Thursday, 17 November 2005


Paul Anderson, Tribune column, 18 November 2005

I’m not a religious believer and haven’t been for a very long time — I think I must have come to the conclusion that god doesn’t exist when I was 12 or 13, and nothing has happened since to make me change my mind.

It’s not a big thing in my family. Neither of my parents was at all religious, and the only serious believers among my close relations were my grandmother (who was married to an avowed militant atheist) and one aunt. My school was more of a problem: a minor public school, it insisted on compulsory chapel and RE, and during my early teenage years I was in regular small-scale trouble for talking during chapel (for which the penalty was cleaning the first XV’s rugby boots) and for being rude to teachers in RE lessons.

What the hell: by the time I was 15, the school had relaxed about compulsory chapel and RE and much else besides — in the sixth form one liberal teacher even put on a showing of Lindsay Anderson’s 1968 film If ..., in which Malcolm McDowell leads an armed uprising in an authoritarian C of E boarding school — and since then the only times I’ve suffered for my unbelief have been those occasions when I’ve had to sit through religious ceremonies at weddings, funerals and the like.

The worst was when a single-mother friend persuaded me to endure two hours of happy-clappy nonsense at a Muswell Hill church because she wanted to get her daughter into the local C of E primary and needed a plausible male to act the devout husband in front of the vicar. Never again.

But plenty of people have a really tough time making their way in life as unbelievers. The most famous case in recent years is that of Salman Rushdie, against whom the Ayatollah Khomeini issued a sentence of death for apostasy after the publication of The Satanic Verses, but Rushdie is not alone. Professing atheism is apostasy in Islam and is traditionally punishable by execution — and in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and several other countries the punishment is still on the statute book or whatever the equivalent is. Unbelievers (and for all we know they could number millions) live in constant fear of their lives. Many other countries in the Islamic world do not enforce the death penalty for apostasy but nevertheless have severe blasphemy laws, among them Pakistan, where the penalty for blasphemy is life imprisonment and blasphemy actions are common.

Of course, in western Europe, blasphemy laws (in defence of Christianty) have fallen into disuse, though they still exist in several countries, among them Britain. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that people always have an easy time of it giving up religion. At least a dozen Brits I know have been disowned by their families for abandoning their faith — three of them were thrown out of their parental homes for it — and I know plenty of others who keep quiet about their faithlessness in front of their parents even though they have long since left home.


Now, I’m not quite sure what to make of this, but most of the people I know of my generation or older who have been dropped by their families for ditching their religion come from Christian backgrounds — and most of those of a younger generation are former Muslims.

This could just be coincidence. And it could be because few of my friends and colleagues of my own age or older are Muslims or ex-Muslims, whereas lots of my students and former students are. I certainly wouldn’t want to extrapolate too much from a handful of examples. But hunch tells me that it is probably the result of something bigger — that Islam in Britain is beginning to go through precisely the same process of decline in the face of disbelief that Christianity experienced in the course of the 20th century.

This view is, in the current climate, a bit heterodox. The cant of the day is that, for better or worse, Islam in Britain — as elsewhere in Europe — is on the march, and that the Muslim community is an increasingly important political actor. George Galloway and a large part of the far left see Muslims as allies in anti-imperialism. Since 7/7, the government has been desperately trying to find Muslims who can credibly persuade Muslim youth not to become jihadis. The Spectator rants about the threat to our existence posed by “Eurabia”.

But what if the rise of radical Islamism among Muslim youth in Europe is in fact a symptom of a crisis of belief? What if the young men who turn to jihadism do so for the most part because they can’t get laid — because the girls they think should be theirs are turning them down because they can’t stand the idea of life with a 20-something would-be patriarch and have given up the religion?

Sorry if it’s not PC, but I’m more and more convinced that this is the story. Muslims in Britain are losing their religion. A few loons are resisting, but in the long run we’ll all benefit.

Wednesday, 2 November 2005


Paul Anderson, Tribune column, 4 November 2005

I know that, in the grand scheme of things, whether or not you’re allowed a Marlboro with your pint of Adnams in the Horse and Groom or a nice Chilean cabernet with your meal in the restaurant car on the 20.30 from Liverpool Street doesn’t really matter that much. But for some reason — not just that I frequently enjoy a fag with my beer and once a week polish off a half-bottle of red with my dinner on the way home — I get hot under the collar when I read about government plans to ban smoking in pubs and drinking on public transport.

OK, I know that the pub smoking ban is now not likely to be complete, so I’ll still be able to light up in the two pubs I use most frequently, as long as I don’t do so at the bar — neither the aforementioned Horse and Groom (Woodbridge Road, Ipswich) nor the Prince Arthur in Charles Square, Hoxton, do food as long as you don’t count pork scratchings or cheese sandwiches.

And OK, I realise that the idea of banning booze on public transport is just an idea and is a long way from the statute book: it made the headlines last weekend because it was contained in a policy paper by Louise Casey, aka “Tony Blair’s anti-social behaviour tsar”, and was discussed at a meeting at Chequers.

Oh, all right, and I also know that I could live with a pub smoking ban or a public transport booze ban. I cope perfectly well with smoking bans imposed by my various workplaces, by cinemas, theatres, shops and public transport and, increasingly, by non-smoking friends in their homes. If smoking is banned in pubs and restaurants, I’ll just go outside for a snout if I want one. And I’m not such a hopeless alcoholic that I couldn’t survive a train journey without a little tipple.

My problem is that I don’t see why it’s the state’s business to interfere with these minutiae of my everyday life. I accept that tobacco smoke is unpleasant to many non-smokers and that it is bad for the health. I agree that no one should be forced to endure a smoky atmosphere against their will.

But, as things stand, coercion doesn’t come into it. People can choose whether or not to visit a pub or restaurant in which smoking is allowed — and they can choose whether or not to work in one, just as they can choose whether or not to work in an abattoir or as a motorcycle courier. It might be really stupid to opt for drinking, eating or working in a place that’s smoky; it’s certainly stupid to smoke. But if I choose to be stupid, it’s a decision that I’ve made, and it’s not up to the state to force me to change my mind.

Drinking on public transport is different in one respect: the apparent motive for the proposed ban is to prevent passengers who are the worse for wear from making life unpleasant for those that are not. I don’t have a problem with this motive, in that I’m all in favour of everyone being able to travel without being harassed by drunks.

But think about it. There are already all sorts of laws proscribing the sort of behaviour the ban is aimed at curtailing: the problem is that there is no way of enforcing them. In the interest of efficiency, conductors have been removed from buses and guards from trains, and the cops are too busy doing more important things to get involved.

The simple truth is that banning booze on public transport won’t make a blind bit of difference. It won’t stop anyone getting on a bus or a train steaming drunk and spoiling for a fight. And, unless it is accompanied by the reintroduction of conductors and guards, it will be no more enforceable than existing laws. Anyone who really wants to get pissed on the train or bus will buy a few tinnies or a bottle before embarking on their journey, then tell anyone who challenges their drinking to get lost. The sole effect of a ban will be to deny a harmless pleasure to passengers who pose no threat to anyone.

I know that complaints about the “nanny state” are a staple of the rightwing press — and that many of the complainants against drinking and smoking bans take rather a different position when it comes to sex and drugs. But I’m consistent. If you want to get totally Flintoffed or completely Cameroned, as far as I’m concerned you can do it whenever you like as long as you don’t sing tuneless Norwich City songs or bore me to tears with the story of your life while I’m trying to read the Economist on my way home on a Friday night. And if you wish to engage in whatever nefarious sexual pratice takes your fancy in private with another consenting adult — or indeed other consenting adults or none — that’s fine by me too. It’s none of my business.

And if it’s none of my business, it’s none of the state’s business either. There is a private sphere in which the state should have no role beyond advice — that smoking is bad for your health, that drinking too much and too often turns you into an alcoholic, that keed spills or that vigorous buggery without a condom spreads Aids. If people take notice, fine. If they don’t, and keep on shagging shamelessly without any protection after a night on the tiles drinking, smoking furiously and snorting coke, what the state needs is not new legislation but a new advertising agency.

Sunday, 2 October 2005


Paul Anderson, Tribune column, 30 September 2005

I suppose it was inevitable that this week’s Labour Party conference would become the Gordon and Tony Show. Tony Blair declared earlier this year that he would be quitting as prime minister some time during the current parliament, and Gordon Brown is so strongly placed to succeed him that no one credible is likely to stand against him.

So it’s hardly surprising that many journalists have spent the week in Brighton desperately searching the texts of speeches, analysing body language and talking to “allies” of Blair and “friends” of Brown in the hope of finding out (a) when Tony will go and (b) how Gordon will be different.

Not that they’ve discovered anything very much about either. Blair didn’t announce his imminent departure, which means that he probably isn’t retiring this year but, er, we still can’t be quite sure. And Brown said nothing to indicate what he would do differently, though he did make it pretty clear that he wouldn’t be any friendlier to the trade unions or any less enthusiastic for free trade. So we’re still guessing what Brown would be like as PM, just as we were before.

For what it’s worth, my hunch is still that Blair will go this time next year or early in 2007 rather than hanging on until late 2007 or even 2008. The next general election does not need to be until 2010 but (unless the opinion polls turn against Labour, which is by no means impossible) it is more likely to be in spring 2009.

Because it makes sense for a new prime minister to have a good two years in charge before polling day — enough time to establish familiarity with the voters but not enough to start looking jaded — and because Labour’s leadership election process is rather long-winded, the feeling in my bones is that Blair will be gone by spring 2007.

As for how Brown would be different as prime minister, well, we’ll see. I’m sure he will be much growlier than Blair and much more serious. But I’m afraid I don’t buy the idea that he will change very much of substance.

It’s true that he has deeper roots in Labour politics than Blair — he was active in Scottish Labour politics years before Blair joined the party and is an assiduous networker — and that 30 years ago he was quite left-wing. But he abandoned his youthful lefttsm long ago, and during the past decade has (for better or worse) been at least as responsible as Blair for Labour policy.

The invention of “New Labour” was a joint Brown-Blair effort. It was Brown who embraced the private finance initiative, Brown who abandoned “tax and spend”, Brown who resisted calls for big increases in pensions. He is just as ardent an Atlanticist as Blair and has said and done nothing to indicate that he would take a different approach to foreign policy. There have been faint indications that he might be interested in reviving the process of constitutional reform, but otherwise everything suggests a Brown premiership will mean business as usual.


On a different subject entirely, I know that new releases from the National Archives rarely make the front pages. But I’m still just a bit surprised by how little coverage there has been this month of the publication of a massive collection of documents detailing the security state’s surveillance in the late Betty Reid, one-time witchfinder general of the Communist Party of Great Britain.

The Guardian gave the released papers a cursory mention, the Times ran a story remarking on the banality of much of the material, and that was just about it.

Yet the documents — page after page of transcripts of tapped telephone calls, copies of intercepted correspondence and MI5 and Special Branch agents’ reports — are quite remarkable.

It’s no surprise that the spooks took an interest in Reid, who joined the Communist Party in the 1930s and rose to become head of its organisation department, responsible for enforcing party discipline. The Sunday Times revealed more than 20 years ago that her live-in nanny for many years, Betty Gordon, had been an MI5 agent.

But the newly released documents show in extraordinary detail precisely what the spooks’ interest entailed in the 1940s and 1950s. They followed her everywhere she went, recorded the identity of every person she met, listened to and transcribed every phone call she made and opened and copied every letter she was sent.

Of course, a lot of the documentation produced by this intensive surveillance is banal or incomprehensible. But the picture of the cold-war security state’s methods that emerges from them is fascinating. It’s clear that the spooks had the CP pretty much completely penetrated in this period.

Reid responed to the Sunday Times story about her MI5 nanny with the immortal words: “I’m afraid it makes me look rather silly.” This new material makes her and her comrades look even sillier.

Thursday, 25 August 2005


Paul Anderson, Tribune column, 26 August 2005

There's nothing like the death of a prominent politician still in his or her fifties to remind you that, if a week is a long time in politics, a couple of decades can pass in the blink of an eye.

It seems only yesterday that Robin Cook and Mo Mowlam were 30-something rising stars of Neil Kinnock’s Labour Party, the brightest hopes of the soft left. I met them both in the mid-1980s through European Nuclear Disarmament (the bit of the 1980s peace movement that was most critical of Soviet nukes) and over the next 15 years saw a lot of them while I was working as a political journalist. They were both Tribune regulars in the late 1980s and early 1990s when I was on this paper, and both were valued sources of copy and talk when I was on the New Statesman and New Times.

As personalities, they were radically dissimilar except insofar as they were both irrepressible individualists, engaging and friendly. But in their politics they were remarkably close. They shared many of the same causes — Europe, proportional representation, civil liberties, environmentalism — as well as a political trajectory. Both threw in their lot first with Kinnock, then with John Smith and then with New Labour; both served in senior roles in Tony Blair’s Government; and both returned frustrated to the back benches after being frozen out by the Blair cabal (though in very different circumstances).

Mowlam died after a long illness and retirement from the Commons; Cook died suddenly when he still had every chance of returning to cabinet. But they will be missed in much the same way by their personal and political friends. Both were the life and soul of any gathering. And without them, it is difficult to think of anyone quite so charismatic who can carry the torch for the radical democratic Left politics they espoused.


But it’s not just the Left that should be worried by their deaths. Cook and Mowlam were members of a generation that remains the mainstay of the current government — and is not getting any younger.

No fewer than 19 of the 23 members of the cabinet today are, like Cook and Mowlam, in their fifties, born in the first postwar decade, brought up on the welfare state and the Beatles and the Stones and that revolution stuff. Perhaps most importantly they were formed politically by the implosion of the Labour Party in the wake of the 1979 defeat by Margaret Thatcher. Only two of the current cabinet, John Prescott and Margaret Beckett, are over 60; only two under 50, David Miliband and Ruth Kelly (40 and 37 respectively). (There’s also Douglas Alexander, 38, who goes to cabinet but isn’t actually a member.) By 2009, when the next election comes, a majority of current cabinet members will be eligible for bus passes within a couple of years if they haven’t got them already. And by 2014 — well, do the sums.

OK, by historical standards, they’re still young as a cabinet — and there’s nothing to rule out serving as a minister into your eighties. OK, there are a few junior ministers coming up who will make it to cabinet before too long. OK, you don’t win anything with kids.

But parties need to rejuvenate themselves, and Labour is going to find it difficult to do it, just as the Tories have since the late 1980s. Most of the PLP is of the same generation as the cabinet. There has been little turnover of personnel in the past couple of elections, and there are few undiscovered stars. A handful of old-stager MPs might retire next time just as they did in 2001 and 2005. But the party in the country is hardly brimming with enthusiastic activists in their twenties and thirties:the replacements for retiring MPs are likely to be uninspiring apparatchiks, just as they have been for the past decade or more.

Sorry if this sounds pessimistic, but I’ve got a hunch that a tired and ageing Labour will lose in 2014, then spend 15-20 years in the wilderness desperately searching for fresh blood, just like after 1979. And when we win again, I’ll be in my seventies.


On another subject entirely, I’ve just got back from a holiday in Scotland, during which I visited George Orwell’s old house at Barnhill on the island of Jura with my friend (and fellow Tribune contributor) Kevin Davey.

I knew Barnhill was remote, but I’d not quite got my head round how remote until we got there — after driving some 20 miles down a single-track road from Craighouse, the nearest village with a pub and a shop, then walking six miles from where the road ends. Orwell first visited almost exactly 60 years ago, in late summer 1945, and lived there during the summer of 1946 and for most of 1947 while writing Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Most of Orwell’s friends thought he was crazy to move there, and until last week I wondered what the attraction could have been. But now I think I know. Jura is the most beautiful place I’ve ever been in Britain — rugged, wild, silent, wet. If it weren’t for the midges it would be a major tourist attraction. Long live the midges.

Wednesday, 27 July 2005


Paul Anderson, Tribune column, 29 July 2005

First it was George Galloway and the Socialist Workers Party. Then came Robin Cook and Chatham House, then a leak from the Joint Terrorist Analysis Centre — and this week even John Major joined the club.

Yes, they’ve all come to the conclusion that 7/7 was “linked to” the war in Iraq, something the government has spent the past three weeks vigorously denying.

And it seems that most Brits agree with them. A Populus poll for The Times published on Tuesday showed that nearly two-thirds of voters think that Tony Blair’s decision to take Britain to war in Iraq has “increased the risk of terrorist attacks like the ones this month in London”.

All of which has got the cretino-leftist tendency in the anti-war camp very excited. “The stoicism that was largely a media-political construct is already turning into frustration,” wrote John Kampfner, editor of the New Statesman, in the Guardian this week. “Watch it turn into anger as Blair refuses to acknowledge a link between Iraq and terrorism on our streets.”

Well, maybe — but I suspect it won’t work out as Kampfner and others like him expect and want. “Linked to” is one thing; “caused by” quite another. There’s a massive difference between believing the war in Iraq “increased the risks of terrorist attack” and believing it was the main reason the bombers did what they did. And most Brits (some 80 per cent according to a YouGov poll) don’t reckon it was the main reason.

I think they are right. There is no evidence of any direct connection between Iraq and the perpetrators of either 7/7 or the attempted repeat performance a fortnight later.

None of them, as far as we know, ever lived there or had family or friends killed or wounded in the war. As far as we know, the Iraq war could have been a factor in their actions only insofar as they were opposed to or angry about it.

And a decision to commit indiscriminate murder of civilians on the streets of a city does not flow easily (let alone automatically) from this — even if you see the war as an assault by infidels on your religion and your co-religionists.

Millions of people, both Muslims and non-Muslims, were or are angry about Iraq and have never even considered setting off bombs on public transport. (I am one of them.)

Something else is at least as important here as anger at the war, at minimum a belief that random terrorist murder is justifiable in certain circumstances. This could in theory be simply a matter of the bombers adopting a brutal utilitarian calculus related solely to Iraq — “If we let off bombs in London we will kill innocent people but will hasten withdrawal of the west from Iraq, which will result in fewer deaths in the long run” — but somehow I doubt it was as rational as that.

All the evidence suggests that the bombers were fanatical Islamist jihadists, committed to unremitting war by any means possible to secure a worldwide totalitarian Islamist state and convinced that their self-immolation would guarantee them the highest possible status in the afterlife. If we’re looking for the causes of or reasons for the London outrages, we can’t ignore or explain away this vile, narcissistic, fascist ideology.

The rise of jihadist Islamism long predates the Iraq war. And although jihadism has undoubtedly fed upon popular antipathy among Muslims towards what they see as US and British imperialism in league with (or indeed controlled by) the forces of Zionism, it is much more than a response to particular, in principle reversible, western policies.

The jihadists are not just sworn enemies of western intervention in Iraq or Afghanistan or elsewhere. They are also sworn enemies of tolerance, democracy and freedom to act autonomously in every area of everyday life, all of which they consider anti-Islamic.

They want to eliminate secularism, political pluralism and intellectual and sexual freedoms not just in historically Islamic societies but throughout the world. They think they have a God-given right to use any means to achieve their goal and they glory in dying for the cause.

It is wishful thinking to believe they would simply leave us alone if we got out of Iraq and disowned Ariel Sharon. We would still be targets.

So how do we deal with them? There is a superficially simple answer: we should relentlessly expose their ideology for what it is and oppose them wherever we find them, with force if necessary.

The problem is putting this into practice. No one really knows who they are or where they are.

Jihadism is not run by an Islamintern that could be disabled or at least significantly damaged by pin-point military strikes on some HQ in north-west Pakistan. As we have seen in the past three weeks, even in Britain, with its long experience of IRA terrorism, the domestic security state finds it hard to keep tabs on the jihadists. Even the bombers’ families were unaware of their plans.

This means that rooting out jihadism will be a long, slow, frustrating policing process with plenty of setbacks. But there really isn’t any feasible alternative.

Thursday, 30 June 2005


Paul Anderson, Tribune column, 1 July 2005

I know columnists are supposed to have trenchant opinions about everything, but I just can’t get myself worked up over identity cards. After weeks of reading all the arguments and chewing them over, I’ve come to an unpalatable conclusion: frankly, my dears, I don’t give a damn.

An outrageous assault on all the liberties the freeborn Englishman has held dear since Magna Carta, as the civil liberties lobby would have it? Give us a break. We’re already under potentially constant surveillance from the state and from various commercial interests whose records it can access and co-ordinate with ease — and ID cards wouldn’t make a blind bit of difference.

In the past week, I’ve filed my tax return online and been paid by an employer whose records are sent as a matter of course to the Inland Revenue and to whomsoever it is these days that deals with National Insurance and pension contributions. Direct debits have gone out of my bank account to pay my council tax, mortgage, various utility bills and trade union and Labour Party subs. I’ve used a debit card to buy groceries from Sainsbury’s, a carpet from the Co-op, rail tickets, books and CDs, several rounds of drinks and a couple of meals. (And when I ordered online at Sainsbury’s I was reminded what I bought when I shopped there in the last three months.)

I need a swipe card to get into work, though I’ve no idea whether the machine that lets me in records my arrival. The computer in the local library retains the information on my borrowings. And I’m recorded on countless closed-circuit television cameras whenever I leave the house or the office.

OK, I use a firewall on my computer at home and regularly sweep my system for spyware — but it would be a piece of cake for the state to monitor my email and web surfing. The same goes for my mobile phone usage, right down to tracking where I am whenever my phone is on. Next time I go abroad the chances are that my passport details will be logged by some official at some point on the journey. Thank the Lord I’m not a driver burdened with licence records and congestion charge fines . . .

Sometimes, it’s true, I find this all rather intrusive. For Sainsbury’s to remind me that my “usual” includes 20-odd beers and half-a-dozen Italian red wines is, well, sobering. I’m sick of junk mail and spam churned out by companies and campaigns that have my details on their databases. And in my nightmares I worry that if it came to the crunch and the BNP or Respect won state power, it would be all too easy for the bastards to track me down.

But the bastards aren’t in power, and for the most part I’m not that bothered by the fact that my movements and habits are constantly recorded and stored. It’s one of those things about modern life you put up with in return for the convenience of getting goods when you need them and avoiding queues and form-filling.

My real gripe is that the system doesn’t work properly. Three years ago I was the victim of a crude attempt at identity theft. Someone had picked up something addressed to me at a flat (in a shared block) I’d left a couple of years before, and had applied for several credit cards in my name. The credit card companies did not issue the cards and reported the attempted fraud to the police — who did nothing — and to the companies that list people’s credit ratings. They promptly put me on a blacklist. Result: an all-round pain in the butt that took the best part of two years to sort out.

A state ID card would have been a help in all that: it would have made it clear that I was not the person applying for credit cards in my name. I’d be quite happy to spend £93, or even £200, to make sure it didn’t happen again.

But I was unlucky, and no one who has not been the subject of an attempted identity sting can see the insurance value of an ID card. It just looks like a massive waste of money.

As for the other supposed benefits — security against international terrorists, benefit fraudsters, health service tourists and illegal workers — I just don’t buy them. Al-Qaida could handle ID cards, no problem. The only impact on illegal immigrants would be to depress their wages. And I don’t believe the Daily Mail on the level of health service tourism and benefit fraud.

So this is one where I cop out, lacking all conviction. ID cards are not worth a fight one way or the other. They are neither a key political priority nor the enemy of all we hold dear. The government has all sorts of other things it should be getting on with — and civil libertarians who want to pick a fight with it should be concentrating their efforts on its outrageous plans to ban smoking in pubs.

Friday, 20 May 2005


Paul Anderson, Tribune column, 20 May 2005

Sure, it was great theatre, with a bravado performance from the leading actor. You certainly have to salute George Galloway’s courage, his strength and his indefategability after his appearance at the US Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations hearing on Tuesday. But did it actually change anything?

People who believe Galloway when he says he knew nothing of the business dealings of Fawaz Zureikat – a Jordanian businessman who was a major donor to and the chairman of Galloway’s campaign against sanctions on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, the Mariam Appeal — still reckon that Galloway has no case to answer over the allegations that he was the beneficiary of money obtained from the UN oil-for-food scheme.

And people who believe that Galloway knew a lot about the nature of Zureikat’s business – which included making substantial sums from oil-for-food – still think that Galloway’s claims that he is the victim of politically motivated forgery are no more than hot air and bluster.

In other words, this one is set to run and run until clear evidence emerges either for or against the Senate subcommittee’s conclusion that the documents it has retreived from Iraq (supplemented by various interviews) show Galloway or his campaign to have received oil-for-food vouchers.

Galloway’s supporters are pinning their hopes on proving that the documents are fake. The latest issue of Socialist Worker, the paper of the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party that forms the core of Galloway’s Respect Unity Coalition, tries to do just that with one of them – albeit not very convincingly. If the Senate subcommittee’s allegations are to be taken seriously, it needs to demonstrate that the documents are genuine.

But even if it manages to do this, the show will be far from over. Just because a genuine document shows that someone was allocated oil-for-food vouchers does not mean he or she necessarily received them. I can imagine all sorts of scenarios in which corrupt officials siphoned them off.

Most importantly, though, suspicion of Galloway will not be laid to rest until he opens the books of the Mariam Appeal. He says that the Mariam Appeal was investigated by the Charity Commission in 2003-04 and completely cleared of any wrong-doing, but it’s a bit more complex than that.

In fact, the Charity Commission didn’t have access to the Mariam Appeal’s books, which had been taken in 2001 to Jordan, where Zureikat lived.

As the commission put it in a press release this week: “By 2003, the appeal had been closed and the books and records had been sent to Jordan . . . Our inquiry therefore had to rely on details we were able to obtain from the appeal's bank accounts . . . We did not undertake a detailed review of sources of income to the appeal because the original concern prompting our inquiry was about the use to which funds had been put.”

Surely Galloway can prevail on Zureikat to put all the Mariam Appeal’s records in the public domain so that a “detailed review of sources of income to the appeal” can now take place? And if not, why not?


Meanwhile, I was amazed to read in The Times last week that the supposedly left-leaning Centre for a Social Europe, which is backed by several left-wing Labour MPs, has decided to throw in its lot with the xenophobes of the free-market right in a single campaign for a “no” vote in the forthcoming referendum on the European Union constitutional treaty.

It’s not just that I can’t see why these chumps think the EU constitutional treaty is so dreadful from their own point of view. Largely as a result of Britain's insistence during the protracted drafting negotiations, it is the nearest thing there could be to a plan for a European institutional settlement acceptable to sceptical opinion. It is intergovernmentalist rather than federalist in essence, with very little in the way of increased powers for the European Parliament. As an out-and-out federalist, I’m going to have to hold my nose to vote for it.

What I really can’t get my head around, however, is the sheer idiocy of left-wingers deciding to become a tiny, swamped minority in a campaign that will be (a) overwhelmingly dominated by the Tories and far-right loons who want to destroy the welfare state, reduce workers’ rights, send immigrants home and tell the frogs to hop off; and (b), if successful, a massive boost for the Tories’ next election campaign. What on earth is going through the left Europhobes’ minds?

Thursday, 28 April 2005


Paul Anderson, Tribune column, 29 April 2005

For the first time in a working lifetime of trade union membership, I’m seriously tempted to tear up a union card. Last Friday, one of my trade unions, the Association of University Teachers — I’m also in the National Union of Journalists — voted narrowly in favour of an academic boycott of two Israeli universities, Bar-Ilan and Haifa, with a boycott of a third, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, possibly to follow.

I think I am probably in breach of the boycott at the moment — though I can’t be sure because I have not yet received details from the AUT of what the boycott is to entail. Several of my students at City University are here on scholarships organised by the Olive Tree Educational Trust in collaboration with Israeli and Palestinian universities to foster dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians. It is a great scheme to which I am fully committed, and I’d rather leave the AUT than endanger it.

But it’s not just my personal interest in this particular project that is making me think about resigning from the AUT. I’m against the boycott on principle and think that it’s a disastrously stupid course of action to pursue.

This is not because I’m a great supporter of Israel. I’m horrified by the brutality of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and by the way Israel treats Palestinians who live inside its 1967 borders. I believe that the rest of the world should be encouraging Israel to withdraw from the Occupied Territories and to clean up its act. Although I consider that centuries of anti-Semitic pogroms and the Holocaust give Zionism a large measure of legitimacy (and I cannot accept the argument that Israel is an illegitimate state), I recoil from the idea that states should be based on religion or ethnicity. In an ideal world I’d like to see a secular democratic state covering the whole territory of what was British mandate Palestine, with people of all faiths and none and every ethnic group living in peace and harmony.

In reality, of course, such an arrangement is a pipe-dream — and the best that can be hoped for in the short to medium term is a two-state solution, with democratic Israel living peaceably next to a democratic Palestinian state and both of them (with any luck) eschewing religion- and race-based politics.

The question, however, is how we get from here to there. Such is Israel’s might both as an occupying power and as a regional military force that it is clear that the only way is through dialogue and negotiation. To put it crudely, Israel is not going to be made to leave the West Bank and Gaza to a Palestinian state: it has to be persuaded. And for that to happen it needs to feel secure and to trust its Palestinian interlocuters.

This is of course a matter for Israelis and Palestinians to sort out. The Palestinian leadership has the particularly difficult task of convincing Israelis that a Palestinian state is not a threat but an opportunity, at the same time as persuading its people that responding violently to the humiliations of occupation — however tempting it might be — does nothing but strengthen the hands of the diehard Israeli right.

But the rest of the world can play a small but significant part in helping the process along. By encouraging cultural, political and academic dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians at every level, we can help build the mutual trust and understanding that is a prerequisite of successful creation of a viable Palestinian state. Boycotting Israeli universities as part of a grand strategy of turning Israel into an international pariah is precisely what we shouldn’t be doing.

* * *

On a different matter entirely, I had yet another reminder the other day that I’m now middle-aged: an old comrade reminded me that this week marks the 25th anniversary of the launch of European Nuclear Disarmament at the House of Commons by Edward Thompson, Mary Kaldor, Ken Coates and others.

END played a major role in the movement against nuclear weapons in the 1980s, providing it with its leading intellectual spokespeople and ensuring that the pro-Soviet minority in CND was effectively marginalised. I worked for its magazine END Journal for three years in the mid-1980s — and I don’t think I’ve ever had a job that was quite as much fun.

Whatever, my old comrade and I got reminiscing, and we decided it would be a good idea to have an END reunion some time during the summer. We’ve not organised anything yet, but if you’re an ex-ENDer who’d like to come along, email me at Gauche.

Friday, 25 March 2005


Paul Anderson, Tribune column, 25 March 2005

I know lots of people who are good at more than one thing, but very few who could match Chris Pallis, who died last week at the age of 81. From the early 1960s until the early 1980s he managed to combine being both one of the world’s leading authorities in neurology and one of the most innovative and stimulating voices in British left politics.

Tribune readers can be forgiven if the name doesn’t ring a bell. His medical accomplishments, working as a consultant at the Hammersmith hospital, were extraordinary — his work on brain death remains the basis for decisions about when the life-support machinery can be turned off — but they were not the stuff to get him noticed among most politicos. More important, he did not do politics under his own name. For political purposes, he was first (briefly) Martin Grainger and then Maurice Brinton, under which pseudonym he was the leading light of the libertarian socialist group Solidarity throughout the 1960s and 1970s, a brilliant reporter and polemicist and an accomplished translator.

To cap it all, this was rather a long time ago and well outside the political mainstream. Solidarity was never very big: even at its height in the late 1960s and early 1970s it had hundreds rather than thousands of members, making it a minnow by comparison with the main Trotskyist groups, let alone the Communist Party or the Labour Party. And the group has not been around for ages: it disintegrated as a national organisation in the early 1980s and became no more than a magazine, the last issue of which was published way back in 1992, by which time the byline Maurice Brinton had not appeared for the best part of a decade.

In its time, however, Solidarity was a key player on the British left, notable both for its exuberance and for its originality. It played an important role in the direct action wing of the early 1960s peace movement (it was the inspiration behind Spies For Peace in 1963, which blew the gaffe on the regional seats of government at the heart of the state’s preparations for nuclear war), was instrumental in reviving the squatting movement later on in the same decade and was influential in the wave of shopfloor militancy that swept Britain in the 1960s and 1970s. In the early 1980s, the group played an major part in the creation of the Polish Solidarity Campaign and came close to being prosecuted for distributing what the right-wing press called a “do-it-yourself abortion guide”. (It was actually nothing of the kind, but the story is too complex to relate here.)

Most crucially, Solidarity had something different and relevant to say. While the rest of the far left was recycling the tired old platitudes of Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin, Solidarity, inspired by the French group Socialisme ou Barbarie (led by Cornelius Castoriadis, whose writings, written under the pseudonym Paul Cardan, were first translated into English by Brinton), carved out a political space for a revolutionary libertarian socialism, opposed to the cautious bureaucratic reformism of Labour and the trade unions, hostile to the police-state “socialism” of Soviet-type societies and dismissive of the deluded authoritarianism of latter-day Leninists.

Its magazine and, particularly, its dozens of pamphlets shaped the thinking of a generation of libertarian socialists. Among the pamphlets were several by Brinton: the group’s manifesto As We See It; Paris May 1968, his brilliant eyewitness account of the near-revolution in France in 1968; The Bolsheviks and Workers’ Control, his classic debunking of Lenin’s hostility to workers’ self-management; and The Irrational in Politics, a restatement and development of the early work of Wilhelm Reich. Some of the pamphlets are still in print; many more have been republished on the web.


I joined Solidarity in the late 1970s and never actually left, but I didn’t know Brinton well. He semi-retired from the group in 1980 just as I was getting involved. All the same, I’d say he had a bigger impact on my political outlook than anyone apart from my grandfather and George Orwell, both through his own writings and through his Castoriadis translations.

I was reading his work again when I heard he had died: a collection of his essays and pamphlets, edited and introduced by David Goodway, has just been published, and I was working on a review. I had been struck by how exciting I still found his writing. Brinton’s style is aphoristic, his approach to received wisdom scornful, his erudition apparent but never intrusive. Very few political writers are thrilling: Brinton was, and still is. It is very sad that he has gone, but Goodway’s book is the best possible guarantee that he will not be forgotten.

For Workers’ Power, a collection of writings by Maurice Brinton edited by David Goodway, is published by AK Press at £12

Wednesday, 16 February 2005


Paul Anderson, Tribune column, 18 February 2005

I’ve lost count of the number of articles I’ve read in the past five years by leftists listing their disappointments with Tony Blair’s government. For some, it’s the war on Iraq, for others the private finance initiative or selection in schools or rights at work. I’ve written quite a few pieces along these lines myself, most of them castigating Blair for his timidity on Europe and constitutional reform.

But in truth I don’t feel particularly let down. I didn’t have great hopes of the government in the first place. And – OK, except on Europe and constitutional reform – the government has not done significantly worse than I expected.

In fact, today I’m much more disappointed with the left than I am with the government. Back in 1997, my own personal great expectation was that the left would be revived by the experience of Labour in government.

This wasn’t because I shared the Trotskyist delusion that the masses would be radicalised through suffering betrayal by perfidious social democracy. I just thought that even a boringly centrist Labour government would open up political space for the left that had been closed off by 18 years of Conservative government. As the 60s hippy guru Richard Neville said, there might be no more than an inch between Labour and the Tories, but it’s the inch in which we live.
After all, the left had blossomed under the Labour governments of the 1960s and 1970s. Those were the decades of radical workplace activism, the student revolt, the rise of the women’s movement and gay liberation, squatting, protests against the Vietnam war, the rediscovery of western Marxism.

True, it had all ended in tears, in the “winter of discontent” and Margaret Thatcher’s election victory. And true, there was plenty that was dreadful about the left in the 1960s and 1970s: the bureaucratic mindset and myopia of much of the trade union left, the lunatic Leninist sects with their revolutionary posturing, the widespread sympathy for Soviet totalitarianism, the bone-headed anti-Europeanism that dominated the Labour left, the incomprehensible jargon of Althusserian academics  –  and so I could go on.

But, hey, by 1997, the worst of the 60s and 70s left had been consigned to the dustbin of history. The Communist Party, still in 1979 the largest and most influential organisation to Labour’s left, had long since imploded. The largest part of its diaspora – the bit with the money, Democratic Left – had renounced Leninism and embraced social democracy. The various true-believer Trotskyist and Stalinist sects, much reduced in membership, were utterly marginal. No one was pro-Soviet any more except nostalgically, because the Soviet Union no longer existed. Anti-Europeanism seemed to have been abandoned by all but a diehard rump of the Labour left. Althusserianism was but a distant memory.

Of course, there were new idiocies abroad. Some young guns had embraced a naive anti-capitalism that blamed all the world’s troubles on the business activities of McDonalds and Coca-Cola. Others were already reduced to blaming everything on Blair, the closet Tory who had hi-jacked the Labour Party and ended its commitment to socialism. On the whole, though, the prospects for an intelligent, engaged and vibrant British left seemed to me better in 1997 than for many years before.

Eight years on, I don’t know how I could have got it so completely wrong. Far from reviving under Labour, the left has continued to decline  –  in numbers, influence and relevance.
OK, I’ll accept that the rise of popular opposition to the Iraq war gave the left a boost. But it was the very worst part of the left that benefited: the diehard Leninists of the Socialist Workers Party and the Communist Party of Britain, who appointed themselves as the leadership of the Stop the War Coalition. And their hard-core revolutionary defeatism and facile anti-imperialism did more harm than good even in the short term.

All that remains from the mass mobilisation of 2003 is the grotesque sideshow of George Galloway, the SWP and a handful of reactionary Islamists in the Respect Coalition. After the election in Iraq, their support for the murderous Sunni-supremacist “resistance” looks like going down in history as the early-21st-century equivalent of the old Communist Party of Great Britain’s endorsement of the Hitler-Stalin pact in 1939.

Iraq apart, all that most of the left has done since 1997 is moan. It whinges about Blair, it whinges about spin, it whinges about PFI, it whinges  –  just like in the 1970s  –  about Europe. There isn’t a coherent left political programme of any description, let alone one that is creative and forward-looking. No one on the left has an alternative economic strategy that is even vaguely credible. Hardly anyone has the faintest idea of what a different foreign policy might comprise. (Setting a deadline for getting out of Iraq, as Robin Cook suggested in a jointly authored piece with Douglas Hurd and Menzies Campbell, is laughably stupid, and the resurgent anti-European Labour left’s plans to dish the EU constitution, in alliance with the Daily Mail, are beneath contempt.) There aren’t even very many leftists  –  even Fabians and Demosites  –  coming up with specific domestic policy bright ideas. For the most part, the left’s line is that if the government is for something, it must be bad.

I’m not denying that there’s plenty the government has done that ought to be opposed. But a left that is merely negative, a left without a project, can never flourish. Eight more years like the last eight, and the left might as well pack its bags and go home.

Wednesday, 19 January 2005


Paul Anderson, Tribune column, 21 January 2005

No one knows for certain what will happen in next week’s election in Iraq — but it is already clear that it will leave a lot to be desired as an exercise in democracy, particularly in the Sunni Arab areas of the country where the insurgency against the occupation is centred.

No election that takes place under military occupation by a foreign power can be truly free. Nor can any election conducted amid a substantial armed insurgency. Most of the 80-plus parties and alliances running for office in Iraq have refused to name most of their candidates because of death threats from the insurgents. The main Sunni Arab partner in interim prime minister Iyad Allawi’s government, the Iraqi Islamic Party, is boycotting the poll, which it said should have been postponed. It appears increasingly likely that the insurgency will make it impossible for polling stations to open in many Sunni Arab areas — and in those where polling can take place there is every chance that a mixture of intimidation by the insurgents and sympathy with them will result in a very low turnout.

So is the poll an utter fraud? Rather a large number of western leftists and liberals seem to think so. But, as ever, some of them deserve to be taken seriously and some most definitely do not.

The least credible in Britain are the assorted Trotskyists and Stalinists who — along with various Islamists — make up the bulk of the Stop the War Coalition and George Galloway’s Respect party. The Socialist Workers Party, the Communist Party of Britain and the rest decided early on that Iraq was best left to a bloody civil war because that would most damage Yankee imperialism — which they oppose as their first, last and only political function.

Now they want the Iraqi election to be a complete disaster — and stuff the consequences for the long-suffering people of Iraq. They declare their support for the insurgents in Iraq, whom they describe as the “resistance”, a seal of approval that evokes the heroic struggles against the Nazis in Europe in the 1940s.

The fact that the Iraqi “resistance” today comprises the most reactionary elements of Islamism and the most psychotic diehards from Saddam Hussein’s quasi-fascist regime has passed them by — or rather, they have deliberately ignored it. They have also conveniently failed to recognise that the “resistance” in the past few months has turned from targeting the American military to targeting civilians.

The implications of this brain-dead anti-imperialism have been long apparent to anyone who follows the Leninists’ antics. But they became horribly clear a fortnight ago with the murder of Hadi Salih, the international secretary of the the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions and a prominent member of the Iraqi Communist Party, who was tortured and killed for the “crime” of opting to work through the electoral process (on an anti-occupation ticket). The leaders of Stop the War took an age to issue a weasel-worded condemnation of the murder of a man whose comrades Galloway recently described as “quislings”. Pass the sick bag.


Other western critics of the Iraqi election are not defeatists: they are merely pessimists who doubt it will produce a legitimate government or stop what appears to be a drift to civil war. And it is indeed difficult to see how the election will give the Sunni Arabs proper representation or quickly bring the insurgency to an end.

But, flawed as it is, it remains Iraq’s best hope. The Sunni Arabs account for roughly 20 per cent of the Iraqi people. Roughly the same proportion of Iraqis are Kurds, and 50 per cent are Shia. And in Kurdish and Shia areas there is a vigorous election campaign going on — and every indication that there will be massive and enthusiastic participation on January 30.

Of course, the Kurds and the Shias have selfish reasons for voting. The Kurds see the election as a means of guaranteeing themselves substantial autonomy from Baghdad. And the Shias see it as the means — at last — of ending the Sunni Arab minority’s near-monopoly of state power, a feature of every Iraqi regime from the Ottoman era to Saddam Hussein.

What, though, is wrong with that? These people constitute the majority of Iraqis — and democracy is by definition majority rule. A Shia-dominated Iraqi government with overwhelming electoral support from everywhere but the Sunni Arab areas would be infinitely more legitimate than the current interim administration. Who knows, if it managed simultaneously to reassure the Sunnis that their rights would be respected and to persuade the Americans to announce a timetable for leaving, it might even have enough clout to end the insurgency.

Wednesday, 5 January 2005


Paul Anderson, Tribune column, 5 January 2005

There seems to be a growing consensus both in the Labour Party and among the left-of-centre commentocracy that tactical voting against the Tories — a crucially important factor in the 1997 and 2001 general elections — is a thing of the past.

Of course, the reasons the Labour stalwarts and the liberal columnists take this line are very different. For the commentators, the crucial thing is that they believe the government is so disliked that hardly anyone whose first preference is Lib Dem would dream of voting Labour now — and they detect a trend of anti-Labour tactical voting.

For the Labour people, at least the ones I’ve spoken to, what has happened to render anti-Tory tactical voting obsolete is that the Liberal Democrats have declared war on Labour in its urban heartlands in the past couple of years, which makes it imperative that Labour fights back vigorously.

I can see the sense in both points of view. The pundits are surely right that Labour is going to find it much more difficult than in 1997 or 2001 to persuade Lib Dem supporters to vote Labour this time, for all sorts of reasons, the most important of them the Iraq war (though I’m sceptical about the claim that disaffection with Labour is at such a pitch that protest voting will become widespread). And after the Brent East, Birmingham Hodge Hill and Leicester South by-elections and the 2003 and 2004 local elections, it’s perfectly understandable for Labour to decide to face up to the Lib Dems in seats it holds.

But — you could tell that was coming, couldn’t you? — this is not the whole story.

On one hand, the fact that it’s going to be much more difficult for Labour to persuade Lib Dem supporters to vote for its candidates in seats it holds doesn’t mean it shouldn’t try. Indeed, given how important tactical voting against the Tories was in 1997 and 2001, it would be utterly idiotic for Labour to give up on Lib Dem tactical voters. It still needs them — just as much as it needs to persuade its core voters not to vote in protest for the Lib Dems or Respect or anyone else.

This means that Labour cannot afford go too negative on Charles Kennedy and his pals. It has to make it clear that, whatever differences it has had with the Lib Dems on the war, both parties are essentially on the centre-left. And it needs to offer something tangible to liberal opinion to keep the Lib Dem tactical Labour voter’s juices flowing: my choice would be an elected second chamber. In most places with Labour MPs, the message should be no more negative than “Vote Lib Dem and you’ll let the Tory in”.

On the other hand, it remains an incontrovertible fact that the Lib Dems — for all their rhetoric to the contrary — are not realistically targeting many Labour seats. They are in second place in 31 of the Tories’ 100 most marginal seats but second to Labour in only seven of its 100 most marginal. For the Lib Dems to increase their representation in the Commons, they need to beat Tories, and for that they need Labour supporters to vote tactically for their candidates. They also need Labour tactical voters to retain many seats they now hold, most of them in the south where the Tories are their main challengers.

This, however, is where it gets really complicated, because the Lib Dems are rather less interested in getting 20 or so extra MPs than in holding the balance of power in a hung parliament — and for that they need either a giant advance (which isn’t very likely, though you never know) or for the Tories to take a lot of Labour seats but not enough to win a majority. Which means that the Lib Dems, as well as needing Labour tactical votes, also — pay attention at the back! — now have an interest in their supporters voting tactically for the Tories in Labour-held seats where the Tories are second.

So what should Labour supporters do in Tory-held seats where the Lib Dems are the closest challengers or Lib Dem seats where the Tory came second in 2001? They could decide to vote for sure-fire Labour losers to scupper Kennedy’s dream of holding the balance of power — but that would merely improve the chances of the Tories winning a parliamentary majority.

Sorry, folks, but I still think that is the worst possible outcome at the next election — and the best way of avoiding it is to vote tactically against the Tories again. So vote Labour wherever there is a sitting Labour MP or a Labour came second to a Tory in 2001 — and vote Lib Dem wherever there is a sitting Lib Dem MP or the Lib Dem came second to a Tory in 2001. Nothing else makes the remotest sense.

* * *

Finally, on a completely unrelated subject, I’ve spent more time than I should over the holiday writing and editing entries on Wikipedia (click here and follow the instructions), the free online encylopedia — because I discovered rather a large number of entries on the left in Britain, particularly those on the mainstream Labour left, were well below par. I’ve had a go at the worst I’ve come across, but there’s a lot more to be done. Tribune readers, get in there. It’s fun.