Friday, 30 December 2011

Top 10 Dance Tunes of 2011

The blog maybe deader than England's chances at the European Championships next year, but in 2011 the quietude of its crypt was regularly disturbed by an array of top dance and electronica. As per tradition, here are the greatest tunes the year has brought us. May 2012 match and surpass it!

10. My House by Hercules and Love Affair

9. Graduation by Gemini

8. Promises by Nero

7. The Call by Raized by Wolves feat. Tom Smith

6. Another World (Shogun Remix) by Cerf, Mitiska and Jaren

5. Niton by Eric Prydz

4. Tears (Aurosonic Progressive Mix) by Headstrong feat. Stine Grove

3. Titanium by David Guetta feat. Sia

2. You Belong To Me by Bobina and Betsie Larkin

And number one is ...





That is all.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

An Ex-Blogger, Blogs

Former regulars still knocking about may be disappointed this place has been left to the tumbleweed. On the other hand, some might find the lack of blogging a big improvement.

Unfortunately, my inclination to blog sputtered out at the start of the year (see here). This isn't because I've run out of opinions. It's down to the nature of the work I now do. While I'm not going to divulge a great deal about it, it does require writing thousands and thousands of finely-crafted words every week and demands the brain be fully engaged at all times. It's certainly different from the factories and checkouts of old, when I could just switch off; or my stints in academia where I pursued my research interests and theoretical inclinations. If you want to flirt with Marx's theory of alienation, for most of the week my thoughts are disciplined by and beholden to a power outside of myself. And so I find myself caught up in an alienating process, one that has left me too knackered and frazzled to spend evenings and weekends hunched over a computer composing yet another screed. Whereas politics used to be pretty much all I did, my species-being now finds fulfillment in sleeping, the pub quiz, and collecting retro video games.

While the days of AVPS blogging are over for the time being, there are a couple of projects I am involved in - one party political, the other a great deal less so - neither of which I cannot say too much about at present. Both require this ex-blogger to take up the cudgels again, albeit elsewhere and under my real name.

This place will not be consigned to the gnawing flattery of spambots, however. I intend to use this for reposting my odds and sods from the other platforms and maybe, just maybe, play host to a couple of pieces that do not fit the other two. And music videos.

So the time for writing the blog's obituary has not arrived, and may yet prove to be some distance off.

NB Quick plug: Don't forget to check out Collective Invective, the new(ish) blog by Lawrence Shaw of the NUJ and the ex-Trot Unicorn quiz cadre.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Eurovision Preview

We are less than a week away from the competition that really matters. No, I'm not talking about Stoke City vs Manchester City in the FA Cup Final but rather the intercontinental cheese fest that is Eurovision 2011!

As per the custom round these parts, this calls for a weary eye to be cast over this year's entries.

The one thing, the main thing that jumps out from this year's entrants is just how
serious it has become. Dozy media bosses in Western Europe have finally woken up to the fact that East European countries win because they actually enter A-List acts with regional profiles. Take Alexej Vorobjov, Dino Merlin, and TWiiNS, for example. They are big names. It's all about the fame game and has nothing to do with block voting. Therefore this year, Western Europe has rolled out some very big guns indeed.

First up, Ireland is offering none other than
X Factor irritants Jedward. Their tune, Lipstick isn't bad by their execrable standards. Though you have got to ask how their ropey vocals will stand up to the rigours of a live performance. Still, they have hokeyness on their side and should, if they get through the heats, pick up a fair amount of points from the UK audience.

Germany, having toasted their first victory in 28 years in 2010 are determined to hold on to the Eurovision crown. They're sticking with Lena who will be singing
Taken By a Stranger. It's alright and the song shows of her strange mockney warble, but it isn't anywhere near as catch as last year's Satellite. But still, could her new found star power pull Germany through?

The UK has got its act together and plumped for someone that not only have us pommes de frites heard of, but have had success on the Continent too. I am of course talking about Blue and their choon,
I Can. As entries go it is much better than the dross the UK usually embarrasses itself with. It sounds like a proper Blue record, not underpowered nasal Eurovision fodder. And (and!) because of European chart success, they definitely won't be doing a Jemini and disgracing our good name.

France, however, could pull off something of a coup with their entry.
Sognu by Amaury Vassili is a Corsican operatic number that's actually quite good. Mindful of the People's Operatic Societies of the East under the late and unlamented Stalinist regimes, France could pull off quite a coup on the far side of the Danube. And people fed up with Eurodisco married to folky beats might give it a punt for its sheer freshness.

But by far the biggest beast of the Eurovision jungle is none other than Dana International for Israel. It doesn't matter her song,
Ding Dong isn't as good as Diva, her 1998 performance was a culturally defining media moment. And with a fan base in practically every European country, by rights she should be a hot favourite.

Well, you would think so. After all, I remember thinking tATu would walk it in 2003. I have instead read the tea leaves and consulted the Oracle and believe the crown will go to either Lena or
Eric Saade of Sweden. But expect very strong challenges from Ell and Nikki of Azerbaijan, Hungary's Kati Wolf, France, and, of course, our Blue.

And so, in tribute to Our Boys, here's the UK's entry:


Stoke Local Elections: Thoughts

Until approximately 2:30 Friday morning, Stoke-on-Trent was famous for four things: the pottery industry, Stoke City Football Club, Robbie Williams, and the BNP. But no more. As Labour powered to a 24 seat majority, voters across the city decisively turned their backs on the far right. All five of their sitting councillors were dumped out of the chamber, their challenges elsewhere came to nought, and the unashamedly racist England First (née the White Nationalist Party) could only make up the numbers as fascist also-rans.

This doesn't mean the city can be declared a BNP-free zone, as tempting to do so is. The 3.4%
city wide vote mustered by the BNP downplays the scale of their support. In the 10 wards where they fielded a candidate, they polled 2,528 votes out of 35,467 cast, or 7.12%. Despite losing every seat, having an organisation falling apart at the seams, running no real campaign to speak of, and seeing a wedge of its soft support returning to Labour, the fascists are still polling at historical highs for the far right and the local rate is many times greater than their piddling national vote share.

The problem is many of the conditions that allowed the BNP to spread like a cancer through the city's body politic still remain. Persistent unemployment, welfare dependency, poor prospects, housing shortages, and further cuts form the noxious soup from which the fascists can draw sustenance. But they won't necessarily make a comeback in four years time for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, undoubtedly having a thinly-diguised outright Tory government at the country's helm blunts the animus the city's electorate has felt toward Labour this last decade. When it was in power it is hardly surprising some of the anti-politics sentiment it fed assumed radical right wing forms at the ballot box. And already the ruling coalition of the centre right has inspired left-wing street movements, though this has not (and is, in my opinion, unlikely to) make itself felt electorally.

Secondly, Stoke-on-Trent Labour has undergone a significant sea change. The faction fight immediately prior to Tristram Hunt's selection for Stoke Central CLP cleared out a ruling clique focused on resolutionary socialism, hobby horse obsessions, and bone idleness. This has allowed a new campaigning culture to take hold committed to rebuilding the local party and labour movement. And the initial results - 12 out of 14 constituency council seats, the disposal of the BNP, strengthening relationships with the trade unions, and a growing membership - vindicates our proactive approach to politics. Provided this strategy is deepened, and there is no reason to believe it won't be, the BNP and sundry anti-politics independents will have a very difficult time countering it.

The bigger longer term challenge for Labour is tackling persistent low turn outs. While this year is not significantly worse than the usual numbers voting in local contests (as second order elections, they tend not to "matter" as much), it can be dispiriting traipsing from door to door encountering (usually, young) people who are either indifferent to, completely alienated from, or say they do not understand politics. Some readers might like to think this is the outer shell of an immature bolshevism. In fact it is symptomatic of the accumulating break down of civic/political culture that has been ongoing as neoliberalism and deindustrialisation has ravaged the land. Celebrating it as a rejection of discredited mainstream politics is completely misguided - a socialist society cannot be built with ignorance as its foundation. Labour has to go against the grain and rebuild itself from the ground up, as an organisation that has a real community presence beyond the bi-monthly news letter and occasional knock on the door.

So while what Labour has done in campaign terms this last year is impressive, it is but the first step on the long road to the city's political rejuvenation.

Now, of course, something would be amiss if I didn't take the opportunity to comment on the far left vote. Standing as 'Trade Unionists and Socialists Against Cuts', the local Socialist Party branch stood in six seats in surely what must constitute the biggest far left challenge in Stoke-on-Trent since, well, ever. The results were less than stellar and mirrored
their outcomes elsewhere, which saw three sitting councillors lose their seats. In the city, TUSC polled 486 (3.8%) out of the 12,656 votes cast in those wards. While this isn't too bad in far left terms (the standard poll a far left candidate can expect is between one and two per cent), considering the scale of cuts forced on the City Council, this is pretty poor. To put things in perspective, town clown and friend-of-the-blog Gary Elsby polled almost twice the total combined TUSC vote. Or, to put it in even starker terms, this vote is less than what the SP achieved standing only in the old Abbey Green ward in 2006. Of course, I have no doubt the success of the campaign will be weighed in terms of x number of leaflets delivered, y number of papers sold, and z number of new recruits. But if you're in the business of building a new workers' party, which the SP claims to be, you will never convince the bulk of Labour-supporting trade unionists to break away on the basis of such trifling numbers.

With Labour's grip on the most politically conscious layers of the working class growing, it's pretty obvious where socialists should be.

Image credit:
Pits n Pots

Friday, 6 May 2011

Blogging Imminent

It's been a busy old few months since I let blogging lapse and, of course, a great deal of nonsense has been cluttering up the interwebs in my absence. I think it's time to dust off the keyboard, flex them fingers, and begin again exposing the contents of my head to your reasoned scrutiny.

Well, not quite yet. Yesterday's hectic campaigning plus a near all-nighter at the local election count and a full day at work has left me almost as knackered as the BNP's immediate prospects in Stoke-on-Trent. Instead, have some music until a few thoughts materialise on the elections here, and the far left's totally unexpected dismal results.


Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Urban Decay in America and China

Urban decay and regeneration is the political and social challenge right at the heart of local politics here in Stoke-on-Trent. With the major industries stripped out and a further assault on the local public sector thanks to the Tories' demented cuts, this isn't a problem that will be solved any time soon.

But spare a thought for poor Detroit. Nothing in this country comes close to the devastation deindustrialisation has wreaked on Motor City. The video below is a glimpse of a once mighty city rapidly going to seed. There is more
here too.



Remarkably, China too is beginning to experience a similar problem for very different reasons. As the old industrial cities of the Rustbelt fall into rack and ruin, grossly underpopulated cities are springing up in China. Economic collapse is tearing down Detroit. An incredible property bubble is driving the construction of massive, empty metropolis. See this fascinating video:

Monday, 11 April 2011

Chris Bambery Resigns from the SWP!

The SWP were always going to get me back into blogging ...

Letter to CC and SWP

10 April

Dear Charlie,

After 32 years membership of the Socialist Workers Party, during which I was National Secretary for 17 of them and editor of the Socialist Worker for five, I am resigning forthwith both from the Central Committee and the Socialist Workers Party.

The relentless factionalism in the organisation, driven by the leading group on the CC, shows no sign of ceasing and is doing enormous damage to the party. It is a cancer eating away at its heart.

At the special CC held on Friday 8 April I was told by Martin Smith I played a 'filthy' and 'disgraceful' role in the party, a 'foul role in Scotland' and despite the CC 'fighting hard' to integrate me I had 'spent the last year and a half organising against the CC.' Such accusations were repeated by Martin's supporters and were not refuted by yourself as National Secretary.

While not recognising the reality of such slanders, I pointed out if you believed them immediate action would be required against any CC member believed to be involved in such behaviour. None followed.

It is simply untenable to sit round a table or work with people who believe, and are spreading, such slanders.

These slanders are not just aimed at me but those who have worked closely with me in building the party and wider initiatives, particularly so in Scotland which I've held responsibility for since 1988 until I was asked to step aside this year to help prevent 'factionalism'. This step was criticised at a Scottish steering committee by some members who argued my role in the significant development of the Scottish districts, particularly amongst younger members, had been important. They too have been subject to similar slanders.

The party has been afflicted by factionalism for four years and grips the leading group on the CC who seem addicted to it.

It has damaged our united front work in all the campaigns - Right to Work most obviously but in all others. Stop the War is now treated with derision by leading CC members.

In recent weeks there has been no lead or drive from the CC in turning the party towards building the growing anti-cuts movement. The current article in Socialist Review and the post 26th party notes on the way forward after 26 March both have virtually nothing to say on anti cuts campaigns.

Martin Smith has attempted to blame me personally for the weaknesses of Right to Work despite the internal arguments which have held it back from its inception and which have brought it near to derailment.

While all of us wanted to see the party grow the stress on party building has increasingly meant 'intervening' from the outside rather than recruiting whilst working alongside those who are building the movement.

Since Friday's CC I have been made aware that a major factional attack was being once more orchestrated against myself.

The SWP prided itself on being free from factionalism and on its record in helping initiating and building strong and genuine united fronts. That has been damaged.

I was one of the only two remaining CC members who had worked with Tony Cliff in a leadership role. Having worked closely with him on a daily basis for many years with, I believe the CC's current approach goes against everything he stood for. His analysis of Lenin's ideas laid great emphasis on taking a firm grip on the 'key link in the chain'. Its been clear for some time that the question of austerity would dominate the political scene, yet we've failed to position ourselves at the heart of the anti-cuts movement and our influence is not what it could of been. This is not the place to go into detail about the party's recent history, but Right To Work was initiated in bizarre circumstances (I learned the news from Party Notes) and the CC as a whole has never applied systematic pressure to push the formal position through the party.

For all of my 32 years as a member I have given everything into building this party, even making serious financial sacrifices including loaning considerable sums of money during the financial crisis which has affected the party in recent years, money I am still owed.

A revolutionary party is an instrument for making a revolution. If it is blunted or broken another must be built. I maintain the firm conviction that a party rooted in working class struggle that fights constantly for Marxist ideas whilst building unity on the basis of action is essential for the battle for socialism. For that reason, to take this road is not an easy decision, but it is one I have been forced to take.

Yours sincerely,

Chris Bambery

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Monday, 14 March 2011

Sunday, 27 February 2011

On Not Blogging

It's been a fortnight since I last sat down in front of my computer and wrote something for this here blog. And, if I'm honest, I don't know when my next foray into topical commentary is going to be. For three and a bit years I have blogged continuously. On days I didn't write a post I was invariably thinking about doing one. Throughout that time it was as if an opinionated coal was burning in the centre of my brain, and that coal was the fuel for hundreds of posts about nearly every topic under the sun. And now, I'm afraid to say, I think it's gone out.

Instead of feeling a desire to mouth off I just want to spend some of my free time reading books and following what other bloggers have to say. In other words, I have rediscovered the pleasures of not blogging. So, I think it's time for an extended break similar to the one I had in 2007. I could finally get round to using my time for papers I've been meaning to write but failing to deliver for a long time. I might also start penning that novel.

But I can't see myself staying away forever. Accusations of selling out, of orientating to 'useless layers', of being a stooge for the Labour Party's regional office, all this exercises a pull no one could resist indefinitely. So I'm going to retire to my sofa with a cuppa and a selection of other bourgeois comforts for a wee while knowing I'll be back for another stint.

See you in the next blog post, whenever that will be.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Slowing Down

Unfortunately I'm going to have to slow down my rate of posting for the foreseeable future. I've been working since mid-November and after increasing my hours I am finding it very difficult to summon the time and motivation to keep abreast of everything that's going on and come up with something half-decent to write. Now I'm moving into a period where my political and trade union activity will be ramping up I can't justify spending most nights churning out my bits 'n' bobs.

But for those who think I've betrayed my class by joining Labour, or imagine I spend my time plotting the return of the elected mayoral system in Stoke-on-Trent, I'm sorry to say I ain't giving up completely. As the blog downshifts into a more sedate pace of life hopefully I can take my time and offer up smarter, better, and deeper posts. There is, for instance, still the
series on Gramsci to polish off - a series that has never lent itself well to knocking out something in 90 minutes. And there are plenty of debates about socialist strategy still to be had, theoretical issues to be addressed, historical developments to be commented on, and a constantly mutating popular culture to be critiqued.

I may not be able to respond to recently broken stories or whatever crap in the
Daily Mail has outraged the Twitterati that morning, but with a dash of luck and a bit of effort I'll be able to weave some Hegelian magic and manage the tricky passage from quantity to quality.

"Better fewer, but better", one of the Old Beards once said. Fewer? Yes. But better? We shall see.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Labour's Policy Review

As readers will doubtless be aware, Labour has instigated a two year root and branch review of party democracy and policy. This hasn't gone down well with everyone as there's a general unease that Labour have little to say while the Tories and LibDems launch the most vicious attack on working class people since the 1980s. Nevertheless the policy review offers an opportunity for the party as a whole to reflect on 13 years of government and, more importantly for the left, allows us to agitate for the kind of party and politics we need. The 'fresh ideas' website (okay, not the best of names) is available here.

As part of the policy process around 50 members of North Staffordshire CLPs met at the
Unity building in Hanley a week last Saturday to kick it off locally. In an interesting departure from the labour movement practices I'm most familiar with, there was a top table but it didn't dominate the afternoon's discussion.

After a brief introduction by West Midlands MEP Michael Cashman, Stoke South MP Rob Flello provided us a bit of context. He said the current political situation was marked mainly by anger toward the "too fast, too deep" cuts. It also seemed as if the Tories were becoming emboldened by each cuts announcement, driving them to make ever more outrageous and damaging proposals. But because of the callous and devastating nature of the attacks "our people" face the Labour party does not have the luxury of time. They cannot afford to have the party out of power for a generation, therefore we need to learn the lessons of 13 years of government now to prepare us for victory at the next election.

To this end every member of the shadow cabinet is heading up a section of the policy review. The party as a whole needs to hear members ideas on how to grow the economy and strengthen society, and how more power can be devolved into the hands of the people themselves. This extended dialogue with and between members has to examine previous mistakes. In Rob's opinion, Labour were wrong to tilt the economy in finance's direction. It was also wrong to appear overly technocratic and push through policies that struck out people's basic senses of self security. Labour must recognise people were working harder than ever but had little extra to show for it. And the party was too blasé about people's alienation from the policy making process and politics generally. That said, there were successes too - but these are now in the Coalition's firing line. If the Tories are successful in carrying through their programme, the next Labour government will inherit a weaker society, a low growth economy, and a divided country.

After Rob's talk, we split into breakout sessions. We were all issued with copies of the review booklet, which formed the basis of the subsequent discussion (it is hoped members will fill it out with their policy preferences, suggestions, ideas etc.). Our table spent the next hour or so discussing the economy, communities and party structure.

On the economy, the overall theme was on the need to provide an alternative to Tory economic strategy (in as far as it exists - it appears little more than cutting and hoping for the best). Nation-wide issues got a good airing - opposition to privatisation, media support for cuts, the lessons of the 1930s, strategies for 're-balancing' the economy, and the promotion of advanced manufacturing and "new industries". Locally, we looked at how Tory-run Newcastle-under-Lyme borough council had frittered away funding surpluses and reserves on council tax freezes, the lessons of pottery firms who who didn't outsource their manufacturing but had stuck it out in Stoke-on-Trent with some degree of success, and the level of local business rates.

On communities there was a consensus around giving greater powers to local authorities, a need for them to access the sorts of expertise available to government, time to build up their own stores of knowledge (over 25 years of continuous attacks on local government have seen a stripping out of specialist knowledge and an increasing dependency on costly consultancies), and strike a better relationship between local and parliamentary representatives.

In the last section on party structures, we visited the much-mooted
Movement for Change (the David Miiband/Jon Cruddas brainchild aiming to rebuild Labour as a community-based organisation), the need to stop treating the unions as a piggybank, ways of promoting trade unionism, creating and atmosphere and implementing a strategy for recruiting more union activists to the party,and generally taking them more seriously as a source of policy generation. They should not be locked under the stairs like an embarrassing relative.

The tables then fed back into general contributions from the floor. Issues that came up were the role of trade unions, the hidden costs of the cuts, the assault on the NHS, the leadership's track record of distrusting local government, abolishing Trident, the need for a strong party identity, efforts to improve communication within the party, and a 'new narrative' with radicalism and idealism at its heart.

Returning to the top table, Rob Flello reiterated some of his earlier points and spoke of areas where Labour had delivered locally - the first new hospital since the 19th century, Surestart centres, more police, and a regeneration process finally beginning to bear fruit. He also added that, in response to some criticisms made of the LibDems, Nick Clegg was being used as the handy human shield for Tory policies. Labour should not fall for the strategy concocted by Number 10 and concentrate its critical fire on the main enemy.

Tristram Hunt (who has subsequently been appointed a parliamentary private secretary with special responsibility for the policy review) said our starting point has to be the loss last May. He said Labour has to take the South East so it can deliver in its heartlands. But that doesn't mean we should eschew creativity or radical ideas. While we got things wrong Labour needs to be forward thinking and realise the battlefield of 2015 - assuming the Coalition lasts - will be different from the one we're fighting on now. The policy review is our chance to be creative and forge a new vision for Labour.

Wrapping up, Michael Cashman added that even though Labour lost in 2010, the party as a whole didn't feel defeated. Far from it, if anything the defeat and the Coalition government had invigorated the membership.

Of course, there will be comrades reading this who believe the policy review won't change a thing. And after 16 years of New Labour authoritarianism, who can blame them for thinking this way? But cynicism is no substitute for analysis, and I think there are two reasons for cautious optimism.

Firstly, if members take it up in large numbers the upwelling of ideas from below cannot be ignored - especially as Ed Miliband's position in the party isn't entirely secure. The leadership have therefore created an opening through which they can be pressured. It would be completely daft for the left not to take this up. And second, the exercise should not purely be seen in terms of getting better policies in the next manifesto. To mangle Bernstein, the process is everything, the end nothing. The review is an opportunity for party members to talk and debate among themselves. It gives us an opportunity to examine not just the lessons of the New Labour era but critically reflect on the history of Labourism as a whole. In the parlance of Leninist politics, Labour has committed itself to becoming a 'cadre school' for members and activists. And with a growing mass membership of a clear social democratic colouration, socialists need to be fully part of the process.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

New Left Blogs

Here are the clutch of new left blogs that have crossed my desk this month. Enjoy!

1.
.Zeitgizzed (Australia - Unaligned)
2.
Clare Short (Unaligned)
3.
Cllr Steve Reed (Labour)
4.
Clydebank Trades Union Council (TUC)
5.
Collective Resistance (Unaligned) (Twitter)
6.
Dr Matthew Ashton's Politics Blog (Unaligned) (Twitter)
7.
Exposing the EDL (Unaligned/Anti-Fascist) (Twitter)
8.
Glasgow Against Education Cuts (Unaligned/Anti-Cuts)
9.
Latent Existence (Unaligned)
10.
Little Miss Wilde's World (Unaligned) (Twitter)
11.
Network X (Unaligned/Anarchist)
12.
Passing Nightmare (Unaligned) (Twitter)
13.
People Before Profit Mid-Ulster (Ireland - People Before Profit) (Twitter)
14.
Radical Dandy (Unaligned/Anti-Cuts) (Twitter)
15.
Shabogan Graffiti (Unaligned) (Twitter)
16.
Small Nation (Unaligned)
17.
Socialist Doctor (Unaligned) (Twitter)
18.
Student Theory (Unaligned)
19.
The Opinionated Northerner (Labour) (Twitter)
20.
The Radical Left (Unaligned)
21.
Thought Things (Unaligned) (Twitter)
22.
To Future Humans (Unaligned)
23.
Tunisia Scenario (Tunisia - Unaligned)
24.
What Would Clement Do? (Labour)
25.
WilliamBowles.info (Unaligned/Anti-Imperialist)

That's your lot for January/February. If you know of any new blogs a year or less old and haven't been featured before, drop me a line via email, the comments or on
Twitter. The new blog round up is posted on the first Sunday of every month.

Go See This Play

Nottingham. Home of Rock City, Robin Hood, and The Pink Windmill Show. And now a subject of a play by local boy and all-round good egg, Daniel Hoffman-Gill. Our Style is Legendary is about growing up in the grim surroundings of 1980s Nottingham - a place that made the contemporary Stoke-on-Trent look like boom town Beijing. Maybe. More details are available on the dedicated blog, or simply scroll down to view the flyer.





Statement of the Revolutionary Socialists of Egypt

The statement below was first posted on Socialist Unity by johng here. The Revolutionary Socialists are a current unaligned with any international tendency but are influenced by and have friendly relations with the SWP's International Socialist Tendency. For an overview of how they have related to the thorny issue of the Muslim Brotherhood, see here. And John Rees of Counterfire has recently returned from Tahrir Square in Cairo - you can view his talk here.

Statement of the Revolutionary Socialists Egypt:

Glory to the martyrs! Victory to the revolution!


What is happening today is the largest popular revolution in the history of our country and of the entire Arab world. The sacrifice of our martyrs has built our revolution and we have broken through all the barriers of fear. We will not back down until the criminal ‘leaders’ and their criminal system is destroyed.

Call to Egyptian workers. Statement from the Revolutionary Socialists, Egypt:

The demonstrations and protests have played a key role in igniting and continuing our revolution. Now we need the workers. They can seal the fate of the regime. Not only by participating in the demonstrations, but by organising a general strike in all the vital industries and large corporations.

The regime can afford to wait out the sit-ins and demonstrations for days and weeks, but it cannot last beyond a few hours if workers use strikes as a weapon. Strike on the railways, on public transport, the airports and large industrial companies! Egyptian Workers! On behalf of the rebellious youth, and on behalf of the blood of our martyrs, join the ranks of the revolution, use your power and victory will be ours!

Form revolutionary councils urgently.

This revolution has surpassed our greatest expectations. Nobody expected to see these numbers. Nobody expected that Egyptians would be this brave in the face of the police. Nobody can say that we did not force the dictator to retreat. Nobody can say that a transformation did not happen in Middan el Tahrir.

What we need right now is to push for the socio-economic demands as part of our demands, so that the person sitting in his home knows that we fighting for their right. We need to organize ourselves into popular committees which elects its higher councils democratically, and from below. These councils must form a higher council which includes delegates of all the tendencies. We must elect a higher council of people who represent us, and in whom we trust. We call for the formation of popular councils in Middan Tahrir, and in all the cities of Egypt.

Statement of the Revolutionary Socialists, Egypt, on the role of the army:

Everyone asks: Is the Army with the people or against them?
The army is not a single block. The interests of soldiers and junior officers are the same as the interests of the masses. But the senior officers are Mubarak’s men, chosen carefully to protect his regime of corruption, wealth and tyranny. It is an integral part of the system.

This army is no longer the people’s army. This army is not the one which defeated the Zionist enemy in October 73. This army is closely associated with America and Israel. Its role is to protect Israel, not the people. Yes we want to win the soldiers of the revolution. But we must not be fooled by slogans that ‘the army is on our side’. The army will either suppress the demonstrations directly, or by restructuring the police to play this role.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Daily Mail Caught Distorting MPs' Expenses

If you dipped into the pages of The Daily Mail yesterday, you might have caught this story about MPs' expenses. As you might expect they've all got their noses in the trough again, according to the anonymous reporter who threw the piece together. Despite being on a hefty salary, we're told Stoke North MP Joan Walley claimed £4.95 for a map of the constituency she's been representing for 24 years. Sheryll Murray had the nerve to claim for 20p parking costs outside a surgery. And, most relevant to my interests, my local MP - Tristram Hunt - claimed 4p for 'travel within the constituency'.

Read that again. 4p. Four pence. 4% of one pound. Claimed by someone on £65,738/year.

It's an outrage!

Now, I wouldn't believe
The Mail if it told me I was on fire, so I checked the story out for myself. And what a surprise. At best you could describe the 4p claim a deliberate distortion. At worst, it's an outright lie.

The 4p was part of a *breakdown* of mileage claimed by a member of staff from the Stoke Central constituency office. It works like this. If a meeting has been arranged with someone around the corner before a surgery at the other end of the constituency, instead of claiming for the total mileage of the trip the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority rules state this should be treated as two separate journeys.
This is exactly what happened here. In fact, I believe the total claim was something in the region of 20-odd quid.

So there you have it.
The Daily Mail have massively distorted a non-story in a rather desperate attempt to cash in on anti-politics cynicism. Seeing the 4p bit of their feature is complete bollocks, what's the betting the rest of it is little more than a colourful interpretation of the facts?

Friday, 4 February 2011

PR Against AV

The Labour No2AV campaign launched today and thought I'd reproduce the below piece from their site while I muck around writing another blog post.

Socialism is, among other things, about organising society along democratic lines. In the here and now that means favouring more democratic systems of governance so the state becomes more amenable to the pressures and aspirations stemming from below. This is the reason why I favour the proportional representation generally and the single transferable vote in particular (see
here). The first pass the post system we have now has the distinction of having only one voting system worse than it from this standpoint. And that is the system we're having a referendum on on May 5th.

What about Proportional Representation

It is important to remember this referendum is about the Alternative Vote system. NO to AV does not take an official position on proportional representation.

Some of our supporters back PR – such as Labour MP Margaret Hodge – while others prefer the current system.

There are strong principled arguments for and against PR, and it’s a debate worth having. The Alternative Vote, however, is a step backward rather than a step forward.

AV combines the weaknesses of both systems; it is less proportional than First Past the Post, and AV ensures that the BNP will gain more votes and more legitimacy, while not giving any help to small parties like the Green Party.

Before it became the principal financial and logistical backer of the Yes to AV campaign, the Electoral Reform Society (who were previously called the Proportional Representational Society) said of AV:

"AV is thus not a proportional system, and can in fact be more disproportional than FPTP... It does very little to improve the voice of traditionally under-represented groups in parliament, strengthening the dominance of the 'central' viewpoint."

This is the wrong referendum at the wrong time, and risks saddling the UK with a system that even the supporters of the Yes2AV Campaign don't want.

Nick Clegg has acknowledged that there won't be another change in the voting system in the foreseeable future, saying:

"you can't constantly ask people. Referendums have a fairly definitive feel to them...I wouldn't be expecting another one."

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Cooperative Councils?

It's not very often this blog features material from Progress, but the post reproduced below from last Friday is very interesting. As readers may or may not be aware, Lambeth Council is embarking on an experiment to become Britain's first 'cooperative council'. It certainly sounds worthy but whether such an ambitious plan like this can be delivered in the context of £37m worth of cuts and an increasingly gloomy economic situation remains to be seen. In other words, if Lambeth communities are going to suffer in terms of fewer local government jobs and the decline of businesses that depend on them, you've got to question where the resources are going to come from to fund some of these mutualised schemes.

Nevertheless while socialists should approach the experiment with a critical eye, no doubt many valuable lessons are about to be learned on creating more participatory and democratic forms of local governance. '
Lambeth Launches the Cooperative Council' is by Council Leader Steve Reed.

NB: Readers interested in a critical Marxist appreciation of cooperatives would do well to consult Arthur Bough's
blog posts on the subject.

...

Today Lambeth council launches plans that detail how we will become Britain's first cooperative council. So why are we doing it, what difference will people see, and are there wider lessons for Labour politics?

Public services in Britain have reached a tipping point. They are under attack from a rightwing government that wants to marketise services using, where possible, the language of empowerment to mask what they are up to. But public services are also under threat from falling public confidence which, if it is not addressed, will create the space the right needs to implement large-scale privatisation. Falling confidence in services as different as the health service and the police, despite massive investment in recent years, arises from a sense of disempowerment and remoteness people feel in the face of top-down public services that owe their shape to the Beveridge-inspired postwar settlement. To give public services a sustainable future we need to combat that loss of confidence by handing more power to individuals and communities as part of a rebalanced settlement between the citizen and the state. In handing more power to the people we can expect public services to change dramatically as they shift to meet people's real needs.

That's the theory and the purpose, and we explored it in detail through Lambeth's Cooperative Council Commission. The Commission consulted with over 3,000 Lambeth residents and heard from over 50 organisations nationally that have experience in delivering services in ways that put the users rather than the providers in control. But people want to know what difference they will see, so here is some of what we plan to do.

Youth services will be run by the community using a model called ‘community-led commissioning'. That involves the council supporting communities to decide what kind of youth services will best meet their needs, then helping them buy the appropriate services from whoever is best able to provide them. Sometimes that will mean community involvement in delivering the services - such as running groups or activities. Sometimes the services will be delivered by qualified professionals or voluntary organisations, depending on the needs the community identifies.

Adults receiving care services will have more control of their own budgets, and some buildings - such as Lambeth's Disability Resource Centre - will be transferred to mutual ownership including service users. That means people who are supported by services including home helps, respite care, day centres or support for disabled people to live independently at home, will decide what help they need and where they get it from using their own personalised care budget. They will be offered professional guidance to take their decisions, but the key is that the people using the services will be in control of their own lives instead of finding themselves under the control of others.

Lambeth will encourage local schools to become cooperative trusts, forming strong bonds with the local community and other schools in the area. This gives the local community a bigger say over how the school is run, and it creates communities of schools that can share or pool resources so children at each school benefit.

We are exploring putting all our libraries into a trust owned and run by the local community. This model works well in the borough of Queens, New York, where the foundation library attracts outside investment and provides services that better meet the needs of local people. Any libraries that have to close because of government funding cuts will be offered to the community as a standalone mutual or trust.

There are a range of different models for cooperative housing, which makes up a tiny fraction of the housing market in the UK compared with other countries including Germany, Sweden and Canada. The options range from tenant-managed estates where ownership remains with the council, through to shared equity models where the housing is owned by a company in which every resident owns a share. This model allows mixed-income communities to develop where people on lower incomes can own shares in their own home without running the risk of defaulting on a mortgage if their income suddenly collapses as, in that case, they can simply reduce their monthly equity purchase rather than lose their home. Lambeth's estates will be able to choose which housing model best suits them.

Local communities will be encouraged to develop neighbourhood micro-plans and to help take decisions over how their share of the council's overall budget is spent in their area. The council will make sure that all parts of local communities are listened to so the plan isn't run in the interests of only one part of the community.

Residents will be encouraged to take part in shaping or running local services through a Lambeth Cooperative Incentive Scheme. This will take the form of credits that people can use for discounts in local shops, for local leisure or sports facilities, or as a council-tax discount. To make sure the money is spent locally, any credits will be awarded in a new local electronic currency, building on the success of the Brixton Pound that already operates in the borough and is the UK's only local currency in an urban area.

What's clear from this small sample of services is that the model operates quite differently in different services but the principles of empowerment and cooperation remain the same. Local communities and the people who use services will be in the driving seat instead of the people who deliver those services. In this way services will become more accountable to local people, and more responsive to local need. By allowing people to exercise more choice we expect both better services and higher levels of confidence in those services. This transformation offers a radical new vision of what Labour local government can become by supporting the development of cooperative communities.

There are similarities with some of the rhetoric of the ‘big society'. That is inevitable because the Tories are deliberately stealing Labour's language to mask their cuts agenda. It is imperative that Labour reclaims that language and shows what empowerment really means. A quick look at Tory councils like Barnet or Suffolk shows that while they talk about empowerment all they're really doing is privatising services and dumping unprofitable services on communities ill-equipped to manage them. The Tories want to roll back the state, while Labour's task is to change the role of the state by putting it under the control of local people. That is true empowerment. It offers us the chance to rebuild confidence in public services while making a reality of that long-held rallying cry of progressive politics: power to the people.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Egypt: Revolution, Democracy, and Stability

As I write hundreds of thousands of people have poured into Tahrir Square in Cairo to demand the resignation of the increasingly beleaguered and pathetic-looking Hosni Mubarak. When a people have lost their fear there are few things more wretched than a tyrant clinging on to power while it crumbles away beneath his grip. With over a million out on the streets across Egypt and a pledge by the army not to intervene, surely even Mubarak has to realise the writing's on the wall. Things just cannot carry on as they are. With mass mobilisations, an army refusing to follow presidential orders, a general strike crippling the country, and international calls for him to step down in the name of stability, something has got to give. If the army aren't backing the regime the only social forces with a direct interest in the dictatorship - big business, police (both overt and secret) and other dependents of the security apparatus - appear to lack the weight necessary to drown the uprisings in blood.

Unsurprisingly there has been some talk of what comes next. Assuming Mubarak and his regime are swept away by the end of the week (protesters have given him until Friday to leave power), who will fill the vacuum? While there are reports of the formation of neighbourhood committees, a development ironically spurred on by the random violence of National Democratic Party thugs, we are not in a situation of dual power. Yet. As the movement continues to grow and the labour movement revives off the back of strike action, these community defence organisations could put on more flesh as they organise to meet food shortages and make up for the collapse of local governance. Clearly for the revolution to assume a socialist colouration leftists on the ground will likely be doing everything they can to participate in them and encourage their development further.

All this represents a massive headache for the US and the main European powers. They neither want Egypt to fall to the Muslim Brotherhood in a latter day repeat of the 1979 Iranian revolution (which doesn't look all that likely anyway given the character of the protests so far and a
certain reluctance by the Brothers to get stuck into recent social struggles). Nor a prolongation of the stand off between the Mubarak regime and the people. The more it carries on, the greater the likelihood of civil war and/or the return of the spectre manifesting itself in embryo in the neighbourhood committees.

Egypt is, of course, home of the strategically crucial Suez Canal. An Egypt opposed to Western interests, be it Islamist, nationalist or, (dare we say it?) socialist, would represent a major defeat of their geopolitical strategy as it would restrict access to Middle Eastern oil and the markets of India, China, and South East Asia. I imagine there's been a few sleepless nights at the US State Department.

Amid much handwringing and the semi-ritualised "Egypt's government is a matter for the Egyptian people" (an oft-quoted principle that got stuck down the memory hole in the lead up to the Iraq war),
Hillary Clinton and Alistair Burt have been singing from the same hymn sheet. They of course "deplore" the violence and call for the return of stability.

It's stability that's the key here. Political revolutions against corrupt and authoritarian regimes are not a rare occurrence in the era of declining American hegemony. They come with the geopolitical territory. Provided they're relatively quick and don't challenge US and Western interests, the State Department has learned to live with them (how different it was before the collapse of the USSR). But the longer the Egyptian uprising goes on, the more worried the US will be. This is why it is very keen to encourage an "orderly transition" from the
ancien regime to some form of democratic governance.

One of the key lessons the global ruling class have learned is liberal democracy remains the best and most stable forms of government for the continued rule of capital. Over a century's experience in its heartlands has demonstrated its effectiveness incorporating and blunting radical challenges to the prevailing order. In Western Europe and North America liberal democracy in the post-war period has more or less successfully contained religious, regional, racial, and class contradictions. Dictatorships on the other hand are very brittle. They're good for a short sharp fix, like seeing off mass communist parties or other undesirables, but ultimately instability will return to haunt them. This maybe a reality the US has learned to live with, but it is also one they'd rather do without. Hence Western powers' warm words about democracy and human rights aren't just ideological window dressing for resource and market grabs in the developing world. They're also about propagating the political, institutional, and cultural underpinnings that can sustain the rule of capital over the long term.

With this in mind, it's perhaps a little bit more than coincidence that a lot of media attention has been showered on Mohamed ElBaradei (
this report is typical of the coverage). Of all the leaders of the domestic opposition ElBaradei is a known quantity to North American and European foreign ministries. As a former Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency and recipient of the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize, he is a safe pair of hands. And his intransigence in the face of the US case for Iraqi WMD is a boon for those who wish him to oversee a transitional government. Despite making his career outside Egypt, that episode demonstrates he's no American puppet.

ElBaradei however appears to have few supporters in Egypt - there is no social movement as such with which his name is associated. The 'National Association for Change' of which he is head has a minimum
programme for democratic change but is itself an umbrella organisation set up by various opposition leaders and civil society actors. He is therefore a figurehead nominated by social movement organisations and parties rather than a leader in his own right. That said this could be his strength in any post-Mubarak carve-up. Without a firm base of his own he could be seen as a neutral figure above existing and emerging political factions. Ahead of presidential elections his person is the perfect stop gap acceptable to Islamists, liberals, and sections of the left.

While the importance of ElBaradei to a slow transition scenario (outlined
here) is obvious, I very much doubt the revolution will accept nothing less than Mubarak's resignation with immediate effect followed by the formation of a provisional government. That outcome, which seems most likely at the moment, could still see the West-friendly ElBaradei play the role outlined above.

After Egypt the question is whether revolution will spread. Given the pivotal cultural and economic position Egypt occupies in the Arab world it's hard to see how it cannot. North Africa and the Middle East are almost exclusively ruled by dictators and self-styled monarchs, and frustration and anger from below is in anything but short supply.
Some have taken action to head revolution off at the pass. Others are sitting and waiting to see if the fire catches their countries. It will also be interesting to see if it spreads northwards into a European Union being forced fed a diet of unnecessary and ideological cuts. This isn't to say the likes of Ireland, Greece and Britain are staring revolution in the face. But I would be very surprised if numbers taking to the EU's streets aren't swelled by hundreds of thousands inspired and encouraged by the scenes from Suez, Alexandria, and Cairo.

Monday, 31 January 2011

Blue for Eurovision

Longtime readers know this blog is one of the few standard bearers for Eurovision in the British left. In my self-declared role as its champion in our ghetto I am happy to report that, for once, the UK is in danger of entering a contender. The BBC have shown a bit of Eurovision nous and has selected an act those pesky continentals will have heard of, and that act is the recently-reformed Blue.

It seems the lessons have been learned from last year's
debacle. Contrary to popular myth, the UK has performed dismally in recent years not because of the Iraq War or the Putin/Gazprom-orchestrated block vote. The explanation for our dismal scoring is more mundane: one, our songs have been crap; and two, they've been fronted by complete nobodies.

Blue aren't to my tastes, but they are known to the European record-buying public. They have scored number ones in Italy and the Netherlands, and top ten hits in Austria, France, Germany, Ireland, and Switzerland. Will this be enough to see off the regional star power of other entries? We shall see.

Sadly, Blue's song,
I Can, isn't available anywhere at the moment. So allow me to play out with this wonderful ditty from last year's contest. This choice had absolutely nothing to do with Paula Seling.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Unison Socialist Party Members Vindicated

The press statement below from the Socialist Party is very good news. There is a long and sorry tradition of bureaucratic proscriptions and bans being used against "undesirables" in our movement. The court judgement against Unison could mean their day is done:

At a time when 150,000 council workers are facing redundancy and another 100,000 have been told they will be sacked if they don’t accept cuts in their pay and conditions UNISON members would rightly expect that every minute and every penny of union resources be spent on fighting the cuts.

However, UNISON’s leadership have spent three years and tens of thousands of pounds witch-hunting some of its most effective fighters. Today an Employment Tribunal has ruled that campaign of bullying to be unlawful. All of the trumped up charges against the four UNISON activists and Socialist Party members – Glenn Kelly, Brian Debus, Onay Kasab and Suzanne Muna – were thrown out. UNISON is now required to reinstate all four to their positions in the union including Glenn Kelly being put back on the National Executive of the union.

UNISON members will be lobbying the National Executive on 8 February to demand that this is immediately carried out.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Egypt's Day of Rage

You wait years for a revolution, and then two turn up at once. With the revolutionary process at an earlier stage than Tunisia, Egypt nevertheless stands on the brink.

At the time of writing Hosni Mubarak's regime is looking very shaky indeed. The excellent coverage on Al Jazeera this evening has broadcast images of the National Democratic Party's Cairo headquarters being looted and then torched without any kind of intervention from the security forces (simultaneously, protesters are apparently protecting the the priceless artifacts housed in the Egyptian Museum, making attempts by the BBC to portray them as "a mob" look lazy and unsustainable). Evening news broadcasts on terrestrial channels have shown footage of protesters and riot police squaring up and fighting running battles earlier in the day. But now, Al Jazeera is saying the police have left the streets and been replaced by the army. Again, like Tunisia, the army were welcomed by some sections of the uprising as a power that will protect them from the regime. On the other hand, as troops approach strategic infrastructure (TV and radio stations, security apparatus ministries) the protesters are giving the military's an increasingly frosty reception.

Again, as with Tunisia the army can play a Bonapartist role in the Marxist sense of the term. According to Ibrahim Arafat of Qatar University, the army and the rest of the security apparatus are institutionally separated in the Tunisian and Egyptian dictatorships. Because the military played no overt role in the day-to-day repression of the two regimes it could appear as an entity standing above and apart from the rest of society, in a manner analogous to Britain's constitutional monarchy's relationship to mainstream politics. Therefore it can pose as the repository of all manner of hopes and illusions - as guarantors of the constitution, as protecters of the nation, and so on. This institutional separation is the basis of an ideological cloak that hides the fact the military top brass are as much a part of the
ancien regime as Ben Ali's and Mubarak's secret police henchmen.

Nevertheless the army is not immune from the forces demolishing the regime's foundations. The army is overwhelmingly working class in composition. The military brass value their own necks. This underlines the main question: which direction will the army swing? Will they dampen down the protests and obey the president's increasingly desperate decrees, or refuse to carry out his orders? And if so, what role will it go onto play in a post-Mubarak society?

With any luck, Hosni Mubarak will
follow the footsteps of his son and hightail it out on a plane. I wouldn't be surprised if an underling's already been on the phone to the retirement home for washed-up despots in Saudi Arabia. In the mean time not only will other North African and Middle Eastern dictatorships and monarchies be biting their fingernails, the USA itself will be concerned for its strategic interests. Along with Israel and Saudi Arabia, Egypt is the third key US regional ally. The protesters are fully aware the self-proclaimed champion of democracy and universal human rights have been training and supplying the security apparatus for many years. And US planners know one mistaken step could see their carefully-crafted geopolitical strategy unravel as quickly as Mubarak's legitimacy.

NB: Excerpts of a translated Egyptian protest manual are available
here, and follow the uprising's Twitter topic here.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Tommy Sheridan Sentenced To Three Years

Karen Greensheild, a reporter with STV News at Tommy Sheridan's sentencing this morning tweeted "Scent of blood, anticipation in the air, wonder if this is what it's like at a Public Hanging?" How could the atmosphere be otherwise? Since being found guilty of perjury charges on December 23rd the presiding judge Lord Bracadale told Tommy he could expect a prison sentence.

In a 45 minute long mitigation speech to the judge,
Tommy refused to admit his guilt, but talked about his low risk of reoffending, the length of perjury sentences, his and Gail Sheridan's health, and his caring responsibilities toward his Dad. Sentencing, Lord Bracadale said he thought Tommy was a "hard-working and effective politician" but that he "brought the walls of the temple crashing down on your own head", before imprisoning Tommy for three years. What a shame. What a waste.

No doubt this sentence will lead to another round of
bilious infighting and denunciation. There will be more than a few people shopping around the far left for an organisation that suits them who stumble across what passes for the Sheridan "debate" and decide to take their time and effort elsewhere. And I can't blame them.

The whole process of the trial from the notorious SSP executive meeting on a November evening in 2004 to its denoument today has exposed an ugliness at the heart of the far left, an ugliness you wouldn't expect to find not in a movement built on solidarity and socialist values. Tommy's expectation that his comrades should lie for him so he could trouser £200k from the
News of the World was contemptible, as were the shrill attacks on those who refused to risk perjury charges and told the truth in court. But equally appalling were the pre-and-post defamation trial actions by those SSP members who ensured Tommy's confession was leaked to the press, went out their way to collaborate with the police, and of course, have done nothing to disavow the actions of George McNeilage - the former best man who taped his admissions.

But what I find most disturbing is the frenzied attacks by those who reside in England and have absolutely no connection to the trial whatsoever. This hatred - for that is what it is - by members of nominally Trotskyist outfits closely resembles what you'd expect from a cult. When Scientologists are criticised, no one is surprised they intimidate and denounce opponents. That is, after all, what cults are all about. But for socialists to ape this behaviour? It speaks volumes of the fundamentally unhealthy organisational practices of self-described Leninist groups. Democratic centralism - a principle of organisation Lenin thought appropriate to mass parties, not tiny groups of a couple of thousand - tends not to be exercised around action, but rather is a principle for regulating the boundaries of permissible thought. Freedom of discussion becomes circumscribed discussion. Unity in action is, in practice, unity behind the positions formulated by the opaque and unaccountable executive/central committee. This is no recipe for generating critically minded working class politicians and Marxist cadre. But it does create a small following happy to swallow it all and regurgitate it when occasion demands. Such as when one of their key allies gets in a spot of bother with the law.

If there are political lessons to be drawn from this episode, they have to centre on the far left's culture, on its promotion of and slavishness toward charismatic leaders, its pronounced tendency toward group think, and its inability to handle disputes in anything but a mature fashion. If some good is to come from the tragic and shameful waste of Tommy Sheridan's fate, a thorough rethink of all this would be it.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Socialist Party on NSSN Anti-Cuts Campaign

This has been circulated to Socialist Party activists after Saturday's conference of the National Shop Stewards' Network agreed to set up its own anti-cuts campaign. This letter from Linda Taaffe is reproduced here for readers' info.

I want to thank everyone who attended and helped organise yesterday's excellent NSSN Anti-Cuts Conference in Camden. Well over 500 shop stewards/workplace reps, community campaigners and students debated whether the NSSN should launch an anti-cuts campaign. It was a model of democratic debate with both sides having the same number of speakers and equal speaking time. After 2 and a half hours of discussion, the trade union delegates at the Conference voted to launch the anti-cuts campaign by 305 votes to 89. We then went on to elect a Campaign Committee. As we received 11 nominations for the proposed committee of 10, Conference agreed to accept the slightly enlarged committee, which will meet over the next couple of weeks.

We are now looking forward to working with all other forces fighting the cuts. We will especially welcome the suggestion in Matt Wrack’s (Gen Sec FBU) letter last week for a Unity conference called by the Trade Union Coordinating Group (TUCG). We will also follow through on the initial contacts made with the other anti-cuts organisations to see how we can work together more smoothly. Just before the Conference, the NSSN signed a letter along with Coalition of Resistance, Right to Work and others to the TUC offering our assistance to build for the biggest possible turnout at the demo in London on March 26th.

We will lobby on that march and in all other arenas for the unions to organise co-ordinated strike action to defeat the government's cuts. We also believe that the platform of speakers on the day should include those workers and students who are currently fighting the cuts. Our NSSN campaign has been launched on a clear 'Oppose ALL cuts' platform and will therefore call on Labour councils to refuse to implement the cuts. We will organise protests and support industrial action against them if they vote to pass the attacks onto workers’ jobs and services.

The character of the NSSN will not change as a result of Saturday’s decision. We will still play a crucial role in bringing together and developing trade union activists at the grassroots, which we hope and believe, will help revitalise the trade union movement. The continuing attacks by the ConDems on trade union rights are clearly linked to trying to prevent workers fighting back against the cuts and the bosses’ offensive.

The next meeting of the NSSN Steering Committee will be on February 19th, where we can begin to discuss, amongst other things, the planning for the annual NSSN conference in the summer, as well as how the Network will continue to organise rank and file workers. We appeal to whole of the Steering Committee to recognise the democratic decision of the Conference and play a full part in the development of the NSSN. We are confident that the decision yesterday will actually bring us in contact with a whole new layer of workers as they confront this brutal cuts package.

Linda Taaffe (NSSN Secretary)

Monday, 24 January 2011

Melanie Phillips: Marketing Bigotry

There are days I wish Melanie Phillips would act like a proper troll and only sally forth from under the bridge to harass passing goats. But as the Daily Mail columnist you love to hate, Mel wouldn't be doing her job if she didn't cause a shit storm once in a while. And that's what she's gone and done this morning with her latest rant, 'Yes, gays have often been the victims of prejudice. But they now risk becoming the new McCarthyites' (you can read the snappily-titled piece here without having to visit Mail Online).

In her latest broadside against The Permissiveness Undermining Our Nation and Endangering Your Children, Mel uncovers a secret plot hatched by the cunning homosexualists who pull the government's strings. As "part of the ruthless campaign by the gay rights lobby to destroy the very ­concept of normal sexual behaviour" the biggest threat to kids are no longer the perverts hanging round the school gates, but the gay propaganda infiltrating exercise books and course content. Witness the shocking imminent changes to the curriculum:

"In geography, for example, they will be told to consider why homosexuals move from the countryside to cities. In maths, they will be taught statistics through census findings about the number of homosexuals in the population.

In science, they will be directed to animal species such as emperor penguins and sea horses, where the male takes a lead role in raising its young."

Trigonometry exercises illustrated by pink triangles, crafts geared around the production of soft furnishings, French replaced by Polari, and Year Ones not progressing until they've learned how to spell 'tribadism' can only be a fey handclap away. In short, unless we stop this sick filth now our schools will become madrassas for queer fundamentalism. People will stop having babies, Britain as we know it will vanish and this sceptered isle will be open to colonisation by the Allah-worshipping hordes.

In the real world and not the one existing inside Mel's bigoted brain, it is entirely proper the curriculum normalises trans, lesbian, bi and gay folk. The Tories especially have a historical debt to pay as Section 28 was introduced on their watch - a debt Dave himself
has acknowledged and apologised for - and any positive moves to making good on that should be welcomed. But despite the massive strides made in gay acceptance legally, culturally, and socially these last 30 years, homophobic bullying remains an unwelcome rite of passage for LGBT and straight kids alike. As this BBC Report from 2007 shows, far from schools being the gay-friendly spaces Mel imagines them to be bullying remains endemic.

Not that Mel and her ilk particularly care. Like the
seriously deranged big mouths across The Pond, Mel is a professional right wing provocateur. She knows as well as anyone her career as a columnist and media pundit would be done if she ceased raiding the circa 1981 Monday Club ideological grab bag. She ain't going to shut up as long as there's a buck to be made.

This material interest in continued exposure fits those of Mel's employers as snug as a bug in a rug. A market exists for reflecting back the bigoted prejudices of the angry and the alienated, and is one
The Mail has long since cornered. But in Britain it has pioneered the capturing of a new and growing audience interested in right wing news 'n' views: that of the outraged left/liberal/Labourist/Graun/Indy/C4News milieu. DMGT doesn't care what those muesli-eating Marxists and the occasional lefty celeb are tweeting about, just as long as the newest slice of reactionary bilge upsets them enough to drive more people to the website so they can be disgusted and angered, and who in their turn drive more people to the website.

In short what DMGT have is a business model for successfully attracting large numbers of relatively well educated, relatively affluent people who wouldn't ordinarily touch their toxic rag with a pair of hazmat gloves. It's a stroke of genius: exploit your opponents' right-on politics and they will market your putrefying product across their social media networks for you.

Just remember that next time Melanie Phillips says or writes something stupidly bigoted and controversial.