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!