30 September 2009

probably not good enough, but at least The Sun don't like it

I didn't watch Gordon Brown's conference speech yesterday. I'm over that phase really. For about 4 years I had to go to the Labour Party Conference and it was bloody awful. Fringe events with terrible food, terrible booze and no relation to anything happening in the outside world.

Stage-managed conference speeches with no relation to outside-world realities, a bunch of sheep applauding at the end (remember Roger Waters? "Wave upon wave of demented avengers march cheerfully out of obscurity into the dream"...) and woe betide anyone who stepped out of line... any of you kids remember Walter Wolfgang? An octagenarian bundled out of the conference hall for criticising the Iraq war. This weren't Nuremberg 1936 folks, it was Brighton 2005 (or thereabouts)...

So I am glad to be out of it. The only good things about Labour conferences were the possibility of talking to someone decent like Billy Bragg or Tony Benn on the fringe... and the constant search for low-priced records in charity shops. (I was actually on holiday in Brighton last week - before the security iron curtain descended on the place, and managed to pick up a couple of old LPs by the Barclay James Harvest. Good on 'em.)

The conference speech had the usual impact of politician's announcements these days - they're like the rush from a cup of Nescafe with 6 spoonfuls on it. (Me old mate Benny Voller will remember that feeling from Birmingham '92...) You're carried along on a euphoria and coffeee buzzzz for about 10 minutes and then an hour or so later you've got a headache and want to go to bed but your limbs are twitching so you can't. That's political speeches these days. It's Brown, it's Clegg, it's bloody Osborne.

What was in it? Free personal care - but only if you're almost dead already. No compulsory ID cards - unless you want to apply for a passport or a driving licence. A bit of the old Brown fight came back into it (anyone remember the classic days of 2003 - "we're best when we're Labour etc.?) but too little too late.

However, I am made much more happy by the fact that The Sun has decided to back Cameron at the next election. This is the tail wagging the dog really - its readership switched months, if not years, ago. But I was never comfortable with voting for a party that had the backing of Rupert Murdoch - it was a horrible, stinky affair, and if Labour is to be worth anything in the future it has to be in the teeth of opposition from right-wing corporate fascists, not cosying up to them. So the divorce from Wapping is excellent news.

27 September 2009

Some thoughts on the German election results and relevance for the UK

Interesting set of election results coming out of Germany at the moment. Looks like Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (centre-right) are going to form a coalition with the Free Democrats (right wing free marketeers). The left parties - Die Linke (hard left) and the Greens - both did well, securing a combined 23% of the vote. The Social Democrats (Blairite) collapsed to 23% of the vote. So the momentum is all with the far left and the far right.

The CDU played the John Major option: portraying Merkel as a 'safe pair of hands'. That seemed to work OK but those new coalition partners in the Free Democrats ain't gonna want business as usual. They're gonna want slash'n'burn. Could get ugly.

So once again in Europe, the Blairite electoral prescription for the centre-left has been tested, and found utterly wanting. Looks like Germany is headed for the same thing that Tony Benn identified for the UK in 1979: "a bit more left, and a bit more right, and a lot less of the soggy centre".

For the moment that means a right-wing approach. But given that the Free Democrats' policies will condemn Germany to the same economic disaster that is currently consuming countries like Latvia and Ireland, we can expect a big shift to the hard left next time round.

The lesson for New Labour in the UK? The centre left is dead. In the new political order it's back to the early 80s - you're either left or you're right. So which is it gonna be, guys? Jon Cruddas knows it's time for the left, but do any of the rest of ya know?

26 September 2009

Wot I read on ma hols, like

Just had a nice relaxing week down in Sussex. On Friday - the day before we were leaving to come home - I walked into a bookshop in Bognor Regis (a good contender for Britain's most boring seaside town - makes Clacton-on-Sea look like Brighton. There is a delicatessen selling the best damn coffee I've had all year but that's it. Only go to Bognor if you want a decent coffee, and even then, get out fast) and came away with a copy of David Peace's The Damned United. At 4pm, we got home. By midnight, I'd finished the book.

An absolute classic. I have read one previous effort by Peace - Nineteen seventy-four - which is a great, if wearing and brutal, read. The guy makes Irvine Welsh look like a faker and a wuss. Damned United is light reading by comparison - no-one dies, not literally anyway. A smattering of violence, for sure, but this is the seventies, kids. When the terraces were like something off a Tarantino film but with a soundtrack by Sweet. Or so we are told, anyway.

It's a memoir from a different era. Today's "Premiership" football (i.e. soccer for non-Brits) is a pile of steaming and I mean that without reservation. It's inflated egos with inflated wads and inflatable brains, bouncing off each other, a personal benefit gig for Rupert Murdoch week after week after week. And you fucking idiots out there FEEDING THE BEAST. Paying your Two thousand quid a year for season tickets or Sky in the living room, or a New Dealer to pretend to beat you up to give it some terrace authenticity, or whatever the hell it is You People do.

Only 12 months after Brian Clough departed Leeds United in 1974, Pink Floyd saw it coming: "Welcome To The Machine". Football was, for sure, changing into a piece of shit even then. But it weren't quite there. Because someone like a Clough, or a Bobby Robson, or (a few years later) a Graham Taylor could take on the money men and win something. The small man still had a chance. Now? Ha ha. Iain Duncan Smith's "quiet man" would have more chance of winning the premiership than anyone of yer fair-to-middling clubs out there.

Oddly enough, the length of Brian Clough's "reign" at Leeds - 44 days - is the most modern aspect of seventies Leeds Utd, the one way in which they were looking Forward Not Back. Any of you kids remember Colin Todd? He lasted 90 days at Derby a few seasons ago. That was considered short but not exceptional. Nowadays if you lose two on the trot you might be for the chop. Whereas in fact, anyone managing a premiership club that isn't Man Utd, Chelsea or a couple of others with big pockets (temporarily) is doing very well to be optimistic enough just to turn up on the field with their team.

If I was Prime Minister (unlikely!) my New Years' Honours list for 2010 would be a knighthood for any football manager in a premiership team with less money than the Big Five (or Six or whatever). because it takes guts to do the job without the resources. They also serve, who only stand and wait for the takeover by foreign billionaires.

And after that nice little gesture, the grand redistribution of resources in favour of the small clubs - football's Cultural Revolution, if you like - could begin. Starting with the compulsory purchase of all teams by the relevant local authorities, who would then sell controlling stakes in the club off to supporters. Or something like that, anyway... I'm sure Brian Clough would have approved. He was, as The Damned United tells us, a socialist.

I will be ordering the DVD of the same name very soon and I'll let you know how that one goes.

24 September 2009

So what if Obama won't talk to Brown? The history of the 'special relationship' is diabolical

[Note: very difficult to put links in with the phone I'm blogging from on holiday - they'll have to wait until I get back.

The Guardian leads today on a supposed snub for Gordon Brown from the White House - not being allocated a one-on-one meeting with Barack Obama.

I'm actually rather pleased about this. To paraphrase Adam Smith, when the US President and the UK Prime Minister get together it is seldom good news for the rest of the world. In recent years, any meeting between the war criminal and election thief George W Bush and his low-rent UK counterpart Tony Blair inevitably concluded with a new foreign policy monstrosity designed to inflict yet more pain & suffering on the long-suffering peoples of the middle east.

So why prioritise gordon brown - Blair's understudy and a politician with an 8-month time limit at best - rather than spending time with political leaders with more of a future? It makes a lot of sense for Obama to ignore Brown in this situation.

The less of the 'special relationship' we see these days, the better, frankly.

17 September 2009

Barack Obama vs the US hard right: race is only a small part of the issue

The fight that Barack Obama is facing to get extremely moderate (indeed, too moderate) healthcare legislation passed in the face of vocal right-wing opposition took on a new turn yesterday when Jimmy Carter said that much of the opposition to Obama was based on racism. (Note: Carter did not say, as one commentator on my last post suggested, that "anyone who disagrees with Obama is a racist". That's total b.s.)

I don't think Carter was wrong to say race was a factor in the opposition to Obama - particularly in the South - but I don't think any Democratic president trying to pursue an alternative to the Bush administration's policies (even if it is a somewhat wishy-washy alternative) would face a much easier ride. Fundamentally this is about big corporate America using any means necessary to fight against any encroachment of democracy on its ability to run a fascist dictatorship in the interest of big business. Obama's race is a tool they will use against him to get the result they want, which is his defeat in 2012. If Hilary Clinton had won the presidency they would have used her gender against her instead of her race. When it was Bill Clinton, it was his inability to keep his hands off the White House interns which was used against him. That's how these people operate.

Whereas George W Bush - an ex cocaine abuser who pulled strings to avoid the Vietnam draft, rigged elections, and killed millions of Iraqis and thousands of US troops in an illegal and fraudulently justified war - got a considerably easier ride from the hard right. Why? Because it's OK to be fucking useless, as long as you're Republican and a tool of big business.

So Jimmy Carter is really aiming at too small a target. He's made a big splash by pointing out the race dimension of the opposition to Obama, and I'm not saying what he said was wrong. But if he'd taken the opportunity instead to explain how US corporate power is pulling the strings and trying to undermine Obama every step of the way - and how Obama's misguided attempts at a "bipartisan" approach are undermining his own position - how much more of a splash would that have been? Given that Carter was brought down in no small part by those same forces 30 years ago, you'd hope he'd show a bit more nous.

09 September 2009

JC is da man

Jesus Christ.
Jimmy Carter.
Jon Cruddas.

One set of initials.
Three of the greatest political brains of all time.

Jon Cruddas's speech at the Compass Summer Lecture at the LSE yesterday evening launches him onto the national stage as a contender for the Labour leadership in the same way that Jimmy Carter's 'Law Day Address' at the University of Georgia in 1974 marked him out as an offbeat presidential contender (as covered by Hunter S Thompson in The Great Shark Hunt).

Jon started quietly, muffled, almost as if he was lacking confidence, but got into his stride as he went along. The speech combined three essential ingredients:

  1. an incisive analysis of the disastrous short-term fate that has befallen the Labour party on the two previous periods of economic crisis that have occurred since its inception - the 1930s and the late 1970s and early 1980s - and a worrying assessment of the parallels which the current economic collapse has produced.
  2. a fistful of radical, sensible, innovative proposals for government - the kind of thing Gordon Brown would have been doing for the last 2 years anyway if he'd had half a clue;
  3. a withering critique of the extremism hiding under the cuddly surface of the Cameronite Tory party.
No-one in any position of authority in the Labour Party is telling it like Jon is, and he's definitely the best option for leader following an election defeat. Can he do it? Quite possibly, yes. He has two big advantages: (a) the likelihood of a strong vote from the trade unions in the electoral college (and most likely from the party membership as well), and (b) not being tarred with the brush of failure, having not been a minister at any point during the Nu Labour period.

There is after that, of course, the small matter of how to beat the Tory Government at the 2015 election. But I think we can leave it to the Tories to f*** things up royally enough to give Labour a fighting chance.

So bring on Jon and let's get on with it.

04 September 2009

National Express East Anglia: towards competence? Tell 'em what you think

Previous mentions of the National Express East Anglia train company on this blog have ranged between pissed off and incendiary - but they may be about to turn over a new leaf in some ways. Their new consultation on train service capacity enhancements is a good read.

The big proposed improvements are:

  • additional train service capacity into London Liverpool St of 11,000 seats between 7am and 10am (unfortunately they don't say what percentage increase that is but the overall percentage increase in the size of the train fleet would be 17%)
  • additional peak hours stops at Stratford
  • half-hourly off-peak stops at Kelvedon in Essex. This would get the service back to the levels that the old British Rail were able to provide prior to 1995 - which doesn't sound that spectacular in itself, but in the context of privatisation, is something of a miracle.
  • a Harwich-Manningtree shuttle service to connect with intercity trains at Manningtree (not everyone will like this)
A lot of this would be facilitated by the replacement of the (in my view fairly daft) direct Peterborough-London and Lowestoft-London trains with services that connect with Intercity services at Ipswich.

It's the way the whole timetable should have been organised in the first place - it's taken these guys 5 years and a lot of pain inflicted on commuters to get there, but better late than never. (As British Rail might have said).

I will certainly be writing to NXEA to endorse these proposals - the first positive feedback I have ever given them (apart from when they introduced the 0815 morning service into Liverpool Street) and I recommend that you do the same if you live on this line or even if you don't live there but still occasionally use it. The more support there is for the proposals, the more likelihood there is that this thing will actually happen. The timetable changes are scheduled for the end of 2010 if they decide to go ahead, so you wouldn't have long to wait to experience the benefits.

The consultation ends 11 September so get your views in while you can.

And a final thought - this may just be a desperate move by NXEA to try to stop Andrew Adonis clawing back their franchise as collateral damage after the collapse of their East Coast franchise. Which would expose them as cynical bastards, but would also prove that, given the right regulatory framework, maybe even cynical bastards can be made to toe the line. Carry on Andrew...

01 September 2009

Good morning America: your enemy today (and every day) is corporate power

Great, great post by Paul Krugman in yesterday's New York Times: "I find myself missing Richard Nixon".

Paul's main point - and Hunter S Thompson said it first, back in about 2002 - is that compared with the current bunch of Republican nutters, Nixon was a left-wing radical. Nixon's plan for compulsory employer-funded health insurance - rejected by the Democrat-controlled senate at the time - was to the left of anything Obama is planning.

hat doesn't mean it's time to hoist the rose-coloured specs of course. Nixon was a deeply unpleasant guy and a crook - although strictly minor league compared with the professional war criminal and election thief George W Bush.

But as Krugman points out, it does show the extent to which the American political system has deteriorated under the influence of corporate power. This quote from his article sums it up:

"We tend to think of the way things are now, with a huge army of lobbyists permanently camped in the corridors of power, with corporations prepared to unleash misleading ads and organize fake grass-roots protests against any legislation that threatens their bottom line, as the way it always was. But our corporate-cash-dominated system is a relatively recent creation, dating mainly from the late 1970s."

There's a very interesting research programme to undertake here. What caused the massive expansion of corporate lobbying from the late 1970s onwards? And how can it be reversed? Joel Bakan's The Corporation covers some of this ground but it would be great to see it done in a more systematic way. Really you would need a collaboration between radical economists and political scientists to make headway on this. We need an institute or research centre for the study of corporate power in both the US and the UK.

In Britain the corporate sector is somewhat weaker than in the US but they are growing in strength, particularly in broadcasting: witness, for instance, News Corporation chairman James Murdoch (Rupert's son - I love the smell of nepotism in the morning) calling for the break-up of the BBC, so we can all be left at the mercy of Sky. It's this kind of thing that reminds us every day that the #1 enemy is not government (crap though it may often be), but is in fact corporate power. When are we going to do something about it?