On my hols…

It seems no sooner that I start to make nice new friends in and around the blogosphere, like Bob, I’m leaving my machine for sunnier days. 10 sunnier days to be precise, in Asturias/La Coruna, the North of Spain. Ciao for now…

Taliban Dialogue: What is all the talk about?

I wonder if it throws up too many images of compromise, but for some, talking with the enemy is not an option even worth thinking about. Tory Rascal notes that his views on the war in Afghanistan are not popular, but efforts to turn locals against insurgents should be done regardless of popularity, and this can all be achieved without dialogue with the Taliban.

TR has it right that his view is not popular, 58% in a recent poll said that the Taliban could not be defeated militarily, and 52% of voters would support an immediate withdrawal. Certainly the argument that troops cannot be removed straight away, as this would undo all the hitherto hard work, is collapsing – just how long can this argument be defended? Indefinitely?

But as for dialogue, does this have any political punch of late?

Former British diplomat Charles Crawford writes off dialogue with the moderate Taleban as “containment”, which in US military is the position between “appeasement” (compromise through negotiation) and “rollback” (military force to destroy the enemy at its root), usually referred to when talking about US military strategy of carefully watching the expansion of the Soviet Union in the hope that this would relax its tendencies.

The parallel here is that talk with the Taleban would determine how it plans to expand its bases and thus, with patient strategy and examination, curb that expansion at the root.

But Crawford is scornful of this move. He views it as an impossibility of the “moderates” to include the extreme elements into the fixture. For him, this talk is cheap.

But talk in the age of Obama is different from the age of the Cold War or Vietnam (where “containment” was a dominant strategy). For the Obama administration dialogue is a requisite of victory. Such talk of talk was completely absent from the Bush era, there would be no communication with Cuba, North Korea or Iran, these were counterproductive. And it got the US nowhere. Obama can be seen making in-roads over discussions with China, questions have been raised on the touchy subject of a two-state solution between Palestine and Israel due to Obama’s engagement with leading authorities from both sides, and efforts to oversee Iran’s nuclear proliferation have not slowed down the process to determine how much is too much.

But on the last point comes the grey area. Attempts at dialogue in Iran haven’t stopped Ahmadinejad being an antagonist towards the US, but is this point enough to dissuade anybody that dialogue itself is a motive we should do away with? To be sure, the non-talk policy of Bush backfired.

What needs to be clarified is the motivation of dialogue. It should be reinforced that it is not a phase before giving in. In fact, quite the opposite, it’s stepping up the strategy so as to try and see these wars to their full closure.

Certainly what is appealing about US and UK moves to open dialogue is that it will shed light on feasible exit dates. Often in previous years the gap to understanding the realities of unpalatable forces in the Middle East was due to refusal of engagement with those willing to speak, not least promoting blind spots for intelligence, but reiterating the commonly held (and perhaps justifiably so) view that the US and UK were arrogant and unwilling to hear all sides (an image far away from the compassionate one with which we tried to justify the war on terror).

But hearing all sides is not a kop out – it serves foremost to understand the situation better. The war in Iraq was wrong, the war in Afghanistan is unwinnable, and open engagement, far from giving in, is a concerted attempt to see an end to these unjust conflicts – and soon.

This entry is in response to Charles Crawford’s article Should We Talk To The Taleban? as part of the Bloggers Circle experiment

Can Attlee be applied today?

Its not long before I go on my holidays, which is both joyous and sad. Joyous because I will get to relax on the beaches of la coruna, but sad because I’m giving up the internet for a couple of weeks. In fact, I was going to give it up today, and resisted much temptation, but certain, for want of a better expression, signs made me sign on and write the following entry.

The temptations all started on Saturday when reading the Guardian, I noticed a letter which had been written by Michael Bath of Rochester, Kent, which read;

Instead of interviewing four monetarist ex-chancellors, why don’t you explain how Attlee funded his programme of nationalisation, and founded the NHS, when the country had been virtually bankrupted by the second world war?

Between doing bits and pieces over the weekend I had the urge to write my own bit on Attlee, but I managed to suppress these urges.

Then I began reading over my notes on a book about my hometown of Pitsea, written by a former councillor George Ross, who was writing about two acts, New Towns Act and Town and Country Planning Acts, founded by Attlee’s government in 1946/7 – to which Churchill’s secretary, in a letter of replyto Ross, said that Churchill supported the creation of new towns, but opposed the ‘socialist Town and Country Planning Act’.

At this time I felt ravenous to fulfil my typing urges, so I decided to quickly do the rounds on the blogs, when I found this – admittedly after typing “Attlee” into Google blog search – by Howard Denton referring to an article written in the Daily Mail about Attlee. I thought here we go, some righty pouring his or her scorn. But I was wrong. Dominic Sandbrook, the historian, was actually very nice about Attlee, calling him ‘an honest politician’, during his review of a book written on Attlee by Frank Field MP (who Sandbrook was also very nice about).

It was too late for me; I was already writing it/this!

So back to Mr. Bath of Rochester’s question, how did Attlee manage to get all these excellent measures through whilst in the throes of financial instability? The long answer can be found in sterling books such as Andrew Thorpe’s A History of the British Labour Party but I will run through the short answer.

All parties at the time (Lab, Con and Libs) supported a major reform on the economy after the war. Radical measures needed to be taken because a quarter of Britain’s national wealth was spent during the war years, such proposals were met using insights provided by William Beveridge, and captured in the Beveridge Report.

Churchill, during the time of the coalition government, was the war expert, but when the war ended, the Tories could only use the image of Churchill as their political clout, when what was needed was full commitment to dealing with the economy.

Sandbrook’s article was good to call Attlee an honest politician, something for today’s politicians to look up to, but less was said about how Attlee managed to keep unemployment at bay, seldom exceeding 500,000, or 3%, of the workforce out of work. In 1946 the Bank of England and CAA (Civil Aviation Authority, anything not military aircraft) were nationalised. In 1947 many other industries and utilities were put in public ownership including coal mines, railways and road haulage, followed a year later by electricity and gas. In Attlee’s final year as PM the steel industry was nationalised, putting 20% of the British economy in public hands.

It is no irony of history lost that Labour polled more votes than ever in 1951, but lost to the Tories on account of the first-past-the-post voting system, a hot potato at the moment with those on the left, not least for Neal Lawson of Compass.

Could Attlee’s methods be a lesson for today? It depends on how history writes bank bailouts, but telling the government to keep their noses out how the banks should operate must not be met with lily-livered ambivalence.

On Iain Dale and Total Politics Top Blogs 2009

The ol’ chap down at Left Outside has it spot on about the Total Politics Top Blogs 2009 poll. Taking his advice from the well-meaning Tim Ireland he can see why calls for a total boycott are praiseworthy; they simply serve to dip Iain Dale into blogospheric formaldehyde (though he didn’t use these words) and credit him with way too much due, mentioning not the fact that his blog is “sponsored by APCO Worldwide, a pro-tobacco PR company with a history of astro-turfing“.

Its quite clear that we need to qualify this sort of criticism, but hang on. There is not only Iain Dale on the blogosphere, should we not, if we wanted to, surpress the urge to add his blog to our top ten and give other bloggers who we may feel are more deserving our praise?

Some will say Dale’s proximity to Total Politics doesn’t allow for this kind of protest vote, but the argument seems to get too silly, and will eventually tail off into how we should all stop buying this and that because its sponsored by this and that outfit of neo-transsexual nazi child porn cohorts who are in some way related to Uri Geller.

As much as I think buying fuel from Esso or gruel from McDonalds is ethically displeasing, I don’t think protest against Dale like this would be as kindly as other forms of pressure groupery.

I’m again with Left Outside when he says “I don’t think it’s enough to stop me joining in. I love a good old fashioned popularity contest.”

But I went one further, I voted for Dale.

I voted (for all the blogs I voted for), not out of any interest in behind-the-scenes narratives, or pinches and punches at the right-wing, but because I use the blog to widen my knowledge of politics, and since it is this medium of information that is likely to take over usual news styles, I would like my top 10 to be at the forefront of this revolution, in spite of possible reservations I have about their character.

As well as being a simple means of communication, political blogging should be about substance, not being held by whip or blackmail, by party line or man sans spine. If we look too deep into personality, we risk turning into the mindless crap of Guido Fawkes.

After all, Dale will often have something nice about politicians who I like, say here, and reveal their departure from politics as an exclusive, and this cannot be beaten.

My list is as follows (nothing controversial here):

1. Liberal Conspiracy

2. Bob Piper

3. Harry’s Place

4. Bickerstaffe Record

5. A blog from the backroom

6. Iain Dale

7. And another thing

8. Shiraz Socialist

9. Bob From Brockley

10. Hadleigh Roberts

Although this does not exhaust my list of first reads on a Saturday morning.

And needless to say, Daniel Hannan’s blog for me comes about 6, 675, 573th in this country because he is disgraceful. He asked recently, how should he react to meeting Nick Griffin? Why not like any other fascist he meets, take up his cause and ask people to vote for his party.

A consoling thought for Ian Gibson

A number of well meaning comments made on BBC’s Question Time is a testament to the fact that Dr. Ian Gibson is a well loved man in Norwich. You wouldn’t imagine that only a couple of months ago, about the time of the European elections, voters were beside themselves with anti-political sentiment. The teary-eyed electorate giving up on both parties rimming the trough were not to be found among the audience last Thursday. One member even saying that Gibson was regrettably dropped without the opinion of his constituents. And now there is talk that he should be candidate for Norwich at the time of the General Election.

How many politicians around the country can claim to arouse support even after being involved in a little bit of naughtiness concerning a London flat and an in-family half price sale. Geoff Hoon was surely not spared that night.

Of course, the notion that Gibson was fodder for Brown, at the time appearing to fail where his shadow was standing strong on tackling untoward behaviour and expenses fiddles. And who is to know whether the decision to select Gibson of all people had political motives, given his leftist credentials and opposition to the Brown/Mandelson strategy. John McDonnell is surely correct to call the affair a self inflicted political disaster.

Proof that this was an own goal by Brown – if proof were needed – needn’t look any further at the differences in turnout for this byelection and the election of 2005. With a 61.1% turnout Gibson’s majority was 5,459. The byelection was won by Chloe Smith with a majority of 7,348 only with a 45.9% turnout. What seems to be clear is that Gibson’s voters didn’t turn up, but also the message was aimed at the Labour party in general (it was quite obvious the effect this would have on the structure of the leadership). There were plenty of smaller parties used for protest votes this time around compared with 2005. Its not for us to speculate on what could’ve happened if Norwich North were given the opportunity to reinstate Gibson, but what is clear is that many of those loyal to him abstained or sent a damning message to Westminster.

The mystery of it all found wise words from a less than palatable source recently, also, as Bob Piper noticed, on Question Times‘ sister programme Any Questions on Radio 4, on which Peter Hitchens noted;

“Very rich people, I name no names but you can guess, getting taxpayers to finance their mortgages on large country homes that they didn’t need. That’s OK, that’s fine. But whereas someone like Ian Gibson in Norwich is punished, for reasons I cannot fully understand, in some entirely selective way in which some people are punished and some are not, then people say they want change. And then they vote in Norwich, not in very large numbers, but in distressingly large numbers for me, for a party which plainly offers no change at all. Which constantly tells us that it will govern as New Labour, and will govern as New Labour if it is allowed to become the government.”

Fighting my Feminist Corner

Yesterday Libby Brooks started what was to become an interesting introduction to a debate that is well overdue in the world of feminist politics: that being, what is feminism?

I got myself involved, and instead of making any new contributions to my blog on a Friday night, I’m instead going to spoon out what I replied to the other debaters.

Brooks in the main body wrote;

“In a blog about initial responses to her book, Levenson says “infighting” harms feminism. But does it? The women I meet, of every generation, are desperate for debate, especially if it can be conducted under the unflattering lights of the mainstream and take in Katie Price as well as crappy rape conviction rates.”

To which on the subject of the “debate”, I replied about how this was a good set of building blocks for that debate, but what will the debate actually entail? Will we find that many of the demands that feminism has fought for have been met, and thus feminists have been vindicated, or will we find that postmodernism has bred new ways to define inequality in society. My money is on a cross between the two, but it should be important to remind ourselves, during this debate, that feminism has been successful for the most part – remit for those who have fought for women’s rights should now extend further to combat ills at all levels.

The deputy editor of Comment is Free, Natalie Hanman, took issue with me on the subject of postmodernism, when she noted;

“I agree that postmodernism has helped us define inequality in new and important ways (see my previous comment) [which I did do], and that feminism has to address those shifts. But I’m not sure that “feminism has been successful for the most part”, as you argue. The gender pay gap still stubbornly exists; violence against women and girls still exists at shocking levels; representation is still an issue in many walks of life; gender roles still force women and men into constrained ways of living. The struggle is ongoing, not least because as Libby illustrates who would agree on what a feminist utopia is even is?!”

On the subject of the success of feminism I replied that I don’t think there is anything incongruous about saying that feminism has achieved a shift of attitudes and “raised consciousnesses” whilst also, agreeing with Natalie Hanman, pointing out that there is plenty to fight for; pay inequality etc. So the former is where I feel a lot of feminist demands have been met, attitudes have been changed and government tackles these issues.

These problems are still likely to occur in the workplace or in the home because often they are places out of reach by institutions that police inequality. Which is why feminism does still have a corner to fight. But identity politics emerges when ones identity is in jeopardy or vulnerable (in an official, governmental context, quite often), so it should be an indicator that progress is being made when the need for id politics starts to lay low. If we fail to vindicate the victories of feminism we risk obscuring those indicators that tell us we won, when this time comes.

To which Natalie Hanman replied;

If we fail to vindicate the victories of feminism we risk obscuring those indicators that tell us we won, when this time comes.

Yes! 100% agree with that.

Elsewhere, the commentator JayReilly replied to the comment “Yes, violence against men and boys exists. Not at the same shocking levels, but it still exists” with this;

You are aware, surely, that men make up the vast majority of murder victims, assault victims, muggings, and crime and violence in general? The majority of violence in this society is against men, its a fact and has been since the dawn of time. Look at home office figures. For any year. Ever.

I replied to this point with the issue that no violence against men has ever put into jeopardy their identity, which means that violence towards women has at least a shred of the domineering underhand. The shocking levels, in this instance, I take to mean violence on a symbolic level, which is why it is an political issue. This is not to suggest the severity of male violence, and Natalie has correctly pointed out that feminists, too, often raise voices over such issues, but a focus point for feminism is the form with which violence against women takes? Often women are used as fodder to calculate a man’s strength over her weaknesses, and this would be idle speculation, were it not for the fact that the feminist cause is almost entirely kept alive in this country (along with low pay levels) by the fact that violence towards them puts into jeopardy their identity and dignity, something that men (and male identity) has narrowly avoided.

I wasn’t the only one who commented on JayReilly’s comment so I left it there. In spite of my crazy belief that identity politics is a mere metanarrative in politics, I can still swagger my own feminist credentials every once in a while. Cif; perfect place to do so!

Tony Blair and European Council Presidency

Europe and the United Kingdom has a relationship much like with the opposition in any democratic parliament; we cannot live without them, nor can we really live with them.

But in spite of this, the UK may well have produced the first permanent president for the European Council. Certainly Tony Blair is leading the race hands down, even if other representatives of European council are not entirely happy. He has strong support at home, not least from Lady Kinnock who declared that “he is our man”.

Hadleigh Roberts pointed out that “[i]t is undeniable that Tony Blair is a remarkable man with great qualities, including flexibility, rapidity and a feeling for how to communicate” but noted that “the role of EU president could conflict with the portfolio of advisory roles Blair seems keen to take up”.

If there is any concern about Blair’s ability to do the job owing to his busy schedule, these myths should be uncovered. The role of president of the European council is to liaise with the existing representatives of each council members, this is composed of chancellors, presidents or prime ministers of each country with EU membership. As head of this council Blair will reiterate agenda’s decided by this board and promote European integration. And for his efforts be paid £200,000 a year. It would hardly be taxing to juggle a position teaching faith to undergraduates in an American university on the side – at worst it would encourage sniggering at the back of his class wondering whether Blair’s loyalties lie with Anglo-Americanism rather than Anglo-Europeanism (you can decide who is doing the sniggering) and whether these two positions are in conflict.

But perhaps this sniggering would be unfounded? After all, hasn’t the Obama presidency shifted the plates on European-American relations?

As Roberts points out ‘[i]n his article, Balladur argued against Blair [for president], claiming that he fails to meet two criteria; “First, to come from a country that is completely in step with the EU’s forward march and that participates in all its different forms of co-operation; and, secondly, to be determined to build the independence of Europe, notably in the diplomatic and military fields.”’ His second point reminds us of that special Anglo-American relationship that will continue to tar his chances to win over Europe. The scorn with which European leaders have bestowed upon Blair is much to do with his allegiance to American foreign policy, and for many people the Blair legacy will never free itself of the shackles of Iraq invasion, and the WMD’s that never were, not to mention the unwinnable disaster in Afghanistan.

Maybe Blair’s reputation at home might be the thorn in the side of the presidency opportunity. But Sarkozy may have a point when he says of Blair he is ‘the most European of all Britons’. Blair in a sense has transgressed the limitations that usually come with being ex-prime minister, he is much more than that now given the extent to which he has networked after that period, his identity is rather beyond British politician, (in spite of some views) he is a world politician. If anything, would not this presidential position be a step down for him?

Given the sad state of affairs that the Tories in Europe find themselves in, to even suggest that they might have some political clout over Blair’s possible appointment is laughable. The newly composed group of anti-federalists in Europe, which the Conservatives abandoned the European Peoples Party (EPP) to join – despite the influence of the latter grouping composed of top European conservatives – is now to be led by Polish MEP Michal Kaminski of the Law and Justice Party. William Hague making his position clear on the new European friends of his party, dismissed “out-of-date and ill-informed” criticisms that Poland’s Law and Justice party was homophobic. He went on to say “The Law and Justice party is a party committed to be against discrimination, for equality under the law.”

Hague was talking about the same party that, in the run-up to 2005 elections, “accused gay and lesbian couples “of being a cultural and even biological threat to the Polish nation, lowering the birth-rate, and imperiling (sic) what ultra-conservatives lovingly call “natural law marriage and family.”

On the face of it, not many European leaders have come out in his support, as the Guardian points out;

José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, the Spanish PM who takes over the EU presidency after Reinfeldt in January, is … an opponent. Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany is not believed to be keen. France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy, an early fan of Blair for the role, might calculate that it would be better to side with German and Spanish leaders than support the British.

And the opposition in the UK definitely do not want him there, but nobody is putting forward any alternatives, and the Tories are willingly pushing themselves further and further into the inertia of non-attached Euro-cranks and fascists. Perhaps the saving grace for Blair is that the job is little less than what he already does (networking, the overseeing of world policy, communicability). A definition of the position is charismatic individual with plenty of contacts, and to this Blair fits the bill perfectly, so who are we to argue.

This entry is in response to Hadleigh Robert’s article vive monsieur blair encore une fois as part of the Bloggers Circle experiment