Friday, August 22, 2003


Like many of us, I have the vaguest notions about Iran. The Shah, Western backed repression. Fundamentalist revolution. Pointless, horrific war. Oppression of women. Dictatorial state.

These fuzzy notions were enough to make me theoretically opposed to the current rulers of Iran, but not informed enough to recommend an alternative. It's the dilemma of the concened progressive (or libertarian or conservative or trotskyite) throughout the age. Say nothing and feel ashamed for doing nothing, or do something and perhaps advocate an entirely wrongheaded solution,

So when the people at Blog-Iran contacted me, and asked me to support their campaign for a free Iran, I was a little unsure of how to answer. After all, what would I be signing up to support? So I asked them.

Their reply was

“To increase awareness of the Iranian struggle for freedom. It's hoped that such an objective will be met by bloggers committing themselves to posting an Iran-related news story, commentary, or any other tidbit of data at least once a week if possible.

The campaign does not support the use of military action against the regime, but rather supports the rights of the Iranian people to demand greater freedoms, true justice, and a different future than the ones the Islamic Clerical Regime is currently laying the groundwork for.

Whatever is the will of the Iranian people - this is also the objective and will of this grassroots campaign.“

Well on that basis, I was more than happy to sign up.

But I’m still uncomfortable endorsing a campaign from a position of relative ignorance. After all, what kind of endorsement is that? So here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to read this book on the history of Iran, and post occasional thoughts on it, and ask others to contribute theirs- especially any people with real-life experience in Iran.

That way I can support the principle of a progressive campaign and also educate myself.

<< Home

Thursday, August 21, 2003

Insights from the Hutton Enquiry-

The Hutton Enquiry’s use of the e-mail records of the Government and the BBC has produced many insights into Government. But what the Hutton enquiry did not reveal are the e-mails they had to keep hidden. Here exclusively on British Spin, we reveal those Number 10 e-mails you haven’t seen.

From: Tom Kelly
To: Press Office
I’m getting a drink- Would anyone like anything from the canteen?

From: Alistair Campbell
To: Tom Kelly

I’d like a banana and a diet coke

From: Jonathon Powell
To Number 10

If anyone picks a pair of bifocal glasses with Gold rims - they are mine- can someone return them too me As soon as possible?.

From: Jonathon Powell
To Number 10
Re: Urgent!

Thanks to Kate- I’ve got them now.

From: David Manning

To: Alistair Campbell, Jonathon Powell
Re: Top secret Dossier meeting

Is the meeting in your office or the cabinet room?
I know it was on the original e-mail but I deleted it.
Sorry to be a pain.

From: Jennifer X
To: Alistair Campbell
Re: Fit young babes are waiting for YOU!

(contents deleted)

From: General Sonny Okocha
To: Alistair Campbell
Re: Your Urgent Attention!

Dear Sir,

My name is General Sonny Okocha and I work for Nigerian Extraction industries a Government industry specialising in the mining of Uraniaum here in Nigeria..

Due to the corruption of our government and various unfounded accusations against me, I have several million dollars in cash that that I cannot transfer out of the country.

If you send me details of your bank account I will arrange a meeting with you or your representative to transfer the fund in secret. You will receive a generous commission for your efforts.

Yours sincerely,

Gen S. Okocha

From: Alistair Campbell
To:, David Manning
Re: Imporant Yellowcake lead

I think you two ought to see this. Is it the smoking gun?

From: General Sonny Okocha
To: Alistair Campbell
Re: Your Urgent Attention!

Dear Sir,

My name is General Sonny Okocha and I work for Nigerian Extraction industries a Government industry specialising in the mining of Uraniaum here in Nigeria..

To Alistair Campbell
Re: Important yellowcake lead

very funny, Ally- As you say in England.. Up yours!

PS- I’m in the UK next week- fancy a drink? I’ve missed seeing you…

<< Home

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Time to write seriously again.

It’s August and Hutton enquiry and all the media oxygen is being sucked up by silly season and Tony Martin and whatever is running through the minds of our media.

If you really can’t focus on what David Manning said to Jonathon Powell and what Powell e-mailed Campbell because it all seems to sink into a huge miasma of gloopy bureaucracy and the reason it’s all being handled by lawyers is because only a lawyer could sit through this without losing the will to live, well then there’s only one issue that we need to talk about.

Did we do the right thing in Iraq? Or have we made, in our progressive optimism, the most almighty fuck up?

It was never merely about WMD, or not for me, anyway. My desire for the overthrow of Saddam was twofold. First, that failed states, driven to near destruction by their regimes, might collapse and lead to the chaotic environment that terrorism thrives in, or end up trying to ensure its survival by selling, or disposing of weapons to terrorist groups. Either way, the dangers are multiplied many-fold by a failing state with the desire to acquire and use WMD.

Second, and more powerfully for me as a progressive, was the simple fact that America offered, for whatever reasons, a chance to remove a murderous, near genocidal dictator. In that situation, we could either turn away, as France, Germany and Russia did, and say, effectively, the suffering of the Iraqi people is none of our business. I couldn't make that choice.

I have no hesitation in saying that we made the right decision. The alternatives- and that’s the only reasonable comparison- would mean an immeasurably strengthened Ba’ath party, huge pressure to lift financial restrictions, blatant disregard for the sanctions still in place, a launch of repression on the ground and in all likelihood a weapons programme put into top gear.

The other alternative would have been Iraq as an American protectorate. Now, forgive me for some cynicism about our American friends, but I think that an America that truly felt it had no allies, had to maintain the entire burden of building a new nation might feel hard done by and begin to resent the burden of liberation.

What concerns me is that now we’ve made the freedom and prosperity of the Iraqi people our business, we won’t deliver for them. We had an over-arching vision for the removal of Saddam. We didn’t seem to have one for the next stage. Or at least not one that survived contact with reality.

I want to be clear. I think that whatever cobbled together authority we put together with the Americans and the Iraqi’s is better than the Ba’athist regime.

But we can’t set our standards that low.

Now, I’m not going to set out “what I think should be done in Iraq”. I don’t know enough. I don’t understand the complexities. My plan would be full of crap.

But I want to hear, From Bush, or more likely, from Blair, a comprehensive, detailed, overarching vision for Iraq. It’s clear we’re going to be there for a while. It’s clear that the rebuilding of Iraq’s infrastructure is going to take billions of dollars, that we will, like any occupying force, face low to moderate enemy action for at a minimum the next six months or so. Even if organised resistance fades, just being the only credible authority in the country will lead to losses. The early hope of installing a new regime and then getting out fast, has faded into nothing.

So we need to set our clearly why we are there. What we hope to achieve, what sacrifice it will call for. How we hope to transition to Iraqi led authority.

The sacrifice is important, because the image is gaining ground both in the west, and in the east, that the real beneficiaries of this occupation will be the oil and infrastructure companies. The worst possible outcome is, if in a years time, British and Americans are not helping build a new Iraq, but guarding the installations of multinationals*.

Where is the massive civilian aid programme, a state funded corps of volunteers, with the sole purpose of selflessly helping Iraq? Where is the Marshall Programme or Lend-Lease? Rebuilding Iraq through the market may be more efficient, but it lacks the personal commitment to the future of the country that we must show.

The army can do the job, but they have battles to fight, and rebuilding communities can never be their first priority. So do we need another army?

If there was anything admirable in the long, sorry, saga of colonialism, it was the willingness of young men and women to go out to other parts of the world, and in their mind at least, help. Colonialism was frequently brutal, exploitative, cruel and destructive. The same cannot be said of the colonial administrators as a group.

We exploited colonies financially, we treated native people as inferior, We refused self-government. (We, how funny - I write this as a part Indian) Yet those administrators who truly were selfless and devoted are remembered even today, and seen as role-models. How much better could we do if our aim was not colonialism but self government and reconstruction?

Surely we can do better in the rebuilding of Iraq than contracted out soft colonialism?

Surely there is a vision of aid, sacrifice, respect and co-operation we can work for? I honestly believe that only a programme based on those principles will have a chance of reconciling large numbers of Iraqi’s to our temporary rule.

*Of course, the two might not be entirely separate roles.

<< Home

More in hope

I'm thinking about employment... specifically, mine.

I've recently been considering a change of job, so thought I may as well mention it here. So if anyone is interested in employing a 29 year old university graduate with over 5 years of business management and politics experience, a Labour party member and activist, and is willing to offer £35k a year- (will consider less for a worthy job- especially in some left of centre field). Get in touch in the hotmail address. Obviously, the whole anonymity thing is a bit of an issue, but if you're serious, I'd tell you who I was (Even I recognise anonymity tends to affect the employer/employee relationship. Plus, I can't afford a batcave) .

Oh, and Location's no object

<< Home

Monday, August 18, 2003

Guardian launches blog.. and kicks off some political weirdness

Kick AAS, the new Guardian Weblog has been launched. It is a weblog with a purpose- ending western agricultural subsidies. Interesting idea, smart execution and hilarious reaction. First, the priority they give it- 3rd lead on the online paper, main leader in the dead tree edition. I doub't any UK blog has ever had that level of media exposure before. (OK, Tom Watson has, but mostly for the teens page. Does that really count?). whether they'll be able to keep it up, I don't know- my favourite blogs have recurring obsessions, but tend to meander, so you can be suprised- campaign blogs can be a little repetitive. Good idea.

The campaign itself is interesting because it's one of those that turn political values upside down. Anti-Globalisers will be calling for an end to subsidies and more free trade, Western governments, normally so keen on Free trade will embarassedly shuffle their feet and make pointy movement towards those pesky French farmers. It's the messy conflux of self interest and ideology that makes politics so damned fun.

Peter Cuthbertson proves that he secretly wants to plunge the Conservative party into electoral oblivion by embracing a policy that would ensure Tory death in rural communities. Peter did a post not long ago advocating every Conservative candidate joining the Countryside Alliance.

Now the Countrysde alliance is actually pretty moderate on farm subsidies, as befits an organisation dominated by large landowners. Their position is that CAP needs to be radically reformed, and subsidies reffocussed. However, I suspect that CA members will get more twitchy over ending subsidies than foxhunting- after all The Duke of Northumberland got £3million from CAP, and he still had to sell his painting. Imagine how he might feel when that's taken away. I pity the tory fool who joins the CA and then tries to sell farmers a "no subsidy ever" policy.

I've occassionally wondered whether Peter was in fact a trotskyite student entryist into the young conservatives (or as it shall now be known, doing a Turner). Surely this confirms it.

No word yet from the Libertarians over at Samizdata, though I'm sure they will be enthusiatically signing up with the Guardian on this one. As they said before:

"Clearly the most rational solution is a complete Europe-wide ban on all farm subsidies in any form... with no exceptions whatsoever. No doubt many farms would indeed go bust as there is simply no rational economic reason for their existence when detached from the fantasy world of state planning...

Remember, libertarians, it's a double benefit, making the farms go bust makes it easy for farmers not to pay their taxes in protest at hunting laws.

Ending subsidies to farmers ain't going to play in Blaby, Peter.

For the record, I think the Government position is prety reasonable- subsidies must be reduced, but brought down over the long term, with support for diversification and and conservation as the keys, not merely subsidising food production. An immediate end to subsidy would lead to massive social dislocation in rural communities, with farms sold off to a small number of large agribusinesses with the capital to expand. This would lead to a more efficient food industry, but thousands of embittered, angry farmers and rural workers with no useful skills, no land and little future*. We tried that with the Miners, and it was devastating. it took a generation for communities to recover. We can do better with the farmers.

Wean them off, not cold turkey.

*and besides, the Archers would be really boring for ages.

<< Home

Immigration again…

The Sun splashes with a yougov
poll that says that people feel overwhelmingly that immigration is the biggest issue facing Britain, Britain has changed for the worse because of immigration and that some parts of British cities are “no longer British”.

Now, this looks like a somewhat depressing poll for the "multi-cultural progressives" amongst us. It raises the question of whether 54% of my fellow citizens believe the arrival of immigrants over the last 50 years has worsened the nature of Britain.

There is a lot of anecdotal evidence to back up these charges, and there is no doubt that immigration is a major issue, but I do hove to question the apparent methodology of the yougov poll.*

Take the “most important issue” question. According to the poll, 39% of people think asylum and immigration is the most important issue facing Britain. 32% say law and order. Yet the poll does not appear to include issues like Healthcare, Education and schools or jobs and the economy. All of these have a claim to be significant issues, and score highly in similar polls that include the question. Of the options that were given, only law and order is a “top tier issue” in other polls.

Second, amongst this poll, there seems to be a consistent 75% who think the situation is bad. I wouldn’t dispute that, but the consistency is interesting. If the Question order was not rotated, it could be that the 82% of people answered that they thought the Government was not being tough enough, and then were faced with a series of more detailed questions, opted for the “tougher” option on each.

Third, there is the methodology question. Reading the Sun’s article, it appeared to have a lot of questions with phrases such as you agree or disagree that “migrants stick together and fail to mix with the rest of society.” And “local councils discriminate against white residents in the supply of housing and local services”. Again, one can’t tell from the methodology, but it is entirely possible that asking a series of questions like that, leads to a push polling** effect, the mere asking of the question impacting the results given.

There are a number of non-negative questions in the poll (especially about past immigrants), but putting yourself in the position of the interviewee, the overall sense you get is that the questions themselves indicate a sense of crisis.

Now, none of this should be taken to say that I think that immigration and asylum are not significant issues. They are, and will be at or near the centre of the next election campaign. There is real concern in the country about immigration, how we handle immigrants and what their impact is on society. That is undoubted.

In our insecure world, I would be shocked and surprised if issues like law and order, asylum and terrorism are not at the top of the “issue list”. This is not least because we don’t have millions of unemployed, interest rates at 10%, massive levels of negative equity, soaring inflation, crumbling schools and a heath service in crisis.

However, if you want to understand the attitudes to immigration and asylum, this polls tells you little more than that a large number of people are concerned about immigration and want to see less of it. That is neither enlightening nor helpful.

*I say apparent because the methodolgy is not available. Since it is an online poll I would be surprised if questions were rotated or that other options were given (for example, letting people say spontaneously what the most important issue is).

**Push polling is where I ask you something like “Do you agree that the recent revelations that Arnold Schwarzenegger is a Nazi raised philanderer with a childhood of inadequacy lessens his credibility as a candidate for governor?” The aim being not to get poll results but to place an idea in the interviewee's head.

<< Home