Saturday, December 20, 2008

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Iraq And Trade Unionism

The TUC Publication On Iraqi Trade Unions

Iraqi Kurdistan has an active and influential Trade Union movement. Here is a valuable contribution on the role played by women in their Trade Union structure.

I visited Iraqi Kurdistan with Labour Friends of Iraq and fellow Trade Unionists in April 2006 and on the anniversary of the visit a year later I came up with the following lessons. Which I have taken from here -

(1) Iraqi Trade Unionists deserve and need our understanding and practical support.

Sue Rodgers the Chair of the TUC's Iraq Solidarity Committee was part of our delegation. The TUC provides a clear avenue through which people can help - numbers of these developed out of our visit. Specific Trade Unions such as UNISON have their own linked programmes of assistance.

(2) The Iraqi Government needs the continued pressure of the world's Trade Union Movement to repeal two major pieces of anti-Trade Union legislation.

First, Saddam Hussein's decree 150 is still operative in banning the operation of Trade Unions in the major public sector. Secondly, there is a post Saddam Hussein decree 8750 which sequests Trade Union Funds until such time as the State decide who it will recognise as registered Trade Unions. Neither of these decrees are, however, operative in Iraqi Kurdistan.

(3) Iraqi Trade Unionists (mainly those outside of Iraqi Kurdistan) face persistent terrorist activity, with occasional harassment from American and Iraqi forces.

Activists in the wider Trade Union and Labour Movement in the UK should not turn a blind eye to this when determining which actors to support and criticise within Iraq.

(4) Whilst Iraqi Kurdistan is not free from its own strains and stresses, it is important in its own right as an area of growth, development and democratisation. It is also important as an example and as a link to the rest of Iraq.

The Kurdistan Workers' Federation, their Teachers' Union and the professional Trade Unions we met have important links with their equivalents in the Arab areas of Iraq, as well as internationally.

(5) The economic development of Iraq is a key to its future.

In Iraqi Kurdistan there is a wide acceptance of the need for inward investment (even by their Communist Party) and for the democratisation of their form of command economy. They don't, however, wish to be taken over by a form of turbo capitalism and look for formulas in which public controls can direct private involvement. This is relevant to the development of the rest of Iraq. Democratic socialists throughout the world can fruitfully apply their minds to the development of such a project.

(6) Iraq, of all places, does not act in a vacuum.

In addition to the pressures of Coalition Forces and their Governments, we need to be aware of the complex range of interests coming from neighbouring Middle East Governments and internal groupings in their countries. These impact on legitimate and illegitimate trade, provide military problems and create diplomatic and religious/political pressures - including the impact of imported forms of terrorism.

(7) The complex nature of an often fractured Iraq is to a large extent a consequence of economic collapse over a period of more than three decades.

The Iraq-Iran war, the invasion of Kuwait, the Gulf War, smashed Shia and Kurdish uprisings, the hideous actions by Saddam Hussein in pursuing his shifting strategies, UN sanctions and the Coalitions invasion and subsequent insurgencies and mass acts of terrorism have had massive economic and social costs. Ethnic, tribal and religious divisions have been built upon in years of brutalisation under Saddam Hussein.

There are wide but battered elements in Iraq who have an alternative vision of peace, secularism, co-operation and democratisation. Their problem is that they have to operate in circumstances where many can not look far beyond than their daily needs of survival. Yet these people are part of a brave tradition within Iraq. They have shown their love for education, cultural development, urbanised communal values and solidarity. Helping to allow these elements of Iraq to come to the fore in association with those who bravely lead the struggle for such values (as did the late Najim Abd-Jasem) is the best task we can apply our minds to.

These lessons seem to me to have survived the test of time. Although the harassment from American forces (in 3 above)was essentially confined to the earlier period

Hat Tip - Iraqi Federation Of Trade Unions.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Better In Basra

Today's Basra
Having spent most of my National Service at Basra in Iraq back in 1955 and 1956, I am particularly pleased to see that it has now started to overcome some of its recent problems. In today's Daily Telegraph, Thomas Harding states that -

Basra was among the most liberated, secular and artistic cities in the Arab world, and it seems that with (Jaish al Madhdi militia HB.) JAM's strict Islamic stranglehold gone, better times have arrived. Couples can walk the streets holding hands, women have replaced face veils with liberal coatings of make-up and shops openly sell curvaceous evening gowns. On Thursday evening, the start of the Muslim weekend, the streets and restaurants were filled with people keen to enjoy nights now free from bomb blasts and gunfire. Two floating restaurants have even taken station on Basra’s famous cornice, where couples and families happily wander to the fairground.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Oliver Postgate

Oliver Postgate the creator of the Clangers (see photo) and of other children's (and adult) favourites died yesterday at the age of 83. He fitted into a famous background.

His maternal grandfather was George Lansbury the noted pacifist who was leader of the Labour Party from 1932 to 1935, whilst his father Raymond was a leading social historian and mystery writer. His father's sister, Margaret married GDH Cole who was a leading socialist theorist, historian, academic and a prolific writer. Oliver's father Raymond also worked in 1938 with GDH to produced a classic about British working class history entitled "The Common People".

Margaret Cole and her husband wrote over 30 detective stories together, whilst she was also a significant socialist activist and writer. Angela Lansbury the actress is George Lansbury's grandchild and Oliver's cousin. She is still seen on our TV screens in repeats of the long running detective series "Murder, She Wrote".

Oliver Postgate was a conscientious objector during the second world war, as his father had been during the first world war. GDH Cole had the closest possible links with the New Statesman and Oliver came to blog for them in his later years.

It is good to find such a close family resemblance in the arts of creativity and socialism. Perhaps it is why the Clangers have always been favourites of mine.

The Global Paradox

Here is a BBC News item of some 2,000 words by Robert Preston (see photo) in which he makes claims about what is likely to arise out of the current global economic collapse. He states that - "A New Capitalism is likely to emerge from the rubble. And although it's impossible to be precise about how the reconstructed economy will operate, parts of its outline are taking shape.....For many, the New Capitalism may well seem fairer and less alienating than the model of the past 30 years, in that the system's salvation may require it to be kinder, gentler, less divisive, less of a casino in which the winner takes all.....(however) the return to equilibrium, to a more balanced global economy, is happening in a horribly painful way that's impoverishing millions of people."

He essentially examines the way in which economic trends are likely to effect the UK and other developed economies. This leaves two important factors out of the equation. What impact will the global economic collapse have upon the world's poorest nations and what political consequences will flow from the current turmoil?

Paul Collier's book "The Bottom Billion : Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be Done About It" has recently been updated and published in paperback. But it was written prior to the global economic collapse. So the terrible conditions he describes are likely to worsen and the solutions he suggests (which were gaining a hearing in significant places) are now likely to be placed upon the back burner.

In situations of economic deprivation (whether in poor or developed nations), political extremism is likely to be given a further boost as political and military leaders offer brands of racial, ethnic, fundamentalist religious and other ideological panaceas as answers to the plight people find themselves in.

To both humanise economic re-construction and tackle modern brands of fascism, there is also now an opening for the spread of countervailing democratic socialist understandings, which are needed on an international scale. As the late Royden Harrison once said "Never have the objective circumstances for socialism been greater, yet never have the subjective circumstances for socialism been worse". Socialists now have a desperate opening to show that a new world is possible.

Yet whilst the current crisis cries out for the spread of democratic socialist understandings, we also need to be aware and beware of simple minded solutions which can lead us into looking for Stalinist-style shortcuts.

The paradox is that we might not even reach the limited objectives of Robert Preston's New Capitalism without significant pressures for a New World of Socialism. For capitalists don't give ground unless they are pushed.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Act Immediately - Updates

UPDATE 1 DECEMBER : See Labour Start, link to 28 November.

INITIALLY POSTED 26 NOVEMBER : Iranian Trade Unionist Farzad Kamanger is to be executed today - your urgent help is needed to attempt to prevent this. See here.

Further information here and here.

NOTE - 27 NOVEMBER : News is still awaited about the intended execution. Unfortunately 10 other executions took place yesterday, but Farzad may still be alive.

NOTE - 28 NOVEMBER : Farzad is still alive, but remains under death sentence. Nationally and internationally Labour, Trade Union and Human Rights Organisations are pressing the Iranian authorities in efforts to protect Farzad. Your support is still needed via the early links.

FURTHER UPDATE - 1 DECEMBER : Press TV, the Iranian state-funded station has today started broadcasting on Sky on Channel 515. If anyone comes across any mention of Farzad Kamanger (in say a question which manages to find its way onto the George Galloway programme), please let me know. Or even if this case makes main- line British TV.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

In A Fog

Following an 8 week spell in which I hadn't attended a football match, I turned up yesterday for the 5th time in 11 days at Sheffield FC's ground.

The freezing fog of the morning had burnt away and the sun was shining although it was still bitter cold. A hundred or so boys and girls in football kit and sportswear provided a guard of honour as the teams ran onto the pitch and later engaged in a half-time penalty contest. This is a great form of community involvement. It also boosts the size of the crowd as parents also turn up. I suspect that they are allowed in free, but it is likely to have a future spin-off at the turn-styles.

The game against Lincoln United was going well. There was some good play, except that both sides were given to hoofing the ball in the air. At half-time Sheffield FC had the edge due to a goal by Goddard.

The fog was rolling back in by half-time as Martin and I made our way to the Coach and Horses pub. It got worse as we looked at the half-time League score on their telly - but as luck had it, it hadn't got into the pub! We returned to the ground to find out that the match was abandoned.

Sheffield FC are now into a bit of chaos over their league fixtures. Although that are level pegging in the league with 4 wins, 2 draws and 4 defeats; they are third from bottom in the league with 6 games in hand of the team above them and between 3 and 9 games in hand of everyone else.

The main problem has been cup runs. We have played 14 cup games, 10 league games plus yesterday's abandoned match. Yet our cup runs have mainly come to nought. We have been in 5 competitions and have been knocked out of 4 of these. We remain in the Unibond League Cup and had a worthwhile and lucrative run in the FA Cup, just failing to make it to the first round proper.

When I made it back home, I picked up on the news from the Premiership. My team Sunderland lost 4-1 at home to Bolton. Our half-time fog had been in the wrong place.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Welcome The Iraqi Referendum

The Iraqi Parliament has agreed to a plan that would see the withdrawal of US troops from their country by the end of 2011 and their removal from the streets by the end of June, 2009. It leaves open the question of whether the US will then obtain future bases in their country. And whilst a referendum will be held about the current decision, this will not take place until July 2009 after US troops have been returned to their barracks. A rejection of the plan would then speed up troop departures and would probably create a political situation in which the US would find it more difficult to establish permanent bases in Iraq.

Western Security Contractors (such as Blackwater) also become subject to Iraqi law.

Whatever the shortcomings are about the referendum and its timing, it does give the Iraqi people a voice in the changed situation that has developed since their last General Election. It will need to be democratic and open, with its decision being honoured. It opens up the prospect of the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq by around the end of 2009 (instead of 2 years later) by a decision of the Iraqi people themselves. We need a democratic decision with the Iraqi people deciding what they want on this matter - one way or the other.

A Twist From Chimbonda

Here is a another picture of Pascal Chimbonda in Sunderland's change strip. He will be found seated on the hallowed turf of local Sheffield FC's ground. The incident occurred yesterday evening when he did one of his trade mark 180 degree turns and twisted his ankle.

He hobbled on for a period and seemingly recovered, but he was subsituted after 60 minutes. I'm not sure whether he was being rested for a place in Sunderland's first team on Saturday or whether he is now on the injured list.

He was playing in central defence in a cup game between Sheffield United Reserves and Sunderland Reserves. The Blades are currently playing their 2nd XI home games on Sheffield FC's ground.

Although Chimbonda played well, I am not sure why Roy Keane (who was at the match) was trying him out in central defence - where his qualities are known. I would have liked to see how he can play in the midfield. For when he plays at right-back, his strength is coming forward into attack rather than blocking opponents.

Chimbonda was a regular in Sunderland's first team at the start of the season, but for some unknown reason he has recently been dropped entirely from the first team squad.

In yesterday's game, Sunderland Reserves dominated the proceedings and won 3-0. From a Sunderland perspective (which I share) there is a fine report here.

I agree entirely with the writer (whom I chatted to twice at the match) that El-Hadji Diouf and Daryl Murphy had poor games. Yet they both came on as substitutes in Sunderland's last premiership game. I had finally come to the conclusion that they should both be substituted this time, when Keane did exactly that. I just hope that his motive was the same as mine and that he wasn't saving them for the next Premiership game.

Due praise is given to numbers of Sunderland's regular reserves in the report I have linked to above. I would, however, also add left-back Nathan Luscombe to the list. He was particularly creative in the second half.

For a Sunderland supporter it was a good night out. Especially as I used my free bus pass to travel the short distance too and from the ground and then only paid a £1 concessionary entrance fee. It wouldn't even pay for the time it took Chimbonda to twist his ankle.

Margaret : Your Chance Has Arrived

Given that Gordon Brown and Margaret Beckett are reported as looking for means to boost house building, is there still hope that we can move towards a major Council House building programme?

Margaret Beckett as the Minister for Houing has a final chance to go out in a blaze of glory on this one and retrieve her past reputation for being a socialist.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thumbs Up

Yesterday evening Sheffield FC were at home to North Ferriby United in a Unibond League Cup game. We expected the worst as our opponents play in a higher Unibond Division to ours and are pressing for promotion. Furthermore our team experienced a humiliating defeat on Saturday from the bottom team Brigg Town, who had been without a league victory until they turned us over 2-0.

But you can't apply logic to football. We were transformed and outplayed our opponents from the start with a smart passing game. Admittedly things went wrong at some stage. A defensive blunder enabled our opponents to take the lead via Alex Davidson in the 32 Minute. We also had two goals disallowed and when a North Ferriby defender belted the ball into the crowd it nearly burst my thumb. The pain only made the subsequent gain more enjoyable.

Once Dave slipped out just before half-time to get the drinks in for Martin and me, we scored two quick goals from two of our stars Steve Woolley and Scott Partridge. It is a pity that we haven't a bar like the one at Gresley which overlooks the ground. But we are working on that one.

The start of the second half was delayed as a substitute linesman had to be found. Once in action again we pressed on. But again a defensive error cut across our efforts. Peter Davidson put the scores level after 58 Minutes. But with Smudge (Paul Smith) marshalling our forces from the left-back position with free kicks, corners, centres and defence splitting passes, we felt that justice would emerge.

After duties at the County Council at Matlock. Janet turned up for the last 20 minutes of the game. Just in time to see us run riot. Scott Partridge ran onto through passes in the 73 and 88 minutes. Each time you knew that he would not miss the net. He had added a hat-trick to the 4 he had scored in the first round of the cup. Then on 90 Minutes, Daz Winter scored a well deserved 5th goal.

So whilst Dave only saw us win 3-2, Janet his wife saw us win 3-0. It was Martin and myself who saw the full 5-2 victory. And it wasn't until we got back to the Coach and Horses at the end of the game that I noticed the swollen state of my thumb. But it was a small price to pay for a fine evening.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Lost - Our Political Opinions

For a UK political blogger, the most helpful link I know has been "Political Opinions" run by Grant.

Unfortunately, his site seems to be facing its third crisis.

First of all in September 2007, Grant decided to pack it in. Numbers of us helped to pursued him to continue with his vital service.

Then this September, the site was highjacked for a period before Grant was able to restore it.

And now (unless Grant is in transition to a new service provider) he seems to have been hijacked again, this time by 1&1 Internet.

I hope that Grant is back soon - you can check here to see if he is now back or this is still 1&1.

The history of my past comments on this saga can be found via the label below.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Spend And Tax - Update Added

Tomorrow's Pre-Budget Statement should seek (a) to stimulate demand in the economy, (b) with the knowledge that monies will need to be paid back at some stage - although if the package works and demand grows then some of the payment for it will be self-financing. I will judge what is proposed by Alistair Darling to the extent that it fits in with the following pattern. But I won't be holding my breath.

To Increase Economic Demand

1. Increase Pensions and other Benefits.

2. Increase Expenditure on Social Provisions in areas such as Health, Social Welfare and Education.

3. Finance a Council House Building Programme.

4. Take over houses that have been repossessed and rent these out to their former owners.

5. Raise the Income Tax Threshold, without allowing the wealthy to benefit from this.

To Pay For This Programme

A. A Wealth Tax.

B. Windfall Taxes on Super Profits and Bonuses.

C. Raise Income Tax on the Top Earners.

D. Corporation Tax Increases.

E. Work also for International Taxes on currency and other forms of speculation. With the proceeds being used to overcome third world poverty.


On moves to increase demand in the economy, Alistair Darling produced thin versions of the points I made in 1,2,3 and 4 above - although he covered a wider and more problematic range of issues. Whilst there was nothing about a specific Council House building programme (my point 3), social housing was included in the capital spending that is to be brought forward from 2010-11. So perhaps I should be half satisfied with this half of his equation.

On moves to pay for his programme, Alistair included none of my points A,B,D or E. He did include the much trawled and future promise of an extra 5% income tax band for those earning over £150,000. Whilst this is a mild version of my point C, I am aware of the significance of such a change of principle. I once asked Tony Blair if we could not move towards a more progressive element at the top end of the income tax scale. To which he said that we could not go into a general election promising an income tax increase. Gordon Brown answered the same question by saying that nothing was set in concrete. It is nice to see that we are now out of the concrete, even if I did ask my questions over ten years ago!

Frozen, Teetotal And Defeated

Yesterday afternoon everything looked set for Sheffield FC to record a thumping home victory.

Their opponents, Brigg Town were without a League win all season, having drawn only 3 games and lost 13. Earlier in the season Sheffield FC had recorded a 5-0 win at Brigg's ground and only last Tuesday they had seen off high flying Durham City with an impressive performance.

But it turned out to be a pretty miserable afternoon. It was freezing cold and I was on medication which ruled out a half-time pint. Worse still Sheffield FC suffered a shock 2-0 defeat.

We conceded two sloppy goals, nothing went right for us when we put the pressure on and we finally resorted to hopeful and unimpressive long range punts at goal in the final 20 minutes.

At half time we were 1-0 down and I then dashed to the Coach and Horses for warmth and companionship. I was with Dave and Martin who had pints in front of them. When Tom joined us with his drink he was astonished to see that I was abstaining. I pointed out that my medication did not permit alcohol and that the instructions went on to say the tablets' side effects could lead to constipation and a lowered sex drive, but unfortunately they did not lower my urge for alcohol when the temptation was all around me in a pub.

I soon decided it was time for me to return to the ground. For once I was back in time for the second half kick off. Brigg went straight up the field and scored their second goal.

Once the dismissal game was over, Martin and I dashed for the bus to get away from things. I was hardly going back into the pub to watch others drown their sorrows.

I can only hope that the weather, my medical condition and the football pick up for Tuesday evening's game.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

King Charles - The Last

Here is Johann Hari at his best in today's Independent.

Watch Your Back, John

At long last I made it to a football match at Sheffield FC's ground. This was on Tuesday evening and it was 8 weeks since I had attended. On the surface it looked as if we were in for a drubbing.

It was the second round of the Unibond League Cup. Our opponents, Durham City play in a parallel league. Although they are in fifth position, they are unbeaten and have sufficient games in hand of the teams above them to readily take over the top spot.

In contrast, Sheffield FC have a middling league record and have suffered so many injuries that when the teams ran out onto the pitch I only recognised five of our players - two of whom used to occupy the substitutes bench.

But my fears were soon put to rest. After 13 minutes we had established a two goal lead and were pouring on the pressure. We were three up after 63 minutes and seemed to be coasting it.

Jez Mitchell, a new signing had provided the assist for Mick Goddard's opening goal and added the two other goals. In the first half he had three carefully placed shots which just crept past the Durham post. Then a Durham defender made a dramatic save by blasting the ball against his own post.

Next to me Dave was busy on his mobile, letting the absent Martin know when each goal whizzed in. Near the end, however, the tide turned with Adam Johnson (73 Minutes) and Tommy English (83 Minutes) putting Durham back in the game. But it was only just that we held on for a 3-2 victory as we had dominated most of the game.

Events were enlivened when the Sheffield FC supporters heard the referee regularly shout out to the Durham captain Stephen Harrison, calling him "Steve". A series of wisecracks came from the terraces on the assumption that Steve was the ref's son. If we hadn't gone on to win, I think that there would have been calls for a steward's enquiry.

When Dave, Janet and I settled into the Coach and Horses pub after the match, it was time for chats with the visitors. I originate from Easington which is just eight miles east of Durham, so I was keen to find out what gossip I could.

I came across two Durham supporters. One was from Shiney Row and the other was from Murton Colliery. John Cummings (photo above) whom I know well, is the MP for the Easington Constituency and he worked at the pit at Murton. When I mentioned this the reply came back "why I, I used to wash his back for him at the pithead baths".

I next talked to the Durham City goalkeeper Craig Turns, as the programme said that he was born at Easington. It turned out that he had been born at the maternity hospital at Littlethorpe, Easington Village and that he really originated from nearby Seaham. But that was fine as our son was born in the same "baby farm" and the first job I ever had as a railway clerk was at Seaham.

The programme notes also said that Tommy English a Durham goalscorer was born at Easington. But he had left the crowded pub before I could discover whether he was another product of the baby farm. I had shouted at him from the touch line about his Easington connection, but I didn't hear what he shouted back. Perhaps I incensed him that much that he ran up the field and scored!

Four of the Durham team had been on Sunderland's books at some time (including "Steve" and Craig the goalkeeper), whilst two others were born in Sunderland. But although (like John above) I am a Sunderland supporter, this did not undermine my support for Sheffield FC. My chance to support Sunderland from the terraces will come on 26 November when Sheffield FC host a match between Sheffield United Reserves and Sunderland Reserves. There is only once that I ever supported a team playing against Sunderland Reserves and that was when they played Easington Colliery Welfare. I am hardly going to desert the lads to support a bunch from Bramall Lane.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Lot Of Harlots ?

The economic downturn does not stop for breath. Financial and business decisions are made which circulate the world in an instant. Each loss of confidence, spreads its own momentum. So the answer for some politicians is to seek to re-establish growth (and hence confidence) via measures such as interest rate cuts, tax cuts, co-ordination and Bretton Woods-style regulations.

But they have a job on their hands. Not least because free media outlets also have their own worldwide momentum. They feel obliged to probe and undermine each fresh statistic or other piece of news, even if their new concern is diametrically opposed to what they argued yesterday.

So when our dangerously high rate of inflation falls back somewhat mainly due to a fall in petrol prices, then we are presented with the danger of our moving into a form of deflation on the style of inter-war years. This "news" will probably sap financial and business confidence even further and help bring about just what the media is "predicting".

So does this mean that I favour a State controlled media? No, but it would help if we had commentators with a mixture of intelligent and individually consistent outlooks. Instead, we find that Rudyard Kipling, Stanley Baldwin and John Lloyd were near the mark in seeing the mainline press (et al) as "exercising power without responsibility - the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages."

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Problem With Gordon

This is from today's Guardian -

"Gordon Brown tonight called on the world's most powerful industrial nations to agree a programme of immediate and coordinated tax cuts to prevent the global economy sliding deeper into recession."

If the world economy is moving into a deflationary position, there is a problem with a co-ordinated programme of tax cuts. In a deflationary situation and with instability, there is an interest in people hording any newly found money from income tax or VAT-style cuts, which can be done by holding it in banks at even low interest rates as well as keeping it in their purses and wallets. For if money will be seen as increasing its value, people will wish to keep hold of it as some form of protection for the future. It will then only be via a growth in unemployment and the possibility of cuts in wages and benefits that the newly impovished will be obliged to spend the bits they have.

Tax cuts for the poor makes sense as the poor have little option but to spend the bit they have (and the world is full of poor people), but in other areas would it not be better for Governments to increase their own expenditure rather than to give across the board tax cuts? The building of Council Housing and its equivalent being an alternative.

The problems with a move to increased Government expenditure is that (a) it might get bogged down in long term capital programmes which would not do what is needed to stimulate demand in the short-run and (b) numbers of Governments throughout the world are corrupt and would misuse such a programme. So Governments would need to use their expenditure to provide people with consumer type goods. In a world that has wide areas of poverty this is by no means an incorrect approach - although international co-ordination would be essential to the tackle corruption problems.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Housing Crisis - Council Housing Solution

Austin Mitchell the Chair of the Housing Group of MPs had this fine letter in "The Times" on Tuesday. Here is an extract -

".....your lead story (“Council homes for life ‘to be scrapped’ ”, Nov 10) isn’t a forecast of the Green Paper on social housing, but a last-ditch attempt by a tiny group of ideologically motivated barm-pots, some of them in Communities & Local Government, to achieve their longstanding aim of destroying council housing.....Yet....the idea..... foisted on an embarrassed Chartered Institute of Housing (not the other way round, as your article implied) in an attempt to push it on our new Housing Minister, Margaret Beckett.....won’t work. The Labour Party won’t wear it. Nor will the councils. Margaret is a Labour minister, not a Blairite, and she’ll give it the short shrift it deserves because she recognises, as we do, that the only answer to the acute shortage of public housing for rent is to build more. Indeed, the only way to get more housing built in a credit crisis is to finance the councils to put builders back to work and to regenerate estates so they’re not ghettos."

It is over to you Margaret.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A Little More History

I remember purchasing a copy of the Pelican edition of H.G.Wells' "Short History Of The World" in my mid-teens when I was making my way to a football match at Sunderland's former ground at Roker Park. It was a fine day and as I arrived at the ground early, I sat on the terraces at the Roker End to start reading. I was soon absorbed by its short early chapters with titles such as "The World In Space","The World In Time" and "The Beginning of Life."

I was so taken by the book that when I later arrived in Iraq in 1955 as a National Serviceman without my small library, I purchased a second copy. It is stamped "Coronet Book Shop, Rashid Street, Baghdad", although I suspect that I purchased it in Basra where I was stationed.

Now over half a century later, the excitement I felt when reading Wells' history has now been re-experienced thanks to my reading the book shown above. It is Ernst Gombrich's "A Little History Of The World" which has recently been published in English in a paperback edition (Yale University Press, 2008, £6.99p).

Whilst Gombrich wrote this book for children, adults will find it a delight. Especially, if they have an inquisitive child or grandchild to read it to - gradually, short chapter by short chapter.

The first edition was published in 1936 (the year I was born) in Vienna and it is, therefore, targeted at a mid-European audience. But this itself helps to broaden English reader's horizons - be they old or young.

In Britain, parents and grandparents will always be able to take an excited child to the British Museum, especially to follow up the fine sections on Antiquity.

I would have liked to have seen a chapter on Sub-Saharan Africa and the nature and impact of the Slave Trade, which included the base it provided for much of the initial industrialisation in Britain. And I am also concerned that young girls might be unable to identify with Gombrich's historical sweep as women are sidelined in his history. Why this is so could fruitfully have been faced and more could have been made of the role of women such as Cleopatra, Joan of Arc and Elizabeth I.

But Gombrich's book is to be absorbed and enjoyed, rather than criticised. The final edition includes a chapter based on his own experiences from the end of the First World War when he was 9, up to the fall of the Berlin Wall. This rounds his work off for us. It also has an extra relevance for me in that I was myself approaching 9 at the end the Second World War.

It will also encourage me to return to H.G.Wells. For his own short history is drawn from his larger work entitled "The Outline Of History" which I went on to buy second hand at 8 Shillings and 6 Pence in the days of old money, but which I have only used for reference purposes to date.

But above all it will lead me on to Gombrich. For after he produced the original edition of his little history (which has 40 chapters!), he went on to become the leading art historian of his generation. So I at last need to get hold of a copy of his international bestseller "The Story Of Art" - it has sold 6 million copies to date!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Bloggers And Blears

In a talk to the Hansard Society, Hazel Blears (left, but not politically) has made the following attack on political bloggers.

"Perhaps because of the nature of the technology, there is a tendency for political blogs to have a 'Samizdat' style. The most popular blogs are rightwing, ranging from the considered Tory views of Iain Dale, to the vicious nihilism of Guido Fawkes. Perhaps this is simply anti-establishment. Blogs have only existed under a Labour government. Perhaps if there was a Tory government, all the leading blogs would be left-of-centre?

But mostly, political blogs are written by people with disdain for the political system and politicians, who see their function as unearthing scandals, conspiracies and perceived hypocrisy.

Until political blogging 'adds value' to our political culture, by allowing new voices, ideas and legitimate protest and challenge, and until the mainstream media reports politics in a calmer, more responsible manner, it will continue to fuel a culture of cynicism and despair"
(I suppose a quote is Samizdat!)

If she wishes to look for an alternative set of political blogs to those she attacks, then she should examine the links in the column to my right. Not to mention my Archives which cover 400 entries on top of this one (although some are about football and not politics - as are a few of my links).

To attack political bloggers on Hazel's basis is like being rude to those who talk politics in pubs and clubs, on buses and trains and even at organised political meetings. Just because numbers of people talk crap, it does not mean that they all do. Nor that their chosen avenue of expression should be damned.

If she wishes to raise the standard of political blogging, then she should join in as numbers of her parliamentary colleagues do. On second thoughts, I haven't came across anything yet to indicate that Hazel has anything to offer in raising the standard of debate whatever avenue she decides to use - certainly nothing she says from the green benches. But there I go again fueling cynicism and despair.

The Pain Of McCain

Perhaps I am becoming an old cynic, but the BBC's current euphoria over the election of Barack Obama reminds me of its 1997 enthusiasm over the election of Tony Blair. But I do have higher hopes for Barack.

For one thing, he will be obliged to shift US foreign policy. For otherwise he will come to be known as Barack O'Bomber.

My interest in John McCain (above) is that he is my age. This means, of course, that we have always been the same age. So I can follow the dramatic events in his life and remember the more mundane things I was doing when he was going through the traumas of being a POW or was engaged in the excitements of his high level political career in the USA. (I was, however, around 38 days before he was born. But I don't remember that much. It might, however, give me the edge on gravitas.)

What can he now do? Well like all of us at 72, he can keep on reminiscing. Better still, he could get himself a personal blog and click into my comment box now and again.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Congo - We Need More Than Bandages

..... the debate about Congo in the West – when it exists at all – focuses on our inability to provide a decent bandage, without mentioning that we are causing the wound. It’s true the 17,000 UN forces in the country are abysmally failing to protect the civilian population, and urgently need to be super-charged. But it is even more important to stop fuelling the war in the first place by buying blood-soaked natural resources. Nkunda only has enough guns and grenades to take on the Congolese army and the UN because we buy his loot. We need to prosecute the corporations buying them for abetting Crimes Against Humanity, and introduce a global coltan-tax to pay for a substantial peace-keeping force. To get there, we need to build an international system that values the lives of black people more than it values profit.

The above is from Johann Hari's Column in the Independent on Thursday.

UPDATE. 4 NOVEMBER.....Here is a serious contribution on the situation in the Congo from "The Bickerstaffe Record" entitled "Is Tanzania the DR Congo Solution?" . One of my greatest regrets is that when I was in Tanzania in 1998 at the time of the Al Qaeda attack on the American Embassy in Dar es Salaam, a meeting that I had fixed up with the late and great Julius Nyerere was cancelled. What Nyerere helped to achieve in Tanzania is rightfully praised and is seen as an example for the Congo in the above thread.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Atheism And Politics

UK Polling Report, under the heading "WOULD YOU VOTE FOR AN ATHEIST" concludes -

"In the US survey, the most electoral objectionable group was atheists, with 53% of Americans saying they would not vote for an otherwise well-qualified Presidential candidate who was an atheist. One would expect that figure to be much lower in the UK, but actually it is still surprisingly high at 20%. One might not have guessed it, but not believing in God would appear to be almost as much of an electoral handicap for a potential leader in the UK as being Muslim or gay."

I appreciate that becoming President or Prime Minster is somewhat different from being a back-bench MP. But I was an MP for 18 years and an atheist. No constituent ever asked me what my religion was. I went to Civic Services and Church/Chapel Funerals as part of what I saw as being my civic (or personal) duty. On the other hand I attended meetings of the Humanist Society in Parliament. I neither hid nor pushed my atheism. I was fully involved in the politics of Northern Ireland, but no-one even raised religion with me - not even to ask if I was a Catholic Atheist or a Protestant Atheist. Politicians (and others) who beat the religious or anti-religious drum worry me. It is, for instance, possible to oppose faith schools without being anti-religious. Politicians should neither do God nor Anti-God. There are plenty of other things to get on with.

Hat Tip NightHawk

Saturday, October 25, 2008

A Reluctant Review

I am reluctant to review Mohsin Hamid's book "The Reluctant Fundamentalist". It is a short novel of under 45,000 words which many will devour at a single sitting. I wish to encourage others to read it, but it would be inappropriate for me to undermine that experience by analysing and therebye describing in detail what it is about or how the subject matter is handled. Yet it would be great to discuss this work with others who had already read it.

In my review of "The Islamist" by Ed Husain, I argued that people like myself who had been brought up to discuss ideas within the Western Political Tradition now needed quickly to get up to speed on a whole range of ideas and understandings within Islam. Mohsin Hamid shows what can happen to an intelligent and able young man with an Islamic background when he comes to absorb both the attractions and complexities of life in the West. It seems to me to provide understandings which help to put some of the tomes I have recently been studying into a clearer perspective.

If I encourage anyone to take up this book and they then come to judge that I have exaggerated my case, then at least I will feel justified in persuading them to have turned to what is by any standards a good read.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Is It Time For A Negative Interest Rate?


In 1960 I was 24 and a fairly new full-time student at Ruskin College when I was set an essay by my economic theory tutor on the likely impact of a negative interest rate. Unfortunately I could find no reference to anything called a "negative interest rate" in the reading list which he had supplied, nor could any of my fellow novice students enlighten me on the meaning of the term.

So when it came to the tutorial, I read out what I had thought through for myself. My tutor kept correcting me until it dawned on him that I had persistently got hold of the wrong end of the stick. He then heard me out in silence.

I had ignored the notion that changes can occur in the value of money due to inflation or deflation. Instead I dreamt up a situation in which real values were static, but any savings which people deposited would receive a cut when retrieved. Save, say £100 and get £95 in return.

Even such an odd theory gives some limited scope for intellectual gymnastics and my tutors end-of-term comments obviously looked back on this incident. He reported that I "showed a distinct ability to think for myself, but at a superficial level" ! It is a position which is, no doubt, reflected regularly in this blog.


The likely impact of a negative interest rate is, however, a key contemporary issue. For it refers to a situation in which the rate of interest could feasibly be outmatched by the rate of inflation. The basic rate of interest fell to 4.5% on 8th October, yet in September the rate of inflation had already reached the higher figure of 5.2%. In practice many available rates of interest still exceed the 4.5% figure, but the inflation and interest rates are fast closing in upon one another.

Ken Livingstone is amongst those calling for a further cut in interest rates to boost investment. In real terms this would produce a negative interest rate for savers.

The case for doing this is made in today's Morning Star by Jerry Jones. He states that the government should "drastically reduce interest rates to around 2% and bring in regulations last seen in the 1950s and 1960s to ensure that the banks pass on the lower rate.....(to) ease the situation of those heavily in debt and (so) people would have more to spend. This would increase overall economic demand. These measures would make it cheaper for individuals and businesses to take on loans, which would help to boost economic demand, investment and employment. Fewer people would be in danger of losing their homes through getting in arrears.....(the) downside of slashing interest rates whilst inflation stands over 5% is that interest rates would be negative in real terms (my emphasis HB) so savers would lose out.However, cuts would act as an incentive to invest and spend, which would help to stimulate the economy".


Given that I first stumbled into negative interest rates 48 years ago, I will add two extra factors to Jerry Jone's powerful analysis.

First, savings are also used for investment purposes when banks and other financial institutions are obliged to act sensibly. Money withheld from savings needs to be invested or spent to create growth. However, money kept in purses and wallets does less than money properly saved.

Secondly, if the Government are to adjust interest rates in order to influence economic activity then (although they hold reserve powers), they need to reclaim the power to do this from the Bank of England. Those of us who came to learn about negative interest rates the hard way, knew that Gordon Brown made a great blunder in his first act as Chancellor of the Exchequer when he tied his hands behind his back.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Prioritising Peccadilloes

I fulfilled my commitment (made in the thread below this one) by keeping away from blogging for 24 days.

In any case, little happened in my absence apart from (1) the collapse of capitalism, (2) Gordon Brown's moving from zero to hero, (3) Barack Obama surging ahead in the race for the White House and (4) Sheffield FC winning two FA Cup Qualifying Games. Rather more important was my wife's birthday.

Over the time of my absence, I undertook a detailed study of the 121 Reports I had issued to the General Commmittee of the North East Derbyshire Labour Party in my 18 years as their MP - along with associated Hansard extracts and newspaper cuttings.

I made a lengthy analysis of all this stuff.

But I pushed it all to one side for the meeting I addressed in Dronfield yesterday evening which was entitled "That Was Parliament That Was". Instead I concentrated on the politicians' peccadilloes which I had observed during my 18 years in the Palace of Varieties.

The turgid stuff is intended for a book I am writing. On the other hand, if I am looking for a commercial success then perhaps I should stick with the peccadilloes.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008



Speaker..................Harry Barnes

Subject...................That Was Parliament, That Was

Time.......................7.30 pm

Date........................Friday, 17 October

Venue.....................Peel Centre, High Street, Dronfield

Entrance Fee...........£5 (including wine and refreshments)

A talk on my life as the local MP from 1987-2005


At the moment I am attempting to write my political autobiography, in which I hope to draw political lessons for the future. Blogging interferes with this project. I will use the opportunity provided by my giving the above talk, to do some research into my period in parliament. I do not particularly need to do this for the purpose of my talk, but it is a useful discipline for the purposes of the book which I have already started writing. I will, therefore stay away from blogging until after 17 October and I have hidden all comments until then. But I will then return to blogging and reopen my comment boxes - although my own blogging activities may only then emerge in fits and starts for some time.

Give Us A Goole

In The End Goole Are Cut Down To Size

Sheffield FC have averaged home league crowds of 417. But yesterday evening in the first round of something called the President's Cup the attendance dropped to 211. It didn't help that the Club's web site and match programme told us nothing about the nature of the bauble that was at stake. From the teams playing in the cup that night, it seems to be a contest involving the teams in both the North and South Leagues of the Unibond First Division.

As this is a sort of Unibond Carling Cup for the lower leagues; Sheffield rested their goalkeeper Leigh Walker, full-back Gavin Smith, mid-fielder Asa Ingall and striker Scott Partridge. That's almost the guts of the team. They did not even have a substitute goalkeeper on the bench.

Sheffield still spent most of the match weaving towards the visitors goal. They were playing Goole AFC, but I have no idea how many reserves Goole were playing. Sheffield missed chance after chance, desperate defenders bodies got in the way of goal bound shots and two of the Goole players almost scored spectacular own goals.

Yet it was Goole that grabbed the lead in the 7th minute, when our goalkeeper failed to stretch out his hand far enough when he dived at a shot from Nicky Darker. He made amends in the second half with a fine tip over the bar. Which was just as well as we were still 1-0 down.

Yet it was nearly all attack, attack, attack from Sheffield. Man of the match, Martin Goddard won ball after ball in the air, controlled through balls and set up his colleagues. It was justice when he got the eventual winner. But this did not arrive until the 84th minute. Andy Gascoigne coming on as substitute having vollied a fine equaliser in to the back of the net after 73 minutes.

But we had trailed for over an hour in a game that we were dominating. Our only problem was that we were so extended in attack that some of our reserve defenders were in danger of falling to the odd sucker punch from the Goole attack.

Yet when the deserved victory finally arrived it meant that Dave, Janet and myself could then reflect on the good things in this non-event when we finally retreated to the Coach and Horses bar. Its a pity that the President's Cup doesn't provide a backdoor into a European Cup Competition.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Making The Quorum

I was prepared to sacrifice football for politics on Saturday. For although my local team Sheffield FC were playing at home at Dronfield, I went instead to a Constituency Labour Party meeting held six miles to the south in Chesterfield.

But the meeting lacked a quorum, so John Gilbert (the Constituency Secretary) and myself made it back to the match just before the kick-off.

Managing to get to a match at the last minute in unexpected circumstances is always a great treat. The weather was great and we met up with Ted who was part of a crowd of 457 which meets any quorum. In fact Sheffield FC are the best supported team in their league.

It was a tough game in which the goals came at the end of each half.

Gavin Smith, our right back gave us the lead in the 39th Minute. His role as an attacking full-back tends to have been taken over by his colleague Paul Smith. But Gav has a tendency to creep up into the opposition's six yard box unnoticed by fans and the opposing defence alike. The goal he headed in close to the Stamford post was his second effort.

The game had been held up earlier as a bucket of earth had to be assembled to provided the means of filling in a deep divot on the pitch. These little extras seldom happen on Premiership grounds. The hold up meant that it was difficult to judge when the half time whistle would sound and hence when I should anticipate this in order to dash to the Coach and Horses to get the drinks in. But extra goals resolved the problem for me.

First, Stamford equalised on what is officially recorded as 45 minutes. Then immediately Matt Roney put us back in the lead with a smart shot that went in off the post. Judging that lighting would not strike three times in a row and whilst everyone was celebrating Roney's goal, I dashed out of the ground for the bar as fast as my walking stick would enable me.

It wasn't, however, until the 89th minute that matters were settled at the ground with Pete Davey putting matters 3-1 in our favour.

It was, however, a game which made me feel more confident about our progress this season. Chris Dolby's policy of playing a settled team seems to be working. Mick Goddard our striker also seemed to me to have his first impressive game since we signed him from Retford. When he was replaced by Gary Townsend, things were just as good. Gary came to us as a striker and was then moved into the mid-field. He impressed in both roles until he suffered a serious inquiry last season. His role this season has normally been that of a substitute midfielder. He hadn't then got back to his old form. Now for the first time he was back as a striker. I felt that this was the old Gary, near his best once more. Things can only get better.

More fun, we have a home cup game this evening.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Dull? Possibly. Inconsistent? Never

My responses for Normblog's profile have been judged by Road Sassy as being dull. He states "what struck me about his answers was the earnestness of the exercise, no creativity and no sense of fun". Perhaps he is correct, or we just have different senses of fun and of priorities.

But I make no similar concessions to the argument by Freedom John (then repeated and elaborated upon by The Wardman Wire and The Thunder Dragon) to the effect that some of my answers to Norm's questions were inconsistent with each other.

Amongst themselves this trio claim that two of my answers are inconsistent with my commitment to democratic socialism and my opposition to totalitarianism. Namely, the claims that (if only I had the influence) I would seek to (1) replace most private transport with public transport and (2) would restructure the United Nations to allow it to run world-wide military and financial controls.

Freedom John et al are free to argue against such propositions, but they are wrong to accuse me of inconsistency. For (if I had the influence provided in Norm's questions), I would naturally pursue and then sustain my objectives by entirely democratic and anti-totalitarian methods.

Even if I am thought of as being foolish and wrongheaded, at least I have been entirely consistent. Consistently wrong possibly, but never ever inconsistent.

Apologies to Road Sassy if he or she finds my defence of my logic to be deadly dull. But that is logic for you.

I need to point out, however, that I haven't recently been receiving wall-to-wall criticism from bloggers. Curly's Corner Shop, the blog! has a thread entitled "What I like about Harry Barnes". Its not my politics (he is "right of centre") nor my logic, it is my love of footy and the fact that we are both Sunderland supporters. All Sunderland fans (at least) should link to Curly's blog.

Friday, September 19, 2008

On Being Normblogged

After suffering a loss of gravitas by trying to pander to Ianin Dale's blogging circus, I may have been partially rehabilitated.

I appear today on Noram Geras's web-blog as his 261st profile. I was required to answer 30 questions he set me. If anyone is confused by answers, then I am prepared to elaborate on them. I enjoyed his final question in particular.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Sidney, Where Art Thou?

The original version of Clause IV, drafted by Sidney Webb (left) in November 1917 and adopted by the Labour Party in 1918, read, in part 4:

"To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service."

This was replaced by a commitment to a "dymanic economy". Well we have arrived.

Tackling The Crisis

Gordon Brown opens the way for Monopoly Capitalism, whilst George Bush turns to Public Ownership and the Daily Telegraph looks to Karl Marx via today's Comment Page Cartoon. Things can only get stranger.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Up For The Cup

Only 12 More Wins And Its Ours
On Saturday the sun shone at and on Sheffield FC. They progressed into the Second Qualifying Round of the F.A.Cup with a 3-2 win over Colne.

Yet at half time we led 3-1. With the rest of the home crowd I thought we were in for an easy win, especially as Colne play below us in the non-league pyramid in the same division as AFC Flyde whom we hammered 4-0 in the previous round. In the end, however, we were glad to hold on for a narrow victory.

Colne grabbed a lead only five minutes into the game, which was in conflict with everything else which happened in the first half. Our central defender Greg Wright upended Liam Garbutt when the Colne striker had already failed to control the ball. Martin Brodrich converted the penalty.

The game then, however, settled into one way traffic. Within 2 minutes Daz Winter equalised with a fine header. On 20 minutes our striker Mick Goddard prodded a ball home - he has yet to score from more than 8 yards. Five minutes later we were 3-1 up from a Scott Partridge header. We were coasting it.

But then we let Colne back into the game in the second half. It took two great saves from our goalkeeper Leigh Walker to keep us in the game. Then with only 6 minutes of normal time left Colne's Ted Cockett beat Walker on the rebound from a further save. The final whistle was more than welcome, we were in the draw for the next round with only four more FA Cup matches to win before we get drawn against the likes of nearby Chesterfield!

There were a number of reasons why we did not live up to our early promise. Paul Smith (Smudge) was missing and we missed his passes and runs forward from the left-back position. Matt Roney who has been our super-sub had earned a start, but he ran out of steam. Then we need Vill Powell back from inquiry in his striker's role.

We have now drawn Bacup Borough at home in the next round. They also play in the North West Counties League alongside Colne and AFC Fylde. But they were giant-killers on Saturday, dispatching Cammell Laird who play two leagues above them. In a dramatic fashion they won 3-0, scoring all their goals in the first three minutes.

We will have to ensure that we aren't caught napping next time at the start of the game.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Heavens Open

The heavens opened on Tuesday evening as I made my way to the bus shelter. I was going to watch a football match at Sheffield FC's home ground and decided to get the bus for the short trip because of the dodgy weather.

I was surprised that the game hadn't by then been cancelled as this is what kept happening all the time last season. But improved drainage and a dedicated ground staff had seemingly overcome the problem.

The torrent as I ran to the bus shelter was unbelievable. But I could not return home without being drowned. So I jumped on the bus and made a quick dash for the Coach and Horses pub which is next to the ground.

Surprise, Surprise - the heavy rain stopped and it was game on with a soggy pitch. It was a pity really, for we lost 2-0 to Shepshed Dynamo.

This was the third home league game of the season. They have all followed a similar pattern. Each time the opposition has taken command in the first half, then when we have brought Matt Roney on as a substitute we have come fully into the game. This led to us grabbing a 2-2 draw against Charlton Town (see here) and then a 3-1 win over an unlucky Quorn (see here). The luck ran out against Shepshed.

In the first half it looked as if the gods were with us thanks to desperate defending, missed chances and the woodwork and it was 0-0 at half-time. Straight after half time Shepshed got what they deserved and took the lead (guess who hadn't got back in time from the Coach and Horse's to see the goal?).

Then Sheffield come into the game. Matt as substitute backed by Smudge (Paul Smith) who was playing as an attacking left-back, helped to take over the left hand side of the pitch. Just as the Benjamin twins (numbers 10 and 11) had done for Shepshed in the first half.

It wasn't so easy for the Benjamin twins to progress down the left-wing in the second half as they were now at the worst drained part of the pitch. Yet this did not stop Shane Benjamin scoring twice. The second was from a penalty given for something-I-know-not-what. But the rough justice delivered a just result.

Today (with some sunshine around), I am off to see our home game against Colne in the First Qualifying Round of the FA Cup. We qualify thanks to a 4-0 win over AFC Fylde in a preliminary round replay (see here).

But for our problematic home form in the league, we should be favourites to win today as Carlton (like Flyde) play at the 5th step of the Non-League pyramid, a step below Sheffield FC. And we all know what the FA Cup is like.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

50,000 For Key Football Match In Baghdad

Who would think it. 50,000 attended a football match in Baghdad on 24 August between Al Zawraa and Arbil. Here is one report and another aspect.

Hallelujah - But Are We Facing The End of Blogging?

Great, I can once more access Grant's "Political Opinions", but will this put an end to all blogging (trawl up)?

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Nowt - But Goals

Janet And Martin Celebrate (David's Photo And Wife)
Tuesday evening's FA Cup Preliminary Round Replay between Sheffield FC and AFC Flyde was so enjoyable that Janet, Dave, Martin and myself resolved to make the trip to Loughborough Dynamo's ground yesterday to see our away game. Unfortunately, the game was postponed at the last minute due to a waterlogged pitch. But we had had the foresight to anticipate this and called off our trip 3 hours earlier.

Apart from goals, there was a shortage of supplies for the Tuesday evening game. Janet bought the club scarf which she displays in the above photo, but when Dave decided to buy the only other scarf in the Club Shop they had sold out. Then Martin went to buy a pie just as the game got going and they had none ! I mean what is a football match without scarves and pies? Luckily this one was quite something.

The replay resulted from a 1-1 draw at AFC Fylde just three days earlier and Sheffield FC's administration had been caught on the hop. Luckily, the same had not happened to the team.

Apart from even exchanges at the onset, Sheffield FC dominated proceedings and ran out 4-0 victors over last season's FA Vase winners.

First, Mick Goddard scored his first goal since his move to Sheffield FC following a fine cross from Smudge (Paul Smith) plus a fine header by Asa Ingall. The second goal came from that-man-again Smudge as he headed home a Gavin Smith free-kick.

Unlike the Sheffield FC administration, our group made its own forward planning and Mark made it to the Coach and Horses bar to line up our half-time drinks.

The football, therefore, looked even better in the second-half. Although Scott Partridge had a perfectly good goal disallowed, he went on to split the AFC Fylde defence in the 61st Minute and Daz Winter smashed the ball into the back of the net. Mick Goddard rounded off the festivities when he converted a penalty in the 86th Minute.

For the second time this season we had run riot in front of a crowd of 285. The previous time being at our 5-2 win at Gresley. In future we will have to close the gates when the magic number is reached.

We stayed to clap the team off the pitch, not least because we knew that the half-time crush at the bar is seldom repeated at full-time. The lads behind the goal had chanted "We're going to wemb-ber-ley". That is the beauty of the FA Cup, we only have to triumph in 12 more rounds for that to come true. And only 5 victories will put in the hat with Football League teams.

It was celebration time, which was completed by the fact that Martin our computer expert had discovered that Smudge originates from Easington Colliery - as I do. When I then discussed this with our man of the match, I discovered he had lived only seven doors away from my parents and from my own earlier home. Furthermore (unlike myself) he had played for my old school's team.

It is now roll on Tuesday evening for the next game against Shepshed Dynamo. There is only one problem. All our games against teams with "Dynamo" in their title have (like yesterday) been postponed due to a waterlogged pitch. Still the Coach and Horses will be open!

Friday, September 05, 2008

We All Need "Political Opinions"

Does anyone know where this former link from Grant has gone ?

Azarmehr On Arash

Good News. See here on this.

A Fine Book On Sunniside Reviewed

Sunniside Days : My Maternal Grandparents (Click Photo To Enlarge)
Sunniside is a former coal mining community situated in County Durham. At its peak it had a population of over 1,500. Its main pit was sunk between 1866 and 1868, but numbers of the miners who settled in the village also found work at neighbouring pits in the Crook and Tow Law area.

When the pit was closed in 1925 (with much of the surrounding coalfield also being worked out), many local miners and their families moved to larger and deeper mines near the Durham coast. The pit was, however, re-opened for a period between 1937 and 1965 with coal extraction taking place beneath the local school.

Today Sunniside has no shops and few services and a population of under 500, but it remains a closely knit and friendly community.

I have culled this information from a fine book which is entitled "A History of a Village : Sunniside" edited by Julie Ward. It is published by the Sunniside Community Association at £7.50p (ISBN 978 0 9555487 0 3). Copies covering postage, package and handling can be obtained for £11 via Julie Ward, 43/44 Gladstone Terrace, Sunniside, Bishop Auckland, Co Durham DL13 4LS with cheques made out to the "Sunniside Community Association".

My interest in the book arises from the fact that my mother's parents settled in Sunniside following their marriage in 1898. My Grandfather, John Gray died in 1920 and my Grandmother Lizzy (Elizabeth) joined the exodus to the Durham coastal coalfield area in 1929. She moved the home to Easington Colliery as my two Uncles had found work at its pit.

I have only ever visited Sunniside once. I was a young boy and it was shortly after the end of the second world war. My Uncle Joe was one of the few miners in the area who owned a car at the time and he lived and worked at Easington's neighbouring Colliery of Horden. When he turned up to give my mother and myself a lift to Sunnside, my Aunt Alice and Cousin Robert were with him. My mother Betty was Alice's sister. They were both born in Sunniside.

When my Grandfather died he was 46, leaving my 43 year-old Grandmother with six surviving children. Three of these were still at school - Robert (12), Betty (11) and Alice (10). The only finances available came from the wages of Bill (18) who worked at the pit and whatever was available from Annie (20) and Bella (15). But the girls worked as domestic servants probably in Whitby (this is a correction added 6 September) and Oldham and would receive little in wages beyond their accommodation and meals.

The harshness of the conditions at that time is shown in the book. Julie points out that annual "epidemics of measles, mumps, diphtheria, scarlet fever, chickenpox and influenza were common well into the 20th century" (page 11).

In addition to general poverty, there were two particular factors which would aid the spread of disease.

First, there was the use of middens as toilet facilities. To use a midden residents had at the minimum to cross a road. As areas of houses were built back to back, those living on the far sides from the middens had to embarked upon a walk round the end of their street. The only way in which the contents of the midden was controlled was by adding the ashes deposited by the coal fires. The middens were emptied by "midden men" with the contents being shovelled out onto a horse-drawn cart and transported to the "shit tip" (Page 37). The only time in my life I have used a midden was on my trip to Sunniside. It is my main memory of the visit.

A second hazard is that the winters in Sunniside were the complete opposite of what its name indicates. My mother told me of how they were cut off from the outside world in winter snow drifts. These occurred because Sunniside is the highest village in County Durham and is situated on a ridge. The stories my mother told are fully confirmed between pages 58 and 61 of the book in a section researched from the school log book and the Northern Echo. These are illustrated with dramatic photographs.

I know that Lizzy and John's first child Louisa was born in the winter conditions of January 1899 and the child died 15 months later. My mother also spoke of a teacher making a comment which hurt her mother when a second child had died. The teacher had said that at least the loss would not be as bad for Lizzy as she had a large family. I hold a copy of a small "summary" birth certificate which indicates that this child was Henry Gray born on 3 July, 1913.

The combination of having to try to use middens in the depth of winter would add to health hazards, as would "slopping out" at any time of the year.

Lizzy's surviving children had no option but to leave school as early as they could in order to find work. My mother was always top girl in her class (but was never able to surpass the top boy). She would have loved to go on to have become a teacher, but she was obliged to join Bella in what they called "place" when she was 14. All but one of the siblings started work at that age. The boys at the pit and the girls in domestic service. Only the youngest, Alice stayed at home when she reached the school leaving age due to her bad health.

Julie provides evidence to show that the Gray's eventual move of the family home to Easington was a common feature of its time. She provides a relevant quote from the school log for 21 September, 1928. It stated that the "number of children on the registers is very unsettled - families moving to Easington, Sherburn and to other places where work is more plentiful" (page 15).

Yet Sunniside for all its hardships built a close and mutually supportive community. The Grays reflected this social bond and when the children set up families of their own, they would meet up regularly even when three out of the six offspring moved distances away from Lizzy's home.

On the day I visited Sunniside 60 or more years ago, I don't know who we visited. Both Lizzy (nee Lauder) and John Gray had come from large mining families in the area. Some of these I later visited at Crook, Tow Law and Shildon.

Julie's book is a must for anyone who knows Sunniside, even someone with my limited experiences. Yet it should also be of interest to anyone with a concern for social history, including researchers. Its strengths seem to me to be (1) the work done on school log books from 1878 to the local school's closure in 1960, (2) the description of an area of Sunniside drawn from the 1881 census and (3) the use made of Kelly's Directories in describing services in the Village up to the final village shop closing in 1996 and the Post Office (by then limited to postal services) departing in 2002.

There are two fine pieces from the past by John Armstrong who was born on 12 June, 1910 (only 16 months after my mother). His piece about his father is particularly telling. His father showed a selfless care for others and this led to his death when only 27.

It must, however, be two school matters on which I close, especially given there significance for the Gray family.

First, for 14 September 1920 in the school log we have - "No exercise books, pens and ink have been received over 13 months, and at the time of inspection the ink had been watered to make it last out, pens couldn't be changed and every available space in arithmetic exercise books was written on. Consequently everything was much below the normal quality of work. The paper of some books supplied is so thin that the ink runs through the other side". At this time my Uncle Robert, my Aunt Alice and my mother were studying under these conditions, as was the above John Armstrong. It was the year in which my Grandfather died.

Secondly, Julie adds that difficulties "caused by the protracted miner's strike in 1921 prompted the school to be in a mass feeding programme in April with breakfast and dinner being served in the school for 'necessitous children'. By June the canteen committee was also providing soup on a daily basis for adults" (page 15). The Gray's would need to draw fully on such essentials. It was the year my Uncle Robert was 14 and would be obliged (when he could) to start work at the pit. Yet this fine school photo also seems to have been taken later in the same year.

Further tough times lay ahead with the closure of the local pit in 1925 and the lengthy mining strike of 1926. Yet the Gray's always looked back on their time in Sunniside with great affection.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

A Loss Of Gravitas ?

In Iain Dale's rating of Labour Bloggers, I first appeared in 70th place for 2005-6 when I was a novice blogger. Then I bounced up into 21st place for 2006-7. So full of enthusiasm, I jazzed up my blog with the help of a scanner at the start of this year. What is the result? I have fallen back to 62nd place in this year's ratings.

Admittedly, Iain does not compare like with like this time. For this years list is for "Left of Centre Blogs" in place of "Labour Blogs" - in ideological terms I'm not sure if this widens and reduces the field for some Labour bloggers don't qualify for Left-of-Centre status from my viewpoint.

I can only assume that my attempt to be modern and "with it" has dented my saintly image. But I can't revert back again. A loss of gravitas is much like a loss of virginity. So with the help of more of Dave's photos of Sheffield FC games, I will continue to be promiscuous.

Weather permitting we have a FA Cup replay this evening.

But if I can't make it as a political blogger, perhaps like Iain I can make a bit of money in the publishing world with my own annual rating of footy bloggers - I might even get the backing of an Oil Sheik. But I won't be including Iain Dale's separate West Ham United blog in my list. This has nothing to do with my taking the hump over his political blogging ratings. It is just because I haven't got over West Ham's 8-0 defeat of Sunderland when Geoff Hurst scored 6. Then on my first two visits to Upton Park, Sunderland whom I have supported for over 60 years lost 6-0 and 6-1.

There is only so much that human flesh can take.

Saturday, August 30, 2008


This is a photograph of a class of schoolchildren taken at Sunniside in County Durham. I am trying to make out what is written on the board held by the girl in the centre of the front row. It starts with the words "Sunniside", then there is a date which seems to be 8th December, 1921. Has anyone the ability and the eyesight to make out exactly what is on the board? To get a larger view of it just click into the picture.

On the right of the girl holding the board (our left) is my mother who was born on 20 February, 1909. If I am correct about the date on the board, then she would be 12.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Washington Or Moscow, Or Neither?

This photograph appears on the front of today's Morning Star. It shows what the paper calls Anti-War Campaigners who are about to hand in a letter to 10 Downing Street protesting about US and British actions in relation to Georgia. The Campaigners led by Tony Benn are in fact spearheaded by the Stop The War Coalition.

What they say in their letter is only at best one side of the truth. But these strange Anti-War Campaigners then fail to go on to condemn the actions of Russia for their invasion of Georgia and for their subsequent hard and dangerous line. I doubt whether they will now be delivering a letter to the Russian Embassy condemning Moscow's actions.

The Socialist Workers' Party used to have a slogan "Neither Washington Nor Moscow, But International Socialism". It is a pity that the bulk of today's Revolutionary and Hard Left don't re-examine the contemporary logic of that position.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Another Harry's Place

Update 28 August: that other Harry's Place is back up and running. Here is their analysis of what occurred.

Harry's Place Is Under Threat - But If This Link Works It Has Not Yet Been Removed.

What Appears Below Is Taken Directly From "Harry's Place" And Explains What Is An Entirely Unacceptable Situation In The Tradition Of Book Burning By Adolf.

"Don’t panic if we disappear briefly…

Brett, August 26th 2008, 11:42 am

Harry’s Place may be removed (or rather have it’s DNS disabled) after a ‘complaint’ to the company that our domain name is registered with.

We assume after threats were made on the weekend that this ‘complaint’ originates from Jenna Delich or her supporters.

Though we have not yet seen the complaint submitted, we assume it runs along the lines that pointing out that Ms Delich linked to the website of a known neo-Nazi figure and former Ku Klux Klan leader is defamatory.

This is extraordinary since Ms Delich has not denied that she circulated links to David Dukes website. There would be no point since the evidence is in the public domain.

Nevertheless, a malicious complaint has been made to the company hosting our DNS.

We would like to assure readers of Harry’s Place that we are doing everything we can to prevent a disruption, but that - of course - we will not concede any ground. We have posted nothing defamatory, and we stand by the information we have supplied.

ISPs often run scared of UK libel law and malicious complaints are thus common. Sadly, it is a well known - and usually successful - way of censoring websites which publish truths that they’d rather not be generally known.

We ask our readers and supporters in the meantime to publish this information as widely as possible. The disgraceful tactic of dishonest and malicious complaining should not be allowed to succeed.

Those on the UCU list, please also make this know there.

Please spread the word.

If we go down, email us at harryblog at gee mail dot com for updates.

UPDATE: For those who can still see us - we’ve put up an archive of the Delich-related material here, which we will use to post updates on this saga: "

Searching My Memory

Psycho's Penalty Saved - So Thatcher Resigns 4 Months Later.

I have had the painful experience of being tagged by both Bob Piper and Tom Harris on a Blog Meme initiated by Iain Dale who has nothing better to do with his time. I have to try and remember where I was when I first heard about the following five events. This could be embarrassing. But here goes.

Princess Diana's Death : 31 August 1997

Luckily my wife has a better memory than I have. She tells me that we had just returned from our summer holiday in Malta and were in the flat which I rented in London when I was an MP. Radio Sheffield rang up for my comments. It was the first time I heard the news. I don't think I then invented the phrase that she was the "People's Princess", but with my memory who knows. I had heard Diana speak once at a Charity event in the Lords, but the only Royal I have ever had a discussion with is Princess Anne who showed a serious understanding about the situation in Northern Ireland.

Margaret Thatcher's Resignation : 22 November, 1990

Even I can remember this one. I was passing through the Members Cloak Room in the Commons when Geoffrey Johnson-Smith, the Tory MP (1959-2001) rushed up to get me to read the tapes in the corner of the room showing that Thatcher had gone. He was excited and pleased. I served on the "Members Interests Select Committee" which Geoffrey chaired, so we knew each other well. Years earlier I had watched him on TV presenting the Tonight programme with Cliff Michelmore and interviewing a young Bridget Bardo. I haven't forgot that either.

Attack On Twin Towers : 11 September, 2001

Ann and I were on holiday in Lazarotte because our daughter worked there. We were sunning ourselves, when I decided to return to the hotel room for a comfortable kip. But I switched the TV on just after the first tower had been hit. I rushed to tell Ann and we dashed back to see the second tower being hit. Our son and future daughter-in-law had been up to the 107th floor of the World Trade Centre the year before. 6 months after the twin towers were brought down I visited the site with a Parliamentary Committee.

England World Cup Semi-Final : 4 July, 1990

Over the years football matches merge into each other. Sunderland 1 Grimsby 2 on 19 October, 1946 is something else, with my Dad sitting me on a concrete barrier at the Roker End. For England, I just about remember Stuart Pearce and Chris Waddle missing penalties in the shoot out. I imagine that I watched it on a large screen in the Commons. The business of the House was on the Adjournment to avoid us having to pull ourselves away from the screen by voting. That evening the Sheffield paper "The Star" carried an article about me headed "Anti-Poll tax MP prepares for Court". Now I remember what all that was about.

President Kennedy's Assassination : 22 November, 1963

As your short term memory goes first, I can easily remember this one. Ann and I had only been married for 2 months and she came with me to a meeting of the Staff-Student Philosophy Society at Hull University where I was an adult student studying Politics and Philosophy. I was addressing them on Rousseau who met at the crossroads of the two halves of my studies. It was before the meeting started that we heard of the Kennedy assassination. It was the main topic of conversation before and after my turn - and I imagine during it. Just so that I can brag as to how prestigious these meetings were, I will point out that Professor Bernard Williams (whom Shirley Williams was married to for a while) was one of the later speakers. I remember because Ann fancied him, but I never felt the same about Shirley who went and ratted on the Labour Party.

I now have to pass this meme thing on to 5 other unsuspecting souls and I don't even know if some of them have already been caught up in it. So I finger -

1. Modernity Blog
2. Plattitude
3. Unrepentant Communist
4. Your Friend In the North
5. Roger Darlington

Variety is the spice of life. But this mixed bag will all have to be over 55 or so to complete all the categories.