Sunday, 25 November 2007

Wrights and responsibilities

It seems Ladies and Gentlemen, Oxford has deemed that the best people to talk about free speech, are those who would abolish it. In his often superb blog, my good friend Jonny Wright has totally missed the point. Leaving aside the fact that this is a ticketed event which sold out in hours, OUSU, Unite, the Labour Club, Jsoc and the rest don't want to engage with Griffin and Irving, because there is nothing to be gained from the experience. All of these groups have remained consistent in their view that by engaging you justify. Jonny's military analogy is rather apt. However, in the battleground of ideas, Griffin and Irving are not armies, they are intellectual terrorists. And all the resources and power of rational thought, evidence and humanity cannot defeat blind, visceral hatred, anymore than tanks and jets can beat a few guerrillas with kalashnikovs. But it is not only that the exercise is futile, but what those who have argued for Griffin and Irving to come have repeatedly failed to understand. That by creating a debate you put the ideas on a level of parity. You don't teach creationism alongside evolution, you don't set Aristotle's theory of four elements against the periodic table, and you don't put those who deny one of the mostly highly documented events in world history, on par with real scholarship.

It is overwhelmingly those who have to deal with fascism that have opposed this invitation. Those who are the first to be put to the wall; jews, ethnic minorities, the LGBT community, socialists. The middle classes, who turned a blind eye in Italy, and Germany, and Spain, and Argentina, and Chile, and who know the knock on the door and "well placed boot" will not fall on them, are of course by and large content to let them come. After all,they're not the ones in danger. And now, to add insult to injury, it is the protesters who are lambasted for not arguing in the chamber. Where are all the eloquent defenders of the invitation who called for them to be "crushed in debate"? Could it be that though the Liberals were happy to stand up and lecture those of us who opposed this debacle from the beginning, when it comes to having their pictures on Redwatch they're otherwise engaged?

I'll be out there Monday night. And I pray that those inside all slap each other on the back, stoke their sense of righteousness with how principled they are, and that we awake on Tuesday to the greatest of anti-climaxes. History however, points in another direction, and I worry that in this instance, the BNP will adhere to it meticulously.

Thursday, 4 October 2007

Blue Monday

With all the sneering, upper-class contempt that only the Tories can muster, George Osborne sought on Monday to denigrate the man he never managed to beat in the Commons. I suppose it's easier when there's no-one to argue back. It allows you to make some truly absurd assertions.

Apparently it's stamp duty that has kept first time buyers out of the housing market, despite the fact that the savings gained from its total elimination would be swallowed by the monthly rise in house prices.

We're told it's Gordon's fault that pensions are in a state, and it's true that £5 billion pounds was wiped off by the treasury tax simplification. £250 billion pounds however was wiped off by the stock market fluctuations following the dot com bubble and 9/11.

And then, in Toryland, it was the actions of central government that led to Northern Rock, while Osborne eulogised the inherent sense of global markets, and actions taken when millions act in harmony. In reality, Northern Rock was caused precisely by the incompetence of unregulated markets, and the dark side of what happens when many individual decisions are made wrongly. And it was central government that had to step in and save the day.

Whereas Gordon spoke of unity, of Britishness and values, of encouraging the potential of everyone, Osborne made it clear once again exactly who votes for the Tories. The rich. Here, we saw the diarchy, based on the purported New Labour model. A shiny, happy, politically androgynous leader for the voters, and a dyed-in-the-wool chancellor to let the party know its core values will be at the heart of policy. And so it was time to pay the piper. They'd stomached the green taxes that would make them pay a bit more for that fourth annual holiday, they'd gritted their teeth while the grammar schools debacle raged, they'd stifled their disgust when told civil partnerships were on par with marriage. And so, here came their break.

And what a break it was. A promise to abolish that most Liberal of taxes, that on privilege, with the added treat of removing the nuisance of a fee to the exchequer for their extortionate property dealings. And as a garnish, a token admonishment to all those vulgar foreigners who have been driving up the cost of good help in Chelsea.

What the inheritance tax reforms would represent is a direct transferral from the poor to the rich. Only 6% of the population pay inheritance tax. The tax raises around £3.5 billion a year. It affects wealth, not income, and so is no barrier to aspiration. It is in fact despised by many Tories because it is so meritocratic, ensuring little Tamsin and Tarquin have to at least make a token effort to work. These reforms will do nothing to help the 31% of households who do not own the property they live in, nor will they help the vast majority whose assets are less than £300,000. They will rob those most in need, in order to help those who already have the means to help themselves.

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Morality, Mugabe and the Mail

We hear from the BBC today that Gordon Brown has said he will boycott Portugal's upcoming EU-AU summit if Robert Mugabe, the Zimbabwean leader, is allowed to attend. The decision is indisputably the right one, but is it for the right reasons?

Mugabe has been in power since the rather dubious elections of 1980. In the past 27 years he has pursued murderous campaigns against the Ndebele minority, his rivals Joshua Nkomo and ZAPU, the LGBT population, the White-African farmers, the Black-African poor, the opposition MDC, and now it would seem against anyone outside his own private inner circle. He has been the archetypal example of an African despot, and is picked out only because he's so bloody good at it. He has resisted crisis after crisis, and clung on to power with an awesome tenacity. He has conducted ethnic cleansing not with the clunking, military fist of Hussein or Milosovitch, which draws too much outside attention, but with the subtle weapons of starvation and evacuation. He has made it an easy necessity for the non-Shona to leave. Most crucially of all, he has played the diplomatic game with skill beyond any Western politician, realising that it is his own brethren in the African Union, Thabo Mbeki above all, who he needs to keep onside. Indeed the more the "Imperialist Oppressors" condemn him, the greater his standing seems to become.

So with reference to my last point will this ultimatum, though deserved, do more harm than good? I don't believe so. We are constantly berating our politicians for glad-handing dictators, the haunting picture of Rumsfeld and Saddam springs to mind. If the Prime Minister refused to attend a debate with Nick Griffin, no one would question it, and no sensible person would claim that doing so strengthened the BNP's assertion of a conspiracy against them. The same is true for the international stage. Indeed, this is the view the EU has taken up to now, banning Mugabe from entering the Union.

As to motives, I would be thrilled to think that this was the beginning of a sea-change, of a truly ethical foreign policy, based on soft rather than hard power. Britain has a duty to Zimbabwe, certainly a far greater one than we owe to Iraq or Afghanistan. And that is because Mugabe is a creation of specifically British intervention, of the campaign of political and economic warfare conducted by this country against Rhodesia, after the Unilateral Declaration of Independence in 1965. This makes a pure mockery of any claim, either that soft power doesn't work, or that post-independence a colony should be beyond the scope of interest. The African Union was calling for an invasion of Smith's Rhodesia in 1965 to help the oppressed and disenfranchised, so why is that call not there now? British warships were dispatched to blockade Beira in neighbouring Mozambique, why not now? And massive pressure was put on South Africa to cut off Rhodesia's oil, with eventual success. That the same weapons have not been touched when it comes to Zimbabwe is ludicrous. This appears to be the beginning.

And that's what's made me think. Call me cynical, but I don't think this is anything to do with ethics. I don't think it's to do with the simple disruption Mugabe would cause at the summit. I don't even think it's because Gordon knows the political death that would await if he were tricked, as Jack Straw was, into shaking hands with him.

This isn't for people like me, this is for the Tories, those Mail/Express reading types who yell for recolonisation. Not to get their votes, that'll never happen, but to make them put more pressure on Cameron. This is inviting Thatcher to Downing Street, but on the world stage. The Tories have lost the economy, they've lost law and order, they've lost 'Mummy', and now to top it all Gordon is defender of the Empire.

Speaking up for the weak and oppressed, and hitting the Tories where it hurts at the same time.

Get in there Gordon!

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Testing, testing, 1! 2! 3!

Just a test post to see whether this actually works...