Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Charlie Hebdo - more bellendery

Some bloke called Des Freedman, who apparently is professor of media and communications at Goldsmiths College (yes I know) starts off a piece on openDemocracy like this (hat-tip Anthony Posner):

"The horrific killing of ten journalists and two policemen in Paris on Wednesday has been widely described in the mainstream media as a ‘murderous attack on Western freedoms’, notably freedom of expression and the right to satirise. In response, some bloggers have insisted that the ‘attack had nothing to do with free speech’ but was simply part of the ongoing war between Western governments and jihadists.
The reality is that the killers did single out journalists and timed their attack to coincide with the weekly editorial meeting at Charlie Hebdo in order to secure maximum impact. The cartoonists now join the growing number of journalists killed ‘in the line of duty’. The Committee to Protect Journalists estimates that over 1100 journalists have been killed in the last twenty years (with 60 killed in 2014 alone). They include not simply the high-profile murders of reporters by Isil in Syria but also cases like the 16 Palestinian journalists killed by the Israeli army in Gaza together with the 16 reporters killed by US military fire in Iraq. Strangely enough, these latter killings do not seem to have generated the same claims from leading commentators that they constituted a ‘murderous attack on Western freedoms’. Yet the fact remains that it is an outrage – whatever the identity of the assailant or the victim – that a single journalist should have lost their life simply for covering or commenting on a conflict."
Sigh. Yes, the Charlie Hebdo killings were indeed a "murderous attack on Western freedoms", because that is how they were described, by their perpetrators and by those who laud them for it. Does Prof Freedman know better than the killers did what they had in mind? (He also forgets to mention the Jews killed in Paris the same week for being Jews, but hey, that's a whole other story, n'est-ce pas?) The killings of the Palestinian journalists and the reporters in Iraq have not been so described, because that is not what they were. How could the US military, or the Israeli army, have been setting out to "attack Western freedoms"? What nonsense. Intellectual dishonesty, or rank stupidity, I am not sure which. Both, probably. Journalists who are brave enough to go to war zones to report quite often do get killed, not usually (though sometimes) by people who want them dead for being journalists. But hey, let's not let the facts get in the way. Those who thought killing the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists and their colleagues was just fine think this. The message is fairly clear. Or are these just brown-skin people who need to be told what to think by London "academics"? (Picture nocompulsion.com)

Monday, 19 January 2015

how to be an apologist

yes, from Harry's Place - and add to it if you are in France that Charlie Hebdo wasn't very good anyway, and some of it was racist, and they were being offensive for the sake of it, and, and, and go a bit quiet when anyone mentions the Jews who were killed in Paris for being Jews, and then brighten up when you remember that it was a Muslim who rescued a lot of them.


Euston, we have a problem

Back in 2006 the late and much missed Norman Geras was instrumental in the drafting of what became known as the Euston Manifesto, a document, and a doctrine, I was proud to support at the time and remain so. Now, following the Charlie Hebdo atrocity, as part of which Jews were killed in Paris for being Jews, it seems good to republish. There was much Guardianista mockery at the time, but I have nothing to add.

The Euston Manifesto

For a Renewal of Progressive Politics

A. Preamble

We are democrats and progressives.
We propose here a fresh political alignment. Many of us belong to the Left, but the principles that we set out are not exclusive. We reach out, rather, beyond the socialist Left towards egalitarian liberals and others of unambiguous democratic commitment. Indeed, the reconfiguration of progressive opinion that we aim for involves drawing a line between the forces of the Left that remain true to its authentic values, and currents that have lately shown themselves rather too flexible about these values. It involves making common cause with genuine democrats, whether socialist or not.
The present initiative has its roots in and has found a constituency through the Internet, especially the "blogosphere". It is our perception, however, that this constituency is under-represented elsewhere — in much of the media and the other forums of contemporary political life.
The broad statement of principles that follows is a declaration of intent. It inaugurates a new Website, which will serve as a resource for the current of opinion it hopes to represent and the several foundation blogs and other sites that are behind this call for a progressive realignment.

B. Statement of principles

1 For democracy.
We are committed to democratic norms, procedures and structures — freedom of opinion and assembly, free elections, the separation of legislative, executive and judicial powers, and the separation of state and religion. We value the traditions and institutions, the legacy of good governance, of those countries in which liberal, pluralist democracies have taken hold.
2 No apology for tyranny.
We decline to make excuses for, to indulgently "understand", reactionary regimes and movements for which democracy is a hated enemy — regimes that oppress their own peoples and movements that aspire to do so. We draw a firm line between ourselves and those left-liberal voices today quick to offer an apologetic explanation for such political forces.
3 Human rights for all.
We hold the fundamental human rights codified in the Universal Declaration to be precisely universal, and binding on all states and political movements, indeed on everyone. Violations of these rights are equally to be condemned whoever is responsible for them and regardless of cultural context. We reject the double standards with which much self-proclaimed progressive opinion now operates, finding lesser (though all too real) violations of human rights which are closer to home, or are the responsibility of certain disfavoured governments, more deplorable than other violations that are flagrantly worse. We reject, also, the cultural relativist view according to which these basic human rights are not appropriate for certain nations or peoples.
4 Equality.
We espouse a generally egalitarian politics. We look towards progress in relations between the sexes (until full gender equality is achieved), between different ethnic communities, between those of various religious affiliations and those of none, and between people of diverse sexual orientations — as well as towards broader social and economic equality all round. We leave open, as something on which there are differences of viewpoint amongst us, the question of the best economic forms of this broader equality, but we support the interests of working people everywhere and their right to organize in defence of those interests. Democratic trade unions are the bedrock organizations for the defence of workers' interests and are one of the most important forces for human rights, democracy-promotion and egalitarian internationalism. Labour rights are human rights. The universal adoption of the International Labour Organization Conventions — now routinely ignored by governments across the globe — is a priority for us. We are committed to the defence of the rights of children, and to protecting people from sexual slavery and all forms of institutionalized abuse.
5 Development for freedom.
We stand for global economic development-as-freedom and against structural economic oppression and environmental degradation. The current expansion of global markets and free trade must not be allowed to serve the narrow interests of a small corporate elite in the developed world and their associates in developing countries. The benefits of large-scale development through the expansion of global trade ought to be distributed as widely as possible in order to serve the social and economic interests of workers, farmers and consumers in all countries. Globalization must mean global social integration and a commitment to social justice. We support radical reform of the major institutions of global economic governance (World Trade Organization, International Monetary Fund, World Bank) to achieve these goals, and we support fair trade, more aid, debt cancellation and the campaign to Make Poverty History. Development can bring growth in life-expectancy and in the enjoyment of life, easing burdensome labour and shortening the working day. It can bring freedom to youth, possibilities of exploration to those of middle years, and security to old age. It enlarges horizons and the opportunities for travel, and helps make strangers into friends. Global development must be pursued in a manner consistent with environmentally sustainable growth.
6 Opposing anti-Americanism.
We reject without qualification the anti-Americanism now infecting so much left-liberal (and some conservative) thinking. This is not a case of seeing the US as a model society. We are aware of its problems and failings. But these are shared in some degree with all of the developed world. The United States of America is a great country and nation. It is the home of a strong democracy with a noble tradition behind it and lasting constitutional and social achievements to its name. Its peoples have produced a vibrant culture that is the pleasure, the source-book and the envy of millions. That US foreign policy has often opposed progressive movements and governments and supported regressive and authoritarian ones does not justify generalized prejudice against either the country or its people.
7 For a two-state solution.
We recognize the right of both the Israeli and the Palestinian peoples to self-determination within the framework of a two-state solution. There can be no reasonable resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that subordinates or eliminates the legitimate rights and interests of one of the sides to the dispute.
8 Against racism.
For liberals and the Left, anti-racism is axiomatic. We oppose every form
of racist prejudice and behaviour: the anti-immigrant racism of the far Right; tribal and inter-ethnic racism; racism against people from Muslim countries and those descended from them, particularly under cover of the War on Terror. The recent resurgence of another, very old form of racism, anti-Semitism, is not yet properly acknowledged in left and liberal circles. Some exploit the legitimate grievances of the Palestinian people under occupation by Israel, and conceal prejudice against the Jewish people behind the formula of "nti-Zionism". We oppose this type of racism too, as should go without saying.
9 United against terror.
We are opposed to all forms of terrorism. The deliberate targeting of civilians is a crime under international law and all recognized codes of warfare, and it cannot be justified by the argument that it is done in a cause that is just. Terrorism inspired by Islamist ideology is widespread today. It threatens democratic values and the lives and freedoms of people in many countries. This does not justify prejudice against Muslims, who are its main victims, and amongst whom are to be found some of its most courageous opponents. But, like all terrorism, it is a menace that has to be fought, and not excused.
10 A new internationalism.
We stand for an internationalist politics and the reform of international law — in the interests of global democratization and global development. Humanitarian intervention, when necessary, is not a matter of disregarding sovereignty, but of lodging this properly within the "common life"
of all peoples. If in some minimal sense a state protects the common life of its people (if it does not torture, murder and slaughter its own civilians, and meets their most basic needs of life), then its sovereignty is to be respected. But if the state itself violates this common life in appalling ways, its claim to sovereignty is forfeited and there is a duty upon the international community of intervention and rescue. Once a threshold of inhumanity has been crossed, there is a "responsibility to protect".
11 A critical openness.
Drawing the lesson of the disastrous history of left apologetics over the crimes of Stalinism and Maoism, as well as more recent exercises in the same vein (some of the reaction to the crimes of 9/11, the excuse-making for suicide-terrorism, the disgraceful alliances lately set up inside the "anti-war" movement with illiberal theocrats), we reject the notion that there are no opponents on the Left. We reject, similarly, the idea that there can be no opening to ideas and individuals to our right. Leftists who make common cause with, or excuses for, anti-democratic forces should be criticized in clear and forthright terms. Conversely, we pay attention to liberal and conservative voices and ideas if they contribute to strengthening democratic norms and practices and to the battle for human progress.
12 Historical truth.
In connecting to the original humanistic impulses of the movement for human progress, we emphasize the duty which genuine democrats must have to respect for the historical truth. Not only fascists, Holocaust-deniers and the like have tried to obscure the historical record. One of the tragedies of the Left is that its own reputation was massively compromised in this regard by the international Communist movement, and some have still not learned that lesson. Political honesty and straightforwardness are a primary obligation for us.
13 Freedom of ideas.
We uphold the traditional liberal freedom of ideas. It is more than ever necessary today to affirm that, within the usual constraints against defamation, libel and incitement to violence, people must be at liberty to criticize ideas — even whole bodies of ideas — to which others are committed. This includes the freedom to criticize religion: particular religions and religion in general. Respect for others does not entail remaining silent about their beliefs where these are judged to be wanting.
14 Open source.
As part of the free exchange of ideas and in the interests of encouraging joint intellectual endeavour, we support the open development of software and other creative works and oppose the patenting of genes, algorithms and facts of nature. We oppose the retrospective extension of intellectual property laws in the financial interests of corporate copyright holders.
The open source model is collective and competitive, collaborative and meritocratic. It is not a theoretical ideal, but a tested reality that has created common goods whose power and robustness have been proved over decades. Indeed, the best collegiate ideals of the scientific research community that gave rise to open source collaboration have served human progress for centuries.
15 A precious heritage.
We reject fear of modernity, fear of freedom, irrationalism, the subordination of women; and we reaffirm the ideas that inspired the great rallying calls of the democratic revolutions of the eighteenth century: liberty, equality and solidarity; human rights; the pursuit of happiness. These inspirational ideas were made the inheritance of us all by the social-democratic, egalitarian, feminist and anti-colonial transformations of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries — by the pursuit of social justice, the provision of welfare, the brotherhood and sisterhood of all men and women. None should be left out, none left behind. We are partisans of these values. But we are not zealots. For we embrace also the values of free enquiry, open dialogue and creative doubt, of care in judgement and a sense of the intractabilities of the world. We stand against all claims to a total — unquestionable or unquestioning — truth.

C. Elaborations

We defend liberal and pluralist democracies against all who make light of the differences between them and totalitarian and other tyrannical regimes. But these democracies have their own deficits and shortcomings. The battle for the development of more democratic institutions and procedures, for further empowering those without influence, without a voice or with few political resources, is a permanent part of the agenda of the Left.
The social and economic foundations on which the liberal democracies have developed are marked by deep inequalities of wealth and income and the survival of unmerited privilege. In turn, global inequalities are a scandal to the moral conscience of humankind. Millions live in terrible poverty. Week in, week out, tens of thousands of people — children in particular — die from preventable illnesses. Inequalities of wealth, both as between individuals and between countries, distribute life chances in an arbitrary way.
These things are a standing indictment against the international community. We on the Left, in keeping with our own traditions, fight for justice and a decent life for everyone. In keeping with those same traditions, we have also to fight against powerful forces of totalitarian-style tyranny that are on the march again. Both battles have to be fought simultaneously. One should not be sacrificed for the other.
We repudiate the way of thinking according to which the events of September 11, 2001 were America's deserved comeuppance, or "understandable" in the light of legitimate grievances resulting from US foreign policy. What was done on that day was an act of mass murder, motivated by odious fundamentalist beliefs and redeemed by nothing whatsoever. No evasive formula can hide that.
The founding supporters of this statement took different views on the military intervention in Iraq, both for and against. We recognize that it was possible reasonably to disagree about the justification for the intervention, the manner in which it was carried through, the planning (or lack of it) for the aftermath, and the prospects for the successful implementation of democratic change. We are, however, united in our view about the reactionary, semi-fascist and murderous character of the Baathist regime in Iraq, and we recognize its overthrow as a liberation of the Iraqi people. We are also united in the view that, since the day on which this occurred, the proper concern of genuine liberals and members of the Left should have been the battle to put in place in Iraq a democratic political order and to rebuild the country's infrastructure, to create after decades of the most brutal oppression a life for Iraqis which those living in democratic countries take for granted — rather than picking through the rubble of the arguments over intervention.
This opposes us not only to those on the Left who have actively spoken in support of the gangs of jihadist and Baathist thugs of the Iraqi so-called resistance, but also to others who manage to find a way of situating themselves between such forces and those trying to bring a new democratic life to the country. We have no truck, either, with the tendency to pay lip service to these ends, while devoting most of one's energy to criticism of political opponents at home (supposedly responsible for every difficulty in Iraq), and observing a tactful silence or near silence about the ugly forces of the Iraqi "insurgency". The many left opponents of regime change in Iraq who have been unable to understand the considerations that led others on the Left to support it, dishing out anathema and excommunication, more lately demanding apology or repentance, betray the democratic values they profess.
Vandalism against synagogues and Jewish graveyards and attacks on Jews themselves are on the increase in Europe. "Anti-Zionism" has now developed to a point where supposed organizations of the Left are willing to entertain openly anti-Semitic speakers and to form alliances with anti-Semitic groups. Amongst educated and affluent people are to be found individuals unembarrassed to claim that the Iraq war was fought on behalf of Jewish interests, or to make other "polite" and subtle allusions to the harmful effect of Jewish influence in international or national politics — remarks of a kind that for more than fifty years after the Holocaust no one would have been able to make without publicly disgracing themselves. We stand against all variants of such bigotry.
The violation of basic human rights standards at Abu Ghraib, at Guantanamo, and by the practice of "rendition", must be roundly condemned for what it is: a departure from universal principles, for the establishment of which the democratic countries themselves, and in particular the United States of America, bear the greater part of the historical credit. But we reject the double standards by which too many on the Left today treat as the worst violations of human rights those perpetrated by the democracies, while being either silent or more muted about infractions that outstrip these by far. This tendency has reached the point that officials speaking for Amnesty International, an organization which commands enormous, worldwide respect because of its invaluable work over several decades, can now make grotesque public comparison of Guantanamo with the Gulag, can assert that the legislative measures taken by the US and other liberal democracies in the War on Terror constitute a greater attack on human rights principles and values than anything we have seen in the last 50 years, and be defended for doing so by certain left and liberal voices.

D. Conclusion

It is vitally important for the future of progressive politics that people of liberal, egalitarian and internationalist outlook should now speak clearly. We must define ourselves against those for whom the entire progressive-democratic agenda has been subordinated to a blanket and simplistic "anti-imperialism" and/or hostility to the current US administration. The values and goals which properly make up that agenda — the values of democracy, human rights, the continuing battle against unjustified privilege and power, solidarity with peoples fighting against tyranny and oppression — are what most enduringly define the shape of any Left worth belonging to.
Norman Geras [For legal purposes, this document is copyright Norman Geras 2006.]
Damian Counsell
Alan Johnson
Shalom Lappin
and 2844 others,

Friday, 9 January 2015

Valerie Trierweiler

Valerie Trierweiler
as those who take an interest in these matters know, Valerie Trierweiler is a journalist (formerly a political journalist) who worked for Paris Match and various television channels in France. She began a liaison with Francois Hollande, some time before he became President of France. He left his partner, fellow politician Segolene Royal, the mother of his four children, for her, and she left her husband, Denis Trierweiler, for him. She was installed as First Lady (kind of), but pretty quickly Hollande fell out of love with her. Or so it seems. He began an affair with actress Julie Gayet, and that affair may be continuing to this day. All this is hardly unusual for French politicians, or indeed for presidents of France. Hollande's paunchy Sunday-Dad looks notwithstanding, he is very successful with women. Apparently he is humorous, charming and excellent company, and has the knack many successful politicians have of making the person he is with feel that they are the most important person in the world. Certainly Valerie Trierweiler fell in love with him.

When Francois Hollande dumped Valerie, very publicly, having the media briefed to "catch him out" visiting Julie Gayet at night by scooter, she went into crisis. Not surprisingly. This was exacerbated by Hollande, disgracefully, using the machinery of state to keep her on such high doses of tranquillisers that she remained in hospital, barely knowing what day it was, for quite a long time. She was then placed under a kind of house arrest in a grace-and-favour house. All this was pretty much guaranteed to bring on some kind of breakdown and collapse in most people. But not in Valerie. Instead she used the time, despite being besieged by the paparazzi, to write an explosive book called "Merci Pour Ce Moment", in which she makes no secret of her love for Hollande, but assassinates his character so totally that he should never recover from it, at least personally. He is portrayed as dishonest, meretricious, unfaithful, cruel and and snobbish. I am sure he is all those things.

I highly recommend the book, which has been translated into English. It's not a ghostwritten celeb memoir, but a real book, with real things to say about celebrity, politics and the media. Valerie comes across as an attractive character: a woman who started out with no advantages in life, unlike Francois Hollande; a woman who knows what it means to be poor, but who has made her way in the world. The French literary and political establishment, of course, castigated her book, and shunned her. But the French public loved it, and her - she had not been popular when First Lady, which she makes no secret of in the book - it became a best-seller, and is, we hear, to be a film.

So, I like Valerie. She and I have never met, but I hope we will one day. I would like to invite her to lunch some time soon, with no media present.

But what's this? Here is a creature called Jeremy Harding, reviewing Merci Pour Ce Moment in the London Review of Books. He doesn't like it, or her. But he doesn't say why, other than to castigate her for repeating in the book things Hollande had said to her in private. Well, why on earth shouldn't she? Hollande should have known that if you dump your partner, especially as cruelly and publicly as he dumped Valerie, she's unlikely to do much to preserve your pride, dignity or credibility. No one in public life should say, or especially write, anything they would mind seeing in the tabloids. Although Hollande was apparently not particularly unkind about his former partner Segolene Royal (Valerie sometimes wished he would be, and did not like them staying in political cahoots after their split), Harding singles out in his review Valerie's resentment of Segolene. Harding uses the phrase "upside-down hanging", and in case we don't get the reference he adds "like Clara Petacci". In the unlikely eventuality that readers do not know who Petacci was, I point out that she was Mussolini's mistress, who was hanged alongside him, upside down, by partisans in 1945. So, what part of a woman do you see most clearly if she is hanging upside down? Quite. This is not accidental misogyny, but very deliberate. When you're having a go at a book a woman you don't like or approve of has written, you don't critique her writing or her ideas. You refer to her ****. I Googled Jeremy Harding, as you do, and the first thing that came up was an adoring interview in (where else?) the Guardian. The interview informed us breathlessly that he lives in "a lovely house near Bordeaux" and that he is "long-limbed and graceful". Puke.

The duplicitous, cruel, snobbish and grasping French political establishment, and a misogynist "journalist" who is the darling of the Guardian, on one side. One strong woman on the other. I know which side I'm on.

Valerie, let's have lunch soon.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

kill us, we deserve it

more than 24 hours after the atrocity at the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, maybe some thoughtful remarks are possible. There have of course been calls for the return of the death penalty here in France. Leaving those to one side, and noting that the perpetrators of the murders (12 people dead, two of whom incidentally are Muslim, just saying) are still at large at the time of writing (it has been reported that they held up a petrol station at gunpoint this afternoon), what should we think about all this, and what should we learn?

At least one part of the BBC (its "security correspondent" Frank Gardner) was inclined to shill for the murderers, as was the Financial Times. Other British media have had a little more sense, but not much. None of them has published any of the cartoons that were the "provocation" for the murders of the 12 people, four of them cartoonists, yesterday. Correction, the Independent allegedly has, but when I try to access it on line I get the message "You've been hacked by the Syrian Electronic Army, and this picture:
If any Arabic-speaking readers can make out script that small, perhaps they can tell me what the inscription says. Anyway, I should have thought a commitment to press freedom and freedom of expression would have encouraged the print media to reproduce at least some of the cartoons, in solidarity. Thousands of individuals have posted them on line, so why can't big, powerful corporations do so? It has been suggested to me that they have not published because they have management decisions to make, and responsibility to their staff and their shareholders, and so on, blah blah blah. That I can understand, although it is cowardly and wrong. Dan Hodges tweeted yesterday that his first thought had been to publish a Charlie Hebdo cartoon, in solidarity, but then he stopped, because he was scared. We all were. But we did it anyway. They can't kill us all, as a friend messaged yesterday.

David Aaronovitch in The Times today (£) writes powerfully about the cowardice of Western media in not publishing what Charlie Hebdo published. Nor will they publish images of Muhammad, wherever they might originate. Don't want to upset people, you see. Which left Charlie Hebdo isolated, out of the mainstream, and looking eccentric. And then they got killed. Some of them I think were half expecting this to happen. There was a police guard present, but he was killed first. Obviously. He was Muslim, as it happens. It is arguable that Charlie Hebdo were targeted because it was only them, at least in France. And we know what happened in Denmark a few years ago. And we know that mainstream publishers would not publish The Satanic Verses today, for fear of murderous reprisals. Everyone who failed to condemn the fatwa against Salman Rushdie all those years ago, everyone who said "We are all Hezbollah now", all the Western boys and girls who marched under Saddam Hussein's flag in European cities in 2003, and especially the cowardly and pusillanimous Big Media, are complicit in what is happening in Europe today. Jewish people who can are leaving France, for Israel and elsewhere. Yesterday's murderous atrocity did not target Jews - of the 12 killed two were Muslim and one was Jewish - it targeted a value system.

The value system you live by may be different from the one I try to live by. But whatever it is, it is not threatened by mockery, or by cartoons, or by any media which lampoon it. Not. At. All.

There are still those who contend that it is wrong to offend people. They are wrong. Sometimes they refer to "gratuitous" offence, as if giving offence for money or for an ulterior motive were somehow better, or not so bad. No law or convention gives blanket protection to offensive language, written or spoken. But the freedom to publish, and to express, must remain. And each of us, as individuals, has a responsibility there, whether we make public utterances (and most of us do, on line or otherwise) or not. The freedom to publish inoffensive material, and nothing else, is no freedom at all.

Twelve people are dead in Paris. Millions have been killed in the Middle East in recent years. The Charlie Hebdo killings deserve special mention, not because their lives and their deaths matter more than those of people in Syria or anywhere else, but because this was a massacre of a group of people who were all in the same room yesterday because they had the common objective of - taking the piss. Because of what they chose to write, and draw, and publish. In a country, and a continent, which espouses freedom of expression, and in which it is not the State that decides what may and may not be published.

I stood in the big square in Strasbourg yesterday in the early evening damp and chill. There were at least 2,000 people there. It occurred to me that if they really wanted to "kill us all" they could have turned up in the great squares of the cities of France, and killed quite a lot of us. Well, let them try.  Perhaps they are not quite numerous or well organised enough - yet. One thing I do know is that if we do nothing, if we keep our heads down and try not to offend anyone, that will not save us.

I've got nothing to say about Islam. I am a Christian, and I do my best to live a good life. Like most human people, I fail, most of the time. What I write, and what I say, may at times be silly, or incoherent, or plain wrong. But how many more have to die to maintain my right to write and say it?

Front National leader Marine Le Pen was on TV this morning. She said France was at war. She wants a referendum on return of the death penalty (please, no.) She is the only French political leader I have heard say that freedom of expression applies to offensive material, or to material with which one profoundly disagrees, or it is meaningless. What have we come to when it is the leader of that party that finds an opportunity to take the moral high ground? I only ask.

the last picture tweeted by Charlie Hebdo before the massacre
Maybe I'm over-complicating all this. If you don't like what you read, don't buy that magazine, don't read that blog, don't follow that Twitter feed. Don't, anyway, storm onto that author's premises and kill everyone there. And if you do, you will not be deemed to have been "provoked" by "Western policy" or any such tosh. You will be hunted down and captured. You will also, in France, receive due process. Something your victims did not have before you slaughtered them.


Friday, 2 January 2015

the wrong people were voting Labour

in 1997, apparently. Neal Lawson says so, and it's in the Guardian, so it must be true. A little light fisking to begin with.

 Oh and Nealie babes, open letters are Always Wrong.


"Dear Tony,
You seem to be suffering an unusual bout of the dithers as 2014 ends and the year of the general election begins." Really? Having a say is dithering is it? Oh unless Tony says what the Guardian wants to hear. Silly old me.
"First you argue that Labour will lose if Ed Miliband rejects the third way. You fear a situation “in which a traditional leftwing party competes with a traditional rightwing party, with the traditional result”. " Yep. Spot on Tony. As even you seem to understand, Neal...
"But then you say you have been misinterpreted. " He was. Because he didn't say he didn't support Dead Ed, but was reported as having done so. "The words, though, seem pretty clear and you were always so good with words. And, apparently, at winning elections." Not apparently. He won three consecutive ones. No other Labour leader has done so.
"But we both know it’s not quite that clear or that simple. The truth is that any Labour leader could have won in 1997 – by then the nation was heartily sick of the Tories. It was time for change. Your great fortune was that the leadership came up just when most of the Labour party was desperate enough to accept victory at any price." Clearly you spent no time in Labour circles in the 1990s Mr Lawson, or you would know different.
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"If he had lived, John Smith would have won in 1997 – not by as much as you, granted – but then your majority was too big, wasn’t it? " Was it? How big is too big? What would have been the correct figure? One that excluded the south of England? " I well remember crunching my way up gravel drives past BMWs in Enfield the day Stephen Twigg ousted Michael Portillo – oh, how we cheered later that morning. But in hindsight the wrong people were voting Labour. The tent was too big and you spent the next 10 years trying to keep the wrong people in it: the very rich, for example. What meaningful project includes everyone? " Any meaningful project does. You govern for all the people or you do not meaningfully govern at all.
"You remark, almost with pride, that the population hasn’t shifted to the left – well, what exactly was your job as a political leader supposed to be about then?
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Had you not been so disdainful about anything remotely old Labour there would probably be much less support for Ukip now. True, you sneaked in some transfers to the poor in the shape of tax credits, and you introduced the minimum wage. " yes, you may well sneer about the minimum wage Mr L, your Guardian-reading dinner-party companions have no need of it, hein? "But never with a political flourish, never with a sense of moral purpose. It was all stealth and no one knew why they were better off" so- with more soundbites everything would have been better would it Neal?
"British politics is now crying out for a real choice. A society that is more equal, sustainable and democratic." Maybe so Neal, though I have my doubts that those notions are what most people are crying out for. Housing need and zero-hours contracts are their concerns, more like.

Extracts from this Guardian gem inside quotes. My remarks outside them. #thewrongpeoplewerevotingLabour - tell that to the people who were, and are, proud to be wrong. Now I must go and put some coal in the bath. Because that's what Labour voters do, isn't it Neal?  Can't have nice clean Guardian readers in their leafy homes doing, can we? Because then we'd have Labour governments, and that would never do, would it?

Friday, 28 November 2014

Andrew Mitchell is innocent

and that is why he sued for libel. Nobody would sue if they knew they had done what they were accused of. I have written many times publicly that former MP Martin Salter took over 40K of public money to pay for a non-existent London property. He has never even threatened to sue me, because it is true. UK libel laws are problematic, and also controversial. My personal view is that there should be a privacy law, as there is in France, which would protect private individuals from unwarranted publication of details of their personal life, family matters and so on. Public figures would also be protected, but less so, because there could be a public interest defence. I barely knew Andrew Mitchell during my time in the House of Commons, so I have no personal interest to declare. He had the reputation of being irascible, and I have no reason to doubt that he is. If he did shout and swear at police officers on the day in question, and it is not seriously disputed that he did, then that was bad behaviour, and behaviour not befitting a chief whip (bullying and psychological torture is more their style), but it does not merit two years of personal hell and career and possibly financial ruin. Andrew Mitchell may have the personal wealth to pay the enormous legal bill he now confronts, or he may not. I have no idea. But there is no doubt that his political career is over. He appears to have been personally tormented by the accusation - which amounts to the use, or not, of the word "pleb" - in a way that some other politicians facing media storms of this kind have not been. I maintain that this is because he was innocent of what he was accused of. It has been suggested that he brought this matter on himself by refusing to walk away from the issue, and by suing for libel. This of course is what brought down Oscar Wilde over a century ago. Contrast with Chris Huhne, who went to prison for an offence he knew he was guilty of, and who appears to be relatively unscathed by the experience. Andrew Mitchell is not going to prison, but unscathed he is not.

It seems clear that there was some kind of conspiracy by more than one police officer to stitch Andrew Mitchell up. Probably because they didn't like him, and if the police decide to do you over they can usually manage it. The judge seems to have known this, and to have deemed it not especially relevant. He chose to believe the police officer at the centre of the case, Toby Rowland, who said he didn't know what the word "pleb" meant - probably not, because that briefing came from elsewhere in the police - because he thought Rowland was not the kind of man to make things up, and so Andrew Mitchell must be either lying or amnesiac to deny having used the word "pleb". Well, that is what judges do. They make judgments.

In his very interesting book on UK political scandals, 'Eye of the Storm', Rob Wilson MP (my successor as MP for Reading East, to no one's surprise, and likely to retain the seat next year) chronicles the personal and emotional crisis Andrew Mitchell experienced as a result of this accusation. He indicates that those who feel they have been unjustly accused are likely to suffer more than those who know themselves to be guilty. Conscience is a real thing, but so is justice. Andrew Mitchell has been unjustly treated. Justice is real, but only if those who are unlikeable or unfashionable have the same entitlement to it as everyone else does.