25 September 2010

One of the greatest ever

Not much time to write a blog post today but I must just say CONGRATULATIONS!!! to Ed Miliband on an historic victory in the Labour party leadership - by 50.6 to 49.4% after redistribution of all losing candidates' votes!

Much more on Ed next week when I've got more time...

18 September 2010

Pope-bashing is NOT Catholic-bashing

Very busy with work at the moment (October will certainly be easy) so I've not had any time to post over the last fortnight. However I must add my €0.02 to a debate which has been going on very heavily on Facebook and other social networking sites recently.

Unless you have been locked in a cupboard by the Revd Ian Paisley, you will not have failed to notice that the Pope is visiting the UK for the first time in an official capacity at the moment. Crowd numbers have apparently been way down on the previous "pastoral" visit by Pope John Paul II in 1982. And there have been far, FAR more protesters this time round. That's not surprising because the child abuse scandals had not broken in 1982.

There certainly is a lot of Pope-bashing - antagonistic statements towards the Pope himself and some of his more hardcore followers (like the adviser who said Britain was "like a third world country") - out there on the web. And I think that's fully justified. The previous Pope was certainly a conservative; but this guy is something else. He believes he is fighting a war against "aggressive atheism" when in fact, he's presenting an extreme-right, homophobic, misogynist and authoritarian view of the world - a worldview which, were it to come from an atheist, would be roundly condemned. And then he expects to get praise from the wider community for touting this crap. Well I'm sorry sir, it just ain't on. So I make no apology whatsoever for Pope-bashing. Quite the opposite.

Some of my Catholic friends have reacted defensively to this criticism of the Pope as if it were a criticism of all Catholics. This is very unfortunate, as I don't believe that the objective of the Pope's (sensible) critics is to attack all Catholics; and it would be quite wrong if they did. To the extent that any of the current anti-Pope sentiment spills over into a moronic and offensive sectarianism, it is completely abhorrent.

The main point to make here is that the current Catholic church hierarchy has very little - in fact nothing at all - to do with the rank and file churchgoers. The congregation has no say in which Pope is appointed and they have no input into Vatican policy. Therefore, it would be completely wrong to blame them for the crap the Pope is coming out with. Quite the reverse, in fact - the Catholic congregations are the people I feel most sorry for, as they have to put up with this crap week-in week-out - which puts them in a very difficult position. In the same way that residents of the Soviet Union in the 1930s and 1940s had to put up with Stalin.

So really, what I'm saying is that the criticism is aimed at ONE person, the leader, not the rank-and-file. Actually, I'll qualify that a bit: there are a few Catholics out there who slavishly follow every word of Vatican doctrine and appear to have no minds of their own, and the criticisms would apply to them equally - but that's their own fault for believing unquestioningly in whatever drivel is handed down to them. The vast majority of religious believers are not like that. They will always question what they are being told to do, and most of them will reject obvious bullshit for what it is. And for that, I give them huge respect.

04 September 2010

Chris Brooke is Tweeter of the Year

Just a quick post to publicise the heroic effort by my friend Chris Brooke of the Virtual Stoa who has taken it upon himself to tweet the essential info and arguments from all 700+ pages of Tony Blair's "A Journey" on his twitterfeed (now archived in easy-to-read format here!)

I may have to buy the Blair book just because some of his comments are so unbelievable: it falls into the "so deluded it's fascinating" category. But many of you, on both left and right, may find the purchase of the book just too grim a prospect. In which case, Chris has done the hard work for you. Nice one Chris!

02 September 2010

Labour leadership showdown on C4 News

I tuned in to Channel 4 News last night expecting more revelations about Blair's A Journey (they didn't have much: my friend Chris of Virtual Stoa has done a far better job of digesting the interesting bits of the book via his twitterfeed) and maybe something about William Hague as well (they had even less on that). I'll post on Hague soon as it looks like he's been the victim of a vilification campaign by right-wing bloggers and although I'm no great fan of the guy, he doesn't deserve that.

But one interesting thing on C4 News was an interview with all 5 leadership candidates - Jon Snow called them "the Final Five" which must be some sort of coded Battlestar Galactica reference. Why, I'm not sure.

Anyway, on this performance, the smoothest two - the guys who could slot into PMQs and immediately start massacring Cameron and Clegg - are David Miliband and, perhaps suprisingly, Andy Burnham. Both were slick as hell. Ed Balls wasn't quite as smooth but he was razor sharp on policy. Neither Ed Miliband nor Diane Abbott were in any way slouches but I don't think they managed to get their points across quite as well.

I'd still vote for Ed M, though, because it's not just about smoothness. After all, Tony Blair was (and maybe is still) smooth as f***; but he managed to win 3 elections and delivered - well, more than nothing, but nowhere near as much as he could have done. (And the reason why, it turns out, was that he was basically minding the ship for the Tories to get back in).

I think Ed Miliband has a vision of where Labour should be at the time of the next election and more importantly, what to do if they win. David Miliband may have that as well, but as yet I'm not convinced. And the Blairite backing for David (which he has admittedly tried to distance himself from) shows the real risk of right-wing influence on his candidacy.

The main thing that came across, I think, was that the two Eds could work very well together as their policy platforms are quite similar. It's, if you like, a sensible soft left version of Blair/Brown; Ed M providing the public face and overall political strategic thinking while Ed B handles economics (minus immigration policy, where I still can't work out quite what he's saying about Central and Eastern European migrants but could he please change it as it sounds like a half-baked version of UKIP?)

So, if - as I expect, Ed Miliband wins the leadership, Ed Balls would be a good option for Shadow Chancellor. Osborne is a good political operator but an economic incompetent and will be regularly slaughtered at the dispatch box. Andy Burnham is certainly capable of taking one of the major shadow portfolios, as indeed is Diane Abbott (if she wants to do so). The real question mark is what will happen to David Miliband if Ed wins. Because of the inquiry into renditions and torture that may have taken place on his watch, it would be inadvisable, to say the least, to keep him in the Shadow Foreign Secretary platform; but anything else would feel like a demotion.

Decisions, decisions...

01 September 2010

Still Tory after all these years

Well, Tony Blair has just started doing the publicity rounds in advance of the publication of his memoir A Journey - which, you'll be surprised to find, I won't be buying a copy of. (After the excellence of Andrew Rawnsley's The End of the Party, no more histories of the internal politics of the Brair/Blown years are really necessary - although I'd be mildly interested to hear Gordon's take on what on earth he thought he was doing).

My relationship with Blair is similar to my mentor, Hunter S Thompson's relationship with Richard Nixon - indeed HST once dedicated a book "to Richard Milhous Nixon, who never let me down". He is the inspiration for my long-standing hatred of Tories masquerading as the centre-left. And so how appropriate that Blair should be interviewed by the Guardian's leading "stealth" Tory, Martin Kettle, in today's Guardian.

The one thing Blair gets right in this interview is that Gordon Brown - sadly - was simply not psychologically fit to be Prime Minister. (After Iraq, Blair wasn't either, but we'll let that pass.) Of course, that in itself raises severe questions about Blair's capacity for leadership. Pretty much any other post-war PM - certainly Thatcher, Wilson or MacMillan - and probably Major, Callaghan, Heath etc. - would have either moved Brown to a safer department (the Home Office?) or terminated his ministerial career after maybe three or four years of the guy's paranoid lunacy at the most. Blair was simply too weak to do so. If he had done, he would have taken a hell of a lot of flak - from thousands of sources, including me. But he would have been right and we would have been wrong.

On everything else, it's Blair who is wrong. I'm not going to criticise his decision to donate proceeds from his book to the British Legion - whatever his financial situation, it's a positive move, and should be welcomed. But it hardly atones for making such a huge foreign policy mistake in the first place. Blair's view on the reason Brown lost is laughable - "because he abandoned New Labour." Really? Brown was the co-architect of New Labour for f***'s sake. His policy platform from 2007 to 2010 was a note-for-note continuation of the New Labour policy. He lost, partly because of that, and partly because he was unable to string a coherent sentence together on camera. I do believe Tony Blair would have done slightly better in the 2010 election than Brown had he stayed on. But only slightly - maybe, say, 31% instead of 29% of the vote? (Don't forget Blair already managed to lose 6 percentage points between 2001 and 2005 - some "success story".)

And his view on the fall-out from the banking crisis is asinine, and shows that, whatever Brown's failings as an economics student, Blair doesn't even understand the first thing about the economy (rather like Cameron and Clegg, who are very much his clones, of course). It makes me shudder to think what would have happened if the banking crisis had erupted when Blair was still in Number 10. He might well have precipitated the collapse of civilisation by letting them go to the wall and thinking that John Birt and a bunch of management consultants from McKinseys would sort it all out. Or something.

Sadly it looks unlikely that Blair will offer an endorsement of David Miliband in his Andrew Marr interview - which is a real shame. Ed Miliband probably needs just that final "anti-endorsement" to put him over the hump - and Tony Blair could have done the job.

The most quixotic thing about Blair - apart from the permatan - is his insistence that he loves the Labour party. Why, when he stands for everything that is Tory? It really is hard to avoid the conclusion that the fucker somehow ended up in the wrong party by mistake in 1983 and the last 15 years of British politics have been a horrible retribution for that mistake.

I do think this'll be pretty much the last hurrah of Blair as front page news though. So if you kids can just stick the next couple of days out, you'll never have to hear from this bastard again. I just wish I could say the same about Martin Kettle.