Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Iraq's Gerry Adams?

On 9 August at Najaf the Iraqi Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr said "I would support the United Nations here in Iraq if it comes and replaces American and British occupiers". Now at Karbala he says that he is freezing the activities of his Mehdi Army for six months. If he can deliver, do these pronouncements provide scope for a Basra Agreement in line with the Belfast Agreement?

P.S. Here is a useful analysis of the Mehdi Army.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Great Minds Think Alike.....and?

In the threads here and here, I develop the argument for replacing the present Coalition forces in Iraq with troops from Islamic Nations other than those bordering Iraq. Just after I answered a recent comment on the second thread above, I turned to Johann Hari's web-site to see him propounding a similar viewpoint. He shows that in a terrible and dangerous Iraqi situation, the suggestion is no easy option. But it is probably the only hope we have left.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Howay Sheffield!.....howay sheffield!

Yesterday's Match

I left the house only 15 minutes before the kick-off for the game between Sheffield FC (founded 1857) and Nantwich Town (founded 1884). With the help of my walking stick, I dashed down Wreakes Lane and was in my place at the ground for the kick off.

In fact even before a ball was kicked, I did a quick head count and decided there was a crowd of 240 - which turned out to be its official attendance. This was 157 less than last Saturday. But it was a fine day this time and a bank-holiday week-end. Even some of the regulars must have had other family commitments.

Perhaps it was the last minute nature of my arriving at the ground, but the first half flew past. The early play was fairly even, but Sheffield first escaped a mass scramble in their six-yard box and then all seemed lost when a Nantwich player who was well offside rushed for goal. Somehow Gavin Smith our right full-back made it to the goal line to clear the shot.

Losing The Plot

The game was now swinging Nantwich's way. There was none of the usual dashes forward by Gavin to threaten the visitors goal. Instead he was in defensive mode confronted with man-of-the-match Danny Griggs on the left wing. Gavin even upended his opponent in the second half in an effort to keep him quite. But the tactic failed and only earned a yellow card.

After 39 minutes, Nantwich took a deserved lead through Pavol Suhaj signed from Crewe in May. But then suddenly Sheffield seemed to be back in the game with a penalty. But Vill Powell blasted his shot high into the trees in the field behind the goal.

Inevitably it was Danny Griggs who added the second for Nantwich just before the half time whistle.Well he was called up for the England futsal squad for the trip to Poland last October.

Drowning One's Sorrows

It was now time for a half-time pint at the club's Coach and Horses Pub. But even that was spoilt by gleeful Nantwich fans speculating about moving on to a 5-0 victory.

It must have been with such thoughts in mind that I found the second half of the match to be lengthy and tedious. But Sheffield FC stemmed the tide somewhat thanks to two fine saves from Jamie Holmshow in our goal. But when the referee should have played the advantage rule for Nantwich towards the end of the game, he gave them a free kick and they still went on to put the ball in the net through Glyn Blackhurst. So we lost 3-0.

Luckily the boisterous Nantwhich fans made straight for home after the match and weren't in the Coach and Horses afterwards. We could watch the results coming in on the TV in peace, after seeing St Helens celebrate their Rugby League Trophy Victory at Wembley. I saw last year's final at Twickenham, which St Helen's also won in a great carnival atmosphere. Memories. Memories.


The result had been a big disappointment as Sheffield FC had won their first two League games, whilst Nantwich had lost both of theirs'. Both teams are newly promoted to the Unibond and emerged from parallel leagues, with similar records. There seemed to be no reason why they should have the edge.

But our Manager's programme notes had contained a warning when he wrote "Nantwich are tipped by many who like to think they know their football." They also won the FA Vase in 2006 and have just opened a new £4 million football stadium. They obviously have hidden depths and pockets.

The reason I had been in such a late rush to get to the kick off was that as a lifelong Sunderland fan, I had been watching their match against Liverpool on Sky. We went down 2-0 and I had been looking to the Sheffield FC match to lift my gloom.

But in the end I had to suffer the Nantwich fans dream of a 5-0 drubbing - expect it came in two parts. A 2-0 defeat, followed by 3-0.

But there is always a bit of fun at Sheffield FC's ground. One of the regulars, with a voice that carries kept shouting out "Howay Sheffield" from his mid-field position. It immediately triggered the same shout from someone behind the goal. In the second half to our amusement, the echo come from the other end of the ground. It clearly belonged to a supporter who likes to see a close up as Sheffield's goals go into the net. It was a pity he had had a barren day.

Towards the end, we thought the echo had gone home as once their was silence. But he was back in full voice next time. There is always a next time, so "Howay Sheffield".

Friday, August 24, 2007

Easington Colliery: Yesterday And Today

On 1st September, the Easington Constituency Labour Party is due to select a new candidate for the next General Election for a seat that is solid Labour. I was born in Easington Colliery in 1936, remember its 1945 General Election and (then being the Secretary of the Easington Colliery Branch of the Labour Party) acted as Labour's sub-agent for the Colliey area in the 1959 election. My wife, Ann comes from the neighbouring Shotton Colliery; but when we married in 1963 we moved permanently out of the area as I was then an adult Student at Hull University.

When Easington Was Part of Seaham

Before the 1950 General Election, Easington Colliery was part of the Seaham Parliamentary Constituency. Although that Constituency was dominated by Coal Mining, its Labour MPs were never from the Miner's Union. They were prominent Labour politicians. From 1922 the socialist intellectual, Sidney Webb became the MP and served in Ramsay MacDonald's short lived 1924 Government as President of the Board of Trade.

In 1929, Sidney Webb went to the Lords to make way for Ramsay MacDonald himself. As a result of the 1929 election, MacDonald then served his second spell as Prime Minister. When MacDonald set up his National Government in 1931, he then stood in Seaham as National Labour in the subsequent general election defeating the scratch Labour Candidate in a straight fight.

Manny Shinwell who had first made a name for himself as a Red Clydesider and had served in the 1929 MacDonald Government was then adopted to fight against his former leader. Shinwell won by over 17,000 votes in 1935.

In 1945 when I left for home from the Junior School at Easington Colliery, I first experienced electoral politics. I found that Labour posters were flyposted on lamposts and elsewhere seeking votes for Shinwell and attacking Churchill and other Tory politicians.

Soon Shinwell's election address seemed to be in every front window. It was now as natural for me to be a Labour supporter as a Sunderland supporter. Shinwell with a majority of no less than 32,257 was given the job of nationalising the pits.

Now Easington In Name

From 1950 Shinwell continued in the Commons as MP for what was then the redrawn Constituency of Easington until he was 86 in 1970. The reason I joined the Labour Party in 1957 was that Shinwell ran an essay competition on public ownership, which I could only enter if I joined the Labour Party. My first meeting at the Easington Constituency Labour Party was to collected the £3 for second prize. I was beaten by the man who was teaching around that time at the school where the girl I was later to meet and marry was still a pupil.

In 1970, Jack Dormond who was Director of Education in the Easington area, replaced Shinwell as the local Labour MP. He had been a member of the Peterlee and District Fabian Society when I was Secretary before I went to Ruskin College as a student in 1960. He once got me to address the Haswell Labour Party Branch on "Why I Joined the Labour Party." I had to tell them it was for the essay contest!

When I was MP and Jack (who as MP had Chaired the Parliamentary Labour Party) was in the Lords, we occassionally met at lunch time. I once told him that as a youngster I had walked with my mates to see Easington Colliery play football at neighbouring Horden Colliery. I was then no-plussed when my father turned out in goal for Horden who were our rivals. The Horden goalkeeper had not turned up and they signed up my father on the spot as he played in a lower league. Jack said. "hold on I played in goal for Horden." It looks as if he was the man who did not turn up.

It wasn't until 1987 that a Miner ,John Cummings finally became the Labour MP for the Easington area. I first met John when he was seeking the nomination for Easington and I was seeking the nomination for North East Derbyshire. The strange thing is that in contrast to the Easington area, this corner of Derbyshire had had nothing else but Miners as MPs between 1922 and 1987 (like Seaham, Labour lost the seat in the 1931 crisis).

What Next?

I next give links to the four candidates on the current Easington shortlist.

1. Mike Routledge, Easington District Councillor.
2. David Taylor-Gooby , Easington District Councillor.
3. Farmida Bi,London Solicitor and co-founder the Progressive British Muslim Group.
4. Grahame Morris, former Easington District Councillor, John Cummings Agent and Reseacher.

The only one I know is Grahame. Who I know comes from Easington Colliery and is a keen Sunderland supporter! If it was the old days of delegatory democracy, then he would now be home and dry for he has a list of nominations as long as his arm. But when non-activist votes outweigh those of activists in today's system, you just can't tell.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Moqtada al-Sadr and Me

In a debate in a thread at "Harry's Place" I was challenged to explain my position in relation to the existence of foreign troops in Iraq. I responded with an argument which I later gave the following title -


My case ran as follows, although it was later elaborated upon in the thread -

(1) Coalition forces in Iraq operate a very mixed role. They stimulate opposition, yet offer some sort of protection against terrorism. They could be replaced by troops from Islamic nations (other than from nations bordering Iraq). The wealthier nations in say the G8, would need to provide the funding via the United Nations - so US money would need to be forthcoming, whilst looking for ways in which the piper did not play the tune. The Iraqi Parliament would need to accept this alternative. For whilst the Iraqis did not ask us to invade them, they should have the say over the terms of our removal.
(2) There is also a need to remove the 2nd largest foreign force in Iraq. These are mercenaries provided by private security firms. These could be removed at the same time as the Coalition troops. In the meanwhile urgent action needs to be taken by the UK and other Governments (along with Iraq's) to control the operations of firms which are subject to their authority.

Now I find that Moqtada al-Sadr (of all people) is seemingly coming up with something similar. It is time for some serious discussion and bargaining to take place.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Seeing Off Maggie's Boys

New Grantham Experiences

Until yesterday, the only people I have knowingly met from Grantham are Maggie Thatcher, Douglas Hogg its Conservative MP until the Constituency of that name was abolished in 1997 and Quentin Davies who is the current MP for "Grantham and Spalding" and recently defected to the Labour Party. Not my bunch of favourite people.

I made up for my limited experience of Grantham (which I have only ever travelled past in the train) by going to watch their football team play Sheffield FC at my local ground on the opening game of the season's Unibond League (Division One South).

My first encounter with Grantham fans was to direct them to the Coach and Horses, Sheffield FC's local pub. They rewarded me by telling me about Grantham's away record. The team had not won an away League game for 15 months. Then once I was in the ground, I shouted across the field at some of their less friendly fans who were making a nuisance of themselves behind one of the goals.

Settling In

I was let into the ground free on the promise that I would purchase a season ticket at the club shop. Luckily I purchased my programme first, for they ran out of these. When I made it to the shop, the duty salesman had no experience of selling season tickets so he asked me to call back at half time when he had worked out this mystery.

Being an honest fellow (and needing the season ticket for coming games), I duly turned up at half-time and completed the purchase in good time to hobble off to the Coach and Horses for another pint. Heaven knows how I will manage this if we ever get promoted to the Football League with a much bigger rush of would-be drunks.

As it rained persistently,I huddled in with a large section of the crowd under the limited covered shelter amongst the comradeship of the regulars and with a well behaved section of the visitors for Grantham.

I discovered that Tom had not seen this "You Tube" piece on the Sheffield United/West Ham saga, which I have placed here for his entertainment. As it is based on a film about Hitler, I need to remind others that Sheffield FC are not to be confused with the Blades - for we go well back even before the German Empire was established in 1871 under the Kaiser. We predate that little event by 24 years. So there.

Despite the weather, the pitch looked to be in good condition. The man with the best view was standing with an umbrella in a field which overlooks the ground. His job was to act as ball-boy when the ball was kicked out of his side of the ground. Luckily this seldom occurred, now that we are playing in a higher class of football.

Getting Set Up

Sheffield FC are newly promoted to this particular Division of the Unbibond and Grantham are newly relegated to it. So no-one knew what to expect.

Sheffield FC had only signed three new players in the pre-season. One came with a prior suspension to serve. But their new left-back Paul Smith (who has two hundred League games with Hartlepool and the Owls under his belt) had a fine first half. He was probably as good in the second half, but from where I was huddled I couldn't see him all that well.

The other new face was Karl Colley from last season's League winning rivals, Retford United. He all but scored from a powerful free kick.

Game On

The first half fell into three fairly equal spells. The first 15 minutes were dominated by Sheffield FC, then Grantham started to take over the game, but finally matters evened out with two goals arriving in the last 5 minutes. First Grantham scored, then the skilled and determined Chris Dolby equalised. 1-1 was a fair half time score.

Half way into the second half, Sheffield FC's Right-back (another Smith, called Gavin who is an established crowd favourite) hit a great long range shot into the Grantham net. From then on we always seemed to have sufficient control of the game to hold onto our 2-1 lead - which we did.

At least we played well enough for me not to loose my head and shout in frustration "Maggie, Maggie, Maggie, Out, Out, Out." Which is just as well, as I don't want to get the reputation for being a pensioner yob and have my name scrubbed from the members' roll of honour when I am alongside the honourable names shown here. Of course, all 450 members of the club are given the same privilege - including Eric Cantona, Ian Rush, Matt Le Tissier, Richard Caborn, David Blunkett and, above all, the one and only Bob Piper.

P.S. Here is the Sheffield FC's report of the game. Crowd 357.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Saddam Rides Again, As Sharistani

From "Hadi Never Died - Hadi Saleh and the Iraqi Trade Unions" by Abdullah Muhsin and Alan Johnson, (TUC July 2006) page 22.

"On March 11, 1987 Saddam Hussein appeared on national television sitting alongside the leaders of the GFTU and the 'Central Workers Office' of the Ba'ath party. Smiling he announced, "From now on, the title 'worker' is abolished and all workers shall become official employees of the State." Trade union organisation in the public sector was banned. "As everybody is now a government employee, there is no need for trade unions", said Saddam. Around 80 per cent of public sector workers were reclassified as 'state officials' and strikes were declared illegal."

From a statement by the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers Union (13 August, 2007).

"The ICEM is in strong support of oilworkers’ trade unions in Iraq over the most recent denial of their rights. Iraqi Oil Minister Hussein Sharistani, through his legal adviser Laith abd al Hussein Shahir, issued a formal directive to the country’s oil companies, ordering them not to deal with trade unions and to exclude trade unionists from work committees."


"The General Union of Oil Workers and Technicians (GUOWT), part of the General Federation of Iraqi Workers (GFIW), sent a delegation on 6 August to meet with the oil minister. Sharistani refused to meet, but sent the Information director of the ministry to tell the trade unionists that the oil minister “will not meet with people that represent unions in the oil sector” because there are no workers in this sector, only “state employees.”"

THEN there is this video from America.

The Kamm Recorder On Wicked Wikipedia

Oliver Kamm's criticism of Wikipedia seems to me to go well over the top. Whilst it is obvious to many of us that Wikipedia's entries can be (or become) distorted by a combination of errors and manipulations, this is hardly a unique problem when it comes to our handling information.

Newspapers, journals (even those from academia), magazines, books, conferences and chats in the pub all suffer from similar defects.

He argues that Wikipedia suffers from the "free-market dogmatism of the libertarian Right" and the "anti-intellectualism of the populist Left". So what's new? These sound like good descriptions of the Daily Mail on the one hand and of the popular politics shelves at Waterstones on the other.

Isn't the best approach to treat Wikipedia and the other avenues with a pinch of salt and to try to double-check claims wherever they come from? Yet we all have to start out from somewhere in checking out passing events in the world - even if (or especially) these are put forward on his blog by the anti-blogger known as Oliver Kamm.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Is Kerron Cross?

Kerron Cross is a persistent and well known blogger, who once wrote of me "I really like Harry".

Yet he has not yet answered this point which I posted in his comment box on Tuesday, although he has posted six items since.

This isn't really "Labour Humor". It is your chance as a Christian Socialist to save what you think is my soul. I am an Atheist and a Socialist - but would never describe myself as a "Atheist Socialist". Recommend one book for me to read which you feel will put a sound case for the Christian side of your belief and make me rethink my position - other than the Bible. To appreciate something of where I stand, here is a link to a strong criticism I made of Richard Dawkins "The God Delusion" -
I nevertheless can't believe in God's existence, and if I could I would not see him/she/it as a kindly being. I will then read your recommended book (with a bit of luck I may even have done this already) and then I will review it, showing to what extent it grabbed me. Well anything for Humor.

I hope that his failure to respond means that he is giving my question great thought before replying. Any other kindly Christian looking at this might like to reply to my point. I will ask a similar question of other forms of religious bloggers at a later date.

If I receive numerous responses I can't, however, promise to read all the books they recommend. But if one keeps cropping up (or there is only one) I will give it a go.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Iraqi Trade Unions' National Conference.

The General Federation of Iraqi Workers are making these preparations to hold their Annual Conference. The significance of this Iraqi TUC is explained here (again) and here.

Not Just Playing With Themselves

Anniversary Time

The oldest existing football club was founded in Sheffield on 24 October, 1857. It is a non-league team and is due to start its 150th season on Saturday with a home game in Step 4 of the Non-League Pyramid against Grantham Town. The team is Sheffield FC, who are newly promoted to the Unibond League (Division 1, South).

But if they were the first team, then who on earth did they play against? Well the answer is fairly obvious. Amongst themselves, members sorted out the competing teams.

Club Competitions

A second club was founded three years later at Hallam, which is also in Sheffield. The first inter-club contest was played on Hallam's ground on Boxing Day 1860. So Hallam FC v Sheffield FC is the oldest Derby in the world. Furthermore, Hallam still play on their original uneven pitch, which doubles as a cricket pitch.

There was nothing more delightful than going to watch the teams play on Hallam's ground last Boxing Day - 146 years to the day after the initial contest. See here.

By only 1862, no fewer than 15 clubs were organised in the Sheffield area. Sheffield FC helped to codify the game - with the heading of the ball permitted and crossbars introduced. The Sheffield Clubs were also the backbone of the FA which was founded the following year.

Coming Home

Sheffield FC surprisingly had never owned a ground until last season. It is a few hundred yards from my home. They initially moved into the ground in 2001, with my support as the then local MP.

The Club is now fully part of its community. It runs an invaluable "Boots for Africa" campaign, travels to overseas tournaments, has links to the top of FIFA and runs or provides backing to teams for children, youths, disabled and women.

They should be receiving national coverage within the next two months. Here is their web-site, which tells you much more.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Blogging Out

To meet other commitments, I am taking a few days break from blogging. This also means that for the time being I won't be visiting this thread which has been taking up some of my time - and which I keep plugging.

On the question it raises of what should happen to foreign troops in Iraq, my view is expressed in the slogan "Private and Coalition Troops Out, Islamic Troops In".

Monday, August 06, 2007

How Can We Leave Iraq?

A debate at Harry's Place has arisen around an article I posted on 4 July about Trade Unions in Iraq.

Although contributors discuss Trade Union issues, the discussion moves on to the question of how US troops (in particular) can be withdrawn from Iraq. The main dialectics of this aspect of the debate take place between TheIrie and myself. But significant contributions and questions are raised on the issue by numbers of people including Alec McPherson, Modernity and Craig Murray. The latter was an excellent host for my wife, myself and others on a visit we made to Ghana a number of years ago when he was still a prominent figure in the diplomatic service. Luckily for blogging and writing purposes, diplomacy and Craig have since parted company with one another.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Placing Harry

In the last item I posted, I was critical of the standard of debate in the comment box at "Harry's Place". So what have I been doing since, but contributing to these very debates here and here. Others will have to judge about the standards.

Friday, August 03, 2007

A Serious Blogging Debate On Iraq

First, see this video about a young girl and collateral damage in Iraq.

The Debate

If you turn to a popular blog such as "Harry's Place", the comments often start off seriously but soon degenerate into a slanging match between the participants. For an exception to this rule see this item posted by Treasure of Baghdad. Up to my providing this link, there were 48 items in its comment box which provide a serious debate between 6 named blog owners, plus the site owner along with 2 anonymous comments.

The item is about the failures of Parliamentary Politics in Iraq. The contributors seem mainly now to reside in the United States, although this one has moved from there to Baghdad.

I hope that anyone who joins into the debate (including myself), will seek to maintain its standards - even if they strongly disagree with the thrust of the original article.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Political Islamism v Spiritual Islam

The Need To Study Islam

Sometimes old dogs need to learn new tricks.

I have studied, taught and practiced politics for over half a century. Arab and Islamic issues have at times dominated my perceptions, from the Suez Crisis in 1956 to the current situation in Iraq. Yet inevitably I have viewed such events through the prism of the Western Political Tradition. So the concepts I have invariably used as critical tools have tended to be those of Capitalism, Socialism, Democracy, Social Justice, Fascism and Totalitarianism.

I am not for ditching my basic approach, but I feel a need to try and grasp hold of more of Islam from inside its own tradition. This seems to me to be possible without descending into a form of cultural relativism, which can ditch a belief in basic democratic values.

A practical difficulty in studying Islam is that it is dominated by, to me, difficult Arabic names and concepts. Whilst my experiences as an MP were also limited by the fact that the Constituency I represented has one of the smallest ethnic minority populations of any in Britain. Although it was Constituency casework that pulled me into taking a long term interest in developments in Pakistan.

Where To Start

It is by no means the first book I have read on Islam, but what I feel may be an invaluable feed into the area I am looking for is Ed Husain's recent book
"The Islamist".

The author effectively describes his own move into the world of Political Islamism. His route (away from traditionalist family Islamic influences) is via the Young Muslim Organisation and then Hizb iu-Tahrir. This is a complex world for the outsider and has characteristics of the divided world of Trotskyism which held its fascinations in the era of the Miltant Tendency. It is, however, a more dangerous world, opening up to anti-semitism, homophobia, the domination of women and suicide bombing. It is Ed Husain's personal story which helps the reader to put all these bits and pieces into a clear focus.

Breaking Free

A dramatic incident shakes the writer's commitment to the cause he had played a leading role in. But it takes him time (and counter-experiences) to be able to move firmly onto the alternative ground which he calls "Spiritual Islam".

Whilst his shift is essentially back to the ground his parents stood upon, his personal understanding of his move is given depth by the fact that he has travelled such a complex ideological journey. This is all conveyed meaningfully to the reader.

Towards the end of the book he draws us into key experiences he has in Syria and Saudi Arabia. The former are mainly positive experiences and the latter entirely negative ones. What he says on Syria may pleasantly surprise some.

What is missing?

Ed Husain refers to interesting sounding literature from the camps he moves between. Some of which I will seek to follow up. Unfortunately, his own book lacks some useful technical data. There is no index, no regular footnotes for the references he makes and no reading list drawn from his many references. So I will have to go back to the book to dig out what I need.

There is something even more important that is missing. Whilst we can follow the influences that move him between different interpretations of Islam, he does not provide his intellectual justifications for having a belief in the very existence of Allah.

I find this to be a vacuum as I have also have had an interest in philosophy as well as politics over the past 50 years. As an gentle atheist, this includes an interest in Metaphysics and the Philosophy of Religion. Although again, my approach is dominated by approaches within the Western Philosophical Tradition. Perhaps Ed Husain could think about writing a follow-up book that would cater for such interests. But with an index and proper references please.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Iraqi Workers Still Abolished

Outside of the area of the Kurdistan Regional Government, Iraqi Trade Unions face the sequestration of their funds under Decree 8750 which was adopted in August 2005. The bulk of these Trade Unions operate in the dominant public sector of the economy. Saddam Hussein's Law 150 is still in operation (outside of Iraqi Kurdistan) banning Trade Unionism in this sector. In announcing this Law on 11 March, 1987 Saddam said "from now on the title 'worker' is abolished and all workers shall become official employees of the State".

The extent to which the current Government makes use of Saddam's legislation is to be seen in the current dispute over the Iraqi Oil Laws.

It is a disgrace that basic Trade Union rights are denied in non-Kurdistan Iraq. Furthermore, the Trade Union's position on Iraq's Proposed Oil Law is a fully justified one. Support within the British Trade Union and Labour Movement is needed for our brothers and sisters in Iraq. Luckily, the TUC takes a lead on this matter - see their third item.*

My fuller analysis of the Trade Union situation in Iraq is provided here.

* = Brendon Barber (the TUC's General Secretary) went on to pursue this matter in this informative letter which he sent to Nuri al-Maliki (the Iraqi Prime Minister) on 3 August.