministers. Are we on a cost-cutting drive?

The Tories ahh bless. Still trying to work out who to replace the invisible cough with. watch the factions desperately try and raise the bar as they begin to fear that the Tories might do OK in May and the roof won't fall in... That story about the 30 seats looks like an asture move by the IDS loyalists now (though given the internal warfare that is the Tory party, who knows whether that is what is intended to do, or whether such a ludicrously low target was intended to destabilise).

Hopefully, I shall be able to be more expansive (though no better informed) tonight....

(Oh, and thanks to Stephen Pollard for the link.. very d. of him.)

(oh two. if Tom Watson insists on plugging Brum's bid to be capital of culture I shall have no choice but to retaliate on behalf of the fine bid by Newcastle/Gateshead. Perhaps Iain Murray will join me. I dont want to go to the mattresses over this, Tom. Cease and desist.

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