Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Murdoch at it again

Most people of a political persuasion will remember, or at least be aware of, the 1992 claim that it was the Sun 'what won' the 1992 election for John Major's Conservative Party. The campaign against Neil Kinnock is as infamous as it was vindictive, though I have my doubts whether or not a newspaper, even one with such a huge circulation, could play such a huge part in winning a particular election.

1997 saw the Sun Rupert Murdoch has always been a clever man, and a brilliant throw its support behind Tony Blair and his New Labour project, the very project that it today ditched in favour of cuddly Cameron and his 'new' Tory party. Do not be fooled, however. Rupert Murdoch is an extraordinarily clever businessman. Switching support between the two major parties is not a case of genuine national interest from Murdoch and his paper, but rather a cynical attempt to get onside with the party he feels will form the next government. He did it with Labour, and was rewarded with unparallelled influence in Downing Street over the next twelve years as his business escapades, questionable in terms of press ownership, went largely untouched by Blair and then Brown.

This new change of policy is no different. The coverage in today's paper was crude and self-serving. But it worked. Brown is on the backfoot after a decent display at the party conference. The Tories are jubilant. Sales of the paper went through the roof. But nobody will be able to claim come May, or whenever the next election is, that it was the Sun 'what won it'. Today's move was purely cynical. Murdoch and his cronies do not shape public opinion, they follow it in the hope of establishing the Murdoch empire with the next administration so that his ventures can continue to go unchecked. Part of me hopes for a Labour victory in the spring, if only so that this odious man's influence on British politics and the media worldwide can be debated and criticised at a higher level in a way that has not happened as yet. I doubt that will happen, and it is my bet that the Sun and the greedy opportunists who run it will continue to trumpet their own importance for decades to come.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

They're at it again!

More outrageous claims of a left-wing bias at the BBC. As I've suggested here before, this claim is a complete fallacy. It's a clever ploy from the right, an attempt to further consolidate their hold over the media. But I wish they'd give it a rest.

They work for you

A valuable tool, one that I have not taken proper advantage so far, is They Work For You, a website that keeps an eye on how exactly your MP is voting in Parliament. It's certainly worth playing with, if only to shatter your illusions about certain politicians.

I've always admired Jon Cruddas, for his principled deputy leadership campaign and his continued pressure from the backbenches for Labour to return to its grassroots. Yet a glance at his voting record is illuminating, with his credentials not as impressive as I thought they would be. Support for the Iraq war and opposition to an investigation into it are dipleasing, as is his strong support for Labour's anti-terrorism laws. His fence-hopping exploits on the climate change front are inexplicable.

On the other hand, the pin-up boy of progressive politics, Vince Cable seems to justify his current popularity with a voting record that would please many on the left. Maybe the Lib Dems, with a figure like Cable leading the policy debate, really are the best of a bad lot at the current time.

Saturday, 19 September 2009



Thursday, 17 September 2009


I've always struggled to find a coherent position on the war in Afghanistan. I have swerved between support for it, given the positive goals of tackling terrorism and establishing democracy and human rights in the region, and opposition to it, given the scale of the commitment and the inevitablity of many deaths, both military and civilian.

I have now come to a conclusion, eight years in the making. I oppose the war in Afghanistan for the following reasons.

1. The argument that we are fighting in Afghanistan to make Britain a safer place has lost all its legitimacy. Recent events show that terrorists are just as likely to come from Luton or Walthamstow as they are from the mountainous areas of Afghanistan. Indeed, our presence as 'infadels' is perhaps serving to radicalise people to the point that they consider terrorist action. The fact that neighbouring Pakistan is as much, if not more, responsible for the harbouring of terrorists makes the continued focus solely on Afghanistan nonsensical.

2. Another argument for forcing the Taliban out of power was that it would herald a new era of democracy and human rights in Afghanistan. The puppet President Hamid Karzai has recently passed anti-women laws reminiscient of those of the Taliban, suggesting that the new regime is less focused on bringing Afghanistan into the twenty-first century than previously intimated. The current elections, it is agreed, are unreliable, and Karzai and his people have been accused of corruption. Our government, so vocal in its condemnation of similarly flawed elections in Iran, has until recently stayed quiet. If Karzai and his regime is what we are fighting for, then it seems lives are being needlessly wasted.

3. Public opinion is against the war, and animosity towards it is only increasing. A mere glance at the history of military intervention in Afghanistan, both British and Soviet, demonstrates that victory is neither inevitable or swift.

4. The danger of intervening in sovereign nations to establish democracy is difficult, in that there is then an issue over which country is most 'deserving' of such intervention. If we are in Afghanistan, why not Burma?

For these reasons, I have now decided to set my stall against the war in Afghanistan. I will, therefore, be attending the national demonstration against the war on 24 October, and I suggest you do too.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Let's make the most out of cuts

So Gordon Brown has finally brought himself to utter the dreaded word. No, not 'resignation'. 'Cuts'.

Well done Gordon. As a leftie I have a natural aversion to cutting public spending, and would much prefer continued investment. But the nation's debts are massive, and the three major parties now appear unanimous as to the need for cuts, if not for what exactly will face them.

For my part, I would like to make three suggestions, and welcome any more.

1. Trident: Billions of pounds to maintain, and even renew, a missile system that we have never used and are unlikely ever to use. Scrapping it would save extraordinary amounts of money. The Liberal Democrats, and Vince Cable in particular, are spot on in arguing for this. It would also give us bthe opportunity to reopen the debate on scrapping nuclear weapons altogether, relieving ourselves of the hypocrisy we exhibit when criticising the likes of Iran and North Korea for seeking such weapons.

2. Pull our troops out of Afghanistan: Costly both in terms of money and human lives, the war in Afghanistan has lost its justification. Pakistan seems as fertile a breeding ground for terrorists, Karzai's government are corrupt, and anti-women legislation similar to the Taliban era has returned.

3. Scrap plans for ID Cards: Hideously unpopular, ID cards are totalitarian in nature and a threaten our civil liberties. Also very expensive, Brown should take this opportunity to ditch the unpopular scheme while he has a valid excuse that would not embarrass him further (if such a thing were possible).

Now, I'm no economist, but I'm guessing that that lot would save a few quid. Leave the NHS and school systems alone for now, and let's take this opportunity to get rid of the truly pointless wastage that this 'Labour' government has accumulated.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Time for a re-think on immigration?

A couple of interesting slants on the immigration issue caught my eye this week. Mark Steel raises some excellent points, not least in noting that the conservative press are noticeably quiet about British people residing abroad and reminiscient of Alistair Campbell in his pomp when it comes to reporting only the facts that will back-up their anti-immigrant viewpoint.

My personal view has always been that immigration is vital to this country's economy, a view shared by Philippe Legrain. And I am in full agreements with this blogger, particularly with regard to his comments regarding his being a migrant labourer himself, moving from Leicester to London.

There's an awful lot of hysteria when it comes to immigration. I'm not going to go down the well-trodden route to accusing all those who advocate stricter immigration controls of racism. Yet a greater attachment to reality is needed. A housemate of mine once suggested to me that Morrissey, who I usually respect, was correct when he argued that immigration was responsible for the erosion of the British identity. Yet she was unable to give me a coherent response when I asked her what 'British identity' actually involved.

What do I think the British identity is? It's a pretty hard concept to pin down, but I would argue that a major part of it is multiculturalism.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Decisive Dave

So, David Cameron has finally sacked Alan Duncan from a position he clearly wasn't suited to given his remarks about MPs being treated like "s***".

About time, Dave. This comes after a month of waiting about and seeing what way public opinion would swing. And after you had previously been adamant that you would not be sacking him.

Very decisive. Just what we want from our future Prime Minister.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

The BBC and the BNP

Somehow or other the BBC is cropping up a lot at the moment, this time because of its controversial invitation to BNP leader Nick Griffin to appear on Question Time.

The whole 'No Platform' idea, for me, needs a rethink. The BNP have now achieved some level of electoral success, suggesting that the previous tactic of relegating it to the sidestream of British politics was not working. The BBC invitation recognises this new status quo, and is a brave move from the under-pressure corporation.

Maybe it is better to think of the invitation not as giving the BNP a platform, but giving other parties the opportunity to argue against them on national television. 'Lenin' disagrees, but I believe that the way to defeat the BNP is not to act like fascists ourselves, but to challenge them in free debate.

Privatised rail travel strikes again

Another shambles on the railways, where London Midland seems genuinely surprised that drivers aren't volunteering to work on Sundays.

Double-pay on Sundays has recently ended, and with it the impetus for drivers working on that day. This seems to me yet another example of customers suffering because the firms in charge of the railways are more concerned with cutting expenses and making maximum profit. Surely Britain's rail system should be geared towards providing a good service rather than making as much money as possible for those to whom the government has given up the responsibility of running them.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

'Poor old Chelsea'

It is hard to find too much sympathy for mega-rich Chelsea as they face a transfer embargo for tapping up a young player. They've been accused of it before and it's good to see some action being taken.

It is a little harsh, however, that it is only Chelsea that have been singled out. There is little doubt that most of the bigger clubs engage in such illegal activity, using their greater reputation and financial muscle to tempt players away from smaller clubs. If Chelsea are facing such sanctions, then surely the likes of Manchester United and Liverpool must also expect recriminations? It remains to be seen whether this will be the case.

I suspect that Chelsea's ban will be lifted upon appeal. Football's governing bodies will not want to risk offending such a major side. Sanctions seem like a good idea to me, though. Maybe the richer teams should all be banned from adding to their squads and give everyone else a chance to catch up. If the Big Four all get banned from signing players, the Premier League might actually get interesting within the next year or so.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Focus on the BBC

The BBC has been the subject of two excellent articles this week, though both approach the topic from different angles. Jonathan Freedland blogs on the importance of the Beeb as a national institution at, while the New Statesman's Mehdi Hasan challenges oft-repeated claim that the BBC is left-leaning by nature.

Both articles are, to my mind, excellent. Freedland highlights the extraordinary nerve displayed by James Murdoch in arguing against state interference in the media as if he were not somebody that stood to gain to the tune of billions should the BBC be privatised. Murdoch's father, media mogul Rupert, has been a constant critic of the BBC, and it seems that his son is a chip off the old block. Freedland, though, notes that Murdoch junior is destined to fail where his father also failed. The BBC will survive, regardless of whatever David Cameron claims he will subject it to upon his likely accession to power. It is popular and respected in the eyes of the public enough to withstand the attack of any politician.

The free market has already shown itself to be unsatisfactory in giving people what they need, and the recent recession has further demonstarted its incapabilities. Further extending it into areas such as health and the media, therefore, would be nonsensical and deeply unpopular. Institutions such as the NHS and the BBC are welded onto this country's soul, and rightly so. We should be tremendously proud of them. Yet the BBC must do more to help itself stand up to attacks from the right, as Freedland notes. Director General Mark Thompson and his colleagues cannot possibly justify their astronomical salaries. The BBC needs to reconnect with licence-fee payers, whom it is there to serve. It will survive rightist attempts to dismantle it, but it needs to work harder in order to justify its survival.

On a slightly different note, a common rightist bleat with regards to the BBC is that it has a Liberal bias. I myself have read a book on the subject, the interesting but fatally flawed Can We Trust The BBC? by Robin Aitken. As a leftie myself, a left-leaning BBC is by no means repulsive to me. But that is not the point. The BBC is supposed to be neutral, and it is important it fulfils its remit in order to justify the continuation of the licence fee. Yet the fact that the continued complaints of numerous right-wingers tend to obscure (though perhaps this is the point) is that, if anything, the BBC has a bias towards the right. I will restrict myself to quoting the following from Hasan's article, but reading it in full is extremely illuminating:

'Can you imagine, for example, the hysterical reaction on the right if the BBC's political editor had been unmasked as the former chair of Labour Students? He wasn't - but Nick Robinson was chair of the Young Conservatives, in the mid-1980s, at the height of Thatcherism. Can you imagine the shrieks from the Telegraph and the Mail if the BBC's editor of live programmes had been deputy chair of the Labour Party Young Socialists? He wasn't - but Robbie Gibb was deputy chair of the Federation of Conservative Students in the 1980s, before it was wound up by Norman Tebbit for being too right-wing. Can you imagine the howls from the Conservatives if the BBC's chief political correspondent had left the corporation to work for Ken Livingstone? He didn't - but Guto Harri did become communications director for Boris Johnson within months of resigning from the Beeb.'

The BBC must improve, of this there is no doubt. Like Parliament, its purpose is to serve the country. Ridiculous salaries and unnecessary ventures do not fulfil this remit. But it is also time that the left started standing up for the BBC, both by defending it from claims of bias that are so palpably untrue and by helping it find itself a constructive role in modern society. Like the NHS, it is a great institution that retains the support and affection of the general public. It will take more than support and affection, however, to protect the Beeb from the greedy fingers of capitalism and conservatism.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Oasis should get over themselves

So, the inevitable has finally happened and Oasis have split. Am I the only one who is a little bit relieved? The endless rows between the Gallagher brothers were getting repetitive and boring, while the bands recent albums were exceedingly poor compared to the masterpieces of their heyday.

Those hoping for some phoenix to rise from the ashes will no doubt be disappointed. Liam was for long parts of his career carried by his more-talented brother, who in any case seems creatively spent these days. More likely is yet another kiss-and-make-up session, followed by a 'renunion tour' that will further fill the pockets of the brothers and whoever the rest of the band is.

I say they should just leave it at that. The attention-seeking brothers have finally parted in the most public way possible. Brit-pop was oevr years ago, and the Oasis of recent years was a pale imitation of what went before. Thanks for the memories boys, but go and stay gone.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Lockerbie bomber goes free

The political drama surrounding the release of the Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi rumbles on and shows now sign of abating. Despite its best attempts to portray the decision as one for which the Scottish government should accept total responsibility, it has now been called upon to deny that his release had anything to do with a prospective trade deal between the two countries.

I, like many, have my doubts as to whether or not al-Megrahi is in fact the one responsible for the reprehensible events of 1988. There are many that share these doubts. What is clear, however, is that he was found guilty, and therefore must be treated as a guilty man. To release him after serving so little of his sentence so he can die in his own country seems to me a slur on the memories of those he was found guilty of murdering.

The reaction of our government is equally as disappointing as the decision by the Scots to release him. In attempting to avoid responsibility for the decision and refusing to express agreement or disagreement, Brown and Shaw have acted in a cowardly manner that does not befit their positions. It could be that this is all a ploy to discredit the Scottish Nationalist Party. If so, politicising such a matter is shameful in the extreme. To suggest that anyone involved in this decision was unaware of the welcome al-Megrahi would receive in Libya is frankly absurd. Libya may now be considered 'friendly', but for years Colonel Gaddafi has been a tyrant who supported terrorist efforts abroad. The return of Libya's most famous export only serves to increase his prestige on the 40th anniversary of his rise to power, and further cover up the shameful human rights abuses of which he is guilty.

I hate, in most circumstances, being on the same political side of David Cameron. Here, though, I agree that the release is "completely nonsensical". Not because I do not beiieve in compassion, and not because I fear the disapproval of the Americans, who I feel long ago forfeited any right to the moral high ground. It is because I fear that this decision was motivated in part by the lingering feeling that the bomber was in fact innocent. Though I myself have my doubts, other means should have been pursued of securing his release by those who share them. I also regret any continuing appeasement of Colonel Gaddafi's regime, which may now be considered 'friendly' to Western interests but is certainly not considered to be so by many Libyans.