- Why did you start blogging?
I actually came to blogging by accident rather than design. For several years I had run (and still do) an e-mail list in the PCS union which managed to get up the noses of the Socialist Party/Left Unity leadership. So much so in fact that in late 2012 I received a phone call from John McInally, a PCS Vice President (and SP Grandee) asking me to desist in my criticisms of them as “my e-mails were being used against them” by Francis Maude apparently. I found that hard to believe and in any case I would not allow myself to be censored by the comrades who have wrecked PCS as a union. To cut a long story short he got PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka involved who sent me a series of letters demanding I desist. And although I ran a very public campaign against this attack on free speech which gained a lot of support from ordinary members, I did end up going on-line at home.
Ironically the e-mail list got larger as a result and they still go to the same recipients. Censorship never works comrades.
The cheapest and easiest way on line was the “Google Chrome Book”, which amongst other things allowed me to set up a blog. Being able to write about matters other than the union appealed to me and Howie’s Corner was born.
- What's been your best blogging experience?
To be honest simply finding that there was an (albeit smallish) audience for my views.
- Have you any blogging advice for new starters?
Remember to proof read after spellcheck! I still forget sometimes after a hard day at work…..
- Do you find social media useful for activist-y-type things?
Yes, but try not to over-rate its potential. For example just “liking” a post for a campaign does not mean anything if the majority subsequently do nothing. That new Left Unity organisation is a prime example. 10,000 “likes” but too few actual members in comparison. Seems to have gone quiet on that front. Must be because Tony Greenstein resigned ...
- Who are your biggest intellectual influences?
What motivates me is the desire to be free rather than follow any individual writer, politician or theorist. I do not subscribe to any “ism” and would describe myself as a “free-thinker” happy to listen to people from across the political spectrum and make my own mind up. There are certain things that inspire me though. The stand of King Leonidas and the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae was not only brave but in my view was a major turning point in history. If early Greek thinking had been wiped out the world might never have developed democracy. Fortunately we’ll never have to find out. Winston Churchill in the thirties and Second World War was a figure one could admire. Not perfect, and yes ultimately a Tory but no-one else could have played the role he did.
Depending on how you define “intellectual, I would add Peter Cook and the Monty Python Team. Without humour there can be no humanity.
- What are you reading at the moment?
Just finished History of the Mongol Empire by John Man. A visit to Waterstones is due.
- What was the last film you saw?
The Sorcerer's Apprentice with Nicholas Cage.
- Do you have a favourite novel?
The Lord of the Rings.
- Can you name an idea or an issue on which you've changed your mind?
Socialism. Even without the appalling history of the Soviet Union, China and Pol Pot, the inability of the comrades to tolerate dissent inside their own ranks let alone work in one united organisation based on mutual co-operation, which I would have thought was the basic tenet of their creed, warns me that these crimes against humanity would simply repeat themselves again. Political expediency rather than basic human rights was at the centre of the way the SWP dealt with the “delta” affair. Appalling people.
- How many political organisations have you been a member of?
Growing up in deepest Surrey the Young Liberals were my earliest choice in 1973 at the age of 15. It wasn’t until I became a student that the left had any appeal and joined the Labour Party in 1978. Through this I got drawn into the remnants of the IMG in the form of the Socialist League in the 1980’s and wrote for Socialist Action and Labour Briefing until the group fell apart with its permanent faction fighting. Due to the presence of so many SWP members in my then social circles I gave them a brief try. Big mistake. My “friends” became part of a “shared mind” culture in meetings, but this experience which lasted just a few months destroyed any faith I might have had in the socialist project. Never looked back. In the late eighties I did get involved with the Greens, even standing as a council candidate in 1990, but when I moved in 1992 I forgot to renew my membership so decided to concentrate on my trade union work. I have no desire to be involved in a political party again.
- What set of ideas do you think it most important to disseminate?
Secularism, and not just because I am an ardent atheist. Politics and religion do not mix well at the best of times, but religion and the state should be separated at all levels.
- What set of ideas do you think it most important to combat?
Religious fundamentalism, and I don’t just mean the Islamists about whom I write about a great deal. The so-called Creationist movement in Christianity bothers me with its blatant and wilful ignorance. I also think we might need to cast an eye or two on developments in Hinduism in India too.
- Can you name a work of non-fiction which has had a major influence on how you think about the world?
Not since I ceased being part of the “left”. Books about dialectics, historical materialism and other ideological whataboutery have no hold over the way I see the world. I prefer to learn and read about history of various types from “normal” historians such as Orlando Figes, Bethany Hughes, Anthony Beevor and Tom Holland.
- Who are your political heroes?
The unnamed ordinary men and women who stand up to tyranny and oppression.
- How about political villains?
That would be a rather long list both in historical and current terms. Can I include peoples imaginary God(s)?
- What do you think is the most pressing political task of the day?
Defeating religiously inspired terrorism.
- If you could affect a major policy change, what would it be?
Renationalising the railway networks. It makes no sense to me to pay more public money to private companies than was ever given to British Rail.
- What do you consider to be the main threat to the future peace and security of the world?
- What would be your most important piece of advice about life?
So long as part of you remains childish you will never grow truly old.
- What is your favourite song?
That varies all the time . In the seventies I’d have said Hold Your Head Up by Argent, at the moment it would be Pinheel Surfer by Scandal
- Do you have a favourite video game?
I don’t play video games. Being old fashioned I prefer board games, particularly Talisman.
- What do you consider the most important personal quality?
A sense of humour
- What personal fault do you most dislike?
- What, if anything, do you worry about?
Retirement as it approaches ...
- And any pet peeves?
Since you ask, cyclists. As a pedestrian and user of public transport I find them the most selfish of road users. Oh and noisy neighbours!!
- What piece of advice would you give to your much younger self?
Please don’t drink so much.
- What do you like doing in your spare time?
Relaxing and reading comics.
- What is your most treasured possession?
My rather large comic collection
- Do you have any guilty pleasures?
- What talent would you most like to have?
The ability to draw sequential artwork so I could do my own comics!
- If you could have one (more or less realistic) wish come true - apart from getting loads of money - what would you wish for?
Just to be happy would be fine.
- Speaking of cash, how, if at all, would you change your life were you suddenly to win or inherit an enormously large sum of money?
I would build a large model railway with a house around it.
- If you could have any three guests, past or present, to dinner who would they be?
Actually I’d settle for a candle lit dinner with Kylie Minogue, but since the missus would hardly approve I would choose: Stan Lee the creator of Marvel Comics, Steve Ditko, Spider-man’s co-creator and one of my favourite all time comic book artists (who is a total recluse, not even willing to give interviews) plus the satirist Peter Cook.
- As a non-Labour labour movement person, do you think Labour will win next year?
Yes and I think everyone should be aiming for that result. We cannot afford another 5 years of this coalition shower.