Monday, December 31, 2007

Bert Ward's Book

Yesterday I reviewed Jonathan Rose's book "The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes". Anyone interested in that telling topic will find the book shown opposite to be a sheer delight. It is from someone who emerges solidly from the tradition which Rose describes.

Bert Ward, the author is 85. He left school at 15 and for the following two decades he undertook a variety of solid working class occupations; first in the Navy, then at a building site, a foundry, the steelworks, a shipyard, on the railways and as a scaffolder. He also found time to train as a student nurse. During this time he became an active trade unionist and a dedicated rank and file worker for the Communist Party.

Building On His Base

Bert's consuming interests led him into full-time adult education as a student at Ruskin College and then on the London School of Economics (LSE). He retained and polished his wider political commitments. He always did this in a questioning way and his book shows that he was as fascinated with the ideas of Hobbes, Rousseau and Michels as with those of Marx.

I studied at Ruskin just two years after Bert moved on. It was then a College essentially for people from working class backgrounds who held few or no formal educational qualifications. Today's pattern has altered as further education is now solidly into forms of training people within modules for accreditation, so they can move to higher stages. This pattern rubs up against the norms of education which Bert experienced and then pursued as a Lecturer. He also drew lessons from his Ruskin experience on the importance of questioning, discussion and debate when involved in the practice of politics.

Bert went to Ruskin on a trade union scholarship and before he moved on to the LSE he had a spell working for the Amalgamated Engineering Union. After his final studies, he became a lecturer for a further two decades in Politics at the South East London College, before retiring and settling in his native Middlesborough.

Into Non-Retirement

I first met Bert in 1990 when he was retired and was finding even more time for political activity. The Communist Party he had devoted himself to (but at least after Ruskin, never uncritically) was nearing its final collapse.

We were both involved in the establishment of the British Section of a group called "New Consensus" which I described in my Constituency Labour Party Report at the time as being "a broad-based group which aims to challenge ambivalence and apathy about the right to life in Northern Ireland.....(it) condemns violence from wherever it comes from and campaigns for devolved government, a Bill of Rights and integrated education as a means to undermine sectarianism and terror..".

This was certainly not the hard-left politics of being soft on Sinn Fein. I would describe Bert's approach as neither being orange nor green, but red. For instance he sought avenues for working class unity in Northern Ireland in order to undermine the sectarian divide. He describes well how he moved away from the common hard-left stance whilst active on Irish issues in the Communist Party in the 1980s.

His work with our group, who later became known as "New Dialogue" was unstinting, effective and intellectually uplifting; particularly in his editorship of our influential bulletin with its column "Ward's Words".

Bert's Example

When I first met Bert he was roughly the age I was when I stood down from Parliament. He illustrates that when you arrive in the region of "three score years and ten" that you can devote yourself more fully to your concerns. Bert's interests also being kept alive by his love of writing poetry.

So he provides me with two New Year Resolutions. One is to return more fully to the political game, whilst ignoring the temptations of politicking for positions. The second is to start writing my own book of essays on my own political journey - to date.

As Manny Shinwell showed when he wrote "Lead With The Left: My First Ninety Six Years" (London Cassell, 1981), Bert also has time to write a sequel. I hope so anyway.

Ordering A Copy

Bert's story is easy to read, but never lacking in depth and insights. To obtain a copy send £6 (covering p&p) to G.H. Ward, 22 Westwood Avenue, Linthorpe, Middlesbrough TS5 5PY.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

On The Thinking Person's Thoughts

This is a review of "The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes". The cover opposite is from a Yale Nota Bene paperback edition (Yale University Press) published in 2002. I only came across this work recently on the shelves at Waterstones on Oxford Street. At the time there was a stock of at least six copies for sale. Perhaps an enterprising member of staff thought it would be good for our souls. It is a view I now share after reading it, even though I tend to concentrate on criticism rather than praise below.

An Inheritance

Once a month I organise a discussion meeting at a Club which has links with my local Labour Party. A number of us end up in the lounge bar afterwards to continue our discussions. Recently I discovered that five of us who were sitting in a corner had all attended different Adult Education Colleges which (in our time) catered for people from the working class who held few formal educational qualifications. The Colleges we had attended were Coleg Harlech, the Northern College, Newbattle Abbey. Ruskin and the Co-op College.

In essence, Jonathan Rose's book describes working class struggles for the forms of education which the five of us had come to benefit from. He starts with the harsh conditions of the early industrial revolution, where the self-taught labouring person was often confined to sparse copies of religious literature, such as the Bible and Pilgrims Progress.

Many A Manny

A century or so later in 1896, Manny Shinwell left school at 12 after only 2 years of schooling in London, 9 months at South Shields and one and a half years in Glasgow. Rose describes him as going on to become one of the most accomplished autodidacts of the 20th Century.

I also benefitted directly from Manny's Progress. First of all, I joined the Labour Party to entered an essay competition he ran in the Easington Divisional Labour Party and gained second prize. Then he later provided a reference which helped me to secure a place to study Politics and Economics at Ruskin College. Nearly 40 years later I ended up sitting in the same seat in the Commons Chamber which Manny had occupied when he finally left the Labour Front Bench.

Even if we were poorer copies, there was many a Manny who followed this type of pattern.

Autodidact Addicts

Self education can not advance far on its own. Its practitioners require the intellectual stimulations of argument and debate to meaningfully discover and test out the understandings of others. They need libraries, meetings, comradely classes and face-to-face discussions with fellow addicts.

So Rose takes us on a journey into classes run by the Workers' Educational Association (WEA), the Women's Co-operative Guild, on University Extension Courses and by bodies such as the Miners' Institute of South Wales. Rose describes the latter as having been "one of the greatest networks of cultural institutions created by working people anywhere in the world". By the second world war, the Tredegar Workmen's Institute was circulating 100,000 volumes a year and ran a 800 seat cinema with a film society and celebrity concerts.

Mining His Material

Rose has delved deeply into a whole host of invaluable sources, including 2,000 published and unpublished documents listed in "The Autobiography of the Working Class: Annotated, Critical Bibliography" edited by David Vincent, John Burnett and David Mayall in 3 Volumes (New York University Press, 1984-89). Use has also been made of important surveys of working class reading by the WEA, the Sheffield Educational Settlement and various academic researchers.

In 53 pages of notes there is a cornucopia of references for someone with my own interests. For not only did I study at Ruskin, but I later taught Politics and Industrial Relations to industrial workers for 21 years before I went to Parliament and I also ran access courses for those without formal qualifications who were looking to move to study full-time in higher education.

Whilst my own experiences explains why I devoured Rose's book, it also explains my disappointments with it. I felt that it could have reached the following glowing assessment by Christopher Hitchen, but unfortunately fell short - Hitchen claims that it "bears comparison with the best work of Edward Thompson". Yet for me to say that this work does not match up to a masterpiece such as "The Making of the English Working Class" is itself hardly a criticism. But I do have three serious niggles about Rose's otherwise compelling work.

(1) What Is It All About?

The book covers massive and exciting grounds, but it lacks an overall analytic framework in which the author's discoveries could have been marshalled. This would have helped the reader to grasp hold of the logic of developments. Even if the reader then came to disagree with the author's particular perspective.

I appreciate that there is the alternative danger of imposing a one-sided viewpoint upon the wide variety of material which research unearths. But a sensitive analysis would have enlivened the mining of Rose's empirical details.

At times, within a chapter I could not see why he had moved from one interesting bit of information onto another. This problem also arose between chapters. For instance, why do details about working class people at theatres being confused about distinctions between fact and fiction, follow on from a survey of Mutual Improvement Societies who are described as being Friendly Societies "devoted to education" ? Perhaps we are moved dramatically to reveal the contrasts.

(2) No Marks On Marx

The above overall eclectic style is suddenly burst asunder in a chapter well into the book entitled "Alienation From Marxism". Rose now has a sub-theme which is to show why the British Working Class did not take to Marxism.

After a fruitful start in which he summarizes the range of possibilities offered by Ross McKibbin in "The Ideologies of Class" (Clarendon Press, 1990),we descend into an attack on Vulgar Marxism and on manipulations by the Communist Party. Even the Marxist use of jargon is criticised as putting Marxism beyond the pale, although earlier we have been given examples of British working class intellectuals mastering the more complex and obscure works of Kant and Hegel.

Rose's problem is that he moves away from his study of autodidacts and working class intellectuals to generalisations about the working class as a whole.

Writers such as GDH Cole who claimed to be Marx-influenced explained Marxist ideas and had a close following amongst the category of working people Rose is supposed to be examining.

A tradition of a more sophisticated Marxist approach was also reflected in what happened in 1956 when people such as Lawrence Daly of the National Union of Mineworkers resigned from the Communist Party over the Russian invasion of Hungary and the revelations about Stalin, yet retained a keenly critical Marxist outlook.

Nor were all those who remained in the Communist Party (such as the late Bas Barker and his comrades in Chesterfield) the intellectual zombies which Rose indicates.

(3) Where Are We Now?

In the final chapter of his book, Rose turns his attention more specifically to developments after the second world war. The extension of formal education, cultural studies, the rise of popular and modern writing, the decline of a concentration on the classics, modernism, then post-modern studies, plus the rise of the mass media are all given as reasons for the decline of the tradition of the autodidact and their associates.

Yet the impact of the changes Rose highlights may have been much slower and less dramatic than he claims. For instance, he ignores the Adult Eduction College tradition which I mentioned at the start of this review, apart from his coverage of an early Ruskin College in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Coleg Harlech, Newbattle Avenue, Fircroft, Hillcroft, the Co-op College and the Catholic Workers' Colleges are either ignored or merely given passing references. Whilst the Northern College was only founded in 1978 in the very midst of what Rose sees as a barren period.

Neither do University Extramural Departments enter the frame, including the Sheffield University Industrial Day Release Scheme which ran up to the eventual decline of the Coal Industry: nor do we hear of bodies such as the Society for Industrial Tutors.

It is only from the early 1990's that these post-war forms of education began to be transformed by moves to further education based on modules and accreditation.

Even then Trade Union Education Schemes which had expanded in the post-war period survived, although they provide more of a training ethos than provisions based on widening people's horizons and interests.

Yet as Rose points out earlier in his book, workers are capable of adjusting to a variety of seemingly alien conditions for wider educational ends. Even though the hay-day of the popularity of the classics of the Everyman Library has long since gone, there are today's alternatives. Future surveys may well come to throw up a fresh form of viability of the intellectual life of the British Working Class - especially if the use of Sky Channels from History to Foreign News Services, DVDs, CDs. iPods, overseas travel and surfing the Net are all added to paperback book buying. The modern world may be short of interest groups with wide ranging and communal concerns, but specialist groups vie for membership.

We do, of course, have to recognise that the diversions of modern life offer fresh stumbling blocks to the intellectual growth of the working class. These differ from the deprivations of the past. But this does not means that everything isn't still worth playing for.

Final Thoughts

Even when my above criticisms have been taken into account, the book under review is still full of rich sources of material, revealing tales of our past and fascinating events. There is no reason why on my bookshelves it should not at least earn an honourable spot near "The Making of the English Working Class". I will certainly recommend it to anyone attending our Sunday Evening Discussions who has not read it already.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

"Come On Ref: I Need Me Dinner!"

Boxing Day = Football Day

At long last I made it to Sheffield FC to see a game. Postponements, a trip to London and a heavy cold had kept me away from the ground for nearly six weeks.

It was a noon kick off with the anticipated "higher than average crowd" for the festive season. Our daughter, Joanne is staying with us over the Xmas period. Not only did she have the good sense to see I needed a scanner from Santa to enliven my blog, but she kept me company at the game.

First Things First

First of all, we made it to the Club's pub at the Coach and Horses. It was packed, so we had to take our pre-match drinks outside. Luckily the weather was just right for the occasion. I noticed that we had some Sheffield United supporters with us. No doubt, they would be rushing off for another pre-match pint at Bramall Lane before their 3 p.m. kick -off.

Joanne and I made it into the ground just as the teams were running onto the pitch. Just time to introduce her to Tom, who had met her brother Stephen at a match about a year ago.

5 Goals In 25 Minutes

The first half was crazy. Gavin Smith our right-back put us ahead after only 3 minutes. I missed seeing it as I was looking around the ground to estimate the size of the crowd, which seemed to be between 400 and 500 and officially turned out to be 461.

After 10 Minutes, Jamie Vardy equalised for the visitors, Stocksbridge Park Steels. Somehow our goalkeeper (Martin Kearney) ended up almost flat on his back outside his six yard box as the ball was slipped into the net. It was the shape of things to come.

Next, Stocksbridge took the lead. Alvin Riley their number 11 got hold of the ball well into his own half, rushed down the left wing before cutting in to smash the ball into the net. It was all very impressive until we realised that no one had attempted to tackle him and our goalkeeper hadn't moved as the ball went past him.

It was back to 2-2 after 21 Minutes thanks to a fine free-kick from our man-of-the-match and left-back, Paul Smith.

Yet our normally excellent goalkeeper was still showing signs of a Xmas hangover when he fumbled a cross and was only saved by the post. But after 25 minutes we were 3-2 ahead. Vill Powell our striker started and finished a fine move. It was nice to have a goal from someone other than a full-back.

Then just as I was looking at my watch to see whether it was time to rush for the bar to beat the half-time crush, the goalkeeper's curse struck in the 40th Minute. Alvin Riley delivered a gem of a free-kick which lobbed our goalkeeper. But then I realised that Martin Kearney hadn't even lifted his hands above his head or he would have caught the ball.

Half-Time Magic

In the pub at half-time Joanne sensibly stuck to lager, whilst I went for another St. Petersburg which is a beer with a post-Leninist punch. I only hoped that Martin Kearney was onto something more medicinal.

We got into conversation with someone who had played for Newcastle University in the 1970s. He then checked with Joanne as to whether I was Harry Barnes or my predessor as MP, the late Ray Ellis. The way things were going, I wasn't quite sure of the correct answer.

Normal Service Is Resumed

Martin Kearney was back to his normal assured self in the second half and Stocksbridge were unable to add to their score.

It seemed to be heading for a 3-3 draw, then in the 80th Minute Stocksbridge had their captain sent off. A minute later we looked to have won the game, but Vill Powell's shot hit a Stockbridge player who was lying flat out on the goal line and the ball then went out for a corner.

But when the corner was eventually taken, Asa Ingall scored to put us 4-3 ahead.

All the Sheffield supporters wanted as time went on was the full-time whistle. "Come on Ref: I need me dinner!" was the clincher and the referee obligingly realised what day it was and blew for a famous victory.

But before Joanne and I rushed off for our dinners, I persuaded her to pop back to the Coach and Horses for a quick half. After all that nervous tension, I needed to relax before tackling the walk back home up Wreakes Lane.

Life is much simpler for Premiership fans.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A Merry Xmas On Xmas Day

From "Cartoons for the Cause" by Walter Crane, 1894 as published by the Labour Party 30 years ago.

Monday, December 24, 2007

A Thought For Christmas Also.

After 18 years as an M.P., it should surprise no-one that these were the final words I uttered in the Commons in 2005. The third nation I am talking about is Australia.

"As in Britain, people, whether for or against the invasion, can unite in helping the emerging Iraqi trade union and labour movement to play an active role in the development of civil society and democracy in that country."

For the full version see Question No. 2 here, headed "Iraq".

Sunday, December 23, 2007

New Catholicism?

Catholics will need to keep an eye on their new convert Tony Blair, in case he attempts to follow his main achievement in the Labour Party - the subversion of its ideology.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Help Needed

Below is an urgent appeal from Labour Start to take action via Amnesty International to seek help for the oppressed Iranian trade unionist Mahmoud Salehi -

"We've given considerable coverage over the last few months to the jailing of a number of independent union activists in Iran, including Mahmoud Salehi. Salehi's health has worsened in recent days and Amnesty International is calling for urgent messages to be sent. As this is the holiday season for many of you, it is a difficult time to get people to respond to appeals (many of you will not see this message until January) -- so please, if you are reading this, give your support to Amnesty's appeal now."

This is the link that enables you to find out about Mahmoud Salehi and to act on his behalf.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Terrorism As "Regular Stuff"

For the avoidance of doubt, here is a video of an interview with an Al Qaeda terrorist who has also trained fellow terrorists in Iraq and clearly propounds their murderous ideology. I have taken it from Iraqi Mojo's blog, which is well worth linking to.

"Progressive Conservatism" = "New Labour"

In that both are a contradiction in terms - as is "Liberal Democracy"

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Progressive Conservatism

The Tory Tradition

As we expect from its name, the Conservative Party has traditionally attempted to block or place a brake upon radical change. This has been the case whether it was faced with democratic reforms, welfare improvements, the disbanding of the Empire, the post-war shift to a mixed economy or income re-distribution.

For the purposes of survival, it has nevertheless at times come to accept significant changes. The franchise reforms of 1832 were accepted by Robert Peel two years afterwards as a "final and irrevocable settlement of a great constitutional question". Benjamin Disraeli came up with a more compassionate form of "One Nation Conservatism" in 1845. Then Harold Macmillan accepted moves to African independence in his "winds of change" speech in 1960.

Edmund Burke, a 18th Century thinker whom Conservatives at one time deferred to, also pointed out that all proposals for reform could not be dismissed for a "State without the means of change is without the means of conservation". The trick was to only allow those changes which would safeguard the continuing operations of the existing political, economic and social structure.

Revolutionary Conservatism

Then there are the times when Conservatism itself is radicalised because it wishes to reign in or trump radical changes which it feels has got out of hand.

So when I once argued in a Commons Committee that the Poll Tax was such a measure and it had made Margaret Thatcher the most revolutionary political leader in this country since Oliver Cromwell, the Conservatives present cheered. The tradition from Burke to MacMillan had bitten the dust.

Post-Modern Conservatism

But what are we to make of claims that David Cameron is de-constructing Conservatism and moving his Party into the opposing camp of the Progressives? And that he now has a programme to establish a "new progressive alliance" with the Liberal Democrats and the Greens?

What can this all mean? Conservatism is a very simple concept. But the term "progressive" covers a multitude of vices and virtues. Just what is it that we are being asked to progress towards and at what speed?

For all that the word "progressive" tells us is that the proposals it refers to are considered to be good and differ from conservation.

Varieties For Progress

So as I am a Democratic Socialist, what I see as progress are moves to social equality, democratic participation, co-operation and classlessness. But when Tony Blair expanded upon the progressive nature of New Labour he always criticised the type of things I believe in as being outdated and thereby conservative. He talked about the need for progressive politics a great deal. For him it was a modern version of the old Lloyd George mixture of free-market economics mellowed by acts of social justice. Gordon Brown hasn't come up with anything different, even if he did write a book about Jimmy Maxton.

What others see as progressive will be dominated by nationalism, globalism, a balanced eco-system, the ending of word poverty (by a variety of nostrums), feminism, Islam or what you will.

So by itself being tagged a progressive tells us much less than being tagged a conservative.

Progress To What?

What is Cameron wanting us to progress towards? Two Conservative MPs tell us that "for New Labour the progressive force is the State: for Cameron's Conservatives it is Society". How then will Society be enabled and encouraged to act? Will the State be used to set the ball rolling? Will charity replace State provisions? Or is it all just a more decentralised version of New Labourism?

If Cameron, Brown and Clegg-Huhne all see themselves as progressives, then are they all basically in the same camp or do they stand for distinctive brands of progress? If so what are they?

Let Us Put An End To Conceptual Confusion

Clarity over how differing people are using the word "progress" would help. Yet I suspect that it is being used as a substitute for ideas and that it would be far better to talk about politics in understandable terms such as "democracy", "socialism", and "egalitarianism"; or in concepts which openly clash with these - there are plenty of them around

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Sponsorship And Support

Sheffield FC at Step 4 of the Non-League Pyramid have just announced a sponsorship deal with Pirelli. Well it is one up on Newcastle United who are still playing with "Northern Rock" on the front of their shirts. Yet as a Socialist, I will have to become pro Northern Rock if it is nationalised. But as I am also a Sunderland supporter, I can hardly become pro the Magpies as well.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Murders In Baghdad

This is numbing, for it involves both direct experience and consuming writing about a horrific act.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Haw-Haw Calling

Nick's Niggles

Nick Cohen has published an article which is highly critical of Brian Haw's anti-war protest in Parliament Square which has a continuous presence opposite one of the main entrances used by MPs to enter and leave the Commons.

In reviewing Nick's book "What's Left?" I attempted to explain in some detail exactly where I both agreed and disagreed with him on issues such as the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Nevertheless (without my ever conceding that the invasion of Iraq has been anything less then a disaster), I agree with much of what Nick has to say on this occasion.

Harry's Hatreds

There are two other features about Brian Haw's protest which I have always criticised. They are drawn from the time when I was an MP and when I passed by his site at least twice daily on foot (for I don't have a car). So I can only report on these matters in the past tense. Perhaps things have picked up since then. I hope so.

First, the site was unkempt and grotty. No effort seemed to be made to spruce it up and to use a bit of aesthetic imagination with the posters in order to attract the attention of passers-by. It contrasted completely with a similar protest site in Berlin which was set up half way between the American and British Embassies. The Berlin version attracted people from different viewpoints to meet the organisers and join in meaningful debates.

Mark Wallinger has now won the Turner Prize for his recreation of Haw's original line of banners - I can only imagine that he used a great deal of artistic licence.

Secondly, Brian Haw and his comrades were normally given to haranguing people via loud speakers in a series of slogans or crude speeches. As most MPs normally rush in and out via the gates opposite in Ministerial or other forms of on-duty limousines, privates cars or taxis; they seldom had time to pick out a passing slogan. The people who suffered all this noise where tourists taking their photographs of Big Ben and some of the employees in the Commons. In particular, the police on the gates had to put up with shift after shift of this loud and tedious sloganising. Brian Haw and company obviously didn't give a thought to the well-being of the workers at the gates. Presumably cleaners, catering staff, attendants and police who are employed at the Palace of Westminster can just be dismissed as being lackeys of British Imperialism.

Some of us old-fashioned lefties are, however, still given to asking "what about the workers?" - whether they seek employment in Iraq, Afghanistan or Westminster.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Still Waiting For Peter

Peter Hain is reported to be attacking Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling for acting "appallingly" in blocking a rescue package for workers whose pension schemes have collapsed. The Political Editor of The Observer, Nicholas Watt started an article on this matter in yesterdays paper in the following way.

Cabinet Split Over Pensions Rescue

"Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling have sparked a furious cabinet row by blocking a £725m rescue package for 125,000 workers who lost pension rights when their employers went bust or wound up their schemes.

The Observer understands that Peter Hain, the Work and Pensions Secretary, is angry at the refusal of Darling and Brown to come to the rescue of the 125,000 workers, whose lengthy wait is being contrasted with the rapid help handed out to investors in Northern Rock. Hain has spoken privately of how the government has handled the matter 'absolutely appallingly'"

Here is the full article.

What Will Peter Hain Now Do?

If Peter Hain wins out in this internal tussle, then he can re-establish some of his credentials to be a plausible left wing Labour Leader in waiting: although his proposals to push more people off benefits and into work acts as a stumbling block to this.

If he loses out along with the workers who need the £725 million rescue package, then he has no option but to resign from the Government and lead a fight back on the back-benches on this issue - and for a wider programme of feasible democratic socialist initiatives.

I have argued in the past that Peter Hain is the best placed Labour Minister who can act in this way. But for me he is now at the last chance saloon.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Spicing Up Craig Murray

For those who haven't yet read Craig Murray's fine book "Murder in Samarkand" , there is a taster here which reproduces seven or so pages from the start of his book - you may need to register. It is taken from a New York Times' "Sunday Book Review" following the publication of his book in America under the title "Dirty Diplomacy" .

Sometimes books don't live up to the promise of their early pages. This isn't, however, the case with Craig Murray's book which I have already praised here.

The New York Times have now produced a curmudgeonly review of Craig's book as the reviewer doesn't like Craig's confessions about his sex life. Yet it is exactly Craig's ability to mix details about his personal life with the horrors of the Uzbekistan regime, which carries the reader along.

Confessions can also be informative about the wider picture. He explains that it was because he had discovered a convenient place to piss up against a wall, that he knew the way to get Claire Short and her high power delegation out of a building when the Uzbek authorities attempted to block them in. It gave Claire as Minister for Overseas Development her only brief opportunity to find out for herself what life was like in the country - away from the controls and manipulations of the regime.

I suspect that the New York Times' reviewer was reacting against the publisher's presentation of Craig's book as being about "the rough-and-tumble adventures of a scotch-drinking, skirt-chasing, dictator-busting and unrepentant Ambassador stuck on the front line against terror." The British edition refers more soberly and accurately to "a British Ambassador's controversial defiance of tyranny in the war on terror". Overall, it is a much more accurate description - plus the odd bits of spice.

Craig's book is both good for one's soul and an entertaining read. Those qualities don't often go together.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Aljazeera Inside Iraq

For over a year the English language version of Aljazeera has been running a regular programme entitled "Inside Iraq". It appears on Channel 514 of Sky TV in Britain.

It normally takes the form of interviews with groups of three or so people, who are usually situated in different studios between the Middle East and America. The main interviewer is rather intrusive for my taste, but the programme is a valuable source for those following the developments in (and upon) Iraq.

Some of the past programmes can be accessed here. It would be helpful if Aljazeera would turn its attention to the efforts of civic bodies throughout Iraq: such as Trade Unions, women and youth organisations, communal groups and bodies seeking to influence internal political developments by persuasion rather than by terrorist tactics or a military presence.

Friday, December 07, 2007

The Women Of Basra

Today "Treasure of Baghdad" has posted an important item about terrorist oppression (including murders) of women in Basra who fail to follow Taliban-style codes of behaviour.

The item contains a link to an Al Jazerra news item of 16 November on the issue. This includes an interview with Houzan Mahmoud of the Organisation of Women's Freedom In Iraq. She gave evidence to "The Iraq Commission" on 12 June. A transcript can be found here.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Iraq - The New Country

Mohammed a 25 year old dentist in Baghdad runs a compelling site entitled "Last of the Iraqis". Today he has surpassed even himself in compiling and posting a 5 minute video which provides both footage and English sub-titles to the popular and telling Iraqi song "The New Country". It is not to be missed.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Monday, December 03, 2007

How Football Kicked Off

From "Answers To Correspondents" on page 63 of today's Daily Mail.

QUESTION : Sheffield United claim to be the oldest football team in the world. But it takes two teams to play a game, so who did they play?

The oldest football team in the world is Sheffield FC who currently play in the Unibond League Division One South, at Step 4 in the Non-League Pyramid.

Founded in 1857, they should not be confused with Sheffield United, founded 32 years later. There are, however, close links between the two clubs as Sheffield FC assisted in the formation of the Blades.

Sheffield FC was initially established to allow its members to play football against each other, much like joining a local golf club these days. Games originally took place under a variety of formats, such as married men against single men.

The second oldest football team in the world is also Sheffield based: Hallam FC, who play on their original ground, the oldest continually existing football ground in the world. Sheffield FC have operated from several venues over the years.

The first challenge match ever was between Hallam FC and Sheffield FC at the Hallam ground on Boxing Day 1860. Last Boxing Day the two teams met again at Hallam for the 146th anniversary of the oldest derby in the world.

Forms of football, involving contests between sides which kicked, punched, carried and otherwise attempted to force some form of ball into alternative goal areas took place for many centuries before Sheffield FC came along. But the Sheffield club pioneered the modern rules and practices of soccer.

These include corner kicks, free kicks for fouls, throw-ins, heading the ball, crossbars and even the use of floodlights.

Sheffield FC's position as the world's first football team is recognised by FIFA.

When professional football gained a foothold in the Sheffield area, it brought Sheffield United and Sheffield Wednesday into prominence. Sheffield FC missed out on this development because, at that time, they decided to maintain their amateur status and never made it to the Football League - not yet anyway.

Harry Barnes

On Craig Murray

I reviewed Craig Murray's book "Murder in Samarkand" - here.

Below I give the response from his weblog -

Harry Barnes' Critique

Certainly one of the most interesting and thoughtful critiques of Murder in Samarkand has been posted by Harry Barnes on his blog. For those who don't know, Harry is a recently retired, long-serving Labour MP. He represents strongly the origins of that party as an organisation dedicated to improving the lot of working people, both in the UK and worldwide. His perspective casts new light across several aspects of the book, including this extract:

"In particular, I found Craig's description of Claire Short's visit to Tashkent when she went to Chair a conference of the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development to be highly revealing.

Claire did a fine job in standing up for human rights against the Uzbek regime. As soon as she returned home she resigned her post as Secretary of State of Overseas Development over the Government's involvement in the invasion of Iraq.

I had been amongst those who criticized Claire for not resigning earlier when Robin Cook went. Yet what she stood out for in Uzbekistan was of great importance and is a justification in itself for the delayed resignation. Her period at Overseas Development was also one of the limited avenues of achievement of the Blair Government."

A comment on a couple of Harry's points. yes, of course I oppose political violence by state and other terrorists. I am not a closet al-Qaida supporter, or even al-Qaida denier.

Secondly, I am indeed no socialist. But I am only "the strongest possible advocate of privatisation" in the context of Uzbekistan, where state ownership of pretty well everything is a device used ruthlessly by the elite to exploit an enslaved population. In a developed economy like ours, I believe that natural monopolies should be in public hands, as should essential services like health and education.

Direct observation has convinced me that public services are best delivered by public organisations. The so-called efficiencies of privatised provision of public services are a myth, with any beneficial effect more than outweighed by the removal of public resources as private profit, and the skimping and shoddiness on the service designed to increase those profits.

In developing economies, I am completely opposed, for example, to IFI pressure to privatise and charge for water and other essential human needs. But I think purely commercial activity is best conducted by individuals and companies in market conditions, and there should be plenty of space for it.

Posted by craig on November 30, 2007 9:08 AM

My Response To Craig

I have been unable to find my way into Craig's comment box, but just wished to add that I am more than happy to accept his above two points which take away my only two feeble attempts to find some means of providing semi-criticisms of his book. There is, of course, a distinction between us in that I am a democratic socialist and he isn't. But I can't just criticise material because it doesn't come fully from out of my own political perspective - for I would then probably end up only enjoying my own efforts!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Iraq : A 5th Straw In The Wind?

Although there is still a long way to go before conditions in Iraq stabilize,this report should be added to four other reports I linked to earlier - here and here.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Undiplomatic Diplomat

Craig Murray's Cocktail

Craig Murray's book "Murder In Samarkand" is a compelling read because it is such a heady cocktail.

In part it is a fascinating travel book about Uzbekistan. Whilst this takes the reader into the harsh downside of life in this much blighted nation, we are also given telling descriptions of the splendours of Samarkand and the humanity of many Uzbeks; especially of those who bravely stand out against the tyranny of the ruling elite.

Elsewhere, it is a book of confessions. Craig openly deals with his love of women, alcohol and the good life. Yet he firmly puts down Foreign Office allegations which claimed that he had abused his position as Ambassador in Tashkent to gratify such desires. The claim that he traded visas for sexual favours is seen as the deepest insult by a man who obviously feels that its is his personality, charm and the propensity to wear a kilt which sweeps women off their feet.

Another part of the book is a heart-rending horror story, detailing systematic abuses of human rights by top level and minor officialdom. Hideous beatings, sadistic murders, regular rapes and the disgusting and widespread exploitation of child labour are all fully detailed.

On top of all this, there is intrigue in the diplomatic service and manipulations by Western Governments. It all has the grip of a top John Buchan adventure story, yet we are dealing with cruel facts and not fiction.

Craig, Jack And Claire

The book also holds a wide range of personal fascinations for me.

To start with, my wife Ann and I met Craig in Ghana in 1999. He was British Deputy High Commissioner in Accra and was standing in for the High Commissioner who was out of the country. We were with a Commonwealth Parliamentary delegation.

He organised a first rate visit, participating in a whole host of our activities and ensuring we gained the maximum benefit and understanding from our visit.

He also openly displayed that side of his character which was later twisted by his diplomatic and political bosses over his human rights work in Uzbekistan. After a key visit to the gold mines at Obuasi in the middle of a crisis about world gold prices, most of our group were ready for an early night when we finally reached the mining compound. But Craig was up until the early hours drinking and chatting with engineers and managers, who were astonished to see him leaving the following morning in a Land Rover flying the Diplomat's Union Jack from its bonnet.

He delivered a top flight reception at the Ambassador's residence when we returned to Accra. It was his typical blend of seriousness and enjoyment.

A second fascination for me is that he writes about a world I have peeped into. It is filled with Diplomats, high ranking Civil Servants, Government Ministers and fellow politicians. Jack Straw comes in for fairly justified hammering. Yet I also know something of the other side of Jack's character. He is the person who helped to progress one of my proposals to improve electoral registration and is the only Minister I ever came across who pushed to get invitations to address Socialist Campaign Group Meetings - so he could confront the flack. I am, however, disappointed about Craig's revelations about Jack's human rights failings; especially as I was always impressed that Jack had a well thumbed copy of John Keane's "Tom Paine" in his room in the Commons.

In particular, I found Craig's description of Claire Short's visit to Tashkent when she went to Chair a conference of the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development to be highly revealing.

Claire did a fine job in standing up for human rights against the Uzbek regime. As soon as she returned home she resigned her post as Secretary of State of Overseas Development over the Government's involvement in the invasion of Iraq.

I had been amongst those who criticized Claire for not resigning earlier when Robin Cook went. Yet what she stood out for in Uzbekistan was of great importance and is a justification in itself for the delayed resignation. Her period at Overseas Development was also one of the limited avenues of achievement of the Blair Government.

I have two final minor links with what Craig has to say. First, I feel I can come up with a good shot at the name he deletes from Simon Butt's pathetic letter which he reproduces on page 252. Then when he is rushed into St. Thomas's hospital which is opposite the Commons, he seems to have been placed on the same floor and in a similar room to the one I occupied 5 years earlier when I had a stroke.

The Politics Of Diplomacy

Whilst it might add to a good read when you can put some known faces to places, it isn't essential. I have never been to Uzbekistan, but I was pleased to been taken there via Craig's writings.

The final fascinations about Craig's book are his peculiarities. He is a most undiplomatic diplomat. Not only does he never hide his interests in wine (or whisky), women and song; but in Uzbekistan he behaved overtly in an open political fashion and did not limit himself to the hidden form of politics which is the diplomats forte. No matter how he gets there, he even ends up addressing a meeting set up to establish a united opposition made up of varying dissident groups.

He is a man with considerable abilities (and sees no reason to be modest about these). He moves with speed and outrage when he sees an injustice. This is fine when he sees a specific injustice, but there are times on the wider canvas when he seems to be guilty of resorting to what Nye Bevan termed "an emotional spasm". The only question here is whether such an approach undermined his overall effectiveness for the values he adhered to. Although many of us would have remained in ignorance about Uzbekistan but for his actions and his book.

A Sociable Non-Socialist

In being bounced out of the diplomatic game, Craig became a hero of the Hard Left. But he fits this role oddly.

In no way is he a socialist. Some of his most effective work in Uzbekistan was on behalf of British Companies seeking to operate in that alien climate. He is the strongest possible advocate of privatisation.

His eye for women. his passing comments to and about them and his attempts to have his wife act as a female version of a cuckold, will upset many feminists.

It is his human rights stance that appeals to the Hard Left and what makes him their friend is his related opposition to Bush and (at the time of his book) Blair.

I suspect, however, that if Craig was pushed into meeting terror from terrorists on a daily basis that he would try to undermine their actions just as he did with State terrorism in Uzbekistan.

A Human Rights stance is one that in logic and emotion is opposed to both Imperial aggression and Terror Group tactics. Perhaps there is enough on Craig's Web-Site to show that he has a foot in both Human Rights' Camps. If not, we still need to accept that he did more for the cause of human rights in a couple of years in Uzbekistan than the rest of us achieve in a lifetime.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Interventions For Intervention

The US mortgage crash, Northern Rock, Eron, the fiasco over child benefit data, the depth of third world poverty with its starvations and exploitations, military adventurism and religious and political fanaticism all spell out the need for planning, democratic interventionism, co-operation and social justice at home and abroad.

If there is to be a sea change on our doorstep within the Labour Party to dispense with its continuing anti-social ideology of New Labourism ,then it will need more than just mobilisation on the Hard Left. What is left of our intelligent media and socially conscious opinion leaders need to stand up and make the case for at least some openings in the direction I have suggested.

Here are a couple of examples of what is needed - Will Hutton and Johann Hari. We need a sign that the Government, the Parliamentary Labour Party and the wider movement are picking up such messages.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Howard, Bush And Blair

I have never met nor even seen the recently departed Prime Minister of Australia, John Howard. I understand, however, that he was at the front of the public gallery in the Commons and saw the exchange I give below between myself and Tony Blair during Prime Minsters Questions on 7 May 2003. This was just seven weeks after the invasion of Iraq.

Tom Clarke M.P. was sat a distance from me and was looking up and observing John Howard's reactions at the time. Afterwards he told me that Howard had an expression of disgust on his face when Tony Blair made sympathetic noises towards the developing Trade Union Movement in Iraq.

Even George Bush made a double edged commitment to "free labor unions" for the Middle East in his 2004 State of the Union address, when he said -

I will send you a proposal to double the budget of the National Endowment for Democracy, and to focus its new work on the development of free elections, and free markets, free press, and free labor unions in the Middle East. And above all, we will finish the historic work of democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq, so those nations can light the way for others, and help transform a troubled part of the world. (Applause.)

All that can be said in favour of Howard's reactions in the Commons that day was that, at least, he was being honest about his feelings. How far can the same be said about the reactions of Blair and Bush?

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire): The Prime Minister will be aware that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has issued an appeal to the International Labour Organisation and to the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions to involve themselves in the creation of a democratic trade union movement in Iraq. Will he have words with President Bush to establish that the President also presses for this, and supports the development of a labour movement as part of the democratic movement in Iraq?

The Prime Minister: One of the great advantages of the liberation of Iraq is that the people there should be able to enjoy the same human rights as people enjoy in other countries that have a greater history of democracy and representative government. One of those essential freedoms and rights is the right to be a member of a trade union, and I have no doubt at all that that will form part of the dispensation in the new Iraq that is being created.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Some More Hope For Iraq?

In this item, I listed three factors which indicate that matters might slowly be improving in Iraq. There is now a fourth factor to add to this list, with signs that numbers of those who had fled from Iraq have started to return.

There is, of course, always another side of the coin as shown in this disturbing news from Basra. But on balance, life might just be becoming slightly less hideous for the Iraqi people.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Crowded Out

Too Much Football?

In the six week period from 6th October to last Saturday, Sheffield FC played no less than 14 games.

This has been a huge haul for part-timers, especially as it included high prestige games against Sheffield United, a Non-League XI (all their players from higher Leagues than us) and finally the Inter-Milan Match in front of Pele and a crowd of 18,471.

Up to the Inter-Milan football feast at Bramall Lane, Sheffield FC had won 9 competitive League and cup games in a row.

But under all of this physical and emotional stress, the inevitable occurred. Following the Inter-Milan game, we went to lowly Carlton Town for a League game and crashed 4-1.

Where Has The Crowd Gone?

But I was in my place to then watch us defeat Lincoln United 4-2 in a fine display just 3 days later. This was impressive stuff as Lincoln are in the League above us. It was a fine calm evening, but only 150 spectators turned up. Our smallest home crowd of the season and only 0.8% of the attendance to watch Inter Milan!

Where Has The Crowd Come From?

Yet on Saturday, the crowd bounced up to 647 for a game against Goole . Not only was it our top home crowd of the season, but it was higher than the sum total at five other Unibond Division One South clashes that day.

The new arrivals were mainly captives from the Inter Milan game, as neither Sheffield United nor the Wednesday had fixtures that day. When I arrived, there was a unprecedented queue to get into the ground and no programmes left.

Inevitably, Sheffield FC put in one of their worst performances of the season, yet they started with the same line up which did so well against Lincoln United. It was a 0-0 draw in an ill-tempered game. Perhaps there were some grudges from a 1-1 cup draw at Goole earlier in the season which we had won 5-4 on penalties.

Goole had a striker sent off after only 15 minutes. And when we were awarded a penalty at the start of the second half, Rob Ward a hero from the Inter-Milan game managed to miss three chances in as many seconds. First his penalty was saved. Next his shot from the re-bound was also saved with the keeper pushing the ball into the air. Finally, Rob rushed forward to head the ball over the bar.

0-0 was a fair result. Neither side deserved to win.

Yet More Football

From next Saturday we again face 3 matches in a week. The dust might have to settle before we get back into our winning streak.

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Darker Side Of Life In Iraq

Life is always two sided. As I speculated on signs of improvements in the condition of the Iraqi people in the item I posted yesterday, there came this hideous news of developments in Basra.

The paradox is that whilst there are signs of some positive moves in the areas dominated by American troops, things may be getting worse in areas that had previously been until British control.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Iraq - Is There Now Hope?

Here are three signs that in spite of the continuing problems of life and death in Iraq, things might just be turning the corner. But there is a long way to go.

(1) The number of killings is in decline.

(2) Children are returning to school.

(3) Oil production and its exports are rising.

There is, of course, a long way to go with each of these; plus masses of other outstanding problems. But seeking to advance practical help to improve the conditions of life of the Iraqi people should be seen as our first priority, especially as improvement is now feasible.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Disband These Armies Now

Here is another killing by a Private Security Firm in Iraq.

The case against the Mercenary Army run by Blackwater in Iraq is given here.

The case against the wider Privatised Military Industry is given here.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Press Your MP To Sign This

Whatever Political Party your MP belongs to, press them to sign the following Early Day Motion which has been submitted on an all-party basis. It is important and self-explanatory.

EDM 141


Anderson, David
Bottomley, Peter
Brake, Tom
Drew, David
Russell, Bob
Vis, Rudi

That this House condemns the attempted assassination on 18th October 2007 of Iranian trade union activist Majid Hamidi by three masked gunmen; notes that Iranian labour activists are convinced that armed attacks of this type are done with the knowledge of the Iranian government; shares their concern that this represents a considerable escalation in persecution of trade unionists, which they have called a Colombianisation of the situation in Iran; notes the continuing imprisonment of independent trade union activists such as Mansour Osanloo, leader of the Tehran bus workers' union, as well as Mahmoud Salehi and Ebrahim Madadi, documented on the Labour Start website; and calls upon the UK Government to press the International Labour Organisation to raise this issue as a matter of urgency with the Iranian government.

Friday, November 09, 2007

50 Years Of Sensible Extremism.

Into The Labour Party

I attended my first Constituency Labour Party Meeting exactly 50 years ago today. It was a meeting of the Easington Divisional Labour Party, held in the Workmen's Club, Blackhall, County Durham.

I attended in order to collect the second prize in an essay competition run by the local Labour M.P., Mannie Shinwell. In fact I joined the Labour Party in order to qualify to enter this competition. The topic was "Nationalisation".

I had been wondering whether to join the Labour Party for almost a year, after ending my National Service in Iraq. And as I was starting to write letters about socialism to the Sunderland Echo, this was a further chance to express my stance on paper and finally make a move into the Labour Party. But I was still worried about what I saw as the limited and reformist nature of Labourism

The first prize went to the late John Alderson from Peterlee. He was a teacher in the Constituency at Shotton Colliery, who later became Chair of the Peterlee and District Fabian Society and I became its Secretary. He also taught at the school my future wife attended as a pupil, but it was to be almost 4 years later before I met her.

The third prize went to Derek Rutherford who was then a 6th form student. Mannie preferred his essay to the rest, but had handed the decision-making over to a Committee. I don't know if many entered the contest, but I had to use No.16 on my entry. But that could have been a ploy to make the numbers look reasonable. I believe that Derek went on to become General Secretary of the Institute of Alcohol Studies.

Socialist Sustenance

I submitted my essay on September 19th, just before leaving for a Conference in London run by the International Society for Socialist Studies (ISSS) at which it adopted its Constitution. GDH Cole was elected President and Stuart Hall was one of those elected to its Executive Committee.

The week-end's activities started with a public meeting which included Barbara Castle, Kingsley Martin (editor of the New Statesman), Kenneth Kaunda and Lelio Basso of the Italian Socialist Party.

Claude Bourdet, the editor of France Observateur (a leading weekly on the French Left) sent his apologies. I heard him, however, later at a further ISSS Conference. Whilst Vladimir Dedijer was refused a visa to attend by the Yugoslav Government.

A Two Footed Stance

I feel that moving into the short lived ISSS and the now much changed Labour Party at one and the same time, typifies my general approach to politics since then. I have always had a foot in two camps. One foot has been with comrades who help keep socialist ideas alive and the other has been placed within the institution of the Labour Movement; especially within the Labour Party and the Trade Union Movement. With the later I have attempted to be what GDH Cole himself called a "loyal grouser" and a "sensible extremist".

We Sign Pele

Joining The Top Team

Pele has just become a member of Sheffield Football Club; signing up alongside other famous names such as Gordon Banks, Uriah Rennie, Sepp Blatter, Michael Vaughan, Def Leppard, Bobby Robson, Bobby Charlton, Derek Dooley, Richard Caborn, Sven-Goran Eriksson, Kenny Dalglish, Bob Piper and myself.

Our new signing was paraded in front of a crowd of 18,471 at Bramall Lane last night when we met Inter Milan in a match to celebrate our 150th birthday as the Club who kicked off football.

Pre-Match Jinks

The crowd was in fine festival mood and was slightly larger than normal. Up 18,273 on those at Saturday's home game.

Yet the kick-off was held up 24 minutes to allow everyone to get in and to ensure that everyone then experienced the pre-match hype. We had the well trusted techniques of balloons, announcements, music and some 50 youngsters in Sheffield and Inter-Milan strips placed around the centre circle.

Then we had the unique bit - our new signing Pele surrounded by cameramen and other important people. He broke loose and ran round the centre circle vigorously waiving at everyone. We loved it.

Pele was then presented to the teams, the youngsters and the big-wigs. For the first time I suddenly thought we might win, for he was presented to 21 players from our side and there were only 13 from Inter-Milan. Unfortunately, officialdom ensured that we kicked off with the usual 11 a side. It must have been in those rules which Sheffield FC drew up in 1857.

Watch Out - Its Inter-Milan

Whilst Sheffield FC enjoyed the early play and shots (with one even on target), Inter-Milan established their superiority with a 3-0 half time lead adding a fourth shortly after half-time. With official encouragement, we took our minds off the rout with rounds of Mexican waves. At first they seemed to be unending, then like Sheffield FC's chances they petered out.

But suddenly, the game was transformed as the Sheffield FC manager played his great substitution trick. Whilst he started out with his top defence, he held back some of his best mid-fielders and strikers. Then as Inter-Milan started to substitute some of their best players, he improved the make-up of his own team on the field.

The plan immediately worked. Sheffield FC pulled two goals back, through two new arrivals, Stuart Copnell and Rob Ward. The third new face in Chris Dolby sent over the fine free kick from which Rob headed the ball into the net. Then Stuart all but delivered a third with a lob that was only cleared off the goal-line itself.

Eventually, Inter-Milan finished up 5-2 winners. But we had our spell of glory.

The Winners - Sheffield FC And Football

Few left the ground, apart from the family next to me when the father said "I have really enjoyed this" when they up and left. It also looked as if all 21 Sheffield players were given a spell on the pitch, as the whole of the first-line defence (including the goalkeeper) were eventually replaced. The great substitution trick had given way to a policy of giving everyone their five minutes of glory against the mighty Inter-Milan.

The best of all for me, was coming across regulars and hearing them shouting. The young men with the large Sheffield FC banner were chanting in the background and the distinctive call of "Howaye Sheffield" came from a well-recognised voice.

Our next home game is against Lincoln United in the 3rd Round of the Unibond League Cup. I wonder where we are going to put all our new supporters? For even if most of them were Sheffield United supporters in disguise, it is an evening match and their first love has no fixture that night.

A Move To Shia-Sunni Unity In Iraq

Iraqi Mojo reports on this move.

Given the significance of religion in Iraqi politics, lets hope it is as significant as the Ian Paisley/Gerry Adams deal in Northern Ireland.

P.S. In time the hard line Shia and the hard line Sunnis might become the Iraqi Chuckle Brothers, just like these Northern Island counterparts.

P.P.S. If only Maqtada Sadr would learn to chuckle kindly.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

'Slab' In The Slammer - Well He Was Arrested

The Criminal Assets Bureau was established in the Republic of Ireland in 1996. It investigates persons who are suspected of deriving assets directly or indirectly from criminal activity. For those it establishes a case against, action is taken in the Courts to deprive or deny those charged of the assets and of the proceeds of their activity.

'Slab' Murphy has been said over a considerable time to have been the Chief of Staff of the Provisional IRA and has a farm which straddles the border between the Republic and Northern Ireland. He has just been arrested by the Criminal Assets Bureau.

The Bureau has an impressive record. I was a member of the Northern Ireland Select Committee which went to Dublin to examine its work. Our report was influential in encouraging the establishment of its equivalent in the UK, known as the Assets Recovery Agency.

The Agency is no doubt taking a close interest in developments over 'Slab' who has always had his farming boots either sides of the border.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Campaigning To Free Osanloo

Following on from the item I posted immediately below this one, I present the e-mail which the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITW) are circulating to enable us to assist in this campaign. See the important links I provide.

Dear Friends,

Please find attached our "Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)" of our campaign.It is designed to be a four-page A5 leaflet. (Note: I don't have the technical skills to display this attachment, but see pages 10 to 14 here from the ITW which covers Osanloo's plight. HB)

I hope you will find it useful; for yourself as well as for wider distribution.

We plan to translate this into the following languages.
French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, Dutch, Turkish, Arabic, Farsi, Russian, Thai, Bahasa, Japanese and Korean.

They will be posted on our campaign page. Or you can email the ITF with the request. And if you have a request for another language, feel free to contact us as well.

We welcome your feedback on this publication as well as our campaign in general.

Yours in solidarity

Mac Urata

Have you signed the petitions?
Vahed Union:

Monday, November 05, 2007

Tehran Bus Workers' Appeal

This is their appeal on behalf of (a) their Trade Union Leader Mansour Osanloo who has been unjustly imprisoned in Iran following earlier maltreatment and (b) Ebrahim Madadi for giving backing to Osanloo. I previously raised the issue here and here.

Syndicate of Vahed Strongly Condemns the Unfair Verdicts of 5 Years Prison for Mansour Osanloo and 2 Years for Ebrahim Madadi

Whereas always the Supreme Leader and government’s authorities encourage all people to engage in their own fate and defend their rights by being in present at any scene, whenever workers defended their legitimate rights they have been faced with the judiciary system and prison. Nowhere in the Constitution of Law, Labor Law, Civil Rights, and Islamic Sharia Laws has been written that the consequences of defending workers rights would be prison, repression and dismissal. Creating the atmosphere and preparing the environment by infusing the idea of arresting labor activists whenever they want to arrest a worker’s activist, imprisonment of workers, secret courts, unofficially informing workers from the issued verdicts, and long term prison sentences are not the generous awards to the labor activists who devote their entire life to get the workers legitimate rights. Any enlightened conscience doesn’t accept the way that workers have been treated with contempt.

Syndicate of Workers of the Tehran and Suburban Bus Company, Vahed, strongly condemns the unfair verdicts of five years prison for Mansour Osanloo, because of his trade and syndicalism’s activities, and two - year prison sentence for Ebrahim Madadi, only because he went to Mansour Osanloo’s house to express his sympathy with his family, and requests all international labor organizations to react seriously to this unfair and anti-workers decision globally.

Syndicate of Workers of the Tehran and Suburban Bus Company, Vahed,
November 3, 2007


Free Two Imprisoned Syndicalists

Sorrowfully two imprisoned syndicalists, Mr. Mansour Osanloo and Mr. Ebrahim Madadi have been sentenced to five and two years prison, respectively. What crimes have they been committed to? Are defending syndicalism’s rights and demanding to form the independent syndicate of workers at Vahed Company considered crimes?

Dear Esteemed Judiciary Authorities!

The principle 165 of Constitution of Law requires all trials to be open to the public with the presence of defending attorneys. Why were the cases tried in these hearing while none of the attorneys, families, and workers of the Vahed Company was in present, in order to find out for which criminal activities the members of the Syndicate’s Executive Board were sentenced?

Why do you think that the activities of the two members of the executive board of the Vahed’s Syndicate are against national security? Why are the defenders of the legitimate rights of workers at Vahed Company, who live under the poverty line and should receive more attention, being treated with oppression and unkindly? How long would the trade and syndicalism’s activities pay this large amount of cost? At the moment, more than 30 workers of the Vahed company have been suspended and they are financially embarrassed, and about 13 of the workers have received the reinstate orders from the board of dispute resolution of Labor Ministry, but the managers of the Vahed Company denied to accept them. These workers are the hardest workers in the society and are in a hard living condition.
We ask the esteemed head of the judiciary power to free the two imprisoned syndicate’s workers immediately.

The Founding Board of the Workers’ Syndicates, expressing the sorrow at the issued verdicts, demands the immediate release of Mr. Mansour Osanloo and Mr. Ebrahim Madadi.

Founding Board of Workers’ Syndicates
November 1, 2007

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Cup Fever

"Match Of The Day" Had Nothing On This One.

Sheffield FC were at home to Kendal Town in the Second Qualifying Round of the FA Trophy yesterday. And even without instant replays, numerous camera angles and paid experts; this was really something.

Kendal play in the Unibond Premier Division, which is the League that Sheffield are seeking to gain promotion to. So this was a key test of the progress we have made this season.

Yet the match only attracted half of last weeks crowd - 208 compared to 411. It was a sign that three home games in the past week could only finally cater for the regulars. Even I had missed a mid-week victory over Grantham Town in the President's Cup. But I had the excuse that I got the dates mixed up. It is the sort of thing that happens when you pass three score years and ten.

What No Mascots?

We had none of the celebrations which I reported from last week's game. No guard of honour from 50 children and, therefore, no crowds of parents with cameras. But the sun shone and my cloth cap came in handy to block it from my view. It was also much less crowded in the Club's Pub.

Kendal set off at a cracking pace. But with Martin Kearney (who isn't our regular keeper) in fine form and a sound defence in front of him, it looked as if we would weather the initial storm. But in the 7th minute disaster struck.

As Kendal moved forward two players ran past the Sheffield defence (whose line was some 30 yards from their goal) and one of them took a through ball and hit it into the back of the net. I was amongst the home supporters in line with the incident and we had never seen a clearer offside. Unfortunately both the linesman and the referee took a different viewpoint and we were 1-0 down.

A Turning Point?

As with last week, it took us 15 minutes to threaten the visitors. Our attack was soon slipping on the fallen leaves near the visitor's goal. Leaves which no-one had bothered to sweep up.

On 28 minutes Asa Ingall slithered in an equaliser. With the scores level at half-time, the home supporters felt that (given justice) we were really 1-0 ahead.

Whilst our defence remained sound in the second half, it began to push up field as we attacked. Gavin Smith our right-back scored with a fine shot from outside the visitors penalty box in the 62 minute.

4 minutes later it was the turn of Paul Smith the left-back. His fine work down the line from the half way mark led to a situation where a well executed shot from Rob Ward put us 3-1 ahead.

Never Leave Before The End

In added time just as we seemed to have things wrapped up, mayhem broke out.

First, the regulars were convinced we would be given a penalty. But as the ball rolled out of play, the referee decided to give us a consolation corner instead. It could only be a consolation as the ball seemed to go out of play off one of our players.

But then the referee's tendency to compromise did not last long as he gave a penalty at the other end of the pitch for "something-we-know-not-what". Kendal's Wright scored and it was now 3-2.

The Kendal player who had earlier scored the off-side goal then rushed to recover the ball from the back of the net. When our goalkeeper held on to it, Mulvaney then whipped his legs from under him. The culprit was red carded and a free for all broke out. Even the Kendal goalkeeper was shouting, although he had earlier received a yellow card for abusing the referee.

When the referee managed to get the game restarted, he immediately blew his whistle for full-time. A grumpy Kendal left the pitch in an argumentative mood. Wisely Sheffield held back near the leafy end of the pitch until the coast was clear. Half the crowd stayed on to cheer their heroes off back to the dressing room. Tom said that he could imagine the Kendal players hammering on the walls in the next room.

Bring On Inter-Milan

Anyone who had stayed away from the game to watch the Arsenal v Man United game on the telly made the wrong choice. It was the die-hards who had all the fun and the exercise of their lungs. Then in the end we could be philosophical about the two goals against us, which should not have been. For with fair decisions (including the penalty we never got) we could have won 4-0. Yet we are into the next round.

After all the fun I had at the match, I thankfully missed the Premiership scores so I was able to watch "Match Of The Day" last night without knowing the script in advance.

We have now won 11 out of our last 12 competitive games. It is only the celebratory friendly games we lose. So I won't get upset if Inter Milan manage to nick the big game against us at Bramall Lane on Thursday night. For I know there will be plenty more excitement in store for the loyal 200 just down the road from my home.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

US War Department Does Well In Iraq

Unfortunately this was back in 1943

The War and Navy Department at Washington DC issued a "Guide For US Forces Serving In Iraq 1943" which has been re-published with a Preface by Dark House Publications (2008, £4.99). It is in a format, like the original which is easy to slip into a pocket.

Whilst the guide might not be unproblematic, it gives useful advice to troops about "getting along with Iraqis and making them your friends", saying "the best way to get along with people is to understand them. That is what this guide is for".

It is a pity that Bush and his advisers did not study it before the invasion.

Towards the end, the guide gives 28 tips on how to respect and (where appropriate) join-in with Iraqi customs. It concludes with hints on how to pronounce some key Iraqi words and phrases, pressing troops to talk "Arabic if you can to people. No matter how badly you do it." Appropriate recordings were also supplied to help extend their skills in Arabic.

I undertook my National Service in Basra in 1955-6. I would have found a British version of the guide to be invaluable. But never once did Officers in the RAF organise any guidance whatsoever to us on how to mix with Iraqi people and to respect their way of life. We weren't even told where we were at or what we were doing there.

The US also issued "A Soldier's Guide To The Republic Of Iraq" in 2003. I have not yet seen a copy and can only point to this criticism of part of its content. Things seem to have gone downhill since 1943.

I am seeking to discover whether a British version (past or present) exists. I would be grateful for any information on this.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Free Osanloo : Support Trade Unionism In Iran

Mansour Osanloo, the leader of the Tehran Bus Workers' Trade Union has been sentenced to 5 years imprisonment following brutalities against him by the Iranian authorities when he was nearly blinded.

See this fine background video about him from the International Transport Workers' Federation.

Press your Trade Union, MP, Labour Party and local Amnesty Group to make the strongest possible representations to achieve freedom for Osanloo and his Trade Union.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Give Iraq Your Vote

Avoid the temptations of Wayne Rooney and vote for the Younis Mahmoud (the Iraqi Team captain) as your top footballer. Here is the explanation and here is the web-site for your vote.

Vote for the Lion of Mesopotamia and give Iraqis something to celebrate.

Official : The Best Team In FIFA

The President's Presentation

It was fitting that on its 150th Birthday, Sepp Blatter the FIFA President should pay a glowing tribute to Sheffield FC. At a reception held by the Club on Wednesday he said -

"Today I have been welcomed in the House of Lords, the House of Commons, and now the House of Football. I am so happy to be here as a guest of Sheffield Football Club because it is the best club in our organisation. I am here as representative of 1.3 million clubs and also of more than one billion people who take part in the game to say thank you to Sheffield Football Club, the first in that family"

And It Got Better

I am full of admiration for the set of events and special games which Sheffield FC have organised for its celebrations. The biggest game is yet to come when we play Inter Milan at Bramall Lane on 8 November. 11,000 tickets have already been sold. Not bad for a Non-League Club whose League home gates average 286.

Yet as a regular and a season ticket holder, I feel that the real anniversary has just taken place for those standing on the home terraces. The first game Sheffield FC played on reaching the 150 mark was on Saturday against Cammell Laird in a key Unibond Division One South contest.

A Fitting Game

It was exactly right to be playing Cammell Laird who are celebrating their own 100th season; especially as the two teams are immediate rivals in the League.

Before the kick off, Cammell Laird were second in the League and Sheffield FC third. We were five points behind our rivals, but with a game in hand. So we had the prospect of pipping them when we reached level pegging on games.

Sheffield did its usual celebratory routine with fifty youngsters in football strips acting as a guard of honour for the teams. Then six youths led the teams whilst carrying a "Kick Racism Out Of Football" banner.

Game On

It was a tough tussle, with defences in command in the first half. Karl Colley was solid at the heart of the Sheffield defence and nearly scored a spectacular goal from a long distance free kick. Yet it initially took 15 minutes for Sheffield to threaten the visitors' goal, when they forced two corners in quick succession.

It looked as if the game had a nil-nil draw written all over it, when Stuart Copnell found himself clear in front of goal and we were 1-0 ahead. After the match he told me that it was the easiest goal he had ever scored.

As the whistle went for half-time it looked as if we were in for a hard second half grind. Before I rushed for my half time pint I was first into the Club Shop to purchase a ticket for the Inter-Milan game - plus a match day badge and the Club's Anniversary Book (with another glowing preface from Blatter).

Eyes Down For the Second Half

The second half proved to be the hard tussle we all imagined. Except that it was a much more open contest with the attacks coming into their own. It was made worse for Sheffield, however, in the 75th minute when Miles Thorpe got his second yellow card and we were down to 10 men. His two yellows really did not warrant a red card - perhaps we need an orange card option.

But we held on and are now only two points from second place with that game in hand. Better still Retford Town who are League Leaders, lost a home game. We are now 5 points from the top with two games in hand of them. So we can live in hope.

From Blatter To Blather

The terrace celebrations turned out to be the real thing. Whilst we thank Blatter for his chuck-on, there is nothing like the blather of appreciation that came from myself and fellow home spectators. Another plus was that the crowd totalled 411, well above our average League attendance. Although, I suspect it was boosted by the parents of that guard of honour.

But all these things are doubled-edged. If we beat a strong Inter-Milan side, future home games might attract so many that we might not get into the ground. Worse still we might not get into the Club's Pub at half-time. But I can stop worrying, surely we can't see off Inter-Milan - or can we?

I only have one grouse. Just imagine how much national media publicity Sheffield FC would be currently receiving if they were a London based team.

Friday, October 26, 2007

150 Years And 2 Days OId

Celebrating From The Terraces

On Wednesday Sheffield FC celebrated its 150th Anniversary with this posh bash.

I wasn't present, but was in London to undertake some research into Parliamentary Archive material. But I did make the celebratory friendly match which the club held on its home ground the preceding evening. A football match with the regulars present seems to me to be a more appropriate way to celebrate an historic anniversary than a (partially) black tie event - although I am not against the latter which raises the Clubs image and links.

The match was against an FA Non-League XI. There were over 40 youngsters as mascots, decked out in the two teams' colours. There were also flags, photo calls and video cameras to record the event; all this seemed just the ideal atmosphere. We even had a top flight referee in control of the proceedings in Uriah Rennie.

Sheffield Versus Sheffield

It mattered little that we lost 2-0 against an impressive FA XI. After all, we lost an earlier celebration game when the visitors were Sheffield United who fielded a reasonably strong team including Paddy Kenny and James Bettie.

United's football was fast, fit and frantic; except for Bettie who ambled through the game. Yet he scored a hat-trick. The first from a penalty. The second from a toe poke when the ball was bobbing around the Sheffield FC goal. Then finally from the edge of the six-yard box when he was left completely unmarked.

At least Sheffield FC got the last and best goal of the game via their impressive recent signing, Stewart Copnell. And again there was plenty of atmosphere, with another pile of mascots and a crowd of 700 or so, which is three times the norm.

Into European Football

We have a third celebration to attend. This one will be at Bramall Lane (just 5 miles away) against Inter-Milan. At least we will win on mascots.

I don't mind losing celebratory games, as we are doing well for a newly promoted team in competitive games. We are second in the Unibond Premier League. Our last home game being an exciting 2-1 win over Kidgrove Athletic, thanks to a fine second half revival. We have now lost only one of our last 9 competitive games and recently saw off Bradford Park Avenue on their own ground 2-0 in the FA Trophy.

Next Time

There is, however, a bigger celebration I am looking forward to. When Sheffield FC was established 150 years and 2 days ago, they could only fix up games amongst their members (it was rather like joining a club to play golf). But in 1860 a second football club was established as Hallam FC. Hallam still play on their original ground, which saw the first ever challenge match against Sheffield FC on Boxing Day that year.

The 150th Anniversary of that game will be on Boxing Day 2010. I insist that we have a re-match that day. If they want a black-tie dinner, they can have it afterwards in the evening. Here is my report of the memorable game that was played last Boxing Day on the 146th Anniversary.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

A Democratic, Social And Federal Europe

I am fully in favour of us holding a referendum on the European Union's (EU) Reform Treaty AND I favour a "yes" vote in such a referendum.

On Having A Referendum

I have always believed in the case for having referendums BEFORE any significant changes are allowed to be made in EU Treaties, as these effect the very powers of the nations they embrace. We have never had such a referendum in this country. The one under Harold Wilson was organised only after we had already joined what was then the Common Market.

The only thing that would be better than a nationally based referendum, would be a European-wide referendum. But I concede we have some way to go before we can achieve that.

On Voting "Yes"

The major defect of the EU has always been its democratic deficit. In a democracy, decisions should be made by Parliaments elected on a Universal Franchise. This should apply to the European Parliament as well.

But despite a gradual increase in the role of the European Parliament over the years, the main decisions in the EU are still made by Councils of Ministers taken from the Executives of the Member States. There is only a limited control by national parliaments over the way their Minister's operate in such Councils. Finland probably operates the best model for this.

The main body which shapes the agenda of such Councils is the European Commission and not the European or national Parliaments.

Will The New Treaty Tackle The Democratic Deficit?

The answer to my above question is "not completely by any means". But it will provide a number of democratic advances which we can build upon in the future.

In a number of policy areas, such as justice, security and immigration the European Parliament will have the power to approve or reject EU legislation. National Parliaments will also have a voice in the making of EU laws for the first time.

They will receive EU legislative proposals and if a third of the national Parliaments reject a proposal it will be sent back to the Commission for re-drafting. If half the national Parliaments remain opposed, then the measure will be stopped.

Whilst these are obviously limited (but important) democratic gains, they are in the right direction. Democrats need to pocket such proposals, whilst pointing to the need for greater democratic gains.

A Democratic, Social And Confederal Europe?

I have always pressed for the slogan which I have used in the opening title above. But the Reform Treaty provides for the possibility of a country leaving the EU under conditions negotiated with the remaining members. If Nations or States have a right to secede from a Union, they are normally viewed as being part of a Confederation rather than a Federation.

Who knows even Dennis Skinner might like the idea of having the legal right to secede from the EU. I had, therefore, better widen my stance and now call for "A Democratic, Social and Confederal Europe" - seats in all parts.