Jeffrey Donaldson, man for all seasons

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So it’s goodbye to Ian Paisley Junior as the DUP’s junior minister in the Stormont Executive. And it’s hello to his replacement. But who could possibly replace Baby Doc’s Stakhanovite willingness to do three jobs at once?

Happily, there is such a man. It’s Jeffrey Donaldson, whose zeal for public service actually exceeds Wee Ian’s. Jeffrey Boy is not only a member of the Stormont Assembly, he’s also a Westminster MP, a councillor and a member of the Policing Board. And now he’s a junior minister as well. Not to mention his singing career…

Of course, you have to take the rough with the smooth. Jeffrey Boy’s appointment as junior minister means he’ll have to give up some committee posts at Stormont. It’ll be a wrench, I know, but I’m sure Jeffrey will face up to this sacrifice with equanimity.

Rud eile: What about Dustin the Turkey, eh? It’s “My Lovely Horse” all over again, providing proof if proof were needed that Father Ted was a documentary. And of course, winding up Dana is always a good thing.

Update 1.3.o8: Jeffrey has now eased his workload by resigning his seat on the Policing Board. His replacement is… Ian Paisley Jr! Nice work if you can get it.

Lines on the Irish invasion of Chad

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The Rangers’ current re-enactment of Beau Geste in the deserts of Chad may have come as a surprise to observers who thought that the Irish state had a policy of neutrality, or some kind of history of anti-imperialism. Clearly it represents a return to a much older tradition, demonstrated most gloriously in the seventeenth century when we colonised Montserrat.

It’s also sparked off a regrettable outburst of what Ruth Dudley Edwards would call a congenital character flaw in the Irish nation. That is, our tendency towards cynicism and begrudgery. Really, some of the aspersions that I have heard being cast on our socialist Taoiseach beggar belief.

Let’s get this straight. Irish troops are in Chad, as per the UN Security Council, to support the democratically elected government of Idriss Déby. Ah, our cynics say, but isn’t Déby a common-or-garden African strongman who runs an extremely corrupt and repressive regime, while being convincingly accused of having rigged his re-election? And I say to that, you’re missing the point. The mature democracies of Western Europe and North America are supporting the government of Chad, so Chad must be a paid-up member of the Free World. What are you, a Chomskyite or something?

Our cynics further suggest that this all has to do with courting the French. After all, although Chad formally got its independence in 1960, it has functioned as a de facto French protectorate ever since. Obviously these are the same cynics who reckon Kosovo’s “supervised independence” is all a sham. They further suggest that the French need a fig leaf for their neo-colonial intervention there and the Dublin government has stepped into the breach. These curmudgeons will also impute, with a nudge and a wink, that Bertie is simply trying to butter up Sarko with an eye to becoming President of Europe.

For shame! One would think that Ireland didn’t have an independent foreign policy and was simply reduced to cheerleading what bigger and more powerful countries decide to do! I also strongly resent the slur on Bertie’s character, implying that he’s only in this for himself and isn’t capable of an idealistic display of muscular interventionism. On the contrary, I firmly expect the Henry “Scoop” Jackson Society to reward Bertie’s idealism by declaring him a Hero of Democratic Geopolitics. The Ulster Unionist contingent among the Scoopies may look askance, but I believe their objections will be argued down.

Some of our more scurrilous wits are saying that, if Irish troops are to undertake peacekeeping missions, they might be better deployed in the pubs of Limerick. Really, that is beneath contempt. I challenge you to say that to Willie O’Dea’s face.

It really does get you down, doesn’t it, this debilitating cynicism in our public life? Surely what we need is more comic-opera wars to raise national morale.

Get out of Denver while you can

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I’ll return to Koštunica presently, but here’s a question: why does the Socialist Workers Party remind me of Yugoslavia in the early 1980s?

It’s all a problem, you see, of managing succession. This is especially hairy when you have the regime’s founder, who built the regime in his own image, still hanging around at an advanced age and with no heir apparent.

I was thinking about this in terms of the 1974 Yugoslav constitution, which was perhaps not Edvard Kardelj’s best idea. Under the ’74 dispensation, the centre was massively weakened to the benefit of the republics and (to a lesser though still considerable extent) the Socialist Autonomous Provinces. Evidence of this was that the more powerful bit of the federal legislature was the upper house, the Chamber of Republics and Provinces, where unanimity among the regional delegations was required and so nothing controversial could get passed. The lower house’s utter powerlessness was demonstrated by the fact that it was actually allowed to decide things by majority vote, because nothing it decided mattered. And as in the state structure, so too in the League of Communists, with the regional bureaucracies becoming basically self-standing.

This was only workable as long as Tito was still around to act as arbiter of last resort. But by the time Tito died in 1980, the grand old man was almost ninety and so all of his longstanding kitchen cabinet were either dead or dying. There was nobody left with the authority to fill the gap. And so the poor Yugoslavs were landed with a toothless “collective presidency” of eight anonymous regional pen-pushers with a rotating chair. And so anonymous were these pen-pushers that it became a staple of Yugoslav humour, when the collective presidency appeared on TV, to wonder aloud just who these numpties, the collective head of state, were.

Slobo put a bomb under that, of course. This is not because of Slobo’s unique malevolence – although he was a definite no goodnik, I’ve never bought the popular image of him as a Bond villain stroking a white cat – but simply because he was the first Yugoslav politician to act as if Tito was dead.

Now we come to the problems besetting the SWP. Cliff was always an awkward bugger of course, and I firmly believe he had lost touch with reality in later years. But the party at its best was much more than Cliff, and you have to ask yourself what happened to the extraordinarily talented leadership that IS had in the early to mid ’70s, when the group was at the peak of its influence. The answer is, of course, that most of those guys are now dead or expelled or both, and the few who remain in the SWP – with the sole exception of Renaissance Man Chris Harman – are long since departed from central leadership roles.

What you have instead is a leadership the core of which was formed in the 1980s, and has been remarkably stable since. They are a group of people with talent, I’m not denying that, but there are factors militating against them apart from just being too long in office. There is, for example, to my knowledge no member of the Central Committee who has ever been in the Labour Party. (Chris Harman might possibly have been in the LPYS forty years ago, but that doesn’t count.) That’s a big disability, especially in the electoral field and when it comes to dealing with rough-and-tumble local council politics. Secondly, although the party contains some fine trade union militants, these are not represented at the centre. I’m scratching around for someone with a solid union background on the CC, and can’t think of one. Certainly, industrial organiser Charlie Kimber has never been a union militant in his life – for all the insight Charlie brings to the subject, they may as well have appointed classic computer game Simon Says. Finally, there are far too many people on the CC who became party fulltimers straight out of college and who have never actually held down a real job. The problem is common in the British political class, but in a revolutionary group…

Anyway, that’s enough about composition. There’s another point here where the Yugoslav analogy is more appropriate. That is that the post-Cliff “collegiate leadership”, which some comrades hoped would be an improvement on one-man management, is better described as a federal leadership. The various party tops all have their own bailiwicks, and exercise feudal authority within them.

Renaissance Chris, for instance, runs the ISJ, where he has quietly surrounded himself with co-thinkers. Commander Begbie edits Socialist Worker. Martin “Bebop Tango” Smith has authority over the organisers, and moreover gets to hector address the comrades every week via Party Notes. Martin’s partner, resident glamourpuss Judith Orr, edits Socialist Review as well as running Bookmarks, the party’s only really successful venture. My old friend Prof Callinicos, meanwhile, is charged with administering the colonies. This he does in fine old Rhodesian style, perhaps explaining why the SWP’s international empire is a lot smaller than it used to be.

This is what’s known as a balance of forces, where nobody has the strength to achieve real hegemony. But that doesn’t explain the pre-eminence in recent years of that cuckoo in the nest Kim Jong Rees, who actually has shown the initiative in realising that this is a post-Cliff era. Yes, John and Lindsey may have established themselves as the “power couple”, but their actual base is remarkably narrow. And narrowing by the day, with their credibility being so much bound up with Respect. Perhaps, to turn the problem on its head, it’s simply that none of the other CC barons has the strength to move against them unilaterally. It would really require a combination of forces.

This is, by the way, getting to be an urgent question for anyone in the SWP who thinks the group should be more than a shrivelled sub-Healyite sect. For myself, I’ve long since come to the conclusion that Rees was a high-functioning sociopath. This explains why those who know him best tend to like him least. He can be utterly charming if he’s trying to cultivate you, then cut you dead in an instant if he thinks you’ve slighted him or his importance as Great Revolutionary Leader. This is why he’s proved good at putting coalitions together, and absolutely rotten at sustaining them. If you have a situation where the national secretary of Respect, whose job should involve maintaining effective relationships, won’t speak to George Galloway or Salma Yaqoob (which was the case for quite some time before George’s letter), then it’s obvious that something is very very wrong.

The trouble with the SWP CC, as I see it, is that they have been together so long that it’s second nature to them to act as a cosy clique. Even those who don’t like Rees will instinctively get his back against the outside world, and convince themselves they’re defending The Revolutionary Party. And yet, it surely must have occurred to one or two of them that the SWP is shrinking rapidly, its flagship paper’s circulation is in the doldrums, they have no allies, they have no money, the organisation’s reputation is rapidly disappearing down the dunny, and both events in Scotland and the dodgy Dubai cheque are likely to see things getting a lot worse. If Rees was working in an actual business, or even a relatively efficient part of the public sector, he would have been sacked long ago.

I am told, by the way, that Bookmarks is soon to publish a pamphlet on “Strategy and Tactics” by one J Rees. I refuse to believe that Bookmarks would court ridicule by doing such a thing. It would be as absurd as, say, Ireland invading Chad. Oh, hold on…

Dynastic politics wins the day in Pakistan

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Funny thing, isn’t it, democracy? Yes, it’s good old Pakistan, where we’ve been hearing ad nauseam that democracy is the answer to that benighted country’s problems. Not hardly, I venture to suggest.

What we have is, in a very low turnout (even by Pakistani standards) a victory for the Pakistan Peoples Party, vehicle of the martyred Benazir Bhutto. And thereby hangs a tale.

The PPP, of course, is a member party of the Socialist International, but don’t hold that against it. The “Second” has much more outré affiliates than the PPP.

No, the interesting thing about the PPP is what it says about Pakistan, another of those countries where “democracy” has a specialised meaning. In Pakistan, democracy has traditionally meant that the peasantry once in a while get the opportunity to choose which bunch of feudal lords will rob them blind. Actually, come to think of it, that’s not too different from America, where beer-drinking Democrats have this year been offered a choice between three millionaire attorneys.

So here’s the PPP, a party which, as Tariq Ali will tell you at great length if you ask him, arose from the popular movement against the Ayub Khan dictatorship in the late 1960s. And yet, it still failed to break the mould of Pakistani politics in any structural sense. It may have had a populist profile, and been supported en masse by dirt-poor peasants, but it still remained the personal property of the Bhutto family, one of the biggest collections of feudal magnates in the country. Not to mention a family much given to doing their business in Sopranos style.

You had good old Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, probably the best of the bunch for what that’s worth. Ayub Khan’s foreign minister, he had broken with the dictatorship on the grounds of it signing an unpopular peace treaty with India. For all that he showed a lot of personal courage on unexpectedly finding himself leader of the democracy movement, with a background like that it shouldn’t have been surprising that he capitulated to anti-Bengali racism and the army’s genocidal campaign in East Pakistan in 1971. Nor that he would increasingly lean on the army to shore up his own rule, particularly as he stepped back from his more demagogic positions.

But then, Zulfiqar Ali won’t be remembered for the failures of his populism. What he’ll be remembered for is his judicial murder at the hands of the Zia dictatorship, on charges of having a political opponent rubbed out. Was he guilty? Quite possibly, but he was still fitted up. And so the myth of the martyr comes to overshadow the record of the politician, and Zulfiqar Ali was libertyvalanced just as thoroughly as his daughter would come to be.

And so the party passed to the youthful Benazir. You can see why the Western media and intellectual types loved Benazir. It was partly I suppose the novelty of a powerful female politician in a conservative Muslim country. But there were other things Benazir herself brought to the show. She was extremely telegenic, in fact stunningly beautiful when she was young. She was fluent in English. (As well she might have been, what with it being her first language. Her Urdu was pretty bad and her Sindhi diabolical.) She spoke movingly about her father’s martyrdom, about her duty to Pakistan, and pressed all the right buttons (and continued to do so up to her death) about “moderation” and “development” and “democracy”.

But the tragedy of the PPP has never really been the gap between rhetoric and reality – every polity has that. The tragedy has been the continual disappointment of the hopes raised in the party’s poor supporters. Look at the first Benazir government. The main feature of this was PPP apparatchiks, who had obviously learned that they might not have much time before the military ousted them, filling their boots in the most ostentatious style possible. The second Benazir government was more of the same, only with even more rampant corruption and the added bonus of the Taliban being propelled to power on her watch. Not to mention the still outstanding questions about the assassination of her brother Murtaza, who had been exiled from the Family. I don’t want to take away from the woman’s personal courage, but personal courage does not necessarily make for good politics.

So what now? With the principle of dynastic succession now firmly established, the largest party in Pakistan filled its vacant leadership not with anything as prosaic as an election, but with the reading of the martyred leader’s will. This means the new leader is Benazir’s teenage son Bilawal, who was raised in Dubai, lives in England and is some years off being able to vote in Pakistan, never mind run for office. And until Bilawal achieves his majority, Mr 10% gets to be regent of the party.

Yes indeed, with the prospect of a coalition between Mr 10% and the straight-as-a-die Nawaz Sharif, the future looks bright for Pakistan. Or at least for the more entrepreneurial members of its political caste.

Koštunica: Proglašena lažna država Kosovo

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Београд, 17. фебруар 2008. године – Председник Владе Републике Србије Војислав Коштуница истакао је данас поводом једностраног проглашења лажне државе на тлу Србије да је до овог незапамћеног безакоња довела деструктивна, сурова и неморална политика силе коју спроводе САД.
Сајт Владе Србије преноси обраћање у целини.

Поштовани грађани Србије,

Данас, 17. фебруара противправно је проглашена лажна држава Косово на оном делу територије Србије који се налази под војном контролом НАТО пакта. До овог незапамћеног безакоња довела је деструктивна, сурова и неморална политика силе коју спроводе САД. Овим чином је целом свету дато на знање да Америка силу ставља изнад Повеље УН и да је спремна да самовољно, безобзирно и грубо крши међународни поредак зарад својих војних интереса.

Стављајући насиље изнад начела међународног права, САД су применом слепе силе понизиле и натерале ЕУ да погази принципе на којима почива сама ЕУ. Америка је присилила Европу да је следи у нечувеном насиљу које демонстрира над Србијом. Европа је данас погнула главу и због тога ће и она бити одговорна за све далекосежне последице које ће ово насиље имати по европски и светски поредак. Тиме је, пре свега, понижена Европска унија, а не Србија. Србија је одбила да се понизи, држећи се чврсто права и одбијајући да се повинује сили.

Једнострано проглашење лажне државе под старатељством САД и ЕУ, представља завршни чин политике силе која је започета агресијом и безумним бомбардовањем Србије и потом настављена доласком НАТО трупа на Косово и Метохију. Никада се као данас 17. фебруара није јасније показала истина зашто је Србија дивљачки разарана под НАТО бомбама. Прави темељ лажне државе Косово чине бомбе којима је НАТО рушио Србију. Зато треба рећи праву истину да иза ове лажне државе стоје, пре свега, војни интереси НАТО пакта, што је и потврђено Анексом 11 Ахтисаријевог плана. Само тако је могла настати оваква лажна држава, а она заувек остаје лажна макар за њено признање западне земље жртвовале цео светски правни поредак и ризиковале мир.

Председник САД, који је одговоран за ово насиље, и његови европски следбеници, биће црним словима уписани у историју Србије, али и у сваку историју међународног права и на њему заснованог светског поретка.

Добро нам је познато колико је опасна, сурова и слепа политика силе коју спроводе САД. Али и са тим сазнањем Србија је одлучно и једном за увек поништила све одлуке о проглашењу једностране независности, и све будуће акте који буду произилазили из ове противправне одлуке. Србија је поништила и одлуку ЕУ о нелегалном слању мисије у Покрајину, која је такође донета услед немоћи Европе. Овом одлуком Владе Србије утврђен је основ државног и националног програма Србије за Косово и Метохију после 17. фебруара.

Грађани Србије, за Србију не постоји и никада неће постојати лажна држава независно Косово на њеном тлу. За Србију су сви Срби и сви грађани у Покрајини који поштују нашу државу пуноправни и равноправни грађани Србије. Зато за све њих важе закони и институције Републике Србије. Од данас морамо показати још већу бригу и солидарност са нашим народом на Косову и Метохији. Сва министарства имају налог да раде и обезбеде значајно боље животне услове, да обезбеде нова радна места и покрену инвестиције у покрајини. Држава Србија ће повести највећу могућу бригу за сваког свог грађанина на Косову и Метохији. И на овај дан су наши министри са својим народом у Покрајини.

Упозоравамо да је на Косову и Метохији од доласка НАТО трупа убијено и протерано много Срба, а безбројне куће, древни манастири и цркве су спаљени. Од када је НАТО дошао сувише је зла и насиља нането Србима. Због тога ни по коју цену не сме доћи до нових невиних жртава на Косову, до нових прогона и нових рушења. Насиља према Србима било је превише и они који су преузели одговорност за безбедност у Покрајини морају апсолутно испунити своју обавезу.

Желим још једном да поновим да је Србија стара држава, а српски народ стари европски народ. Кроз вековну државотворну историју као народ искусили смо каква све зла може да учини страна сила. Али смо се кроз нашу историју још боље уверили у снагу права и правде и вредност слободе. Право, правда и слобода водиће нас све док у потпуности покрајину Косово и Метохију не вратимо тамо где јој је и место у уставноправни поредак Србије. И док политика силе мисли да је данас тријумфовала правећи лажну државу, милиони Срба већ мисле о дану слободе који мора доћи. Нико још никада није успео да спречи српски народ да оствари своју слободу. Све оно што не будемо могли ми данас да урадимо, урадиће сутра нова и боља покољења од нас. Косово је Србија и увек тако мора бити.

Грађани Србије, морамо заједно целом свету показати да се противимо разбијању наше државе и да не признајемо насилно стварање лажне државе на нашој територији. Противећи се политици насиља која се спроводи над Србијом, морамо јединствено подићи глас у знак подршке нашим сународницима и грађанима на Косову и Метохији. Влада и парламентарне странке заједно ће организовати мирне протесте широм Србије и договорити се када ће у Београду бити први велики протест. На овим протестима наше достојанство мора бити изнад силе против које се боримо. Силу оставимо насилницима који су се њоме обрукали за сва времена, а ми покажимо моћ права, правде и покажимо колико волимо и поштујемо слободу и слободну Србију са нашим Косовом и Метохијом. Док постоји српски народ Косово је Србија.

Via NSPM.

Ministerial thumbs down for gay rugby

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Oh, I just love this. Our sports minister, Edwin Poots (DUP), is opining on rugby. As well he might, because the Prods love their rugby. But what is exercising Pootsie’s mind is the Ulster Titans, a newish team based in Belfast. You hadn’t heard of the Ulster Titans? Nor had I, I must admit. It seems they are the North’s first gay rugby team. And why not? What could be more homoerotic than a nice manly game of rugby?

The minister, however, does not see things that way. It’s worth remarking, too, that Pootsie has some ground to make up on the gay issue. Some of the DUP’s more rednecky elements are still sore at him since his department gave a grant to the Pride parade last year. The Nolan show was fairly coming down with irate callers demanding to know why the DUP was funding the sodomites.

In years gone by, a DUP minister might have struck a fundamentalist pose on the issue. But such are the sensitivities of our New Dispensation, what with ministerial decisions being subject to Section 75 audits and what have you, that Pootsie is a little more circumspect. In fact, he speaks up for integration and against separatism:

However, Mr Poots said: “It would be unacceptable to produce an all-black rugby team or an all-white team or an all-Chinese team.

“To me it’s equally unacceptable to produce an all-homosexual rugby team and I find it remarkable that people who talk so much about inclusivity and about having an equal role in society would then go down the route of exclusion.”

Perhaps, although Declan Lavery of the Ulster Titans says you don’t absolutely have to be gay to join. It would be nice to have a determination for the junior minister in charge of equality, but unfortunately he (this is Ian Paisley Jr now) is no longer with us.

Or is he? I also note that Alex Salmond, who seems to have a warm rapport with Papa Doc, is hosting a delegation from the Stormont Executive today. Junior is tagging along, apparently because he’s remaining in post until the DUP nominates a replacement.

Isn’t life grandy and dandy?

The devolution bandwagon reaches Berwick

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For those of us who enjoy the more whimsical side of devolution, it’s a treat to hear that the good folk of Berwick are apparently considering rejoining Scotland. This, I assume, has a lot to do with the popular policies being implemented by the Edinburgh administration but rejected by New Labour in London. And why not? Perhaps this will start a trend, and we’ll see the revival of the Lost Lands League in the Welsh Marches.

On a more serious note, can anyone at Westminster explain why you can have referenda to establish, say, an executive mayor for Hartlepool, but the people of Cornwall still aren’t getting a vote on a properly devolved Senedh Kernow? I know the supine Lib Dems who run the county council are trying to fob off the people with “unitary authority” status, in contravention of their own manifesto, but since when has their opinion mattered?

Area man quits part-time job

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And so it’s farewell, in one of his many capacities at least, to our Stakhanovite junior minister, Ian Paisley Jr. This is a sad day indeed for those of us who had enjoyed watching Junior stumble from one crisis to the next. If you zip over to the Telegraph, the estimable David Gordon goes into this in much more detail.

Wee Ian tells us that he has done nothing improper, and I’m quite prepared to take his word for that. He has indeed been a tireless advocate for his North Antrim constituency. Is it his fault that the improvements in North Antrim for which he has lobbied have had a tendency to benefit the same developer? Surely not. Can we blame Baby Doc for said developer being a member of the DUP, and furthermore someone the Paisleys have had quite a few dealings with? Not at all. It is surely just a series of bizarre coincidences that have created the unfortunate impression that Wee Ian was Seymour Sweeney’s personal shopper.

And we certainly can’t blame Junior for his lack of allies in the DUP willing to speak up for him. This, I fear, is the shape of things to come as heir apparent Peter Robinson gears up to take over the party. Robbo has an enviable reputation as a harsh disciplinarian, much of it gained during the thirty years he spent turning Castlereagh council into a sort of loyalist North Korea. (Complete with endearing traits like filling the council with family members and naming civic buildings after himself.) Some DUP members may have hoped for a quieter life when Papa Doc finally stands down. I fear they will discover too late that they have simply exchanged Tiberius for Caligula.

Kosovo and realpolitik

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Since it’s the big story, I suppose I’ll have to do something on the Kosovo UDI. We won’t get a consensus, but there are a few issues around this that are worth teasing out.

The first thing is that, while there are disputes in international law around the issue of unnegotiated secession and border changes, IR theory frowns on it very heavily. And indeed it’s extremely rare for secessionist para-states to get recognition. This of course goes back to the American Civil War, when foreign states (Britain in particular) refused to recognise the Confederacy in case their colonies started getting ideas. Now the days of the old-style colonial empires may be nearly (although not totally) over, but we’re also left with the still-rumbling question of ethnic separatism. Madrid’s cold feet over Kosovo are not, I suggest, entirely unconnected to the Spanish state’s increasingly draconian attempts to outlaw Basque nationalism, and the periodic rows with the Barcelona government about the Catalan autonomy statute.

But then, the lesson of this affair, and we’ll see it illustrated in other ways, is that precedents don’t count for nothing when the Empire has made a decision.

There are a couple of other interesting points I’d like to explore, which involves going back to the original break-up of Yugoslavia. Brussels, on a rather dubious self-awarded mandate, decided that it was going to manage the break-up, and set up the famous Badinter Commission, a panel of judicial activists, to legitimise what it was going to do. Suffice to say, the Eurocrats then went on to flout the rulings of their own pet panel.

To cut a long story short, Badinter determined three main things. First was an a priori determination that Yugoslavia was in “a state of dissolution”, which wasn’t necessarily obvious or inevitable at the time, and the only remaining question was the division of the spoils. Well, whether or not the dissolution was inevitable pre-Badinter, it certainly became so afterwards, and that was no accident.

The second point was that the six republics of Yugoslavia were the units of self-determination, and that republican borders were inviolable. This was problematic from the point of view of Yugoslav constitutionality. Nobody really understood the unworkable 1974 constitution (I suspect that was deliberate on the part of Kardelj), but there were two types of self-determination enshrined there. The republics and autonomous provinces were held to be the organs of regional self-government (although the Republic of Serbia was neither fish nor fowl, having an enormous West Lothian question in Kosovo), but self-determination was also vested in the nations (narodi) of Yugoslavia. This, in ambiguous Titoist style, was the pay-off for having 40% of Serbs outside Serbia. It also explains the explosive nature of Tudjman’s downgrading of Serbs in the Croatian constitution from constituent nation to ethnic minority, which remains their status today. A constituent nation has certain inherent collective rights. An ethnic minority has whatever right the government chooses to give it. The point was not lost on Serbs who never really wanted to be part of Croatia in the first place.

But anyway, the “international community” determined that republican borders were sacrosanct. The purpose behind this was to pre-empt any Serb claims on parts of Croatia or Bosnia. This also meant, however, that Kosovo became an internal Serbian affair, which is how international governments treated it for most of the 1990s. The distinction never much bothered the anti-Serbian racists in outfits like the ICG, who seem hell-bent on re-establishing the borders of 1942, but the chancelleries of the Empire were a good bit more cautious. At least until late 1998, that is. And even after the 1999 war, the question of sovereignty was put on the back-burner for a while. In reviving it of late, there have been a few Jesuitical legal arguments, but the basic line of Imperial spin has been, well, that was then and this is now.

It would be a mistake, however, to see the reluctance to depart from the “republican borders” formula as purely down to legal issues. Once the formerly sacrosanct borders become malleable, that opens up a whole other can of worms. The elephant in the room of course is Republika Srpska. There is the Sandžak question, which could be mighty destabilising. There is the Felvidék question currently exercising the government of Slovakia. Above all, there are the Albanian irredentist movements in Macedonia (currently controlling around a third of the country), Montenegro, Serbia’s Preševo Valley and Greece (although that last one might be a tough nut to crack). And so on.

The third thing to issue from Badinter was the concept of “standards before status”. This was actually a rather good idea, in that aspiring states would have to meet certain standards of democracy, the rule of law and respect for minorities before getting international recognition. Trouble is, the Eurocrats then immediately broke this rule on grounds of realpolitik. Macedonia met the required standards but didn’t get recognition, through being blackballed by Greece and failing to have lined up a powerful sponsor. Croatia, on the other hand, flagrantly failed to meet the required standards but did get recognition on the insistence of the German government.

The embarrassing thing is that the Empire did set standards for Kosovo to meet before getting recognition. Not a single one of them has been met. And yet, recognition will be forthcoming because the Powers have decided so, and to back down now would involve an unacceptable loss of face. Also, it will annoy the Russians, which is just the sort of “democratic geopolitics” that led to the Khmer Rouge holding Cambodia’s UN seat for a dozen years after they were overthrown. And if I was the Russians, I’d be sorely tempted to follow through on my threat of recognising Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Yes, behind all the chest-beating about the glories of humanitarian intervention there is a whole tangle of hypocrisy and naked power politics. But, in a situation where the spiv Milo Djukanović and the ethnic cleanser Hashim Thaçi are the agents of “democracy” against, er, the elected government in Belgrade, what do you expect? By the way, I give Thaçi credit for being able to say with a straight face that Kosovo will be judged on how it treats its Serbian minority. If there’s one left, that is.

My position, as it happens, is a more pragmatic one. I don’t claim to stand on the high moral ground of universal values, but I do think there are standards you can apply. And I also hold to the realist position that a strong moral case in the abstract doesn’t always equate to good policy.

For instance, as I’ve said before, there is a strong case in the abstract for Kosovo Albanians having the right to self-determination. In the here and now, I’m opposed to independence for Kosovo because the place is run by a bunch of mafiosi, its economy is based on the trafficking of drugs, arms and women, and giving this basket case the attributes of statehood will make a bad situation worse. (And why does Kosovo need a new flag when it could use the good old Jolly Roger? Although Montenegro might have a prior claim.) There’s an even stronger case for Chechen self-determination, but that isn’t very appealing when the actually existing Chechen separatist movement is dominated by crazy jihadis. And, before I get accused of being a terrible Slavophile, I’m also opposed to a declaration of independence by Republika Srpska, on the grounds that a decentralised Bosnia represents the best chance of avoiding a return to war.

Note that all these positions are conditional and all could change if circumstances change. It may not provide the easy satisfaction the interventionists get from venting about “evil Serbs”, “evil Russians”, or increasingly these days “evil Muslims”, but it’s less likely to lead you up ideological dead ends.

And, by the way, there are lots of de facto para-states knocking about. If we are going to back the idea of “standards before status” and all that malarkey, how come Kosovo can get the thumbs up but the Empire continues to pretend that Transnistria, South Ossetia, Karabakh or Abkhazia don’t exist? Or, for that matter, Somaliland?

Rud eile: I was sorry, although not surprised, to hear about the death at 59 of Brendan Hughes, a genuine republican hero. Brendan had been in very poor health for a long time, and it’s to his credit that he spoke out for what he believed in when he could have just fitted in comfortably to the peace process environment. He remained to the end a voice for those seeking an alternative to the GFA process, and was interested in political alternatives rather than just a reversion to old-style militarism. It’s a pity that he never got to see the emergence of a political alternative, because there’s still no credible one in sight.

You spin me round (like a record)

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If you ask any observer of Irish politics about the late Noël Browne, chances are that the first thing they’ll mention will be the Mother and Child debacle in 1951, when Noël was comprehensively mugged by the Catholic hierarchy and his own cabinet colleagues. In fact, Noël dined out on that for decades afterwards. This probably explains why, despite his membership of multiple political parties including Fianna Fáil, and being a bit of a martinet who preferred gofers to comrades, he managed to maintain an image of being a selfless and uncompromising idealist. Nice trick if you can pull it off.

Somehow I doubt that Tower Hamlets councillor Ahmed Hussain, whose defection straight from the Socialist Workers Party to the Tories has now been confirmed, will live so long in the affections of the public.

Listen: anyone who’s been involved in local politics knows that defections are the small change of council business. They happen on a regular basis, in councils up and down Britain. Sometimes there are policy issues involved. Sometimes there are personality clashes in what’s generally a small world populated by crabby egos. And sometimes there are the spoils of office, which aren’t great in material terms, but the wrath of a councillor who feels he’s been denied a rightful committee chair or stint at wearing the mayoral chain is wondrous to behold.

Like I say, it happens all the time. Labour councillors join the Lib Dems, Lib Dems go Tory, Independents go every which way but loose. Since the mainstream political spectrum is so narrow (especially with the Orange Book gang taking over the Lib Dems) and councils’ powers are so tightly circumscribed, it doesn’t usually make a huge amount of difference.

You would think the hard left, as a more ideological tendency, would be less susceptible to this sort of thing, and you would be right, but less susceptible doesn’t mean immune. On a semi-regular basis – it seems like once or twice a year – you hear of some Labour councillor in the north of England who’s defected to the Socialist Party. The SP seem to never hold on to these council seats – either the councillor fails to be re-elected or he parts company with the SP or both. The SP used to tout these defections as evidence that they were on their way to great things, but they tend to be a lot more sober these days. And that speaks well of them.

So we come to the Ahmed Hussain saga. Firstly, it would obviously be different if Hussain had jumped ship to, say, the Socialist Party or the Greens. It would even be different if he’d gone over to Labour – New Labour may be hegemonic in the Labour Party, but the Labour Party is not reducible to New Labour. Defecting to the Tories, on the other hand – to the class enemy, the party of British capital – is a lot harder to explain away. And with such indecent haste! Negotiating his defection while still holding an SWP membership card! At least Roger Rosewell or Peter Hitchens allowed a decent interval between their revolutionary periods and their Tory periods.

What’s more significant is what this says about the SWP hierarchy. I agree that nobody has come out of this looking particularly good, but what is most bizarre is the press release issued by the SWP-Reespect in the middle of the night asserting that all was well and that Ahmed remained true to the ideals of Respect, notwithstanding his public praise for Dave Cameron’s policies and his photocall with leading London Tories. I assume this was the work of the SWP-Reespect’s press officer, listed as one J Rees. If so, Rees has made himself look like a pillock. Beyond that, the press release, issued in the name of Oli Rahman, made Oli look like a pillock, and if I was Oli I would be extremely annoyed. My chum Richard Seymour has also made himself look a pillock by loudly demanding “corrections” to what turned out to be a correct story.

Now, beyond that, let me reiterate that defections are small change in local politics. And we may say that Ahmed Hussain is an opportunist, and we’d be right, but there’s no foolproof test for opportunistic tendencies that individuals may develop months or years down the line. Lenin (the real one, not the blogger) said so on several occasions. And yet the SWP, in their self-proclaimed role as Scientific Marxist Vanguard©, have suggested that such precognition is possible. Here is Renaissance Man Chris Harman:

Another problem flowing from the success of Respect was familiar to people who had been active in the past in the Labour Party, but was completely new to the non-Labour left—opportunist electoral politics began to intrude into Respect…

Socialists did their best to deal with these unhealthy developments. They struggled against the non-left interlopers. By and large the left won. [Gulam] Mortuza turned against Galloway when the left blocked his bid to become “president” of Tower Hamlets Respect, leaving Respect and returning to Labour. Shamsuddin Ahmed was not selected for the council seat he wanted in 2006, left Respect and stood for the Liberal Democrats. Mohammed Zabadne soon became tired of left wing politics and broke with Respect. The willingness of socialists to argue against those who saw Respect simply as a vehicle for their own political careers was vindicated—but two years later this was used by Galloway to denounce, by implication, the SWP.

Renaissance Chris goes on to approvingly quote the Winchellised Internal Bulletin document on Tower Hamlets by Doherty, McGarr and McLoughlin, wherein the three comrades whine about not always getting their way in terms of candidate selection. This is the meat behind the accusation of Tammany Hall politics:

On the selection panel…we were continually being told that “strong” candidates were needed in the most winnable wards. This was a thinly veiled code for selecting Bengali men with a standing in the local area. Of course we recognised that after years of Labour clientalism it was important for the preponderance of candidates in these wards to be ethnic Bengalis. But we also argued that there needed to be a balance across the spread of candidates that reflected all the different elements in Respect’s coalition…

Well, at the heart of that was the big push to get John Rees a nomination in a “safe” Asian ward. But let’s return to the Three Stooges:

One [of the twelve councillors] defected to Labour and one resigned. Both felt slighted that their personal ambitions were not being satisfied. Both were Bengali men with some standing in their wards. One was the candidate who replaced John Rees in Whitechapel. Another was, in fact, one of the people hand picked by Abjol and Azmal as the only possible choice in Shadwell.

You may think, and you would be right, that this sort of thing is inevitable in hardball local politics. It was doubly inevitable in an organisation as new, unstable and diverse as Respect that there would be some attrition. What’s interesting is that during the Respect split, SWP loyalists made huge play out of one councillor defecting and another resigning. This was held up as proof positive that there was an opportunist degeneration in the Tower Hamlets council group. It was suggested that this could have been avoided with better vetting. As we know, however, Rees’ enforcer Shaun Doherty vetted all the Tower Hamlets candidates, so this boils down to a complaint that the SWP didn’t get the candidate selection all their own way. And there’s also been on occasion an unpleasant implication that opportunism is all you could expect of the Bengali councillors without the Scientific Marxist Vanguard© closely supervising them.

Shyeah. I think of Rees’ remarkable non-self-criticism in Red Pepper:

Even John Rees believes he made errors. ‘The mistake I made was not to raise the situation in Tower Hamlets nationally, because I didn’t want to make a local issue into a national argument. We [the SWP] gave away too much ground in Tower Hamlets and were too soft with George. But that’s the real world … We should have raised the issue of the accountability of our elected representatives after the 2006 local elections.’

In other words, “I was right but I wasn’t forceful enough about it at the time.”

And what of Ahmed Hussain’s defection, not to Labour but directly to the Tories? After the rhetorical huffing and puffing about opportunism on Tower Hamlets council – in which Hussain was held up as a model left councillor – you would think that some reflection would be in order. But then, this is the SWP we’re talking about here. So it’s no surprise to see a press release that amounts to “Oh dear, how sad, never mind.”

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