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.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

A Key Opening For Iraq's Trade Unions

The General Federation of Iraqi Workers and the Kurdish Federation of Workers (from Iraqi Kurdistan) have met with the Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq to press for the repeal of Iraq's Anti-Trade Union Legislation.

Still in operation (and use) is Law 150 passed by Saddam Hussein in 1987 banning the operation of Trade Unions in the public sector of the economy, which covers some 80% of those who manage to have jobs.

Decree 8750 adopted in August 2005 by the transitional Government is also still in operation. Under it the Iraqi Government have sequestrated Trade Union funds, pending a decision in which they will determine who is to be recognised as a Trade Union. So much for free Trade Unionism.

It is, therefore, good to see that the Deputy Prime Minister has not dismissed the Trade Unions representations out-of-hand as has occurred in the past. This is, therefore, a key time for the Trade Movement throughout the world to press the Iraqi Government on this issue. It is an urgent and key matter to raise within one's own Trade Union.

I need to declare an interest, I am an honorary member of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions which form a key part of the General Federation of Iraqi Workers and the bulk of the delegation shown on the above link are friends of mine.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Understanding Iraqi Kurdistan

Via Iraqi Mojo I have discovered this telling article by Michael J. Totten on Iraqi Kurdistan. It is something he wrote in the early summer which has just been published.

In it he calls for the establishment of a separate,independent and recognised nation to be set up in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region. I don't share this viewpoint as (a) the region remaining as part of Iraq offers one of the few avenues for the spread of democratic and civic society values inside the whole country and (b) it would cause massive intervention from an intransigent Turkey who have always acted vigorously to contain the demands of their own Kurdish population, especially in relation to activities from Kurdish paramilitary groups who operate from the mountains in southern Turkey and northern Iraq.

Indeed, Totten himself has backed off somewhat from his initial conclusion about the need for independence and now calls it his plan "B". But his article is invaluable for his description of life in Iraqi Kurdistan. Where he points out that it is a region which suffers from fewer terrorist assaults than Spain does.

For anyone with a serious interest in Iraq, it is an important read. Soma, the Iraqi-Kurdish Digest published in Sulaymaniyah is then well worth an examination.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

7 Reasons Why I'm Not A Bennite

Although I was a member of the Socialist Campaign Group for the bulk of my 18 years as an MP, I have never been a Bennite. In a similar way, I have been a member of the Labour Party for 50 years, but I have never been an uncritical fan of its "leaders" in that time. With both organisations, I have attempted to be a loyal grouser. My words below are said in this spirit.

The last time there was a significant left presence in the Labour Party, it was divided into two main camps - the hard and soft lefts. It always seemed to me that the latter could be outmanoeuvred or absorbed by the right and centre of the Labour Party. This finally happened under Blair. For the hard left, the prospect was that of being outmanoeuvred and isolated. This was again a Blairite achievement, aided by acts of self-destruction.

Unfortunately, my Goldilock endeavours (neither too soft nor too hard) never became part of an effective trend, so I was usually obliged to choose between whatever remained on the passing agendas of what was left on the left. Although I kept trying to spell out alternatives.

I give below 7 of my main reasons for not being a Bennite.

1. Northern Ireland. Even in the days of Provisional IRA violence, Tony was actively linked with Sinn Fein. At Chesterfield May Day Rallies, he was involved in fringe meetings which were supportive of Sinn Fein. In contrast, I firmly opposed all forms of terrorism in Northern Ireland and gave active support instead to those working for peace and reconciliation via such bodies as the local Trade Unions, the Peace Train Movement and New Dialogue. Tony and I once argued out our alternative positions at a joint meeting of the Constituency Parties of Chesterfield and North East Derbyshire.

2. European Union. When Harold Wilson provided a referendum as to whether Britain should continue its membership of the Common Market, I supported the "no" vote. But once this position was overwhelmingly defeated, I felt a need to adjust my position to meet the new circumstances. Since then I have always argued for the democratisation of the European Union, which is the proper fully fledged federal position. Tony's position became that of replacing the European Union with a loose treaty where common agreements can only be reached by a unanimous decision of the members' parliaments. I argue for feasible internal reforms to the European Union, Tony argues for root and branch transformation.

3. Leadership Contests. In 1988, Tony stood for the leadership of the Labour Party against the incumbent Neil Kinnock. Tony got 11.4% of the vote. His decision to throw his hat in the ring seemed to me to be mistaken. It was a counter-productive move, which led to the threshold for nominations being raised above the 10% level which existed for the 1988 contest. The debate inside the Socialist Campaign Group over whether he should stand lasted over several meetings, as I wasn't the only person with reservations about this form of politics. Hence my efforts to seek a defendable third choice to Brown and McDonnell recently.

4. The Break-up of Yugoslavia. This started when Milosevic played the Serbian ethnic card in Kosovo. Tudjman gleefully moved in to play the Croatian card and Izetbegovic was forced to defend the Muslim population in Bosnia. The case for effective intervention by the United Nations to stop the conflict was overwhelming. Yet in the end effective military action only emerged via a NATO-led response to the Albians of Kosovo being driven from their homeland. By that stage, there seemed to me to be no option but to support the NATO action whilst being ready to highlight any of its excesses. These soon arose in the bombing of Serbia when civilian targets were to the fore and it was only the Serbian military who experienced the collateral damage. My criticism of Tony's approach was that he saw no dilemma in all this for socialists. Seemingly we could put our faith in comrade Milosevic.

5. Afghanistan. The left was again faced with a dilemma over Afghanistan. If the Taliban and Al Qadia were to have their controls and bases removed, then action had to be taken. But a military dominated by the United States and its allies is liable to use unacceptable methods - especially over-the-top air strikes. I upset both Tony Blair and Tony Benn. That neither of the Tony's saw the dilemma I stressed, nor looked for means to bridge it seems to me to involve failures of vision. Seeking means to contain both Western Imperialism and the fascism of the terrorists, seems to me to be something socialists should have at the forefront of their minds.

6. Iraq After The Invasion. I was on the platform with Tony Benn at the launch of "Labour Against The War." I fully opposed the invasion of Iraq. For as hideous as Saddam Hussein's regime was I appreciated the complexities of Shia, Sunni and Kurdish conflicts and their internal divisions.Then there was the impact of an invasion on understandings elsewhere in the Middle East. Furthermore, I believed that there were clandestine forces in Iraq who had hopes of undermining Saddam's rules given support and understanding from outside.

But once the invasion took place, we were in a new situation. In addition to excessive action by the forces of Western Imperialism (including mercenaries) the Iraqi people were faced with the insurgency and the horrors of terrorism. I then resigned from "Labour Against The War" who continued with only a one-sided analysis. Alternatives to a "troops out" position (such replacement troops with Iraqi agreement) were never considered.

7. Local Experiences. When Tony won the Chesterfield seat in 1984, he achieved a fine victory in an adverse political climate. His public meetings were packed. People who went in order to "sort him out", left with leaflets and posters to try to spread his support. But after his victory, local attitudes changed over time. He developed a hot bed for the hard left with people coming from all over the country for the May Day celebrations. He made use of a section from Keir Hardie for one of his election addresses. His constituents saw him regularly on TV pressing a socialist revivalism. The problem with all this is that Chesterfield is into small town politics and comes out of an old moderate Lib-Lab tradition.

Between Eric Varley winning the seat at the depth of Labour's terrible national performance in 1983 and Tony's last victory at the height of Labour's electoral victory in 1997, the Chesterfield Labour vote only increased by a mere 2.7%. This compares with a national improvement of 15.6% in Labour's vote. Whilst in Dennis Skinner's nearby seat of Bolsover, the comparative increase was 17.7%. In North East Derbyshire which is a huge "C" shape encircling Chesterfield, the improvement was 19.7%.

It was little wonder that the Liberal Democrats went on to capture the Chesterfield seat in 2001. Yet it should be one of the strongest Labour seats in Derbyshire.

What Bennism teaches us is that we need a left strategy in the Labour Party which is directed to both (1) winning elections and (b) re-opening the long and difficult road to socialism. Bennism might be fun for its participants, but it isn't serious politics

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Music : My Top Dozen

I am adding a set of music choices to my profile, by using a similar method to that which I used when selecting my top dozen books. I have first turned to my favourite singers, composers and (in one case) orchestra. Then I have selected what I see as the best work from each of these. This means that no-one appears twice and that something which has appealed to me from outside my list of "favourites" is excluded. But no list can be perfect.

Whilst my list of books was shaped by my experiences from when I was 12, I was a late developer with music. My mother had attempted to turn me into a pianist by purchasing a piano and sending me for lessons immediately after I failed what were then known as 11+ exams. Despite 4 years of this, it was never going to work as there was no tradition of serious music (or otherwise) in our home.

There is another difference between my book list and my music list. Although my wife reads as regularly as I do, I doubt if she has read one of the books I listed. Yet in my music list her name crops up again and again on shared experiences. She also, of course, has her own alternative musical priorities.

1. Bob Dylan, "Blowin' In The Wind". Just after we became interested in Bob Dylan's music, Ann and I went to one of his concerts in Sheffield. I was around 30 at the time. Whilst the first part of his concert was full of the folk and protest music which had attracted us to him, things changed dramatically after the interval towards a type of rock and roll which has never grabbed me - although I can accept much of Dylan's version now. But "Blowin' In The Wind" is from what I see as the best side of Bob Dylan.

2. Joan Baez, "We Shall Overcome". Although Joan was part of the early Bob Dylan world, she retains more of the old folk and protest tradition. Given her musical abilities, she is therefore a continuing heroin. But it is only since I have retired that Ann and I managed to catch one of her concerts. Again In Sheffield. The song I have selected by Joan also allows me to give a plug a recent Bruce Springfield CD/DVD which has the same overall title.

3. Woody Guthrie, "This Land Is Your Land". The early Bob Dylan was influenced by the works of Woody Guthrie. So I was soon destined to discover the master of them all in this folk and protest field. "This Land Is Your Land" tells us what America could be. Just as Leadbelly's "Bourgeois Blues" paints the other side. These two singers worked together for it was the same wavelength.

4. Alec Glasgow, "The Socialist ABC". As Alec Glasgow came from the North East, I was bound to absorb his output. "The Socialist ABC" became my own party piece. My most popular performance being for a group of Young Socialists from Germany, who were visiting my home town on a twinning arrangement. It was also a favourite at a Labour MPs' Xmas meal at a pub near the Commons. Alec Glasgow's classical piece is, however, "The Tyne Slides By" - as is recognised as such by this Wearsider. Again, Ann and I saw him in concert in Sheffield.

5. Dominic Behan, "The Red Flag" (to its Irish tune). At Labour Party Conferences, Ann and I invariably went to an Irish evening run by the Workers' Party (although they used a cover title). Dominic Behan appeared at a number of these with songs such as his "The Leaving Of Liverpool". The evening wasn't completed until he led us in "The Red Flag". If anyone knows how I can get hold of a copy of him singing this, please let me know. The Workers Party also toured Ann and myself around Belfast at the height of the troubles, when I was over to address one of their meetings.

6. Johnny Cash, "The Gambler". Johnny Cash seems to have grown in my estimation over time. Whilst some of his early work are his classics, I also admire his later contributions which have shown me that age is no barrier - even to blogging. "The Gambler" isn't, however, one of his own songs, it is by D. Schiltz. It just seems to me to fit both Johnny Cash and his philosophy of life.

I now move into my interests in classical music. I have not deliberately kept this section separate from the above. It is just that my interests in classical music tended to come to me late in my life. Thanks to the lad next door learning to play the drums, in my mid 40s I turned in desperation to Wagnerian-style classical music in an attempt to muffle the sound. This led me into a new world. Not all of it noisy.

7. Smetana, "Ma Vlast". Vltava from Ma Vlast is the first classical work which bowled me over. It also got me away from just listening to concerts in Sheffield. Ann and I were in Prague when we first heard the works of Smetana and another favourite Janacek in concerts. This included a move into opera with his "The Cunning Little Vixen" and also Verdi's "Aida".

8. Wagner, the climax of "Tristan and Isolde" with Waltraud Meier singing. I only hold this on a DVD, but have seen a fine performance by Waltraud Meier as Ortrud in Wagner's Lohengrin at Covent Garden. My serious introduction to the work of Wagner arose via the writings of Bryan Magee (see my book list). I read Magee's short, but fine "Aspects of Wagner" when I had only heard bits of the relevant music. But when in 2000, Magee produced a lengthy book on Wagner entitled "Wagner And Philosophy" I felt that I had to get some Wagner under my belt before I could read it. Ann and I were then off to see "Rhinegold" when in Berlin. And I soon moved to a CD and DVD collection of Wagner's Opera's which give me a full coverage.

9. Chopin, "Prelude in D Sharp Major op 28, No 15 (Raindrop)". In 1839, Chopin went to Majorca with George Sand and her children. They ended up in a former monks' cell in the winter dampness of Valldemosa. Some claim that he wrote "Raindrop" there. I like to think this is true. Valldemosa is great in the summer and Ann and I have visited it several times. We also had a fine evening with the Chopin Society in Warsaw, when Ann grabbed us the best seats to watch the pianist perform.

10. Beethoven, "Fidelio Overture, op 72". "Fidelio" is Beethoven's only Opera. It is as good an Opera as you can find and shows that one can hold to noble sentiments and be brilliant. It isn't only the devil and Wagner that have all the good tunes. Then I went on to listen to all that wonderful piano playing of Beethoven by Daniel Barenboim, whom (of course) Ann and I have recently been to see conduct at the Proms.

11. Mendelson, "Symphony No. 4 in A Major, op 90 (Italian)". I like the version on CD by Giuseppe Sinopoli conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra. Whilst in Vienna, Ann and I saw the Ballet based on Mendelson's version of "A Midsummer Night's Dream".

12. West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, "The Ramallah Concert" conducted by Daniel Barenboim. The establishment of a youthful and highly talented Jewish and Arab Orchestra by Daniel Barenboim and the late Palestinian writer Edward Said shows how music can heal and further tolerance and understanding. The DVD of the performance in Ramallah could not be more telling. The music is by Mozart, Beethoven and Elgar. You will see from above that I am a fan of Beethoven. Whilst Elgar would always make it into a larger squad of mine. Yet although I listen to numbers of pieces by Mozart, I would not normally select him. Barenboim once explained as to why I feel as I do. He said that Mozart was "childlike, but not childish". I think that it is the childlike quality which leaves him in my reserve team. The piece in the Ramallah Concert draws upon the skills of those playing the oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn. It is a fine contribution - but to me an expection to the rule on Mozart.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Why At Least A Million Are Missing From Electoral Registers

Are the BBC Correct?

Today on her blog, Louise Baldock throws doubt upon a BBC claim that a million people will be missing from electoral registers if a General Election is called in the near future. I think that she is mistaken.

She feels that the BBC's claim fails to take account of the system of rolling electoral registration which was introduced under legislation in 2000. This enables people who move, to transfer their registration to their new locality without having to wait for the annual update of the electoral registers.

When I was an MP I was fully involved in the events which led up to the introduction of rolling electoral registers. Jack Staw was the Minister responsible for the Bill and he stated that the measure would probably never have been introduced but for my efforts.

What Is The Problem?

But whilst the rolling register is an improvement, it does not tackle the core of the problem of non-registration. For those already registered, it is essentially a passive system which requires a person who moves to take the initiative in achieving the transfer of their registration. It is possible to imagine a much more pro-active set of arrangements being put in place to ensure this end.

There is, however, a much bigger problem which needs to be tackled about under-registration. Large numbers of people don't register to vote in the first place. So the rolling register does not aid them. This occurs in poorer areas, including those settled by ethic minorities. It is also prevalent in areas where people move about in a rootless way and often depend on bed-sitter accommodation.

Again we need a pro-active system to trace and register the BBC's missing million. Full canvassing by electoral registration officers needs to become the norm. A compulsory Identity Card system could also be constructed in ways to tackle the problem.

It May Be Worse Than The BBC Are Claiming.

When I was an MP, I periodically used the excellent facilities of the Commons Library to gain accurate estimates of the extent (and areas) of under-registration. I no longer have access to this service. But from my past experiences, I feel that the BBC figure of a missing million is likely to be a modest one.

Unfortunately, my efforts to amend the Bill in 2000 to take account of the above factors failed. But until this serious gap in our electoral registration system in filled, we will not have achieved the major objective of the Chartists and the Suffragettes.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

My Top Dozen Books

I have just added a list of favourite books to my profile. They are, in fact, the favourite books from each category of my favourite writers and they appear in the order in which I first read them. I list them below, with explanations as to why they are included.

1. John Buchan "John Macnab". At 12 the first novel I read which wasn't aimed at just a children's market was his "Mr. Standfast". In the next few years I bought and read many of John Buchan's works. To me John Macnab was the best. So Buchan started me into serious reading.

2. George Bernard Shaw "Man and Superman" (including the preface). From around 15, on my way to Sunderland football matches I started to purchase the Penguin editions of Shaw's plays. I started to visit the Theatre and enjoyed reading plays. Later I discovered Shaw's novels and his specifically political writings.

3. William Shakespeare "Hamlet". When I was 17 I went to the Theatre Royal at Newcastle and saw Richard Burton in both Hamlet and Twelfth Night. When I then undertook my National Service at 18, I purchased a book entitled "The Complete Works of Shakespeare" in Basra and continued with my habit of reading plays.

4. James Joyce "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man". During my National Service I was introduced to the works of James Joyce by a fellow airman, a Irishman called Murphy. He was an atheist. Many years later as an MP, I came to take a keen interest in matters on the island of Ireland.

5. GDH Cole "World Socialism Restated". I came across GDH Cole's writings in the forces in Iraq when I started reading the air-mail editions of the New Statesman. He wrote regularly in that weekly. Although he wrote numerous books, the work of his which I have selected is a New Statesman pamphlet first published in July 1956. After my National Service, I went to hear GDH at the setting up of the International Society for Socialist Studies (ISSS) at a Conference in London which was held 50 years ago. His pamphlet was influential in the move to establish this body. Unfortunately, the ISSS only survived for a short period - see here. His most lasting works are his early ones advocating Guild Socialism and his later five volumes of "A History of Socialist Thought".

6. John Stuart Mill "On Liberty". When I went to study full time as an adult at Ruskin College, the subject which influenced me the most was Political Theory as taught by Jay Blumler. The best essay I wrote was probably about "On Liberty".

7. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels "Manifesto of the Communist Party". I also first read this whilst studying at Ruskin and then started to examine Marxist writings. Other giants of political thought whom I then read included Rousseau, Locke and Hobbes.

8. George Orwell "Homage to Catalonia". Whilst I started to read Orwell before going to Ruskin, I first read what I feel is his greatest book just after leaving College. It is an account of his experiences as a militiaman in the Spanish Civil War. He moves between the military struggle against fascism and the internal political struggle against Communism.

9. David Hume, especially "Hume on Religion" as selected by Richard Wollheim. After Ruskin I moved on to Hull University to study Politics and Philosophy. In the first year I also undertook American Studies, which introduced me to some fine American Literature. And whilst there was plenty that was new in my politics reading, it was Philosophy which was opening up new horizons. I have picked out an area of David Hume's fine writings. There were, of course, many others who I was introduced to and have turned to since including Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Kant, Russell and (see next) Wittgenstein.

10. Ludwig Wittgenstein "Philosophical Investigations". Wittgenstein's language analysis dominated the form of philosophy I studied at Hull. I now feel that this concentration was restrictive. I am, however, happy to included his major work here, even though it was mainly a repudiation of his only other work "Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus": especially as I have a bookshelf of works about Wittgenstein.

11. Bryan Magee "Confessions of a Philosopher". It was after University when I properly came across the works of Bryan Magee, I now read whatever he produces. Whether it is on philosophy, politics, Wagner or the work-in-progress on his full autobiography that has so-far produced two volumes. Although he is a former Labour MP who defected to the Social Democrats, it is due to his influence that I now have CD's of all Wagner's Operas and DVD's of most - even though I know that Wagner was a terrible person and a fascist to boot. Wagner and Magee also both have had an interest in the Philosopher I list next.

12. Arthur Schopenhauer "On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason". In dealing with the question of causation, Schopenhauer provides a serious intellectual challenge to David Hume. That is saying something. Like Wagner he had his faults, as he was sexist. But as with Wagner, when you know a person's serious failings it is still possible to appreciate their positive contributions.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Death In Iraq

There are indications that civilian killings in Iraq decreased by 50% in September. Yet it still reached a figure of 844, plus 78 police officers and Iraqi soldiers. Some 70 Coalition troops also lost their lives. Such deaths are currently down to "only" 30 a day.

The hideous methods used in murdering people is shown here for terrorists (but note the warning) and for mercenaries here.

On the Congressional investigation into the Blackwater Security Company, see here.

Monday, October 01, 2007

One Blogging Oasis After Another

Suddenly we have links galore to political bloggers.

Iain Dale has now come up with his 500 top political bloggers - although only 300 appear here. You have to buy his book to get to the rest.

The fine service provided by Grant at "Political Opinions" is back up and running in a slightly modified form. It provides some 650 links.

Then "Socialist Unity" has come up with links to 101 top left bloggers, which is a valuable addition to Iain Dale's earlier 100 top left of centre blogs.

The fears I expressed in an item I posted entitled "A Blogging Desert" are almost overcome. All we need is an end to the block which Usmanov has placed on the operation of Craig Murray's blog. Chicken Yoghurt not only described this development, but produced his own list of links to most of the blogs who have campaigned on behalf of Craig Murray and others - currently providing another 302 links.

Even allowing for many similar links cropping up again and again, there must be around 1,000 separate links in the above lists. They should provide a few favourites.