Monday, November 24, 2014

Lies, Spies and Custard Pies

NOT ALL COMEDYMark Thomes made spies' activity subject of Edinburgh show. But while he was interested in what arms dealers were up to, the police were more interested in him.

WELL-KNOWN comic Mark Thomas is among a group of journalists who are taking the Metropolitan Police to court for spying on them in the name of national "security". This makes a change from the things we heard about police officers allegedly turning a blind eye to illegal activities by hacks working for the Murdoch press with whom they swapped information. It also contrasts with the way intelligence services have used some newspapers with whom they could plant stories for public disimformation.

But the six who say they were spied on by police are independent, or relatively independent, journos, who dedicated themselves to uncovering wrongdoing by the righ and powerful, rather than doing their dirty work.

Mark Thomas made his name and his Channel 4 show The Mark Thomas Comedy Product changed its name to simply The Mark Thomas Product, after he investigated the practice of avoiding inheritance tax by declaring art, furniture, homes and land available for public viewing. He went after Tory politician Nicholas Soames, who eventually paid the tax, and Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown changed the law. But Channel Four decided Thomas was going too far when he  wanted to take up corporate accountability and corporate manslaughter law.

We might see a connection here with industrial snooping and blacklisting. Many building workers, for instance, found their names had been added to blacklists after they protested over risky conditions at work or became safety reps. Recently the Blacklist Support Campaign (BSC) has been asking how much information on workers was passed on by police, and why its own activities, rather than those of unscrupulous employers or blacklisters, have been monitored by the police.

Ironically, much of the police snooping on journalists and campaigners like Mark Thomas, as well as the BSC,  appears to have been carried out by the Metropolitan Police 'National Domestic Extremism and Disorder Intelligence Unit' (NDEDIU), whose supposed purpose is to monitor and police so called 'domestic extremism'. The background used to step up such surveillance has been fear of violence and terrorism.

Far from engaging in such activities, those targeted can honestly claim to have exposed the forces behind them.  Mark Thomas adopted various guises to visit arms fairs and show how dealers in torture and death were not too fussy about their customers. The parliamentary committee which oversees weapons exports, the House of Commons Quadripartite Select Committee, commended him for his undercover work, which led to official warning letters being issued to a number of companies.  His work in this area is covered in As Used on the Famous Nelson Mandela: Underground Adventures in the Arms and Torture Trade, a book chronicling his experiences undercover, his political activism and his projects designed to find and report loopholes in arms trading laws, which culminated in a controversial un-broadcast Newsnight report about the Hinduja brothers.

Just as environmental and other campaigns were infiltrated by spies and provocateurs, including policemen who befriended and slept with women activists, so the campaign against the arms trade was infiltrated. Mark Thomas made this the material for his Edinburgh fringe show this year

For years, Martin appeared to work tirelessly for Campaign Against Arms Trade. He was warm, funny and apparently loyal. He was a good friend, turning up at the police station after Thomas's first arrest for activism. He was so loved that he was asked to be godparent to one activist's child. But he was being paid to spy on the group by BAE Systems, Britain's largest arms manufacturer. Who could ever have imagined it? This was a man who put a custard pie in the face of the former BAE head honcho, Richard Evans. A spy wouldn't do that, would he?

In a statement released last week the National Union of Journalists says six of its members have discovered that their lawful journalistic and union activities are being monitored and recorded by the Metropolitan Police. They are now taking legal action against the Metropolitan Police Commissioner and the Home Secretary to challenge this ongoing police surveillance.

The NUJ members involved in the legal challenge include Jules Mattsson, Mark Thomas, Jason Parkinson, Jess Hurd, David Hoffman and Adrian Arbib.

All of them have worked on media reports that have exposed corporate and state misconduct and they have each also previously pursued litigation or complaints arising from police misconduct. In many of those cases, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner has been forced to pay damages, apologise and admit liability to them after their journalistic rights were curtailed by his officers at public events.

The surveillance was revealed as part of an ongoing campaign, which began in 2008, during which NUJ members have been encouraged to obtain data held about them by the authorities including the Metropolitan Police 'National Domestic Extremism and Disorder Intelligence Unit' (NDEDIU).

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said:

    "It is outrageous that the police are using their resources and wide-ranging powers to put journalists under surveillance and to compile information about their movements and work on secret databases. There is no justification for treating journalists as criminals or enemies of the state, and it raises serious questions for our democracy when the NUJ is forced to launch a legal challenge to compel the police to reveal the secret evidence they have collected about media workers.

    "The union will continue to give its full support to the members involved in the case and we are committed to putting a stop to this unacceptable state interference and monitoring that labels our members as domestic extremists."

Mark Thomas said:

    "In my view, the police surveillance and the collation of data on journalists point to a police spying culture that is out of control and without proper oversight.

    "The fact that none of the journalists are suspected of criminality but all of them cover stories of police and corporate wrong doing hints at something more sinister, that the police seem to be spying on those who seek to hold them to account.

    "The inclusion of journalists on the domestic extremist data base seems to be a part of a disturbing police spying network, from the Stephen Lawrence family campaign to Hillsborough families, from undercover officers' relationships with women to the role of the police in the construction blacklist.

    "Personally my entries relate to a network of collaborations, the police appear to be in contact with private security firms to collect data on myself, as well as (bizarrely) an employee at the Open University.

    "This legal action is part of a process to try and hold the police to account."

Freelance photographer Jess Hurd, some of whose moving human interest work was exhibited at a gallery near me, said:
"I have faced intimidation, surveillance and on occasion violence, from the police all my professional life. It should not be the case that I sometimes fear going to work. The very creation of a 'domestic extremist' database which stores details on innocent people feels like state intimidation.

    "Either the police do not like the journalistic work that we do or the trade union and press freedom campaigns we have been involved in, either way this is no justification for targeted state surveillance and squandered tax payers money."
  Jason N. Parkinson, freelance video journalist, said:

    "My file is 12 pages long and holds around 140 separate surveillance logs spanning nearly a decade. The files make it very clear they have been monitoring my movements, with whom I associate and even what clothing I wear, in order for police intelligence units to build up a profile of me and my network of associates and contacts.

    "The files also show signs that my social media and internet activities have been monitored. They also logged that I was asked to give a speech at a conference in 2011, which ironically was about police surveillance.

    "Some of the most worrying logs have been of my activities away from work. In July 2008, an officer spotted me, 'on Forty Lane Wembley NW9 on his bicycle'. For no reason at all, there appears to have been a search of voter registration records and the CRIS database, where information on witnesses and victims of crime are held.

    "This pulled up my previous address, my current address and the name of my ex-partner, who, it appears, was then checked for a criminal record on the Police National Computer. Another log noted my visit to a supermarket and recorded my vehicle registration number.

    "The disclosure of my domestic extremist files seem to show what I had suspected for the last eight years, the police have been keeping journalists that cover political protest under surveillance and it is not merely an intimidation tactic that should be ignored, as some have suggested in the past.

   Frances O'Grady, TUC general secretary, said:

    "There is growing concern that the authorities are using surveillance against union members, journalists and campaigners. Political policing has no place in a democratic society, it threatens press freedom and any unjustified conduct must stop.

    "I fully support the NUJ members in their campaign to know what information is being held about them in secret. We must expose and challenge wrongdoing wherever it exists and act against those who undermine the rights of journalists, union members and everyone who supports an open, transparent and democratic society."

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Friday, November 21, 2014

Beyond Satire, It's Sick Charity

 Who will save the children of Falluja?

SATIRICAL song writer Tom Lehrer remarked that when US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel peace prize, satire became obsolete. Since then we've had further occasions to feel cynical about the choice of Nobel candidates. But what can we say about a man whom many regard as a war criminal being honoured by a well-known children's charity?

Here is a report from the Independent:

Tony Blair was last night recognised for his humanitarian work at a glamorous gala to raise funds for a global children's charity – in front of guests including Lassie the dog.

The controversial former Prime Minster received the Global Legacy Award at the Save the Children Illumination Gala 2014, which was held at The Plaza in New York City.
The star-studded event boasted a guest list featuring Save the Children President and CEO Carolyn Miles, acting couple Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner and Twilight actress Dakota Fanning – as well as the much-loved collie dog.

Upon receiving his award Blair praised aid workers fighting Ebola in West Africa, as well as the increase in the amount of foreign aid donated by the UK over the past 10 years, according to the Mail Online.

“From the beginning of humankind there has been brutality, conflict, intrigue, the destructive obsession with a narrow self-interest,” he said.“But throughout all human history, never has been extinguished that relentless, unquenchable desire to do good. To act not only in self-interest and sometimes to even to act in defiance of it.”

Well Lassie should have cocked his leg or thrown up his dinner at this point, but he is not available for comment.  Tony Blair must know all about brutality, conflict and intrigue, having lied his way into the war on Iraq, as well as presiding over the continuation of policies that increased the gap between rich and poor in this country, and Tory legislation tying trade unions hand and foot from doing much about it. As for self-interest, Tony Blair was not short of a few bob before he became prime minister, and since then he must have lost count of the millions he has amassed from various jobs and sinecures.

Save the Children and other charities have portrayed some heartrending scenes of child poverty and suffering at home and abroad to stir the public's conscience. We don't expect aid charities to do anything as controversial as discussing the underlying causes - though some, such as War on Want, do remind us that policies have consequences. 

But even at the level of just showing us how bad things are, before Save the Children goes all gooey fawning on Tony Blair it could focus its attention on just one Iraqi town, Falluja, attacked and bombed twice by US  forces with British participation. At first they denied the use of white phosphorus, supposed to be banned under international law, and depleted uranium munitions. But these things came out. And whatever the precise causes, the effects of war on Falluja have continued.

In 2010 it was reported that an academic study[38] had shown "a four-fold increase in all cancers and a 12-fold increase in childhood cancer." since 2004.[39] In addition, the report said the types of cancer were "similar to that in the Hiroshima survivors who were exposed to ionising radiation from the bomb and uranium in the fallout", ... (Wikipedia)

"Iraqi physicians have also long reported a spike in cases involving severe birth defects in Fallujah since 2004. They have reported children born with multiple heads, serious brain damage, missing limbs and with extra fingers and toes."
 The BBC's John Simpson reports from the central Iraq city of Falluja, where ... in Falluja had warned women that they should not have children.

There is plenty more.

No need to labour the point.

But what was the reason for Save the Children honouring Blair anyway? Was it supposed to attract more money?  Blair is hardly the most popular figure in Britain today.  But then maybe there's a clue in them holding this ceremony in New York, which is also home to JP Morgan Chase, the bank which gave our former Prime Minister a part-time job this year, a mere £2 million to supplement his pension.

Though some charities have to be increasingly careful these days to avoid anything "political" which might affect their status, others seem to be drawing closer to government and big business, so that sometimes it becomes harder to see the difference. While still relying on public generosity and unpaid volunteers, they may also serve as conduits for government funds and corporate tax-exempt donations with or without strings attached. While expecting lower-ranking staff to work enthusiastically for low pay or even workfare, they insist that top bosses merit salaries at least comparable to those of major company directors or government ministers. My landlord, a registered charity, finds it necessary to increase our rents each year, while its CEO reportedly earns more than the Prime Minister.

During the recent dispute at St,Mungo's where Unite union members fought off attempts to lower grades and do away with consultation, the union was interested to see how this charity's board had been filled with newcomers after a merger with another, less well-known charity; and how these included someone linked to Serco, a commercial outsourcing business keen to acquire new profitable activities even as it has been losing or having to divest from others in which it has not been doing so well.

And so back to Save the Children, and from the Daily Mail (August 8, 2013) we learn that:

Executives at one of the UK’s most prominent international aid charities were handed bonuses worth more than £160,000 last year.

Save the Children increased performance-related pay to executives by a third compared to the previous year, a move that could prove controversial following criticism of the huge pay-packets enjoyed by charity bosses.

The charity’s chief executive Justin Forsyth, a former advisor to Tony Blair, was among nine Save the Children executives handed the bonus in 2012.

It was revealed earlier this week that Mr Forsyth earned a salary of £163,000, which is now known to include £22,560 in performance-related pay.

He is one of six staff at the 14 charities which make up the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) that earn more than the Prime Minister’s £142,500 salary.

The revelation prompted the International Development Secretary Justine Greening to say that the finances of major aid organisations - which receive hundreds of millions of pounds from taxpayers - must be open to scrutiny.

William Shawcross, the chairman of the Charity Commission, also said that ‘disproportionate’ salaries in the face of decreasing charitable donations from the public risked ‘bringing the charitable world into disrepute’.

Save the Children paid its executives £120,000 in performance-related pay in 2011 but said that Mr Forsyth declined the money due to being ‘relatively new’ in his role.

The payments increased significantly to £162,000 last year after the company ‘restructured’ the way it offered bonuses.

The charity said the payments encouraged the ‘very best’ from staff and helped to ‘save the lives of more of the world’s poorest children’.

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Monday, November 10, 2014

Plots against Labour

WITH all the interest shown in various anniversaries this year, one slipped past almost unnoticed last month which might have topical relevance. It was 90 years since the Daily Mail published a front-page story, four days before the October 1924 General Election, about instructions supposedly sent from Moscow to British Communists, on how to subvert the armed forces and bring about a revolution, - supposedly with the help of the first Labour government.

Labour had opened trade and diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union that year, then lost a confidence vote from the Liberals for deciding to drop the prosecution of communist John Ross Campbell under the 1797 Incitement to Mutiny Act, for publication of an open letter in Workers Weekly calling on soldiers to "let it be known that, neither in the class war nor in a military war, will you turn your guns on your fellow workers."

New national elections were scheduled for October 29.

On October 10, the Foreign Office received a document purporting to be the letter signed by Grigori Zinoviev and Arthur McManus of the Communist International, and hence referred to as the "Zinoviev Letter".  Thought to have been the work of Czarist Russian emigres out to sabotage Anglo-Soviet relations, or possibly even commissioned from them, the forgery was nevertheless treated as genuine,  and through the collusion of the intelligence services and Tory Central Office it was passed over to the Mail for publication.

"CIVIL WAR PLOT BY SOCIALISTS' MASTERS" was the Mail's headline. Plainly aimed to strike fear into the middle class, it certainly put the wind up Labour's Ramsay MacDonald. Whether or not it made a big difference to Labour's vote, it made clear that senior officialdom in the state would not let an elected our government do as it pleased.

A leading part in the behind the scenes collaboration between state intelligence services, Tory party and media was played by Major Joseph Ball, whose shadowy career took him from MI5 and the Zinoviev Letter to Conservative Research Department, and links with an antisemitic magazine that was used to smear Leslie Hore-Belisha, and remove him as War Minister.  Handling secret contacts between Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and Mussolini's diplomats, Ball also set up spying operations not only against Labour but against those anti-Appeasement Tories around Winston Churchill. Ball then had a hand at the start of the Second World War in deporting "enemy aliens" -often anti-Nazi refugees.

All this may seem a long way in the past, though we do get occasional echoes. The Mail went for Ed Miliband's refugee father as "anti-British" , though he served in the Royal Navy. Unable to frighten us with Zinoviev or the Soviet Union, the Tories make do with denouncing Len McCluskey and Unite the union as "masters" of the Labour Party.  Alas, as a Unite member I regret its not true.

But nowadays, the stories can be more subtle, and plots more insidious. Lynton Crosbie, the Aussie whom the Tories hired as campaign strategist may not be a tough guy like Major Ball, but he has a reputation though he operates in different times.

This weekend the big story was supposed to be Labour MPs wanting to ditch Ed Miliband as a loser before he is even put to the test. It was the Observer's front-page lead.  Now the Observer has not got the Mail's reputation as a right-wing rag, nor its history. (Well not quite. I'll deal with the so-called "Red House" story and the police raid on the WRP school another time).

it's certainly not aimed at the same readership.

But pro-Labour blogger Tom Pride noticed something odd about this story. He asks:

Why is the Observer employing a Mail journalist to smear Ed Miliband?
by Tom Pride

The Observer has a naughty little article today claiming there are "at least" twenty shadow ministers calling for Ed Miliband to stand down.

I say naughty, because the article fails to name even one shadow minister.

And considering there are only about 24 shadow ministers in the entire shadow cabinet, "at least" 20 would have to be just about all of them. Including Ed Miliband himself.

In fact, the whole article is so ridiculous in its anti-Labour spin and propaganda, it's exactly the kind of thing you'd expect to see in the Daily Mail.

Which is not very surprising considering the journalist who wrote the Observer piece - Daniel Boffey - used to write exactly the same kind of political smear articles for the Mail on Sunday:

Miliband and his £18m holiday villa
Fury over Gordon Brown’s ‘cynical’ letter to murder victim’s local paper
Jacqui Smith's cleaner hasn't had a pay rise for five years
Labour's army of spin, G20 summit is 'choreographed' by private firm

We reveal explosive report Ed Balls refused to make public

So why is the Lib Dem Guardian/Observer employing a hack who writes anti-Labour articles for the Tory Mail?  Another example of the Lib Dem /Tory coalition in action perhaps?


Maybe where there is a whiff of smoke, there is fire, or maybe it is something decomposing. At the Labour Representation Committee's conference on Saturday, left-wing Labour MP John McDonnell
said if there was a move to get rid of Ed Miliband now it was a right-wing plot. Referring to one of the suggested replacements for Miliband, LRC political secretary Pete Firmin, a retired postman, said "If anyone thinks Alan Johnson's the answer they must have asked a bloody silly question!"  Johnson, a former Communications Workers Union general secretary who was Home Secretary
from 2009-10, ruled himself out as a leadership contender today. and warned that remov Miliband now would be political suicide for Labour.

So if there are some hardened Blairites willing to take that risk, it suggests that rather than worrying Labour might lose, they fear what might happen if it wins, and finds an aroused working class demanding the reversal of austerity cuts, and trade unionists demanding their rights. The Party is already in difficulty explaining why the railways can't come back under public ownership, a call which has widespread public support. Energy and utility companies would be next. What with creeping big business tyranny under  TTIP, to which public awakening has just begun, some MPs might fancy a quiet time staying in opposition (without actually doing any opposing) or a weakened Labour Party entering yet another coalition, where it can pretend its hands are tied.  This is the basis for a fifth column feeding stories to, and taking leadership from, the class enemy and its press,

Not to be outdone by the Observer with its anonymous quotes , the Independent has another story about people being against Miliband, of a more specific kind. It claims wealthy Jewish donors regard Miliband as "toxic" because he and other Labour MPs voted for recognising Palestine.

One prominent Jewish financial backer, a lifelong Labour supporter, said he no longer wanted to "see Mr Miliband in Downing Street or Douglas Alexander as Foreign Secretary".

A senior Labour MP warned that Mr Miliband now had a "huge if not insurmountable challenge" to maintain support from parts of the Jewish community that had both backed and helped fund Tony Blair and Gordon Brown's election campaigns.

At the same time, a former cabinet minister privately admitted that Labour's fundraising efforts were in disarray. The former minister said the party would struggle to raise anywhere near the £19m a party is entitled to spend under electoral law in the run-up to next May's poll. "We will have to pass the begging bowl round to the unions," they said. "That would send a bad signal. In return, they [the unions] would demand to call the shots on policy."
It's an ill wind that blows no good!

But are Jewish donors that important to Labour nowadays?  And are so many presumably intelligent professionals and shrewd business people really taking their line from 'Beaty' (Maureen Lipman) and Mr.Netanyahu and his embassy, when there is so much dissent within the Jewish community over Israel's stubborn and aggressive policies?  A very large number of prominent Israelis, including former intelligence chiefs, wrote to British MPs before the vote, urging them to vote FOR Palestinian recognition. Unlike the sources quoted by the Independent, these people not only know what thet are talking about and were only too willing to give their names, and positions held.

Assuming the people quoted in the Independent are genuine, but too shy to give their names, who was it it, I wonder, who put the reporter on to the story, and to them, in the first place? I suppose we could make some intelligent guesses. And they would not be Labour Party members.

Besides telling possible pro-Israel and Jewish donors what attitude they are supposed to take, rather than leaving them to think for themselves, the article has also woken the sleeping dogs of prejudice, for whom any mention of Jews and money in the same or nearby sentences sets them yapping, even if they haven't a clue what its all about.  

And between now and the general election in May I expect there'll  be all sorts of stories.  

By the way, getting back to the Tories campaign manager, here's what the Telegraph, of all papers, had to say when he was appointed 
...Lynton Crosby had concentrated on the visceral issues that have been proven to bring out the core Conservative vote. This is how he has always operated – and he should under no circumstances be underestimated. He is the genius behind the most successful Right-wing politician of the last quarter-century, Australia’s John Howard, who was elected four times between 1996 and 2004, and remains the second longest-serving Australian prime minister, after Sir Robert Menzies. Working for him, Crosby developed what opponents labelled “dog whistle” politics – campaigning techniques which sent out a covert message. John Howard’s enemies claimed that this was sometimes implicitly racist.

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Sunday, November 02, 2014

A Hero No Longer Forgotten

EDWARD RUSHTON (1756-1814)

IT is just a few years since I heard about Edward Rushton, Liverpool's blind poet, anti-slavery campaigner and radical revolutionary.

Born in John Street, Liverpool, in 1756, Edward Rushton was educated at Liverpool Free School to the age of 11, and then he was apprenticed to a shipping firm, sailing to the West Indies. It was thus that he saw the slave trade first-hand and also befriended a young African slave of his own age.
Rushton's adventures at sea were ended when a disease caught overseas caused him to go blind at the age of 19. But that was just the start of a new life, in which he did not forget what he had seen, nor fail to advance those who faced the same obstacles as himself. Rushton wrote poetry, campaigned against the press gangs and against black slavery, and supported the American War of Independence and the French Revolution.

He founded the worlds first school for the blind which, in the middle of the nineteenth century, moved to a building later occupied by the Merseyside Trade Union, Community and Unemployed Resource Centre.

I think it was while in Liverpool during the 1995-8 docks struggle that Bill Hunter told me he was writing something about Edward Rushton, a figure I'd never heard of before. Bill, whom I'd known since my youth, had been at times an engineering worker, shop steward and professional revolutionary, and was known and respected by the dockers. He was also a great strengthener to those younger Trotskyists who sent Gerry Healy packing.  In retirement, though not always in good health, Bill not only kept up his activities but broadened them, maintaining links with Latin American revolutionaries, and producng books on, among other things, his own life, the dockers' struggles and Edward Rushton.  Bill Hunter says: “I wrote this book on Edward Rushton in an attempt to rescue from obscurity, this uncompromising fighter for the common people, and to pay tribute to his indomitable spirit.”
Living History Library
Book ISBN: 0-9542077-0-X
Talking Book ISBN: 0-9542077-1-8

click on this icon to hear Rushton's 'Ode to a Robin'

Rushton's letter to Washington about the president's 'owning' of slaves
Chapter 12 - The Liverpool Seamen’s Revolt of 1775
Nerve review of the book

Bill Hunter is not the only one to have been inspired to write about Rushton, as it happens, historian Mike Royden appears to have beaten him to it, and you can read his account of Rushton's life and achievment here:

Actor John Graham Davis seems to have been typecast as a copper for much of his TV appearnces, though recently promoted to be a judge for Peter Barlow's trial on Coronation Street. Whether he'll get to judge the real culprit we'll have to wait and see, but meantime John, whom I met in Leeds through Workers Aid for Bosnia, takes on a different kind of role this month. It's appropriate as he was the speaking voice in the Talking Book version of Forgotten Hero. Here's a message from John on Facebook:
This month marks the bi-centenary of Liverpool's great unsung radical, Edward Rushton. I've spent two years researching and writing about this extraordinary man, and I can't believe that he has remained a virtual secret for two hundred years. Come and help us in this archeological dig, and celebrate our forgotten hero... Blinded at seventeen as a result of helping kidnapped Africans below decks on a slave ship, Rushton educated himself by having a boy read to him during a long period of poverty. Eventually accepted into the liberal abolition circles dominated by university men such as Rathbone and Roscoe, the 'ordinary sailor' Rushton became one of the most intransigent opponents of slavery, suffered hostility within the slave trading city, lost two businesses through Admiralty boycotts and widespread public hostility and escaped an assassination attempt - only to persevere in his various campaigns, and to finally see the slave trade abolished in 1805.

To celebrate Rushton's life - and hopefully to help pull him out of his shameful anonymity - Turf Love and DaDaFest are collaborating on a number of events in Liverpool throughout November and the coming months. Here's what's lined up.... Exhibitions at the Victoria Museum and the National Slavery Museum, readings in libraries sponsored by UNISON, a commemorative inter-faith service in the Anglican Cathedral (Nov 22nd) and a staged reading of the new play by James Quinn and myself, Unsung. Please book free tickets below.
 All these things are in celebration of a remarkable man: radical reformer, determined slavery abolitionist, fighter against impressment (the press gang), defender of freedom of speech, campaigner, through his verse, against violence against women, supporter of the rights of the Irish against English colonial oppression, supporter of trade unions, of Polish independence from Czarism, of American independence from colonial rule, and of French freedom from autocracy. Rushton's poetry is also justly celebrated, and a new edition, featuring his passionate anti-slavery verse, is about to be published. Join us to celebrate this remarkable and shamefully neglected figure. Event details -

I will be speaking about Edward Rushton and giving readings from his work on Wednesday Nov 12 at Toxteth Library (1.30-3) and Central Library (6.30-8pm). These readings are sponsored by UNISON, and are free. It would be really good to see you at some of these events.
John Graham Davies

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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Is it Murphy's Law for Labour in Scotland?

IS Jim Murphy MP going to be given the leadership of the Labour Party in Scotland? Soon after the referendum on independence, which resulted in the 'NO' vote that Labour had campaigned for, there were claims in the Tory press that Murphy would be taking over from Johann Lamont, and assertions that the East Renfrewshire MP was the man who could "save the Labour Party".

That the Labour Party should need "saving", when the referendum had seemingly gone its way, was an interesting thought.  It had been confidently remarked for some time that Scotland has more pandas in the Edinburgh zoo than Tories in Westminster, and yet suddenly it was not looking so good for the Labour Party.

Murphy, shadow minister for International Development, began by ruling out speculation, and urging Labour to  “come together and work hard” to support Johann Lamont.
"Mr Murphy yesterday issued a rallying call to the party to unite around its leader Ms Lamont after the direction of the party was criticised by two former Labour First Ministers.
His intervention follows weeks of speculation that Mr Murphy, who played a high-profile role in the No campaign during the run-up to the independence referendum, was considering a switch from Westminster to Holyrood and that he could be in line to take over from Ms Lamont.

However, the former Scottish Secretary said Ms Lamont was a “perfectly good leader” and that he wanted to remain as a member of Ed Miliband’s shadow cabinet at Westminster.
Ms Lamont, who was last month forced to deny reports she was set to quit after less than three years in post, faced criticism from two of her predecessors about Labour’s performance in opposition at Holyrood. Former First Minister Lord McConnell said Labour had become “a political machine that is angry about what has happened in Scotland in the recent past” and warned that it must now rediscover its “sense of purpose”.

But that was a week ago, and as Harold Wilson used to say, a week is a long time in politics. On Friday, after polls suggesting Labour's reward for helping Cameron's government was a Tory resurgence and falling Labour vote, Johann Lamont announced her resignation, telling the Daily Record:
“Just as the SNP must embrace that devolution is the settled will of the Scottish people, the Labour Party must recognise that the Scottish party has to be autonomous and not just a branch office of a party based in London.
“Scotland has chosen to remain in partnership with our neighbours in the UK. But Scotland is distinct and colleagues must recognise that. There is a danger of Scottish politics being between two sets of dinosaurs – the Nationalists who can’t accept they were rejected by the people and some colleagues at Westminster who think nothing has changed.”

Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown has dismissed suggestions that he could take on the job.  Sarah Boyack, an MSP and relative outsider is reported to be interested. But media are tipping Murphy as front runner.

"Jim Murphy is expected to declare his candidacy for the leadership of Scottish Labour in the next 48 hours. He will have to win in the three-part electoral college system that Ed Miliband decided was discredited and had to be reformed for the UK leadership elections.

That means getting the support of party members (probably straightforward as fame normally gets you a long way in one member one vote campaigns). It means getting the support of trade unions – Unite and Unison would dearly love to kill off his challenge. Then there’s the elected MSP/MP/MEP section.

MSPs now have one of their own to choose from – Sarah Boyack, who announced her candidacy today. They could have another added to the list. There is pressure on MSP Neil Findlay to stand.

One Labour shadow frontbencher accused Mr Murphy of acting like “a reluctant bride” but Mr Murphy is working hard behind the scenes to make sure he has the team and strategy to withstand some predicable assaults.
- See more at:

At 47 Jim Murphy may have earned a reward for his hard work running around Scotland energetically promoting the 'No' vote with Labour's "Better Together" slogan, but what remains of Labour's loyal support in Scotland may do well to ask themselves whether the Party would not be better without Jim Murphy as leader.

The big issue facing Labour in Scotland is the strength of the 'YES' vote for independence in working class areas, including all the Glasgow seats. This can be interpreted as a rejection of 'neo-liberalism', privatisation, austerity policies, Cameron's Old Etonian toffs and the dominant City of London. But Labour has put it itself in a position where it is no longer seen as the answer to all that by Scottish voters whom it previously took for granted.  At the Party conference, Len McCluskey of the Unite union said this bore out warnings that Labour was losing its support in its pursuit of the elusive middle class vote.  

Like many a leading careerist before him,  Jim Murphy came into politics via the National Union of Students (NUS). In 1994, he took a sabbatical from Strathclyde University to serve as NUS president, holding the post from 1994–96, during which time he was also a member of Labour Students.
During Murphy's presidency in 1995, the NUS dropped its opposition to the abolition of the student grant in line with the Labour Party's policies, contrary to the agreed policy at the NUS Derby Conference. Subsequently he was condemned by a House of Commons Early Day Motion signed by 17 Labour MPs for "intolerant and dictatorial behaviour".  The NUS disciplined student activists who supported the Campaign for Free Education.  Among those who criticised Murphy was Alex Salmond of the Scottish National Party.

Despite these credentials Murphy was able to go from the NUS to parliament, winning the former Tory seat of Eastwood in the 1997 general election, with a majority of 3,236. From 1999-2001, he was a member of the Public Accounts Committee, which oversees public expenditure.[8] In February 2001, he was appointed as Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS) to Helen Liddell, the Secretary of State for Scotland.

From 2001 -2002 Jim Murphy was Chair  of Labour Friends of Israel.  
Murphy is a member of the Henry Jackson Society Advisory Council. (see reference to this illustrious Transatlantic connection in our previous posting)

As a member of the Blair government, Murphy supported the Iraq war, and he continued holding important posts under Gordon Brown, and in and out of government. After Ed Milliband became Party leader, Murphy was appointed Shadow Defense Secretary.  He was also in charge of a party commission looking into organisation in Scotland.Then in 2012 Murphy was among a group of Westminster MPs named as benefiting from up to £20,000 per year expenses to rent accommodation in London, at the same time as letting out property they owned in the city.

On 3 July 2013, Murphy accused Unite of "bullying" and "overstepping the mark" for allegedly interfering with the Labour Party's selection process in Falkirk. The issue seemed to revolve around the convenor at the Grangemouth oil refinery, Steve Deans, who was also chair of the Falkirk West constituency party, encouraging union members to join the Labour Party. A lot of Labour Party members and trade unionists might naievely think that was a highly commendable bit of enthusiasm. It can't have done Labour much harm in a constituency where the sitting MP Eric Joyce was in repeated trouble for alcoholism and brawling.  

Nevertheless Labour Party Central Office in London implemented "special measures" under the Labour Party constitution, and took direct control of candidate selection in Falkirk. The NEC later concluded that anyone who had joined the Labour Party in Falkirk after 12 March 2012, when Eric Joyce announced he was stepping down, would not be allowed to take part in the selection process. The NEC then suspended provisional candidate Karie Murphy and Falkirk party chairman Stephen Deans.

On 27 June, Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey wrote to his members with regards to the NEC special measures process:
“     These decisions have been taken on the basis of an 'investigation' into the CLP (Constituency Labour Party), the report of which your union has not been allowed to see. As a result, not only are the rights of Falkirk CLP members being ignored, Unite is being subjected to a behind-the-scenes smear campaign. We will be challenging this procedure and this campaign through all proper channels within the party, publicly and by legal action if necessary. ”

On 5 July Ed Miliband announced that the party was to refer the NEC internal report into allegations of irregularities in the selection of a candidate in Falkirk to Police Scotland, saying that the NEC internal inquiry had shown irregularities the Falkirk Labour Party candidate selection.

The Conservative MP Henry Smith wrote to the Chief Constable of Scotland, Sir Stephen House, asking for an investigation and suggesting Unite might have committed fraud.  On 25 July Police Scotland concluded that there were insufficient grounds to support an investigation. A spokesman for Police Scotland told the BBC: "Following a comprehensive review of all material submitted, Police Scotland has concluded there are insufficient grounds to support a criminal investigation at this time. However, should further information come to light this will be looked into."

Ineos, the employers who had threatened to close Grangemouth refinery and with it, half of Scotland, were also keen to provide material for a police investigation of the Unite convenor, and the Murdock press joined in the hunt. But after examining the evidence the police concluded there was no case to investigate.
Nevertheless both Karie Murphy and Steve Deans had been suspended by the Labour Party after the NEC internal report in June 2013. Murphy had previously withdrawn her candidature for the PPC position. The Labour Party withdrew the right for affiliated unions to pay the Labour Party membership fees for their members to join the local CLP. More important, the Guardian reported that the row has led to a former cabinet minister and other "senior party figures" calling for Labour to break its formal links with the trade union movement.

(On the other hand, see:

On October 2013, Murphy was demoted to the post of Shadow Secretary of State for International Development. We're not sure whether a move from Westminster to Holyrood to head the Scottish Labour Party, or Labour's Scotland branch, would count as further demotion for Murphy, but it certainly would be for Scottish Labour. 

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Monday, October 27, 2014

Mr.Farage Finds a Friend

IT's always nice to follow a character's career, having noticed them early on, and today we heard news of Raheem Kassam, a young man whose latest employer, a right-wing American outfit called the Breitbart network,  was pleased to announce that its London editor Raheem Kassam was moving on to become an adviser to the United Kingdom Independence Party(UKIP)'s leader Nigel Farage.
Extolling UKIP's recent successes, Breitbart says

"As a result, the party is moving onto an election footing, with Kassam set to lead on advising Mr Farage in developing party messaging, strategy, fundraising and publicity. The role is the first of its kind as UKIP grows and professionalises, and Breitbart London understands from senior UKIP sources that Kassam was picked specifically for his political nous and campaigning prowess.
Executive Chairman of the Breitbart News Network Stephen K Bannon said: "Raheem is a huge piece of manpower, as proven by one of the most important political movements in the world bringing him onboard. The entire company will miss his intelligence and drive."

UKIP leader Nigel Farage MEP said: "I'm delighted that Raheem has joined the People's Army of UKIP. His experience in media as well in political campaigning will be important to us on the run up to the general election in 2015."

Hat-tip to my friend Marko Attila Hoare for bringing this news to my attention. I must admit I'd hardly heard of Breitbart before, though its name reminds me of the crazy far-Right Norwegian gunman Breivik. Breitbart is not quite that far to the Right, but is named after a 'conservative' American called Andrew Breitbart and specialises in circulating news stories "exposing" what it calls "big government", that is anything resembling the Welfare State and taxing the rich to pay for it.

This would fit Nigel Farage's promises to outdo the Tories in cutting NHS jobs and spending, though his supporters have been denying on TV that they're against the service. (Apparently it is bad manners to remind UKIP spokespersons of anything they or their leader said from one week to the next, or before different audiences).

Breitbart has also been behind sensational stories smearing unlikely political figures by association with "terrorism", described by others as hoaxes.

Andrew Breitbart himself died in 2012. Conspiracy theorists claim he was assassinated on orders from President Obama. We are in the world of the Tea Party, and perhaps its wilder fringes.

Breitbart's London edition was launched on February 16, 2014 headed by right-wing journalist and climate change skeptic James Delingpole as executive editor and Raheem Kassam as managing editor. 

Raheem Kassam's work came to my notice in 2009. On December 17 that year the BBC carried a report that a man called Jonathan Hoffman had been barracked during a university debate at the London School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS),  by people chanting that he was "Jewish", and as such, not welcome. This referred in fact to a public event held by the SOAS Palestine Society and the British Committee for Universities in Palestine (BRICUP), with speakers from South Africa, one of whom Ronnie Kasrils is himself Jewish, as is academic Steven Rose, who also spoke.

It would have been surprising if Jonathan  Hoffman had not encountered some hostility at this meeting, since he had become notorious as an aggressive leader of the Zionist Federation, and his 'question' at the SOAS meeting was an attack on one of the speakers. But Hoffman was allowed to make his point without interruption, which is more than he allowed Holocaust survivor Hajo Meyer at a House of Commons meeting the following year. The Zionist federation chair was escorted out by police after persistent heckling of Dr.Meyer.

Several other members of the SOAS audience were also Jewish, including Naomi Wimbourne-Idrissi, who can be heard on video of the meeting introducing herself as Jewish before she spoke, and being applauded. None of them experienced any anti-Jewish chanting, and indeed it seems Jonathan Hoffman himself did not notice it or think it worth mentioning in his blog about the meeting on December 13.

The person who supplied the "antisemitism" story was Raheem Kassam. The BBC referred to his membership of Student Rights, describing this as an "anti-racist" campaigning organisation, though its own website prefers to identify itself as against "extremism". We don't know who else was in Student Rights.

According to a website called Standpoint in which some of his ideas appeared, "Raheem Kassam manages the counter-radicalisation pressure group 'Student Rights' from within the Henry Jackson Society. That's a society dedicated to aggressively bringing American-style 'democracy' to other countries. He also airs his views on the Conservative Home site, which says: 'Raheem Kassam hails from Uxbridge, studied Politics at university and is now a freelance political campaign strategist'".

The BBC had to pull its story about the SOAS event after complaints from people who had been there. But it seems to have continued treating Raheem Kassam as a reliable source on the subject of "extremism", particularly the Islamic variety, in British universities.

Having travelled from the ostensibly liberal Henry Jackson Society to the determinedly conservative (even by American Republican standards) Breitbart outfit, will Kassam be continuing to report extremism from his post in UKIP, with its known contingent of Holocaust deniers and believers in the famous Protocols? He takes up his new job in the same week that the Board of Deputies of British Jews, not known for exagerating (when right-wing parties are concerned) had this to say, about UKIP's links in Europe:

Board Vice President Jonathan Arkush said: “The Board is gravely concerned by reports that UKIP may sit in the same parliamentary grouping as a far-right Polish MEP in a bid to save its funding.  Robert Iwaszkiewicz belongs to an extremist party whose leader has a history of Holocaust denial, racist remarks and misogynistic comments.  He belongs to the far-right Polish JKM, led by Janusz Korwin-Mikke who has reportedly called into question the right of women to have the vote.

 “Furthermore, we entirely reject UKIP’s justification that ‘All groups in the European Parliament have very odd bedfellows (and) The rules to get speaking time and funding are set by the EP, not UKIP’.  Extremists and racists should be roundly rejected, not embraced.  Even France's far right Front National rejected the JKM as being too extreme.

 “For UKIP to choose such a figure as Robert Iwaszkiewicz as a bedfellow, apparently for money, is beyond belief. Nigel Farage now has some very serious questions to answer.  He has placed in issue the credibility of UKIP."

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Blood and Oil on the Tarmac

TWO WHO DIED  Christophe de Margerie (October 20, 2014) and (below right) Enrico Mattei (October 27, 1962)

A top European oil boss who rejected calls to restore Cold War barriers against trade with Russia has been killed in a crash at Moscow's Vnukovo airport, after attending a Russian government-hosted investors' conference in Gorki, and within hours of meeting Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev on Monday.

Christophe de Margerie's corporate jet was taxying to take off late on Monday night when it collided with the airport's snow plough and then burst into flames. Fire engines extinguished the blaze but all four people on board the plane were killed. 

Early reports said Russian investigators accused the snow plough driver of having been drunk. But the driver denied this, saying he did not drink, because he had a heart condition.  Airport authorities are investigating further, and the 'plane's black box has not yet been examined.
Christophe de Margerie, 63,  had been chief executive of the French Total oil company, third largest in Europe, since 2007.  A statement from the office of French President Francois Hollande said: "Christophe de Margerie dedicated his life to French industry and to building up the Total group. He made it into one of the very top global companies. It said President Hollande valued de Margerie's independence of character and devotion to  France.

Russian President Vladimir Putin sent his condolences. Tass quoted a Kremlin spokesman as saying: "The President highly appreciated de Margerie's business skills, his continued commitment to the development of not only bilateral Russian-French relations, but also on multi-faceted levels.".

Among the first unofficial commentators on de Margerie's crash death was RT (Russia Today)'s highly unconventional business correspondent Max Keiser, who noted that the French oil chief had been one of the people who talked about "peak oil", meaning companies needed to harness all sources.  Keiser continued:
The last we heard from him, however, was from this July 5, 2014 Bloomberg story we covered:

“Nothing prevents anyone from paying for oil in euros,” de Margerie told journalists at the Cercle des Economistes conference in Aix-en-Provence, France. “The price of a barrel of oil is quoted in dollars. A refinery can take that price and using the euro-dollar exchange rate on any given day, agree to make the payment in euros.” The remarks from the head of France’s largest oil company are the latest in a debate sparked by an $8.97 billion fine slapped by the U.S. on French bank BNP Paribas SA (BNP) for transactions carried out in dollars in countries facing American sanctions. Read more at

I’m sure it had nothing to do with his death, of course [insert nervous laugh], but here’s the second comment on that Bloomberg article:

Also someone take a life insurance policy on that guy I have a feeling Langley mercenaries will make someone rich

Langley, Virginia is the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency(CIA). In the United States, Forbes Business magazine did not rush into any speculation but had this to say:

Chatty and blunt, De Margerie didn’t hide his conviction that Peak Oil was a fast approaching reality, insisting at the time that the world’s producers would be hard pressed to ever grow past 95 milli on barrels per day. He may have revised that number upwards a bit in recent years, considering the booming development of tight oil in the United States, but his dogma remained the same as then: “There will be a lack of sufficient energy available,” he said. Because of this belief, De Margerie was tireless in grabbing new oil and gas opportunities for Total — while they were still available. De Margerie ventured out from Total’s headquarters in La Défense, the west Paris business district, to woo a who’s who of presidents, prime ministers, strongmen and dictators in places like Iraq, Iran, Uganda, Equatorial Guinea, Yemen, Angola and Burma. But none of De Margerie’s relationships have been more important than with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

This year De Margerie negotiated a venture with Lukoil to drill for tight oil in Siberia. And with Russia’s Novatek and China’s CNPC, Total is developing a $27 billion natural gas megaproject on the Yamal Peninsula. As De Margerie told Reuters this year, ”Can we live without Russian gas in Europe? The answer is no. Are there any reasons to live without it? I think – and I’m not defending the interests of Total in Russia – it is a no.”

I asked him in 2010 whether it was simply the case that international oil companies have no choice but to make deals with despots. “Bloody right!” he exclaimed. “Because we have not oil or gas. [...] This is why the French companies are always looking for partnerships.”

Sometimes he may have even crossed the line. In March 2007, a month after taking over as CEO, De Margerie was hauled in by French authorities for 36 hours of interrogation over a $2 billion deal with Iran in 1997 to develop its massive Persian Gulf gas field. In a 2007 interview with Petroleum Intelligence, De Margerie confirmed that he authorized payments of $40 million (for consulting and lobbying efforts) to middlemen–allegedly associates of former Iranian president Ali Akbar Rafsanjani and his son. When Iran is someday welcomed back into the brotherhood of nations, you can bet Total will be ready to build it some LNG projects.

Because De Margerie was such a wildly effective dealmaker over the past decade, he leaves Total in an enviable position. The company has arguably the best portfolio of development projects among the super-majors, with particular emphasis on deepwater developments in Angola. Despite some delays completing error-prone megafields like Kazakhstan’s Kashagan, these new ventures are ready to goose Total’s output significantly. Total will likely add 500,000 bpd of production by the end of 2017, outstripping all the big European oil companies by a long shot and resulting in 2.8 million bpd of production by then. Free cash flow is expected to blossom from $3 billion last year to $8 billion in 2015 and $15 billion in 2017. Bernstein Research analyst Oswald Clint, in a research note last month, called Total his favorite stock pick among the European super-majors.
Although a BBC report suggested Total's Russian operations had been hit by sanctions, others indicate that De Margerie was determined to go ahead and resist such pressures. After quoting his success in in expanding African fields, a report in the Guardian said:

A staunch defender of Russia and its energy policies amid the conflict in Ukraine, De Margerie told Reuters in a July interview that Europe should stop thinking about cutting its dependence on Russian gas and focus instead on making those deliveries safer.

He said tensions between the west and Russia were pushing Moscow closer to China, as illustrated by a $400bn deal to supply Beijing with gas that was clinched in May.

“Are we going to build a new Berlin Wall?” he said. “Russia is a partner and we shouldn’t waste time protecting ourselves from a neighbour … What we are looking to do is not to be too dependent on any country, no matter which. Not from Russia, which has saved us on numerous occasions.” 

Total is one of the major oil companies most exposed to Russia, where its output will double to represent more than a tenth of its global portfolio by 2020.

Total is one of the top foreign investors in Russia but its future there grew cloudy after the 17 July downing of a Malaysian passenger airliner over Ukrainian territory held by pro-Russian rebels. The disaster worsened the oil-rich country’s relations with the west and raised the threat of deeper sanctions.

Total said in September that sanctions would not stop it working on the Yamal project, a $27bn joint venture investment to tap vast natural gas reserves in north-west Siberia that aims to double Russia’s stake in the fast-growing market for liquefied natural gas. De Margerie said then that Europe could not live without Russian gas, adding that there was no reason to do so.

Christophe de Margerie is not the first European oil company boss to die in a plane crash after stepping out of line with the other, particularly American, oil interests and Western policy, and pursuing national economic independence though trading with the Russians.

In Italy, Enrico Mattei,  who was put in charge of the state-owned AGIP corporation after the liberation decided that rather than break it up among private companies, he would expand and reorganise it to develop natural gas resources for Italian industry and reduce dependence on imported fuels. ENI, as it became,  Ente Nazionale Idrocarburi (ENI), went on to negotiate important oil concessions in the Middle East and a major trade agreement with the Soviet Union. Mattei also pioneered the policy that oil-producing countries should receive three quarters of the revenue.

Although his politics were Christian Democrat, Mattei openly set out to break the grip of the 'Seven Sisters', the major oil companies of the world. He angered NATO, the US government and its agents within the Italian state when he went to Moscow in 1959, ignoring the Cold War to broker a major oil deal with the Soviet Union. He further upset European colonial powers, particularly the French, ironically,  by showing sympathy for independence movements and offering more generous terms for oil extraction than the big companies usually did.

On October 27, 1962 on a flight from Catania (Sicily) to the Milan Linate Airport, Mattei's jetplane, a Morane-Saulnier MS.760 Paris, crashed in the surroundings of the small village of Bascapè in Lombardy. All three men on board were killed.

The authorities said it was an accident. Many people suspected otherwise, and there were reports that evidence had been destroyed.

Wikipedia tells us:
On October 25, 1995, the Italian public service broadcaster RAI reported the exhumation of the human remains of Mattei and Bertuzzi. Metal debris deformed by an explosion was found in the bones. There is speculation that the fuse of an explosive device was triggered by the mechanism of the landing gear. In 1994 the investigations were reopened and in 1997 a metal indicator and a ring were further analyzed by Professor Firrao of Politecnico di Torino and explosion tracks were found.[10] Based on this evidence the episode was reclassified by the judge as homicide, but with perpetrator(s) unknown.

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