Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Three days off

Hagley Road to Ladywood is back at the week-end.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Top political songs?

The New Statesman first, and the remains of the NME second, decided to analyse the top 20 political songs of all time.

Of course it's entirely a personal matter and also it's directly linked with the music you're familiar with. For instance, from their list it's quite obvious that the New Statesman people aren't incredibly clued up with the last 25/30 years music-wise, which is fair enough.

Music and politics don't generally mix incredibly well. If anything because most popular bands tend to end up making obscene amounts of money which renders some of their lyrics redundant, so to speak.

I'm a massive Clash fan, but I'd be the first to admit that some of their rabble-rousing was more to do with posturing than anything else. As for the messianic stuff a-la U2 or Simple Minds, they always trod the safe route and hardly ever sang anything anyone would disagree with.

The best 'political' songs are the most subtle ones, in my opinion. Which is why my personal list is not going to include any Redskins or Billy Bragg:

The Smiths- The Queen Is Dead (1986)
"I said Charles don't you ever crave to appear in the front of the Daily Mail dressed in your mother's bridal veil."

The Housemartins- The People Who Grinned Themselves to Death (1987)
"And even when their kids were starving they all thought the queen was charming"

The Clash- Clampdown (1979)
"So you got someone to boss around/It makes you feel big now/You drift until you brutalize/You made your first kill now"

Futureheads- First Day (2004)
"Welcome to your new job, hope you have a wonderful first day/We are so happy to have you join the team, you are so lucky on your first day"

Pulp- Joyriders (1994)
"Mister, we just want your car 'cos we're taking a girl to the reservoir/ Oh, all the papers say it's a tragedy but don't you want to come and see?"

The Clash- The Magnificent Seven (1980)
"Karlo Marx and Frederich Engels came to the checkout at the 7-11"

The Jam- Running On The Spot (1982)
"We're just the next generation of the emotionally crippled"

Manic Street Preachers- A Design For Life (1996)
"Libraries gave us power then work came and made us free, what price now for a shallow piece of dignity"

Pink Floyd- Money (1973)
"New car, caviar, four star daydream, think I'll buy me a football team"

Radiohead- Electioneering (1997)
"Riot shields, voodoo economics/ It's just business, cattle prods and the IMF/ I trust I can rely on your vote"

The Enemy- Away From Here (2007)
"I'm so sick, sick, sick and tired/Of working just to be retired/I don't want to get that far/I don't want your company car"

The Pogues- Streets of Sorrow Birmingham Six (1988)
"There were six men in Birmingham/In Guildford there's four/That were picked up and tortured/And framed by the law"

Paul Heaton- God Bless Texas (2008)
"God Bless Texas where the only real trace of a brown or black face is in a bird's nest where bears are for shootin', the world's fit for lootin' on protest"

Gang of Four- I Love A Man In A Uniform (1982)
"The good life was so elusive/ Handouts, they got me down/ I had to regain my self-respect/ So I got into camouflage"

REM- World Leader Pretend (1988)
"I sit at my table and wage war on myself/ It seems like it's all for nothing"

Monday, March 29, 2010

2010 Election special: Labour

In the final instalment of our Pre-Election series, Bob Piper explains why the Labour Party is still worth your vote.

I am a Labour Party member, a socialist, a life-long trade unionist, and a Labour councillor, and over the next two months I will be tramping the streets with my comrades trying to persuade up to 10,000 people in my Ward to vote Labour on May 6th.

Why would we ask people to vote Labour? Not for war in the Middle East, 42-day detention, privatisation of public services and a continuing commitment to the nuclear arms race... that’s for sure.

Nor do I expect an incoming Labour Government to a fundamental and irreversible shift in the balance of power and wealth in favour of working people and their families. I wish it were so, but I am not that naive, and more importantly, neither are the electorate.

There is much in the Manifesto of the Green Party, and some within that of the Liberal Democrat Party that I can find resonance with, not to mention those of Respect and the Communist Party. One of my greatest regrets over the last decade is the loss of so many good socialists who have given up on Labour’s cause to join smaller parties or single issue groups.

But the reality is, Labour represents the best left-of-centre hope of defeating the Conservatives. Given our current electoral system a vote for the Greens or Respect is, in all but the most extreme circumstances, an electoral protest vote which will assist the Conservatives. I understand why people may wish to record their protest at the ballot box, but unlike many who are too young or whose memories are too short, I fully recall the devastation inflicted upon the working class in Britain by the Tories during the 1980s and 1990s.

So when people say that Labour hasn’t ended child poverty, or reduced the gap between the very richest and the poorest in our society, I agree, we have not done enough. But in 1996 I sat in a primary school building in one of the poorest boroughs in this country trying to finds ways in which we could mend the a leaking classroom roof without having to sack cleaning or catering staff. If my father was diagnosed with cancer, then he could be waiting up to 18 months for treatment in a hospital built as an extension to the workhouse in the nineteenth century. There was no minimum wage, no Surestart or Children’s Centres, and you could be sacked for being lesbian or gay with no comeback in law.

None of these things represent the ‘fundamental and irreversible’ transformation of society, and those of us who are socialists in the Labour Party know that only too well. Many people who now feel relatively comfortable economically will vote Conservative, or Liberal Democrat, and they will probably not even notice the changeover. However, for those people in our most deprived areas, those living on the margins, the differences will be all too real.

It is for those people that I will be saying, on May 6th, vote Labour.

Bob Piper is a Labour councillor in Sandwell, West Midlands. He blogs at

Sunday, March 28, 2010

2010 Election special: Conservative

Part 10 of our Pre-Election guide is about the Tories and their biggest chance in almost twenty years. Today, Jackart explains why you should vote Conservative.

Every Labour government leaves an almighty mess for the Conservatives to clean up. The UK’s recession was the deepest and longest of any major economy because Labour was spending more than was taken in taxes long before the crash, which may have “started in America”, but predictably took deepest root in Brown’s profligate UK.

Despite the greatest rise in peacetime taxation in British history, during the country’s longest ever boom, the deficit is one of the largest in the developed world. The Labour line that to cut spending now would “jeopardise the recovery” is an outrageous lie. Public borrowing ‘crowds out’ private investment, sending viable business to the wall for want of credit. Conservatives understand this, and propose cutting the deficit as fast as possible, in order that the economy can grow.

Despite the rhetoric, much of Brown’s spending spree has missed nurses or teachers, funding instead a vast Labour client-state of quangocrats and box-tickers. Service users have seen little benefit, even on Labour’s own terms. Tories aim to cut the wasteful non-jobs which have ballooned under Labour, freeing front line professionals to do theirs.

The armed forces are nearly broken after a decade of fighting wars on a peace-time budget. The Navy and RAF have too few ships and planes, the Army is lacking helicopters. The TA (8% of forces in Afghanistan) are being told to stop training, and nearly a third of the infantry is undeployable. Defence spending has not been reviewed systematically since 1998 – this would be a Conservative priority.

Labour has been the most savagely illiberal regime in British history. Tories propose a ‘Bill of Rights’ which would guarantee liberties like Jury trials and Habeas Corpus, and a “Great repeal bill” to scrap many of the 3,000 new offences invented by this government; many of them thought-crimes of which you’re guilty until proven innocent. The Tories are not Libertarians but they understand the danger of too much power in police hands.

Conservative education policy is especially radical in allowing new schools to be set up funded by, but not run by the state. This has been shown to work in Sweden and the USA. It delivers more money directly to schools by cutting out the middle-men in LEAs. This will drive up standards in existing schools too: in US experience, the poorest areas benefit most from increased choice.

“They’re all as bad as each other” is merely Labour’s most pernicious lie. Conservatives have a coherent plan to devolve power – from Brussels to Westminster, Westminster to Councils and Councils to individuals.

Localisation means removing many of the counter-productive targets which have distorted priorities in policing, the NHS and local Government, allowing local people to see what is being done by publishing the details of spending and contracts online.

It means letting local people set priorities by electing Sheriffs to run policing. It means altering the benefits system to remove disincentives to work; simplifying the absurdly complicated tax-code; scrapping regulations hamstringing business and (eventually) taking less tax from people. It means, in short, guaranteeing people’s liberty from a bullying, nosy and rapacious state.

It is only possible to scratch the surface in 500 words of Labour’s catastrophic failure and Conservative plans for smaller, better-run and less intrusive Government, but things have to change, and the Conservatives have a plan.

Jackart is a Libertarian blogger and Conservative Party member. He blogs at A Very British Dude.

Church scandal, BA strike, Politicians for Hire, Suede at RAH...

...that was the week that was...

The things I would have blogged on last week are piling up:

- the escalating Catholic church sex abuse scandal. This week's revelations were the most shocking, with the news that, in 2001, the current Pope ordered a cover-up of up to 200 cases of paedopriests and nonces.

But the most ridiculous bit is when you hear the Vatican's defence line.

The other day, top Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco repeated that "the phenomenon of paedophilia has been tragically widespread in different sectors and various categories of people and various places, even non-Catholic". Is that supposed to make it any better, you utter imbecile?

It's like having Fred West pleading mitigation on the grounds that "serial killers have always tragically been around, I'm not the only one";

- the 2nd BA strikes, along with the notion that nobody strikes for fun or because they feel like it - a simple fact that the press at large seem to have forgotten. Just look at Unite's Dossier of disgrace, highlighting the bullying and harassment that's been taking place against union members under the management of Willie Walsh;

- Channel 4's Politicians for Hire and the greedy, shameless, cringeworthy procession of former Blairite ministers begging for secret deals. I wish I could say "why am I surprised", given that the New Labour project could only have worked by removing any remaining trace of 'integrity'. And yet, seeing Stephen Byers, Geoff Hoon and Patricia Hewitt doing an Alan Partridge on telly was just gut-wrenching.

The politicians' responses at the end of each piece were just priceless. The succession of hollow disclaimers such as "Mr/Mrs [...] did not breach the MPs' Code of Conduct" was the equivalent of watching clear footage of a man punching a victim in the face followed by the same man's statement that he "denies any wrongdoing";

- Suede reforming after 7 years for a one-off gig in aid of the Teenage Cancer Trust at the Royal Albert Hall. Read Mark Reed's amazing review of the night here.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

2010 Election special: the Green Party

Part 9 of our Pre-Election guide. Today, human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell explains why it's time to give the Green Party a chance.

Labour has lost its heart and soul. It has become the party of war, privatisation and the erosion of hard-won civil liberties. The Lib Dems support free market capitalism, use dirty tricks during election campaigns, and when they get into office they always drift to the right. The Conservatives are split between modernisers and the reactionary old guard. Their green-friendly image is contradicted by their anti-green policies of supporting new motorways, aviation expansion and more nuclear power stations – just like Labour.

As I see it, the Green Party is the most progressive force in British politics, with a visionary agenda for democratic reform, social justice, human rights, global equity, environmental protection, peace and internationalism.

With an empowering new political and economic paradigm, the Greens offer the best hope for radical reform, as set out in our Manifesto for a Sustainable Society.

Unlike the far left, the Greens often win. We’ve got elected representatives in local councils all over Britain, and in the London Assembly and the Scottish and European Parliaments. Opinion polls suggest that the Greens are poised to win their first MPs. Caroline Lucas is leading in Brighton Pavilion and the Greens are also polling well in Norwich South and Lewisham Deptford.

The Greens are not just an environmental party. We are also a social justice party, with commitments to industrial democracy, workers cooperatives and trade union rights. Our aim is a democratic economy, which gives all employees a real say in how their institution is run and which utilises their accumulated skill and experience to improve private enterprises and public services.

We want to make society fairer and more equal, and to redistribute wealth and power. This democratisation and socialisation of the economy is necessary, we argue, to improve productivity, prevent a repeat of the reckless decisions that led to the economic meltdown and to reorient production to meet people’s needs. This includes switching from weapons production to the manufacture of renewable energy and advanced medical technologies, which are socially useful and have huge export potential.

The Greens are not retreads of the old Left. Traditional socialism is flawed. It is based on a left-wing version of big business growth-driven economics, with the goal of producing more and consuming more. This uncritical drive to maximise economic expansion is destroying our planet, causing life-threatening pollution, climate chaos and species extinction. It is also dramatically depleting reserves of natural resources, such as oil, that are vital to the global economy and to the long-term maintenance of a decent standard of living. This old-style growth-fixated economics, which is shared by both the left and the right, is outdated and reactionary. It is time for fresh thinking.

The Greens argue that quality of life and fair shares for all are more important than the left’s simplistic agenda of spending more on public services. Greens would, of course, invest more in health and education. But we also believe that government needs to radically rethink basic premises, like shifting the focus in the NHS from curative to preventative medicine. Our aim is to ensure that many fewer people get sick in the first place, rather than merely throwing more money into treating people once they become ill.

The Greens realise that the whole economic system has to change, in order to meet people’s needs and to ensure the survival of life on this planet. We propose a synthesis of the best bits of red and green, combining social justice with sustainable economics.

A good example of how we would do this is our proposed Roosevelt-style Green New Deal. It would stimulate the economy through large-scale government investment in socially and environmentally valuable energy conservation, renewable energy and cheap, hi-tech public transport. This would slash carbon emissions and tackle climate change, as well as creating hundreds of thousands of green jobs.

We’d fund the Green New Deal by axing Labour and Tory plans to waste £160 billion on Trident nuclear missiles (£76bn), super aircraft carriers (£4bn), Eurofighter aircraft (£20bn), A400 air transporter (£3bn), national identity register (£10bn), the Afghan war (£5bn), motorway building and widening (£30bn) and NHS computerisation (£20bn).

The Green Party rejects the failed neo-liberal economic policies that are backed by the three main parties - policies that recently pushed the world to the brink of a second great depression and which leave billions of people malnourished, illiterate, homeless, diseased and impoverished. But amid the gloom, we say: A different world is possible. The future is bright – bright Green.

Peter Tatchell is a human rights campaigner and a member of the Green Party. Read more about his work at:

[Tomorrow: the Conservatives, by M. Jackart]

Friday, March 26, 2010

2010 Election special: Liberal Democrats

In part 8 of our Pre-Election guide, Andrew Hickey explains the philosophy behind Britain's third largest party: the Lib Dems.

A lot of people don't get the Liberal Democrats.

I think this is to do with the fact that we're portrayed in the media (and, indeed, used to portray ourselves) as centrists, which given that the parties of the 'left' and 'right' in the UK are both right-wing authoritarian corporatist parties with little but brand names to distinguish them, leads people to dismiss us without really bothering to investigate what we stand for.

The fact is, the Liberal Democrats are a fundamentally different kind of party to Labour and the Conservatives. Not because of our policies - though these do differ substantially from those parties - but because of our philosophy. I don't have much space, so I'll give two examples.

The first is this, from our constitution, printed on the membership card of every member:

"the Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, in which no-one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity".

Is this something you can really imagine 'New' Labour or the Tories saying? In particular, note the bit about conformity. Other ideologies may well accept, say, bisexual or trans people, because they believe in fairness - and I do not want, at all, to slight the very real commitments to equality that have been made by member of other parties. But only liberalism as an ideology sees non-conformity as an actual good, as something to be celebrated (and not in a 'celebrating diversity' way, but as the core of our beliefs) rather than tolerated.

Alex Wilcock once spent some time coming up with alternative slogans for the Lib Dems. My favourite was "If you want to tell the Daily Mail to fuck off, vote Lib Dem".

We believe in freedom, not just the 'freedom of choice' the major parties talk about, but real freedom - including the freedom to do things we may personally find distasteful. We fought against the recent criminalisation of 'extreme pornography', for example, not because we as a party find that sort of thing of interest, but because finding something a bit icky is not actually a good reason to criminalise it.

Also, we're the only major party that doesn't want power.

That may sound like an odd claim, but it's literally true. The Liberal Democrats support a form of proportional representation called 'multi-member STV'. I don't have space for the details, but if it was brought in in Westminster it would lead to power being shared between a lot of smaller parties co-operating, rather than alternating between two big near-identical parties as today.

The Tories and Labour talk about change and reform, but will never reform the system that keeps them in power. Were the Lib Dems to get into power, we would make sure it never happens again. That's why you should vote for us.

Andrew Hickey is a member of the Liberal Democrats. He blogs here.

[Tomorrow: The Green Party, by Peter Tatchell]

Thursday, March 25, 2010

2010 Election special: Respect

Part 7 of our Pre-Election guide. Salma Yaqoob explains why voting Respect is a good idea.

One of the many problems with the British electoral system is that it is fundamentally undemocratic. The first past the post electoral system effectively discriminates against the large percentage of the population that looks beyond New Labour or the New Tories when they cast their vote.

One consequence is that those whose voices are not represented by the mainstream get squeezed out. For example, it is a remarkable fact that the British parliament probably stands alone in Europe as never having had a single Green party MP.

Another consequence is that as the parties merge into the middle ground in a race for a small number of marginal seats, so too does politics become less about substance and more about appearance.

On the main issues facing the British people today, there is only the appearance of difference on policy from Labour, Tories and Lib Dem.

On the economy, all three have for years embraced and celebrated the neo-liberal free market dogma responsible for record levels of wealth inequality and the worst recession in over fifty years.

They are also united on the necessity of vicious cuts as the solution to the crisis and are divided only on the timescale for the implementation of those cuts. In Birmingham, for example, where I am a ward councillor, a Lib Dem/Tory council is making 2,000 jobs cuts this year and up to another 5,000 in the coming years. The Labour group in the Council literally sat on their hands when they had the chance to vote against the cuts – choosing to abstain.

On climate change, there has been a collective failure of the political establishment to take the kind of urgent action which could shift our economy towards being more environmentally friendly, and to create hundreds of thousands of jobs in new green industries. Instead, billions continue to be wasted on new Trident nuclear weapons and ID cards.

On the war in Afghanistan, all three parties support a disastrous occupation and have been loyal servants of American foreign policy. The Lib Dem anti-war creditials disappeared the very moment they were most needed, when the invasion of Iraq actually started. The only difference between them and the others now is that apparently they bomb with a heavier heart.

The subsequent racism and Islamophobia that has accompanied the ‘war on terror’ has served only to feed the growth of the far right and undermine political commitment to the British model of multiculturalism and pluralism.

In the face of this stifling, and increasingly right-wing consensus, what difference would it make to vote Respect?

Firstly I believe it is essential that we elect politicians free to speak out, and with the courage of their convictions to do so. The space for radical progressive voices at the centre of politics is shrinking just as our answers are more and more relevant. I believe there is a large minority – in some cases a majority – for whom the principles of peace, justice and equality are the bedrock of their politics.

We cannot and should not allow this long and important political tradition to be pushed to the margins.

Salma Yaqoob is the leader of Respect- the Unity Coalition. She is a councillor for the Birmingham Sparkbrook ward and is contesting the Birmingham Hall Green constituency at the forthcoming general election. Click here to see her website.

[Tomorrow: the Liberal Democrats, by Andrew Hickey]

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

2010 Election special: Plaid Cymru

Part 6 of our Pre-Election series: Ceri Ames makes his pitch for Plaid Cymru, 'the Party of Wales'.

For the first time since 1992, this year I will be casting my vote in a UK general election in Wales. In 1992, despite some reservations, I voted Labour, hoping that they would form a government. This time round I will vote Plaid Cymru, and while there may not be any great breakthrough for Plaid, I suspect that many ex-Labour voters will act like me.

There are two main factors influencing my vote. The first is my despair at Labour’s policies. Whatever lip service New Labour has paid to its leftwing over the years, and despite the pitiful attempts recently to shore up its traditional support, it remains committed to the policies that have predictably failed over the last 13 years.

Plaid offers the kind of social democratic policies that Labour shed in the years leading to power, such as a commitment to reining in the power of the financial sector, greater employment rights and the creation of worthwhile jobs, and a more progressive tax regime.

Of course, Plaid will never be in a position to implement these policies from Westminster (even a conveniently balanced hung parliament would allow a few concessions more likely to involve issues regarding increased Welsh Assembly powers or overall funding), but a vote for Plaid will strengthen its position, and show both the U.K. and Welsh Assembly governments that Welsh opinion is to the left of the U.K. political mainstream and in favour of pursuing policies based on these views thorough the Welsh Assembly.

As well as this, there is a more general reason for my vote, that of creating a more accountable democracy.

The current disillusionment with political parties and politicians will negatively affect progressive politics more than the right. A more responsive, smaller scale, devolved polity can help to combat this cynicism. The more power is devolved, the closer individuals and communities are to the decisions that affect their lives. One of the key issues in Welsh and Scottish devolution was the 18 years of Tory government that essentially had no mandate in these countries, and key decisions were made by these Governments, or worse, by one man appointed by the Government.

Whilst I wouldn’t suggest that the Welsh assembly is the answer to these problems, it is a vast improvement on what went before, and could be a step in the direction of a healthy, more participatory democracy for Wales.

Ceri Ames blogs here at Hagley Road to Ladywood.

[Tomorrow: Respect, by Salma Yaqoob]

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

2010 Election special: Labour left

Part 5 of Hagley Road's pre-election special. Today, Harpymarx explains why some MPs in the Labour Party are still worth your vote.

New Labour has severely damaged the Labour Party and plunged the party into a crisis. There have been 3 terms ranging from massive to reasonable majorities; unfortunately with a party geared towards a neoliberal agenda squandered it. As opposed to creating a truly equal transformative society, they choose the financial markets and fight unjust and illegal wars.

So with an election looming why should people vote for a pro-imperialist, warmongering and neoliberal party?

Well, that’s the thing with the Labour Party: the answer is far more complex. There are MPs in the Labour Party who are solid Socialists, dissidents in their party, who fight for the interests of the working class.

Over the past number of years, they have proved an invaluable thorn in the side of the New Labour machinery especially opposing the war in Iraq, always there to the put pressure on and reflect the public opposition to war. And as a Labour Party (on and off for 25 years) and a member of the Labour Representation Committee, I will be canvassing for those MPs and PPCs (Prospective Parliamentary Candidates) who backed the John McDonnell for leaders, against the privatisation of public services, against the war in Iraq.

If you are LP member or not but don’t want to see a Tory Party but can’t stomach canvassing for NL warmongering clone, then canvass for a principled leftie MP or PPC (see the list on the LRC website).

As I am based in London, I am hoping to do work for John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) and Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) and PPC Gary Heather (Tunbridge Wells). If you want to see solid Socialist MPs returned to Westminster, then canvass for them.

The likes of John McDonnell are beacons for political change and for an alternative to the reactionary neoliberal unequal agenda that has been adhered to by New Labour. The alternative that seeks to transform society into a equal and just society. Those dissident voices within the LP need our support to continue the fight against the NL machine and a possible Tory government.

You can read Harpymarx's blog here.

[Tomorrow: Plaid Cymru, by Ceri Ames]

Monday, March 22, 2010

2010 Election special: the BNP*

Part 4 of our Pre-election guide. Today, Daniel Hoffmann-Gill attempts to get into the mind of a BNP voter.

*Author's disclaimer: I despise the BNP and everything they stand for. I've spent a fair few years working both online and in the real world to disrupt and challenge their racist, myopic and unworkable ideas. Hence, I feel that I know their nonsense talking points inside out and, from a position of utter disbelief that their pseudo-policies engage reasonable minds, wanted to try and write and perhaps, start to grasp, the BNP voter perspective.

I urge you to vote for the BNP at the forthcoming elections because we are the only honest party, the only truthful party, that is willing and able to stand up and say the things too many are afraid to say. We will say them because our country needs saving from the horrors that have been inflicted on it by decades of inept and useless governance. We are the party to save Great Britain.

You will not hear "I'm not a racist but..." coming from me. I am a racist. We all are. Even you reading this, right now. It might not be obvious but we all have our deep-set personal prejudices towards different ethnicities based on our very real life experiences. These are natural and right; a defense mechanism against external threats that threaten our way of life here in the UK. And I can assure you, it is under threat.

Is it racist to point out just how much violent crime is committed by non-whites? Or that foreign imports destroy our indigenous industries, leaving us weak? Or that immigrants undermine our indigenous workforce and lower standards? Or that the Islamification of the UK brings with it severe repercussions for our human rights and our personal safety, under the deadly siege of terrorism? Is it racist to point out that the abuses of our democratic systems by these foreigners makes their very end all the more likely? At what cost? What are we getting from this one-way deal? Let us not forget our brave servicemen and women, who are spilling their precious blood in foreign land and for what end? At what cost? For far too long, Britain has been abused, exploited and taken for granted by those coming to our shores and at what cost? But no longer, if you vote BNP.

And many people already have done and yes, you may be comfortable dismissing some 1 million people who voted BNP in the European Parliamentary elections as idiots, but ask yourself this: what gives you the right? Who made you judge and jury? The BNP speaks to and for this ever growing silent majority. Is Political Correctness and fear limiting the scope and range of your ideas? Must not this fake idol but sacrificed at the alt
ar of truth and you turn to us?

So dismiss us. Give us 'No Platform'. Attack the personalities of our parties with vile accusations but oddly never our raft of excellent policy. Drag up ancient dictums of our party to browbeat us with, even though we no longer believe in them. Do all of these things and know that it will only make us stronger, because men and women all over the UK believe in us to be their lone voice, speaking truth to power, in their moment of need as their country slips through their very fingers. Join us, your country needs you.

Daniel Hoffmann-Gill is an actor and writer. He blogs at Blurred Clarity.

[Tomorrow: Labour Left, by HarpyMarx]

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Car crash TV: Famous Rich and Jobless

If the future of state-owned television was to depend on programmes like this, you could probably wave goodbye to the BBC within a week.

TV is bursting at the seams with crap and pathetic programmes, but with Famous Rich and Jobless, as shown last week on BBC One, the expression 'scraping the barrel' plumbs new depths.

Presented as "[F]our famous volunteers [who] agree to swap their fame and fortune for a world of joblessness, job-hunting and surviving on the poverty line and benefits", it can only be explained as some producers spotting long-term unemployment as a last resort to milk the "docu-reality" TV frenzy til the last drop, whatever happened to dignity.

I'm not particularly clued up with celebrities, but out of the four "famous volunteers" armed with alleged "fame and fortune", I only recognised Archie Mitchell of EastEnders' fame and Noel Gallagher's ex-wife. The other two turned out to be a celebrity gardener who looks a bit like Piers Morgan and someone related to Camilla Parker Bowles. Wow.

Needless to say, the world really needed to know how they'd cope pretending to be on the dole for a few days. That's a fine piece of public service from the BBC.

Dressed as "putting unemployment in the spotlight", this is the televisual equivalent of those newspaper articles much en-vogue at the onset of the recession, when it was still dubbed 'the credit crunch'. Back in 2008, you couldn't count the number of reports and articles by journalists who'd give up dinner parties for a couple of weeks to take their stab at the Poverty Game.

Famous Rich and Jobless, however, is done in even poorer taste. What's particularly worrying is the fact that it crossed nobody's mind amongst scriptwriters, editors and producers that maybe the whole idea was corny and tactless to the extreme.

No-one there to notice that life on the dole is not a twatty experiment carried out for public consumption. That the feeling you have in your stomach when you can't find the cash to pay off those outstanding bills is not a week-only pursuit. That the pain, depression and anguish of not knowing if and when you're going to have another wage coming in has nothing in common with four Z-list celebs playing at surviving on job seekers' allowance for 7 days. That justifying that growing gap on your CV, which becomes more awkward as each week passes by, has got FA in common with Noel Gallagher's ex-wife trying to remind the public that she still exists.

And no matter how many tons of cheap techno and drum'n'bass the producers stuck during the editing process, no matter how many swirls of the camera, Famous Rich and Jobless would still come across as hopelessly crass and helplessly fake.

Recent weeks have seen the BBC surrounded by the controversy over its so-called "strategic review". With plenty of such car-crash television on offer on other channels, programmes like Famous Rich and Jobless seem like the biggest advert in favour of the most savage of cutbacks.

2010 Election special: UKIP

Part 3 of our Pre-Election guide: Tim Worstall makes his pitch for the UK Independence Party.

You'll have seen that loudmouthed rude man on TV recently: that Nigel Farage. Yes, he's one of us, one of UKIP, the UK Independence Party.

The rudeness, well, when the country's been sold downriver you're likely to get that little irate, being loudmouthed in defence of liberty is no crime.

As to why you should vote for us: a vote for anyone else is wasted. You might as well rip up the ballot paper and use it to clean dog poop off the pavement: we're the only people who think your vote should continue to matter.

The Great Unmentionable of British politics is that Westminster may have been the Mother of Parliaments but she's now less than a regional quango. All the big decisions are taken in Brussels, by people not only we can't vote for, we can't vote against them. Remember when VAT went down 15%? Why didn't it go down further? Against EU rules that would be. Why is the rubbish collected once every other week now? EU rules that is. Can't buy a normal light bulb? EU rules...

80% of our laws on these sorts of things are now made in Brussels by the European Union and all that the British Government, those MPs you're going to be electing in a month or two, can do about it is shout "Yes Sir!". It's actually illegal for them to say no. Which is how we get a law about jams and marmalades which defines carrots as fruit. No, really 'tis true.

We're not against Europe mind: nothing wrong with the Continent, the people, cultures, food or the weather. We're against only the political system of the European Union. We came second in the EuroParliament elections last year, beating Labour into third place. We got elected an Earl, a union shop steward, a farmer, a retired policeman, a history teacher and, yes, that loudmouth in the suit on the telly. We've views on just about everything but the only important one, the one that unites us, is "who rules Britain?".

Who should be making our laws? Should it be the people we elect? Should the law, what we may and may not do without being thrown in pokey, be made by us and for us? We say yes it should. So we should leave the European Union and do as we wish, not as we're told.

And this is why we're the only party worthy of your vote. We're the only people who want to make sure it's worth a damn. Everyone else is quite happy continuing to take orders from Brussels. We'll cooperate with "Europe", of course. Trade freely, work together when we need or want to. But we're the only people who want elections to decide who actually rules us.

Is it us deciding for ourselves? Or them telling us what to do?

Yes, quite, we're adults and we're British, so we'll decide for ourselves thanks very much: vote UKIP.

Tim Worstall is a writer and former UKIP press officer. He blogs at

[Tomorrow: Daniel Hoffmann-Gill into the mind of a BNP voter]

Saturday, March 20, 2010

2010 Election special: the Pirate Party

Part 2 of our Pre-Election feature: Aaron Murin-Heath explains the merits of the Pirate Party.

I voted for Labour in the last three General Elections. In '97 I did it with conviction and hope. Four years later, before the War on Terror and all that jazz, I voted Labour with quiet content. At the last election, despite my better judgement and deep anger at the party, I did so again.

I will not be voting Labour in the coming General Election.

The fact remains that some of my closest political friends are still deeply wedded to the party. They don't have much love for Brown, and they're not defenders of the Iraq War, but their loyalty is to the party, not the personalities of the current car-wreck of a government. I've always been a pragmatist, not a tribalist.

I toyed with voting, and campaigning for, the Lib Dems. But having 'enjoyed' many run-ins with leadign Lib Dem bloggers, I found many of them to be insufferably self-righteous. I know Lib Dem bloggers who are great, but others seem to believe they have a monopoly on liberalism and a fabulous sense of their own importance.

So, I find myself without a natural home.

Recently I wrote encouraging voters to ignore the largely indistinguishable major parties and vote for the single issue that's closest to their heart. For me, it is individual rights and the increasing illiberalism of our lawmakers. Following my own advice I'm inclined to vote for the Pirate Party UK.

I know all about Godwin's law of internet debate, but there is something about the pending Digital Economy Bill that reeks of state-capitalism. I believe in artist rights and intellectual property, but to ram through a half-arsed statute that seems oblivious to the workings of the internet, is plain wrong.

(Read Paul Carr's excellent post at Tech Crunch for a fair-minded assessment of the Digital Economy Bill).

The Pirate Party knows that copyright law is broken. People should profit from innovation, but ideas that are in time shared and modified, contribute to our further advancement. And that has to be good.

Even with regard to media, it's important that all that is good and great is experienced by the maximum number of people. Artists should profit from their work, but they should also realise that the world that created the opportunity they enjoy, should be rewarded in turn by adding to the collective pool of human wisdom and creative output.

It's not socialism, far from it. It's about both rewarding creativity and also ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to enjoy the one limitless resource we have: knowledge.

Finally, with the internet, we can encourage children to discover and learn without limits. For politicians to consider cutting off an internet connection because someone is accused of downloading a copyrighted song is as baffling as cutting off a water supply because someone drowned a kitten in a bath. The internet is a utility. Fact.

(It's worth noting that there are no fines in the DEB for rights holders making spurious claims of infingement, meaning they can flood ISPs with complaints; that would ensure any fair process is impossible to implement).

Across the planet powerful lobbys are drafting draconian laws that endanger our freedom to share knowledge and propagate culture. A recent study found that file-sharers spend more money on new media than non file-sharers. We believe that artists and innovative companies should be rewarded for their efforts, but at the same time, we refuse to be held hostage to the excessive profit-mongering of monopoly rights holders.

If they stand in my area, I'll vote for the Pirate Party not because I believe in everything they stand for, but because I want this issue to get the scrutiny and focus it deserves. The DEB should be scrapped, and parliament should start again from scratch, drafting a law that has the propagation of knoweldge at its core, not the profts of big media.

I believe that the internet holds an astonishing power to realise otherwise unfulfilled potential in our young. Yes, many an internet hour is spent watching cats fall of sofas, but for the voracious and inquisitive young mind, the net presents an opportunity that previous generations could only dream of.

As Pope said, "A little knowledge is a dangerous thing".

Aaron Murin-Heath blogs at Rational Geekery.

[Tomorrow: the UK Independence Party, by Tim Worstall]

Friday, March 19, 2010

2010 Election special: Non-Voting

In Part 1 of our Pre-Election guide, Neil Robertson explains why not voting is "a small protest against a big injustice".

As a voter who's long felt left behind by Labour, who's unimpressed by the wet flannel liberalism of Nick Clegg and who remains underwhelmed by parties on the electoral fringe, this election has often felt like a choice between "the lesser of who cares?".

For me, the prospect of voting this May - a task I might have once grasped with enthusiasm - seems like a tawdry chore, with each party appearing like a cheap imitation of my own values.

Still, after a good few months of dismayed dithering and yawning, I finally came to a decision about how I'm going to vote in this election:

I won't.

Here's the thing: 6 years ago a British prisoner called John Hirst went to the European Court of Human Rights demanding that our government give him and his fellow inmates the right to vote. The court ruled that our blanket ban violated the Human Rights Act, and ordered the government to make the necessary changes.

Naturally, the government has deliberately dragged its feet ever since; issuing objections and obfuscations at every turn, and getting no closer to changing the law than the establishment of some weak-willed 'consulation exercises'.

This was fine for the first five years, but now the election has brought the matter into sharp relief. After ignoring repeated warnings that the General Election must not take place without the ban being lifted, in December the Council of Europe suggested that the election may breach the European convention on human rights. The council repeated that claim last week, along with the notice that, unless the law is changed, tens of thousands of prisoners would be within their rights to sue the British government.

As it stands, the coming election promises to be the first in modern history where tens of thousands of British citizens have illegaly barred from casting a ballot. Whatever crimes these men & women may have committed, however dubious their character, can we really claim to be tough on those who break the law when we are happy for the state to break its own laws in order to punish them?

For me, the answer is an unequivocal 'no'. I cannot, in good conscience, exercise my legally-guaranteed right to participate in the democratic process when tens of thousands of Britons are illegally deprived of theirs. For that reason, I will be staying at home come election day. Not out of apathy, nor out of a lack of available alternatives, but as a small protest against a big injustice.

Neil Robertson blogs at The Bleeding Heart Show.

[Tomorrow: the Pirate Party, by Aaron Murin-Heath].

Award for homophobic nonsense 2010

A US general says that the presence of gay soldiers had contributed to the Bosnian massacre.

You may have heard before that gay people ruin "the family". You may be used to accusations that they are "predatory", "promiscuous" and "perverted". Or you may have overheard religious figures saying that that homosexuality is "unnatural".

In the Eighties, the right-wing press dubbed AIDS "the gay plague". Elaine Kellet Bowman, a Conservative backbencher, told the House of Commons that she was proud to be "intolerant of evil". In the late Nineties, a brand of arse paper known as the Sun notoriously accused a "gay mafia" of plotting to take over the government.

But I'm sure this is the first time gay people have been held responsible for a genocide, no less.

In 1995, Bosnian Serb forces massacred 8,000 civilians in the town of Srebrenica.

Yesterday people heard this was at least partly due to homosexual Dutch soldiers. According to a former NATO commander, retired US general John Sheehan, their presence in Srebrenica contributed to the "weakening" of the military and "poor morale". "It was part of the problem", Sheehan said to a Senate Armed Services Committee.

Coming next: "Civil partnerships responsible for Chilean earthquake", says homophobic dipstick.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

When the Tories do a Berlusconi

Lawyers gag a BBC documentary on Lord Ashcroft.

I used to think that, for all their faults, the Conservatives could be trusted to not be as arrogant and confrontational as Italian Emperor and media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi.

Most of their ideas may still be a little backwards on social issues and perhaps overly right-wing on economics and workers' rights, but I was convinced that a typically British sense of fairness, principles and liberty would prevent them from slipping down the Berlusconi way.

For the unfamiliar, the Berlusconi way consists in silencing the media (or the remaining bits that don't belong to him) in the run-up to elections. The Italian PM was caught red handed in 18 tapped telephone calls, ordering national TV network RAI to gag all political programmes and talk shows in the weeks prior to the forthcoming regional elections across Italy (incidentally, his suggested ban did go ahead).

This morning, the Independent reports that BBC Panorama was silenced by Lord Ashcroft's lawyers.

The Corporation was about to broadcast a documentary about the controversial tax affairs of the Tory billionaire but, according to the Independent, "[the BBC] has received what one insider described as 'several very heavy letters' from Lord Ashcroft's lawyers [and] there is now little or no prospect of the investigation being broadcast before the general election, if it goes out at all".

The paper also reports delight in David Cameron's camp as the issue of Lord Ashcroft peerage and tax affairs has been seen at odds with the Conservatives' image of "change", contributing towards disappointing ratings in recent opinion polls.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

20 years of...Labour leaders

Who's been the best Labour leader in your opinion?

Neil "We're alright" Kinnock, 1983-1992

John Smith, 1992-1994

Tony "Teflon" Blair, 1994-2007

Gordon "Save the World" Brown, 2007-

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Comparing influence: Ashcroft vs Unite

For 13 years, Britain's unions have acted like a battered dog who keeps crawling back to its tormentor.

The acute observer may have noted that, whenever the scandal of multi-millionaire non-dom top party donor Lord Ashcroft is brought up, the Tories' default reaction is "yeah but the Unions too, they bankroll Labour".

Let's leave aside the long list of differences (technical, fiscal, substantial, ethical, practical, etc) between the two types of "donations". Let's leave aside "solemn and binding" promises.

The best way to gauge weight and influence as carried by Lord Ashcroft vs the Unions is to check the relationship between donors and political parties.

Not a single senior Tory has publicly said a bad thing against the Belize-based tycoon. They said a lot of things, but nothing bad. And how could they, given that the Baron has pumped around £5m into Tory coffers?

Now look instead at how Labour is actively laying into Unite the Union in the middle of a delicate industrial dispute with British Airways.

There's a trade union "proudly" handing around £3.6m a year to the Labour Party and publicly announcing that they made "tens of thousands of calls" to their members urging them to vote Labour at the forthcoming elections.

So what does the Labour Party do in return?

Public support would be too much, so forget that. How about neutrality and balance in the midst of the biggest industrial dispute of the year so far, that is the British Airways strike?

Fat chance. First, Transport Secretary Lord Adonis echoed BA boss as he called the strike "totally unjustified". "I absolutely deplore the strike", the unelected Baron told the BBC's Andrew Marr, adding that "it poses a threat" to the future of BA.

But Adonis went further. Sounding like your average Daily Mail column, he warned that "passengers should not be held to ransom by [Unite]".

Yesterday Gordon Brown joined in. Again, he slammed the strike as "deplorable and unjustified". Can you imagine David Cameron or George Osborne using those words against their biggest donor?

For 13 years, Britain's unions have acted like a battered dog who keeps going back to its tormentor.

With few exceptions, like the Fire Brigade Union (which, to their honour, disaffiliated in 2004), the unions keep getting the shit kicked out of them by the Party but then always crawl back, cheque in hand, to Master Labour.

20 years of...Conservative leaders

Who's been the best/worst Tory leader in your opinion?

John "Edwina" Major, 1990-1997

William 14-pints-a-day Hague, 1997-2001

Iain Duncan "Dull" Smith, 2001-2003

Michael Howard, something of the night about him, 2003-2005

Monday, March 15, 2010

20 years of...LibDem leaders

Who's been the best Lib Dem leader in your opinion?

Paddy Ashdown, 1988-1999

Charles Kennedy, 1999-2006

Ming Campbell, 2006-2007

Nick Clegg, 2007-

The Daily Weight- Part 2,249

Imagine if Gordon Ramsay slammed celebrities who swear on telly. Or Kerry Katona called someone a media whore...

...Well, if the Daily Mail can express outrage at skinny people being "appalling role models", then anything is possible.

Last Saturday we listed a small selection of what the Daily Mail wrote in the last month about weight: too-fat-too-thin, oh-my-god she's put on weight, oh-my-god she's lost weight.

It was a pathetic roll call of "trim figures", "slim new figures", "enviable figures" and "overweight people who can't taste fat in food".

Like clockwork, there comes the "opinion column", courtesy of Liz Jones (the one who hates Mankind).

"Skinny girls are appalling role models", it reads. Along with "Why stick thin Girls Aloud make me so angry" and "the Government's hysterical diktat on obesity" (...coming next, Tony Blair slamming "George W Bush's hysterical pro-war stance in Iraq"...), it's the usual display of soaked-in-hypocrisy Mail-like venom.

But the best bit is this:

"The only winners in this cycle are the slimming pill manufacturers and makers of 'foods' (relentlessly and mercilessly marketed at the type of women who buy into the whole Girls Aloud high-maintenance ethos) such as Muller Light and Special K".

Yes, Liz Jones. Yes. Content courtesy of WeightWatchers Online, right?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The minimum wage does NOT affect unemployment

Debunking the ongoing proto-Tory myth.

The debate that followed this article on apprenticeships and youth unemployment was hijacked by the Anti-Minimum Wage Crew.

Reprising an argument he'd already put forward here and here, Tim Worstall argued that countries like Denmark and Sweden have lower unemployment rates, including amongst the young, because "[N]either have a national minimum wage".

Worstall is spot-on when he argues that: "[O]ne of the vile things about the UK's current taxation system is that it reaches so far down the income scale [and that] it's possible to be working part-time on the minimum wage and be paying income tax". But the problem there is the tax system, not the minimum wage.

Which is why Worstall is wrong when he writes that "there really is an unemployment effect" caused by the minimum wage, effectively echoing what the Conservatives (including a younger David Cameron) were saying when the Minimum Wage Act was implemented back in 1999: "it would send unemployment straight back up". It never happened.

The argument is flawed on so many levels that it's even difficult to know where to begin. Especially because the causes of unemployment are so complex, both politically, geographically and historically, that it's actually unfair to point at black and white causes and solutions.

Either way, for a libertarian to cling on to Denmark and Sweden as market models is quite peculiar. Redistribution there may not take place in the flimsy guise of a National Minimum Wage, but their top tax rates would cause a free marketeer a seizure. It's 58% in Denmark and 55% in Sweden.

The whole ratio behind the introduction of a National Minimum Wage in the UK was precisely to enable people to earn something closer to "a living", without affecting the overall tax structure.

Also, Denmark may not have a state-imposed National Minimum Wage, but that's because there is already one that was privately knocked out together by the Danish Trade Unions and the employers' organisation covering 81 to 90 per cent of the national workforce. Incidentally, it is so low that virtually all Danish workers are paid above the minimum rate anyway.

In any case, when most countries compare their economic variables with Scandinavia, they tend to come off worse. I don't believe unemployment in Denmark is lower than in the UK because of the minimum wage any more than I believe lower temperatures can explain Scandinavia's lower corruption levels.

Italy -with a population very similar to Britain- has never had a National Minimum Wage. Yet it's joblessness rates have consistently been higher than the UK since the NMW.

Take a look at this comparative table. At the end of 1997, Italy's rate stood at 12,2% vs 6,8% in the UK.

The rate went down in both countries throughout the Noughties. Italy reached its best moment in 2007-8 at 6.1%, its levels though still higher than the UK, where the joblessness rate remained consistently under 5 per cent between 2003 and 2006.

It's also worth noting that, in 2003, Italy adopted labour laws that are amongst the most "flexible" in Europe. While casualisation sky-rocketed and it became fantastically easy and cheap for employers to hire and fire, this did little to stem the massive downturn when it hit in 2008.

Again, Italy's unemployment went back up. As of March 2010, it stands at 8,6%. Though at their worst since the early Nineties, Britain's rates - currently 7,8% - are still lower than Italy's.

Britain has a mimimum wage, Italy doesn't. Would that be enough to explain the different performances if we were to follow Worstall's logical fallacy?

If that wasn't enough, we could look at other variables. Focusing on Britain alone, we can return to this table. Look at how high unemployment was in the pre-minimum wage days, through both the 1980s and the 1990s.

Or we can look at the United States, instead. Like Robert E. Prasch wrote in his In Defense of the Minimum Wage, "[B]etween 1981 and 1990, government policy allowed inflation to erode the value of the federally mandated minimum wage".

The neo-liberals in the Reagan and Bush Sr administration promised that a total freeze in the minimum wage
would induce businesses to hire and provide experience to more unskilled workers. Compare the joblessness figures of 1979 (5,8%) with 1990 (5.6%). Like Prasch notes, "the structural reduction in unemployment simply failed to happen".

If anything (see this), US unemployment peaked in the 1980s and went down consistently throughout the 1990s, when the minimum wage was raised repeatedly for the first time since the 1970s.

Gorillaz, Plastic Beach

Review by Stan Moss

While many expected last year's reunion to spawn a brand new Blur album, Damon Albarn decided to get together again with comic book genius Jamie Hewlett and came up with another fantastic Gorillaz release five after from the success of Demon Days.

Plastic Beach is possibly the best out of all Gorillaz releases with their trademark eclectic sound pushed to further extremes and certainly an improvement on Damon Albarn's last project The Good The Bad and The Queen.

With an impressive array of collaborators, including Snoop Dogg, De La Soul, Super Furry Animals' Gruff Rhys, Lou Reed, The Fall's Mark E Smith, the Clash's Mick Jones and Paul Simonon and many others, Plastic Beach is set to become one of the biggest albums of 2010.

Albarn's fans may already be familiar with his musical eclectism. The man may be a total arse, but you can't knock his instinct for penning quirky, yet multi-million selling, tunes.

This time the variety and the catchiness are from another planet. From krautrock to "casiopop", and from orchestral to dub and hip hop, Plastic Beach is the ultimate pastiche: perfect, almost tailor-made, for the era of MP4s, smartphones and instant downloads with endless nods at Eighties' revivalism.

Just check out the grandiosity on single Stylo, the genuine pop moment of On Melancholy Hill and White Flag, the latter featuring the Lebanese National Orchestra for Oriental Arabic Music.

Superfast Jellyfish
is also a stunning track. Just imagine Super Furry Animals and De La Soul together, and that's because that's what it is. It's been defined as "souped-up, underwater commercial. It's a short but fatty song", and we can't possibly disagree.

From frontman to composer and puppetmaster. Damon Albarn's natural transition is coming close to completion.