Sunday, December 30, 2007

Guns n' Gambling back Cameron's Tories

DON'T accuse Britain's Tories of being anti-immigrant. Their papers may stir up hysteria about "foreign criminals" and asylum seekers "flooding in", but they'll welcome anybody if their money is right. Especially if they give lots of money to the Right. After the row over Labour's hidden donations, the Sunday Times, normally campaigning for David Cameron's Tories, has balanced the picture a bit by revealing one of the Tories' biggest donors is a Finnish billionaire whose fortune was built up with Israel's arms industry, and who owns almost half of Las Vegas.

A balance of sorts it is. David Abrahams, the North East property developer who used go-betweens to give money to Labour politicians is a pillar of the Labour Friends of Israel.

Poju Zabludowicz, whom the Sunday Times reveals has donated £70,000 to the Conservative party over the past three years, is also one of the financial supporters of the Conservative Friends of Israel, which has also given money to the party. He is chairman of the Britain-Israel Communications and Research group, BICOM, which works directly with the Israeli embassy. Ex-Labour MP Lorna Fitzsimmons became its chief executive officer when Danny Schenk was promoted ambassador to France.

It was in September 2000 after the second intifada erupted that the Israeli ambassador in London called businessmen supporters of Israel to an urgent meeting. "That evening a group of them raised an initial £250,000 fund for pro-Israel lobbying and public relations. First to wave his chequebook was Poju Zabludowicz, a little-known name at the time but now an emerging figure who recently entered the Sunday Times Rich List with an estimated £2 billion, and who owns 40 per cent of downtown Las Vegas."

Mind you, Zabludowicz is a bit of an internationalist. His father, Shlomo, described as an Auschwitz survivor who went to Finland, is credited with developing Israel's heavy arms industry from seeking self-sufficiency to becoming a major exporter. He died in 1994. Since then like France's Le Creusot Poju has diversified into saucepans.

Now Zabludowicz, 55, lives in London but is counted as "non-domiciled" for tax purposes. He heads the Tamares Group, which has its headquarters in Liechtenstein and has an international property portfolio, which includes hotels and casinos in Las Vegas, and property in New York and Washington, as well as a business park in Haifa.

But Poju is still one of the big guns of Israel's lobby in Britain and Europe. As the Jewish Chronicle reported in July 2006 it was planning a major revamped PR campaign aimed particularly at opinion-formers and leaders. "We must also now focus on educating Britain's leaders about the importance of the shared values between both countries. We hope that our plans will set an agenda for the entire pro-Israel community," said Bicom chairman, Poju Zabludowicz.

"According to Electoral Commission records, Tamares provided £15,000 for Cameron’s leadership campaign in 2005 and has donated £55,000 to Conservative funds in 2006 and 2007.
Zabludowicz has also provided funds for the Conservative Friends of Israel, which in turn has donated nearly £30,000 to the Tory party.

"Cameron already enjoys the backing of another foreign businessman, Mahmoud Khayami, a French citizen who has given £830,000 in the past year. Both Zabludowicz and Khayami are registered to vote in European Union elections and are entitled to make donations to the Conservative party".
Vegas casino billionaire bankrolls the Tories,

see also:
Richard Perle employed as consultant by Soltam:

Just to add to our point about the internationalism of the arms industry: Soltam's M-66 mortar was based on a Finnish design, but then mounted on a Sherman tank chassis. A later Merkava gun was mounted on the British Centurions which Israel was able to build under licence. But it was Soltam's co-operation with the South African arms industry which gave rise tio the GHN-45 reported in use by Israel in the Bekaa valley during the 1982 Lebanon war. Ironically, the further development of South African heavy weapons which the Israeli industry had assisted is thought to have led to the "supergun" which Saddam Hussein's Iraq tried to build with help from British technicians.

Labels: ,

Saturday, December 29, 2007

All the Answers

MOUSEHOLE (pron."Muzzel) Cornwall. Where the pilchards may gaze at the stars, but these two harbour watchers are looking out for a fish supper.

WELL, hope you all had a nice holiday and are fully recovered.
If you tried our quiz, and could not be bothered looking up all the knowledge on the Internet, here are the answers you have been waiting for:

Literary Landscapes

1) Malvern hills

2) Lyme Regis

3) Kent

4) Cranford, as in recent BBC serial.

5) Hardy's "Wessex" was his native Dorset and places nearby.

Who Dunnit?

1)Agatha Christie

2) Raymond Chandler

3)Dorothy L.Sayers

4) Georges Simenon

5) Ruth Rendell

Who said it?

1) Benjamin Disraeli

2) Winston Churchill

3) Abigail Van Buren (1918- ), US advice columnist

4) George Jean Nathan (1882-1958), US drama critic

5) Leon Trotsky

Mind Your Language

) Malta. Maltese, though it uses a Roman script, is a Semitic language.

2) Catalan

3) Yiddish and Russian

4) Paraguay

5) Brussels, like the sprouts. They are Flemish/French mixtures spoken in some old working-class neighbourhoods.

Talking of Food

1) Colcannon, made with potatoes and kale or cabbage, is a traditional dish in Ireland. There is also a Newfoundland and Nova Scotia version with carrots.

2) Stargazey Pie is made in Cornwall, particularly Mousehole. The fish, usually pichards, have their heads potruding from the pastry, hence star gazing.

3) Fabada is a tasty, nourishing stew of beans with sausage etc from the Asturias region of north-west Spain.

4) Knedliki are dumplings served in the Czech Republic (cf. Kneidlech, matzo balls in Yiddish).

5) Nasi Goreng is a popular fried rice dish in Indonesia, and neighbouring countries.

Something to Drink

1) Jamaica and other parts of West Indies.

2) Normandy. Calvados is an apple brandy, taking its name from the town.

3) China. A potent spirit distilled from sorghum.

4) Hungary, a plum brandy like the Balkan slivovic.

5) Argentina, though also other Latin American countries. A sort of tea drink made from mate yerbe. Originated with the Guarani Indians and was adopted by the gauchos.

Labels: ,

Monday, December 24, 2007

A Quiz for the Holiday

but from where?

AS last year, I thought we might wind down for a few days, and by way of a contribution to passing the time, here's a little quiz to try.

Literary landscapes

1) From what hills does the narrator look out on a Summers day in William Langland's 'Piers the Plowman' ?

2) In what seaside town is the harbour wall called the Cobb, featured in Jane Austen's 'Persuasion' and the film of John Fowles' 'The French Liuetenent's Woman'?

3) Along what county's north coast are the marshes in Charles Dickens 'Great Expectations'?

4) Under what name was the Cheshire town of Knutsford immortalised by Mrs.Elizabeth Gaskell?

5) What county was the birthplace of Thomas Hardy and the background for most of his novels?

Who dunnit?

Which authors were the creators of these fictional detectives?

1) Hercule Poirot
2) Philip Marlow
3) Lord Peter Wimsey
4) Inspector Maigret
5) Inspector Wexford

Who said it?

1) A Conservative government is an organised hypocrisy.

2) I am not a pillar of the church, but a buttress - I support it from the outside.

3)Wisdom doesn't automatically come with old age. Nothing does - except wrinkles.

4) Patriotism is often an arbitrary veneration of real estate above principles.

5) Old age is the most unexpected of all the things that happen to a man.

Mind your language!

1) What European Union member has a Semitic language?

2) What is the official and historic language of Andorra?

3) What are the two official languages of Biro -Bizhan?

4) In what country is Guarani, spoken by about three million people, the majority language?

5) Where could you meet people speaking Marollien or Bargoensch?

Clue, it has a seasonal culinary connection.

...And Talking of Food:

In which countries might you sample these foods and dishes?

1) Colcannon
2) Stargazey Pie
3) Fabada
4) Knedliky
5 ) Nasi Goreng

...And Something to Drink.

Where would you be most likely to be offered these drinks?

1) Guinness Punch
2) Calvados
3) Maotei
4) Palinka
5) Mate

On which note, it's time I had a drop myself.

Eid Mubarak, Merry Xmas, a late Happy Chanukah,
and a healthy and progressive New Year to all!


Sunday, December 23, 2007

Britain's history in Iraq has hidden pages

CONFLICTING reports on violence and lawlessness in Basra as British troops withdrew, handing control over to Iraqi forces. Some locals say there are fewer shootings and attacks if only because the occupiers are no longer there as a target. Some British reports have presented a picture of sectarian attacks and violence against women once Brits no longer patrolled the streets.

An Iraqi police chief however made the point that it was the invaders who destroyed society and unleashed sectarian violence and criminal gangs, and that it would take time to restore peace on the streets.

British soldiers in Basra may have thought they were there to protect citizens, even if they had enough trouble protecting themselves. But that was certainly not the whole story.

Not when we remember back to September 18, 2005. On the eve of the Karbala festival when thousands of pilgrims were about to arrive, Iraqi police captured two men in an unmarked car in Basra after a shoot-out, in which police officers were wounded, if not killed. The men were British SAS personnel dressed as Arabs.
According to Reuters and initially BBC reports their car was "full of explosives and bomb-making equipment".

A British armoured unit stormed the jail where the men were held to release them, killing Iraqis in the process, and freeing about 150 other prisoners on to the streets.

Mention of the explosives and remote detonators was dropped from later reports. The car too was taken back from the Iraqi police. We were told the men had been on a surveillance mission, or (according to the Telegraph) were out to capture a particular police officer known as a torturer. But you would not carry explosives for that. So was the British purpose in Basra at that time to prevent sectarian war or to get one started?

No doubt the media now figures two years is a long time for the public to remember an incident. Not for the people in Basra it isn't.

Of course, Britain has a history in Iraq. Invading during the First World War, it acquired the League of Nations Mandate over Mesopotamia, and here it was that the RAF was used to police rebellious Arabs and Kurds by bombing their villages. In 1932 the kingdom of Iraq became nominally independent, but the RAF retained its base at Habaniyeh, and British officials remained in important positions.

Then in April 1941 a group of nationalist army officers backing prime minister Rashid al Gailani, encouraged by Axis propaganda and buoyed by popular anti-British feeling, took power. The pro-British Regent Abd el Elyah fled to a British warship, and was flown to Palestine. Rommel's army was advancing in north Africa, and German planes were in Vichy-run Syria. Rather than accept a compromise with Rashid al-Gailani the British government decided on regime change, invading Iraq with Indian Army troops to restore the Regent.

Basra, Iraq's second city, at that time had a sizeable Jewish population, some 30,000, ranging from port and rail workers to senior civil servants and businessmen.

Nazi propaganda, assisted by the presence in Iraq of the Mufti Haj Amin el-Husseini who had gone there after the Palestinian revolt was crushed, sought to underpin hostility to the British with anti-Jewish feeling over Palestine. It broadcast the news that Jewish commandos (led by Irgun Zvai Leumi commander David Raziel) had enlisted to fight for the British in Iraq. Just to help matters, London broadcast that Basra Jews had come out with flowers to greet the British troops and the returning Regent. In fact, the Jews were strolling the parks and the Corniche on a warm Saturday afternoon, and the Regent had not even arrived in Basra. Groups of Arab youth who came out the following day to attack Jews were persuaded to go home by local Moslem leaders.

So far, under Rashid el-Gailani's brief rule there had been few anti-Jewish incidents in Iraq. But on May 7, British-officered Gurkha troops were unleashed in Basra's Oshar district, breaking into houses, looting and assaulting women. Local people, Jewish and Muslim, took down old rifles and pistols to defend their homes, and though the invaders were better-armed they withdrew. Had the usually well-disciplined Gurkhas just got out of hand or was their rampage sanctioned for whatever reason by British officers?

That same day the British forces encircled at Habaniya air base had broken out, assisted by 'planes which attacked retreating Iraqi forces.

On May 18, 1941, British forces stormed Faluja, causing heavy Iraqi casualties. The following day the British Army's Assyrian levies went into Faluja, and began an orgy of plunder, rape, and murder. Some say this was in revenge for the massacre of Assyrian Christians by Muslims in 1923, but Naim Giladi says most of the victims in Faluja were Jews. He adds that the British commander of the forces entering Faluja, General Clark, was "known to be exacting on the matter of his troops' discipline".

By May 30, Rashid Ali and most of the rebels had fled over the border to Iran, and British forces, including Glubb Pasha's Arab Legion were poised to take Baghdad. But they waited, while the radio continued to announce the Regent's imminent
return, and German radio in Arabic continued playing up the involvement of Jews from Palestine. On June 1, Jews celebrating the Shavuot holiday in Baghdad clashed with youths from the Kataib el-Shahab.

That evening there was a more serious incident when armed rioters dragged two Jews from a bus, killing one of them. But it was the following day that the big Baghdad fahud, or pogrom, was really begun, by armed and uniformed men who arrived in middle-class El Rashid street in military trucks and began shooting off locks on shops and homes. The mobs that came up to loot were mostly armed with clubs and knives, but the uniformed men shot into the homes before getting into their trucks to move on to the next targetted streets.

Some Jews fought back, assisted or sheltered by Muslim neighbours. But by mid-afternoon when mainly Kurdish troops had come in to restore order and chase off the rioters, 104 people had been killed, and 650 injured, many shops had been wrecked, and 890 houses had been looted. Three millennia of relatively peaceful co-existence in Iraq had been ended.

The farhud may have contained an outburst of blind, spontaneous anger as well as plunder, but it was plainly organised. By whom is less plain, since Rashid Ali's men had already left Iraq, and the capital was without official government for two days before the pogrom was launched. Not till after it were the British able to say they were restoring the Regent and moving in to establish order.

'Divide and rule' is nothing new in the policy of colonial powers, and dividing Iraq in three along sectarian/ethnic lines may well suit imperial ambitions. Perhaps the Nazis were not the only ones in 1941 to regard an anti-Jewish diversion as useful, particularly if it also provided a pretext for intervention.

We can but speculate. Forty years ago when interested scholars rushed to examine the papers made available under Foreign Office rules they found that some pertaining to events in Iraq in 1941 were still being withheld, and one file is marked not to be made public until 2017. That's a long time to be protecting somebody's reputation. How long will we have to wait for the truth about what has been happening more recently in Faluja and Basra?

On the Baghdad pogrom see also:

Books to read: Marian Woolfson - Prophets in Babylon
Abbas Shiblak - Iraqi Jews
Naim Giladi - Ben Gurion's Scandals.

Labels: , , ,

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Did we have a Mitty on the Committee?

Or was Keith's name really "Bond - Basildon Bond"?

IT must be over a dozen years ago that I met Keith Standring, taking part in a march, I think it was in south London, though I forget exactly where or what it was about. He was with the Workers' Revolutionary Party (Workers Press) contingent, at a time when it was good to see a new face.

But Keith was obviously not some youth coming fresh to radical campaigning and ideas, nor was he the kind of trade union or community activist who had spent some time working with us before deciding to join. Nor do I recall him having any story to tell of bitter struggle in the Communist Party or other corner of the left before deciding to throw in his lot with the Trotskyists.

He was introduced to me as a member of the General Municipal and Boilermakers (GMB) trade union, and it turned out he was a full-time official, who before that had served in the Grenadier Guards. The military background did not bother me. It might prove handy in some situations, but that aside, I'd known good comrades who were ex-soldiers, even guardsmen, such as Dave Longley and Fred Green, both alas no longer around. One of the best and nicest people I'd known in the movement was an ex-marine commando with a soft Edinburgh accent called Bill Dow, who didn't let threats and beatings from Rachmanite thugs and corrupt coppers deter him from fighting for west London tenants, till he was finally laid low by a dose of malaria he'd picked up in wartime Burma.

But recruiting someone who had moved up in the trade union bureaucracy was unusual. We are more used to seeing people move the opposite way, from left to right, as their careers take off in the movement. Still, that was no reason to be suspicious.

Anyway, Keith seemed affable enough, willing to help, and generous. He had held responsibility for the chemical industry in the GMB union. It seems he had approached Cliff Slaughter, a leading WRP member and Yorkshire academic who remembered him from the Young Communist League, for political discussion. As a result Cliff introduced him to the late Geoff Pilling, who was editing Workers Press, and Dot Gibson, who among other things was responsible for much of the international trade union connexions.

The International Trade Union Solidarity Campaign(ITUSC), set up following the same Budapest conference that launched the Workers International for Reconstruction of the Fourth International (WIRFI) (as difficult a concept as it was a mouthful), had three pillars; trade union independence of the state and employers; democracy inside the unions; workers internationalism. But despite this simple broad approach, ITUSC was in the doldrums. Having trades unionists think it was a great idea was not the same as them providing it with leadership, nor vice versa. WRP members argued whether it should be a campaign, or just a committee, assuming they would decide, even if they did not know what to do with it. Enthusiastic letters from sisters and brothers abroad brought with them the embarrassing thought that we could not mobilise anything like the kind of solidarity they were looking for. Some of them, with scant resources beyond their determination, were leading many thousands of workers in struggles such as few of us had experienced. Our own comrades in southern Africa were also attracting support, and with it, facing big responsibilities and sometimes physical dangers, while we in Britain had been through retreats and splits, and strayed into the confusing babble of the sects and talking-shops.

Once Keith Standring had been introduced it was easy to see him as the confident, experienced trade unionist whose drive and organising ability could get ITUSC moving again. With the ITUSC's lack of independence from the WRP it was not hard to simply replace the comrade who was ITUSC secretary, a Ford worker whose initials were also, incidentally KS. Keith Standring was even willing to take early retirement from his union job so that he could become full-time, unpaid, secretary of ITUSC. So dedicated, he later claimed that he had invested his own money in a computer and stationery so that he could work from home, in Surrey.

In those days you must understand, home PCs were not that common, nor was e-mail, let alone left-wing websites and blogs. What's more the ITUSC as yet had no resources of its own, as I found when asked to edit its Bulletin. We brought out a few issues, with a small committee anxiously vetting content, and Dot Gibson seeing to the technical side. Then I needed to produce an issue before an important conference on Bosnia in Manchester. Dot was in Bosnia where she had been leading an aid convoy, the small committee was not to be found, the photocopier in the office was not working, and when I asked about using facilities at "our" printers the cold, imperious reply was "whose paying for this?" I'd already laid out money for layout but I had not realised when agreeing to take responsibility for the ITUSC Bulletin that it would thenceforth be treated by some "comrades" as my affair, if not meshugas. Thus privatisation, the Thatcherite environment, had seeped into our comradely relations.

This was a couple of years before Keith Standring arrived on the scene, and was by the way. What has stirred the other KS, and he has brought it to my attention, is where Brother Standring is now -Councillor Standring (Conservative), Rother District Council, East Sussex.
Keith Standring was a regular soldier in the Grenadier Guards before working for over thirty years in British Intelligence. He is a member of the Conservative Party, The Freedom Association and a supporter of The Bruges Group.

So Cllr.Standring, according to his own Tory CV was working for the Intelligence services during his time in the WRP and before that in the GMB union. He presumably continued working for them in the ITUSC after the WRP had disbanded itself to reform as the "Movement for Socialism". Just what he might have achieved for them is hard to say. It seems the Standring story came to attention back at the beginning of this year, and was commented upon in Tribune and by people who knew him in the union, though they recalled how he had seemed to swing from one belief to another, political or religious, with equal enthusiasm, and wondered whether he was a serious agent or Walter Mitty.

Either way, I'm sorry I missed the story when it first came out. In fact when I first saw the name Keith Standring in my informant's subject line I'd forgotten who it was until reading his message brought it back to me. Even then I've had to consult other comrades, and comb through my old diaries in the hope of finding something significant, without much success.

I remember now a story Keith told me when we were on an embassy picket with Iranian comrades, about how as a trade union negotiator dealing with a firm in East Anglia he had taken advantage of the knowledge that Israeli and Egyptian buyers were in nearby hotels to persuade management that the sooner it settled the dispute with its workers the quicker it could proceed with its business, selling military equipment to both sides in the Middle East conflict. I retold the story to a magazine journalist, but what if it was not true?

When ITUSC did find a useful role it was as a meeting place for people like the Iranian exiles, African militants, Turkish trade unionists and others here, some of whom also joined us in the support group for Liverpool dockers. But as the WRP moved towards trying to rebrand and re-invent itself as a broader movement, tensions between members were becoming disproportionately fierce. At one ITUSC meeting the chairman would not let me contribute to a discussion involving Nigerians and Iranians, telling me that people were participating as representatives of organisations. I was flummoxed. Having only intended to make some conciliatory remarks about the question of religion and secularism that had arisen, I could not truthfully say that my trades council had mandated me to take a "line" on the issue. Fortunately nowadays when I meet the African and Iranian comrades we can talk without benefit of clergy or that kind of bureaucratic chair.

What was being brought in to the ITUSC was not workers democracy or international Trotskyism but the manoeuvres and control freakery we know all too well from the union bureaucracy. Where Keith Standring was in this I cannot honestly remember, except my diary includes a comment about him and that chairman I've mentioned as lining up "like Pinky and Perky", and later at another event says "Pinky and Perky were on top table". Not the most scientific Marxist characterisation, but it would seem to indicate we were no longer exactly friends.

To be honest, any personal animosity I experienced
or reciprocated at this time was incidental to a more important conflict of aims. When someone had asked at a conference whether dissolving the WRP would mean breaking up the Workers International of which we were part, I argued that no, this was a change of approach in Britain and not to be imposed worldwide. Bob Archer took a similar view. Cliff Slaughter kept his cards close to his chest, saying nothing. But after the MFS was set up, Geoff Pilling was bitterly condemned for producing a Workers International publication, and Dot Gibson denounced because she had dared to proclaim herself a Trotskyist, a member of the Workers International to Reconstruct the Fourth International, when speaking at an international conference organised by the Tuzla miners. Indeed, judging from some people's writings, the WIRFI was not only no longer to be, but treated as though it had never been. (See how it has been erased from history in the otherwise excellent book on Workers Aid for Bosnia, Taking Sides).

One issue confronting the Bosnian and Kosovar miners, as other workers in eastern Europe and Russia, and now being firmly resisted by Iraqi oil workers, is privatisation. It is a struggle in which workers East and West can learn from and strengthen each other. Some of us wanted to make defence of public ownership and services the fourth pillar of the ITUSC stand, but others felt we should not add to what had been agreed at Budapest. I cannot remember or do justice to the arguments here, nor can I say that factions were neatly aligned either side. But if the arguments about the International seem abstract, I think real issues stood behind them.

Quite independently of the union sources, Dot Gibson came up with the name "Walter Mitty" when asked about Keith Standring's role. Having worked closely with him drafting statements and letters to make sure they accorded with the policies, she did not think he had much idea, though he presented them as his own. Later he became more independent, unpredictable and then hostile, before dropping out. But Cliff Slaughter had put Keith Standring on to the Executive committee of the WIRFI. Like liquidators taking over a company to wind up its affairs, Slaughter and his aides used the Executive to discipline those who were trying to keep the International going, and though Keith Standring had ceased attending meetings, he was brought back by Cliff Slaughter just long enough to help outvote Dot. It was to be the laat time they all met.

From the Movement for Socialism, Keith Standring has moved on to feature on a site called "Make socialism history". And such, scant as it is, is the history of Keith Standring. Now, amid dull Tory company, he shines quite brightly writing on civil liberties, the European Union, Labour and ID cards. So was he an Intelligence agent, or Walter Mitty? Or did the two roles go hand in hand? I too have moved on, though not in the same direction, from the little battles of a past decade, and my memory has been otherwise occupied. But I felt it my duty to say something, and perhaps others will have more to add.

For another, earlier, angle on Keith Standring see:

Labels: , , , ,

Monday, December 17, 2007

Home Office angers Hornets

FOOTBALL supporters are not en mass thought of as a liberal or left-wing crowd, whatever they may be like at home or work. Some of my football-following friends who have done much to combat racism on the terraces would probably be first to agree.

But a crowd of them cheered a Black asylum seeker at the weekend, applauding his moving plea to remain, and the call for support from his Labour MP. It happened at Vicarage Road, Watford, before the home team played Plymouth Argyle, and though he hasn't played a a game this season because of injuries and was recovering from a dislocated ankle, the Hornets' 19 year old midfielder Al Bangura was the star the crowd were cheering.

Alhassan Bangura escaped from the bloody chaos of war-torn Sierra Leone, where his father had been killed, and was brought to this country when he was just 15.

Back home he had been expected to join a secret witchcraft society whose rituals included self-mutilation. He fled to Guinea and was befriended by a Frenchman who promised to help him get to Britain. But the traffickers who brought him here intended to sell him for male prostitution.

The boy ran out into the street, and shouted for help. He was taken to a Home Office reception centre in Croydon, and there he pleaded for asylum.

Al Bangura's luck took a sudden turn upwards when he was spotted by Watford scouts when playing for a youth team in Chertsey. He signed up to train with Watford, and two years ago, aged just 17, he made the first team.

A couple of seasons ago the Sierra Leonian was voted Young Player of the Year, and he was captain for one game earlier this season. So far, a modern magical story, of one young lad's escape from the horrors of barbarism (European as well as African) to the dream of football stardom.

Maybe it was too much of a dream come true for the mean-spirited if not malicious bastards in this government and the Home Office to let alone.

Al Bangura's father was killed during the civil war in Sierra Leone. He has lost touch with any relatives there, and fears for his life from the gangs and secret societies if he returns. He has begun a new life here, with a fiancee who just two weeks ago gave birth to their son, Samal.

At a hearing in June the young footballer was given discretionary leave to stay in Britain. But on November 26 he had to face a 're-trial' after the Home Office decided there had been a mistake in the judge's summing up. Their Asylum and Immigration Tribunal ruled that he should be forcibly sent back to Sierra Leone.

International footballers' organisations have urged that Bangura be allowed to stay, and Watford football club is backing an appeal as well as speaking out against the decision. ""We hope to get other people in involved. The Home Secretary can get involved now. We are speaking to people through the club", said Watford boss Adrian Boothroyd.

"We thought we could put our faith in British justice but obviously not. We have to keep trying everything we can to make sure he stays.

"To escape civil war twice and avoid what he has avoided in his life, we cannot imagine what this boy has gone through in his short life and then somebody somewhere thinks it is a good idea to send him back to all of that."

"After the immigration hearing I said that I had faith in British justice but obviously I was totally mistaken because it’s a completely ludicrous decision," Boothroyd said. "“This country, great as it once was, seems to allow anybody in to send benefits wherever they fancy and we have one young man here who pays his taxes, has a fiancee and a newborn son and somebody somewhere thinks it’s a good decision to send him back to Sierra Leone. It’s ridiculous.

“We’ve been sent a document with the reasons why he’s being deported and they are ridiculous. We are appealing and I only hope that rather than these pen-pushers someone higher up - perhaps the Home Secretary Jacqui Smith herself - can look at it and make a decent decision instead of the one we’ve got.”

Watford’s Labour MP, Claire Ward is asking the Immigration Minister, Liam Byrne, to use his discretionary powers to prevent Bangura being deported. She urged the club's fans to e-mail her via her Parliamentary website, , so she can add their names to a petition she plans to present to the Home Office.

Labour veteran Tony Benn has said more than once that he had lived to see the day when the majority of the British public was to the Left of a Labour government on major issues. We can now add that we have reached the day when a football club and its supporters (and on Saturday the visiting side's supporters too) showed more humanity and decency than a Labour Home Office.

Labels: ,

Thursday, December 13, 2007

What is Lee Jasper row really about?

IS there an election coming up for London mayor or something?
I'd never have guessed.
I seldom bother to read, let alone buy, the Evening Standard.
The London it depicts, of shares, shows and fashion, is not the place I've worked and lived in. A paper that plants its reporter outside City Hall on a cold night just so he could catch the mayor coming out of a party, is not my idea of serious and socially concerned journalism.

Having caught Ken Livingstone saying something daft, the Tory paper was able to call up the hosts of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in California to come riding to the aid of its "offended" reporter (who sounds more delighted on the tape), setting off a process which eventually cost the citizens a lot of money, which might have been more if the US boycott campaign had succeeded.

This phoney "antisemitism" row only reminded us, ironically, as did Ken, that the Standard comes like its mate the Daily Mail from the stables of Rothermere, the press that once cheered Hitler, Mussolini and Mosley with headlines like "Hurrah for the Blackshirts!"

But last Friday evening, starting a long Central Line journey, I stepped into an empty carriage and picked up a discarded Standard , which has taken to calling itself "London's Quality Newspaper", I suppose to distinguish itself from the freebies now handed out all round town. As it otherwise enjoys a monopoly I suppose it can call itself what it likes. But it is certainly not London's equality paper.
Inside was a two-page spread "investigation" by Andrew Gilligan, attacking the mayor's senior Equality adviser Lee Jasper, under the heading "Ken's £117,000 aide lives in £90pw council house".

I've nothing against criticism of Lee Jasper, or Ken Livingstone and the rest of his team. Matter of fact I was dissing Jasper and his position in the anti-racist movement only a few days before.

First time we were asked to vote if we wanted an elected mayor I wrote on my ballot paper that we wanted proper local democracy, not this travesty. Then like others I voted for Ken Livingstone, because he was seen as having stood up first to Margaret Thatcher, who abolished the Greater London Council, then to Blair, who pushed the mayor idea but tried to block him as candidate. But Livingstone has filled the mayor role only too well, with his gimmicky policies, showmanship for business, and personal patronage. With his call to tube workers to cross picket lines, and his support for the police killers of Jean-Charles de Menezes, Livingstone has blown any shared of credibility he had on the Left, let alone enthusiasm.

Rather than listen to the labour movement, Livingstone has a clique of over-paid advisers around him, mostly from the secretive Socialist Action grouplet or those who have been its allies in the anti-racist movement, such as Lee Jasper. A lightweight who has found his way from castigating the police to defending them, Jasper is supposed to be the voice of the "black community" at Ken's ear, though nobody has elected him to speak for them, rather he has been selected for his well-paid task, just like the rest of the crew.

I'm inclined to distrust the kind of anti-racism or any other movement that purports to change things by advancing some individuals up the ladder with those in power, rather than working at the grass-roots in communities, and work-places, encouraging people to discover their own power. I also question how people who claim to be believe in goals like equality need such big salaries and perks to ensure their commitment to the cause; or how those less well-off are expected to believe that commitment, especially when our leaders require us to make sacrifices, or tell public service workers to restrain their pay.

My fellow-blogger Kevin Blowe has some well-informed and thoughtful comment also, see

The Greater London Authority is looking into what happened to £2.5 million of public funding that went to organisations like Brixton Base with which Lee Jasper has had connections, though he only provided advice on funding and occasionally met people at offices of Brixton Base (which is said to have received £535,000 to dispense). The Standard is claiming credit for revealing the sums, though so far all we have heard is that GLA Tories are raising "serious issues" about Lee Jasper's conduct. If the Standard had evidence of wrong-doing it would presumably have presented this to the police.

What about that £90 a week house? It turns out to be a Victorian terraced house in Clapham, owned by a housing association. (Gilligan refers to "fashionable bars and shops", forgetting the urban decay and violent crime for which Clapham is also noted). Surely if Lee Jasper was found to be living in a palatial mansion in Surrey or penthouse in Knightsbridge that would be far more telling, suggesting he had become remote from the people he purports to speak for, and that we ought to examine the source of his funds?

The Standard in fact is complaining that Jasper is living below his means, when with his salary he should be paying the inflated houseprice or rents that make London a city for the rich. Maybe that's not surprising for a paper that owes much of its advertising revenue to the property business. How dare he not make his sacrifice on the altar of mammon, and help keep up the property prices?!

But the Standard - and those it speaks for - have another argument.
"Mr.Jasper speaks a lot about helping the needy, but by his presence in this house he is depriving a needy family of a home", says Tory assembly member Richard Barnes, whose views occur more than once. Really? Is this the same Tory party which used its control of nearby Wandsworth council to deprive thousands of needy families of the chance of a home by putting council houses and entire new estates up for sale to anyone with the money?

I don't remember what investigations the Standard or any other paper made into that business. I do know that the pioneers of Wandsworth privatisation were rewarded with posts in Margaret Thatcher's government. And of course we all know that a Tory called
Dame Shirley Porter ran into trouble when she tried to combine house sales with gerrymandering in Westminster, at the same time as shoving homeless families into asbestos-ridden flats, until she got caught at it.

Funnily, enough, there was a reminder of that for those in the know, and with good memories, reading the Standard article.
A little added piece at the bottom says "A doctor who paid for the education of one of Lee Jasper's children was appointed to Ken Livingstone's advisory cabinet on the recommendation of Mr. Jasper who failed to declare an interest".

As with the "council house" story, it does not live up to expectation.
The doctor in question, west London GP Richard Stone, helped Jasper with his child's nursery education, some time before Jasper became a mayoral adviser. Since Dr.Stone has been involved in community relations work for some time, and was also an adviser to the Macpherson inquiry into the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence, there is nothing odd about his choice to be a mayoral adviser. Since he also runs a charitable trust, the Stone Ashdown Trust, assisting minorities integration in British society, he is not likely to be devoting time to London anti-racist matters for personal gain. His advisory position is unpaid.

But there is something else about Dr.Richard Stone which the Standard does not mention. When the case was building up against Dame Shirley Porter in Westminster, one of the people who gave evidence was a local GP. He asked how it was that whenever he recommended patients as needing rehousing, the council told him it did not have suitable housing available; and yet whenever he went out on visits, he passed by empty council properties which were boarded up and later acquired "For Sale" signs.

The doctor who raised this question was Dr.Richard Stone.

At the time when Dame Shirley Porter still ruled the roost at Westminster City Hall she too had her advisers. Among them was a fellow who city hall staff were reportedly afraid to mention by name but referred to as "thingy". His name was Roger Rosewell, a former organiser with the Socialist Workers Party who had crossed over to the other side and never looked back, doing rather well for himself (though he had to pay his own children's school fees). Rosewell was not on the Westminster staff but had an office at the Daily Mail. That's the sister paper of the Standard of course. But I'm sure that's nothing to do with what Andrew Gilligan writes.

There is an election coming, and the Tories are saddled with Boris Johnson as mayoral candidate. I guess they need all the help they can get. I guess we might as well be aware of that. Not that it will stop me criticising Lee Jasper or Ken Livingstone. But we have to be particular whom we share our criticism with.


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Maggots in the Body Politic


and the ghost of scandals past.

AS the news media move on from the scandal over missing child benefit records, more information has come out about how private companies have been given lucrative government work, but allowed to remain modestly out of the limelight when things go wrong. Meanwhile, people have rightly started protesting that an even bigger information-gathering exercise, on the entire British public, is being handed to an American corporation whose name was once a byword for scandal.

Child benefit records went missing in the post after Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) had sent them on discs, using TNT - a courier company partly owned by Rupert Murdoch's News International. (Why the information was not sent electronically, skipping the middleman, I don't know). The intended recipients, the National Audit Office (NAO) , had asked for some details to be removed - not to protect claimants' confidentiality, and families' security, as they told government, but simply "to make the files smaller".

But HMRC decided not to remove the personal details, because the company that handles their IT work, EDS, told them it would be too costly. According to a report in Private Eye, the HMRC's own audit staff said they could do the work quickly and at no extra cost, but they were not allowed to do so because the department has a contract with EDS.
At the NAO the data was to be handed over for auditing to city accountancy firm KPMG, possibly because the Office has to meet a government target for increasing its use of outside consultants.
(We're all in portal trouble, Private Eye No.1199)

It seems like the only reason for retaining in-house staff in government departments is so someone well down the pecking order can carry the can when things go wrong.

Meanwhile a friend who recently took early retirement from the civil service on health grounds has drawn my attention to another potential scandal, and in doing so, awakened some ghosts from the past.

One morning about 30 years ago, during my short career as a (low)-paid journalist, I came to an editorial meeting with an exciting piece of news that had just come over the Reuters machine. An Italian magazine had published what it said was a page from the Lockheed aircraft corporation's codebook, giving names by which certain politicians were to be known. It included Labour prime minister Harold Wilson who had just retired, ('Pointer'), and former Foreign Secretary George Brown ('Powder'). At least I think the nicknames were that way round. I assume the name "powder" was a witty reference to the ex-Foreign Secretary's reputation for always feeling a bit dry when liquid refreshment was to hand.

Lockheed had been in the news for some while before this because of bribery scandals concerning sales of military aircraft, and politicians had been brought down around the world, notably in Japan. The prominence of some of the figures involved - such as Bavarian right-winger Franz-Joseph Strauss and Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands (a patron of the secretive Bilderberg Foundation which has long fascinated conspiracy theorists because it looks like a real high-level plot) - led to suspicion that the American company had not just been lubricating deals, but acting as a conduit for the CIA.

Anyway, my well-spotted Reuter's report bringing Wilson and George Brown into the frame, even though it only said their names were in a book, was going to be our front-page lead, until my senior colleague Steve Johns 'phoned around a few friends in Fleet Street and learned that within an hour or two of the story appearing on Reuters every editor had received a communication from Lord Goodman, Wilson's solicitor, warning of legal action if they dared print a word. Nobody took the risk.

Lockheed Martin, as it has become after mergers, no longer confines itself to building aircraft and equipment, but has found other ways of earning money from governments. American researchers keeping an eye on links between government and business have pointed to numerous cases of misconduct reported about Lockheed.,73,221,html?ContractorID=38

Nevertheless this American company has been shortlisted for a contract to conduct Britain's next national census. This online petition, launched by a Green party member has already gathered over 1,000 signatures to protest:

"We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to stop the involvement of arms company Lockheed Martin in the 2011 Census for England and Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, because this company's history of working in American military intelligence will undermine public confidence in the Census process."

The petition initiators ask: "With more sensitive information being collected in the next Census in 2011, do we really want data about everyone in the UK being collected by a foreign arms company?

"Lockheed Martin is one of the shortlisted contractors to provide data capture and storage services for the 2011 Census, but the majority of its business is with the American Department of Defense and other US government agencies. They produce missiles, naval systems and land mines, as well as providing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance services. Most worrying is their claim to deliver 'integrated threat information' to the US military by combining and analysing a wide range of intelligence information from around the world. With Lockheed Martin involved, people in the UK will not believe that their Census submissions will be safe from being incorporated into these systems, and this is likely to harm the reliability of the 2011 Census.We at Census Alert urge you to sign the petition because we believe that this kind of company should not be gathering sensitive data on every member of our population".


Sunday, December 09, 2007

Interserve with Respect?

WITH political donations and party funding in the news, it would appear that in true democratic spirit the minnows are to be given attention along with the greedy pikes. It would be remiss of me not to remark on this intelligence which comes to us from the East London Advertiser by way of fellow-blogger Dave Osler, and Jenny at the Labour Left Briefing discussion list.

It seems that Respect, "the unity coalition" (now bitterly divided), in its 2007 financial statement which had to be filed with the with the electoral commission, reported that it had returned a cheque for $10,000 from a Dubai construction company as an impermissible donation.

The Advertiser reveals that the donor company is owned by one of Britain's biggest private finance initiative(PFI) contractors, headed by Tory life peer who was a senior policy adviser to the John Major government. (PFIs are Gordon Brown's favoured way of involving big businesses in public service investment, usually with more than generous inducements from public resources to guarantee they do well out of it).

Had Respect accepted the cheque from Dubai it might thus have been in line with the tradition of H.M.Hyndman, the Victorian Left who took Tory money to split the anti-Tory vote, though the anti-war Respect would not have shared Hyndman's jingoism. It would also have been in breach of laws forbidding funding from overseas.

The cheque from Khansaheb Civil Engineering, a subsidiary of Interserve plc, came with a letter from a Khansaheb executive saying that he was a great admirer of Respect leader George Galloway, and wanted to contribute to his causes. But Galloway, the MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, used to newspaper accusations over his Middle East links, and facing investigation by the parliamentary standards commissioner over donations to his Mariam Appeal, suspected the letter might be a set-up. He warned his staff that even if the donation was genuine, accepting it for the party would be illegal.

The MP told his staff to return the cheque and suggested if the donor wanted to make a financial contribution, he should make a new cheque payable to the Stop the War Coalition. That was in January. Respect's National Secretary, John Rees, a member of the Socialist Workers Party with whom Galloway has since fallen out, has confirmed he returned the cheque on January 23. But in his letter, Rees suggested the funds could be resent to the Organising for Fighting Unions (OFFU) campaign. This was set up a couple of years ago, ostensibly to unite trades unionists opposing government policies and supporting the Trade Union Freedom Bill. By seeming to give Respect a footing in industrial struggle which it otherwise lacked, it probably assuaged doubts among SWP militants about their turn to middle class alliances, and was also offered to those in Stop the War who asked what happened to its resolution some years ago on prioritising a trade unionists conference.

Organise for Fighting Unions material showed its headquarters address was that of Respect in Bethnal Green, although its conferences have attracted many trade union activists who are not members of Respect.
But the big OFFU conference in Shoreditch last year ended up with a £5,000 deficit. When Khansaheb sent a new $10,000 cheque made out to the campaign in February, it was used to cover some of the conference debts.

George Galloway says he discovered this in August and pushed for the Electoral Commission to be called in. "I wanted it referred to the commission earlier and that contributed to the split," he is quoted as telling the East London Advertiser. .The Electoral Commission said it was "making preliminary enquiries."

John Rees admits the donation was partially used to cover the conference deficit, but insists he did nothing wrong. "Galloway knew all along we had suggested an alternative destination for the cheque," he said. "He said Stop the War Coalition, we said OFFU." Rees claims Galloway is just using the issue to try to discredit his rivals.

Dave Osler and others are noting the irony of this affair coming out at a time when Socialist Worker has naturally been lambasting Labour over its acceptance of dodgy donations from rich businessmen and lobbyists.
The irony, too, that a campaign by trades unionists should be taking money from the very kind of interests they are fighting against.

"Interserve currently manages a number of PFI-backed schools and hospitals in the UK. The boss is 55-year-old Lord Blackwell, head of Major's policy unit from 1995 to 1997, who was made a life peer when the Tories lost office".

Mention the SWP and finance to some people, as I did at the weekend, and they immediately start reminiscing over the cavalier behaviour with signatures on cheques that was experienced when they were in the Socialist Alliance. To be fair, though it was a serious matter (the chairperson quit in protest after discovering her name had been forged), the sums of money were relatively small, and only a few individuals were involved. But had the SWP leadership dissociated itself from and condemned them it might have spared the rest of its decent, hard-working membership from being besmirched, and the Alliance itself from losing people's confidence. (and they call it "Respect"?).

Of course, I have some knowledge of what can happen when left-wing organisations and leaders start to get hooked on money, or expectations of money, from the Middle East. I worked on the Workers Revolutionary Party's News Line thirty years ago when Gerry Healy was soliciting support from Libya and Iraq (though our printers in Runcorn actually benefitted from British government regional development aid!) It didn't reach the pockets of comrades, nor spare them from desparate fundraising efforts to keep the paper afloat; But it did lead to distortions in what we were allowed to say and what younger members were taught, and probably helped sustain the leadership's increasing remotess from reality, where you have to be grounded if you are going to depend on workers' support.

At least in those days we thought that Libya, Iraq, and the PLO deserved our support insofar as they were standing up to imperialism, although it became difficult for Healy to explain away divisions that cracked that facade. By the end, unbeknown to any of us, after the Observer libel case debacle Healy and a select few acolytes went touring the Gulf trying to raise cash from ruling emirs and wealthy businessmen with no "anti-imperialist" pretence. Respect/SWP seems to have got there in one go without needing time to decline.

I sometimes wonder whether the SWP leaders and others on the Left have learned anything from what happened to the WRP, or if they just think it was all down to a rotund bald-headed Irishman whose sort we are unlikely to see again, and so we needn't worry about. OK, so far we have only heard about one cheque, and I say John Rees will say he can manage it. But. . . It all starts with one puff. And having a trade unionists conference dependent on finance from someone with PFI links is bound to raise questions - even if it's one of those "conferences" with so many platform speakers there's no time for questions to be raised.

Labels: , ,

Hasn't this Dame done well?

THERE she was on our telly again tonight, Dame Pauline Neville -Jones, in her new job as David Cameron's shadow Security Minister, saying the government ought to come clean about what it intends to do about Guantanamo Bay prisoners returning here.

The Guantanamo prisoners have never faced trial. Whereas the man who Dame Pauline and her old boss Lord Hurd did business with , Slobodan Milosevic, did not live to see the end of his trial. And neither of the Tory duo was called as a witness for him.

But I mustn't keep raking up the past.

The current Private Eye(no.1199) wonders "Why are the Conservatives so reluctant to make political capital out of the QinetiQ scandal?"

It is referring to a report from the National Audit Office (NAO) saying that the public got a raw deal out of the sale of what used to be the government's Defence Evaluation Research Agency(DERA). A third of it went to the US-based Carlyle Group, nicknamed the President's club, in which the Bin Laden family used to be involved, for £42 million. The deal cost the taxpayer more than that in legal fees and consultancies. Then QinetiQ, as the DERA had become, sold off land and assets.

Privatisation was lubricated by fat salaries and juicy share options for top management. Former civil servant Graham Love, now chief executive of QinetiQ, saw his £110,000 invested in the firm soar up to nearly £22 million when QinetiQ was floated on the share markets last year.

Taxpayers were short changed, according to Tory MP Edward Leigh, while senior managers had "won the jackpot".

But while Tories have been making hay with Labour embarrassment over missing files and mystery donors, David Cameron has been muted over this one. You'd think he might have said something about Gordon Brown as Treasury head and then Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon failing to ensure the deal bolstered the Defence budget. Defence chiefs have been saying Labour is not spending enough.

The Eye says Dame Pauline, the former Foreign and Commonwealth Office political director who took a second career with NatWest Markets, advising Milosevic on how to privatise Serbian telecomms, - a task in which she was joined by her former boss Lord Hurd - and did well for herself then, has been "one of the jackpot winners".

From 2001 to 2005, on top of her little position at the BBC, Pauline Neville-Jones was part-time non-executive director at QinetiQ. Given the chance to invest in the company she made more than £350,000 from a £60,000 investment.

Good money. I guess you have got to be there. And it probably helps to have the right friends, whether for sound advice or that ring of confidence when talking to the media.

Labels: ,

Friday, December 07, 2007

The best leaders money can buy?

Back in the 19th century,before most people had a vote, the Chartists and other radicals came up with the idea that not only should there be no property qualification for enjoying suffrage, but that those we elect to represent us should be paid a salary.

It was not that they thought MPs should be able to enrich themselves, or motivated by high earnings, but rather that a person should be able to stand for election without needing an independent fortune, or being dependent on anyone's patronage.

Another aspect of our system of democracy has been the limits on electoral expenditure, so that theoretically a candidate with access to wealth should not have advantage in campaigning or, dare we mention, be able to engage in "treating" - that is buying people's votes.

Of course there are frequently questions of whether support for a particular party or candidate from outside - say a paper or an organisation -might be counted as their expenditure.

Then there are the measures that the Labour government has taken to curb finance from outside the country and scrutinise party funding - the measures which the Labour Party itself has now fallen foul of.

But a curious aspect of the current row is that large sums of money have apparently been paid, or borrowed, not for Labour Party general election expenses but for candidates standing for office within the Labour Party. Not only did North East businessman David Abrahams help Harriet Harman's campaign for deputy leadership, but it was reported yesterday that a man called Paul Myners paid £12,7000 for Gordon Brown's election expenses as leader.

Myners now has a government job, earning £150,000 a year for a two-day week advising us all to save for our retirement.
The Tories are upset with him because he attacked them during a BBC Question Time programme, calling David Cameron and shadow chancellor George Osborne the "arrogant, superior young toffs who now lead the Conservative Party, neither of whom have done a serious day's work in their lives."

Which I would say is fair comment,though there are probably still enough lickspittles and crawlers in this country to see that being arrogant toffs who have never done anything useful is no barrier to being elected.

What interests me though is why Gordon Brown needed that money for his election. After all a majority of Labour MPs assisted I'm sorry to say by our union leaders had made sure there was only one name on the ballot paper for leader. I'm not even sure why the deputy leadership candidates needed funding , since we all knew who they were, and two were already in government. It makes you think.

Here's a little poem wot this inspired:

I know I'm getting past it, cos I'm now an OAP,
So if I'm slow on the uptake, you'll just have to bear with me.
I know that old Hyndman admitted taking Tory money,
Gerry Healy pursued sources who proved nasty, not just funny.
And I might as well remind you, before you take the piss,
Harold Wilson had connections to a bank that was, well, Swiss.
Hidden behind that puff of pipe smoke,
Was something his Gannex mac could not cloak.
But this time what I find odd,
(though you may say I'm a silly old sod),
Is, they didn't raise funds for a general election, or to bring out a paper,
Abrahams donated for Harriet's deputy leadership caper.
And though dockers and miners have all been let down,
Paul Myners has been raised up after helping Gordon Brown.
For £150 grand a year, working two days a week,
he tells us to save up, just for our old age.
I'm sure we all could, on that kind of wage.
But he gave £12,700 to Gordon, who I'd guess is a mate.
For an election campaign with just one candidate?

When do we get a re-run?

Guess I won't make Poet Laureate.

And next I shall be looking at some of the other parties, from the Tories to Respect...


Thursday, December 06, 2007

Khaled back to college, but the Gaza siege goes on

Khaled Al-Mudallal returns to Bradford - Report of Press Conference
At a press conference this morning, Palestinian student Khaled Al Mudallal, who visited Gaza this summer but ended up trapped there, prevented by the Israeli authorities from leaving to complete his studies at Bradford University, warmly thanked all those who supported his campaign.

International pressure mounted to demand Khaled's right to education was respected, which finally forced Israel to let him return to Bradford. Khaled's case was also fought through the Israeli high courts by Gisha, an Israeli human rights organisation, and Khaled finally arrived back in Britain on Tuesday 4 November.

The press conference, held in Westminster, also provided an opportunity for Khaled to meet with Brian Iddon MP, who tabled an Early Day Motion signed by 50 MPs calling for the right to education to be respected and for Khaled to be able to return to Bradford.

Khaled pointed out that although he was able to return to his studies, this was not a time for celebration, as hundreds of students remain trapped in Gaza and unable to leave, despite having been granted visas and places to study in universities worldwide. He pledged that he would continue to work to ensure that they are also able to complete their education.

Chairing the press conference, Ruqqayah Collector, NUS Black Students Officer, talked about the need for students to continue campaigning for the rights of all Palestinian students to education. Sarah Colborne, PSC chair, highlighted the humanitarian crisis that is resulting from Israel's collective punishment of the 1.5 million Palestinians living in Gaza, with 91 essential drugs having run out, and Israel preventing even those needing urgent medical attention from leaving Gaza. She called for increasing pressure on the Israeli government to end its illegal siege of Gaza.

Views pictures of the press conference here:

Please visit
for more information.

Here's another bunch of people who have decided to do something about the dire situation in Gaza. Meanwhile, since the annapolis "peace" summit the Israeli military has been talking about following up its siege with another invasion of the Gaza territory.


Physicians for Human Rights-Israel PHR-Israel
Emergency Appeal for Medical Supplies for Gaza

The prolonged siege imposed by the Israeli government on Gaza, the closing of its borders, the tightening of policies regarding permission to exit Gaza for medical purposes, and the severe shortage of medications and other medical supplies all severely damage the Palestinian health system and endanger the lives and health of thousands of Palestinian patients.

This severe crisis calls for an extraordinary response on the part of Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-Israel) that is separate from our routine activities. For this reason we intend to implement the following emergency actions: * Emergency aid dispatch of humanitarian supplies and a delegation of doctors from Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-Israel) to Gaza. The aims of this act: emergency aid, even if limited; documentation and dissemination of reliable information regarding the medical situation in Gaza; expression of protest and solidarity with the residents of the Gaza Strip under siege.

In order to receive permission for this act we will probably also need to use legal action. * Advocacy: representation of dozens of patients applying to our offices each month, whose access to Israel or passage through it for purposes of medical care is denied for "security reasons;" a campaign against the policies of the General Security Service (GSS, shabac) whereby patients are compelled to inform on others as a condition for permission to access medical care. These campaigns will be implemented using litigation and media, targeting Israeli and international audiences.

Deaths in Gaza due to denial of access of medical care: According to the records of the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza and the World Health Organisation (WHO), 44 people have died since June 2007 in connection with denial or delay of access to medical care by the Israeli authorities. Thirteen of these patients died in November alone. The number of deaths is rising each month, as the policy of siege tightens. Shortage of medicines:Hospitals and medical centers in Gaza suffer a severe shortage in medicines and medical supplies that are essential to minimal functioning of the health system. According to data collected by the WHO, 85 types of medicines defined as essential are out of stock, including medicines for cancer, heart conditions, kidney disease, as well as 12 different types of medicines for psychiatric conditions. 138 other types of medicines will be out of stock within a period ranging between one and three months.

Shortage of medical equipment and supplies:
The hospitals in Gaza suffer severe shortage in medical equipment and supplies in a manner damaging to their ability to provide emergency and routine services, the need for which is rising due to the growing daily needs of the patient population. According to Palestinian MoH data, the shortage in medical equipment is felt in all the hospitals in Gaza, due to inability to maintain the equipment, which is in need of spare parts. Malfunctioning and missing equipment includes dialysis machines, laboratory equipment, cardiology equipment and test tubes. The functioning of the hospitals is also impaired by a shortage of other essential supplies such as cleaning materials, parts for electric generators, parts for refrigerators, parts for washing machines, toilet paper, sheets, winter bedclothes, stationary, paper and more. Although these materials are quickly running out, the State of Israel is preventing their entry, claiming that they are not considered part of the humanitarian needs which it publicly undertook to meet.

Due to this severe medical and humanitarian crisis, PHR-Israel is planning an emergency dispatch of humanitarian supplies and a delegation of doctors, in order to supply limited emergency aid, to witness and report on the medical situation in Gaza, and to express protest and solidarity with the residents of the Gaza Strip under siege.Please support this action by sending checks to 52 Golomb Street Tel Aviv, 66171 Israel. For further details please contact Miri Weingarten, 00 973 546 995199, il il>.

Labels: , ,

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Beer and Freedom

NOW here's a question for you, readers, as we move from the pious promises of peace at Annapolis towards the season of peace and goodwill, wishing good cheer to all men and women, and good beer to all as wants it.

The United States wants a Two State Solution in Israel-Palestine, right? That's what we heard after the Oslo conference and that handshake on the White House lawn, and though we have watched its prospects shrink along with Palestinian lands as they are swallowed by Israel's wall and settlements, Two States is still on the agenda. Mr. Olmert says so.

So if the United States wants Palestinians to succeed in constructing their own state alongside Israel, how come the US authorities, just like any lumpen Zionists, insist there is no such country as Palestine? Where are they going to offer a homeland to the Palestinians, in Madagascar maybe?

A while back when things were looking optimistic for Yasser Arafat to lead his people to freedom a Palestinian family called Khoury returned home from the United States, bringing with them the business they had started as a hobby, and founding their own brewery.

Despite the difficulties of continuing Israeli occupation, and deprivations, and the rise within Palestinian society of political forces who tie national identity to a religion that's against alcohol, the Khoury brewery at Taybeh has succeeded in producing a beer of which Palestine can be proud.

What's more they have exported it. Taybeh beer is now being brewed in Germany under licence, and it being sold as far afield as Japan. It may be the problems imposed at home which made overseas production necessary, but bearing in mind the German regulations which lay down what you can put in a bottle and sell as beer, this success there is a tribute to the Taybeh beer's wholesome natural ingredients and quality.

As for pleasing the discerning consumer, I have tasted the future, and it works.
Someone wisely arranged for a quantity of Taybeh beer to be available at a Jews for Justice for Palestinians social and cultural event in north London a while back and I've been singing its praises ever since. Mind you, I've only sampled the pale, or blond, beer but I see from the publicity they do a dark beer as well. They are even prepared to brew an alcohol-free version to cater for the religious teetotallers.

Trading in alcoholic beverages may not be as easy for amateurs as selling Palestinian olive oil, but it's good to find ways of giving Palestinian exports a boost rather than confining ourselves to arguments about boycotts. Today I was invited to join a Facebook group of Taybeh fans, and did not hesitate, and I have also signed up a few friends.

There is one country where you can't get Taybeh beer though, and if you haven't guessed it's the place where the idea was born, yes. The Land of the Free will not allow its beer drinkers to enjoy the Palestinian beer, because the authorities object to the Brewed in Palestine label, insisting there is no such country as Palestine.

Maybe someone should defy this Prohibition and start smuggling in Taybeh like the rum-runners of yesteryear. Or will it have to wait till Palestine gets a New Deal? Incidentally, I'd be interested to hear whether Taybeh beer can be sold in Israel. I can see it competing successfully with the Israeli product, giving pleasure to some of my friends and relations, and displeasing the multinational s who have moved in on that market.

I've often scoffed at the worn tradition of British brewers and pub owners telling us their industry is all about our freedom and patriotism. But I think the Khoury family really do have a point, when they hold up their excellent beer as a symbol and earnest of the new Palestine struggling against oppression, to take its rightful place among the nations, as a free people building a modern secular state encompassing diversity.

So put away your stereotypes, step beyond the Israel boycott, and raise your glasses to all those Palestinians who are determined to gain the same freedoms as we all want. Cheers!

And here's the movie:

Labels: ,

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Labour's tragedy amid farce

FOR the second time this year Knacker and his officers are looking into Labour Party finances, and I can't help feeling a sense of tragedy in this farce.

The current investigation centres on a North East businessman who can claim to have had a genuine Labour background, rather than being someone who suddenly turned up at the back-door offering dosh. The son of a former mayor of Newcastle, David Abrahams started canvassing for Labour while still a schoolboy, and was a prospective parliamentary candidate for Richmond, North Yorkshire. When Tony Blair announced at a public meeting in his Sedgefield constituency that he was going to stand down, David Abrahams was there in the front-row.

Yet landlord and property developer Abrahams seems to have had a history of ill-judged dodgy moves and subterfuges which are scarcely explained by his "shyness" or self-description a "very private person". There are even doubts about his stated year of birth, as well as the use he made of another name, 'David Martin, when dealing with tenants or concealing some of his company directorships. Some Labour Party members might have been uncomfortable about his ownership of private old people's homes, although considering New Labour's dedication to privatising this should not be a problem.

In 1990 when he was adopted for Richmond, Abrahams reportedly claimed a woman as his wife, complete with 11-year old son, to give himself a 'family man' image, till this was exposed and he was deselected..

It is hard to believe Labour leaders did not sniff a rodent when Abrahams' money reached them via his go-betweens, in breach of laws on party funding which Labour introduced. These are not just trained lawyers and the like., not just people who are supposed to run ministries, and tell poor countries how to sort their finances out. They are the leaders who kept telling us we must "live in the real world".

When I heard that Abrahams was a leading member of the Labour Friends of Israel, I started thinking back to the Wilson years, when the Labour leader was surrounded by a coterie of businessmen - one of whom, Lord Kagan, went to jail, while another, Eric Miller, committed suicide. Others have recalled the late Robert Maxwell, though he was not just a wealthy Labourite who resorted to dodgy business dealings, but probably a Mossad agent at least some of his time. Then there were the links with the now defunct International Credit Bank of Geneva, run by Tibor Rosenbaum.

But the people who decided to back Wilson did so through a special fund set up, as one of them said, "So the Labour Party would not get its hands on the money". This time the money did go to the Labour Party for the most part, though it is striking for those of us who have been around for some years that these days large sums were paid to people like Harriet Harman for costs of campaigning for deputy leadership . Not even for fighting general elections against the well-funded Tories then, but for internal contests.

In Wilson's day the security services, resenting possible outside influences on British policy (and probably also prejudiced against Jewish businessmen) fed information to Private Eye and other outlets.

For now attention focuses on more mundane, local matters like Abrahams' multimillion-pound business park development at Bowburn in County Durham. This was blocked by the Highways Agency at first, because it was too near the congested A1. In October last year the agency lifted the ban on the development - and a separate one near Newton Aycliffe.
Abrahams has said:that "Any suggestion that I have made donations in exchange for favours is false and malicious. I will not hesitate to issue proceedings to protect my reputation."

Having carried on with privatisation policies, taking it to places even Thatcher could not reach, Labour has had to take the blame for dirty hospitals, causing deaths, as well as the NHS finance crisis. It has faced the embarrassing row over missing confidential personal records sent by a private courier - TNT -after another private company advising on data protection said it would be too costly to separate out the sensitive parts. The Murdoch-owned Sun and Times journalists happily joined the chase, since no one was blaming the disappearance on the Murdoch-owned courier company.

One of the main strategic goals of the Blair and Brown leadership and their New Labour yuppie following was to make love to big business and the media barons, and break Labour's traditional ties to the trade unions who gave birth to the party. Blair declared that unions were just another "interest group" that would have to take their place in the queue for influence. Hence the welcome to big business at party conferences, and and to money from businessmen - however dodgy (and David Abrahams, so far as we know, is far from being the most unsavoury of the characters whom Labour has been dealing with).

Sad to say, despite finding there is no gratitude in the capitalist class, the Labour leadership shows no sign that it has learned anything. Brown is talking about "reforming" party funding and includes funds from trade unions -which represent thousands of ordinary people and do have to account for their spending. Sadder still, our union leaders persist in taking insult after injury and insisting we must still keep giving our funds to Labour, without strings, in the hope of "saving" the party.

But saddest of all, and this is the real tragedy, the Left which could have taken advantage of this historic decline in the mass reformist party, as well as the widespread revulsion at failing public services, privatisation and war, has managed to blow its chances of forming a credible socialist alternative. While much of the Left is losing itself in confusion, opportunist manouevres, intrigue, and splits, the tragedy could be that the beneficiaries from New Labour beginning to look like a third-rate Tory party will be the old Tories, and worse, the far Right.

Labels: ,