Friday, February 20, 2004

Glyn Ford MEP should be ashamed.

I don't like attacking Labour elected representatives. It's my party after all and I have both loyalty and affection for those who carry our banner forward.

Occassionally however, one of your own says something so foul that you have to disavow it or be besmirched by it.

In this case Glyn Ford MEP (who is one of Labour's MEP's for the South West) is reviewing a Travel guide to North Korea -and I cannot help but feel, approving of the godforsaken place-.

"Cuba is a favourite holiday destination amongst leftist pre-nostalgics who want to experience it unchanged before Castro's demise. North Korea is next; its unique character is more likely to metamorphose than vanish, but the advancing market is already starting to dissolve the purity of its unique way of life where food and necessities were delivered each according to his needs, and where students aspire to enter the railways university of Communism".

This would be troubling enough if it were just another blithe reference to North Korea as a joke, a tragi comic Stalinist playground. But it isn't. Glyn Ford is an expert in North Korea and sadly, he is an expert with an apparent tendency to see the very best in that benighted regime.

This is Ford on reports of North Korea's concentration camps:

"The US Administration has unleashed, à la Iraq, an assault on their (the North Koreans) human rights record. More speculation than fact - because of the regime's own secrecy - the limited information available points to it being dire. There are real problems.

"However in the late nineties one in eight of the population, three million people, died of starvation so reports of food shortages in the camps and prisons should hardly come as a surprise. However some of the self-same human rights campaigners, like the born-again fundamentalists who have transferred their allegiance from Kim Jong Il to US evangelical Christian groups, argue the EU should stop its food aid and instead send bibles."

Ah well, if a regime has one in eight of it's population die, one can hardly expect it to keep it's concentration camps well stocked with food. It's hard to know what to say to this nonsense.

I can understand why a victim of those prison camps might, perhaps wrongly, to see anything that props up the Pyongyang regime kicked away. It's harder to understand why Ford wishes to blame America for the state of North Korea.

Ford recently visited North Korea with Tribune editor Mark Seddon, who produced this piece on the DPRK, which seems to place the majority of the blame for North Korea's plight on (who else) America.

"Communism North Korean style is of the home-grown variety - and shows some signs of resistance to rot. It is because the Bush administration has now reneged on every part of the deal signed in order to get the North to shut down its nuclear reactor at Jongbyon that the reactor is now being switched back on."

Glyn Ford wrote a letter to the Guardian in 2002 on North Korea and it's rationale for restarting their Nuclear Arms programmme which starts:

"Of course, the North Koreans are right... "

To be fair, it also call the North Korean police state Authoritarian. Personally I think "authoritarian" is an understatement for a state that has 250,000 people in concentration and labour camps, but it is a step forward.

You know, there is something horrific about readin an seminar paper that compares North Korea's prison camp's to the Nazi's and the Soviet Gulag- and it does not seem to be an unfair comparison.

Perhaps Glyn Ford has an reason for his seeming inability to see or speak the whole truth about North Korea. He is after all trying to bring them to the negotiating table, so perhaps some insincere compliments in the western media allow him to push the North Koreans closer to negotiations. Though how telling them they are right and the Americans are wwong will do this, I do not pretend to understand.

Perhaps I have missed the sections in his writing on the topics where he focusses on the tortures, the killings, the needless starvation, the endemic corruption and the hugely wasteful spending on a military that is eating up every chance of prosperity in North Korea.

After All Ford does see the vague outline of the North Korean problem. In this article Ford goes so far to call a regime that allowed more than a million of its citizens to die of famine "unpleasant".

So what to do? I worry at condemming Ford. Perhaps he is truly outraged by North Korea but feels that to say so while working for a more imediate cause would be impolitic. In which case, I feel truly sorry for a man who has to bear the thought of so much suffering. Or can he not even bring himelf to whisper anout the brutality of North Korea. After all, he managed to devote two sentences in tribune this week to praising North Korean Beer and none at all to condemning their regime.

Well, as he should know, it's easier to brew when there's no famine.

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Defending Michael Howard

I’m not going to do this often, OK? Don’t get used to it, but Michael Howard deserves some credit for going to Burnley yesterday and taking on the BNP.

One of the biggest reasons for the surge of the BNP in the North-West and West Midlands (if you can call a rise to a 4/5% vote share a surge) is the literal and metaphorical death of the Conservative party in many inner cities. This is a question of presence, relevance and organisation. If the local Conservative party consists of five septuagenarians huddled together in the British legion and the local Labour party has been in power for a generation you can begin to see why the BNP becomes an alternative where it is active on the ground.

One of the more infuriating aspects of media commentary on the BNP is the semi-myth that it has prospered mostly with who you might call the "white underclass". Certainly some votes have been garnered amongst this constituency, but the main BNP successes have been in relatively prosperous areas, in almost all-white areas, and in areas with previously strong conservative support. Indeed, this has surprised the BNP itself. In the "working class" areas, the BNP vote has rarely gone above 15-20%. It’s fair to say that in many cases it’s the traditional Tory vote that has gone BNP. As Seachlight magazine puts it:

"growing evidence that it is among Conservative voters that the BNP is attracting most support. Its best vote in Burnley came in Cliviger with Worsthorne, arguably the most affluent ward in Burnley.

In the Bradford ward of Eccleshill, the BNP got most of its votes in the polling boxes representing the more affluent areas of the ward. In Oldham, the BNP polled 29% in Royton North, a more prosperous ward compared to the others the BNP was contesting, despite very little campaigning. In London, the BNP secured one of its best votes in the Hillingdon ward of Harehills, another traditional Conservative area."

At the same time, there’s not a lot of short term Tory hope in Burnley, Tipton, Oldham or Stoke. None of these places are likely to return Conservative MP’s in 2005 (or whenever). So Howard has every reason not to bother with them. After all, Howard can talk about immigration in Dover or Folkestone without being accused of stirring things up with the BNP.

Now, I disagree with Howard about immigration, but whatever way you cut it, if people are dissatisfied with the number of immigrants entering Britain, it is far better that they vote for a party with it’s fingertips clutching to the precipice of reality than for the BNP. So for going to Burnley and talking about immigration and the BNP, Howard deserves credit.

The bigger challenge for the Tories is twofold. Rebuilding an organisation in the north is first. The second is finding a message with relevance to it's traditional voters. If Howard can do that, he sands as good a chance as anyone of destroying the BNP.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Martin Kettle has no idea whether Blair wants Bush re-elected.

Yet he heroically manages to string out an op-ed piece on the topic anyway.

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No Blood for Oil

I didn't realise he meant no blood for his oil.

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The New Tory Economic Policy analysed

What he said.

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