Could this man be the saviour of conservatism? The Hitch thinks so…

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Not for the first time, Peter Hitchens has a bee in his bonnet. Today, his column begins with this stirring cry:

It is time David Davis left the Tory Party and urged others to follow. He is by far the most distinguished, experienced and principled conservative politician in the country.

Yet there is now no room for him in David Cameron’s teenage Shadow Cabinet of Etonians, nobodies and Etonian nobodies.

This glaring fact, set alongside the fawning support which the Leftist BBC and Leftist Guardian now give Mr Cameron, should tell us all we need to know about the Tories.

Don’t hold back, will you, Peter? Actually, the Hitch has two parallel but interlocking arguments, one about education and one about the big picture.

The educational issue has to do with grammar schools. The genial Mr Davis has written an article in praise of grammar schools, recounting how he, a bright working-class kid, was given a big leg up in life by a grammar school education. He then goes on to argue that England could do with more grammar schools. Following his resignation from the shadow cabinet over civil liberties, this is his second major shot across Rankin’ Dave Cameron’s bows.

Some historical background is necessary here, as well as setting aside a few standard leftist preconceptions. Chief among these is that the old grammar schools were bastions of privilege. This was true for a very long time, but it’s often forgotten what a revolutionary effect the 1944 Butler Act had. By setting grammar school entrance on a meritocratic basis, huge numbers of working-class kids were given opportunities they never otherwise would have had.

The post-1944 tripartite system had its difficulties, of course, mostly to do with resources. The secondary moderns, where the bulk of the school-age population were educated, were seriously neglected, while the promised technical schools didn’t materialise at all. Nonetheless, it wasn’t a horrendous system. And there’s something that’s often forgotten, and which perhaps explains why Mrs Thatcher closed more grammar schools than any Labour education secretary. That was that much of the drive towards comprehensivisation came from middle-class parents who were faced with the appalling vistas of both legions of working-class kids getting into grammars and less academically gifted middle-class kids being consigned to secondary moderns. Hence, the postcode lottery.

It would be fair to say that, just as the Butler scheme didn’t work out as planned, neither did the comprehensive scheme as it developed end up as the planners expected. You only have to read Crosland on the subject to know that. One outcome has been an enormous boost to a private sector that was on the brink of dying out forty years ago. But far more insidious has been the way that open selection has been replaced by underhand, secret selection. Pushy middle-class parents who know their way around the system are well able to get little Jimmy into that nice school that isn’t nearly as comprehensive as it’s claimed to be. If you have the money, you can pay the enormous premium required to move into the catchment area of a desirable school. (And it’s worth considering the impact this has had on the house price bubble.) Or alternatively, you can feign religiosity to get your children into a faith school. Is it really a surprise that Mr Tony Blair’s city academies, which were supposed to be all about helping working-class kids, are seeing the class profile of their pupils change very quickly? The middle class always find a way to profit from whatever the system is.

(And this catalogue of unforeseen consequences should perhaps inform our own debate about post-primary education, where the abolition of the official 11+ has led to the establishement of two unofficial 11+ exams, one Catholic and one Protestant. The Belfast Telegraph likes to ascribe this to the incompetence of education minister Caitríona Ruane, but that’s just missing the point. The point is that Caitríona’s reforms are based entirely on bright ideas coming out of the education department at Queens, rather than those of people at the chalkface.)

This is a subject close to the Hitch’s heart, and he’s devoted a whole chapter of his new book The Broken Compass to it. But what’s essential here is that the British political class, with its customary hypocrisy, is willing to countenance covert selection and indeed procure it for their own families – the Camerons and the Goves are parents at the same exclusive church school – as long as they publicly adhere to the egalitarian position. The outcome is that, while there’s a lot of talk about a failing education system, nobody seems to have any clear ideas about changing it. Messrs Cameron and Gove have made cryptic remarks about the Swedish system. This won’t work in Britain for reasons too tedious to go into, but essentially because Britain isn’t Sweden. The German system has a lot to commend it – in Germany the state schools are so good it really is just the thickest scions of the wealthy who go private – but it would take an awful lot of time and money to introduce, and it has the disadvantage of featuring lots of grammar schools. Grammar schools remain as ideologically treif for Rankin’ Dave as they are for any Labour politician.

Which brings me to the second theme. I often think about Peter Hitchens that he’s really in the wrong era to be doing much good. His polemics against the permissive society, for instance, would be perfectly relevant if this was 1963 and he was excoriating Roy Jenkins. His current Big Idea is that all proper conservatives (“proper” is a key part of the Hitchens lexicon) should be working towards the electoral defeat of Cameron’s Useless Tories, the better to replace them with some a genuinely conservative opposition. Trouble is, this might have been plausible in 1997, or even 2001, but it seems dreadfully out of sync at the moment. Never mind, though, the Hitch warms to his theme regardless:

If Mr Cameron becomes Prime Minister, we will be told that he has done so precisely because he is a liberal, and the remaining real conservatives in his party will be marginalised and crushed for a generation.

But a proper dramatic moment is needed, to drive home this fact to the voters. The time is just right for it. Tory MPs are currently in turmoil, many fiercely resenting the shameless injustice of Mr Cameron’s expenses purge. This has fallen heavily on MPs Mr Cameron doesn’t like or agree with – but has exempted Mr Cameron’s own closest allies, and let off Mr Cameron himself, despite the exposure of his greedy use of taxpayers’ money to buy himself a large country house which he could easily have paid for himself.

Which can’t be said often enough. Here we have a man worth thirty million quid, and he’s still bumming off the taxpayer. Meanwhile, he’s quite cynically been using the expenses scandal to rid himself not of the worst offenders – most of whom are in his shadow cabinet – but of those crusty old Tory MPs who he’s never liked and who’ve never liked him. It’s just another opportunity to remould the Tories into a party of metrosexual liberalism, albeit that these liberals don’t seem to have a problem taking the salute from Latvian SS veterans.

But I’m rambling here. Do go on, Peter:

The Tory front bench is a mixture of pitiful inexperience and fierce disagreement, a truth only concealed by the state of Labour’s Cabinet of None of the Talents. It is divided over the EU, over economic policy, over defence policy and over the central issue of liberty.

Now David Davis has also brought things to a head over what might be called David Cameron’s Clause Four issue – the need to rebuild the grammar schools…

This is the heart of his Unconservative programme. It is the Cameron pledge to govern as New Labour, which is what has got him the friendship of the BBC. Mr Davis was cynically destroyed in his Tory leadership campaign by London liberal PR men and journalists working in concert to promote the unknown, undistinguished David Cameron. He was left out in the cold when he staged his ill-advised but rather admirable one-man campaign for liberty a year ago.

And now we have Mr Davis sticking his neck out on this totemic issue. Good for him. I won’t hold my breath, though, waiting for him to resign with a big dramatic flourish. But it would be nice if the electorate were actually offered a choice of programmes, instead of content-free political marketing directed at the 300,000 swing voters. Unfortunately, the collapse of mass party membership, the increasing reliance on big donations and the mass media, and the consolidation of a largely identikit political class spanning party boundaries, are powerful forces driving a process which Mr Cameron seems hell-bent on accelerating. Whether the tide can actually be turned back… once again, I see Peter filling the role of King Cnut.

Rud eile: Peter also has a dig at John Bercow for his reluctance to wear the Speaker’s traditional wig, gown and tights. Nor does he spare Bercow’s predecessors, Speakers Boothroyd and Martin:

What these vandals do not seem to grasp is that they command respect not because of who they are but because of the office they hold. Stripped of wig, robes and bands, we see only the person. And we do not like what we see. If Mr Martin had worn the horsehair on his head, people might not have noticed so quickly that he resembled, in many significant ways, a horse’s backside.

I say, that’s a bit ripe for someone who’s always complaining about the coarsening of public debate.

Rud eile fós: Looks like Langley are up to their old tricks. Where the colour-coded putsch in Moldova didn’t work out, perhaps a more old-school coup in Honduras would be just the thing to boost office morale.

Very strange man dies

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Truth be told, Michael Jackson never really did it for me. I do like some of the old Motown-era Jackson Five material, but his solo work I can take or leave alone. On the other hand, I can well understand the reaction from people who were seriously into him. When Warren Zevon died, I was so upset I could barely listen to his records for months afterwards.

So I’m not going to get into the whys and wherefores of Wacko himself. His musical work should be assessed by someone who’s got more of an interest in that sort of thing. All I know is that he was enormously successful, and he influenced lots of people who have also been successful, even if I have no real interest in them. I mean, I wouldn’t claim to be an expert on the oeuvre of Justin Timberlake, but I can tell a Michael Jackson tribute act when I see one. And as for his bizarre life story and Howard Hughes-style eccentricities, one can only hope he gets the biographer he deserves.

No, I just wanted to do a briefish rumination on the media and the fans. There is of course hardly any escaping him in the broadcast media today, and if you think the telly is bad you really should have been involuntarily exposed to Cool FM for several hours. We’ve had a good illustration of talk expanding to fill the available space, even when there weren’t any solid facts. The rampant speculation on the rolling news last night was one thing. And even then, you could spot two conflicting instincts – one to pay tribute to an iconic figure with many millions of zealous fans, the other cognisant of the fact that, now he’s dead, there are no legal restrictions on what you can say about him.

But this morning was even better. I knew you could rely on GMTV to always go for the lowest common denominator, and sure enough, a show that’s parodically celeb-centric at the best of times was on jawdropping form. One would have though the Queen had died, or a couple of planes had hit the World Trade Center. When I switched on over my porridge, it was going very roughly like this:

Carla Romano: And as you join us, the celebrity tributes are pouring in. Here’s one from Madonna. Here’s one from Liza Minelli. Here’s one from TV’s Ray Stubbs. Here’s one from Linsey Dawn McKenzie. And of course, there have been loads of texts and emails from you little people, and you can see them scrolling across the ticker at the bottom.

Ben Shepard: The autopsy won’t be taking place for several hours, so we don’t really have any gory details about the cause of death. But here’s Dr Hilary to fill up five minutes with some speculation.

Dr Hilary (for it is he): Well, Ben, I really don’t know the details of his medical history…

Shepard: Oh, come on.

Dr Hilary: …cardiac arrest blah blah blah prescription drugs yada yada yada doctors will have questions to answer.

Shepard: We’ll have more after these messages.

[Footage of young Jackson singing “Ben”. Then some chirpy ads, contrasting just a bit with the apocalyptic tone. Then we're back, to footage of Jackson singing “Beat It”.]

Romano: Now let’s go to Ross King in LA. Ross, what have you heard?

King: The word on the street is blah blah blah…

Romano: Really? Because when I was in LA, people were saying yada yada yada…

Shepard (with disturbing glint in eye): But I really want to hear more about this autopsy…

God love the British media. And by the way, while I can understand why Barack O’Bama would issue a statement, why in the name of perdition do we need to hear Gordon Brown and Rankin’ Dave Cameron give their thoughts on the matter? [Hat tip: Dave] It’s all a bit reminiscent of Mr Tony Blair’s creepy tribute to Frank Sinatra.

Now, as for the fans. To my mind, a great songwriter is one who you feel an almost psychic connection to, as if they’re expressing what you would say if you were articulate enough. I’ve enough experience of that eerie sensation that Warren or Leonard or Kate was inside my head to know exactly what the feeling is like. Very often, fans will form an intense attachment to their favourite artist, such that you have to keep remembering that “fan” is a contraction of “fanatic”. And the late Mr Jackson, massively successful artist as he was, has left behind an army of millions of fanatics.

What always strikes me about Michael Jackson fans is that there’s an appreciable subset thereof whose fanaticism goes well beyond the intense connection you’d expect from a much-loved artist. You know the type – the people who, once they get over their grief, might be digging out the pitchforks and flaming torches and going out to hunt down Martin Bashir, Jarvis Cocker and Weird Al Yankovic. A few of these guys, in my humble opinion, need their heads felt.

But my mind went back to that Bashir documentary, and I can’t get one image out of my head. That was a painting on the wall, this pastiche of The Last Supper:

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You may think this just evidence of megalomania, but it’s plain that there are people who considered him a Christ-like figure, persecuted by the forces of darkness. And that he played up to the messianic expectations heaped on him. For some people, he came to fill a space in their lives that in another generation would have been filled by religion. Indeed, looking at these pranksters, how long can it be before someone does the same thing with serious intent?

Hail, farewell and cha’mone!

More on this subject, well, everywhere, but you might enjoy this and this.

Our multilingual Assembly

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Once in a while, I like to have a scan over Hansard, to see how our MLAs are occupying themselves. And, of course, to get a little sample of their wit and wisdom:

Mr Hamilton: Looking at the sparsity of the Chamber, obviously it was not clear enough before the lunch break that I would be speaking —

Mr Deputy Speaker: It was clear.

Mr Hamilton: Oh dear. I am happy to delay, Mr Deputy Speaker, if you want to let in all of the screaming hordes who want to hear my contribution, but I will ably go on.

Mr K Robinson: On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Is it possible for the proceedings to continue given the lack of Members in the Chamber? Do we have a quorum?

Mr Deputy Speaker: If, Mr Robinson, you are drawing my attention to the fact that there is not a quorum, I inform you that we can proceed with the business after the bell has been rung to notify other Members that a quorum is required.

We now have a quorum, so Mr Hamilton should proceed.

Mr Hamilton: Ken Robinson’s cunning plan did not work.

Mr Deputy Speaker: It was Baldrick’s plan. [Laughter.]

Mr Hamilton: His attempt to try to silence me has failed.

I am pleased to be able to speak during the Second Stage of the Budget (No. 2) Bill. Coming, as it usually does, a day after a debate on the Supply resolution, there is always some level of difficulty in saying something new or original. However, as you can testify, Mr Deputy Speaker, that has been no impediment to me speaking in the past, and it will not be so today.

Mr Weir: Hear, hear.

Ooh, my aching sides. Move over, Morecambe and Wise.

But what I wanted to take a brief look at was how our multilingual policy works, and this Tuesday last the Assembly provided us with an example or two. Here is an exchange between education minister Caitríona Ruane (PSF, South Down) and Tom Elliott (UCUNF, Fermanagh-South Tyrone):

Mr Elliott asked the Minister of Education what percentage of (a) grammar; and (b) non-grammar schools offer separate sciences (triple award) at GCSE.

The Minister of Education: Sa bhliain acadúil 2007-08 bhí cásanna de dhaltaí i mbliain 12 cláraithe do GCSE sna trí heolaíochtaí leithleacha i 73% de scoileanna gramadaí agus i 2% de scoileanna neamh-ghramadaí. Mar sin de, d’fhéadfaí a rá go bhfuil teastas triarach san eolaíocht á theagasc ag GCSE acu. In 2007-08, 73% of grammar schools and 2% of non-grammar schools had year-12 enrolments in all three separate sciences and, therefore, could be classed as offering triple-award science at GCSE. The data on which my answer is based relates to year-12 pupils who were enrolled in science examination courses. That data did not include any cases in which a school offered a science subject for study but no pupils took up the subject.

And there was rather a lot more of that answer, so let’s skip to the supplementary:

Mr Elliott: That was a very comprehensive reply, although quite a bit of it was in some foreign language that I did not understand. To tell the truth, at times, the Minister makes almost as much sense speaking a language that I do not understand as one that I do.

Is it the Minister’s assessment that grammar schools play a positive role in the strategically important objective of STEM subjects throughout GCSE level?

The Minister of Education: I spoke in two languages: Irish and English. I translated the Irish that I spoke.

As Caitríona is one of the Assembly’s few fluent Gaeilgeoirí, one can perhaps excuse her tetchiness. Especially when even moderate unionists seem to get rubbed up the wrong way by a few words of Irish.

But never mind that. Later on the same day, in a debate on housing, we had a contribution from Jim Shannon (DUP, Strangford), who is not a man to be outdone in the linguistic stakes:

Hooiniver, efter thon, hoosin schemes athwart the Province saen waark done bit bae bit tae bring hooses ap tae a guid stannart an’ thon waarked weill ‘til 12 Decemmer 2008 quhan the Hoosin Executive toul the fower contractors at thair wudnae bae onie stairts i Janwerry or Februrie 2009. Es A’hm shair ithers amang ye at waark oan the grun wur, I wus gat oantae bae contractors an’ toul’ quhat wus gaein oan, an’ A wus scunnered at fundin’ wud bae tuk fae a scheme at wus daein the business sae weill.

However, after that, housing estates throughout the Province saw work done in phases to bring homes to a decent standard. That was working well until 12 December 2008, when the Housing Executive notified the four contractors that there would be no new starts in January or February 2009. I was contacted by contractors who told me what was happening, as I am sure were other Members, and I was dismayed that funding was to be taken away from a scheme that is doing the business so effectively.

I take my hat off to that man. Wha’s like us, indeed.

Area woman perturbed at Slavic invasion of SW19

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So then, let’s get onto the tennis. I was disappointed to see Hackney girl Anne Keothavong go out early, after she’s had such a good run-in, but at least Elena Baltacha is still there, a gutsy player who’s had some terrible luck with injuries and who you can’t help warming to.

But that’s not what I want to talk about. What caught my eye was this appalling column from Liz Hunt in the Torygraph, which sadly is typical of what we can expect from a certain breed of female columnist. You see, Liz is settling down to watch Wimbledon:

I am not a year-round tennis fan. Like most Brits, my interest begins and ends with the Wimbledon fortnight.

So, we needn’t expect you to know much about the game, then?

But even a decade ago, I would have at least known the names of the seeded players, and their stories.

Come on Liz, that’s just age. It would be like me turning on Radio 1 for two weeks a year and saying, “But I’ve never heard of any of these bands. Whatever happened to Tenpole Tudor?”

But that’s not Liz’s point. Liz is intent on refighting the Cold War in SW19:

“I just know the standard,” Serena announced with an endearing disregard for political correctness. “Everyone is from Russia. Sometimes I think I’m from Russia, too. With all these new ‘-ovas’, I don’t know anyone.”

And this from a woman who is actually on the circuit! What hope do the rest of us have as, combing through the endless “-ovas” and “-evas” and “-inas” and “-enkos”, we try to find a player worthy of our allegiance.

We’ve got it, Liz. You have some trouble with the names. Seeing as how you don’t follow the game closely, you can’t be expected to be familiar with all the up-and-coming players. But no, it gets worse:

These aren’t real women, these are fembots – blonde (ish), blank-faced and Amazonian, shipped in off a production line somewhere in Eastern Europe…

The “-ovas” and “-evas”, are different. On court, they’re all power and pout; off it, they lack any personality. They’re good for rallies and photoshoots – especially the photoshoots – but not much more…

The “-ovas” and “-evas” – of whom there are 30 in this year’s draw alone – are interchangeable tennis totty.

There you have it. The East Europeans who dominate the women’s game aren’t actual people, with individual personalities, they’re interchangeable, undifferentiated and robotic. Thank God the Chinese aren’t dominating the game, because who knows what Liz would have to say about that.

It’s untrue, of course. Liz has a good old moan about Anna Kournikova – who, it is true, made much more money from modelling than she ever did from the tennis circuit, but was nonetheless a half-decent player with a few doubles titles to her name. But what of the East European women who make up half the draw at this year’s Wimbledon, including 17 of the 32 seeds? Some are blonde, some are not. Some have model looks, some do not. As for their personalities, many of the players are very young and, more importantly, don’t have English as a first language – it’s not surprising that Jelena Janković is a much more entertaining interviewee in the Serbian media.

But they dominate the rankings because they’re good players. Playing and winning is what they’re there for. It’s true that much of the marketing of female tennis players concentrates on their sex appeal rather than their athletic abilities, not least in the same papers whose wimmin’s section columnists moan about all these pretty Slavic women who they find oddly unsympathetic.

But this question of success on the court is the real issue at stake. If you look down the WTA rankings, you’ll notice immediately that the Williams sisters are the only Americans in the top fifty. As for Britain, Anne Keothavong is just about nudging into the top fifty, while her nearest rivals are bidding to get into the top hundred. When you think of all the money sloshing around the British and American games, how come less resource-rich countries like Slovakia, Romania, Serbia or Belarus are so much better at producing top-level players?

Partly, I think, it’s success breeding success. There was once a very successful East European player called Martina Navrátilová, who even Liz may have heard of. (Those were the days when columnists were less worried about the number of Slavs on the tour than the number of lesbians.) Martina dominated the game for years, won everything in sight, and inspired young girls in that part of the world. Then we had the likes of Monica Seles and Martina Hingis. Now we have this extraordinary crop of young women, who have grown up in an intensely competitive sporting culture and who have a hunger that isn’t really evident in the British game.

That’s the real point worth debating. But no, for the insta-pundit it’s much easier to reach for lazy ethnic cliches about robotic, blank-faced East Europeans, the sort of Slav-bashing I though had gone out of style when Wogan retired from Eurovision. I’ll never complain about Gail Walker again. No, that’s a lie…

Tennis coach promoted to umpire’s chair

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It’s Wimbledon time again, and whilst I had been meaning to write something on the tennis, I suppose John Bercow’s elevation to the Speakership is also worth covering. Which is kind of fitting, because he’s a well-regarded tennis coach and could have been a decent player if his health had permitted.

I must admit that I quite like the guy. And a lot of this, frankly, is that he arouses such hatred amongst the Tories that, as Claude says, he must have something going for him. I notice, for instance, that the Daily Mail‘s resident pervert, Harry Potter lookalike Quentin Letts, has written a whole series of extraordinarily spiteful and personal attacks on Bercow. And while young Mr Letts has been unusually prolific, his tone hasn’t been entirely unique. It’s difficult to recall when there’s been so much concentrated character assassination against one individual, but the chirpy Mr Bercow has conquered all.

But why the depth of the hostility? The invaluable Nick Robinson comments:

What is it then that makes so many Tories loathe (and that is the right word) John Bercow?

It is his extraordinary political journey which has made even observers of it feel travel sick: Moving from anti-immigrant Enoch Powell backer to Thatcherite fanatic and finally to occupant of Labour’s big tent.

At every stage Mr Bercow spoke with the same apparent lack of self-doubt.

Those who can forgive the journey can often not forgive the style with which it was taken. One Tory, as I reported the other day, suggested that Mr Bercow would read the weather forecast or the phone book as if he was Henry V on the eve of Agincourt.

Another has suggested that he’s the sort of referee who thinks the crowd has paid to see him.

There are two aspects to this, the journey and the style. The journey, by the way, is not all that unique. It is true that Bercow was a teenage member of the Monday Club, back in the days when David Aaronovitch was in the Communist Party, several members of the current cabinet were advocating the nationalisation of the country’s top 200 monopolies, and most of the current shadow cabinet were still adolescents at Eton. If Bercow still had anything of the Monday Clubber about him, it’s doubtful whether someone like Martin Salter would publicly associate with him – indeed, Martin admitted that he would have happily knocked the block off Bercow’s previous incarnation.

So he’s changed a lot, largely due to age and experience. But his emergent social liberalism has been evident for quite some time. We saw it back in 2001, when he resigned from Iain Duncan Smith’s shadow cabinet to vote for the repeal of Section 28, after Duncan Donuts had been daft enough to impose a three-line whip on what should have been an issue of conscience. And we saw it in last year’s debate on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, when he was one of the few Tories to make a sensible speech and to vote against restricting abortion rights.

There’s also the job he took on as a government advisor, something that the Tory press has been banging on about incessantly. This job, which he undertook with the agreement of his own party leader, was to write a report on the needs of children with language and communication difficulties – a subject that, as the parent of an autistic child, Bercow has some personal involvement with. You would think that would count for him, not against him.

What’s also the case is that there are plenty of Tories, both in Parliament and the commentariat, who started off almost as far out on the loony right as Bercow did, and they too have moved a long way. Take Dave Cameron – Peter Oborne describes him as the continuation of Michael Portillo by other means, which may be a little unfair to Don Miguel; he has incautiously described himself as the “heir to Blair”. He’s very much multicultural and metrosexual. His top team – Boy George, Gove, Vaizey – are just as culturally liberal as their New Labour oppos. And the Tory benches will be significantly more so after the election, given that Dave has been taking the opportunity afforded by the expenses scandal to rid himself of some of the Sir Bufton Tufton types and shoehorn in some Cameroonian Unconservatives in their place.

No, the style thing that Nick identifies is important. It’s not so much that he’s moved a long way in his personal views, as that his waspish tongue hasn’t spared those who haven’t moved as far or as fast. I enjoyed his kebabbing of the ludicrously overpraised Nadine Dorries during the HFE debate, but evidently Ms Dorries didn’t, and seeing her sitting ashen-faced and shaking her head in horror as Bercow took the chair was worth the price of admission by itself.

There’s also a less reputable undercurrent to this. Much of the criticism of Bercow’s personality has centred on him being a pushy arriviste. Possibly he is a pushy arriviste, but that’s a line I would be cautious with when he comes from what the late Harold Macmillan would have called the Old Estonian wing of the party. There are still some Tory MPs who insist on referring to him by his family name of Berkowitz, and I suspect that isn’t a clever reference to the Son of Sam.

For further enlightenment, one might point to the comments box below Ben Brogan’s Torygraph profile of Bercow, where we find this:

Where does Mr Bercow stand the continuing Israeli settlement of Palestinian land? His answer will demonstrate whether or not he can be relied to give an even answer if and when he becomes Mr Speaker. I don’t think he will.

Although I don’t know what that has to do with the price of Jaffa oranges. In case we’ve missed the insinuation, another commenter opines:

Who is John Bercow when he’s at home ? We want somebody English,from the indigenous population.

Let me be clear though, I’m not saying that Bercow’s critics are – in their great majority – motivated by anti-Semitism. I think that we’re actually talking not about the Son of Sam but about the Son of Martin. There were legitimate questions to be asked about Michael Martin’s suitability for the job, but these were repeatedly obscured by the sort of people who would bang on about his proletarian background, or make fun of his accent. Those people said more about themselves than they did about Martin.

It wasn’t difficult to detect a sectarian undertone in the digs at “Gorbals Mick”, but I don’t think Martin’s Catholicism was the issue per se. Those folks probably wouldn’t have minded a posh Catholic of the Norman St John Stevas variety – it was a working-class Glaswegian Catholic they objected to – and they probably wouldn’t mind a posh Jew either. The hint of anti-Catholicism just lent a little piquancy to the caricatures of Martin. Somehow I doubt the sketchwriters will be so keen to parody Bercow as Parliament’s answer to Sammy Glick, so they’ll have to give this a little thought. Perhaps Mr Letts can just go back to doing what he does best – playing with himself while fantasising about Jacqui Smith’s tits.

Anyway, the little man has got the job, and thanks to the upheavals of recent weeks will be the most powerful Speaker in living memory. So far, he’s been good with the optics, ditching the fancy dress, keen to do interviews – on the grounds that the Speaker should be an ambassador for Parliament to the broader public – and doesn’t hold with this idea that the Speaker should be an aloof, cloistered figure. It remains to be seen what he actually does with the job.

Oh, and it was nice that some other people were also upset. That is the gormless members of the public who had been flooding the message boards demanding that Ann Widdecombe be made Speaker on the grounds that, well, “We’ve seen her on TV and we don’t recognise those other guys. And she looks like she would be no-nonsense, like Hattie Jacques in Carry On Matron.” Now the same punters are howling that MPs have disrespected their wishes by not electing Widdecombe. People that thick really shouldn’t be allowed to vote.

Our new finance minister

In light of the reshuffle, just thought it was worth returning to Sammy Wilson’s finest hour…

Tax dodgers plead for public sympathy

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From the Beyond Parody category:

U2 drummer Larry Mullen believes rich and successful people are being unnecessarily humiliated when coming in and out of Ireland, describing this as “part of a new resentment of rich people in this country”.

“We have experienced [a situation] where coming in and out of the country at certain times is made more difficult than it should be — not only for us, but for a lot of wealthy people,” he said. “So it wasn’t personal. It was to do with the better-off being sort of humiliated.”

Go on…

“You see guys and they’re bringing a huge amount of money into this country and they do not deserve to be humiliated. Humiliate me, I can deal with it. I can kind of understand maybe a rock and roll band. Fine, OK, I can live with that. But when I heard and saw Dermot Desmond coming in with his family, what a thing to have done with him. He brought huge amounts of money into the country.”

When asked if this nastiness had made him think of leaving his beloved Howth, Mullen said: “I certainly thought that if… if this is what they experience, how can I tell people, how can I fly the Irish flag and tell people ‘come to Ireland because it’s great’?

“And I just think it is so, so Paddy, it’s like Paddywhackery, you know you’re going to get the guy — what is all that about? Because we are so beyond that.”

You’re meandering a little, Larry, but I think I get your drift.

Mullen also praised the entrepreneurial and developer classes for their charity work and for all they have done for the country.

“Love them or loathe them, all those rich wives, all those rich guys with all those balls, all those women that you see organising this and organising that, without them we’d be in a very, very different state than we are now.

“A lot of people who are well off in this country make huge contributions with their time and with their money.”

But not a huge tax contribution, eh, Larry?

He also expressed his sympathy for restaurateur, Town Bar and Grill owner Ronan Ryan, after the recent Liveline programme, saying he had heard it while he was in and out of the shower. “He got eaten alive,” he said.

Speaking of restaurateur Jay Bourke’s admission he would be forced to close Eden in Temple Bar unless the Government got real on rent, Mullen said: “It’s my favourite restaurant. I love that restaurant. It’s been consistent and I’ll be broken-hearted if that goes down.”

Other members of the band also expressed concern that this was becoming a difficult country for entrepreneurs.

Adam Clayton, whose sister has lost her job due to the downturn, thought we needed better governance and support for entrepreneurs, while Bono cautioned against Irish people becoming “sour”.

“Melancholy and bile are not our greatest traits,” said the singer.

Aw, diddums. Personally, I think these bastards shouldn’t be allowed back into the country until they agree to pay some taxes, you know, to help fund the progressive policies U2 support. But I suppose that’s just my chronic melancholy and bile showing through.

Extracting the urine

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What are we to make of the DUP’s ministerial reshuffle?

Well, in the first place, this was occasioned by Robbo’s decree against double jobbing, the theory being that Stormont MLAs who are also Westminster MPs would have to decide which parliament they want to sit in. What with Nigel, Gregory, Jeffrey and Iris opting for the fleshpots of London – and who could blame them? – that meant some rearrangement at Stormont was called for.

So it’s a bit rich that the top job of finance minister goes to – you’ve guessed it – Sammy Wilson. Sammy the Streaker is, of course, the most unrepentant double jobber of the lot, having got a special dispensation to remain a representative at both Westminster and Stormont for as long as he likes, and showing no sign of giving up his seat on Belfast City Council either, though he doesn’t go to City Hall very often. Sammy has said that, if he wants to work 24 hours a day, that’s between him and the electorate. He really is spoiling us.

Sammy taking finance has me scratching my head, to be honest. The word from the DUP is that he’s well qualified because he used to be an economics teacher. So too was Wacky Jacqui Smith, which makes me think Gordon Brown missed a trick in not appointing her Chancellor. Or could it be that Gordon is smarter than Peter? Anyway, I fully expect Sammy to turn the DFP into yet another platform for his stand-up comedy routine.

Taking over from Sammy at environment is Edwin Poots. Now, Pootsie was relatively sensible when he was culture minister, so it remains to be seen how he’ll cope at environment. In any case, the DOE has now swapped a minister who didn’t believe in global warming for a minister who doesn’t believe in evolution. Somebody alert Professor Dawkins!

And oh yes, we can’t miss out on the star appointment of them all – Nelson McCausland is taking over at culture. Nelson, mind you, knows one or two things about culture – he used to be Heid-Yin of the Ulster-Scotch Heirskip Cooncil, and not only can he speak fluent Ulster Scots, he can also play the accordion! Who could have a problem with that? Perhaps the Gaeilgeoir community, faced with the most stridently anti-Gaelic man in Stormont taking over their funding, but I suspect winding up nationalists is the reason he’s got the job in the first place.

And this just proves that good things come to those who spend many years manoeuvring for them. Here’s Nelson, who started his political career in the United Ulster Unionist Party, a formation you may not even remember. He then ran as an independent a couple of times, getting elected to Belfast City Council. Then he joined the Official Unionists, just in time to be elected High Sheriff. Then, disillusioned at David Trimble’s unwillingness to shunt aside elderly North Belfast MP Cecil Walker to make way for Nelson, he jumped ship again to the DUP. And now he’s a minister. Hats off to that man.

Overall, though (and let’s not forget long-time East Belfast rep Robin Newton being appointed junior minister), this isn’t a terribly good advert for the bright young talent that we were given to understand Robbo would be bringing forward. If Edwin Poots, Nelson McCausland and Robin Newton count as fresh faces, this is obviously some esoteric usage of “fresh” that I haven’t previously come across. Not that any of the other parties are really brimming over with young Turks either.

Still, as long as Sammy doesn’t decide to deliver his budget in the nude…

Reflections on Iran

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Hullo Brian, hullo Sue. You know, in a very real sense, I’ve spent a little time pondering what Dave said about the left’s responses to Iran. Now, bear with me, because this may be a little bit of an unstructured ramble. Where I thought Dave hit the nail on the head was that, where the left usually has an instant blueprint for what should be done in the most obscure struggles in the most remote parts of the globe, there’s been rather a lot of bet-hedging going on. This is not necessarily a bad thing. When even someone as impeccably well-informed as Bob Fisk is hedging his bets, it’s probably very sensible.

Maybe it’s because we don’t know enough. Maybe, to put it differently, we’ve a surfeit of information, much of it of dubious reliability (although, in the nature of things, we can’t tell how much), and we have trouble sifting it. Maybe it’s because this isn’t a simplistic struggle of workers against bosses – there are plenty of dividing lines in terms of class, culture, religion and so on, but they don’t really help you discriminate easily between Black Hat and White Hat. It’s just our bad luck that Islamic populism won out over socialism thirty years ago, because it muddies the waters no end.

Not, of course, that you can’t see the old schemata being dusted off. I think immediately of Alan Woods, who seems to reckon that it’s 1905 all over again, with Mousavi in the Father Gapon role. Less melodramatically, there’s been a strong feeling of sympathy with the mass movement, combined with warning against illusions in Mousavi. Sometimes there’s a little bit of the spontaneist politics of “Never mind the politics, look at those demos!”, while I personally would be a little more cautious before leaping to endorse anything in Iran, but the sentiment may well be correct.

But as a rule, I think it’s good that there isn’t as much of the instant blueprint politics as there often is, because too many times the left has fallen on its face making detailed pronouncements about foreign events based on little more than an hour’s background reading, and shoehorning the facts into a pre-existing ideological framework. I remember a large Amnesty meeting on Burma at Queens a couple of years ago, where members of the Socialist Party turned up with a leaflet urging the usual SP policies, like a new mass party of the workers and peasants, a socialist federation of South-East Asia, and the nationalisation of the oil and gas industries. It was unfortunate, then, that the Burmese speaker specifically said that sanctions wouldn’t work because the junta had nationalised the oil and gas industries – in fact, if memory serves, they did that in the 1960s, which is when Ted Grant proclaimed Burma a workers’ state. Still, you have to give them a thumbs up for trying.

So, a little bit of modesty goes a long way. I’ve enjoyed reading Richard this last week, not least because his position is evolving – or, maybe more accurately, he’s been developing a nuanced position by looking at different aspects of the problem.

On the other hand, liberals have a whole different set of triggers from Marxists. And it has to be said, the phenomenology of the left-liberal mind is a never-ending source of fascination. One of the things that always takes me to the fair is how much in thrall they are to the fear of Lord Denning’s Appalling Vista, and the tortuous and self-serving narratives of events – one might even call them voodoo histories – they will concoct to avoid facing the Appalling Vista. The other is that they’re great fans of the idea of democracy in the abstract, always provided that democracy ends up in liberal outcomes; when it leads to illiberal outcomes, they go buck mad, call it “populism”, and denounce the way democracy allows the great unwashed to influence events.

Apropos of elections in the Middle East, we got a little taste of this the other week in Lebanon, when the Hezbollah-led bloc failed to dislodge the Hariri bloc from its parliamentary majority. There were essentially two reasons for this – firstly, the sectarian voting system which seriously underrepresents the Shia, and just as importantly meant that Aoun couldn’t convert his support amongst the Maronites into seats; secondly, that Saudi agents were running around Lebanon like blue-arsed flies buying votes. And yet, the western media not only accepted the results as bona fide (Christopher Hitchens specifically praising them), but argued almost unanimously that this was a spontaneous favourable reaction from the Lebanese masses to Barack O’Bama’s speech in Cairo, in which the man from Offaly made some conciliatory noises to Muslims. You pays your money and you takes your choice.

So, what about Iran? Well, there are some disjunct points that are probably not worth a post on their own, and where my views aren’t necessarily fixed, but are worth flagging up, in no particular order.

Firstly, the nature of the Islamic Republican government. It’s been commonplace to hear talk about a dictatorship, or specifically Ahmadinejad as a dictator, or even explicit parallels with the old party-states of the Soviet Bloc. This is wrong. It’s probably more correct to adopt the modern Russian concept of “managed democracy”, something that even Moscow correspondents have trouble grasping. How, for example, do elections work in present-day Russia? The blatant vote-rigging that characterised the Yeltsin administration still exists in a few areas, specifically the warlord republics of the North Caucasus. But this is the exception rather than the rule. In Russia, the count isn’t the issue – the fix goes in beforehand, when only six or seven parties are allowed to stand, then administrative resources are deployed on behalf of the incumbents. It’s interesting, in geographical terms, that the Red Belt of CPRF strongholds have a much more pluralistic political culture than the regions run by thrusting young technocrats. It doesn’t surprise me, but a lot of western analysts can’t process it.

You have something similar in Iran, with the way the Guardian Council disqualifies most candidates before a vote is cast. In fact, Iran is much less managed than Russia, thanks to its multiple centres of power. (This is inherent in Shia culture, where you pick which ayatollah you want to follow, the same way that Hasidic Jews pledge themselves to a particular rebbe and accept his rulings.) What’s also notable is that the president’s main role is to be a human shield for the Supreme Leader – he has very little power of his own. On the other hand, Mr Ahmadinejad has in the last four years overstepped the usual limited remit of the president, which is important to bear in mind.

This is a crucial point, because what we’re talking about here is a split between different sectors of the Islamic Republican leadership. There’s a school of thought in the clerical establishment that has resisted having a non-clerical president as such, an antipathy that’s been strengthened by the way Ahmadinejad has been visibly increasing the political clout of the Pasdaran at the expense of the clergy. This overlaps with the antipathy of the bazaari class, who are not only sceptical about Ahmadinejad’s economic policies, but more importantly have been targeted by his (largely ineffectual but very popular) anti-corruption campaign. In particular this has greatly annoyed Rafsanjani, and it’s plain to see that the official opposition is essentially bankrolled by Rafsanjani. The open question is how far Rafsanjani and Mousavi, deeply reactionary figures both, are prepared to go in their challenge to Ahmadinejad, especially now that Supreme Leader Khamenei has got involved. In the meantime, there are plenty of people, from pro-American “student revolutionary” types to the Tudeh Party, who are using the split as cover to push their own agendas. It would be nice if the left could make some headway, though I’m not holding my breath.

Secondly, the question of what possibilities are opened up by the mass movement. If it was just a matter of the two different camps, there wouldn’t be anyone you could support. Nobody has yet convinced me that a government led by the corrupt plutocrat Rafsanjani and his proxy, the mass murderer Mousavi, would be any better than a continuation of the Ahmadinejad government. Arguably, it would be worse. If we’re going to endorse anything, it would be the possibility of the mass movement bypassing Rafsanjani-Mousavi altogether and going straight to something better.

The question will be largely one of class. What I’d like to see is the working class moving into action, but as things stand – at least if Hopi reports are anything to go by – the working-class movement in Iran is desperately weak, and there are good reasons – which I’ll get to – why working-class Iranians may find Ahamdinejad an attractive candidate.

Thirdly, the western media, which has been more or less openly campaigning for regime change. I know the BBC got caught out using a photo of a pro-Ahmadinejad rally and billing it as an opposition rally, but there’s more to it than that. There is the sampling issue, whereby journalists are most likely to talk to people they feel comfortable with, and that means prosperous Anglophone people rather than illiterate slum-dwellers – and one can tell just from looking at the way Mousavi supporters are dressed that they tend to come from the more well-heeled social strata. It can’t be pointed out often enough that north Tehran is not Iran, any more than vox pops taken in south Dublin can be taken as representative of Ireland. (And we, too, have plenty of experience of journalists relying on those local people who tell them what they want to hear.)

There are also, as I’ve pointed out, the often misleading dichotomies between “pro-Western” and “anti-Western”, or “hardliner” and “reformist”. It’s quite ironic that, if anyone in the Iranian political class stands for Enlightenment values, it’s Ali Larejani, who’s an acknowledged authority on Immanuel Kant. But Larejani long since had his card marked as a “hardliner”. You might wonder how it is that Mousavi gets to be hailed as a “reformist”, but that makes sense if you understand “reformist” to simply signify that the candidate meets the approval of those applying the label.

There’s also been lots of wishful thinking bordering at times on cognitive dissonance, like last year’s Georgian war only more so. (And if Mikheil Saakashvili can be a “democrat”, why can’t Mir Hossein Mousavi be a “reformist”?) Certainly, the BBC news seemed for four or five days to go into pure Berlin Wall mode. And the most likely outcome of this situation is a reshuffling of the power players within the regime, but that doesn’t provide the required drama.

Also, there’s no doubt that Iranian oppositionists have been playing up to this. This isn’t necessarily dishonest. You don’t have to scratch an Iranian Shia very deeply to find the Zoroastrian underneath – Iranians have a very strong belief in the tangibility of good and evil, which fits in very nicely to the media requirement for well-defined good guys and bad guys. Beyond that, the raising of slogans in English rather than Persian is obviously consciously designed for foreign TV consumption. One doesn’t blame Iranian oppositionists for doing this – it makes sense from their point of view – but the job of the journalist is to bring some critical faculties to bear.

Fourthly, the issue of the involvement of foreign powers. Nebojša makes an important point, which is worth quoting at some length:

You see, it looks very much like a “color revolution” scenario: the US-favored candidate contests election results, claims victory, and his supporters riot till the government caves in. But then, couldn’t the incumbent actually steal the election knowing full well that he can paint the resulting opposition protests as a CIA/NED coup attempt, whether that is actually true or not?

I freely admit that I haven’t a clue what’s actually true in the reports coming from Iran, whether Ahmadinejad or Mousavi actually won the vote, who stole what (or not). Given the track record of the mainstream Western media when it comes to the Balkans (as a rule, their reports are almost entirely false), why should I believe anything they say about Iran? Especially since the Empire is so determined to have a war with Tehran, one way or another.

The fact remains, however, that the technique of “democratic coup” pioneered by the Empire in Serbia – and applied elsewhere since – has made it effectively impossible to judge whether any election, anywhere, is actually legitimate. Even if we somehow possessed the knowledge to make an informed decision, there is still the matter of the Empire insisting that democracy is whatever it says it is. As a consequence, “democracy” has become just about meaningless. And that, regardless of what happens in Iran, is something definitely worth thinking about…

Iranians will of course remember that the original colour revolution was Operation Ajax, the CIA’s plot to overthrow Mossadeq in 1953, which began with “spontaneous” mass demonstrations calling for the return of the Shah.

But is this a colour revolution, like we’ve seen rolled out in Eastern Europe? One might say that if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it’s a duck. The Guardian is in no doubt – with the exception of token leftie Seumas Milne, they love their colour revolutions, and they’ve been virtually orgasmic over the “Green Revolution”. But I’m not sure. The Yanks may have raised the colour revolution or soft coup to a fine art, but they don’t hold any copyright on the tactic. If the Russians decided to get rid of some of the useless governments in the Near Abroad, in Georgia, Azerbaijan or even Latvia, there’s no reason they couldn’t deploy the same tactics. And there’s no reason Rafsanjani couldn’t do the same.

On the other hand, one can’t simply regard this as purely domestic. It’s safe to assume that certain foreign powers have been running interference – the CIA may not have much on the ground, but it’s very well documented that Mossad, the Pakistani ISI and Saudi intelligence have been seriously involved in trying to destabilise Iran since the Revolution. Furthermore, American forces in Iraq have been involved in providing material support to the MKO, which is no longer designated by them as a terrorist organisation. These are things worth bearing in mind.

Publicly, though, the O’Bama administration has been playing it very cautiously. This is despite Joe Biden running his yap, pressure from those folks on the Hill who think passing abominations like the “Belarus Democracy Act” is the sort of thing the US Congress should be spending its time on, drum-banging from the commentariat, and intense lobbying from Iranian exile groups with links to the State Department. Young Mr O’Bama would be well advised to be cautious of the latter. As an opponent of the Iraq war, he will know how the Bush administration was led up the garden path by Ahmed Chalabi; there’s also the consideration that, in good KGB style, the Iranian secret service runs much of the foreign-based opposition, as an insurance policy against regime change. (Parenthetically, Decents might like to note how both the presidents of Iraq and Afghanistan have welcomed Ahmadinejad’s election.)

Finally, I want to consider Juan Cole’s polemic against what he terms the North Tehran Fallacy. Juan knows a good deal more about Iran than I do, but while I defer to his knowledge of detail, I’m not convinced by his categories. And, as noted, the north Tehran factor has certainly been present in media coverage, although I’m not suggesting that Juan is personally in thrall to it.

Juan musters a fair bit of circumstantial evidence suggesting that there’s been something dodgy about the election. He may be correct about that. What he doesn’t convince me about is his thesis that there’s no way Ahmadinejad could have a majority, unless there was a mass boycott from the reform camp.

Juan’s thesis, as I read it, is based on taking the Khatami victories of 1997 and 2001 as paradigmatic. He is unmoved by claims that, as Ahmadinejad’s appeal is to the poor and religious, and the majority of the population is poor and religious, Ahmadinejad might plausibly win a majority. As against this, Juan draws the line of demarcation between the forces of modernity and the forces of fundamentalism. He points to the involvement of women and youth in the Khatami landslides, and on the basis that women and youth are a majority of the population, there should be an unstoppable demographic advantage to the reform camp, as long as a reformist candidate is allowed to stand.

I don’t find this entirely persuasive, because it relies on a more or less static concept of people’s allegiances. People’s identities are complex and not simply defined by one factor such as class, language, culture or religion – all these factors are present, and different ones may come to the fore at different times. And, while I appreciate the investment Juan made in the Khatami movement, things have changed quite a lot since then. I’m not a great fan of Mr Ahmadinejad, but there are legitimate reasons why he might have a mass popular base, which are worth enumerating.

The most important of these have to do with, yes, class. The president hasn’t spent four years in office without cultivating his constituency. And Iran is not Tehran: it has thirty provinces, all of which have been visited by Ahmadinejad, disbursing goodies as he went. The Mousavi camp’s attacks on handouts to the poor could almost be designed to deter support from the poor. Specifically, we could mention attacks on inefficiency and overmanning in the bonyad, the religious foundations that dominate the non-energy economy. There’s a lot of truth to that, but it’s maybe not the cleverest electoral stance, considering the enormous numbers working in the bonyad sector.

On the other hand, Ahmadinejad’s man-of-the-people pose, epitomised by his crumpled wardrobe and his small house, may grate on north Tehran sophisticates, but it’s his electoral USP. It’s how he got elected mayor of Tehran in the first place. Against that, Rafsanjani is virtually a byword in Iran for political corruption, and Ahmadinejad’s attacks on him would appeal to the base. Rafsanjani, of course, is constitutionally barred from standing again for the presidency, which is why he dragged Mousavi out of retirement to act as his proxy.

And the other thing Ahmadinejad has going for him is his aggressive nationalist stance. Khatami spent his two terms being emollient to the Americans, and not only failed to get a normalisation of relations, but ended up with the Americans in military occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, while categorising Iran as part of the “Axis of Evil”. Not much of a return for his effort. Ahmadinejad’s denunciations of the US and Israel might cause more Americocentric Iranians to cringe, but why should you suck up to relentlessly hostile foreign powers? Not to mention that his naval humiliation of Britain wouldn’t have hurt, nor his cultivation of relations with Russia, Venezuela and other countries.

As I say, Juan may well be right that there’s something dodgy afoot. But I don’t agree that a result that goes against Juan’s expectations is inherently implausible.

Sin é. You can get more up-to-the-minute reporting on the Hopi blog, and I like this from Gabriel.

Paramilitary boss doesn’t want to be confused with racist spides

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I nearly fell off my chair whilst reading the Irish News this morning. The front page splashed on these comments from UDA emperor Jackie McDonald:

A leading loyalist last night blamed far right BNP and Combat 18 supporters for a spate of attacks on Romanian families who have been forced to flee their homes in Belfast.

UDA leader Jackie McDonald, who denied that loyalist paramilitaries were connected to violence against Romanians living in the south of the city, said he believed the attackers came from outside the area.

Well, the question there is which area. They came from outside the university area, yeah. But it’s accepted by most people that they came from the Village, an area where Jackie has some influence.

And he warned the BNP against trying to recruit young men in loyalist areas of south Belfast amid reports that the right-wing group was planning to stage a rally in the Sandy Row area this weekend.

McDonald, who has offered to support the Romanians, said the attacks had to be “condemned outright”.

“There can be no justification for it but there is no way the UDA was involved and it is dangerous to attach these attacks to loyalist paramilitary groups,” he said.

It seems that what is exercising Hard Bap is the possibility that the UDA’s good name might be besmirched by commentators linking it with the BNP. Which sort of says something about Nick Griffin’s push for respectability.

Inside the paper is Newton Emerson’s column, much of which is a dig at the Socialist Party, although it’s a relatively good-natured dig. But what I wanted to quote was Newt’s opening:

It is difficult to know how anyone can be a British patriot and a Nazi, given how British patriotism is defined by the defeat of the Nazis. It is particularly difficult to know how anyone can be a south Belfast loyalist and a Nazi, given the loyalist propensity for decking south Belfast in Israeli flags. But however grotesque, stupid and violent the cause or effect, you can guarantee that some people will try to exploit it.

UPRG spokesman Frankie Gallagher, for example, reckons neo-Nazis would not be attacking Roma families if he was properly funded to take youth groups to Poland. Yes, Frankie wants to take the Nazis into Poland. Will they be packing their Israeli flags for that?

Ah yes, the wonders of the UDA’s political thought. I’m sure some conflict resolution money could be found for this valuable work…

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