Faint murmurings of discontent in Gerry’s kingdom

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Rum doings at the Andytown News this past little while, as the West Belfast paper has been the site of a short-lived rebellion against King Gerry. Nobody has come out of this looking particularly good.

The story, in brief, is this. Popular Andytown News columnist ‘Squinter’ writes a column critical of Adams, asking what exactly he has managed to achieve for West Belfast in his 20 years as the area’s MP. The criticism was polite, but unmistakeable. The occasion for the criticism was a recent rash of anti-social behaviour culminating in the murder of former republican prisoner Bap McGreevey, an event that’s genuinely shocked the community.

It was the anti-social behaviour aspect that grabbed people’s attention, and not surprisingly. Anyone with eyes in his head knows that West Belfast is a den of criminality, and that the police have been frig all use in dealing with the problem. But more wounding, perhaps, was Squinter raising the question of the lack of investment in West Belfast. Wounding because our intrepid columnist drew attention to the way Grizzly has been feted in Irish America, and asked where was the payoff for his constituents.

This had some significance, not least because Squinter was only saying what lots of other folk are saying, and, more to the point, this was all in a paper that has a long history of verbally duffing up Grizzly’s critics. The words “hornets” and “nest” come to mind. This, presumably, was why members of King Gerry’s court sprung into action – Maskey popping up on Talk Back and Gibney in the Irish News in defence of the Great Helmsman.

So the current Andytown News was awaited with bated breath. Guess what? There was no Squinter column. (The offending column has also been removed from the Andytown News website and Squinter’s blog. You can however read it at Slugger, which has been indispensable on this.) What’s more, the controversy seems to have generated no comment whatsoever on the paper’s legendary texts page.

But you would be wrong to assume that the story had simply disappeared down the memory hole. No, it makes the front page, in the form of a letter from Grizzly himself, saying how shocked and hurt he was that the people’s paper would publish such a scurrilous attack on him. This was followed by an abject apology from the editor, saying, in effect, We’re very sorry Gerry and we won’t do it again.

It’s funny, isn’t it? We’ve just seen the Himalayan Buddhist backwater of Bhutan – a place that could be described as Tibet’s Tibet – take a significant step away from absolute monarchy. Yet, amongst Irish republicans(!), it seems the monarchical principle rules supreme.

Contribution to a critique of Decent discourse

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I’ve been working on a post about the psychopathology of the Decent Left, and intend to have that up before long. In the meantime, I direct readers to this excellent discussion on Aaro Watch, and especially to Justin’s sharp contribution in the comments, which I hope he won’t object to me reproducing here for your reading pleasure. 

1. The “Decent Left” is, essentially, an anti-left movement: criticism of the Left, not only criticism but basically damnation, is its main thrust and purpose. It is a contemporary phenomenon although nothing that it says is basically new, nor is the way in which it says it. It has a great deal in common with the old Atlanticism of the rightwing of the Labour Party, the more aggressive rightwing and anticommunist strands within the Labour movement, and Cold War liberalism.

2. Its proponents, broadly speaking, come from two basic political backgrounds. One is the number of small leftwing groups outside the Labour Party, mostly, in Britain, Trotskyite in nature where they were not the Communist Party: but also the old Right of the Labour Party, especially that part which was most hostile to CND and Bennism and yet did not leave the Labour Party. In either case the Decent Left has attracted a minority of these political trends (which were, of course, hostile to one another).

3. We therefore have those who were always deeply pro-NATO and opposed to the Left and to peace movements, or those who used to be on the opposite side but have renounced those positions. In both cases a certain visceral hatred of the Left is central to their outlook.

4. In the case of the ex-members of the far Left, there is a great deal of score-settling involved, which may in part reflect distress at the amount of time they feel they wasted in a politics they now consider harmful. As is not uncommon with the politics of the “ex”, their hostility can be utterly unbalanced and disproportionate and they will tend to be unaware of this. Issac Deutscher’s comments are still of relevance here.

5. The ex-far-leftists in particular can be accused of importing a number of bad rhetorical habits from their old politics, including an extremely aggressive polemical style, a fondness for identifying betrayers and apologists, a keenness for denunciation and for requiring their adversaries to disassociate themselves from one another, and a liking for inference in analysing other people’s statements, so that they are made to say what they probably do not. They are unaware of the aggressive, bullying character this gives them. They also have the old red-baiter’s liking for a witch-hunt.

6. Although, as said above, there is nothing entirely new about either the politics of the approach, they are like all political trends, formed by political characteristics particular to their times. These would include the invasion of Iraq and the Afghan and Yugoslavian interventions that preceded it, all of which they not only supported enthusiastically, but took as an opportunity to denounce people who did not. (It does not follow that because one supported any or all of those actions, one is on the Decent Left: what matters is the enthusiasm and the denunciation.) It would also be impossible to understand their emergence without reference to the general worldwide decline in socialist belief over the past generation, or the contemporary problem of radical Islam, which they are in favour of tackling with the same aggression that is their most obvious characteristic. Other political trends, including a certain aggressive pro-market liberalism (e.g. the Progressive Democrats in Ireland) tend to resemble them in their attitude to the Left.

7. In some ways their development can be seen as a problem of agency. In either of their backgrounds, they used to be attached to a labour movement which was considerably more powerful, in a number of ways, than it is today, and whose decline is perhaps the most important background factor in influencing contemporary politics. In a way similar to that observed (fairly or otherwise) by Orwell in locating enthusiasm for Stalinism as a transferred patriotism, they have shifted their allegiance to the Western democratic state in general but to its overseas military interventions in particular. They expect it to perform a world-transformative role in a way analogous to that which they previously expected (or hoped) of the proletariat and they retain the belief that the casualties will ultimately be proven to have been worth it.

8. Their enthusiasms extend to Israel, which they support critically in theory but enthusiastically in practice. They take a psychopathologising view of the opponents and critics of Israel. They also tend to be enthusiasts for the politics and personality of Tony Blair.

9. Their domestic enemies, whom they lump together, include the remaining far-Leftists, leftwingers in general and opponents of military action in Iraq. They see themselves as the left because they wish to define themselves as the furthest point Left in acceptable political discourse. In this desire to exclude the Left from the bounds of acceptable politics – and to see it as essentially violent and pathological in nature – they are not entirely unusual among those closer to the political mainstream.

10. A certain philistinism can be detected in their output, perhaps reflecting a dislike and distrust of intellectuals, who may be suspected of relativism. This, in turn, perhaps reflects their propensity to see the world in black-and-white terms and to take a position that who is not with them is against them.

Where is Tom Lehrer when you need him?

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As I note the shortlist for this year’s Orwell Prize. The most high-profile entry is Ed Husain’s The Islamist, which may be the people’s choice, but I am tickled to see Nasty Nick’s What’s Left? get a nod.

If you want a little wager, I suspect Nick might be worth a punt. The OP judges have in the past shown themselves quite partial to the tribunes of Decency. Aaro (so light, so fluffy) is a past winner. So is Wheen. So, saints preserve us, is Mad Mel. And, if you prefer to go upmarket, both Ignatieff and Timothy Wishbone Ash are past recipients.

And so a book that has a terminological inexactitude on just about every page gets put up for an award for political writing named after the author of “Politics and the English Language”. I’d like to think old George would have a little chuckle over that.

Brand Beckham throws down gauntlet to Fabio

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Yeah, there’s really nothing like journalistic priorities. Have you ever switched on GMTV on the morning after the Oscars, and wondered, amid all the discussion of Keira Knightley’s dress, who actually won a bloody Oscar? It really is a bit much when this sort of thing starts cropping up on the BBC evening news.

We’ve seen a little of this with Sarko’s state visit. Okay, so Mrs Sarko does bring a touch of glamour to the occasion. As a talking point, I take it. But it’s almost been a running commentary on what Mrs Sarko has been wearing, with a little aside to the effect that, oh yes, Sarko made a speech.

Which brings me to the fitba the other night. Yes, the France match was only a friendly. Yes, it was Brand Beckham’s hundredth cap. Fair enough. But…

The reporter mentions that it’s Beckham’s hundredth cap. Cue VT of fans exclaiming how happy they are that Beckham got his hundredth cap.

The reporter mentions that Beckham was on the pitch for 67 minutes. Cue some VT of Beckham coming into contact with the ball.

The reporter talks about how happy Beckham was to get to a hundred. Cue VT of Beckham saying how happy he was to get to a hundred.

In conclusion – and this is into the fourth minute of the report – the reporter says, “By the way, France won one-nil. Back to the studio.”

As it happens, this is of some significance in that it’s an early wobble from the promised authoritarian Fabio regime. Beckham, you’ll have noted, threatened to go on for a few more years. This, what we might term the Beckham Doctrine, seems to posit that a sufficiently marketable player has the God-given right to represent his country regardless of fitness or form. Talk about a gauntlet being thrown down to Fabio.

There was also an interesting point made by a caller from Liverpool on talkSPORT, who asserted, against the protests of the host, that the sort of people who follow England are the sort of people who don’t follow clubs. The subtext was that people who turn out for England matches are, to a large extent, yuppies who don’t know frig all about football. This, in the caller’s view, was why they were so happy to see Brand Beckham on the pitch, and they were welcome to him.

Things start to come into a little focus now. I’ve been saying for ages that Beckham had long since ceased to be a footballer, as opposed to a male model who occasionally plays a little football. Certainly, his action in taking a ridiculous amount of money to go to Hollywood and play for a pub team suggests that he’s effectively retired from serious football.

And yet he still wants to play for England. But then, who said that was serious football?

Of Cypriot communists and Chinese nationalists

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One of the nice things about democracy is that it frequently throws up surprises, and unwelcome surprises too for the planners of the international order. It’s something you frequently come up against where there is a foreign election and the Yanks are backing one party against another. Sometimes the local diplomatic staff will get directly involved. More often, you’ll come across outfits like the National Endowment for Democracy. For the uninitiated, the NED is a giant slush fund used by Washington to influence the internal affairs of foreign countries. Sometimes it funds parties directly; sometimes it will plough cash into a whole social layer of “pro-democracy” or “human rights” NGOs.

Now it happens from time to time that the Yanks will cover their bets by funding both sides. But it’s worth the spectacle when they really pull out all the stops to beat somebody. This isn’t, by the way, confined to officially defined “rogue states” like Venezuela or Serbia. I’ve seen it at first hand in Bulgaria. An even better example is Cambodia, where fulsome backing will be given to whoever looks most likely to oust the Hun Sen government. These days it’s Sam Rainsy, who’s learned to mouth the appropriate shibbolethim about “democracy” and “human rights” and “civil society”. Before him it was the clever but ultimately ineffectual Prince Ranariddh. And before him it was the Khmer Rouge-run “Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea”. Human rights, mar dhea!

But, getting away from the Empire’s caddies for the moment, let’s take a brief look at recent events in the two very different polities of Cyprus and Chinese Taipei. And I am firm in stating that the AKEL victory in Cyprus, with Christofias’ election as president, can only be seen as a Good Thing. AKEL’s programme these days is more Old Labour than Marxist-Leninist, but even Old Labour isn’t bad going by the standards of today’s Europe. More to the point is the increased possibility for reunification of Cyprus. Certainly, the cordial relations between AKEL and the CTP, the ruling leftwing party in the northern para-state, plus their common programme of federal reunification, are a hopeful sign.

What would be important about this is that it would be a solution reached among Cypriots. That alone would give it a better chance of survival than some baroque plan emanating from the UN or EU – look at the various Ruritanian protectorates in the Western Balkans for an idea of where that leads. There’s also the not unrelated factor that the Empire prefers to manage these problems than actually solve them. The running sore of a divided Cyprus has provided a handy excuse for intervention in the region – and Cyprus’ strategic position between Europe and the Middle East is highly relevant.

One positive thing that might come out of this – fingers crossed – is that foreign troops might have to get out of Cyprus. Not just the enormous Turkish garrison in the north, mind. The Brits, of course, retain those two great big bases at Akrotiri and Dhekelia, both hugely unpopular with Cypriots due to the antics of drunken squaddies. The French also have a listening post, although they’re sensible enough to keep a low profile. This doesn’t mean a great deal to the US military, who have the whole region ringed with bases, but it might be a blow to the Brits’ pretensions of projecting military power. We can but hope.

AKEL might be relatively unproblematic. The Kuomintang are another matter, especially if you’re aware of their grisly history.

Before I get accused of being a booster for the KMT, let me make it perfectly clear that I’m not endorsing the party nor claiming any anti-imperialist credentials for what is after all the Chinese equivalent of Fianna Fáil. But their victory did bring a little smile to my face.

The thing is that, while for decades the KMT may have been imperialism’s favoured Chinese proxy, things change. Imperial commentators – in particular the neocons and the liberal hawks who take their lead from the neocons – have more recently been aggressively boosting the Pan-Green coalition in Taipei, and banging the drum for Taiwanese independence (more loudly, in fact, than the more circumspect Pan-Green politicians in Taipei). We have been given to understand that plucky little Taiwan is being oppressed by mainland China. This impression has been helped along by sympathetic media coverage of politicos from the Democratic Progressive Party, who do the usual democracy ‘n’ human rights ‘n’ civil society spiel in a style that will be instantly familiar from the identikit “democracy activists” you come across in Belgrade or Minsk or Bratislava. The Kuomintang are unfashionable, for reasons that ostensibly have to do with their history but actually relate more to their pro-Chinese orientation.

And what do those pesky Taiwanese electors do? They give a landslide to the pro-Chinese coalition! You’d think they would have got the message…

Neither of these electoral outcomes, of course marks a mortal blow against the Empire. Washington and its regional satraps are skilled at making the best of these situations. But, just for a little while, things aren’t going as smoothly as the planners of “democratic geopolitics” would like.

Nick Cohen? How many divisions has he?

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My dentist doesn’t like me reading Private Eye. Every fortnight without fail, there is not inconsiderable grinding of teeth. Oh yes.

Of late, this has as often as not been attributable to occasional Decent columnist ‘Ratbiter’. And lo, so it is again this fortnight, as our intrepid neocon takes on Ken Livingstone yet again, with a vivid illustration of what the last post was trying to point out.

You can guess what the content is. Basically it’s the same stuff Martin Bright has been touting about, with a little lily-gilding thrown in. Sheikh Qaradawi blah blah blah Socialist Action yada yada yada Jamaat-e-Islami zzzzzz. There’s also a clear insinuation, but probably not clear enough to be actionable, that the mayor’s office is deliberately stoking up anti-Semitism so as to win votes from those dastardly Mooslims. And a bigging up of former Socialist Action member Atma Singh, who seems to have temporarily displaced Ed Husain as ethnic whistleblower of the month.

This is pretty standard boilerplate. What’s more interesting is the proposition that, while a few months ago Ken looked like a dead cert for re-election, he’s now trailing Boris in the polls. The reason for this, we are given to understand, is that lefties have been abandoning Ken in droves because he’s been too chummy towards uppity ethnics with funny religions.

I think not. If we’re talking about the Decent Left, those guys hate the Cheeky Chappie and have done so for ages, in some cases for decades. It seems more plausible to me that Ken’s unpopularity is not unconnected to the general unpopularity of the Labour Party. Let’s say that the Labour candidate was Oona King or even (Lord help us) Denis MacShane. Would they be doing significantly better than Ken? I rather suspect they would be doing even worse, the Lee Jasper saga notwithstanding.

But this leads me on to another question – just how big is the Decent Left? Is this a significant swing constituency? Let’s try a little mathematical exercise.

It may be best to go back to the Euston Manifesto. You remember the Euston Manifesto, one of the defining documents of this century, yes? No? Well, the Reader’s Digest condensed version goes like this: Norman Geras and Nick Cohen go to the pub. Nick bitches and moans about what a shower of bastards the left are. Norm scribbles a manifesto on the back of a beer mat. (Eustonians like to say there was Serious discussion involved, but I’m sticking with the beer mat theory. It’s the best explanation for the combination of windy truisms with weirdly specific stuff on the Middle East and, er, Linux.) Alan (Not The Minister) Johnson then sets up another one of his thousands of websites, and invites punters to sign the document.

It’s an imperfect measure, but the number of people willing to take the trouble to sign an online manifesto is as good as indicator as we have of the number of people who self-identify as the Decent Left, as opposed to the broader number of people who subscribe to one or another of their propositions without buying their entire bill of goods. And the number was, as I recall, around 3000, which would tally with the similar number who signed Alan NTM’s Unite Against Terror statement. One could quibble with this, of course. There were a few tongue-in-cheek signatures, notably from Ern Malley. And a very large proportion of signatories seemed to live on another continent. But let’s allow 3000 as a ballpark figure for convinced Decents.

Now, the size of “the left” or “the liberal left” or whatever you’re having yourself is much harder to estimate. But let’s note that the Guardian and Independent have a combined daily sale of around 600,000. That gives you something like a ballpark figure. Putting the one figure against the other gives you some perspective, not least on the whinge in the Manifesto about how the Decent Left couldn’t get space in the media. This was always hard to take from the shy and retiring Nick Cohen, or the equally bashful Francis Wheen, not to mention a certain hedge fund manager with a blog who unaccountably gets invited onto Newsnight to discuss Latin American politics, but really – these guys are underrepresented in public discourse? Shyeah.

If we squint a little and look at things from a different angle, that of left sectology, we could also say that the Decent Left is of a roughly comparable size to the Socialist Workers Party. There are of course differences. The SWP, for all its many stupidities, has a distressing tendency to go out and do stuff. The comrades are willing to go out and get their hands dirty agitating for worthwhile causes. More to the point, whether or not you think Lindsey German’s candidacy is a good idea, they have actually got a mayoral candidate and seem willing to go out and campaign for her. This seems a little more constructive than writing columns urging Gordon Brown to deselect Ken and draft in a candidate more to Decency’s taste. Especially since few of the Decents are actually members of the Labour Party.

So you want an alternative? Why not go out and build one? Let’s see a Nick Cohen candidacy – I wouldn’t vote for him, but it would liven things up more than a little, and put the Decent agenda to the broad masses for their consideration. Let a thousand flowers bloom.

The Court of Decency versus Ken Livingstone

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Well, I hope the axolotl is zoologically correct…

Just a brief rumination on the quandary faced by the Decent Left with regards to the London mayoral election. This poses a little bit of a problem. Many of the Decents have a fairly tenuous connection with “the left”, and their claim to be a left tendency as such depends a lot on a residual affiliation to the Labour Party. Few Decents, at least few of those I know, are actual members of the Labour Party, so we’re talking about a platonic affiliation for the most part.

On the other hand, the Labour candidate is Ken Livingstone, and the Decents really really hate Ken. There are plenty of good reasons not to be keen on Ken, but Decency tends to hold his good points against him. So what we’ve seen in terms of debate has been a sort of weird parallel to the SWP’s discourse. If you take Socialist Worker at face value, which I wouldn’t recommend, you would think the mayoral race was Ken versus Lindzee, with Boris as an also-ran. Decent discourse has been odder still. The discussion on HP Sauce has seemed to suggest that there’s only one party running. Boris barely rates a mention. What we have instead is a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth about whether Ken is supportable.

Now, this is quite simple. If 90% of your discourse is along the lines of “Why Ken is shit”, and the (to my mind) much greater menace of Boris only merits a footnote, you lay yourself open to the charge of being objectively pro-Boris. If that’s true for the columnist in Socialist Worker, it’s multiply true for the columnist in the Evening Standard, a paper that’s campaigning for Boris to the extent of running his press releases as front-page splashes.

Some people have realised this. I am cheered to hear that Aaro is backing Ken, albeit with severe reservations. But then, Aaro isn’t so much an ideological Decent as a New Labour hack. This explains Aaro’s generally much better quality – he has a superior grasp on reality, notably being quite good on the Muslims.

Does nothing about Ken recommend itself to Decency? Could, for instance, his bellicose anti-Serbian stances of the 1990s win him a little credit? It seems not – not even the Balkan-centric wing of Decency has spoken out for our newt-loving comrade. (There are good reasons for this, which are rooted in obscure far-left internecine feuds too boring for even me to go into. Suffice to say that the two most frothingly Serbophobic far-left grouplets, the AWL and whatever Cliff Slaughter’s outfit is called these days, have their own long-term beefs with Ken. Although I note that the AWL, the Decent Left’s favourite Trot group, is holding its nose and backing Ken. [Correction: Dave informs me below that the Soggy Oggies are in fact supporting Lindzee. Which is as funny as a monkey's arse.])

You get a lot of this from Nick. Nick swears blind he isn’t backing Boris, and I’ll take his word for that. But Nick, for some considerable time now, has been expatiating on the subject of “Why Ken is unfit to be the Labour candidate.” It’s been quite entertaining, not least because Nick hasn’t exactly shown much of a populist touch.

First we had the idea that Ken was unfit for office because of his chummy relationship with Hugo Chávez. I suspect that most Londoners don’t know who Chávi is. I further suspect that those who do, especially those of a Labour-voting persuasion, may not think of him as a monstrous figure threatening the Free World. To the extent that he gets up Yo George’s nose, they might even like the guy.

Then we had the charge that Ken was too cosy with the Jamaat-e-Islami. I confess that the Jamaat are not my cup of tea. But I suggest that most Londoners outside the Bangladeshi community don’t have a clue who the Jamaat are. To the extent that you popularise this, you risk slipping into “scary brown people” territory. Incidentally, I suspect Nick of having had a little input into a particularly virulent “Ratbiter” column in Private Eye last year which ran along these lines, going so far as to use the word “appeasement”. Impossible to tell, of course, but it’s thematically identical.

More recently, Nick has been holding forth on the fact that Ken attended Gerry Healy’s funeral almost twenty years ago. And the broad masses cry, “Gerry who?”

But El Gordo has failed to come to the rescue and dump Ken, so you’re stuck with him as Labour candidate, whether you like it or not.

But despair ye not! Our old friend Oliver Kampf recently put forward a constructive suggestion. This was that Oona King (remember her?) should stand as an independent. This would not only provide an alternative to Ken, but also vindicate the sainted Oona after her defeat by the Forces of Darkness, aka Gorgeous George. Ollie, who doesn’t have a vote in London, continues:

I know from much anecdotal evidence that Oona was a dedicated constituency MP. One of the misfortunes of her former constituents in Bethnal Green and Bow is that, having replaced her with the absurd George Galloway, they are now in effect unrepresented at Westminster.

Hmm. Even assuming that Ollie could find Bethnal Green on a map, never mind the possibility that he has interviewed a representative cross-section of its electorate, he has obviously been talking to different people than I have. But no matter.

This is such a bizarre idea it’s hard to know where to start. Firstly, is Oona willing to be drafted? Her media career may take priority at the moment. And, even if she still harbours political ambitions, she may reckon that running as an independent against a Labour mayor may not be the brightest of ideas.

More to the point, who would vote for her? Apart from media luvvies and the Decent Left, neither of which are enormous constituencies, who would she appeal to? And what platform would she run on?

Actually, there’s an idea. If she would let Ollie write her platform, maybe it would be worthwhile for the entertainment value alone…

Rud eile: I am happy to report that I survived St Drunkard’s Day without touching a drop. However, I did hear that there was an appeal from the Derry traders for the punters up there to drink in moderation. Give those guys a medal for boundless optimism!

John Rees and bourgeois legality

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Plenty of people will already have noted the discussion on Socialist Unity about the SWP-Reespect’s “Left List” for the London elections. I don’t intend to get into the “Left List” as such, except to note that the SWP is now declaring an affinity for Die Linke in Germany. Given that until relatively recently the SWP weren’t all that fond of the PDS/Die Linke – I vividly remember a Chris Harman speech where the Renaissance Man made an attack on the PDS that was spectacular in its mendacity – this is a bit cheeky. It’s also ironic in that, back in the far-off 1990s, the PDS launched the Linke Liste as a means to broaden their base by having non-party candidates on the party list. The extraordinary narrowness of the SWP’s new “Left List” makes for an interesting contrast. It’s what we’ve come to expect from the post-split Reespect, where non-SWP people are like black delegates at the Republican Convention in the US – loads of them on the platform, but that doesn’t fool anybody.

Anyway, what interests me is the way the Swops have been whinging about a “loophole” preventing them from running under the Respect banner. This loophole being the Electoral Commission’s determination that Linda Smith remains the Respect nominating officer, and that an official Respect candidate must be approved by Linda. This fits in, by the way, with a persistent whinge in recent months about the EC, as well as lots of chest-beating on the blogs (in connection with the dodgy Dubai cheque) about how real r-r-r-revolutionaries don’t allow themselves to be constrained by bourgeois legality.

Let’s go over this again. The relevant piece of legislation is the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. Apart from revealing in its title that the British political class have lousy Latin, the Act lays down the ground rules for political parties to operate and which the Electoral Commission is charged with enforcing. In the first place, parties have to register their name and details, including a leader, nominating officer and treasurer. For example, two days ago the Left List was registered, with Oliur Rahman as leader and nominating officer.

There are a number of restrictions on parties as well. One of the most obvious is that a party must have a name which does not lead to confusion with another party. This is what may be termed the Richard Huggett clause, after the notorious prankster who used to run as a “Literal Democrat”, and is designed to prevent spoiler candidates. Members of the Socialist Party (the ex-Militant version) will be able to tell you in great detail how they have to stand as “Socialist Alternative” because the EC ruled that the Socialist Party of Great Britain had prior ownership. And that is why the SWP can’t employ some creative variant of the Respect name.

The EC also has oversight of party accounts and donations, notably in terms of “permissible donors”, with anyone donating more than £200 having to fall into that category. Unless your party is headquartered in Norn Iron, donations from outside the UK are not allowed. That rules out donations from Jersey or the Isle of Man, never mind Dubai. This was the point about the dodgy Dubai cheque – a foreign donation to Respect would have been totally illegal, and (in re Rees’ solicitation of the money to defray debts from the OFFU conference) elementary steps to separate OFFU from Respect had not been taken. Galloway knew this, which is why he instantly suspected a provocation.

This is not, I must emphasise, a question of cringing before the capitalist state and its laws. Some of the more excitable Swops really need to go and read what Lenin (the real one, not Seymour) wrote in Left-Wing Communism. It’s really a basic question of professionalism. You want to run for election? Fine, there is a legal framework for you to do so. Even an amateur should know that. And, since the Electoral Commission is a quasi-judicial body with executive powers, which is very good at uncovering dodgy practices and takes such practices very seriously indeed, you would have to be either an adrenaline junkie or a complete idiot to even think about trying to hoodwink the EC.

So, if you’re looking to run for election, there’s no point in you bellyaching about how awful the Electoral Commission is. There are rules. You are made aware of them in advance. You have to abide by them. Even if it is an awful system, that doesn’t exempt you from the rules, no matter how revolutionary you are.

There are two further points worth making. One is that, when New Labour or the Tories fall foul of the EC for dodgy donations, you don’t hear the left complaining about the oppressive nature of the EC. In fact, when the Abrahams scandal broke, Prof Callinicos was positively crowing over New Labour’s embarrassment in Socialist Worker. That affair ended, of course, with the general secretary of the Labour Party falling on his sword. We need have little fear that Rees will follow him – even if we get past Rees’ habit of getting other people’s fingerprints on his work, the hierarchy has steadfastly protected him.

This leads me to another interesting point. While Respect is a registered political party, the Socialist Workers Party is not. This conveniently exempts the SWP from having to make any declarations to the Electoral Commission. In fact, the SWP’s status in law is that of a private club. A bit like White’s, only the food isn’t as good and the chairs are less comfortable. And to those familiar with the SWP leadership’s MO, a private club is kind of fitting.

The book meme

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I normally dig my heels in and resist memes, but a little while back Phil tagged me with a good one. Feel free to join in if you like.

Very simply, grab the nearest book, go to page 123, and write down sentences six to eight. Then see what randomness you come up with. It’s all the rage on the sociology blogs, I believe.

So what we have here is:

Nokorbal agents took the time to make a watertight case and prepare the purge of a party cadre carefully. In June 1977 Tiv Ol, another cultural revolutionist, was arrested. In May and June five more North zone cadres were sent to Tuol Sleng and between June and September another 35 Northwest zone cadres.

Quite. That cheery little passage was from The Eyes of the Pineapple: Revolutionary Intellectuals and Terror in Democratic Kampuchea by RA Burgler (Saarbrücken, 1990). So put that in your pipe and smoke it.

(Actually, I cheated a little. This was the second book I picked up. The first was a Sherrilyn Kenyon novel, and the directions put me in the middle of an energetic shagging scene. I know some readers are a bit sensitive about that sort of thing.)

It’s time to meet the Muppets!

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No, don’t be cynical. This is actually quite a heartwarming little story. And Sesame Street is such a great educational tool, a local adaptation is long overdue. The more Elmo our kids get, the better.

Although, looking at our political class, sometimes I wonder if Bert and Ernie would be an improvement…

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