28 February 2011

Blair asks Gadaffi not to kill protesters

Blair has phoned Gaddafi and asked him not kill protesters.

If you want to sum up Blair’s politics in a single sentence it would be this: he sought to strengthen capitalist power in Britain and imperialist capitalist power in the world. In partnership with George Bush he promoted the Iraq War with those ends in mind.

In aligning himself with US power, Blair had no problem embracing dictatorships in Saudi Arablia, Egypt and elsewhere. If Gadaffi was prepared to bring his dictatorship on board, that was fine with Blair.

For Blair now to be phoning Gaddafi and asking him not to kill protesters is about as nauseous a piece of hypocrisy as is his professed religious beliefs.

26 February 2011

Can Assange receive a fair trial in Sweden?

It is impossible for any impartial court to convict Julian Assange on the evidence.

On 25 February 2010, the day after Julian Assange lost his case against extradition to Sweden in a London magistrate’s court, his solicitor, Mark Stephens, wrote an article in The Guardian arguing that Assange could not receive a fair trial in Sweden.

Stephens correctly emphasised that Assange, if extradited, would be held in solitary confinement pending interrogation and trial, and that the hearing of evidence would be in camera with no opportunity for Assange’s lawyers to cross-examine witnesses. Moreover, instead of a jury, assessors appointed by Swedish political parties would determine guilt.

All this amounts to a deficiency in justice, particularly as the evidence against Assange appears unreliable and there are suggestions of political manipulation. Justice in this case which is not seen to be done cannot ever be done.

Yet in his article Assange’s solicitor fails to mention the fundamental reason for Assange not being able to receive a fair trial in Sweden, with Stephen’s reticence presumably due to the fact that the argument is inadmissible in the British courts. Quite simply, it is impossible for any impartial court to convict Julian Assange on the evidence, all of which is now in the public domain and subject to public scrutiny.

The complainants, Anna Ardin and Sofia Wilen, have made allegations which Assange has denied, but the circumstantial evidence in the case all piles up to suggest that the women’s allegations are not true.

One of two situations must therefore apply. Either the Swedish prosecutor, Marianne Ny, is pursuing Assange with no hope of a successful prosecution; or there is indeed a court in Sweden which could convict on the basis of this unreliable evidence. In either situation it would be wrong to extradite Assange.

Julian Assange is appealing the decision of the magistrate’s court. A successful challenge to the issuing of the European Arrest Warrant on technicalities may or may not be possible – though I wouldn’t hold my breath. Nevertheless, we should not forget the key reason, even if is never argued in a British court.

Photo: Mark Stephens

24 February 2011

The Assange case: some comments

The Assange case is multifaceted and still evolving. The mainstream media have failed to collate the factual material which is available and still less to draw reasoned conclusions from it. Here are a few isolated points and comments.

How should the case be seen in overview?

The case against Assange has been handled improperly by Swedish prosecutors. The allegations against him are unprovable. The circumstantial evidence points to the allegations being untrue. So unless Assange incriminates himself, no unbiased court could convict him.

Assange has been snookered by the combination of four factors: his own arrogance and stupidly; the confused spitefulness of two women, a prosecutor who wants to make an example of a prominent but vulnerable man and three governments out to make life as difficult as possible for Assange.

What is the key point to make in opposing Assange’s extradition from Britain?

The best way to fight this case is to pose the big question: does Marianne Ny have sufficient evidence to prove in a court that Assange committed sexual offences?

As the answer is no, and it clearly is no, then this EAW is being sought for persecution and not for legitimate prosecution.

How could Assange best defend himself as an individual?

Assange’s best defence would be to write an honest and humble account of exactly what happened in bed with the two women and publish it.

What situation are the women in?

why, if these sexual assaults happened at all, were the women so happy to continue friendly relations with Assange after the event? The most convincing explanation is that the alleged sexual offences did not happen and the women are liars.

But let us suppose for a moment that the women merely exaggerated and had no intention of being pawns in this train of events that they set in motion. And perhaps the whole prosecution is chugging along without their will or desire. We don’t know.

Evidence given in camera in Sweden will never answer these questions. These issues will haunt these women, whose identities are widely known, until they die. How much simpler it would be if they chose to speak out publicly now

23 February 2011

Why are the middle-aged middle class so apathetic in the crisis?

The Cameron Government is pursuing an economic policy which will impoverish and wreck the lives of huge numbers of people. The pain is every bit as bad as that inflicted by the Thatcher governments in the 1980s. But contrasting now with then reveals two political differences.

First, the Cameron-led coalition of millionaires has avoided the public gloating sadism associated with men like Norman Tebbit, who were so prominent under Thatcher. While “Tebbitism” no doubt appealed to the ranks of Daily Mail readers (then and now), opposing his brand of narrow-mindedness and authoritarianism united the left at a cultural level in the 1980s.

Second, in the 1980s – even as it moved to the right – the Labour Party provided a rallying point through its propagation of a social democratic alternative for Britain. Today the Labour Party is hogtied in its opposition, for on nearly every issue from rampant inequality to tuition fees, the coalition government is proceeding further along a track previous trodden by New Labour.

Yet the middle-aged middle class left which was so anti-Thatcher two decades ago has not just lost a discernable enemy icon and a friend in the Labour Party, it has also been hobbled by its own experience. Let me explain how.

In the 1970s and early 1980s the educated young reacted in horror at the demise of the achievements of the Post War consensus. As politics polarised, much of the educated young attached itself to the left with more ardour than did those in their adulthood in the 1960s. Yet history played a trick. Although the young middle-class left lost politically, at the person level it prospered – and this bred in many a political cynicism and disengagement from politics. That cynicism was fed further as the generation passively witnessed the immorality and betrayals of New Labour; so when the economic turn came at the end of the 2000s, it could respond with nothing but sarcasm and jokes.

One can just hope that the younger generation can do better.

18 February 2011

Cameron plays to the gallery on sex crime

A right to appeal for sex offenders can't generate genuine outrage

David Cameron says he is outraged that the Supreme Court, using powers under the Human Rights Act, has allowed the right of appeal to those placed on the Sexual Offences Register for Life.

Proclaiming outrage merely on account of the idea that someone can appeal against a judicial measure is nothing more than playing to the gallery. Cameron is manipulating the issue to court the Daily Mail and to discredit the Human Rights Act.

That politicians misrepresent events to their advantage is their trade. But people should note that Cameron is stepping into the gutter by wanting to deny even the most basic procedural rights to these modern-day social lepers.

15 February 2011

Female students earning money lap dancing

Higher tuition fees in Britain mean that increasing numbers of female students seek employment as lap dancers

That young women choose to work as lap dancers is not of itself wrong, but there are two things which are not as they should be:

First, many women are forced into this line of work because it is the only way they can fund their education. If they had other ways of funding their studies and only opted for lap dancing to earn addition sums, then there would be no problem.

Second, employment conditions in lap top clubs are almost unregulated. Rather than try to limit or close these clubs (and thereby deny the women the income), the emphasis should be on employment protection rights (e.g. preventing employers imposing “fines”).

10 February 2011

No to EDL, Radical Islam and David Cameron

The English Defence League are fascists: they wish to impose by threats and violence the "cultural values" of what they see as Englishness on everybody - or, in so far as that is impossible, to exclude Muslims from British society.

Radical Islam is similar: its supporters wish to impose a separate and illiberal creed, if not on the whole of British society, at least on their nominally defined co-religionists.

Cameron is a junk politician, who wishes to deflect attention from the economic plight of people by subtly aligning himself with the philosophy of English Defence League, and thus stirring up inter-ethnic tension, while claiming the opposite.

I believe that if we start from these three theses we will understand the situation far more clearly.

9 February 2011

Liberal & Fundamentalist Feminism

The distinction between liberal and fundamentalist feminists is at root no different from that existing in the politics of other oppressed social groups.

The purpose of the feminist is to secure equal rights, outcomes and treatment to men, while the purpose of the radical feminist is to advance the position of women. In a majority of areas, such as employment, both currents share the same agenda. Differences emerge in those few areas of society where women have a privileged position, such as criminal punishment. In these cases, radical feminists will break ranks, and will defend the privileges of women against equality, and in so doing will often join forces with conservatives.

What is History? - E. H. Carr (1961)

The best book on the theory of history

Sometimes we come across a book which is so powerful that we feel we should have read it years ago. On other occasions we come back to a book which we did not make much of at the time, but on a re-reading wish we had. Such is the case with E. H. Carr’s short book “What is History?”

I took down the dusty volume from my shelf and re-read it last week. I had first attempted to read it at sixteen when an angry history teacher had thrust it into my hands after my writing in a student essay that all major historical events were inevitable. If they weren’t, I had argued, then Marx’s theory of progressive historical development couldn’t be necessarily true.

Carr’s book is a write-up of lectures given in 1961 at Cambridge. Its great strength is that it confronts the fundamental problems of historical theory and by implication those of other social sciences: the role of facts, the individual, causality, objectivity, etc. The language is sharp and clear and Carr produces well-argued answers to all the issues he raises. And though half a century has elapsed since the publication of the work, little in it has dated, save, ironically, the last chapter where Carr attempts to bring his conclusions up-to date.

Much incomprehensible waffle is written about dialectics. But without using obscurantist terminology Carr guides the reader through the interaction of facts and interpretation, the individual and society, accident and pattern in history.

It’s worth a read; and if you’ve read it a re-read.


The Two Faces of E.H. Carr by Professor Richard J. Evans


7 February 2011

Rules relating to police spies: a couple of common sense suggestions

Orde has egg all over his face, so he is forced to recommend some compromises. But no-one should hold his or her breath and think that somehow Britain’s secret police state will be checked or held to account as a result. If the police commanders can lie with impunity to Parliament, they can do the same to the judiciary.

Sending police agents as spies into civic organisations is rarely justifiable. But in those cases when it is, the police should have to present convincing evidence to a judge that activists in that organisation are planning specified illegal acts which would cause intended personal injury or major damage to property. Infiltration for general surveillance is never justifiable.

Any such order should stipulate the rules of operation for the agent and the length of time the order is in force. Twelve months after the expiry of the order, the order and its contents should be made public.

Attempted expulsion of editors of Devon Labour Briefing

In February 1986 the leadership of Exeter Labour Party sought to expel three members who held dissenting views.

Twenty-five years ago tonight, the General Management Committee of Exeter Labour Party was due to meet. Before that esteemed body was a recommendation from the Executive Committee of the Party calling for the expulsion of three men in their early twenties. The catch-all charge was engaging in “a sustained course of conduct prejudicial to the party.”

The facts behind the charge were that the three had edited a magazine, Devon Labour Briefing, which had argued for socialist politics and reported facts that the leadership of the party did not like.

The expulsion, though, was never to be. Mr Justice Evans granted the three men an injunction restraining Exeter Labour Party from interfering with their membership rights. Why? Because the party leadership in its enthusiasm to rid the party of dissident elements had set itself up as judge, jury and executioner, without ever clarifying the precise charge or the evidence against them.

2 February 2011

Never ignore police violence

Anyone who is assaulted by the police should take the following steps:

Report the incident to the police complaints authority (however ineffective)

Visit the doctor (however minor the injury)

Write-up the incident in full and publicise it (however time-consuming and boring)

The campaign against police violence should have number one priority on the left. If the freedom to organise and protest is undermined, no political movement for change is possible.

There are some on the left who box themselves in like this. “Ah,” they say, “we have already analysed the role of the police as elements in the state’s repressive apparatus, so what you are telling us about police violence is nothing new. Next question please” But that's just paralytic intellectualism.

Every case of police assault needs recording.