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Wednesday, June 14, 2006

A Canuckophile Writes...

Below is the article I wrote for the Viewsletter of Devolve! back in January and has just been published. I've been made part of the editorial team and so have to supply articles as often as possible. Anyhow, I hope the piece below is of interest and/or use...

Canadian lessons for English Regionalism?

There are two main impulses behind me writing this article. First, I am a Canuckophile. I have been to Canada (in particular, Vancouver) several times in recent years, and on the whole I like Canada and the Canadians.

Second, I think Canada’s political system should be of interest to English regionalists, in that it combines a British system of government with a federal system. One problem English regionalists have had in recent years is rebutting the claim that regionalism is “unEnglish” or “unBritish” (when it is really only anti-Norman!). Rebutting such claims have not been helped by a tendency to put forward models for a federal/regionalist England/Britain based upon European federal models, most notably Germany and Spain. Consequently, it is easy for anti-regionalists to condemn regionalists as being part of a “Euro-plot” to break up Blighty (where’s my cheque from Brussels then?). However, much of the sting could be drawn from such accusations if regionalists could show that a British style system of government is compatible with federalism/regionalism. Hence, the importance of Canada.

This article barely touches the surface of Canadian politics. I have left out a lot. I will briefly discuss the evolution of Canada’s system of government, followed by some suggestions about the applicability of Canada’s system to us.

The Canadian System of Government: An Overview

The preamble to the 1867 British North America Act (BNA) that created the modern Canadian state stated that Canada was to have a “Constitution similar in principle to that of the United Kingdom.” In many ways Canada’s system of government is still very similar to that we live under. The British Monarch is head of state, represented by the Governor-General. The Canadian Parliament consists of a House of Commons, with MPs elected by the first-past-the-post electoral system, and an appointed Senate. Canada’s supreme judicial body is the Supreme Court.

However, Canada is also a federal state. The 1867 BNA created a union of four British colonies (the present day provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario and Quebec) to make a “Dominion of Canada”. Canada was legislated into existence by Westminster at the request of Canada’s colonial legislatures, fearing that they would be swallowed up by a resurgent, post-Civil War USA. Since then Canada has come to incorporate the provinces of Manitoba (1870), British Columbia, Prince Edward Island (both 1871), Alberta, Saskatchewan (both 1905) & Newfoundland (1949), while incorporating three territories run by the Federal government: Northwest Territories (1870) Yukon (1898) and Nunavut (1999). Each province has its own single chamber parliament and supreme court.

How much power do the provinces have in relation to central government? The BNA is different from most other federal constitutions in that it listed the powers allocated to the provinces and left the rest to the centre. The BNA created a federal system in which the central government had a clear preponderance of power over the provinces. This was deliberate. Canada was meant to be a highly centralised federal union, as the American Civil War was seen as a consequence of having a too decentralised federal system. With foreign and defence policy decided in London, central government was left with exclusive jurisdiction over trade, commerce and criminal law; the right to any form of tax; and anything not specifically reserved to the provinces was to be part of a general federal power to legislate for the “peace, order and good government of Canada.” Furthermore, Section 56 of the BNA gave the central government the “power of disallowance”; enabling it to annul provincial legislation it disapproved of.

In contrast, provincial governments had jurisdiction over “all matters of a strictly local or private nature in the province”: hospitals, charities, local works, property and civil rights and municipal institutions. Hence, from the very beginning, local government in Canada has been the creature of provincial, not national, government. As for revenue creation, under the BNA provincial governments had the power to raise direct taxation and to use “shop, saloon, tavern, auctioneers and other licences.”

Despite the best intentions of the BNA’s architects, Canada now has one of the most decentralised federal unions in the world. This has occurred despite there being no mechanism in the BNA to amend the relationship between the provinces and the centre. The move towards a decentralised federal system began in 1892 when the British Privy Council, which was Canada’s Supreme Court until 1949, explicitly repudiated the notion that provincial governments were subordinates of central government. Furthermore, in 1895 the Privy Council’s Judicial Committee ruled that the central government could only exercise its residuary powers in wartime. Since 1867 there have been a number of decentralising and centralising forces within Canada. Pushing Canada towards greater decentralisation has been varying patterns across the provinces of economic development; a lack of a strong Canadian identity; and the presence of largely French-speaking Quebec. The increase in provincial governments’ powers since 1867 has also been helped by the increasing importance of healthcare and direct taxation.

Moves to establish a more centralised federal system have been aided by efforts over the years to establish national standards in social services and civil rights, as well as a desire to protect Canada’s economy and culture from US domination. In 1941 central government obtained exclusive rights to raise both income and corporation tax. After 1945 tax-sharing arrangements were made with the provinces, which included complex equalisation arrangements for the poorer provinces. The exception was Quebec, with the central government obliged eventually to agree an abatement of central income tax in order to allow Quebec to raise its own taxes.

After much wrangling, and rejection by Quebec, the 1982 Canada Act came into existence, containing a complex amending formula which works on the principle that the provinces and central government must agree on changes to the division of powers between the centre and the provinces. The modern Canadian system can be seen as a contract between two levels of government, with neither level being able to change the terms of the contract on its own. However, with Quebec rejecting the Canada Act, more years of tortuous negotiations between the centre and the provinces followed, to try and find a way of addressing Quebec’s concerns. However, too many Canadians rejected the so-called “Meech Lake” and “Charlottestown” Accords in the late 1980s and early 1990s for these proposals to be viable and the narrow rejection of Quebec independence in the 1995 Referendum means that the future of centre-province relations in Canada is very much in cold storage.

In the meantime, relations between provincial and local governments have hardly been harmonious. As mentioned previously, under both the BNA and the 1982 Canada Act, sub-provincial government in Canada is the creature of the provinces. There are over 4,600 municipalities in Canada, responsible for policing, fire protection, roads, public transport, water supply and sewerage, land use, economic development, parks, recreation, libraries and other cultural facilities. However, the evolution of provincial-local relations has meant mostly increasing provincial supervision, influence and control. For instance, in Ontario in the 1990s almost 400 municipalities, around 45% of the total number on the province, were abolished. In response, since the early 1990s municipal associations in a number of provinces have pushed for provincial charters that would force provincial governments to recognise the existence of a separate level of local government. Combined with grass roots opposition to the merger/abolition of municipalities [i.e. “In spite of Quebec Liberal Party rigging the vote (a 35% hurdle required) 15 former towns voted on June 20 to de-merge from their respective megapoli after being forced to merge contrary to the wishes of their citizens.” ANY TIME NOW #20 Summer 2004. A Canadian evolutionary anarchist magazine at] there has been limited success is stopping the provinces overwhelming local government beneath them, but this has been very much against a centralising grain.

Lessons for English Regionalism?

At the moment, just to get people aware that it is possible to reconcile a British style political system with federalism is possibly enough. This brief overview of Canada should be supplemented with information about other English-speaking countries with federal systems. What about Australia, New Zealand etc? However, at some point professional anti-regionalists will start to pull holes in any federal model even from places that have the Queen’s head on its currency!

I think that Canada’s applicability rests a certain deal on whether we want a Federal Britain or a Federal England. Quebec is a distinct society in a way that Scotland and Wales are. However, even quite enlightened Canadians I’ve met both over there and elsewhere seem bored senseless with the debates over Quebec’s future. If people here see a Federal Britain as being like a Federal Canada, with endless debate over Scotland and Wales’ place (if any) within it, I think a lot of people will plump for the status quo. On the other hand, if we want a Federal England, such problems would disappear. There are differences between the different parts of Canada ie “Western alienation”, particularly in Alberta, and there are various separatist groups, but I think the primary identity in Canada outside of Quebec is definitely Canadian.

The best aspect of Canada’s federal system is that it recognises that the Provinces cannot have their powers limited or extended by central government without the mutual consent of both sides. If we had a constitutional model like Canada’s it would have been impossible to abolish the GLC and Metropolitan County Councils in the 1980s.

The worst aspect is that that the provinces are able to interfere in local government with impunity. One of the factors that led to the “No” vote against a regional assembly in the North East in November 2004 was the fear that the assembly would take powers away from local councils. With Canada’s model the possibility of the provinces taking away all the powers of local government is enshrined in the Constitution. Despite the considerable leeway for the Provinces under the Canadian system, it can quite legitimately seen as a very “top-down” model of federalism, reflecting the centralist impulses contained in the original constitution. Like its British parent, the Canadian system of government still has no place for direct democracy (referendums occur when national or provincial governments want them to happen) and hangs onto a first-past-the-post electoral system despite having four main parties (Conservatives, Liberals, New Democrats and Bloc Quebecois).

To conclude, I think the Canadian example of federal government is good for English Regionalists, simply because it shows that a federal system is compatible with “the British model of democracy”. However, unless the Canadians tackle the gaping “democratic deficit” soon, which appears unlikely for now, English Regionalists will have to draw upon other models and their own ideas for further inspiration.


My overall understanding of Canada’s system of government came from three main sources:

Patrick Malcolmson & Richard Myers (2002) The Canadian Regime: An Introduction to Parliamentary Government in Canada (Peterborough, Ontario: Broadway Press);
Bernard Burrows & Geoffrey Denton (1980) Devolution or Federalism? Options for a United Kingdom (London: Macmillan); &
Wikipedia, particularly its sections on “Politics of Canada” & “Provinces & Territories of Canada.”

For understanding local government in Canada my main source was C.Richard Tindal & Susan Nobes Tindal (2004) Local Government in Canada (Scarborough, Ontario: Nelson).

For helping me towards my conclusions I must tip my hat to the comments of long-standing Canadian Anarchist Larry Gambone ( about Canada’s federal system. To understand where Canada is politically I would also recommend reading “Limits of Political Parties”, a chapter in Naomi Klein’s 2002 collection of essays Fences and Windows (London, Flamingo), pp.228-233:

“Listen to the most economically and socially excluded Canadians and you hear an idea absent from the mainstream left: a deep distrust of the state.”

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Save England- Destroy The Two Party System!

Almost as daft as those Labour people who believe that Gordon Brown will usher in a new dawn for socialism are those Tories who think David Cameron will lead Britain out of the EU. This piece from the UKIP Uncovered blog should be enough to disabuse such notions:

Thursday, April 27, 2006: EU Withdrawalists banned from Tory front bench

A very important blinkered policy statement, linked here, in yesterday's Daily Telegraph begins as follows:

David Cameron threw down the gauntlet to Eurosceptic Tory MPs yesterday by declaring that anyone who advocated withdrawal from the European Union would not serve on his front bench.

On the eve of the launch of a pressure group promoting withdrawal, the Tory leader effectively warned backbenchers not to get involved if they valued their careers...

Tony Tony Tony!! Out Out Out!!

It goes without saying that I'll be happy if/when Tony Blair leaves 10 Downing Street, but the whole atmosphere of reducing politics to the rise and fall of individuals at the moment reminds me a lot of the late 1980s. Then people on "the Left" were desperate to get Margaret Thatcher out. Hence the famous slogan "Maggie Maggie Maggie!! Out Out Out!!" It seems to me (hence the title of this post) that matters have reached the same point with Tony Blair. (I'm pretty sure the "Maggie, Maggie, Maggie!..." chant was a product of the Socialist Workers' Party. In the mid-1990s I distinctly remember an SWP poster asking "Why Doesn't Blair Fight The Tories?" Perhaps because he is one, you daft gits....) Basically the line is that anyone is better than Thatcher/Blair. In the Thatcher case, we got John Major and in Blair's case...

I think Gordon Brown is a shoe-in as the next Labour leader. Various odds and sods are sometimes put forward in the media as a Blairite challenger to the post once the Dear Leader has ascended to Heaven but all of them are pretty interchangeable men in suits. Brown is the last senior mainstream Labour figure who seems to have any ideas of his own (the late Robin Cook was the only other one in recent years who had seemed to have read a non-fiction book with no pictures in it since 1997).

However it seems to me a lot of Labour Party people, mesmerised by Brown's statements about abolishing global poverty and using the words "socialism" and "comrades" on Labour and trade union platforms, think he will lead them towards a new democratic socialist path. It just ain't going to happen! As novelist and one-time New Labour confidante Robert Harris wrote last month in The Guardian:

...there seems to be a peculiar - one might almost say touching - view prevalent on these pages that Brown, once he becomes prime minister, is suddenly going to provide an entirely different kind of Labour government. Once again, one has to pay tribute to Brown's skill as a political operator: to have convinced some sections of the party and the media that he has actually been radicalised by nine years at the Treasury is a considerable achievement.

But he has never, as far as one knows, as a passionate Atlanticist, emitted a grunt of opposition to the Iraq war; rather, he has declared that he would have done exactly the same as Blair. On pensions, his enthusiasm for means testing is more Gradgrindish than the prime minister's. He has been globalisation's most proselytising friend. And if you think Blair's No 10 has been over-fond of soundbites, over-centralising and anti-democratic - well, brothers and sisters, judging by the Treasury's record, you ain't seen nothin' yet.

Furthermore, it should be remembered that Brown has been possibly the Government's leading supporter of the Private Finance Initiative (PFI), as George Monbiot reminded Guardian readers the same day as Robert Harris published his article:

An Easter Egg Hunt: The £95 million that private companies extracted from a hospital project was not a mistake, but a deliberate gift from the government.
George Monbiot, The Guardian, 9th May 2006

Whenever a new scandal about the private finance initiative (PFI) emerges, the government and its friends in the financial press blame it on “teething problems”. When the first contracts permitting private companies to build and run our public services were signed, the argument goes, our civil servants didn’t understand that they were being fleeced. If only they had known then what they know today, they would have obtained better value for public money.

This, for example, was the argument made by the Financial Times last week, in response to the latest revelations about the “refinancing” of the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital – which allowed a group of private companies to carry off a windfall of £95million. “Acquiring wisdom can be an expensive business,” its leader sighed. “Public sector and private companies now know much more about the private finance initiative than they did when it began”(1). The “hard lessons” they learnt will ensure that such mistakes will not happen again.

This story, though endlessly repeated, is nonsense. The bonus the corporations found in the hospital contract was not a mistake. It had been left there deliberately. It was a sweetener, hidden from the public, which was designed to make the private finance initiative attractive to private capital.

The new report on the hospital’s refinancing, published last week by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, explains how the Octagon consortium – a collaboration by Barclays, Serco, John Laing, 3i and Innisfree – managed to treble its rate of return on the hospital scheme, from 19% to 60%(2). In 2003, five years after signing the contract, the corporations renegotiated the loans they used to build the hospital, obtaining lower rates of interest while increasing the payback time. This enabled them to extract their money – to great financial advantage – at the beginning of the project, rather than taking it gradually all the way through. In doing so, they managed greatly to reduce their own financial risk, while increasing the risk to which the hospital trust is exposed.

The trust, understandably, felt it was entitled to a share of the new money. But because there was no provision in the contract granting it any rights to a refinancing windfall, it had to make the most extraordinary concessions to obtain the miserly portion – £34 million – it eventually extracted. It agreed to pay up to £257 million more than it would otherwise have done if it ends the contract early. To help the investors extract more money, it agreed to extend the length of the contract from 34 years to 39. As it is impossible to predict clinical needs so far in advance, this increases the risk that the NHS will end up paying for services it cannot use. Unlike the companies, which took their share of the new money immediately, the hospital trust will receive its portion over 35 years. The chair of the public accounts committee – a Conservative who seldom loses sleep over excessive corporate profits – described the deal as “the unacceptable face of capitalism”(3).

All this appears to position the Norfolk & Norwich NHS trust – which negotiated the contract – somewhere on the spectrum between naïve and raving mad. But it was nothing of the kind. It knew that the original deal offered terrible value for public money. But it had no choice. It was instructed to accept the corporations’ terms by the Department of Health. Because this information was not included in the committee’s summary, it was ignored by the press. But it is a theme to which the rest of the report keeps returning.

“Although the Department was aware of the potential for refinancing when entering this contract,” the MPs reveal, “there was no contractual arrangement to share in refinancing gains”(4). Once the re-negotiation began, the hospital was unable to demand more than 29% of the new money because “the Department … considered that it would have been inappropriate for the Trust to seek a larger share”. The trust decided to take its money over 35 years, rather than immediately, “under guidance from the Department”. As one of the Labour members of the committee, Ian Davidson, pointed out to the man from the health department, “it seems to me that you were tying hand and foot the trust in terms of what the limits of their expectation ought to be.”(5)

Last week a spokesman for the hospital trust told me that it was “very much alive to the prospects of refinancing and wanted to include it in the contract. The advice centrally was to drop that issue. The Department was not keen to frighten the horses.”(6)

After the report was published, another of the committee’s members, the Conservative MP Richard Bacon, spelt it out still more clearly on his website. “The Department of Health would not allow the hospital to include a refinancing clause in the original contract. This meant the hospital had no right to receive any proceeds from the refinancing at all, let alone the 29% share it eventually secured. And that right was only obtained by taking on huge extra potential liabilities.”(7)

“The Treasury had guidance specifically saying there should be no refinancing clauses,” he told me. “It was a lure to get the private sector involved. ... Ultimately it all stems from Treasury guidance. It was the Treasury prohibiting refinancing clauses.”(8)

The deal, in other words, was an Easter egg hunt. In order to persuade the corporations to participate, the government left an extra £95m in the contract for them to find. This money represents the difference between the financial risk the government claimed they would carry and the far smaller financial risk (attracting lower rates of interest) to which they were actually exposed. While the drafting of the contract began under the Tories, it was completed, by Labour, in 1998. By forcing the trust to strike a bad deal, the government appears to have been negotiating on behalf of the corporations and against the public interest.

The Treasury’s press office wouldn’t answer my questions on the grounds that it was “a Department of Health issue”(9). The Department of Health told me that the government had not demanded a refinancing share in its early PFI contracts, because that would not have offered “value for money”(10). If the department believes that letting private companies walk off with £95 million of free money represents good value, it’s not surprising that the NHS is in crisis.

If it is true that this handout was a deliberate government policy and that the Treasury was ultimately responsible, this surely provides more evidence that those who see Gordon Brown as the radical alternative to Tony Blair are deceiving themselves as much as those who believed that Blair was the radical alternative to John Major. Brown did not invent the private finance initiative, but he keeps it alive, however many scandals it produces. His record on this issue suggests that he has established his reputation for prudence by two means: by loading future generations with debt in order to balance the books today, and by filling the coffers of the corporations to win himself friends in the financial press.

While I will join the dancing in the streets when Tony Blair goes, I am mystified by the left’s enthusiasm for his successor. Why should we welcome the appointment of a man who treats public services as a pension fund for fat cats?


1. Leader, 4th May 2006. The high price of the PFI learning curve. Financial Times.

2. House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts, 3rd May 2006. The refinancing of the Norfolk and Norwich PFI Hospital. The Stationery Office, London.

3. Edward Leigh, 3rd May 2006. Quoted by BBC Online. MPs condemn ‘capitalist’ NHS deal.

4. House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts, ibid.

5. In oral evidence to the Committee of Public Accounts, 16th November 2005. House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts, ibid.

6. Andrew Stronach, 5th May 2006. Press officer, Norfolk & Norwich University Hospital NHS Trust.

7. Richard Bacon, 3rd May 2006. PFI company walks away with £95m as Norfolk & Norwich hospital struggles.

8. Richard Bacon, 5th May 2006, pers comm.

9. Treasury press office, 8th May 2006.

10. Ben Lewis, 8th May 2006. Press officer, Department of Health.

To conclude, although I think that Brown is a much more impressive figure than Blair, I doubt whether there will be many substantial policy differences when the Grinning Loony leaves Number 10. Much of the divide between the two are questions of personal power and personality differences. For people who regard themselves as socialists (which I do, although of a particular stripe) to do nothing and wait for Blair to be replaced seems a criminal waste of time, especially if a newly crowned Brown calls a virtually immediate General Election to secure a mandate from the voters.

Ramblings on Globalisation

Being neither a "send them all back" nor a "let them all in" type I try and avoid getting involved in debates on the Net and elsewhere about immigration. The former would castigate me as a "traitor", the latter a "racist", and I don't think myself as either! I believe, for what it's worth, that I'm a supporter of controlled immigration, as I think most people here are.

However, I do find it funny people who want everything foreign (cars, clothes, food, music, tv, films etc) here except foreign people themselves. Furthermore, there seems to a lot of people who object to living next door to someone from abroad, yet have no objections to an overseas company setting up in their area, a company that might pull out not that long afterwards and cause more disruption to the local social fabric than a new next door neighbour ever could.

At the moment it seems that Britain has the "up for sale" sign for the whole world. Nowhere outside the political fringe does anyone seem to care that the UK economy is being increasingly "globalised". This might be just the bleatings of someone who is a "protectionist" (although why is "protection" seen as "a good thing" in everything but economics?), but I think it will ultimately not do us a lot of economic good at all.

This takeover free-for-all just isn't delivering the goods: There is scant evidence that selling off British companies has given our economy the edge over its European competitor
Larry Elliott, The Guardian, Thursday March 30, 2006

Twenty years ago there were demonstrations in St Helens when the glassmaker Pilkington was threatened with a takeover bid. At the zenith of Thatcherism, the town was mobilised to fend off a hostile approach from BTR. Pilkington's own history describes how employees, the local community and parliamentary opinion defended the company's "long-termist approach to running its business".

Early this year Pilkington was sold off to a Japanese glassmaker, Nippon Sheet Glass, with barely a whisper. Pilks was in a strong position to defend itself. It was a world leader in glass technology and was also two-thirds of its way through a restructuring plan under which it had hit every target for cost reduction. Nevertheless, the board at Pilkington - a very different board from that of 1986 - had little hesitation in cashing in its chips.

The culture change in the past two decades is stark. If a Spanish company wants to bid for BAA, let it do so. If a couple of investment trusts from Canada and Singapore can raise £2bn to make an offer for Associated British Ports, let's see the colour of their money. If Gazprom fancies Centrica, what's wrong with one of Britain's gas-distribution companies being in the hands of the Russians, provided the price is right? Today's orthodoxy is that Britain is open for business - and a good thing too.

According to the government, free-market UK is leaving the rest of Europe for dead. Not for us the narrow nationalism of the French or the Germans. The argument in favour of putting companies "in play" is that it forces management to pull its socks up. Greater efficiency means lower prices for consumers, and a blast of competition does wonders for those sleepy old boards that have failed to maximise returns for their shareholders. And since more than half of us, by virtue of our pensions, are arms-length shareholders, we all benefit from an environment in which takeovers are not just permitted but welcomed.

Although the crisis in pensions would appear to undermine this argument, there have been studies showing that, when it comes to management, Britain has plenty to learn - particularly from the US. The financial problems of the NHS are the result of a failure of management in certain trusts. No question, management could be improved in both the public and private sectors. Takeovers can sometimes be beneficial, though there are ways of improving performance short of a full-blown takeover.

There are three reasons, however, for being sceptical about the free-for-all in the UK. The first is the lack of reciprocity. French firms can buy up UK electricity companies, but UK firms can't buy French companies. This is the least compelling economic argument. If a liberal approach is the way ahead, it shouldn't matter to Britain if it acts unilaterally. Politically, though, it does matter - because the climate in which business operates is profoundly influenced by the message it gets from government.

The second reason is one of economic security. Within 10 or 20 years, western Europe - including Britain - will become increasingly dependent on natural gas from Russia, which has the world's largest reserves. It is in the interests of the Russians to buy up distribution companies in Europe so that it controls the supply chain. Governments in the rest of Europe clearly have concerns that this will make them vulnerable. Every government has no-go areas: bits of the economy it considers so strategically important that they are not for sale. The US - witness the row over control of its ports - is closer to mainland Europe in this respect than to Britain.

Finally, there is the matter of whether the liberal approach actually works. It definitely works for the movers and shakers of the financial sector, though it is harder to find evidence of benefits to the economy as a whole. Take the question of research and development, a subject close to Gordon Brown's heart. One of the arguments against foreign takeovers in the 1980s was that they would turn Britain into a screwdriver economy, with R&D taking place back at company HQ in Detroit or Osaka. The government's latest data seems to bear out these fears. More than 50% of the UK's R&D is accounted for by just two sectors - pharmaceuticals and aerospace - and they just happen to be the two in which the government retains some control through the NHS and the Ministry of Defence. In other sectors, Britain is nowhere.

Work by Karel Williams and his colleagues at Manchester University has shown that big mergers and takeovers have had no impact on company performance. Over the past 25 years sales and profits of FTSE 100 companies have risen by about 3% a year - broadly in line with the growth rate of the economy - but salaries in the boardroom have gone up by 25% a year. Where share prices have gone up, it is not usually the result of a new broom sweeping clean but more often of lower interest rates and irrational exuberance.

Williams's point is that the liberal attitude to takeovers is indicative of an environment where "national success is no longer indicated by production, employment and trade balance but by consumption, labour-market flexibility and financial-market priorities, so that it is the latter group of indicators that generally get most attention".

There are precious few institutions left in which shareholder return is subservient to other concerns. The NHS is one. The BBC is another. This newspaper is run by the Scott Trust (on which I sit), and that prevents a tycoon moving in with a plan to sweat the Guardian's assets. Our stakeholders like it that way. There's not much demand from the readers for a takeover from Bertelsmann or News International. Nor would the staff fancy it much.

But elsewhere the neoliberal revolution is complete. Modern Britain is a Shangri-la for speculators in which firms are there to be bundled up and bought and sold. Keynes warned us many years ago: "Speculators may do no harm as bubbles on a steady stream of enterprise ... But the position is serious when enterprise becomes the bubble on a whirlpool of speculation. When the capital development of a country becomes a byproduct of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done."

So how well is the job being done? Here's a test. Which country out of Germany, France and the UK has seen manufacturing output stagnate since 1997 and is now running a trade deficit of 6% of GDP? Clue: it's not Germany. Or France.

Larry Elliott is the Guardian's economics editor

It seems that our ruling elite are the only one of a major economic power not to give a damn about who buys them up. Even the USA, often seen as the main force behind globalisation, is wary of being too dominated by overseas companies. Hence it's not just "Old Europe" (any term popularised by Don Rumsfeld has got to be fundamentally cobblers) who have qualms about the unintended consequences of making the planet one big playpen for transnational corporations...

Americans, having trumpeted globalisation, are suddenly bleating about what it means for jobs and sovereignty
Lindsey Hilsum, New Statesman, Monday 10th April 2006

The French understanding of history is in jeopardy. I know this because an earnest young man pulled my arm during one of the many protests in Paris over the past couple of weeks to tell me that the archaeologists were on strike.

"Please report that," he said. "The archaeology departments in the universities are closed."

"No archaeology!" I exclaimed. "Zut alors!" That got me thinking - are les manifs, as the French call these demonstrations, ahistorical? That's what les Anglo-Saxons tend to think. We hated Margaret Thatcher, but even some New Statesman types are secretly grateful because her loathed-at-the-time economic strictures dragged us into the 21st century. Now we have only 5 per cent unemployment, while it is 9 per cent for the French, rising to 23 per cent among the under-25s.

About five years ago, I asked Daniel Cohn-Bendit to describe the legacy of the 1968 rebellion in Paris, which he had led. "Socially, we won," he said. "But economically, we lost." Now a German Green MEP - he had dual citizenship and the French didn't want him - he said that history would see 1968 as the beginning of profound social change across Europe. It paved the way for feminism, the gay movement, a breakdown in rigid family structures and a wider tolerance of sex before marriage, ideas now widely accepted. Yet the socialist economic model of the '68 revolutionaries was exposed as a failure even before the Berlin Wall fell, when we finally understood that the Marxist idea of "from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs" was a utopian vision, not an economic policy.

This theory explains British politics of recent years. The Tory party was ahistorical when it rejected the socially libertarian, economically liberal Michael Portillo in favour of "family values" candidates. Labour rode the historical post-'68 tide by embracing social change at the same time as accepting capitalist realism. David Cameron may yet be too late.

Cohn-Bendit describes the actions of French protesters as "defensive, based on fear of insecurity and change". I think he's right. It is hard to sympathise with the students when a majority declared in a recent poll that their highest ambition was to become a civil servant. The slogan "Non à la précarité" ("No to insecurity") is scarcely compelling as it shouts for cradle-to-grave benefits rather than revolution.

We like to mock the French, who are delightfully easy targets. Where else would les intermittents - intermittently employed actors - go on strike? In a wonderfully headlined article, "Les intermittents contre l'hyperflexibilité", Libération revealed that they were late for the strike, presumably because they couldn't get up in time.

None the less, I suspect that les Anglo-Saxons may also be late and ahistorical. The Americans, having trumpeted globalisation and free trade, are suddenly bleating when they find out what it means for jobs and sovereignty. They don't like outsourcing when companies sack expensive US-based workers in favour of cheaper labour offshore. Congressmen blocked a deal whereby a Dubai-based firm would run US ports, even though it was clearly capable. It was racism pure and simple - this company is Arab, so, politicians concluded, there must be a risk of terrorism. Similarly, a bid by the China National Offshore Oil Corporation, a state-owned company, to buy the US firm Unocal was withdrawn in the face of opposition. Free trade and the open market are fine until perceived as bad for American interests.

What no one predicted in '68 was global economic integration and the coming issues of immigration and race. In the joyless suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois, centre of November's anti-establishment riots by black and Arab youths, I found little interest in this year's demonstrations. Sitting in a smoke-filled Turkish café, Youssef Bouzide, a thoughtful, sad-eyed man of Moroccan origin who founded the "Collective Association of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity United Together", was more concerned about improving education for deprived children, and an anti-racism exhibit he is organising. Young men hanging around the bleak shopping centre were not heading for Paris to demonstrate - although they were vaguely against anything the government proposed - because they did not feel part of French society, with its ritual manifs and sense of historical vindication.

In the end, France, Britain and America are living the same historical moment. What the establishment fears is the Other - L'étranger, as Camus put it - whether it be the black and Arab youths of Clichy-sous-Bois, Dubai Ports World, or Britain's post-colonial, alienated Muslim youth. Yet those issues are already nearly history. The US and Europe are about to be hit by the economic power of China and India, and the pressure of well-educated Chinese and Indians pulling economic levers across the world. This is their century, not ours. The French may be behind the times, but we may all soon be swept away by the tide. Smugly, we might feel that the French demonstrators are bogged down by an old social model while we slip ahead. But the pace of economic change is now so fast that even keeping still makes no difference. We are all marching backwards from the Place de la République to la Bastille, and who knows where after that.

I'm just looking for a New England...

One of the best novels I've read in recent years is Julian Rathbone's The Last English King (originally published in 1997, I have an Abacus 2001 edition). It tells the tale of Walt, the last surviving member of King Harold II's bodyguard in the aftermath of the Battle of Hastings and the Norman takeover of England. Walt travels towards the Holy Land in the hope of redemption and in the process tells the story of England from the end of Danish rule in the early 1042 until 1066.

It is told in modernish English vernacular, contains some minor but not annoying historical inaccuracies & anachronisms, and contains enough swearing, sex and violence to make it a worthwhile read! However, it is quite clear where Rathbone's sympathies lie. That is, with the "freeborn" English, not the "Norman Yoke" that was imposed upon them after 1066. When I say about one day my writings perhaps helping to create an English Mutualist Party, Rathbone's description of pre-1066 English society will have played its part (p.99):

"...while the country was, yes, an intricate web of interconnections and interdependencies seen both horizontally from farmstead to manor, from village to burgh, from sheep-farmer to fisherman, from charcoal-burner to iron smelter, or vertically from the King to serf, each community accepted responsibility for itself and all its members- the aged, the sick, the women, the children and even the wrongdoers. Step out of line in a way the community felt brought it into disrepute and it could well treat you more harshly than the laws of the land.
"There had to be a word to describe this interlocking of self-interest and genuine altruism. The Latin words mutuus and communis suggested themselves. English society could be said to live and act per mutua, mutually: thus Mutual Help was the process by whihc it all worked."

Furthermore, Rathbone outside of his fiction has identified "two Englands", whose origins stretch back to the Norman Invasion. The talk below was made a few years ago on behalf of the British [sic] Council:

I am not a scholar or an academic. I am not a historian, sociologist, ethnologist, anthropologist... or even a cultural critic. I am an undisciplined creative artist, more specifically a writer, a novelist. I am also emotionally if not intellectually, a Romantic - as will become apparent. I'm here because I have written two books that, amongst other things, explore my ideas of Englishness, The Last English King(1997) and Kings of Albion which was published by Little, Brown in May 2000.

A general assertion: a culture is self-perpetuating as long as nothing intervenes to change or destroy it. At a micro-level you can see this in schools where the entire pupil population can change every five years but traditional patterns of behaviour repeat themselves over decades, even centuries without being codified or imposed - the songs sung at the back of the bus that takes teams on trips to away matches, initiation rites, and so on. There's a PhD thesis waiting to be written about back-of-the-bus subcultures. Therefore my thesis that what is English has its roots in pre-conquest culture, though warped horribly by the Normans, is not vitiated by the thousand years that separates us from that terrible date.

The English. There are two strands in Englishness which I believe achieved a sort of uneasy meld, uneasy because of the basic contradictions between them, by about 1450, and remain dominant right down to present times. They derive from two cultures.

First, the Anglo-Saxon-Danish. The Anglo-Saxons were teutonic, Germanic. When their conquest of what we now call England began they were a split culture - the males were warriors and focussed on their leader or king. Women lived in an almost separate realm where they were powerful and respected. It is arguable that the Freudian conflict between war and work on one side and hearth and sex on the other was not entirely resolved. On the male side at least obedience and loyalty were the most highly-rated virtues.

The Danes, whose more or less assimilated descendants amounted to at least a third of the population by 1066 but had their own traditions and laws, the Danelaw, were also a warrior culture but perhaps based on smaller units whose size was circumscribed by the number of men in a long-boat. They valued individualism and individual feats more then the Anglo-Saxons did, individual pride over-rode a loyalty that could become servile in the Anglo-Saxons.

The political organisations of both retained strong traditions of a democracy an anarchist like Peter Kropotkin would have found congenial. A sort of mutual-aid ran through village-based society, moots or meetings at all levels took decisions after endless discussion, all principal offices including kingship were elective, and so on...

Then came the Normans who were, and are, like their leader, bastards. It is true that they were descended from Norsemen who had arrived in northern France a hundred or so years earlier, but during that hundred years they had lost their language and most of their way of life. If I may interpose a thought here, I think historians generally have failed to make enough of the effects of intermarriage between conquerors and conquered. Conquerors rarely bring their women with them and certainly never enough women. The Danes arrived in England and intermarried into a culture that in many ways was significantly similar to the one they brought with them, and they thus retained much of their own identity. The Normans, from the same roots, arrived in a France where the culture was very different, and within a hundred years no longer lived, nor even looked much like the Norsemen they were descended from.

Following 1066 the Normans imposed a rigid hierarchical, ethnically-based authoritarian bureaucracy on the anarcho-democratic systems they found. They were anal, dull, cruel. They practised ethnic cleansing in the West Country and South Yorkshire, in the latter case reducing a well-populated, prosperous area to what the Doomsday book itself, twenty years later, called a barren wasteland. They did not assimilate. Laws were not written in English until the 1390s, and the first postconquest king to speak English easily was Henry V. Imagine Germany had won the last war. It is as if the official language would not revert from German to English until 2,300.

However, the Normans were few in number, not more than 10,000 initially, maybe less, and they brought few women with them. They therefore relied on Anglo-Saxon collaborators to fill the minor posts of government and the lower echelons of the church, and to some extent they interbred - initially by rape.

The result of 1066 is the English: two, possibly three conflicting strands which I believe are with us today and make us what we are. On the one side individuality and the rights of the individual are more highly valued here than almost anywhere else in the world. Most of us object to government, do not respect politicians, hate and fear bureaucratic interference. We are hedonistic, pragmatic, empirical, pluralist, hate dogma. We like a good time. We do not understand spirituality because we reject the duality that is a precondition of the concept of spirituality. We are Roger Bacon, William of Occam, John Wycliffe, Jack Cade, Wat Tyler and the Lollards; Langland, Milton and the Levellers; Blake, Tom Paine and the Chartists; Turner and Darwin. We are lager louts and we hate the French. We are adventurers. We believe a change is as good as a rest.

On the other side we are Normans. We are superior, we rule by right, we obey the rules, though we congratulate each other when we get away with breaking them. We are one of us. We are control freaks. We are bossy. We like systems so long as we are in charge of them. We march, we do not amble, we fire as one and not at will, and we take our hands out of our pockets when we speak to me. We tabulate, order, divide. We are deeply prejudiced (God is an Englishman - a Norman actually) and intolerant.

And worst of all, somewhere in between, we are collaborators- In exchange for security, a certain status, we will keep order for the Normans, we fear change, we are tidy, we clip our hedges, we keep off the grass (pun intended), we do as we're told.

With these contradictory strands, no wonder we don't know who we are, but I believe, in spite of 1066, we are at best Vikings with some of the stolidity, reliability, even dullness of the Anglo-Saxons, and, well, pardon my Anglo-Saxon, fuck the Normans and the collaborators. I really do believe that at last, like the House of Lords, they've had their day.

Most "debate" on the Net is a waste of time

Well my few words on the Euston Manifesto got a response from Paulie who said I hadn't read it at the time of posting (v.true- I haven't read the Koran cover to cover either, but does that invalidate criticisms I may make of Islam?) and called me a "donkey". I wasn't happy about this and said a few choice things back in reply.

I'm still waiting for Paulie to return with some devastating Oscar Wildeish wit, the sort it is obvious he is so good at. I've also read the Euston Manifesto several times since then, and my initial thoughts are:

(i) It doesn't mention the C-word "capitalism". For a bunch who seem to feature quite a few ex-Marxists and people who have made their names as critics of Actual Existing Capitalism, this is quite an omission.

(ii) it doesn't mention another C-word: China. Let's not beat around the bush here, China is the biggest and worst totalitarian regime on the planet. It has Weapons of Mass Destruction on a scale Saddam Hussein could only dream of; it pursues ethnic cleansing in Tibet and elsewhere on a scale Slobodan Milosevic could only dream of; and allows no democracy, free trade unions or freedom of speech worthy of the name. However, does anyone call for "regime change" for China? Does anyone think that the 2008 Beijing Olympics should be boycotted? (BTW I'm opposed to all cultural/sporting/academic/artistic boycotts of anywhere full stop.) If, as the Euston Manifesto argues, we should confront totalitarian regimes and tendencies everywhere [do I understand that right, Paulie? See, I'm such a donkey...], surely we must start with the worst of the lot ie China? Of course, without China's booming economy, global capitalism would quite possibly be going down with all hands on deck by now, but as the Eustonies seem to deny the existence of capitalism the (very profitable) "constructive engagement" the West pursues with China is a bit of a problem for them to explain.

(iii) the whole style of the document reminds me of the awful stuff the "Marxism Today" faction in the old Communist Party of Great Britain published at the end of the 1980s (anyone remember "Face/Facing the Future?" or "Manifesto for New Times"?). Considering how the CPGB ended up (i.e. dissolved at the end of 1991) it hardly bodes well for the Eustonies.

Anyway, I doubt anything I say will influence the Thoughts of Chairman Paulie much. Conversely I doubt whether anything he may add to this blog will change my opinions one iota. This is where this post starts to make some connection with the title at the top of it. I don't think the Net does change people's opinions much. What it is good at is providing information to strengthen and refine people's existing opinions, and to be frank, prejudices. I'm come across a fair few blogs and websites which have contained material which I've thought, "ah, that interesting- just as I've been thinking". However, if it is a place in cyberspace whose opinions I totally disagree with I tend to move onto something more palatable (after all, you only have much time in your life to go on the Net).

I think the Net is good for propagating things like the Euston Manifesto. It is a very good place for giving your version of the world as you see it. To quote Nye Bevan (and Manic Street Preachers Album title) the comment "This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours" could be the best description of most "political" blogs/websites on the Net. If you like what some or all of what I post on my blog fine; if not, start your own!

BTW I did see a factoid recently which said that most bloggers give up after 3 months. If you a reading this and reaching the 3 month point- keep going! If your creative juices are slow at this point return when you feel like it. I did so little in the first few months of my blog ie early 2005 but I eventually got back to doing it. I do have a life outside of my blog so there are times I just can't do anything on it at all. However, there are short bursts of activity (like this one). Blogging is a creative act and like all creative acts it is not something you can shoehorn into neat Mon to Fri 9 to 5 spaces.

Anyhow, if I change anyone's opinions one iota on anything with this blog it will be a bonus. As for arguing ad nauseum with people on the Net (I've seen on the Net plenty of instances of people going hammer and tongs at each other in arguments for weeks at a time if they are allowed to. If anyone does that on my blog I will say "Get each other's e-mail addresses and communicate with each other directly, you intellectual poseurs!") it is really a waste of time. I find that people who keep arguments going don't really want to change opinions, but to get a semi-sexual satisfaction in getting one over someone else at whatever cost. That is, to get the last word in and, as Karl Marx said to his housekeeper on his deathbed, "Last words are for fools who haven't said enough."

I saw the piece below by the generally great Charlie Brooker the other day which sort of sums up my attitude towards arguing ad infinitum on the Net. If you don't agree with it, I can't be asked to argue with you!

Supposing ... There's only one thing worth debating online
Charlie Brooker, The Guardian, Friday June 2, 2006

Last week I wrote a load of nonsense about flags and idiocy; as well as appearing in print, it also turned up on the Guardian's "Comment is Free" blog-o-site, where passersby are encouraged to scrawl their own responses beneath the original article.
Some people disagreed with the piece, some agreed; some found it funny, some didn't. For half a nanosecond I was tempted to join in the discussion. And then I remembered that all internet debates, without exception, are entirely futile. So I didn't.

There's no point debating anything online. You might as well hurl shoes in the air to knock clouds from the sky. The internet's perfect for all manner of things, but productive discussion ain't one of them. It provides scant room for debate and infinite opportunities for fruitless point-scoring: the heady combination of perceived anonymity, gestated responses, random heckling and a notional "live audience" quickly conspire to create a "perfect storm" of perpetual bickering.
Stumble in, take umbrage with someone, trade a few blows, and within about two or three exchanges, the subject itself goes out the window. Suddenly you're simply arguing about arguing. Eventually, one side gets bored, comes to its senses, or dies, and the row fizzles out: just another needless belch in the swirling online guffstorm.

But not for long, because online quarrelling is also addictive, in precisely the same way Tetris is addictive. It appeals to the "lab rat" part of your brain; the annoying, irrepressible part that adores repetitive pointlessness and would gleefully make you pop bubblewrap till Doomsday if it ever got its way. An unfortunate few, hooked on the futile thrill of online debate, devote their lives to its cause. They roam the internet, actively seeking out viewpoints they disagree with, or squat on messageboards, whining, needling, sneering, over-analysing each new proclamation - joylessly fiddling, like unhappy gorillas doomed to pick lice from one another's fur for all eternity.

Still, it's not all moan moan moan in NetLand. There's also the occasional puerile splutter to liven things up.

In the debate sparked by my gibberish outpouring, it wasn't long before rival posters began speculating about the size of their opponent's dicks. It led me to wonder - has the world of science ever investigated a casual link between penis size and male political leaning?

I'd theorise that, on the whole, rightwing penises are short and stubby, hence their owners' constant fury. Lefties, on the other hand, are spoiled for length, yet boast no girth whatsoever - which explains their pained confusion. I flit from one camp to the other, of course, which is why mine's so massive it's got a full-size human knee in the middle. And a back. A big man's back.

Anyway, if we must debate things online, we might as well debate that. It's not like we'll ever resolve any of that other bullshit, is it?

Click. Mine's bigger than yours. Click. No it isn't. Click. Yes it is. Click. Refresh, repost, repeat to fade.

Friday, June 02, 2006

More Vancouver (at last!!)

The thoughts on Vancouver below were originally typed up at the start of May. It went a bit political in the middle, and apols for that (what, you wanted more politics on my blog?!), but I thought if I didn't post it now it would never see the light of day. The next chunk on Vancouver will arrive eventually- probably soon after my next visit to Vancouver...

Apols for not getting back to this after I left my thoughts on the City of Glass back in November. As I think I've said before, if I get my callup papers for Iran I am on the next plane to Vancouver, and if need be hide in Stanley Park until it's all over (one way or other). Apparently there are about 100 people living in the depths of Stanley Park, and one thing I would advise anyone visiting Vancouver: don't go there after dark, or at best stick to the seawall (you'd be ok on a night that has fireworks) as it can be a place where no-one can hear you scream...

I'll try and keep this posting as non-political as possible for once but I think if I was to end up in Stanley Park or some other part of BC avoiding a campaign to singe the President of Iran's beard I don't think I would be alone amongst the natives. Canada was a place where a lot of deserters from the US fled during the Vietnam years, and BC was one of the most popular destinations. In Vancouver at least there seems no enthusiasm for The War Against Terror (Think Bush: Think T.W.A.T...sorry Mum- pardon my use of northern Anglo-Saxon crudity). Basically no-one likes Bush there. A piece of info from my friend's fiance was quite interesting: there are no Canadian army recruitment offices in the whole of BC. When I flew to Victoria by sea plane (do it! It's worth every penny- about £100 return) to go whale watching (you can go whale watching from Granville Island, but unless you like getting there for 7.30 in the morning, go to Victoria instead) I did notice there is a Royal Canadian Navy base and recruitment office in Victoria harbour, but I don't think the Canadian Navy will be serving in Afghanistan any time soon...

Along with being anti-war I think there is a definite political tendency in Vancouver (ok my two friends and their partners, but there seem to be part of something more general) which is libertarian in a good sense. That is, socially liberal, basically letting people get on with their own private lives as long as it hurt others, and a great suspicion of state and corporate power. There is a spirit of public service and community spirit in Vancouver which living in the commuter village that is West Hampstead I am envious of (although the East Side and the likes of Burnaby are evidence that nowhere, even Vancouver, is a perfect place to live) and there is much truth in Vancouverite Douglas Coupland's comment in City of Glass that "I think we should franchise ourselves and put Vancouver all around the world- it's actually not a bad idea."

Enough politics for once. I return to the Grand Tour of Vancouver.

Yaletown I could describe as one big building site, but that would be unfair. The architecture of the area I really like- the nearest comparison I can think of is the area in Barcelona that they are developing at the bottom of the Ramblas next to the beach- there is something about white stone used well. However, the place is rather souless- very yuppified (a sign I grew up in the 80s). It is full of people who like making money and buying pointless stuff. There are plenty of decent bars and restaurants which are far from hideously expensive (Yaletown Brewery supplies both good food and good beer) but the area has no soul.

"I will return to the subject in hand soon" as Karl Marx probably said after Volume 2 of Das Kapital. If you want opinions on where to go (or not) in Vancouver if you visit I can give you advice & I know people over there who can help you out further.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Have You Read The Euston Manifesto? (Yawwnn..)

I've said nothing about the Euston Manifesto at all so far, mainly as it is the same old stuff from the "pro-war Left" (the Post-Modern Mussolinis). I noticed in the latest edition of Red Pepper that the Manifesto was drawn up in a garish "Oirish" pub (I found one in Brugge on my trip. I was outraged. Talk about shipping coal to Newcastle, or to use a modern analogy, shipping shoes to Shanghai) not far from Euston station. If I was going to draw up a world-historic political manifesto, or a manifesto with such pretentions, in a pub, I would make that pub classy (ie Greenwich Union, mentioned in my last post) or authentically proletarian (ie the Colin Campbell on Kilburn High Road, where you'd get a real Irish Guinness), not some garish tourist trap.

I could go on a long rant about the Eustonies, but I'll stop myself from doing so on this occasion. However, I think if they are to be any more than the proverbial nine day political wonder, the Eustonies will have to find some social or political movement on which they can hang their "ideals" to.

One of my favourite political bloggers in Dave Osler, a self-styled "libertarian Marxist" with a Trot past. Of course, I don't agree with everything he says (the only person you should agree with 100% is yourself, and even that should be provisional!) but Dave O writes some good stuff on his blog & is no fan of the Euston Manifesto. Moreover, he may have spotted one way the Eustonies may go, thanks to one of the Manifesto's supporters (more or less): "Fatboy Dave" Aaronovitch...

David Aaronovitch: communists for Cameron

'I could vote for David Cameron,' writes David Aaronovitch. And in those six words, the one-time eurocommunist becomes the latest ostensibly radical commentator to come up with a half-arsed justification for voting Tory.

It's not that he's moved right, of course. No, no, no. Certainly not. What you have to understand is that the very terms 'left' and 'right' no longer have any meaning. Hardly an original Aperçu, but hey, let that slide.

In Aaronovitch world, that hoary old paradigm has been replaced by a division between 'progressives' and 'reactionaries'.

And gosh, here's a thing. 'Progressives' include the New Labour leadership, the Orange Book Lib-Dems and the Notting Hill Set Tories. Or - to look at it another way - the neoliberals in all three parties.

Indeed, Aaronovitch even gets in a snide dig at those dinosaur lefties who still consider neoliberalism something to oppose, rather than to glorify.

After all, if the word simply describes 'flexible labour markets, movement of capital etc' - and that's what Aaronovitch explicitly maintains - then what's not to like?

Trouble is, it means a hell of a lot more than that. Anyone even momentarily convinced by the pundit's reasoning could do worse than read David Harvey's stunning recent book 'A Brief History of Neoliberalism'.

Harvey brilliantly dissects the doctrine and illustrates how it boils down to a twin-track project, dedicated to the restoration of both the power of the ruling elites and the conditions for capital accumulation.

Emasculation of the power of organised labour is perhaps the key precondition for its success. The genuine left still sees socialism as the self-emancipation of the working class. Proponents of neoliberalism - however you want to slice it, and whichever party leader acts as its figurehead - constitute the 21st century right.

I don't know what they taught 'em in the CPGB in the 1970s. But elementary class politics does not seem to have been on the cadre school agenda.

• In an interesting aside, Aaronovitch also asserts that 'reds' of old were 'turned on by women with peace symbols painted on their bare breasts'. I know it's whatever floats your boat, Dave. Just don't presume to speak for the rest of us, you old hippy.

So could the Eustonies become ideological outriders for a "progressive" coalition of Blairites, "Orange Book" Lib Dems and Cameroony Tories after the next election? After all, the Eustonies call for "a fresh political alignment" which reaches out to "egalitarian liberals and others of unambiguous democratic commitment".

Maybe not, but it is clear that the "pro-war Left" have lost faith in the Dear Leader who has overseen the mess British troops are now facing in Iraq. The following article was Peter Wilby's media column in the New Statesman of the 24th of April, which does cover the Euston Manifesto, the trials of the "pro-war Left" now Blair is starting to lose his Midas touch and a discussion of media bias, the final piece of which I concur 100%.

The Times particularly favours writers who claim to be left-wing but hold no discernible left-wing views. This allows Rupert Murdoch to have his cake and eat it, writes Peter Wilby

Tony Blair's troubles get worse. The Blairite apologist Stephen Pollard has joined the deserters. Pollard is one of those mysterious commentators - Oliver Kamm is another - who claim to be left-wing but hold no discernible left-wing views. Such writers are particularly favoured by the Times, presumably because they allow Rupert Murdoch to have his cake and eat it: he stays onside with the party in power by giving space to its alleged supporters, but keeps his papers ideologically on the right.

Pollard has long hailed Blair as the ideal Labour leader because he favours wealth creation and competition. That may sound like a Tory to you and me, but let it pass. He and Kamm both voted Labour in last year's election because they saw it as "a referendum on the veracity, judgement and ethics of the Prime Minister".

Pollard used to be an NS contributor. Then we ran a cover headed "Dictator of Downing Street", with a picture of Blair made up to look like Stalin. It was to illustrate a piece by the Oxford historian Robert Service, who drew a parallel between the PM's governing style and that of the Soviet dictator, though obviously not between the numbers they had murdered. Pollard said that, after this disgusting calumny, he would never darken our pages again. I (then editor) replied that I was sorry he had become so pompous. A few years earlier, he had used the first letter of each paragraph in his final Express column to spell out a rude message to the paper's proprietor, Richard Desmond. He was due to join the Times staff as a leader writer but this was considered inappropriate conduct for such an august position, and Pollard had to resign before he started.

Now this admirable mischief-maker was denouncing my mischief. Yet his latest piece, in last Monday's Daily Mail, compared Blair to Richard Nixon - not Stalin, admittedly, but bad enough. The cash-for-honours affair is unfolding rather as Watergate did, he argued: trivial misdemeanours by people of slight importance lead to a scandal that engulfs the top man. Blair, wrote Pollard, was "up to his neck" in it, and held "the country in contempt". It is as if Eva Braun had deserted Hitler (just kidding, Stephen).

The Prime Minister has some crumbs of comfort, however. After a brief wobble, his hagiographer John Rentoul, of the Independent on Sunday, is back onside. The honours business is just a "media hoopla" he informs us, and Blair's main problem is "to hold off the growing weight of our abiding culture of cynicism". More importantly, Irwin Stelzer (aka Rupert Murdoch thinking aloud) seems to have hardened on his doubts about Gordon Brown. The Chancellor's latest Budget showed that he will use "any conceivable excuse to expand the reach of government", Stelzer wrote in the Guardian on Tuesday. Blair had "an obligation" to stay, he argued. Moreover, the Murdoch court clearly hasn't given up hope that a credible new Labour alternative to Brown will emerge or that David Cameron will (as those who disapprove of such youthful frivolities as saving the planet put it) mature. Either could happen, Stelzer suggested, if Blair stays long enough.

I shall not quarrel with the Euston Manifesto, launched in the NS last week. Its list of supporters, combining the passion of Nick Cohen with the intellect of John Lloyd and the wit of Francis Wheen, is enough to daunt any criticism. They seem to say it was OK for me to be against the Iraq war - though I shouldn't, apparently, go on about it - so I may even sign up.

But I am fascinated by their belief that their views are "significantly under-represented in the mainstream media" and, indeed, "at dinner tables". As I don't get out much these days, I can't speak for the dinner tables, though I am surprised that, even in Islington, these should require BBC-style political balance. On the media, however, it seems odd for people who have columns almost everywhere (Cohen, Wheen and Lloyd all appear regularly in the London Evening Standard, as well as elsewhere) to complain they feel "isolated".

The claim of unfair media treatment is a comfort blanket. The American right argues that the media in the US are dominated by "liberals"; the American left that they are full of White House lackeys. No British government I can remember thought the BBC gave it a fair hearing. New Labour insists it has no true supporters in the national press. James Delingpole, of the Telegraph/Spectator stable, has made a cottage industry out of claiming he hardly dare reveal his "unfashionable" right-wing views. My fellow NS columnist John Pilger swears the media suppress news of western atrocities and marginalise views like his; I have written in his support.

I still think Pilger has the better case. But we are all a bit like footballers griping about biased referees. Shouldn't we drop it, and just get on with the arguments?

We're going down the pub

"You can't be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline."- Frank Zappa.

Belgian beer is good, as long as it is not Stella Bleedin' Artois, which has the nickname "Wifebeater" here for very good reasons. Apart from the Irish with their stouts and the Czechs with their Budvars and Pilsners most countries export their rubbish beers. For instance, Budweiser from the USA; Molson from Canada; Heineken from Holland; Kronenbourg from France; Steinlager from New Zealand; Fosters & Castlemaine from Australia; & Stella from Belgium.

I'm not sure what the English export abroad to be honest. I don't go abroad to drink beers I can easily get here, so what's the point of keeping track of what we export? The trouble is too many English people are under the impression that a lot of the beers other countries dump on us are native to our soil. Carling for example was originally Canadian but has somehow managed to wrap itself up in the Union Jack (the Conrad Black of beers?), and I'm not sure you can get any of their stuff in Canada any more. If so, lucky Canada...

Anyway, decent beer and other decent alcohol should be supported and defended the world over. Such pleasures are under attack from an unholy alliance of the anti-drinkers (often religious in their inspiration- but what about JC turning the water into wine at that wedding?) and the transnational corporations who spew out gassy tasteless pisswater (sorry Mum for the language!) to inflict on the unwary and uncaring. I'm convinced after my visit to Brugge that the world would be a much better place if everyone had a decent lunch with a couple of decent drinks followed by a couple of hours of siesta. Perhaps such a lifestyle would make the Presidents of Iran and the USA calm down a bit.

Anyhow, to fight the good fight the following guide from the pages of Red Pepper may be of use:

GUERILLA GUIDES: That will be the booze talking by Fiona OslerThere’s no longer any need to wait until the pub closes to start the revolution with a guide to ethical drinking

Support independent breweries
The Society of Independent Brewers reckons that some 85 per cent of beer in the UK comes from just four companies – Scottish and Newcastle, Interbrew, Carlsberg Tetley and Guinness. Before the first world war, some 6,000 pubs brewed their own beer but material shortages ended this and the practice has never recovered.

A few ‘brewpubs’ exist, such as the Porterhouse in London’s Covent Garden or the Marble Arch in Manchester, home of Marbles Beer – a vegan, organic microbrewery ( The independent brewers, St Peter’s Brewery, have their own pub, the historic Jerusalem Tavern, in Clerkenwell, London, where customers can drink in the ghostly company of various former bar proppers such as Handel, Samuel Johnson and William Hogarth (

Some microbreweries prefer the trendier term ‘craft’ brewery but the principles are the same – non-chain, independent, innovative, traditional, cask-conditioned real ales. For a list of microbreweries, visit

Vegetarian and vegan

Beer and wine are ‘fined’ (clarified) with isinglass (fish bladders) or even blood and gelatine. Many wine producers now label their wines as vegan or vegetarian and supermarkets such as the Co-op and Waitrose stock a reasonable range, but for more variety check out Samuel Smith breweries produced only vegan beers and are registered with the Vegan society

Champagne Gordon

Gordon Brown has the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra) hopping mad over his 2006 budget, freezing duty on champagne while increasing it on beer. Join Camra’s campaign (

Health benefits of booze

We all know about the ‘French paradox’ and the benefits of moderate red wine drinking; now it seems beer may have the same rejuvenating qualities. Beer contains anti-inflammatory components and other antioxidants such as polyphenols, B vitamins and minerals. Well, how else do you explain students surviving on ‘the beer diet’?

Stick a cork in it

Plastic stoppers and aluminium screw tops may be great for the weak-wristed, but they are not doing much for the environment. Natural wine corks come from the bark of the cork oak, Quercus suber, grown in Portugal, Spain and parts of north Africa. Cork oak forests are rich in wildlife, including endangered animals like the Barbary deer, Spanish Iberian lynx and imperial eagle. Cork farmers sustain the woods but if the trade becomes uneconomic it spells disaster for these woods. Chelsea manager José Mourinho is fronting the Portuguese Cork Association campaign, having been chosen for his, er ‘sophistication and appeal’.

Boycott wine (again?)

This is what the United Farm Workers Union (UFWU) did last year with Gallo wines, the world’s second biggest wine maker – and it worked. It is not just Gallo who exploit workers rights, however. Vineyard pruners all over the world are paid piece-rates and encouraged to work without concern for their health and welfare. Vines are sprayed with hazardous chemicals and there is little job security. Buy Fairtrade wine from a number of suppliers, including Traidcraft and the wonderful Vintage Roots (, who do a great line in vegan, vegetarian and biodynamic wines at reasonable prices.

Support the cheese eating surrender monkeys

The US boycott of French wine over the Iraq war has cost the country an estimated £64 million in wine revenue, with a 26 per cent slump in weekly sales. Go to for some great organic French wines.

Bruiser not Breezer

One of the biggest political booze battles of all time must be Barcardi v Havana Club (note that Red Pepper is open to donations of Havana Club at any time). Barcardi, in connivance with the US government, have worked some dark arts over the years against Cuba and by extension Havana Club ( This has included alleged involvement with paramilitary groups and terrorist attacks, as well as links with the CIA and the Bush administration. For more information check out Bacardi: The Hidden War by Hernando Calvo Ospina (Pluto Press).

Smells like teen spirit

‘There cannot be too much vodka, there can only be not enough vodka.’ So says an old Russian saying from long before vodka became the favourite tipple of teenagers in the west.

Vodka packs a real political punch; the entire history of communism is wrapped up in it. Lenin believed vodka to be a major obstacle for communism. So he banned it. Stalin, on the other hand, was a big advocate encouraging the Russian state vodka industry. Interestingly, his predecessor in terror, Ivan the Terrible, established the first state-run vodka industry in the 16th century. It flourished until Gorbachev, a near teetotaller, tried to ban it to combat alarming rates of alcoholism.

Vladimir Putin brought vodka back under state control, but not before the mafia got a serious grip on distribution. If you’d rather not contribute to Russian Mafia profits try UK5 organic vodka (

Political booze (part 1)

The Alternative Beer Company ( was set up in 2004 to import Taybeh beer from Palestine. The company also supports Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) and the Israeli refuseniks charity, Yesh Gvul. Shipment is a bit hazardous – they describe their beer as ‘the most difficult to import in the world (probably)’.

Political booze (part 2)

Moreno Wines (11 Marylands Road, London , W9 2DU, Tel 020 7286 0678) help fight the good fight by donating wine for various Red Pepper events and fundraising activities. Thanks Manuel!

Political booze (Part 3)

The Workers Beer Company has helped thousands of non-profit groups, NGOs, trade unions (and Red Pepper) through its beer tent scheme at festivals and other events. WBC also runs the Bread and Roses free house in London (

Of the above I would definitely recommend Sam Smith's beer (the English version; I think there's an American one as well, which might be just as good). Sam Smith's Pale Ales and Wheat Ales are definitely worth tasting, and their pubs (all over the place for a West Yorkshire Brewery. I've drunk in several in London, one in Chester and another in Morecambe over the years) are extremely cheap places to get ratted (like the Eskimos/Inuit vis-a-vis snow, there must be at least 25 different expressions to be found in the British Isles for being under the influence of alcohol).

I've been to the Bread and Roses pub in Clapham not so long ago and it is worth visiting. If you are in London for whatever reason there are two independent London breweries, Fullers and Youngs, that are well worth supporting for the quality of their beers, and they have pubs all over the place (perhaps Fuller's London Pride and Young's Special are the best to have at their respective watering holes). If you are around Greenwich please visit the Greenwich Union (56 Royal Hill, Greenwich SE10 8RT) owned by Meantime Brewing . If you want pints of chocolate or strawberry beer, as well as more conventional types of ale, this is a good place to go (Meantime beers are also available in Sainsbury's if you look).

I did read an article a year or two back in the Financial Times (of all places) about Meantime's founder Alistair Hook. Basically he wanted to introduce German style lager beers into England, and he learnt his craft over in Germany. As a student he had gone up to the leading academic establishment in the UK for studying beer, Herriott-Watt University in Edinburgh, but what he learnt was purely negative. Hook was told by his lecturers that the best beers in the world are those which sold the most. Yeah, right. Hook was also forced by his lecturers to make a blind tasting of several beers. They all tasted the same and was told that was the whole point of making beer. This is the sort of corporate propaganda against decent tasty alcohol the discerning drinker worldwide is up against!

Hook also has had problems with the like of CAMRA. The Campaign for Real Ale is a body I've thought about more than once of joining but I've been put off because although I think diversity and quality in the making of beer should be wholeheartedly supported, there is a lot of accompanying gumph with CAMRA I can't stand. For example, CAMRA doesn't want much food in pubs. I can't stand gastro-pubs, where everyone is forced to sit down and eat expensive pretentious rubbish (sorry- that's a restaurant with pretentions of proletarian authenticity ie sausages and mash with Thai grass for £30 a head), but I do like pubs where you can get a decent bit of stodge along with your pints. Also CAMRA seem to make a fetish of "old scrote" pubs where most of the clientele have been sitting in the same seat for the last 40 years nursing their half of bitter while reading the Racing Post.

Getting back to Meantime's Mr. Hook: he had been trying for years to get his very good beers into competition at the Great British Beer Festival, run by CAMRA every August at Olympia in London. However, he was barred on the grounds that his beers were lagers. Blimey, we're not talking here about mass produced rubbish like Stella or Hoffmeister (no German I've ever met has come across this monstrosity- I think it's strictly for export. I remember the adverts from the 1980s, with some poor bloke dressed up in a George The Bear outfit complete with snazzy yellow jacket and pork pie hat telling the viewing public "For Great Lager, Follow The Bear"- presumably to have a shit [sorry Mum!!] in the woods with the other bears after several pints of that fizzy industrial paint stripper). After all a lot of bitters the big brewers offer us are hardly worth drinking- ie John Smiths. I had a pint of that in Chester on my birthday in December and I think it's the last time I didn't finish a pint as it was so bad. Anyway, the FT article (thinking now it was last year) said that CAMRA had relented and Meantime beers would be up for competition at the Great British Beer Festival for 2005- under the Foreign Lagers section!! With friends of decent beers like CAMRA, who needs enemies?

Back from Brugge

I had a good time in the end, despite the weather being mediocre at best, terrible at worst and the centre of Brugge being full of hordes of tourists. I ate plenty of good Flemish food, drank plenty of decent Belgian beers and generally chilled out. Now I'm back in Blighty to get on with my life. I suppose, to quote G.K. Chesterton, "The whole concept of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one own's country as a foreign land."

First of all, I'm going to take a fair few pieces I've seen scattered around over the past few months and post them up here. Hopefully they are still of relevance and interest. Also I must apologise about the space at the top of my blog. I have my most recent articles listed on the left but there is a big blank space where my most recent post used to go. Presumably I've touched the wrong button at some point and that's that.