Strange News from Another Universe (apologies to Herman Hesse)
For the second month running, Nick shakes his stick at the wireless. This month's effort seems vaguely familiar. As before Nick and I disagree on the intended meaning of words. Nick thinks 'idealism' means something good while I think it's gentlest possible term for 'utterly impractical'. Nick suggests that calling someone 'passionate' in the context of politics rather than sex is a compliment to fire in the belly; I think it's code for "shouty nutter: avoid."
Nick spends the first four paragraphs on his ostensible subject: Radio Four's art programmes (Front Row and Last Word) tributes to Corin Redgrave. He spends five longer paragraphs talking about the WRP (Workers Revolutionary Party), a comparatively minor splinter group which I've certainly never encountered. Actors are known for their attraction to charismatic figures. It's not really surprising, if someone needs the praise of others for self-actualisation, that they are drawn to people who will flatter them all the time. But, well, Trots and that. Since the rise of the Left, possibly when Nick was at uni in the 80s, actors, who used to be such fine citizens, have suddenly adopted dodgy political ideas. Oh, for the old days.
Radio 4 pretended to take Corin's life in full, however, and proved that it is incapable of honestly reporting the failings of the upper-middle-class Left.
Hooray for the new right wing logic. Nick listened to two programmes on Radio Four and concluded the above. Meanwhile, I watched a whole season of Top Gear and deduced that the BBC all think nasty things about Gordon Brown and can't help themselves...
In return for funding from Arab dictators, the WRP led the charge of the far-Left into the anti-Semitic conspiracy theories of the far-Right...
Sorry, I thought the WRP were utterly unimportant. But Nick is right, prior to Gerry Healy there was no anti-semitism on the left, no none at all. As Brownie from Harry's Place complained in our comments, this sort of thing legitimises anti-Semitic discourse which just didn't exist before.
But perhaps history is different in Nick's universe.
(Knocked off before I go to work. Usual apols for typos, spelling, solecisms &c. I like the Leonard Nimoy theme.)
Thanks to SS for his comment on an earlier post, which I shall quote in its entirety, because I cannot improve on it. I believe he likes that sort of thing, so the song above is for him.
Holy piss, have you seen Nick's latest? Clegg is Frodo Baggins? I'll have what he's having.
Indeed, Nick comes out with a very bizarre column, which some readers (SS and Flying Rodent almost certainly) will recognise as much of the election gossip which has been passed around via Twitter repackaged in Nick's own words. Nick doesn't like the Liberal Democrats and he says every nasty thing he can think of, barring accusing their leader of making Heather Mills fall over.
Since SS made me read Nick (I managed to forget; I should do that more often), here are couple of things I think he'll like rather more than the 'Ballad of Bilbo Baggins'. (Don't assume that I listened to it. I just grabbed the embed code and fled.) Nick appears in Crispian Jago's Skeptic Trumps series which lists his 'Nemesis' [sic] as 'The New Statesman, Peter Hitchens.' I love it when a post comes together, and as it happens Peter Hitchens has written a very similar piece: Oh dear, the Tories now face an even better Blair imitator than Cameron. Hitchens at least remembered to be funny. He attributes the following to what an honest Tory would have said:
Having stressed that youth, good looks, a cool spouse and a relaxed manner were what really mattered in a would-be Premier, we have accidentally made the case for the Liberal Democrat leader.
Their columns are not dissimilar, but I find Hitchens a lot more convincing. Not only that but he manages to describe Nick's column before it was even published:
So the only way we can hope to win this Election is by smearing and denigrating our opponents,or by avoiding politics and concentrating on personality and Mrs Cameron’s dress sense.
OK, Nick doesn't actually bring Samantha Cameron into his column, but I defy any reader to find a policy discussed. I grant you, he mentions some second hand policies, such as immigration:
The Express meanwhile stuck to its favourite theme and claimed Clegg wanted to flood Britain with immigrants. Corrupt, foolish, a traitor to his nation – no punch was too wild for the press to throw.
Yes, but what is the LD immigration policy, and how does it differ from, say, Labour's? The Express didn't say, so Nick doesn't seem to know, or care.
At their behest, Tony Blair was tougher on crime than any prime minister since the abolition of the death penalty and Gordon Brown – thankfully – kept Britain out of the euro. Nor is their journalism always wrong. Liberals who complained that last week's assault on Clegg was "propaganda" played the old trick of confusing the motives of writers with the accuracy of their reporting. Just because a story is in the Telegraph does not mean it is not true and Clegg did indeed work for a ruthless lobbying firm that defended Fred the Shred's Royal Bank of Scotland and a logging company accused of hacking down the rainforests.
Isn't this straight back to "Cruel Britannia" territory? Blair the unprincipled? The 'and' in the first sentence puzzles me: I think he means. "At their behest, Tony Blair was tough on crime. Also, Gordon Brown kept Britain out of the Euro." Certainly, it was my understanding that Gordon Brown really did believe that entering the Euro would be a bad thing, and whatever else one might wish to say against him, did not do stay with the pound because of lobbying from press barons. If Nick means "At their behest... Gordon Brown..." then he's simply talking crap. Does Nick still write for the Standard, BTW? Hurrah for the Blackshirts, old boy. Know what I mean, know what I mean...
In summary then, while Nick seems to have read quite a few papers and blogs this week, he's quite stunningly uninformed about what any of the parties think. Of course, since he tried to call the election when he wrote "Waiting for the Etonians", he might just be a little pissed off if the Etonian party doesn't win.
Looking at the Labour government from 1997 to 2010, you'd say that these personalities could not work together. You've got Brown undermining Blair, doing supposedly left-wing things, not because he believes in them but because he thinks it's not what Blair wants him to do. Then you have Brown in power, and to me, more shocking than the bullying, is how nothing gets done. Brown just sits there, like this great spider at the centre of a web, wrapping all his ministers up like flies, and not letting them move or act until he's gone through every detail. Over the whole period — and they have achieved great things — it does look like a very strange way to govern a country.
I think that's quite percipient, actually. One of my problems with Brown from the early 2000s was that he hadn't moved to other ministerial posts. And if he intended to be a future leader, I thought he ought to do so. So, for me, the simile "like this great spider at the centre of a web" sums up Brown's career in Number 11. That was how he did things. The rest of that sentence just describes micromanaging rather poetically. But, well, I think anyway, that Brown did have some left-wing ideals during the Kinnock and Smith years. I thought he was very good in opposition, not just the surly reactive personality Nick describes. (I'll have to look at "Pretty Straight Guys" again, clearly.) I doubt it will surprise anyone that I find Andrew Rawnsley's view more credible.
There was a lot of synergy because they are quite different people: Blair, the master of communication, Brown better at detail, as long as he didn't analyse himself into a paralysis.
Both agree that Blair and Brown "are quite different people" but Rawnsley sees 'synergy' where Nick sees only entropy, but both agree that Brown may be too analytic to the point of 'paralysis'. Nick: "nothing gets done." Crime did fall last year. Now, I know you can argue that that sort of statistic lags behind legislation by a few years, and the credit might be Blair's, though the press would never acknowledge this. But Brown isn't that bad.
Still what got Organic (as his friends call him) going was this from Nick:
Let's start with foreign policy, because it's hugely unfashionable to say this at the moment but Blair was probably the most idealistic, and in some ways the most left-wing Labour leader there has ever been. He wanted to stop oppression, he wanted to overthrow tyrants, whether it was Milosevic or Saddam Hussein or the Taliban...
Overthrowing tyrants and stopping oppression are not the same thing. I agree about Blair being 'idealistic' but there's no use of that word I find positive. Rawnsley interrupts, and again, to me, he makes more sense:
...Or the Burmese junta. I admired that in him. I shared his frustration because I'm a liberal interventionist — not that you can do it everywhere but if you can't do it everywhere that doesn't mean you shouldn't do it somewhere. Milosevic probably would have got away with it had it not been for Blair. In Sierra Leone, he's a hero because his liberal interventionism worked there.
MacMillan didn't quite say, "Events, dear boy, events." Wilson did say, "A week is a long time in politics." And Brown said, for advocates of snappy aphorisms that catch the moment, "Get real."
In the last few years, though, the two wings have been fighting a war that (latterly over expenses) has been lost by the politicians. It is ironic — more than ironic, actually, in its gorgeous boomerang arc — that having duffed up the main parties and ignored the Lib Dems, the press has now found itself confronted with a resurgent party that owes it nothing.
We deserve what we get. For years we have dismissed the Lib Dems as they had “no chance” of power. We’ve laughed in our meetings when forced to discuss the pronouncements of their leaders, and then, furrow-browed, examined with microscopic precision the minor doings of the big two. We have ignored the growing gap between votes and outcome.
Putting the 'we' in 'weasel' is our man David Aaronovitch. ('Wings' rather bizarrely refers to Dave's idea that there are but two estates of any importance in the modern pursuit of power: parliament and the media. Apparently the media won.) I think it's revealing that Dave thinks the press "duffed up the main parties" as if this was laying siege to the castle of its ancient enemy rather than, to borrow from Orwell, being "like a windowpane". The press barely had a role: the heavy lifting was done by the Freedom of Information Act.
Surely our man reads the Guardian, especially when it covers politics and the press. David Yelland on his former paper (and, of course, the Times' stablemate).
I remember in my first year asking if we staffed the Liberal Democrat conference. I was interested because as a student I'd been a founder member of the SDP. I was told we did not. We did not send a single reporter for fear of encouraging them.
Both versions can't be right. Don't forget Dave's employer's recent record of, er, straight reporting. (This is simply splendid.) It's not just the political parties that the electorate is fed up with. And speaking of the Guardian, I wonder if Dave's seen this:
Via Dave Hill. DA's calling it a "Labour-held three way marginal" before it became a "surefire Lib Dem gain" seems to be a bit loose with the facts.
Update: straight after posting: I may have misunderstood Dave's opening sentence. Here it is: On Thursday night of last week, after the first leaders’ debate I went to bed in a Labour-held three way marginal. He could be referring to the whole country, rather than his own constituency, but who considered that the 2010 was three-way until the debate last week? However I try to interpret that sentence, it seems historically wrong.
"Craig Murray" has been displaced for the first time ever as the most used recent search to bring people to this site. The most used search this morning is "Debate sky bias", And that is only those who used that precise search - there are 78 searches relating to Sky or Murdoch bias in the most recent 100 searches that brought people here.
Since Dave mentioned expenses, I'd like to note that anger wasn't limited to the scribbling classes. I heard someone say last night, "I was appalled by the behaviour of some MPs and no punishment is too great for them." No punishment? I think Europe has strong views about boiling in oil, Gordon. (I'm sure the Prime Minister made an understandable slip: he meant the Tory peer rather than the three Labour MPs "due in court over expenses".) Up there with "We deserve what we get" IMO. Dave, you and the rest of Murdoch's minions will never get what you deserve. It's not the illegality so much as I don't know where to get hold of Mother Hitton's Littul Kittons. (I think I've totally outgeeked myself there. Story not available online according to Google. If you've read it, it's not easily forgotten.)
Update 3 18:15 Friday 23 April That was a tad harsh. After all, I follow some Times writers on Twitter, certainly Giles Coren and Ruth Gledhill. And there are some Times writers I actually like: I'll come out and say that I think both AA Gill and Jeremy Clarkson can write (I don't value their opinions, however, and am not bothered if I miss them), and... I'm sure there are others. But Murdoch is poisonous. Here's another link Dave Weigel on 'New Left Media' (aka unfunded students):
"It is our belief, and to us it is superficially evident, that the Tea Party movement, purported to be disparate grassroots organizations of people who all woke up one morning with the same ideas about government and the Obama administration, is the public manifestation of the narratives pushed by Fox News -- narratives that are good for television ratings, but bad for political discourse, policy, and even the Republican Party. David Frum might agree."
And what does New Left Media think of the competition?
"CNN, like Fox News and MSNBC, should be largely dismissed as serious sources of news," said Whiteside, "as these outlets are all in the market of selling journalism through personalities, talking haircuts who report as much on what each other are saying as they do on reality. We could gather similarly substance-less interviews from people whose primary news source is Ed Schultz, but until those people gather with misspelled signs to protest policies they don't understand, we have no reason to."
The sooner the paywalls go up, Murdoch loses a few millions, and News International's influence on British politics is limited to a few flat-earth Climate Change deniers, the better.
Update 4 21:10 This should be the last one, but Johann Hari really is very good.
I've been discussing the meaning of 'Decency' (if any; I am at best agnostic about whether there any underlying credo exists) with Flying Rodent. I was looking for something else (the 1983 broadcast; the above is the 1987 one) but found this. Transcript from 1:25 for about a minute follows:
The good thing about extremism is that it makes you feel good! because it provides you with enemies. Let me explain. The great thing about having enemies is that you can pretend that all the badness in the whole world is in your enemies, and all the goodness in the whole world is in you. Attractive isn't it? If you have a lot of anger and resentment anyway and you therefore enjoy abusing people, you can pretend that you're only doing it because these enemies of yours are such very bad persons. And if it wasn't for them, you'd actually be good natured and courteous and rational all the time. So if you want to feel good, become an extremist.
Aaro casts his eye over the election debate. He's amusing, but not enough to convince me to pay for Times content. Indeed, the instant reaction to the debate itself isn't all that meaningful, as Ian Leslie says:
One more thing: ignore instant polls, and especially ignore the "worms" of Mori and so on. All this stuff is highly unreliable, fun maybe but irrelevant. If these debates have a real impact we won't be able to tell why or how for a few days. And judging by the American experience, the instant judgements - including this one - are often completely wrong.
Indeed. Aaro is quite percipient: he picked up Cameron's very odd line about the "40-year-old black man." But because he was talking to camera (I assume the recording was live, you wouldn't deceive us, Dave, would you?) he missed the even stranger bits: Cameron referred to the man as 'she' and claimed he'd served in the Navy 'for 30 years'. Eh? We don't do that any more. This is what journalism (that is research and contacting people) gets you Cameron 'got it wrong'. Man not 40, but 51. Not in Navy 30 years but only for six. True, he immigrated when he was six. Does that make him an immigrant? Perhaps literally, yes. Never mind the Lexus story.
Gordon Brown delivers jokes without an epidural, really, doesn't he? I mean they're terribly long drawn out labours of things and I think it would be better if he desisted.
Here, our Dave really was unbiased. After all, he doesn't like any of the candidates. And it shows. Liked the pun on 'labours' - and 'epidural' if it comes to that. I suspect that that line wasn't as off the cuff as it appeared.
And there was Clegg. I don't think Dave was among the converted.
If you watch the video first, and then read the article, you're guided by Dave's not unpleasant baritone (bass? I'm never sure) cadences, which lull almost like the opening theme for 'Desert Island Discs'. You can see why Dave is a highly paid Times columnist and I'm not. It is very pleasant, stress-free reading unless you notice that he falls asleep at the wheel, so to speak, and starts writing what I can only call utter bollocks.
The erosion of this unchallenged power of senior politicians is the great untold story of our times. Social change and the loss of automatic class-based voting loyalty has been one factor, the end of deference another, the spread of consumerist attitudes towards politics is a third. We stopped cutting our leaders and our institutions the slack we used to. Guided in this by mass media that sometimes blurred the divide between scepticism and cynicism, we have withdrawn any right, not just to trust, but even sometimes to the benefit of the doubt.
From this paragraph on, the sleeping monsters of unreason awake: it's the media, it's you, hypocrite people, you don't understand how hard it is to be a politician. You know something is wrong when someone ostensibly 'progressive' (DA may even use that word) blames the modern world.
The significance of the debates is that they invite you to meet your new boss. And it’s you.
The polls show the main parties roughly with a third of the vote each. That means that, come the result, two thirds will be ruled by a party they didn't vote for. The 'new boss' is going to be in the eternal tradition of all bosses: someone you don't like very much and are sure you can do a better job than.
Some Good News for Nick Cohen - And Some Odd News Too
It's well known that both Nick Cohen and Martin Bright can't stand Charlie Whelan. Bright even has a Charlie Whelan tag on his blog. Here's an accurate prediction by Nick back in January.
Fraser Nelson of the Spectator is facing a libel writ after describing the alleged bullying tactics of Brown's aide Charlie Whelan. (If the court finds that it is false and defamatory to describe Whelan's tactics as ‘bullying', by the way, the judgment will be one of the legal wonders of the 21st century.)
Fraser Nelson has won and the Spectator is not slow to crow about it: How Charlie Whelan killed New Labour. The cover looks like the work of Martin Rowson; unfortunately, no one has given him a photo of Whelan to draw from, so instead he produced a cartoon of an all-purpose political thug, who likes very like Anderw Neil, but rinsed in hair oil to fool the unobservant buyer.
We have seen a copy of the grievance procedure brought against him [Charlie Whelan] by several members of Unite, some of who said they were too fearful of reprisals to be named. Three did name themselves. Carter-Ruck claimed their grievances were "withdrawn". In fact, the Unite officers reached compromise agreements - the type where money changes hands. Their case was absolutely not dismissed.
I think that's a safe bet for Sunday's Observer column. And with that, the odd news. Go to any Standpoint blog page (the one linked above will do). On the right hand side, some way down, but before the fold on my browser is a Liberal Democrat ad attacking Nadine Dorries (a Tory MP, for anyone who doesn't know). Even more surprisingly, the challenger is a Linda Jack, who has "worked all [her] life in public service". Have the LDs gone completely mad? Have I totally misjudged the Standpoint readership? Or is advertising on Standpoint so cheap that it's worthwhile to take out an ad in a national publication for one constituency?
Aaro's constituency is Hampstead and Kilburn. The Conservative PPC there is Chris Philp. The current MP who Dave doesn't like is Glenda Jackson. I have no idea what purpose might be served by the cutesy circumlocutions.
"My tribe is the not-Tory party". It's the Birtist party.
We have a request! A Mr Organic Cheeseboard, who doesn't seem to give an address would like a post about Nick Cohen latest Standpoint 'Television' review Wireless: Curmudgeons of the World Unite. (Honestly, this does seem to be their television column this month.) And that's not wireless as 'keyboard' or 'printer' - it's apparently a term that used to refer to what became known as the 'radiogram' to bright young things between the wars. Watch out Daily Telegraph, Standpoint's after your coffin-dodging readership!
Sorry to disappoint you, Mr Cheeseboard, but I know very very little about sport on the radio - everything I do know comes from either Woody Allen's Radio Days or Stephen Jay Gould. Comrade Justin is our resident football egghead, and perhaps he'll be kind enough to cast a critical eye on our behalf in the comments. I don't think realises that his gripe against Radio 4 (which is what I assume he's talking about in the second paragraph) was put rather better more than a quarter of a century ago.
Everyone describes the same process. At first it is exciting. You're at the centre of the world. As soon as anything happens, you're the first to know about it. And there are deadlines a dozen times a day, even more, and that's intimidating and exciting. Then you get the hang of it and the excitement wears off. Your a clerk in a rather dowdy Office. There's none of the glamour of television, or the penetration of serious journalism. You're a processor of semi-official news. Some people leave at this stage. Then, if you hang on, and especially if you're promoted, you discover a new kind of pleasure. You're pleased by the ease with which you can write summaries and bulletins from news agency printouts, by the way you ca judge length. Ending a broadcast on the dot, having everything run smoothly, selecting a running order that makes sense, knowing instinctively what you can and cannot do. Professionalism
The good thing is that it at least sees Nick writing well for the first time in ages: he's finally found a topic he enjoys writing about and which inspires him to actual good humour.
Green's Ulster cussedness, his towering self-regard and his indifference to the opinions of the former players and managers with him in the commentary box, who are clearly unqualified to pass judgment because they have been involved in the game only at the highest level, make him an irresistible target for the affection of many, your correspondent included, and the enmity of others. But the attention Green receives hides the fact that in their quieter way, 5 Live's other commentators are no different. Mike Ingham and John Murray will tell you if a game is awful, while Gabriele Marcotti is the finest sports analyst on radio because he never panders to his listeners but argues with them incessantly.
I know nothing of any of this. I listen to Radios 3 and 4. But Michael Henderson, who writes about (high) culture and sport, usually in the Telegraph, clearly can't stand Alan Green (warning: Daily Mail).
Let me talk about something I do know a little more about: film. I've yet to see The Infidel, which has had mixed reviews, but any film about Jews and Muslims comes close to being on-topic here. I rather admire David Baddiel. (Full pathetic disclosure: I was a runner-up [top 20 of 2000 entries, or top 1%] in a Twitter short story competition run by the Times last year and co-judged by him and John Humphreys. This may have made me like him a little more. But not that much. After all, I didn't win. Bastard.) The Jewish Telegraph likes it, but also reports that Israel hasn't bought it.
You know what's coming: the Jewish Chronicle (which DA occasionally writes for) hated it, as did Peter Whittle in Standpoint. Nick rediscovered some old depths this month. Peter Whittle didn't. He managed to write an article which stumbles between ignorance and dishonesty.
Thirty years ago, that country was ravaged by economic decline but culturally still knew what it was, and the assumptions it could safely make. Then again, few of us freshers had even heard of Islam. As we queued for the movie, we knew that something was going on over in Iran, yes, but we'd been told the Shah was a fascist tyrant. So the establishment of this new regime must have been some sort of victory for something we could vaguely assume was good, progressive, and to be supported.
Actually, I think the Pythons were taken by surprise at the reaction they produced. They went to some lengths not to be offensive with The Life of Brian. I was at school when the film came out, and I can't remember what month it did, but given that the Iranian Revolution started in February of that year, it's fairly safe, in a Brucie's Play Your Cards Right sort of way to assume that the film hit cinemas later. Anyway, I think the point of the above passage was to indicate that students and other trendies admired the Revolution. Not the case as I recall (but I didn't go to Oxford). I knew only one person who thought Iranians running Iran might be a good thing. That was me.
The Shah's replacement was an old man who famously went on to say: "There are no jokes in Islam. There is no humour in Islam. There is no fun in Islam. There can be no fun and joy in whatever is serious." So there would be no Life of Iqbal showing in downtown Tehran. Blinded by a misplaced sensitivity, cringing cultural cowardice and a very well-placed sense of genuine fear, we followed suit. Now, three decades later, we can say with certainty that there will be no Life of Iqbal at Bradford's local multiplex.
Yes, I'm certain that a film you just made up won't be shown in Bradford. We can at least agree on that. There are so many things wrong here, I don't know where to start. Islam comes in more than one flavour. Iranians aren't actually Arabs and they're Shi'a Muslims and pretty much the whole of the Arab world is Sunni. It's also possible that Ayatollah Khomeini was talking rubbish. (After all, Theodor Adorno said "After Auschwitz it is barbaric to write poetry" and Bob Dylan seemed to do alright.)
A word about this year's Oscars: what a relief that that overblown, infantile piece of tosh Avatar was stopped in its tracks, and by a small film, The Hurt Locker, which, by the standards of James Cameron's cartoon epic, has been seen by almost no one. More importantly, the simple-minded anti-Americanism of Avatar was trumped by a film which, whatever its makers' view on the Iraq war, admires and celebrates the bravery of US troops. Such a film is inconceivable here — or anywhere else in Europe for that matter. It was not ever thus: Noel Coward did a sterling job in In Which We Serve, admittedly a wartime effort. Even as late as the Sixties, with the star-studded The Battle of Britain, it was possible for audiences here to see a straight-faced tale of heroism where nothing much was called into question. But even then, the heart was already growing feint, and really from Tony Richardson's revisionist take on the Charge of the Light Brigade in that decade it has been downhill all the way. Even when they show up in science fiction dramas such as the zombie-fest 28 Days Later, British troops are portrayed as bigoted, psychotic grunts. Our film-makers, it seems, refuse to separate the message from the messenger.
I'd like to remind the reader here that Nick Cohen hates Spooks, while I love it, although I think it's pure propaganda. It certainly shows the security services (about whom I'm sceptical) to be noble and courageous. But really, why do right-wing writers hate the market so much? Cinema is a market. People make films for money. Make a popular film and you can be rich. Lefties like fast cars, big houses, and wide screen tvs too, you know. Why aren't there more films like John Wayne's The Green Berets? Didn't Adam Smith have a theory about this sort of thing?
However, I agree with Mr Whittle that it's terrible that "British troops are portrayed as bigoted, psychotic grunts." So I'll leave you with a few thoughts from one of these lily-livered, draft dodging, effete, trendy liberals on our brave boys.
People talk of their enlisting from their fine military feeling - all stuff - no such thing. Some of our men enlist from having got bastard children -- some for minor offences -- many more for drink.
Nothing except a battle lost can be half as melancholy as a battle won.
I don't know what effect these men will have upon the enemy, but, by God, they frighten me.
By Gad, I wouldn't depend on him to fight those upstart Frenchies, etc.
As Matthew says, it's not clear what happened to the lawsuit, though the answer may inadvertently come from Harry's Place's Alan A:
So began the tradition of the “radical lawyer”: sometimes established in firms or chambers organised along socialist lines, and sometimes not. For them, law was an extension of the revolutionary struggle. They were heroes. They were sexy.
Unfortunately, what Ms Sahgal needed was a non-revolutionary, and probably unsexy employment lawyer. Alan A even quotes the leaked internal memo and apparently agrees with it:
"The organisation had taken steps to clarify that it did not in any way support all, or even many, of Moazzam Begg’s views. Obviously we did not do enough to establish this in the public sphere. We can and should publicly admit this mistake and move on and ensure we do not make the same mistake again.”
To me, that says that Amnesty never supported Begg's views, what the writer of the memo admits they did wrong was they didn't make that clear enough. That seems some way from the complaint that Ms Sahgal had - that Amnesty compromised its views to back Moazzem Begg.
Ms Sahgal's statement says:
But the spectre that arises through the continued promotion of Moazzam Begg as the perfect victim, is that Amnesty International is operating its own policies of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’
I've never understood Amnesty to back the views of people it campaigns for; some may be democrats, some not.And I find Ms Sahgal's prose style unsympathetic:
Unfortunately, their stance has laid waste every achievement on women’s equality and made a mockery of the universality of rights. In fact, the leadership has effectively rejected a belief in universality as an essential basis for partnership.
If they have "effectively rejected a belief in universality as an essential basis for partnership" then good for them. I don't think universality is the simple, all-or-nothing belief that one either has or has not than Ms Saghal seems to believe it is. Is there a right not to be bombed for instance? I can't believe that Oliver Kamm, who is after all very smart can agree that Amnesty's stance, even if that's backing Begg and adopting his views "has laid waste every achievement on women’s equality". Every achievement? Seriously?
Since Ms Saghal ends with, "when a great organisation must ask: if it lies to itself, can it demand the truth of others?" I think it's reasonable to ask if she's correct when she says, "I was hired as the Head of the Gender Unit as the organization began to develop its Stop Violence Against Women campaign. I leave with great sadness as the campaign is closed..." (The statement is signed, "Gita Sahgal, Former Interim Head of the Gender, Sexuality and Identity Unit, Amnesty International".) Does anyone know if Amnesty's Stop Violence Against Women has actually been closed? It's still easy to find from the campaigns page.
So far, going by Google News the media haven't picked this up. This may change, but I just checked the front page of the Times and it's not a story there. Harry's Place sources their copy to Human Rights for All (which may be based in Switzerland; the HTML is in French for some reason, and which doesn't have any information on how to donate, so it may not be a charity).
Update 12/4 9:30 pm BST This gets weirder. I forbore from mentioning the other half of Harry's Place's post (link above) by Meredith Tax. It begins:
Amnesty’s statement attempts to make the issue redundancy—i.e., they are trying to tell their members that Gita was laid off because the violence against women campaign had ended, rather than because she is a whistleblower.
Contrary to Gita Sahgal’s assertions to the media, she was not suspended from Amnesty International for raising these issues internally. In fact we actively welcome vigorous internal debate. Up to now we have maintained confidentiality in line with our policy but wanted to correct this misrepresentation. This is not a reflection on the organisation’s respect for her work as a women’s rights activist and does not undermine the work she has done over the last few years as the head of Amnesty International’s gender unit.
Ms Tax's belief that Amnesty's 'Violence Against Women' campaign has ended is weird for two reasons. The "Gender, Sexuality and Identity Unit" clearly had a wider remit than just that, and, even if that campaign had ended, that is no reason for her post to go. Second, via Sunny's post Amnesty publish election manifesto for women’s rights Amnesty have published briefings which include Women's Rights PDF. Sunny quotes from it:
The cases of Iraq and Afghanistan are instructive and particular. The UK was a vocal proponent of women’s rights prior to and during the conflict in Afghanistan, yet no women were invited to a conference in London on 28 January 2010 to discuss the future of the nation. If women’s organizations and activists had not forced their way onto the agenda, they would not have been present at all. This is despite UN resolution 1325 which requires parties to a conflict to ensure that in the post conflict regeneration process women are equally involved in decision making and policy implementation.
Gita Sahgal was suspended on Sunday, 7 February following her contacting the Sunday Times. She has not, as far as I can tell, ever returned to work between then and her departure. She could have written the above in her final week: after all, everyone knew an election would be called this year. But I suspect she didn't. It doesn't look to me, in other words, as if Amnesty has wound up its campaigning for women's rights. So where did the idea that it had come from?
No Nick in the Observer today, as far as I can see. (I don't buy the paper; FWIW, I buy the weekend FT which does me for the week.) It's a bit off that a political columnist doesn't appear when the election is finally under way.
Dave's book has been published in the US as I've learned from Oliver Kamm. (Passing thought: is it too late for him to stand with the slogan "Yes we Kamm"? Probably.) Stephen Walt is a smarter reviewer than Ross Douthat. Who knew? Also from Ollie:
If you believe in one conspiracy theory, then you tend to be amenable to that way of thinking in principle. Consider Melanie Phillips, the Daily Mail columnist, whom both David and I count a friend. To my great regret, Melanie defends both Intelligent Design and the absurd notions of Norman Baker MP that the scientist David Kelly was murdered.
I admire both Oliver and DA's ability to have friends who disagree with them. But DA (liberal, easy-going, softly humorous) and 'Mad Mel' (strident, judgmental, intolerant)? It takes all sorts. (I know all three are ethnically Jewish, BTW. We don't do "they're all plotting together" here. Any comments along those lines will be deleted.) It's not always obvious from this blog, but there are things that Oliver Kamm and I agree on. I'm agnostic about David Kelly, but Intelligent Design is utter nonsense.
 The ones who sacked Rome, not the ones who took the handles so "the pumps don't work" in the Bob Dylan song.
Were I a better person, I might be above gloating. But I'm not, and I'm not. I'm glad that Nick Cohen has un-protected his tweets again. So this and this and this are free again. Nick very kindly links to my comment here which was in response to his tweet:
Has seen Man U fail and Oxford fail and is now going to watch the new Dr Who, doubtless he'll fail
If you don't want to follow all those links, I only asked what he thought of Dr Who. (I've seen it twice, so can only agree with his opinion of me - the 'one sad fuck' one. It's not libellous; it's accurate. Liked it (Dr Who, not Nick's tweeting) much better, even the music the second time. Decided that I rate it more like 9/10 than the 3 or 4 I had at first.) Anyway, Captain Cabernet of this blog called John Lloyd, TV critic for the FT an "ueberDecent" in the comments here (blogger permalinks aren't working for me; doubt they will for you). Here's John Lloyd's column today:
Two other renewals last week. In series 32 of Doctor Who (BBC1 Saturdays), with a new Doctor, the comely Matt Smith, and his new and equally comely assistant Amelia (Karen Gillan), the Doctor at one point undresses completely to change to a better set of clothes. Amelia watches admiringly, a half-century’s cry from the first Time Lord’s companion – his granddaughter. The Doctor has 20 minutes to save the world from incineration, and does. The series follows the growing trend to be topical/satiric: the aliens, the Atraxi, are invoked, a kind of interstellar United Nations with respect and real power, and asked, “Is this world [Earth] a threat?” No, says the Atraxi voice with an interstellar echo – and there you have a 10-second satire of the invasion of Iraq. At another point, the Doctor persuades Amelia to be his assistant by saying, “You’re a Scottish girl in an English village: I know what that’s like,” as if she were a Jew who had wandered into a 19th-century Cossack settlement. Such silliness.
Maybe both John Lloyd and I have idees fixes and see the Iraq War in everything. Or maybe I was right.
Not that I'm bothered about being wrong.
But then again, I thought, it’s so old! There was no room to be free, to make mistakes, to think stupid thoughts, to rock.
Malcolm McLaren on working as a wine taster in the New York Times, 2007. It's perverse, but I like being wrong. If I'm not wrong at lot of the time, I know I'm not trying hard enough.
 Lloyd seems to think that the Atraxi are analogous to the UN here; I think they're not, but act as Britain and the US in Iraq. I could write a very long, and doubtless unreadably tedious post about Dr Who, interplanetary laws, position on wars etc. I'll say again that my favourite story was The War Games, which, silly story aside, pretty clearly pushes the moral, "if you find yourself in a war, shoot your officers and run away; common fighting men have more in common with their 'enemies' than with their ruling class" which I consider trivially true. And there was Carnival of Monsters where the Third Doctor invoked a galactic ban on "miniscopes." Doubtless Ben Aaronovitch could talk a fair bit about Dr Who and criticising a current government too.
Early morning thought (I know it's not that early now; I had it earlier): I think we should discuss the election at some point, and what positions various Decents take as we approach polling day. And I thought that if I had to sum up AW readers' view on Decents in a single snappy phrase, it would be, "objectively pro-Tory". Oliver Kamm voted Conservative in 2005. Nick Cohen and Martin Bright seem to be doing all they can to run down Gordon Brown. Aaro isn't a fan of his MP, Glenda Jackson. Only Norman Geras seems like a Labour diehard to me.
(Full disclosure: I can be accused of being 'objectively pro-Tory' myself. I haven't made up my mind how I'm going to vote, other than not BNP, UKIP, Conservative, or Labour. So probably Lib-Dem, possibly Green, Monster Raving Looney if available, and I'm tempted by the Communists, or even Plaid. It's no good trying to talk me into voting Labour: I loathe my MP, Alun Michael. Apart from gay rights, his views are diametrically opposed to my positions. He voted for the Digital Economy Bill, and he even had a mention in Steven Poole's Unspeak. I've never voted for him - I lived in a different constituency in 1997 - and won't start now.)
[The] sitting Labour [MP] is a grumpy septuagenarian who has, for years now, inhabited an ideas-free zone. When David Cameron quipped the other day that a government led by him “couldn’t do any worse” than the current lot, the image of this MP came to mind.
Bugger the silly fool who said, "For of all sad words of tongue or pen, The saddest are these: 'It might have been!'" No, the saddest are, of course, "I was wrong." I haven't just mis-guessed Aaro, I did so after he wrote a column on this and which I didn't read.
So why not slip into the polling station and quietly cast a ballot for MTC [My Tory Candidate]? I am ashamed of part of the explanation because it is one of those dreadful, reiterated clichés of election campaigns.
I think that means that he won't vote Tory, but I find it hard to believe that he'll vote Labour either. True, if Glenda Jackson wins that's one more MP to returning Gordon Brown, but does Aaro even want that?
In summary, I don’t know whether he [David Cameron] and his party are radical or conservative. Every time I think this has been resolved one way, something happens to suggest the opposite.
This is quite amusing and percipient of the Conservative Party at the moment: it's also silly. There are no really conservative parties anywhere. Labour is small 'c' conservative in many ways (especially in the 80s). And ideas are only radical when very few people hold them. Let's not forget that Tony Benn used to insist that 'radical' came from the Latin 'radix' or 'root'. (I picture all opposites like those as being on the surface of a Möbius strip. They're not useful, IMO.)
Take the mood oddly revealed by Labour’s utterly misconceived poster last week. The point of making Mr Cameron a throwback to the 1980s, in the shape of the Ashes to Ashes character Gene Hunt, was to warn the electorate of a return to the bad old days. The problem is that a section of voters have got it into their heads that almost any time was better than this, including punch-the-bad-guy policing. Mr Cameron’s response? “I think there will be thousands of people, millions of people, in the country who wish it was the 1980s and that police were out there feeling collars and nicking people instead of filling in forms.”
This is wrong, I think. I've only watched one episode of Life on Mars, so I'm not expert, but people like Gene Hunt. He's direct, straight (in the 'old-fashioned' sense). I bet that if you asked "How could anyone like that Gene Hunt?" of a group of women, you'd be met with one of those awkward silences. Well at least Cameron wasn't compared to Clint Eastwood's 'Dirty' Harry Callaghan character - who was always being told that his methods weren't acceptable (and that was in the early 70s). Everyone knows that violent policemen aren't desirable, but Eastwood and Glenister manage to project a sort of emotional intelligence. Never mind that the Hunt character was the copyright of the BBC (as defined in the Digital Economy Bill); the image sent the wrong dog whistle. Accusing their opponent of both conviction and courage - what was Millbank thinking of?
The whole thing is so confusing. The Conservatives are excellent on defence and internationalism, but useless and deceptive on Europe. They say good words about the poor, but suggest that their policy emphasis will be on reducing taxes for the middle classes and -- amazingly-- the very wealthy.
Is any party anything other than "useless and deceptive on Europe"? My idea of excellence on internationalism is similar to Aaro's: it's a good thing. No so with 'defence' (dreadful Newspeak evasion: rename the MoD the 'Ministry of War' at least). As for tax reduction on the wealthy: the Tories have arguments here. I think they're utterly wrong, but they should be addressed rather than snarked at.
Here's Dave's Independent Candidate Tamsin Omond very very slow website. She seems nice, if naive. So were the Founding Fathers of the US (naive that is, not nice, I'm not a total idiot).
Update Tuesday 6/3/2010 12:18 BST. Nothing to do with a superinjunction or restriction on free speech. All to do with the BNP apparently. Thanks to 'More Media Nonsense' in the comments. I wish Harry's Place good luck in distinguishing between "any BNP supporter/sock puppet" and their regular crew of posters.
Harry's Place may have been 'slapped' (as the parlance has it) with a super injunction. Comments are not available at all. Oliver Kamm doesn't know what's happening either.
I disagree with almost every post on Harry's Place, and I find most of their commenters obnoxious. [Sigh] However, the super injunction, if it's true (and it fits the facts) seems to me to be an undemocratic restriction on free speech. IF this is true (and that's very qualified, as I really don't know all the facts), then I'm happy to say that I deplore the actions of the British Legal System and I insist on Harry's Place right to self-expression.
Jack of Kent (David Allen Green) is a lawyer; I am not. He also seems a decent enough bloke. Still, fools rush in, and all that.
And when Joanna Lumley combined with English lawyers Howe & Co and the Gurkha Ex-Servicemen's Organisation (Gaeso) to demand that the government allowed veterans to settle in Britain, she, too, seemed to be standing up against an injustice so clear only the blind could miss it. So she was. When Lumley, the media and the opposition parties said that Gurkhas should have the same rights as other foreign veterans, they were highlighting a blatant double standard. Nothing wrong with that, but as I mentioned a few weeks ago, the campaign against state hypocrisy had blind spots of its own. Since then, allegations about the abuse and exploitation of often weak and illiterate men have grown louder.
This isn't a story which Nick has courageously broken on his own. Simon Hattenstone in the Saturday paper interviewed Ms Lumley.
We meet ostensibly to discuss a TV documentary series she has made about the Nile. When I ask about the Gurkhas, she tells me, firmly, that we're here to talk about the Nile. All right, but it's strange that she should refuse to talk about the one thing she wouldn't shut up about last year.
"Sorry, we can't go on to Gurkhas, we do have to do Nile," she says. And she does look sorry. Twitchy, uncomfortable and sorry.
I ask about the backlash against her. She stares at me. Why has she gone so quiet on the subject? She stares again. OK, she says, you really want to know why I've been quiet? Simple, she says, it was part of the deal – once she had secured victory for the Gurkhas, she agreed to put a sock in it. She takes a deep breath, and out it all pours. "The government didn't want this Gurkha thing to stay in the headlines, and when we got everything we wanted, we said we'll do things privately, have meetings with the home secretary, setting up all sorts of things to make sure everything works. Suddenly this blows up from a government minister. We've all promised to keep quiet, quiet, quiet, and now we're not going to keep quiet any more. We're just going to have to refute every single piece of it." (Four days after we meet, Lumley and Martin Howe, the lawyer whose firm advised the Gurkhas, hold a press conference in which they say that Whitehall has conducted a smear campaign against them.) The most offensive thing, she says, is that Jones suggested it was her job to inform Gurkhas of their new rights. "The impertinence of it! This is his government's policy. It's bullshit. I think the MP called our lawyers shysters and unscrupulous. I mean SHOCKING." She says the lawyers won the settlement case on legal aid. As for the false promises she is alleged to have made, she doesn't know where to start. "Now we've been accused of promising them £1,000 a week, houses, cars. It's bullshit. We've never said a thing about it. Bullshit. Scandalous. SCANDALOUS."
The full extent of how charity workers and lawyers are raking in millions of pounds from helping Gurkhas settle in the UK was exposed last night. A charity linked to Joanna Lumley has been accused of 'conning' Gurkhas out of their life savings by charging them £500 for advice before they fly to Britain. A firm of lawyers has also pocketed £1million in taxpayers' money to do the same thing.
Nudge, nudge, etc. "Millions" in the title and then the mention of "£1million in taxpayers' money" - but that didn't come from the Gurkas - that came from their former employer, the British Government. And that's not "milking" BTW.
Miss Lumley was last night under mounting pressure over her refusal to speak out after a minister said he was 'irritated' by her ' deafening silence' over the scandal. There is no suggestion that Miss Lumley and Howe & Co have done anything illegal.
Harrumph. Nick likes the 'deafening silence' quote too. Not just an ordinary or common or garden silence for the former Avengers' actress, but a deafening one, and nobody likes those. Those, you'll agree, are the particularly sinister kind that give you chills.
But the story really comes from the second para of the Mail "A charity linked to Joanna Lumley..." The Wikipedia entry on Joanna Lumley doesn't link her to GAESO.
It's clear to me that GAESO is indeed slippery and exploitative. It's a lot less clear why Joanna Lumley should apologise for someone else's actions. Because no good deed goes unpunished? Because she embarrassed our government? Nick:
British campaigners including Lumley, knew about his allegations, but preferred to accept the organisation's assurances that all contributions were voluntary. Last year, dissident Gaeso members filed a lawsuit against the president, alleging long-standing corruption.
What was she supposed to do? Get involved in the in-fighting between members of a charity? How would that help? If one lot file a lawsuit against their former colleagues, it's best to keep quiet until a court decides, isn't it?
I know that "GAESO took the actress on a victory tour of Nepal last year". (From the Mail.) I still don't think she's culpable in any way. As always, I welcome evidence of further "links".
Thanks to John Fallhammer in our comments, we have David Aaronovitch on the Today Programme. Now I realise that our man knew he was on a five-minute slot at the end of the programme and he'd be sharing talking time with John Humphrys and fellow guest Sean Rickard of the Cranfield University School of Management, but his 'cultural' explanation for the declining of striking strikes me glib froth. Yes, it's true that many unionised people are 'middle-class' now, and it's also true that they don't like trouble makers, but that's because they have mortgages, and even a strike for higher pay is a sort of bet that you'll make the money you lose back in the medium term at worst. However, it's still a bet. Losing a rented flat is enormously worrying, but you can find somewhere else usually; losing the home you've been paying for is a waste of the last several years on the housing ladder. And so on. Unions are weaker. They're strong when workers are qualified through apprenticeships and experience and very hard to replace. This is less true now. Also Germany (which in many ways is a good parallel for British industrial history) had fewer strikes than us: but that was, contra Sean Rickard, because management understood the unions: the British system was excessively adversarial.
However, all that said (and that was pretty much top of my head stuff, I could go on and on here), Aaro is a good radio voice: fluent, pleasant sounding, clear, articulate, and all of that. He comes over as agreeable, though I think Sean Rickard is more convincing (though in my opinion, also wrong). As for DA's point on Brendan Barber - I think striking for more money makes sense; I don't think that striking against lay-offs does, so much.
Utterly mediocre men who have never risked anything
Warning: this post contains a link to the Daily Mail. Worse, I'm actually going to suggest that you read the linked article. This post is also a little tangential to our normal watching, but still, IMO, on topic. So enough with writing about writing (curse thee, vile postmodernism) and onward with our little play.
Cohen skilfully shows how the left perversely sets its moral compass by the United States. ...
He is at his very best when he exposes the dishonesty of the liberal press. ...
This is admirable. Cohen's book has made me look with greater respect at the motives behind those who led the journey to war in Iraq in 2003, and view many of the anti-war campaigners with a new scepticism. There are, however, certain important methodological flaws that cast doubt on his central thesis.
Cohen grabs key Western concepts and applies them very loosely in a Middle-Eastern context, where they have a problematic application. For him Saddam Hussein's Baath Party is 'fascist' and so are the Islamic movements that it suppressed. There is no doubt that the word 'fascist' adds power and apparent clarity to Cohen's polemic, and it is of course the case that Saddam borrowed some of the most loathsome Nazi ideas. But the use of such a specific and emotive Western term to describe a variety of complex and distinct phenomena hinders rather than enables genuine understanding.
I don't agree with Oborne's praise by the way, but I do admire the diplomacy with which he led into his attack. At least according to Stephen Glover in the Independent, Nick was 'stung' by the letter to the Observer.
He lays into the judges, and denounces two of the runners-up for the Orwell prize, Peter Hitchens of The Mail on Sunday and Peter Oborne of the Daily Mail. Ridiculously, he asserts they are "utterly mediocre men who have never risked anything". Mr Hitchens happens to be in the audience, and conducts himself with great dignity.... Referring to Mr Oborne, he said that the Mail columnist "spends most of his time trying to shut other journalists up". This is evidently an allusion to Mr Oborne's role as a signatory to the letter, and a preposterous exaggeration. I don't believe he wants to shut anyone up.
Coming back to the present, we may have established that Nick thinks that going to war zones for humanitarian reasons sets one morally above those who stay at home and carp. (Oh? you see where this is going.) Peter Oborne has a fine article in the Mail (almost as good as the url).
Oborne takes two kinds of risk. One, he went to dangerous country. Two, he then wrote in the Daily Mail about Christians killings Muslims. This gives some idea.
Men sat on the right of the church, gorgeously-dressed women on the left. A soldier with a gun lounged at the back, stretching and yawning. The singing was heartbreakingly beautiful. The pastor intoned: 'We pray for the peace of the nation, we pray for the people of Nigeria.' He devoted much of his sermon to reading, with relish, from a long, inflammatory and palpably faked document setting out in great detail Muslim plans to take over and dominate Plateau State. It named leading Muslim generals and politicians as part of an organised conspiracy - Christian Nigeria's answer to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
The comments are largely not from the liberal-left. I find them largely disgusting, which confirms me as a panini-chowing liberal, I guess. "Give them some more aid money. That should solve the problem." Oh, har har har. "Nigeria is a complete basket case and will never be any different, so please control Nigerian immigration to the UK, it,s their no.1 destination of choice because of our lax liberal way of life and open door policy[.]" Nothing like the old idee fixe about immigration. I thought all these Muslims hated "our lax liberal way of life" and the Christians were causing a schism in the C of E over homosexuality. "Muslim fundamentalists have one aim and that is to convert or kill any none Muslim and your simplistic idea would fail totally." Muslims are the ones being killed here, actually.
It's good reporting, and Oborne made a C4 programme to go with it.
So, your thoughts? Please limit comments about Nick's inebriation in that video. We can all see he's drunk, and even his defenders admit that Peter Hitchens' conduct won over the audience. But talk about risk, the liberal-left, and name-calling as much as you want.
 For those with browsers like mine (Chrome on Snow Leopard) which don't display the full url, the filename is PETER-OBORNE-Armed-guns-machetes-chanting-Kill-Kill-Kill.html which is hard to beat.