Back in November I blogged about my increasing reluctance to hold my nose and vote Labour in May. A couple of weeks I made my decision and signed up for the Green Party, becoming one of the Green Surge that we’re all talking so much about. Then this morning I saw the party leader, Natalie Bennett, fielding questions from Andrew Neil on BBC Sunday Politics.
How did she hold up against Neil’s probing? Frankly, risibly.
I’m an instinctive Labour voter, though by no means a tribal one. I support greater social justice, less inequality and strong public services. Even so, I’m finding it harder and harder to support Labour these days.
Two incidents have left me finding it harder to support Ed Miliband at the moment – his debate with Myleene Klass and the row over Emily Thornberry’s tweet. On neither of these though, am I disappointed in these for the reasons being trotted out by the tabloid media.
The news reports are true. Nick “Fat Hitler” Griffin of the British National Party has posted a cookery TV show online. Personally I’m not entirely comfortable with the idea of no-platforming fascists. Don’t get me wrong, I can see the argument in favour of it. Even so, when Griffin was invited on BBC Question Time, the result was a more effective anti-BNP message than years of Unite Against Fascism’s campaigning – through the simple expedient of letting him open his gob.
So, with that in mind, I’m going to review his culinary extravaganza.
The show opens with the BNP TV logo, which looks strangely like the Eurovision Song Contest logo with a Union Jack slapped over it. The screen cuts to a surprisingly posh-looking kitchen for a man who’s just been declared bankrupt. No doubt his creditors are watching the show with a calculator in hand.
On the table in front of him is some veg, including a bag clearly labelled “British White Potatoes”. Presumably Nick wanted these on display because he’s British, white and has the intellect of a potato.
Nick starts talking about the impact of poverty on food budgets, and how he was at an event where people complained that “they can’t afford – their wives can’t afford to put enough decent food on the table.” Their wives? Who was he meeting with? The Stepford Racists?
He then suggests that the problem here is that a lot of people only know how to cook processed food, and don’t know how to make cheap food from raw ingredients. “Our chaps said to me, you like cooking. Why don’t you show a few examples of how cheap it is, how simple it is to cook really good food for yourself and your family.”
Wow. There actually was a BNP meeting where they decided, “You know what, Nick? See that Jack Monroe? You could do that!” Be very afraid.
1.00 Nick warns “We’ve not done this before. BNP TV does politics, not cookery, but we’ll see how it goes.” Building up the tension here until it’s almost noticeable.
1.20 Nick takes us through the ingredients, which he’s spent about £10 on. He provides the startling revelation that a good place to find reduced prices is in the the reduced section of the supermarket. I have a feeling there’s going to be a lot of this sort of revelations.
1.35 He found some stewing steak in the reduced section. Naturally it’s made from British beef. “Good stuff!” He’s got some carrots, onions, parsnips and swede. But there’s an important warning. “You can have too much swede, unless you’re a goat.” The nation’s goats breathe a sigh of relief.
2.05 There’s some condiments too – some salt, pepper and in a magnanimous gesture to Johnny Foreigner, some tabasco sauce.
3.00 He launches into a sob story about how he used to be living hand-to-mouth when he first moved to London. This doesn’t seem so much to be to empathise with the nation’s poor as to justify having a bottle of beer to hand. No doubt this would elicit more sympathy if he wasn’t a fat man standing in a very expensive kitchen.
4.15 Having bleated his poor-me history, Nick then promptly starts bragging about how nice his kitchen is, and to be fair, it is a nice kitchen with a great big Aga. Or at least it will be until the bailiffs arrive next week. However, he reassures us that in order to heat up a pot of stew you don’t need a fancy cooker, just any old burner. That’s right. Tesco Everyday Value fire is just as hot as Marks and Spencer’s fire. Well, I never.
4.25 “Different things take different times to cook, so obviously you’ve got to make sure that the things that take longest are done first of all.” Glad to hear we’re getting to grips with the concept of time.
4.40 I am now watching the leader of a political party explain how to chop an onion, while explaining that you don’t actually eat the peel. You won’t other political leaders doing that, eh? EH?
6.10 Hey up, we’re off. He’s starting to cook, though not before explaining that there are different types of cooking oil.
6.30 After explaining how time works, we now have more basic physics as we learn that a handy way to speed up the cooking is to put the pan on a hotter ring. He then grabs a wooden spoon, presumably the one he was awarded at the last election.
7.00 Sometimes meat comes ready-chopped. If this isn’t the case, Nick helpfully advises that as an alternative you can cut it up yourself.
7.40 It seems not only are there different types of cooking oil, there’s even different types of meat! “You could use pork, you could use chicken.”
8.00 Handy hint from Nick. If you buy a slow cooker, you’re getting a cooker and a pan for £12. How he hasn’t got a sponsorship deal from Russell Hobbs, I’ll never know.
9.14 Time to peel some vegetables. “You can peel with a knife.” YES YOU CAN!
10.05 According to Nick, British cooking used to be the best in Europe, but was scuppered by Ze Germans. “It became very simple after the Hanoverians came over from North Germany.” Fear not though, since “I spend a lot of time on the continent” and he now believes British cooking is becoming the best in Europe again.
10.50 Oh no! An onion has escaped the round-up. He leaps on it like it’s a fleeing immigrant.
11.30 Speaking of immigrants, “Don’t let people tell you that you need huge numbers of immigrants to have good cooking. We’ve got a Mexican restaurant in a town near here. The place isn’t swamped with Mexicans. You take the recipe, that’s really all you need.” Though to be fair, his attempts to recreate the dishes at home probably don’t include those “extra ingredients” they probably secretly slip into his food when they see him walking into their establishment.
12.20 Time to move the pot of stew onto a smaller ring. He conveniently tells those with a one-ring burner that they can get the same effect by turning the gas down.
14.05 Nick’s Handy Economy Tip! Too skint to buy meat? “Go to a butcher, and tell him you’ve got a dog. Can you have some dog bones?” Then scrape off the meat. Apparently he’s tried this himself, although your butcher may not sneak out back and wipe his bum on the dog bones first, like Nick’s presumably did before handing them to him
16.10 “With a stew, if you find you haven’t cooked if for long enough, just cook it for longer.” Amazing.
17.40 Another one of Nick’s Handy Economy Tips. Can’t afford to buy a recipe book? Just go into a shop use a camera phone to take photos of the recipes.
20.40 Brief rant about “all that green bullshit”. He really doesn’t like anything coloured.
21.20 Important advice on using stock cubes. Take the tin foil wrapper off because “tin foil really is unpleasant in your food. It’s not a good additive.”
21.50 Nick laments the fact that although you can get beef, lamb or chicken stock cubes, you can’t get pork ones. However, he has a solution. “I reckon if you put one beef one in and one chicken one in, you’ve more or less got pork.” How much time has Nick spent experimenting with mixed stock cubes?
22.05 “Food without salt is absolutely disgusting”. Between his political speeches and his salt advice, he really isn’t doing wonders for the nation’s blood pressures.
22.45 We now learn that opening a tin of tomatoes requires a tin opener “unless of course, you look for the tomatoes which have a lid with a pull-ring, and then you don’t need a tin opener.” At this stage, I’m starting to worry that watching this show is causing me to become dumber.
23:20 Nick cheerfully sloshes some rather nice-looking Hobgoblin beer into the stew, before taking a swig from the bottle. “The fact that you’re able to drink the beer as you’re cooking makes it worth cooking.” I am now regretting watching this while sober.
24.00 Nick explains how the Mexican police use tabasco sauce as a torture instrument. Perhaps in future they’ll just use his cookery shows instead.
30.20 With the stew cooking nicely, Nick puts in a request for “serious, constructive criticisms” of the show. Naturally, the online masses will hear this request as, “Troll him! TROLL LIKE YOU’VE NEVER TROLLED BEFORE!”
31.10 It’s now time for those immortal words, “Here’s one I prepared earlier”, as Nigella Hitler dishes out his stew to two old guys and a teenage girl. The girl looks embarrassed to be there.
31.30 Adolf Ramsey scoops the stew into bowls. It looks like a cowpat with carrots.
32.30 The old guys declare the stew to be “first class, delicious.” Nick doesn’t ask the girl what she thinks, probably because she’s wishing she could sneak out to the Mexican restaurant that Nick slagged off earlier.
And that’s it. Nick tells us he’ll be putting a list of the ingredients online – because nowhere on the Internet could we find a recipe for beef stew – and the show is over. This is something of a relief because if I’d had to watch any more of it then my IQ would have probably dropped to the level of Nick’s stew. Or possibly that of a BNP supporter.
Today Oxfam published their briefing paper, A Cautionary Tale: The true cost of austerity and inequality in Europe. They describe the enormous suffering and waste that austerity measures have caused both in Britain and elsewhere in Europe. As a mental health professional, I’m particularly disheartened that suicide rates are increasing in the UK after years of decline. They’re also on the increase in Spain. I suspect this tragic increase is a reflection of lower standards of living, greater inequality, higher unemployment and the slashing of public services to help vulnerable people.
Oxfam point out that this is a tale they’ve seen elsewhere.
The European experience bears striking similarities to the structural adjustment policies imposed on Latin America, South-East Asia, and Sub-Saharan African in the 1980s and 1990s. Countries in these regions received financial bailouts from the IMF and the World Bank after agreeing to adopt a range of policies including public-spending cuts, the nationalization of private debt, reductions in wages, and a debt management model in which repayments to creditors of commercial banks took precedence over measures to ensure social and economic recovery. These policies were a failure; a medicine that sought to cure the disease by killing the patient.
They also have some unpleasant predictions for the future.
Austerity measures will have impacts beyond their period of implementation. The Institute for Fiscal Studies predicts that poverty rates in the UK will have increased by between 2.5 and 5 percentage points by 2020, equivalent to 2.7 million more people living in poverty.
Europe could have an additional 15 to 25 million people living in poverty by 2025 if austerity measures continue, equivalent to the population of the Netherlands and Austria combined.
At best, the countries most affected by austerity will become the most unequal in the Western world. At worst, they will rank amongst the most unequal anywhere in the world.
Oxfam point out that austerity isn’t even succeeding on its own terms, with most EU countries seeing their debt-to-GDP ratio go up, not down.
Ireland’s return to growth is often held up as an exception to the above. Yet Ireland potentially offers a window into the future for other EU countries, with reports of high levels of regional income inequality, insecure employment and significantly decreased spending power. Moreover, Ireland is highly dependent upon the state redistributing income through taxes and transfers, a feat which is likely to diminish as austerity measures continue to bite.
They call for an end to this failed approach, arguing that the EU should accept that much of the current public debt is simply unpayable, and should negotiate a restructuring or cancellation of the debts. This should be combined with stimulus programmes, investment in public services, strengthening of democracy and fairer taxation.
Earlier this week I tweeted a screenshot of some deeply unpleasant remarks by Marty Caine, an activist with the Poole branch of the UK Independence Party.
The screenshot promptly went quite spectacularly viral, with multiple retweets and repostings. It also got published by Hope Not Hate and the International Business Times. My Twitter Connect page didn’t calm down for a couple of days.
Since then Marty Caine has announced his intention to sue me for libel, along with Nick Lowles of Hope Not Hate and Timur Moon of the International Business Times. He isn’t disputing that he said what was in the screenshot. However, he insists he was libelled because I stated that he had called Lee Rigby’s family idiots.
You see, he didn’t call them idiots. He simply stated that they believe the English Defence League are right-wing fascists, which is also believed by a lot of idiots.
If that makes no sense to you, then you’ve understood Mr Caine’s argument perfectly.
Anyway, since Mr Caine seems to believe I’ve taken him out of context, here’s a Storify of the full exchange. It’s rather long and very silly, but I think it doesn’t so much vindicate him as show him digging himself into a deeper hole. He also makes some spectacularly defamatory remarks about me along the way. Who is supposed to be suing who here?
Before anyone gets excited I should point out that I’ve yet to hear from Mr Caine’s lawyers. And frankly, I’d be very surprised if I actually do.
Mr Caine appears to be something of a colourful character, to say the least. I’m not entirely sure what his position is at Poole UKIP, though I understand that part of his role is to look after their social media. Which might explain exchanges like this:
[I should point out that I’m not entirely certain that it was Marty I was talking to there. Call it an educated guess.]
Marty also describes himself as a comedian, disc jockey, karaoke jockey and entertainer. He also runs a web design business, if you fancy getting yourself a website with a nostalgic “1998 Geocities” vibe.
While I’m certainly not frightened by Mr Caine’s legal threats, I will say this. Marty, to paraphrase what may well be part of your karaoke repertoire, this song ain’t about you. A couple of weeks ago a fine young man and a brave soldier was killed in the most appalling manner by a couple of deluded thugs. This tragic and terrible crime was then seized upon by far-right knuckledraggers to try to stir up hatred and attack Muslims. Drummer Rigby’s family, even in the depth of their grief, did not give in to hate. They reminded the world that their son had lived and worked with people all of all faiths and backgrounds, and would not want his memory being used to attack others. They are to be commended for saying that, and it speaks volumes about their strength of character.
So, Marty, give up on thinking you can sue people because you strongly implied something rather than said it in black and white. Instead, I suggest you reflect on why your words caused such outrage and offence, and offer an apology.
Lee Rigby’s murder was an awful and barbaric crime. To make matters worse, it’s also been exploited shamelessly by the English Defence League to whip up hatred against Muslims. This is despite the fact that both Rigby’s family and his regiment have made it clear that they do not want his name used in such a manner.
Last night, I was debating this on Twitter with Marty Caine, a UKIP activist based in Poole. He gave a startling response to the family’s wishes.
Caine describes himself on his Tumblr as an entertainer and comedian, though I can’t imagine Rigby’s family will be laughing at being called idiots. Especially not for the sin of not wanting their son’s memory hijacked by a bunch of racist thugs. Caine’s Tumblr also has a long, rambling defence of the EDL. The gist of it seems to be that if it wasn’t for the malicious propaganda of Hope Not Hate and Anonymous, then everyone would realise what jolly nice people the EDL are. He ends, in a spectacular piece of unintentional irony, by stating, “There is no excuse for ignorance in a world that has Google.” Indeed there isn’t.
I had a long Twitter discussion with Caine last night. At no point did he offer a retraction or apology for insulting Rigby’s family. Mostly he engaged in lots of Whatabout and Will-You-Condemn-a-Thon responses, demanding to know what I thought of Unite Against Fascism (which I’m not a member of and don’t much like).
I wouldn’t endorse David Cameron’s famous description of UKIP as a bunch of “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists”, but only because I’m not keen on mental health-themed insults. Their activists do, however, seem to have an impressive knack for exposing themselves as deeply unpleasant extremists.
I recently spoke to a mother who was being hit by the Bedroom Tax. Because her son spends part of the week with her and part of the week at Dad’s, his bedroom in her home was declared a spare room. I was so appalled I asked her how this came about. This is her reply, which is published with her permission.
Over the past few months I’ve been hearing about the new Bedroom Tax. I read about lots of people who are losing money and in financial trouble because of it, including disabled people or people with disabled children. I thought it was disgusting for these people to have to pay this for bedrooms that are so clearly needed, for specially adapted beds and equipment for themselves or their child, or for carers to sleep in. But it didn’t occur to me that the bedroom tax was going to affect me at all.
Then in December I had a letter asking me to fill out a form to say who lives in my home. It said that if I have more bedrooms than I need my housing benefit will be reduced. I filled it in, stating that my son stays with me for four nights a week. It asked if I received Child Benefit- I stated that I don’t as his father receives this. We have joint custody and only one parent can claim Child Benefit.
I sent back the form and didn’t feel overly concerned, I live in a two bedroom maisonette and both bedrooms are being slept in – I don’t have more bedrooms than I need. I thought that this would make sense to them. Looking back, I think I was being naive or stupid. On the 25th of February I received a reply. It said that as my son’s father receives the Child Benefit they will treat him as the person who is responsible for my son and the person who provides him with his main home. Therefore they are unable to include my son in the assessment of my Housing and Council Tax Benefit.
When my son’s father and I split up I moved out of the house we were living in and took my name off the joint tenancy agreement. The housing association then told my ex that he had to move out as they now counted him as a single man living in a 2 bedroom house, even though we had joint custody and the 2nd bedroom was being used regularly. So I signed over the Child Benefit and Child Tax Credits to him so he wouldn’t be homeless. A few people told me that I was shooting myself in the foot so to speak, but I couldn’t live with him being evicted. The break up in itself was so stressful for me that I suffered a psychotic episode and was sectioned for a month because I was a danger to myself, convinced that I had to die to make things easier for everyone. Aspects of my mental health condition have a big impact on the way I handle change and stress and in particular conflict in my personal life. As a child I was made to feel overly responsible and guilty about the circumstances of certain adults in my life and was often put in positions of having to make choices that hurt someone no matter what or who I chose. As an adult the sense of guilt and worry about choices I make is still filled with the intense anxiety and panic I experienced as a child and at times that can tip me over the edge.
It’s my wish to attempt to go back to work part-time, three days a week. I want to contribute to society, but at a level and pace that is right for me, that won’t set me back to square one with my mental health. I’ve worked hard to manage my condition and get to this place and I know that working full-time would be too much for me. However, if I work three days a week, the wage at my grade won’t be enough to cover my rent, bills and food etc (and now this bedroom tax on top) because I don’t have Child Tax Credits to top up my earnings. I don’t receive any financial support to look after my son. I’ve learned that I could apply to get disabled persons tax credits when I start work but this would only be allowed for one year, after that I have no idea how I would manage. I would probably have to go back on benefits. I don’t want this. I want to get into and stay in part-time work, not go backwards again.
I’ve discussed the situation with my ex. He is in the same boat. He is a carer for his elderly mother and is on benefits too. If he signs the Child Benefit and Child Tax Credits back over to me he will have to pay the bedroom tax and also then when he finds work won’t be able to have his earnings topped up to give him enough income.
Mothers and fathers are equally important to a child. I don’t believe that on paper it’s fair to say that only one of them is the responsible parent if both of them are caring for the child equally. I’m very sensitive about my role as a mother, I have a lot of anxiety about others assuming I’m not a good parent because of my mental health problems and for being on benefits, and it really hurt to see on paper that I’m not the ‘responsible’ parent.
I believe that parents who have joint custody of their children should have the benefits and financial support relating to a child shared between them by the DWP. If I wasn’t looking after my son at all and he lived with his father full-time then I would expect to pay this bedroom tax. But I do look after my son, as much as his father does.
I have to make a decision now about whether I push for the Child Benefit/Child Tax Credits, possibly having to go to court if he is unwilling to give them to me, or to stay in the position I’m in which is a very precarious one financially. Any day I will be called for my ESA review and medical (as thousands of others have been so far) and it’s likely I will lose that money, and will be put onto a single persons JSA – as I’m not considered to be looking after a child in the eyes of the DWP. There is no way I can support my son on JSA. I cannot make any progress in my life if I stay in my current position, but going to work will leave me worse off after a year when the disabled persons tax credits stop. This government want people back in work but they are making it extremely difficult for people to do so, how are you meant to get your life back on track with obstacles like these in the way?
Some people might say that it’s not my problem what his dad has to deal with, ‘just do what you have to do, for you’. And there some moments I say to myself you just have to care about yourself now and forget about how your actions impact on someone else. But I can’t feel any conviction in that attitude. It’s not in my nature to not care about how others are affected by my actions (however it seems to be in this government’s nature). I do care about how things are for my son’s father, and how things are between us. It’s important for my son that we get along and for him to be able to continue to spend equal amounts with both of us – this could mean that he has to start living with just one of us – and then there will be a battle over who he lives with permanently. I can’t take that kind of stress and would be devastated to not have my son live with me at all. If his father signs the money back to me then I have to deal with the guilt of him being left in the same position that I’m in now. This government is pitting family members against each other, trapping them in dog eat dog situations.
I can’t cope with the stress and guilt of going to court over this, but I can’t carry on in this situation either. I feel unbearably trapped. Every morning I’m waking up filled with dread and fear over my future, suicidal feelings are surfacing and my mental health is getting worse and I’m really scared of going badly downhill again.
This government don’t see people as individuals, all with different circumstances and needs, we are just fodder to them.
To some extent you do have to put yourself first. But not totally, it’s about give and take, there should be a way for us both to be ok, not one person ok, the other left in dire straits. But this government is all take. Look after number one and screw you.
In June of this year will be the Radical Feminism 2013 conference in London. Their event got cancelled last year after a storm of controversy when they decided to ban transgender women who were born as men. As far as I’m concerned that’s a ridiculous and immoral decision that stigmatises a deeply marginalised and abused segment of society. I would say more, but Stavvers has already said what needed to be said in a far more eloquent and informed way than I could.
A year later, have they learned their lesson? Here’s the answer. Cath Brennan (tweeting as @BugBrennan, though she seems to have made her Twitter account private in the last few hours) is one of the supporters of Radical Feminism 2013. According to RationalWiki, when she’s not at conferences her hobbies include writing to the UN to demand that transgender people should not receive human rights protections; and outing transgender teenagers to their schools. Apparently her school of “thought”, if you can call it that, is known as Trans-Exclusive Radical Feminism, or TERF.
Claire OT is a British occupational therapist with an interest in the use of social media in mental health. She’s also proud to call herself a feminist, though unlike Brennan she doesn’t demonise men or transgender women. Earlier today she got into a brief Twitter exchange with Brennan, and promptly received a deluge of abusive tweets , including such charming responses as “you two can be dick pleasers all you like” and “stop telling lesbians to suck your dick, rapist”.
Is Claire OT the only person to have receive abusive tweets from Brennan? A quick Twitter search suggests not.
And the organisers of Radical Feminism 2013 have the nerve to consider themselves a civil rights movement? What they’re propagating is hate speech. While they make a lot of noise, it also seems that they’re also pretty unrepresentative of contemporary feminism. Younger feminists in particular aren’t buying this bigoted codswallop.
The conference is due to take place at the London Irish Centre. If you want to let the venue owners know what sort of ideas are likely to wind up being promoted on their premises, here’s their contact details.
EDITED TO ADD: It seems I’m not the only person who’s been screenshotting abusive tweets by the charming Ms Brennan
[Trigger warnings for rape and sexual exploitation]
I’ve blogged a couple of times about the scandal engulfing the Socialist Workers Party, an organisation I regard as closer to a cult than a political party. Just to recap, a senior figure in the SWP was accused of rape by a female party member. Rather than call the police, the SWP held an internal inquiry by a “Disputes Committee” made up of the accused’s friends, who completely exonerated him. Details have been published on the internet, prompting an internal revolt.
There’s been intense discussion of this on various left-wing blogs. This has resulted in details emerging that paint the whole affair in an even more disturbing light, bringing to bear issues over possible abuse of power dynamics.
“Filth” is an alleged rape taking place when a woman is nineteen, 2 years after she and her party leader meet, at which time he is forty-six and she seventeen.
“Filth” is an appeal to the party’s internal disciplinary body being met with a kangaroo court run by several of the party leader’s friends, who then exonerate him.
“Filth” is the woman denied access to his evidence while he sees hers: the game is surely “I’ll show you mine IF you show me yours.”
“Filth” is a woman ostracised, cast out as unclean with a scarlet letter “A” carved into her forehead.
“Filth” is her friends put under heavy manners by the party’s attack dogs, fresh from their two-minute hate.
What particularly concerns me here – quite aside from what sounds like allegations of disgraceful treatment of the woman by her party – is the age difference between the two people involved. When they met he was 46, and a party leader, and she was only 17?
Given the widespread discussion of the case on various blogs, I don’t think it’s breaching any secrets to say that the accused is Martin Smith, former SWP secretary, and currently the national organiser of Unite Against Fascism. My understanding is that he denies rape – not that the truth can now be established either way. The SWP’s kangaroo court will have massively prejudiced any attempt at a criminal prosecution. However, he admits to having had a consensual sexual relationship with the girl in question.
We also however thought it was important to be clear that the disputes committee doesn’t exist to police moral, er, bourgeois morality, so we agreed that issues that weren’t relevant to us were whether the comrade was monogamous, whether they were having an affair, whether the age differences in their relationahip, because as revolutionaries we didn’t consider that should be our remit to consider issues such as those.
Trouble is, this isn’t just about “bourgeois morality” but power relations. Let me draw an analogy. Normally, the age of consent for sex is 16. However, if the older person is classed as being in a “position of trust” over a younger person, then the age of consent runs up to the 18th birthday, for the simple reason that trust can be abused. Teachers are an example of this, and I previously made this point while discussing the Jeremy Forrest Case. As a nurse in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, I too would be classed as being in a position of trust. Hence if I slept with a 17 year old patient I wouldn’t only be committing gross professional misconduct. I’d also be committing a crime under the Sexual Offences Act.
Obviously, leaders of Trotskyist sects are not subject to the same legal obligations as teachers and nurses. Even so, the power relation still exists. When considering the power relation, remember that the SWP is absolutely notorious for authoritarianism, control-freakery and groupthink.
At its most extreme, the sycophancy appears cult-like. A number of [Central Committee] members are big fans of jazz music. Under their leadership over the past few years, the party has organised a number of (mostly loss-making) jazz gigs as fundraising events. Regardless of their own musical tastes, comrades were told they were disloyal if they didn’t purchase tickets. This elevates the cultural tastes of the official leadership to a point of political principle; and clearly is not in any way a healthy state of affairs.
This is an organisation that claims to speak truth to power. Yet they seem incapable of understanding the potential for abuse of power when a middle-aged party leader is having sex with a teenage volunteer barely old enough to be out of school.
Then again, maybe their relationship had nothing to do with power relations, and Mr Smith cuts a dashing Robert Redford-style figure?
It occurred to me earlier that yesterday was ten years since the global protests on February 15th 2003, when millions of people across the world took to the streets to demand a halt to the then-imminent invasion of Iraq. It was an expression of protest unprecedented in history. It also accomplished precisely nothing. In other words, it was a glorious failure.
If you’re interested, here’s a pic of me (I’m on the right) in the pub at Paddington station, after attending the London march. My face looks rather pink from the cold of that day.
Depends on whose estimates you believe, anywhere between 750,000 and two million people marched through London. Whatever number you call it, the one thing you can say with certainty is that it was a lot. My day started early in the morning, joining a large convoy of buses from my home city. When we stopped off at the motorway services, the car park was crowded with buses from other convoys all over Britain. It was as if the armies massing in the Kuwaiti desert were being matched by another, entirely unarmed, force, descending on London.
At times you couldn’t really call it a march. It was more of a shuffle, the sheer volume of people being too great for the streets they were passing through. It wasn’t just the numbers that were striking either. The people in attendance were not just the usual types one would find at a protest. Sure, there were the Trotskyists, the veteran, grey-haired Communists who’d forgotten the Cold War was over, the anarchists, the Greens. But the overwhelming majority of people were just concerned individuals, many of had never been on a protest march before.
The whole thing culminated in Hyde Park, where the Rev Jesse Jackson exhorted a vast crowd to “keep hope alive”. I then tried and failed to find my coach home, which was logjammed in somewhere among a massive fleet of other coaches. In the end I gave up and headed to Paddington to find a train.
For a very brief period it seemed as if something truly epoch-defining had happened. The Stop the War Coalition had become a genuine mass movement, representing large swathes of the population. Surely something had been changed.
In fact, nothing had changed. Just over a month later, troops surged across the Iraqi border. A million or so British people marching through London hadn’t stopped the British Army marching through Basra. You know the rest – a messy invasion followed by an even messier occupation. Another messy occupation in Afghanistan. A steady stream of civilian deaths in both those countries. Another stream of British lads coming home in Union Jack-draped coffins, or with limbs missing, or without a scratch but inwardly tormented by what they’d had to see and do. Plus all the nasty hangovers that we’re still left with – instability in the Middle East and North Africa, drone strikes in Pakistan and so on. Not to mention the ruined legacies of Bush and Blair, paving the way for the presidency of Barack Obama – the only Nobel Peace Prize winner in history to have a kill list.
As for the Stop the War Coalition, their time as a mass movement was short-lived. With the failure to achieve the goal they were named after, the number of people attending their protests shrank rapidly. The demographic also changed. For many of those who attended their first protest on February 15th, it was also their last. The STWC quickly shrivelled to its rump of the Trots and those scowling old men in red sweaters.
Two of its core organisations – the Socialist Workers Party and the Muslim Association of Britain – joined to form a political party, the Respect Coalition. The two groups shared an opposition to the war, a stance of support for Palestine and precious little else. They scored some minor electoral upsets before the coalition was torn apart by the differences between the two groups. Respect still exists, but mainly as a small fan club for George Galloway MP – a man whose main ideology tends to be George Galloway. Meanwhile, the SWP is currently deservedly imploding due to a rape scandal.
February 15 may have been a mass outpouring of the word “No”, but was it ultimately heard?