Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Hungry Looks on the faces of the dogs of war

After a long break being busy with life and living it, rather than writing about it, I was thinking about a post on how THE WORST place for a post-Blair change-ringing Prime Ministerial appearance would be Iraq.

What a Difference a Day Makes
I was pondering a rumination on how Gordon Brown could fail to realise this and preparing to expound upon the nature of the Westminster bubble and its disjunct with street reality. After all few things can be worse in a country which wants to 'bring its boys home' than a publicity grabbing attempt to gain short-term credit from re-announcing the fact that 10% will be 'home for Christmas' - especially when half of those were already home for Indian Summer [a big improvement on Afghan winter].

Home for Christmas
Why is it that politicians use that phrase? Redolent as it is of the broken promises and shattered skulls of the Somme.

If it was possible to make a bad week worse, this little exercise crossed one of those irony rubicons that the smirking slaughterers of New Labour never seem to spot. Yes, remarkably, its true, Brave Gordon's views on war and the umma are as cockeyed as those of his more generously eyeball-endowed predecessor.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, Iraq's Christians aren't coming home for Christmas, or anytime soon, and the dead are all still dead.

Yesterday all my troubles seemed so far away...
Just a few short weeks ago Gordon was riding high. The sun shone out of his Jacqui Smith and even his Straw cod-piece smelt almost fresh enough to swallow.

The only Iraqi's he had to worry about were the suicidal situationist comics of Al-Qaeda's Celtic Fringe, whose pre-Festival tour had ended in an impromptu foam party at Glasgow Airport but failed to ignite popular interest.

How, one asked, HOW, did we get to HERE from THERE?
The weekend [13th and 14th October] produced some interesting evidence. After all the phoney election shenanigans, I was already wondering if a Blairite trap had been sprung. All the elements of Gordon's previously unflappable and principled political persona blew away, like so much spinning chaff before the hot blast of Charlie Falconer's disdain.This also led to John Hutton first being quoted as a Gordon apologist and then clarifying that he wasn't really saying that - and was thus doing even less good for faith in Gordon's leadership than employing Dawn Primarolo.

Be my dog...
Then the Liberals showed the way with a play within a play.

While a right of centre Orange Book-carrying Lib Dem leader might ultimately pressure Cameron more than Menzies Campbell's familiar patrician; it is nonetheless another easy win for Cameron, with barely a finger lifted.

Once more we are reminded why the Liberals havn't been elected to office since the Second World War.

Gordon and more pertinently 'yon Milliband' must learn from this:
That means protecting you core vote, Cameroon stylee. Not dragging it rightwards until its arms pop out and it forgets whom it is meant to vote for - and who represents what, or whom.

Gordon had the benefit of the doubt, now we simply doubt him. Doubt his sincerity, doubt his abilty and doubt he cares or understand the people whom he doesn't trust to elect him.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Charity Begins At Home ...and legacies fade first where least substantial

Gordon Brown hinted at a decision today, its a generally popular one, at any rate it is with core Labour supporters, with regeneration experts [and indeed inexperts] and with sane human beings everywhere. Supercasinos may just be getting dropped.

Gambling policy as a whole is being reviewed and recent controversial enabling legislation along with the regional casinos it was to enable may go too.

However for all the goodwill this ghost of a decision, this, mayhap, hint of a policy shift, is getting, we have to note that it has not been taken yet. Which is a worry, because dollars, many many dollars, will even now be starting to be spent in lobbying and PR firms on reversing it.

But fear not, Gordon is firm and he may just decide to prove that in one area at least he is not a Blairite, by keeping his hand out of the till that Bernie Ecclestone, Philip Anschutz, Lakshmi Patel, the Brothers Hinduja, Lord Browne, Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz and Lord Sainsbury all shut Tony Blair's begrimed party and corporate [ergo national] paws in.

For many people, influential well-informed people, this policy had been the final straw.

At one and the same time a reminder of the very first things to go wrong with 'whiter than white' Blairite probity in public office, and equally the ultimate expression of policymakers lost in the corporate funhouse, as befuddled as the tame business unions brought to Manchester to persuade the local TUC that a deal could be done to remove the danger of competition from cheap, un-unionised, immigrant labour.

Manchester's ambition and potential was to be prostituted by locally accented croupiers; the whores might come from eastern europe or Somalia but they were, in the current legislative environment, outwith the regulatory framework to be administered by the 'family-friendly' US conglomerates bidding to do in Manchester what back home they would need an Indian reservation to get away with.

Maybe, just maybe, if Gordon Brown sticks to his apparent policy shift and kills Jowell's bloated pig of a policy to tax the poor and call the moral degredation of licensing policy a form of urban regeneration, he has drawn a line in the sand.

Maybe, just maybe, his charity toward the predilections and aspirations of the core voters who can keep him in power in two years time marks the start of something genuinely new; rather than just a gesture to buy a hundred days of poll ratings to be squandered come the winter.

On the positive side Gordon posited 'regeneration' as an alternative to super-casinos. An industry heaved a huge sigh of relief. For over a year frustration has mounted over the idea that it is necessary to explain to GOVERNMENT that a super-casino is not a regeneration option in any traditional sense. Not least because it exists purely to draw money out of the local economy and can economically survive only as long as it does so on a massive scale and because its business model is based on maintaining the maximum possible separation from surrounding retail and leisure infrastructure to avoid 'revenue bleed'.

If Gordon's apparent common sense take on gambling legislation - and indeed on expanding the supply of affordable housing - is a sign of things to come, he may just convince a cynic or two and persuade a few voters that New Labour is not so utterly amoral and compromised by power that it might just be time to give the Tories a go. He only needs to do a bit of that to survive. Cameron, after all, is just Blair as Mr Punch - and that is not a show many will yet pay to watch on primetime.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Cleaning Out My Closet - or: I hope you're going to clean up that mess after yourself, Tony [as if...]

Tony Blair's time in office has been about nothing if it has not been about the rewards of deluded expectation.

Commentators have spent ten, perhaps twelve, years queueing up to acclaim Blair as Social Democracy's Rubicon-crosser, the third ways herald, and other such non sequiturs.

One always felt that a social democratic Labour Party in government would be a big growing up experience for the adolescent left which occupied the farthest flung corners of New Labour's big tent. Tony was not to disappoint us. Nor for that matter were his cronies or indeed the band of phonies and crazies who populated his wake - when Ian McCartney, John Reid, David Blinkered and Peter Mandelsson have all fulfilled multiple roles in your administrations, one has to accept that you are truly an equal opportunities employer.

Yes reality is about the crooked, crooked, timber of humanity. From which no straight thing was ever made.

Blair asked what Labour was, challenged it to be anything other than what he made it. A challenge that it often appeared to flinch from.

Blairism was undoubtedly a phenomena of power and about power; and like all true excercises in power made extant, power exercised, power apparent; it asked us either to take it like men or to try and take its horse.

However, for all that Sedgefield's Fettes Cowboy showed a distinct attachment to the saddle, there was nonetheless a feeling that maybe, just maybe, the media's heralds of the new dawn, the high priests of Hip Hop-racy and the Lords of the Labour New Church were all just a tad previous - and that, after all, the oft-derided real left, or 'Old Labour', would cope.

Cope, not because of its strength, nor because its support, nay not even because of inertia - but, above all, simply because disappointment and disillusion were after all A Way Of Life. For all that there may have been times when Old Labourites simply felt that the Labour Party was Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition - which of course, 90s dance club references aside, it was - one still felt that something called Labour might just survive the premature reports of its demise.

And, in a sense, perhaps those feelings were right. For it is after all Tony who has finally walked away from Labour and not vice versa. Nor indeed have the voters quite deserted the party of government yet.

Yet Tony has perhaps finally crossed a Rubicon, if only an ironic one. After months in which his team have attempted to persuade us that Iraq and crisis in the middle east are not in fact Blair's true legacy, [then pray what could be? - broken-hearted Trotskyists with tears down their parkas?], he finally finds himself washed up, on a sand bar.

Yes after all those months of trying to scrape the word 'Iraq' from Tony's political tombstone, the big ego has finally bitten the bullet [so as to speak] and determined that he must go with the flow and take his next thirty pieces of silver [or £100,000 per annum] where the tidal flow of his story [or was that history] drives him. And that is, inexorably, to the disputed shores of the orient.

One thing is for sure, Tony Blair's legacy will indubitably be found in the middle east. He at least has now accepted this, as, like a weary pasha, bloody but unbowed, he finally rises from his diwan to meet his nemesis. The question that he and all the other actors in this revenge tragedy must ask, is when the killing can stop and the healing begin; and who can turn the bone train around.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Who said the BNP don't have a voice in parliament?

And to think I used to get hot under the collar when David Blunkett talked about the 'problems of immigration' in his Sheffield constituency.

Not content with her crazed fantasy - almost Mosley-ite in its misconception - that 8 out of 10 of her Barking voters might vote BNP Margaret Hodge hit a new high with her call for a 'white is right' housing policy. No 10 rushed to her defence of course, while social housing organisations pointed out that supply was the issue in housing not distribution.

Meanwhile Cameron's grammar school games indicate that he at least has the sense of humour required to deal with being continually out-manouvered from the right by New Labour. Gordon Brown's conversion to the joys of the 11Plus is eagerly awaited.

Oh and Ruth Kelly is keen to abolish local communities right to oppose unacceptable developments; while simultaneously abandoning her right to intervene on their behalf - thus creating a perfect New Labour managerialist system where noone can be held accountable by anyone for anything.

She also failed to use the opportunity provided by a live radio interview this morning promoting her rollback of the state, [or handover of its planning responsibilities to those whom it is meant to regulate] to slap down Hodge's far right dalliance. Plus ca change. Let us hope she regrets this.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Suicide is painless, Mr Blair

It brings on many changes

A BBC correspondent reflected this evening on Blair's departure and signaled the mass demonstrations against the invasion of Iraq as a turning point. He cited the way in which the decision to go to war alienated Blair's natural supporters, as the axis upon which our Dark Knight's fortune turned.

Whisper it softly, but it is now acceptable to say how many people attended the demonstrations against the war without a bizarre and unfeasible reference to the Blairite fantasy that the Poll Tax Demo was larger.

Curiously the Blair babes forget how Major accessed the thorny throne. So perhaps do the Brownites, barely distinguishable as they are to all but the blind who of necessity must listen carefully for content and meaning; and for whom it has been a hard, if ultimately rewarding, decade.

The BBC report of course propogated a classic Labour believer's error, or at least a daydream believer's, far more important in fact was Blair's loss of his wider coalition.

The gloves came off. Home Secrataries were no longer safe ... - nor indeed were the domestic servants of their associates.

Now of course this should not distract us from the fact that Paul Dacre is a crazed loony who thinks that Blair damaged his baby, nor that we, the Labour Party's natural supporters, were generally opposed to 'the Iraq intervention' too. Indeed, given our greater knowledge of the Iraqi exile community - and indeed of middle eastern politics in general - this was mostly with good reason too.

But what Iraq tells us, apart from the lessons about imperialism and its all-but Fanonite dis-junction with neo-conservativism in the third world - which we knew anyway, is that Blair was never about the left.

This above all was why he siezed upon the neo-conservative paranoia of 2002 like a debtor meeting an old friend; why he was a master of missed oportunities; why two years of To[n]ry spending plans were Blair's breathing space; and why Gordon will be hard-pushed to escape the sense of guilt by association as the death toll, and indeed the bills, mount.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Same Old Tories?

If it makes sense to take poor pensioners out of the tax and benefit systems by raising taxation thresholds (or 'tax free allowances'), then why does it also make sense to abolish the 10% rate of income tax and to make a larger number of low income families more benefit-dependent (as opposed to taking them out of the system as well)?

Likewise, why are poor single people in work having part of their meagre wealth redistributed by this budget to wealthier members of society?

And why are tax credits called tax credits when they are not automatically delivered as a credit against tax and instead have to be claimed like a benefit?

And why is an allegedly social-democratic government cutting corporation tax? Something, one imagines, to do with Tories - and nothing to do with the left.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Sugaring the pill: Is it really racism which has left Lord Levy, Blair's Little Drummer Boy, out in the cold over cash for honours?

Today a strange PR campign started in which friends and associates of Lord Levy (well his local rabbi and Alan Sugar at any rate) started talking up the notion of a racist witch hunt against Blair's tennis partner, chief fundraiser and Middle East envoy extraordinaire .

I use the term extraodinary advisedly, if only in the sense that his embassy appears to have achieved precisely nothing during one of the most volatile periods in modern Middle Eastern history - unless you count Jordan recently closing its border to Iraqi refugees.

Sugar talked of Levy's 'blind loyalty' and in an intentionally homespun, halting and bonhomie-laced performance stuttered confusedly and contrivedly about how he couldn't really see what Lord Levy got out of this personally - I mean he opined its not like he's making lots of money out of this or anything.*

Interviewing Sugar on the issue on this morning's Radio 4 Today Programme, John Humphrey's mentioned the whole Middle East envoy thing - which if nothing else gets one regular stays down at the Dead Sea spas courtesy of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan**. Sugar didn't seem convinced that this role was of any significance in what was, on reflection, the most believable part of his interview - after all noone in the Middle East believes that Levy's role as an envoy should be taken seriously either.

That said this hasn't stopped him accompanying 'wor Tone' (as he is rarely known in his North East English parliamentary constituency) to the region on an alleged trip of great diplomatic importance as recently as December 2006.

**[Note the British public purse never pays for Lord Levy's trips except when he is entertained by our Ambassador's according to ministers Kim Howells and Geoff Hoon in answers to questions by Mark Francois MP (Conservative) recorded in Hansard dated 19 Feb 2007].

*For the record here is Sugar's slightly sickening homily to the man who arguably has done more than anyone since Jonathan Aitken and Neil Hamilton to destroy trust in our political system:
'what's in it for Levy?' Sir Alan said on BBC Radio 4's Today programme.
"This is not a man who has lined his own pocket, this is not a man who has done some insider trading dealing or something like that in the stock market and has stolen from shareholders.
"This is a man who has blind devotion - I don't know why - to Tony Blair, blind loyalty for Tony Blair and has gone out and blagged people for money for the party.
"That to me is his worse [sic] crime."

I suppose that in the New Morality of New Labour that is OK then. And I suppose Lord Levy's crimes or misdemeanours may be slight alongside invading a country and destroying it as a functioning state on the basis that you have managed to convince some naive backbenchers and racist tories that you thought the country concerned, authoritarianism notwithstanding, might have a weapon that could threaten Cyprus in 45 minutes despite the fact that the name of the country didn't begin with 'Turk' and end in 'ey'.

But then again maybe you have to consider what, or who, after all Lord Levy was fundraising for. If you are Tony Blair's Middle East envoy you can hardly plead ignorance of the effects of his policies can you?

I suppose that explains why he might well have felt safer asking donors if they wanted a peerage, rather than asking them if they wanted the blood of 100,000 Iraqi civilians on their hands - ermine, after all, being so much nicer to the touch than gore.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Doom laden...

Or scaremongering?

The second holocaust will be quite different. One bright morning, in five or 10 years, perhaps during a regional crisis, perhaps out of the blue, a day or a year or five years after Iran's acquisition of the Bomb, the mullahs in Qom will convene in secret session, under a portrait of the steely-eyed Ayatollah Khomeini, and give President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, by then in his second or third term, the go-ahead.

The orders will go out and the Shihab III and IV missiles will take off for Tel Aviv, Beersheba, Haifa and Jerusalem, and probably some military sites, including Israel's half dozen air and (reported) nuclear missile bases. Some of the Shihabs will be nuclear-tipped, perhaps even with multiple warheads. Others will be dupes, packed merely with biological or chemical agents, or old newspapers, to draw off or confuse Israel's anti-missile batteries and Home Front Command units.

Read on.

Friday, January 05, 2007

The Russians Love Their Children Too - but don't try telling the Bee Gee in Number Ten that the Iraqi's do...

A seasonal message from Iraq.

Riverbend reflects on the price of delay, overstay and the disaster that our friends in Number 10 and the White House visited upon the Iraqi people and by extension on our people too, or at any rate on those who have the misfortune to find themselves fighting there.

"Here we come to the end of 2006 and I am sad. Not simply sad for the state of the country, but for the state of our humanity, as Iraqis. We've all lost some of the compassion and civility that I felt made us special four years ago. I take myself as an example. Nearly four years ago, I cringed every time I heard about the death of an American soldier. They were occupiers, but they were humans also and the knowledge that they were being killed in my country gave me sleepless nights. Never mind they crossed oceans to attack the country, I actually felt for them.

Had I not chronicled those feelings of agitation in this very blog, I wouldn't believe them now. Today, they simply represent numbers. 3000 Americans dead over nearly four years? Really? That's the number of dead Iraqis in less than a month. The Americans had families? Too bad. So do we. So do the corpses in the streets and the ones waiting for identification in the morgue.

Is the American soldier that died today in Anbar more important than a cousin I have who was shot last month on the night of his engagement to a woman he's wanted to marry for the last six years? I don't think so.

Just because Americans die in smaller numbers, it doesn't make them more significant, does it?"

Predictably she also has her thoughts on the Saddam execution and what it tells us about the Maliki government.

Though we can read our own message into Maliki's pathetic complaints about the woes of office as his bizarre execution-timing backfires. I suspect, however, that this was driven more by a need to see Saddam executed for Bush's sake, before he announced his notably delayed 'new' Iraq policy. Using the execution as a laughable 'achievement line' in the sand Bush will try to talk about part one of the mission being accomplished and an end-game being in sight as he launches a rise in troop numbers after sacking the two senior military commanders who opposed this lunatic policy.

Meanwhile Maliki's talk of leaving office may in fact be an attempt to get US support, having done as Bush asked and timed the execution to insanely bridge the religious festivals of Christians and Muslims and indeed guarantee a symbolically bloody end to 2006 and start to 2007 - not to mention maximising TV coverage

I'm sure Bush wasn't hoping this would work as a distraction from the Democrats seizure of the House and Senate, itself a comment on his failed middle east war strategy (if we can honour it with such a term); but if he was, New Speaker Nancy Pelosi ensured in her opening address that the war didn't slip off the agenda.

Still I'm sure there's someone somewhere (at Harry's Place for example) who thinks its all for the best...

though I'm not sure that Gene at Harry's Place, like many Americans in public life (though thankfully not in comedy-writing), altogether understands irony...

That aside, its a little late for Harry's bootboys to try shyly laughing at themselves now - endearing it ain't.