Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Things I've not blogged on

I'm conscious that I've not had the time or inclination to blog on some rather important events. I don't feel too bad about this, I'm not a newspaper and don't feel obliged to cover everything. However, I thought it might be good to point towards a few posts and articles on those things that I might have blogged on if I'd had the time or the energy.

First I hear reports that the National Union of Students (NUS) NEC has decided to disaffiliate from the Stop the War Coalition. Don't know their reasons as yet.

Secondly, the coup in Honduras. Bizarrely The Independent has come out in favour of it!

There's a good piece in the Latin America News Review on the resistance to the coup. Grace Livingstone in the Guardian has an interesting piece called 'An end to backyard imperialism?'

A few lefties jumped in straight away to attack Obama (?) on the coup as if they'd be waiting months for the opportunity and were desperate to be first in. The condemnations rather fizzled out when Obama made a very clear and strong statement opposing the coup and recognising no other leader than the elected President Zelaya.

It does make me despair a little when people are so quick to confirm their own prejudices before finding out what's actually going on. I guess that's the problem when you have an axe to grind - everything becomes an opportunity to grind it, so facts and real analysis of the subject in hand can get in the way so they're ignored.
Then there's Iran. Obviously I have posted on this, but not recently and things have continued to boil.

Bob from Brockley has been posting round ups which are pretty useful, like this one. You might also like to monitor the Hopi news from Iran blog for up to date information. It includes details of a meeting on Saturday in London if you're interested.

Meanwhile Iran Body Count remembers those protesters killed by security forces. Sobering stuff that helps remind us of how serious the stakes are in Iran right now.
And lastly with the hot weather the fact that four dogs have died in cars today should be a good reminder to look after yourselves and your pets. Don't lock kids or dogs in cars for any length of time in this scorching heat - and don't be an arse generally. Thank you!

Giving tennis the elbow

Compare and contrast, if you will, the following two pictures that you can find in today's papers covering tennis pro Andy Murray.

The top photo (or very similar versions of it) can be found on every front page of almost every daily paper. The second photo is available online.

Both pictures are taken from the same match yet it is the first that is to represent the essence of the story, the second (where he is actually playing some tennis) is a bit of an afterthought filling out the coverage.

When choosing which paper to buy I was confronted with a whole row of screaming faces with various celebratory headlines. I guess I'm meant to admire macho face pulling more than someone playing a sport and actually enjoying it. If they'd been a decent paper without Mr Shouty on the front I'd have bought it - sadly there wasn't.

I can't be the only person who finds this sort of identikit macho posturing unpleasant. I don't blame the player - the press have a choice about what they print. There's no shortage of pictures they could have chosen demonstrating skill, grace, enjoyment, charm, humour or the simple hard work involved in the actual playing of the game at top level.

The press make a conscious choice when they run pictures like this. When women players aren't being portrayed as eye candy, it's complaints that they're grunting too much (presumably devaluing their phwoar factor). The values are clear. Women grunting is bad, men screaming is great.

Maria Sharapova eating a banana is worth printing, Andy Murray smiling as he rallies back a serve, well that's not really what the tennis loving public want to see is it?

The level of dedication and discipline involved to become a top level player must be phenomenal but it seems to me that the second photo of Murray exemplifies those virtues far more, and in a far lighter, more elegant way, than the faux he-man posing of the one the papers actually ran with. Is the fact of winning more important than the playing and enjoyment of sport? Well yes, I guess it is, but I doubt that's healthy.

In case I'm risking appearing as if I'm hankering for the good old days I'd like to highlight that there's a fascinating program on Radio Four at the moment about the great English tennis ace Fred Perry that's well worth a listen.

Obviously it's nice to hear about how he grew up in a housing co-op and was the son of a Labour MP but more importantly his story is one that shows that there was no golden, ideal age of honourable sportsmen.

Perry was imbued with a natural talent to be sure but he was also accused of arrogance, even of indulging in McEnrow style tantrums and sportsmanship, visibly throwing matches once he thought he might lose. He even pioneered merchandising and the Fred Perry brand still exists today. So the 'old days' weren't so different.

One writer condemned Perry as the man who "screwed up men's tennis in England, although this wasn't his fault. The way he could hit a forehand—snap it off like a ping-pong shot—Perry was a physical freak. Nobody else could be taught to hit a shot that way. But the kids over there copied Perry's style, and it ruined them. Even after Perry faded out of the picture, the coaches there must have kept using him as a model."

However, I think there are a number of differences between then and now and one of those is the press. Where once talent and good play were the greatest virtues it's now aggression and bankability for the men and looks and bankability for the women. Even though Perry was quite probably a dirty player who cared more about fame and money than tennis that was not what people idolised.

The players and the game have many sides to them and as with so many things in life it's possible to portray the same thing truthfully in starkly different ways. So whilst many of us will have no exposure to the games themselves the portrayal of the players has an impact, even on those who have no interest in the sport.

It seems to me that the media deliberately reinforces some of the most unhealthy aspects of the game. Whilst they could use Wimbledon as a tool to promote the social, fun aspects of sport - helping build grassroots clubs and showing that keeping fit can be enjoyable - they go for the angle that all that matters is the elite, when in fact that's probably the least interesting part of the game.

Update: blogger cleared of obscenity

Quick update: In October last year I wrote about a certain blogger, who I didn't name, who had been charged under the obscene publications act. He'd written a rather dreary torture porn piece including the members of the pop band Girls Aloud.

As I said at the time "Either I'm hopelessly jaded or getting depraved and corrupted is a lot duller than I remember." I don't approve of the piece but the idea that to write it was a criminal offence whilst foul films like SAW are on general release is idiotic. Thankfully the courts appear to have agreed with me, at last.

The case was dropped because "The prosecution was unable to provide sufficient evidence... so took the decision there was no longer a realistic prospect of conviction."

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Odds in the Norwich North by election

Just seen the full Ladbrokes odds for Norwich North by election, very encouraging. At the moment they are as follows;

Conservatives 1/5
Labour 9/2
Greens 12/1
Ian Gibson 14/1
Craig Murray 33/1
Liberal Democrats 33/1
UKIP 100/1
BNP 200/1
Bill Holden 200/1
Libertarian Party 500/1

Generally this looks pretty fair although when I saw they had Craig Murray at the same odds as the Lib Dems I thought something was pretty weird. The answer is that he was 100/1 and then lots of people started betting on him so they shortened his odds, just in case.

So coming sixth on the list looks a lot more humiliating for the Lib Dems than it actually is. They're really only fifth.

....................n.b some more constituencies are listed here.
....................Brighton Pavilion Greens are at 2/1 (third)
....................Norwich South 8/1 (fourth)

Weekending: have the unions killed the Queen?

Howdy weekenders. Let's talk a walk in the internet-o-sphere;

Quote of the week comes from no less an august source as Harry S. Truman, it seemed apt;
All the president is, is a glorified public relations man who spends his time flattering, kissing, and kicking people to get them to do what they are supposed to do anyway.
Our YouTube vid this week is important footage of the world's luckiest mouse.

Science Friction

Scientific study is the best way human beings have found so far to try to grapple with how the world and the universe actually works. Whatever branch of scientific endeavor we look at it is the collective social attempt to understand facts in a systematic and provable fashion.

We've tried other methods before like holy texts, drug induced visions, folk lore or simple reiterations of current common sense understanding but none of them slapped men on the Moon, built the Empire State building or gave us the iPod. Science has concretely proven its ability to deliver the goods, literally, in a way that spells or what our forebears handed down could not.

What science isn't, of course, is the unmediated truth just our attempt to get at the truth. Science is not finished, nor is it ever likely to be, and some accepted ideas today will have to be discarded tomorrow. That's part of how scientific advances are made, by building on and critiquing what has gone before.

Likewise science tells us how we can do things but it is not necessarily a useful guide as to whether we should. The same technological advance that allowed humans to make the first stone tools did not determine whether we would produce flints to make fire, or blades to kill one another. These were social decisions (or anti-social ones).

Much of the world was rightly in awe when human beings first reached space (although dogs did get there before us, RIP Laika) but Gilbert Scott Heron's Whitey on the Moon shows with sledge hammer clarity that scientific advances reflect the priorities of the society that gave them birth.

Great leaps forward for some can actually signal just how ignored and far behind are the others. As Einstein once said "A perfection of means, and confusion of aims, seems to be our main problem."

Of course scientists can and do help guide whether certain courses of action are dangerous, counter productive or risk unintended consequences. The obvious example of this is climate change. The body of evidence is now overwhelming that man made climate change is having a profound impact upon the Earth's ecological systems which will inevitably lead to a dramatic shift in the way human beings will be living a hundred years from now. They even guide us on what we need to do to prevent such a catastrophe.

Sadly what they can't tell us is how we re-gear society. Individual scientists will disagree. Some will say we all need to go vegan, others that we need to reduce the population levels, others that we can create technological fixes that allow us to live the same kind of lives as we do today. These are social and political problems, the body of scientific work can influence our responses but it certainly cannot determine them.

If you believe that masturbation is forbidden by God there isn't much that Heinz Wolff (right) can do to put you off the idea, if anything his image might only entrench your determined anti-Onanism. To my mind a society run by scientists would be just as much a dystopia as one without science.

You certainly don't have to be a primivitist to reject the way scientific advances are sometimes put to use. Whether it's the social bullshit of gene theory or GM crops it would be quite wrong to confuse opposition to particular uses of science with an opposition to science itself.

Because the world is complex, changing and interconnected the implications of any technology are not simple and certainly not just a matter of being pro- or anti- the scientific understanding that brought that technology within reach. As Richard Feynman is meant to have said "I believe that a scientist looking at nonscientific problems is just as dumb as the next guy."

Yet it doesn't stop some claiming that a religious devotion to "science" in the abstract is possible, admirable and gives them automatic insight into every social question imaginable. At the heart of the scientific method is doubt, not certainty.

Robert Oppenheimer drew our attention to this disjunction between the project of scientific advance and the uses to which these are put when he said that "When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and you argue about what to do about it only after you have had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb. "

Economic, social and moral questions are not resolved so simply when, in a capitalist society, production and even ideas are owned. The social forces that determined who had the A-bomb were never neutral bearers of an inevitable linear advance of civilisation. In fact they heralded the possibility of social collapse. Chillingly Einstein told us that "I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones."

I guess all I'm trying to say is that science is part of society. It's our way of looking for truths, not the truths themselves. The 'white heat of technology' isn't an unalloyed, uncomplicated advance. Whilst rejecting science is utterly backwards, to uncritically worship it is itself a rejection of the scientific method. We should always ask what science, in whose hands and to what end.

To be continued...

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Congratulations to Jill Evans

Congratulations to Plaid Cymru MEP Jill Evans who's been elected as Vice President of the Greens / EFA group in the European Parliament. I've been a long time admirer of Evans and others in Plaid, like Adam Price MP, who seem to do well combining a left social democratic vision with strong community work.

The Green grouping in Europe is much larger and politically broader than once it was and, for a couple of examples, having wooed the impressive Socialist People's Party in Denmark, and recently elected Jose Bove as an MEP in France the grouping has shifted substantially towards a more anti-capitalist left membership.

That said, it doesn't mean that it's a homogeneous grouping, I certainly wouldn't be a member in Ireland for example, but this looser, big tent approach to political work is one that is paying dividends. That emphasis on getting things done and pushing for real reforms stands head and shoulders above any Simon Pure attention to micro-managing the ideologies of the group members.

Armed forces day?

What the hell is wrong with this country? Armed forces day? Isn't that the sort of thing we used to look down on when the Commie countries used to get up to this sort of thing?

The Lord Mayor of Cardiff said; "Cardiff's Armed Forces Day events will contribute to a wider understanding of the Armed Forces community, and of the crucial role that it plays in our national life, and of the remarkable men and women, both current and serving and veteran, who are at it's heart,"

A wider understanding of the armed forces community? Does that mean they'll be public displays of beastings, or just lots of machines going up and down with added marching and horses?

Apparently this is the rebranding of Veterans Day which wasn't a good enough propaganda tool for the wars we're fighting at the moment.

New Labour want to establish this Marching Up and Down Day because they'd prefer us to simply be in awe of their military might without worrying about the morality of the actual deeds that the actual soldiers commit. However, it seems to me, if we start celebrating the soldiers of today we give the public blessing to their adventures and, frankly, that wont wash.

Friday, June 26, 2009

North Norwich thoughts

Hey guys, how you been? Back from my blogging break with a few quick thoughts about the Norwich North by-election which looks like it's beginning to hot up.

First of all the polling. As I thought it looks like the Greens could make a very respectable showing in this by-election. That's not always the case, in fact for some reasons the Greens tend to do far worse in by-elections than they do in the same areas for wider elections, even when they're target seats. We've pulled off increases before but generally we struggle - this time it looks like everything points towards a solid Green vote.

The results of the UCU poll (and it is only a poll) are;

Party.............UCU Poll..........2005 result.........Difference
Labour.................30%............... 44.9%.............-14.9%
Conservative...........34%............... 33.2%.............+ 0.8%
Lib Dems...............15%............... 16.2%.............- 1.2%
Green..................14%................ 2.7%.............+11.3%
"Others"................7%.................................... n/a
UKIP ..................................... 2.4%
Independent .............................. 0.7%
This essentially teases out something I was saying last week - that whilst we're unlikely to win the seat we can make a real dent in an area where we've previously been weak. If Ian Gibson stands as an independent we might even beat Labour as well as the Lib Dems. That would be only what they deserve frankly.

It doesn't surprise me either that the Tories and Lib Dems are treading water here, but if the Tories can hold up their end then the seat is almost certainly theirs, although it's unlikely they'll be doing anything with any victory they might scrape together.

One Lib Dem blogger thinks that the Greens represent an existential threat to the Lib Dems and finishes a post saying;
While we behave like a protest party we will always be vulnerable to a sudden surge to another protest party. So, I guess I have in a sense come to a cogent conclusion than I aimed for; if Nick Clegg is serious about us replacing Labour then he has to be weary because the Green’s are starting to pose a serious danger to the realisation of that goal.
Whilst I think Darrell is rather over egging the pudding here it is heartening to see him stating; "We could be saying that we are in favour of green investment and for environmentally friendly cuts in wasteful areas of public investment but we clearly are not." I sincerely hope that the Lib Dems do move towards that kind of approach, and sooner rather than later.

However, they're support has been sliding for some time now. With Clegg at the helm they appear directionless and Tory-lite in approach, even though some of their MPs are among the best in Parliament. They might try a dodgy barchart or two in the coming election but frankly I suspect it will damage them to come out with a political analysis that even those voters who don't pay much attention can see through.

Anything that pretends the Lib Dems are the only challengers to either Labour or Tories will undermine their credibility because it's palpably false. For them the main focus must surely be not getting beaten by the Greens. Christ, Ladbrokes has the Greens at 12 to 1 to win with the Lib Dems flapping about down at 33 to 1 - and you know bookmakers make their decisions on facts, not love. That's how they make their money after all.

The other interesting fact of note is that many in the Labour Party feel there is a double standard at work in the slaying of Ian Gibson by the Party top brass. Potentially criminal activities by high ranking party members seems to be acceptable, unethical (as opposed to illegal) behavior of a Labour lefty is treated as a hanging offense. That doesn't seem right and Martin Booth, a Norwich Labour stalwart, has gone on record as saying;
The next morning [after Ian told him he was going to stand down immediately] I woke early. Angry and unable to get back to sleep, I decided that I had to resign from the Party. I just could not stay after I had seen the way that they had destroyed such a good man as Ian. He has been a wonderful constituency MP. When you went canvassing with him, it seemed he had helped nearly every other person you met. His involvement in outside causes, from beekeepers to ME sufferers, is amazing. That the NEC could destroy him because of the poisonous writing of the Daily Telegraphand use retrospective rules to do so was just too much.

As far as I know the NEC has not told Ian what rule he actually broke, even though he has asked them. If the Green Book rule is now applied retrospectively, an awful lot of MPs will be appearing before the Star Chamber, including Hazel Blears. They will not do so: this was just a cynical exercise to look tough and get rid of a trouble-maker at the same time.

Therefore, on Friday, 5th June I announced my resignation from the Party when Ian announced his resignation as MP. I have made many excuses for the Party in the past, but I just could not make any more.
If Ian stands I suspect there will be dozens or more of previously loyal Labour activists joining Martin and slashing the projected Labour vote, dismal as it already is.

All in all the tide is turning towards the alternatives and I for one want to make sure that it is the progressive left that win out rather than the far right. That means the Greens creating a good result here to prepare the way for Charles Clarke in Norwich South at the General. I don't want to jinx it, but frankly I've put money on Adrian Ramsey winning so he better pull through for me!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Devil in a blue dress

Radio Seven is broadcasting Devil in a Blue Dress and I really wanted to flag this up for people. Walter Mosley's classic detective novel had been made into a film with Denzel Washington in the starring role but as is so often the way it never quite lived up to the book. Partly because, in my opinion, the casting didn't quite get Denzel's right hand man, Mouse, quite right.

This radio version is read by Paul Winfield who has a lovely bourbon gristle in his voice. Of course no production will ever be as good as the book, but it's nice to hear it read with a smile in the reader's voice.

I'm not sure what it is about Walter Mosley's books that I love so much - possibly the mixture of cynicism, hard bitten poverty and moral center. Maybe it's the tight writing and authenticity. As someone might have said once; authenticity, once you can fake that you've got it made.

Devil in a Blue Dress was Mosley's first book of dozens, many featuring the same core characters of Easy Rawlins and Mouse, two black toughs who are always finding trouble whether they're looking for it or not.

This first book finds Easy, a war veteran, laid off from the Los Angeles aircraft factory and down on his luck. Along comes the opportunity to make easy money - but it turns out easy money comes at a price.

The books explore race, gender, poverty, the nature of the state, a changing political landscape and the character of fear. However, whilst there's plenty of political reasons to enjoy these books (and the radio play of course) actually it's the mellow smokey taste of the narrative that makes them such a joy.

Gold star quote; "You said don't shoot him, right? Well I didn't. I choked him. If you didn't want him killed, then why did you leave him with me ?"

Monday, June 22, 2009

Carnival of the Green #185

Hello and welcome to this week's edition of Carnival of the Green #185. We have a bumper (organic) crop of green posting from this week around the web.

Thanks to last week's hosts The Conservation Report, and I'll just point out now that next week's edition will be hosted at Conserve Plastic Bags. If you fancy hosting an edition of the Carnival check out how here.

Posts about news, views and occurrences.
David Gross presents Spanish environmentalists try tax resistance posted at The Picket Line.
Ecologists in Action, InspirAction, and ATTAC submitted tax returns in Madrid protesting against the government’s economic crisis measures, which they describe as “socially and environmentally regressive.” They each plan to redirect €84 of their tax dollars to more beneficial uses.
Tyler presents Are You More Frugal or Green?: Balancing Multiple Goals posted at Frugally Green.
It can be hard trying to balance all your goals. If you don't look for opportunities to reach them together, you may find yourself excelling toward one while hindering another. This post tries to help you combine both.
MBB presents Save Trees By Getting Rid Of Junk Mail posted at Money Blue Book Blog.

David presents Nothing You Do Is So Small As To Not Make A Difference posted at The Good Human.

Naomi Stevens presents Queen unveils organic vegetable garden at the Palace posted at Diary From England.

Fiona Leonard presents Emergency Response Studio posted at Year In America.

Mark Donovan presents Earth Homes posted at HomeAdditionPlus. Mark Donovan discusses Earth homes, the ultimate in green home building.

Posts about things, products and stuff that might help you live a more sustainable life.
Elizabeth at Go Green Travel Green presents the Stainless Steel Water Bottle Smackdown.
She reviews all the features of the top stainless steel bottles and helps you decide which one is best for you. Plus, there's a water bottle giveaway - check out the bottom of the post and leave a comment to win a free water bottle.
Michal presents A Bright Idea: Save Energy With LED Bulbs posted at Energy Saving Gadgets.
Energy Star qualified LED lighting uses at least 75% less energy than incandescent lighting which means you can expect to reduce your energy bill just by changing out your light bulbs.
Ooffoo presents Get Kids Outdoors
Eco-community ooffoo.com have launched their latest competition and want to know your tips and secrets for getting kids outdoors and into nature. There is £500 worth of prizes to be won plus a special prize for a school of your choice from Green PC specialists Very PC. Inspiring entries are rolling in thick and fast so head on over to submit your own or fill up on top tips as the summer break rolls closer.
Mrs Green presents at My Zero Waste the Green's WRAP recycle pledge.
Over in the UK next week, we have a national 'Recycle week' taking place. In this short video, we reveal what pledge we have taken to reduce our waste and why we are doing it. Come along and tell us what you think!
Paystolivegreen presents Green Countertop Options posted at Pays to Live Green.

Kerry Fletcher presents DIY Solar Panels posted at Houston Interior Decorating Examiner.

Talia presents Creating a Compost Bin posted at backtobasics-talia.com.

Guffly presents 5 Ideas for Eco friendly Summer Fun posted at Guffly.

Heather Levin presents Organic, Eco-Friendly Brands? They Might Not Be What You Think… posted at The Greenest Dollar. Did you know that Burt's Bees is owned by Colgate? Find out what ELSE these small indy brands aren't telling you...

And last, but by no means least she also presents at her Little Green Blog her five tips for clean green laundry.
The simple act of washing our clothes can have a significant impact on the environment. There's nothing new in this article, but it's great to cover old ground from time to time and to remember the simple steps that can decrease our carbon footprint! Please share your ideas in the comments :)
Top green tweets;
That's your lot. Thanks for coming!

Broader blogging boundaries

Hello, later today I'm going to be hosting the Carnival of the Green which is quite exciting as you have to sign up for it a year in advance, such is the waiting list. However, when sending stroppy a few links for the carnival of socialism yesterday I realised that my reading list has some gaping holes in it.

Whilst I'm following plenty of English, Scottish, Irish and, as it happens, Lebanese bloggers I've realised that I only really follow a handful of left leaning English language blogs from other parts of the world.

I don't believe there are only four US, three Australian, two Canadian, and one New Zealand blogs worth following. In the coming weeks I'm going to have a hunt around for good blogs to follow from these and other parts of the world but the obvious first port of call is to ask if people have any recommendations.

I'd find it pretty handy if people could send me their recommendations of good left/green blogs they read outside of the UK (or in Wales). Don't be shy either if you want to promote your own blog I'd be glad to hear from you.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Weekending: welcome you all

Hello there. Has it been seven days already?

  • Stroppyblog is hosting the Carnival of Socialism later today. Thanks!
And there you go. Curious letter of the week from the Independent this Friday;

As a regular Lib Dem voter in Norwich, I have been very tempted to change allegiance to the Greens but have so far stuck with my first-choice party. Although I'm sure there are policy disagreements, there are a considerable number of common areas: both are very attentive to local issues, both are pro-Europe and both have strong environmental credentials. Both parties also seem to listen to their supporters and the public generally.

Unfortunately, both parties are likely to take votes from each other and allow the two Norwich constituencies to either retain their Labour MPs or, even worse, swing right to the Tories. I believe that a pact to fight one of the constituencies each and to back the other party in the second one could allow each party to provide one MP and this could well be a model for other parts of the country. Why not try it out in the forthcoming Norwich North by-election?

Of course, it would require an agreement now that would have to carry over to the general election, and they may need advice from Tony and Gordon about how this is managed. I would dearly like to see grown-up behaviour that leads to a strong third grouping.

Michael Worthington, Norwich

Our video of the week is a discussion piece from a recent anarchist conference which challenged attitudes in the movement itself.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Review: Waiting for Eric

Bloody brilliant I reckon. Funny, touching and a celebration of the solidarity of community, friendship and family. Plus it has Eric Cantona in it - what could be better? Well, maybe an extra car chase... but no - excellent!

I do have a couple of criticisms but at its heart this is an extremely worthwhile and watchable film. Warning: I saw it with an Australian who told me afterwards that they found it difficult to follow the accents / slang in places. So if you're not English you might have trouble with the fact they speak in Manchester.

Secondly, there are some less than plausible moments, and I'm not talking about the magic Eric Cantona appearing to a dog eared postman. But I can suspend disbelief and the essence of the film, where a man is at the end of his tether with no one to turn to and on the verge of cracking up summons up inner strength to survive is inherently strong.

As always Loach is at his best when the performances are tres relaxed. Drawing on those reserves of social realism has seen him through many a great film and this is no exception but here we are treated to a sprinkle of fairy dust to go with the toughened gristle of hard lives lived.

It's essentially a fun film, which I certainly wouldn't say of other Loach greats like Bread and Roses or Land and Freedom. Walking into the cinema I didn't for a moment have that sinking dread when about to watch something 'worthy' and was not disappointed. It's nice to have your politics sugar coated sometimes and this was playful enough to please a packed audience the whole way through.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Ian Saville, socialist magician

I've only just come across this and really enjoyed it - so I thought I'd share. I had heard of the guy before but this is the first time I've seen him in action - nice!

No idea if he's still going - hope so though.

Salford Labour - doh!

Salford Labour Party have decided to commit electoral suicide by allowing Hazel Blears to continue as their Parliamentary candidate, 31 to 13. I have to say I don't think this was wise of them.

If you look at the last Parliamentary election in 2005 there was a very low turn out (42%) but the results look pretty handy for Labour. However, I don't think Blears will get as easy a ride now and she did then, particularly as the Labour government will be on their way out.

Hazel Blears Labour 13,007
Laetitia Cash Conservative 3,440
Lisa Duffy UK Independence Party 1,091
Norman Owen Liberal Democrat 5,062

Evidence? Well, two weeks ago the vote share looked like this in Salford, which is part of the North West where Nick Griffin won a seat.

Labour 23.45%
Tories 21.32%
UKIP 15.75%
Lib Dems 11.94%
BNP 10.46%
Greens 6.97%
English Democrats 3.38%
SLP 2.11%
No2EU 1.60%

So whilst Blears got over 50% in the General election Labour got less than half that in the Euros in that area. Voters weren't even being asked to vote for one of the most divisive Labour figures of the day! Consider then that the Tory vote was split here in a way it wont be for the general and you're looking at a definite Tory win unless an alternative candidate (in or out of Labour) can be found to galvanise that lost support.

Labour does this though. It selects the wrong people. In London in 2000, in Blaenau Gwent and in Falkirk West Labour made the same kinds of mistake and what happened?
  • London: Ken Livingstone stood against the official Labour candidate and won.
  • Blaenau Gwent: Peter Law stood against the official Labour candidate and won.
  • Falkirk West: Dennis Canavan stood against the official Labour candidate and won.
In the process Labour did irreparable damage to its own party and lost the seat anyway. Far better to deselect Blears and select someone who bares as little resemblance to her as possible. A Wookie wearing a CND badge might do it.

I've seen a couple of people suggesting some kind of primary process for the seat to select a candidate that represents real Labour values... or at least the ones we like! I think that's a splendid idea although I suspect the most powerful candidate would be from amongst Labour's own ranks and if that happened I'd hope we (the left and the Greens) would throw our weight behind that candidacy.

In years to come I wonder if we'll still be asking - were you up for Blears?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Ed Balls - Reasons to be cheerful

This is a new expenses 'scandal' I hadn't noticed.

Ed Balls bought, at tax payers' expenses, 'Reasons to be Cheerful' by Trotskyist firebrand Mark Steel. Oh joy! I've just finished re-reading this excellent book so I'm glad my choice of reading matter is endorsed by a government Minister.

He also bought a book called “The Rebels: How Blair mislaid his constituency” - I must look it up.

Balls explains the purchase thus; "In March 2006, the House of Commons office manager purchased two political books as a leaving gift for a university politics student who had been doing unpaid voluntary work in our House of Commons office."

I wish the intern had read the book before their stint with Balls rather than after, but you can't have everything.

Obama and Iran

There are some commentators saying that Obama is letting the side down by not throwing his weight behind the protests in Iran. Surely he could swat the regime like a bug, so what's he playing at being all cautious and inscrutable?

For example, Simon Tisdal in today's Guardian rebukes Obama, saying this hands off approach is at odds with his recent Cairo speech. I'm sorry but I completely disagree. Tisdal quotes Obama's speech;

"America does not presume to know what is best for everyone, just as we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election... But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things." These included the ability to speak freely and have rulers who did not steal from the people. "These are not just American ideas; they are human rights. And that is why we will support them everywhere."
Tisdal then says "Obama's refusal so far to support Iran's anti-government demonstrators... sits uneasily with his Cairo pledge." So a speech where he is clearly pledging that America will no longer be a heavy handed meddler in Middle Eastern affairs is held up as an example of why he should be meddling in the Iranian election - I don't think so.

Tisdall continues, "The problem with these and other defences of inaction is that a hands-off policy is impractical and will not reap dividends. Obama's apparent wish to stand above the fray is both unrealistic and undesirable".

Au contraire - the idea that the US President's could positively influence events by throwing his weight around beggars belief. It's a complete nonsense that Tisdall doesn't even try to justify.

The moment Obama gives explicit support to the protests is the moment that the regime can unleash a real massacre - and Obama knows it. Far from strengthening pro-democracy tendencies in the protest movement it would help to crush them.

Tisdal puts it down to Obama looking out for the "US national interest" and whilst I'm not saying this more cautious approach is opposed to such interests, Obama has a far wiser and more long termist approach than his predecessor, is it in the interests of Iranian democracy for Obama to make some statement or other supporting the overthrow of Ahmedinejad?

The last thing the protest movement needs is to be labelled as a stooge of Western interests. High profile support from Obama would undermine the arguments of the protesters who want Iranians to have their say in who runs Iran. More than that it hands the state not just a propaganda coup (which I've no doubt they would use to full effect) but legitimises even greater use of force to suppress the remaining protesters.

Simon Tisdal might like to think that posturing is more important than the lives of Iranians fighting for their votes to count but we have an intelligent US President now who sees macho soundbites for the blunt tool that they are. I for one am glad that Obama has a cool head and isn't flouncing about like an over excited teenager putting people at risk in order to feel good about himself.

More general links:

David Zirin: Iran is not a soccer riot.
Seamus Milne: Ahmedinejad is popular.
Robert Fisk: proof election was rigged.
I've really tried: why I'm Green.
Payvand: whose country is it anyway?

Stupidest tweet of the day award goes to:
@STWuk Did Israel use Twitter to destabilise Iran? http://bit.ly/aSJv0

Keep following Al Jazeera.

Two bye-elections

There are two Parliamentary bye-elections coming up, both of which will have a national profile and both of which are extremely good terrain for the Greens.

Glasgow North East will be voting to replace speaker Martin and Norwich North will be replacing Labour's Ian Gibson. These elections will have very different dynamics but both are more than touched by the expenses scandal so expect this to be an important factor in both.

Two weeks ago the votes for the polling districts covering these areas looked like this;



Labour 30.58%
Greens 25.04%
SNP 27.75%
Conservatives 17.53%
Greens 9.94%
Labour 16.74%
Conservatives 8.49%
Lib Dems 14.98%
Lib Dems 7.08%
UKIP 12.32%
UKIP 3.79%
BNP 4.67%
BNP 3.23%
Socialist Labour 1.52%
Socialist Labour 3.06%
English Democrats 1.45%
Scottish Socialist Party 1.72%
Christians 1.31%
No2EU 1.57%
Animals count 1.02%
Christians 1.45%
Libertas 0.70%
Independent 0.49%
No2EU 0.66%
Jury Team 0.42%
Independent 0.51%

Jury Team 0.24%

Of course, I need to point out that these figures take in a wider area than the specific Parliamentary seat in question.

In Norwich in particular we are weaker in the north than the south (although this actually means our chances of winning the Norwich South seat at the General is looking very, very good). However we did just win two county council seats in the North so we can expect to get a respectable vote, although I don't think we can win either (SNP and Tory wins are my predictions).

What I do think though is that whipping the Lib Dems and Tories/Labour in both elections would look very good for us and is certainly possible many local Labour members feel the Party has treated Gibson very poorly and they will find it hard to mobilise support.

If you want to help support the Glasgow campaign (either financially or on the ground) email here. You can check out Norwich Greens here.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Defend Mark France

The Stirrer reports that Respect activist Mark France is being victimised by his employer, the DWP, for being part of the campaign to oust disgraced MP Julie Kirkbride.

What business is it of the DWP if one of its workers wants to make perfectly reasonable and respectable political statements on his own time? Is being opposed to corruption a disciplinary offence now?

Mr France said “The attempt to silence me will fail. I have a democratic right to speak. Alongside thousands of other Job Centre Staff up and down the country I work hard to ensure that the victims of the recession are treated with dignity. We face a bullying management culture that stamps on the human rights of Job Centre staff and our unemployed customers”.

“The DWP can punish me and my family for daring to speak the truth…but they will not stop the ‘Peasants Revolt’ that started in Bromsgrove from growing”.

“On Saturday 20th June I will be in Bromsgrove High Street and I will speak”

Mark is backed by his union, the PCS, and any attempt to victimise him should be resisted. For those who missed it here is Mark's appearance on Sky News.

Iran: responses and reflections

The situation in Iran is moving very quickly and it's difficult at this point to know how things are going to turn out. We have a movement demanding that the will of the people is heard in support of an extremely conservative Presidential candidate who's main pluses appear to be that he's not as belligerent as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and whose wife says interesting things.

Looking at some of the specialists we'll have to pass over Campaign Iran who's last item is a bizarre article on the "Visionary Shah who inspired the Islamic Republic" from May. Likewise the Stop the War Coalition uncharacteristically has nothing to say.

Rather better we have Hands Off the People of Iran who have provided a useful framing article on the issues at stake and some of the background to what's happening. They've also organised an emergency meeting to discuss events and giving people an opportunity to pick the brains of Iranian activists, details;

Saturday 20 June, 2pm: Caxton House,129 St. John's Way London, N19 3RQ
The likelihood is that the election was rigged although I'm still keeping at arms length those who seem to feel it's preposterous that Ahmedinejad has popular support. As Lenin says;
"The fact that Ahmadinejad used state oil revenues to fund programmes for the poor can be approved or derided, but it arguably gave large numbers of people an interest in voting for Ahmadinejad against his more explicitly neoliberal rival. It gave him a base among some of the working class and bazaaris. Still, it is hardly implausible either that some vote-rigging went on, if only to make the win decisive enough to avoid a run-off."
Of the left we have a number of articles the two key ones are from Socialist Worker who says "People Power Rocks Iran" and the Socialist Party who say a "new phase of struggle opens up". Both slightly headless in their enthusiasm to my mind, but worth reading none the less.

Speaking of which Ben makes a good point when he says that people are a mapping their own hopes onto the protests so whether it's women's rights, nuclear, support for Ahmedinejad, we all need to be careful not read what we want to see onto these events and a bit of self awareness from Western observers is particularly useful when commenting on these events.

However, I'm not encouraging people to be neutral, just careful when swallowing the press line too thoroughly.

Thanks to Barrack Obama you can follow the protests uninterrupted on Twitter, but do read this article first so you don't fuck things up.
What are they fighting for?
Zahra Rahnavard, the wife of Presidential hopeful Mousavi has been urging the protesters on and has an interesting set of policies of her own including;
addressing crowds with promises to eliminate discrimination against women, abolish the "morality police" and "help the youth to think freely"...

"I am not Iran's Michelle Obama. I am Zahra, the follower of Fatimah Zahra [the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad]. I respect all women who are active."

Rahnavard's outspoken criticism of Ahmadinejad's regime is lent credibility by her impeccable revolutionary credentials. She met her husband at university, when both were involved in the secret campaign to overthrow the shah, and was exiled to the US until his removal in 1979. She is also a vocal supporter of the veil, arguing that it liberates women, though she has said it should be a woman's choice to wear it.

Her mantra on the campaign trail – that "getting rid of discrimination and demanding equal rights with men is the number one priority for women in Tehran" – is credited with galvanising young women to vote – long lines of them were described waiting outside polling stations last week.
I think this helps outline the fact that there are no simple pro- and anti- democracy factions here. The logic of the situation might push Iran towards a more just society, which I'm sure we all hope it does, but we can see from the murderous state repression this is by no means guaranteed.

Very much like the Tienanmen Square protests Western eyes are often inclined to interpret the demands of the activists in their favour when in fact they are very home grown and we should try to engage with them on their own terms, not ours.
Pick and mix
Angry Arab asks "why do Western media express outrage over a stolen election in Iran but they don't even feign outrage over lack of elections in Saudi Arabia?" Which I confess is a reasonable way of missing the point.

There are a number of 'support home grown regime change' style comments. For example Fisk, Charlie, Maryam, Jeff, and many others.

Juan Cole is well worth following through out, as is Al Jazeera which,as you might expect, is an excellent news source at the moment.

Hope this is helpful. This is by no means comprehensive and I'm happy for people to leave links in the comments box of those items you've seen that you think are useful (or you've written yourself). I may well add in a few more links over the next couple of days if I feel so inclined.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

LSE: immigration is good for you

The London School of Economics has brought out a report saying that an amnesty for illegal immigrants would benefit the economy to the tune of three billion pounds. It's not often you'd get a financial reward for doing the right thing, but in this case apparently it is so.

After pushing from the Greens Mayor Boris Johnson commissioned the study and he has welcomed it's findings. According to the BBC Mr Johnson said:

"This new report has introduced some long overdue facts, hard evidence and academic rigour into a debate which has far too often been dominated by myth, anecdote and hearsay.

"So, far from a financial burden, as some suggest, this new research has found an amnesty could be worth up to £3bn a year to the country's economy.

"The study also demolishes the argument that an amnesty would inevitably lead to increased migration to the UK and identifies effective border controls as the vital factor in controlling and deterring illegal immigration."

Which is so far beyond what I would have expected the Tory Mayor to say I think it would be churlish to do anything but approve. Sadly the Labour government has responded by saying an amnesty is simply out of the question.

It certainly comes to something when a Conservative Mayor is more progressive on immigration of all things than the Labour Party. What we need to hear now is strong Labour voices, particularly in London, supporting the proposal and demanding action from their government before Cameron gets in and that's the end of their influence for a generation.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Destination Doncaster: help it regain its pride

The good news is that Doncaster Pride has won a concession from the newly elected English Democrat Mayor not to cut the funding for this year's event.

Peter Davies was a surprise winner in the recent elections but perhaps it was really Radio Sheffield's night as he went on to give the most hilariously appalling interview in political history.

The Doncaster Mayoral elections are conducted in the same way as those in London with voters giving first and second preferences. The first preferences were as follows;

Mick Maye (Independent) 17150
Peter Davies (English Democrats) 16961
Sandra Holland (Labour) 16549
Jonathan Wood (Conservative) 12198
Dave Owen (BNP) 8175
Stuart Exelby (Community Group) 2152
Michael Felse (Independent) 2051

Mick Maye, who is on his third failed attempt at becoming Mayor, then lost 25,344 votes to 24,990 once second preferences had been counted. I think it's fair to say that it may well have been BNP transfers that won it for Davies. It's also interesting to note that just 420 more votes for Labour and Doncaster would have remained well and truly off the political map.

Whilst it's difficult for those of us on the left to impact events in places that we do not live in it does occur to me that there is something we can do for Doncaster and that's support Doncaster Pride on August 16th as it has a fight for survival.

Supporting an event that celebrates diversity and making it a really successful day could be a real contribution to making Doncaster a better place.

SOAS occupation: chaos the better virtue

Just got back from SOAS where around thirty people are occupying the director's office in support of those cleaners who were arrested by immigration police on Friday.

The cleaners, who work for private company ISS, were called into a dawn meeting by management on Friday morning. The police, who were laying in wait for them, swooped out and seized nine cleaners - my understanding is that six have now been deported and three others are under threat of deportation, including a woman who is six month's pregnant and a sick woman in her sixties who had a heart attack whilst in custody.

The company who is in a struggle to break the union had previously sacked the grassroots trade unionist Stalin Bermudez who had been waging a very effective campaign for a decent living wage for cleaners at SOAS and elsewhere. This move is clearly part of finishing the union off by deporting trouble makers and cowing the others.

Immigration controls are often used to divide and rule with migrant workers being among the most vulnerable and most poorly paid. The answer is not to demand British Jobs for British Workers but to throw an arm around migrant workers and ensure they get paid the same, are welcomed into the unions and that any attempt to use immigration laws against trade unionists is resisted tooth and nail.

The management was clearly complicit in the arrests at best and helped organise them at worst. The university was informed that the police were coming and they gave permission for the raid to take place and, to some unknown extent, assisted in the ambush that had been laid for their staff.

The demonstration that was called for this morning heard from various excellent speakers one of whom compared these cleaners to the tolpuddle martyrs. Of course the comparison is not exactly direct - after all the martyrs were given a trial before they were deported.

At this point the SOAS workers attending the demo announced they were to hold a union meeting and someone else suggested we put our demands to the management direct, so around thirty to forty of us marched up to the director's office and had a bit of a business meeting with him.

We discussed his role in the arrests, his support for farming out cleaning to a private company, what he could have done to prevent the arrests and what he was willing to do to repair the damage that had been done. It was an emotional meeting on both sides, the director was clearly unhappy with having his office occupied and a bunch of plebs talking to him like an equal and we were unhappy that trade unionists had been deported to Latin American countries including Colombia.

We also put it to him that Stalin Bermudez should be reinstated. He disagreed. Read the full list of demands here.

Now I have a confession. Even as we marched into office I was thinking 'oh, I really need the loo' and eventually I couldn't take it anymore and nipped out to get some relief. It's not the most heroic episode of the day I grant you but wetting myself might have been misinterpreted and certainly a little anti-social for those who'd have to share a cramped space with me so I think it was for the best.

By the time I came back the door was locked and there was a guard posted there not allowing anyone back into the occupied zone. It was all non-violent direct action so it just wouldn't have been appropriate to karate chop the guard down and kick open the door, although if Hollywood ever make a big screen version they might like to write that bit in.

Instead I hung about outside the door and told people who were thinking of leaving that they wouldn't be able to get back in, which meant a couple of people didn't come a cropper at least. Eventually the occupation asked the director to leave as they had things to be getting on with and after a bit of toing and froing that's what happened.

Banners were hung up out the windows and it looked like the occupation was settling down nicely for the duration by the time I left. The fact of the matter is these are serious issues and time is very short indeed. When management collude with the police to victimise migrant workers we don't have the time to observe certain niceties as in some cases this is literally life and death.

At one point the director objected to the idea that he should not have assisted the immigration police because it would have "caused chaos". One woman replied from the crowd said "In this case chaos would have been the better virtue" and I could not agree more.

The anarchic nature of the forcible meeting with the director (where one woman suggested to the director's face that the French had a good idea when they kidnapped their bosses) and the occupation were at times a little, cough, ad hoc, but where it occasionally lacked sharpness this was more than made up for in energy and direction of purpose.

If we are to gain justice for migrant workers we have to act. SOAS management have it within their power to protect their workforce from victimisation, sadly it does not seem that this is something to which they will willingly agree.


Simple acts campaign, strangers into citizens, no one is illegal, national coalition of anti-deportation campaigns, Justice for SOAS cleaners.

Twitter updates
. (Thanks to Tami for the photo of the inside of the occupation)
Please also sign the petition.
Some video footage.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Iranian elections: fraud?

I was surprised to see the widespread accusations of voter fraud in the Iranian elections as, in its own terms, Iranian democracy is normally a pretty smooth affair. After all, if the Guardian Council can veto any candidate before they even get onto the ballot paper you don't need to stitch up the vote itself.

Take Rafat Bayat, an MP who had put herself forward as a candidate. She's essentially a conservative who is critical of the current government for it's economic mismanagement.

The Guardian Council have previously stated that there is no legal bar to women standing for the position of President and that "women have submitted their names to the Guardian Council during previous elections and the GC disqualified them only because they lacked the general qualifications".

So Rafat Bayat seemed in with a chance. Her politics were within the acceptable range and she has previously been permitted to stand for a lower position. Sadly she was not among those deemed 'qualified' for the role - but the fact that four men were should not lead anyone to assume this was on the basis of her gender. Supposedly.

When we come the these results the idea that the regime has a need to indulge in electoral fraud seems uncharacteristic but, and this is important, not impossible. Mousavi is the candidate of moderation who'd engaged with young people in a big way through mediums generally frowned upon like YouTube, twitter and the like. The government then barred access to these sites and that doesn't bode too well.

But Mousavi is not someone who wants to shake things up, but rather calm them down. He was the Prime Minister for years presiding over some of the most horrifically reactionary policies you might care to imagine. It's just he's not as keen on confrontation as his rival and so he would have been a mild improvement.

Indeed barring websites and riots on the streets are often indicators that there was a certain amount of democracy lacking, if you'll allow me a moment of understatement. The difficulty, of course, is that the Iranian government lies just as the Western media lies about Iran - which leaves us in a difficult position.

The Western media says that there was widespread electoral fraud, I think it would be extremely unwise to accept this at face value. Likewise if the Iranian regime, who appears to have curtailed democracy on a stronger scale than on previous occasions, simply announces a landslide victory for the incumbent we have to treat that with caution too. I'm sorry if that sounds like I'm hedging my bets.

There was a widespread expectation in the West that the moderate would win and when he didn't there is sympathy for those who say he must have been cheated out of the Presidency. Personally I don't think this is based on anything except wishful thinking.

It seems that over 900 people have been arrested on pro-democracy demonstrations and I support them whether or not the result is fraudulent because the entire nature of Iran's democracy is, frankly, undemocratic but that doesn't mean Mousavi definitely got more votes - it only means that at least a significant number support him, which even the official figures show.

If protesters are then rounded up and arrested that's a terrible crime against democracy whether or not they are factually accurate about the total number of votes for each candidate. Personally I would have been very happy had Ahmadinejad been sent packing by the electorate but I'm not prepared to simply accept either side's propaganda in order to confirm my own prejudices.

This was an undemocratic election, make no mistake about it. Candidates barred from standing, online media blocked, not to mention the fact that on a day to day level the ability to build political opposition to the regime is constantly hampered. The rioters deserve our support because they are voicing their frustration at a society that consistently curtails their democratic rights. That just doesn't mean their guy necessarily got more votes.