Thursday, August 31, 2006

Death of right-wing "Mystery Man", Sir Alfred Sherman

TOGETHER AGAIN "We could never have defeated Socialism if hadn't been for Sir Alfred," declared Lady Thatcher, at book launch for his "Paradoxes of Power", July 28, 2005.

I am happy to read of the death, on August 26, of Sir Alfred Sherman, former adviser to Margaret Thatcher and subsequantly to Radovan Karadzic, both of whom are regrettably still alive.

A friend of mine once happened to be standing outside the London School of Economics when Sir Alfred, who was a visiting Fellow, was pausing on the steps with some dignitaries. Who should pass by but Professor Bill Fishman (author of East End Jewish Radicals), who evidently recognising Sherman as a fellow east Londoner chirped out "Wotcha Alf! How's the Communist Party going?"

My friend reckons Sir Alfred visibly cringed.

Born in Hackney in 1919, the son of poor Jewish immigrants, Sherman was educated at Hackney Downs and went on to Chelsea Polytechnic, but he had joined the Communist Party as a teenager, and left college to join the International Brigade fighting in Spain. I once asked another International Brigader from London, the late Charlie Goodman, about the future Sir Alfred's role in the Civil War. He said "We did not see much of him, he was a bit of a mystery man, he wasn't in the frontline".

He wouldn't say any more.

Of course the Brigades like any other army needed back up in the rear, and young Sherman having suffered rickets may not have been all that fit for frontline duty. But we know that besides fighters against the fascists, the Comintern sent political commisars and agents to Spain, whose job was to maintain orthodoxy in the ranks, and report on dissenters, many of whom -whether Spanish or internationals -were despatched by the GPU killing machine.

Whatever the truth, young Alfred Sherman was taken prisoner in Spain and repatriated to Britain in 1938. He worked in a factory until the Second World War, when he served in the British army, in the Middle East. Many International Brigade veterans, Charlie Goodman among them, have testified to the suspicion and discrimination they encountered in the forces, but Sherman was promoted and served in Field Security, and Occupied Enemy Territory Administration.

After the war he became a student at the London School of Economics and was president of the Communist Party's student branch there in 1948, but he was expelled from the CP that year for "Titoist deviationism".

After graduating he became a journalist, working as The Observer correspondant in Belgrade for a time, as did another future champion of Serb nationalism and enemy of the Tito tradition, Nora Beloff, formerly with the Foreign Office. We might note that Observer proprieter Sir David Astor had links with British intelligence, and it was this newspaper which, together with The Economist, found work for Kim Philby when MI6 wanted to place its man in Beirut.

Sherman also managed a stint as an economic adviser to the Israeli government in the 1950s. He reputedly gave advice to Ben Gurion. But although the Israeli Labour Party dominated governments at that time he moved closer to the General Zionists, "free enterprise" advocates who wound up in the right-wing Likud. In Britain, Sherman became a leader writer for the Jewish Chronicle in 1963, going on to work for the Daily Telegraph two years later and eventually becoming its leader writer in 1977.

It was as local government reporter for the Telegraph, proclaiming the virtues of privatisation before his time, that he became a favourite of Sir Keith Joseph, joining the Tory party in 1970, and going on to write speeches for Sir Keith about the need to curb trade unionism, subsidies and taxes, and let the market rule. When Thatcher and Joseph founded the Centre for Policy Studies, in 1974, they found a job as director for Sir Alf.

Having praised the Tory Wandsworth council's pioneering privatisation of public services, and sale of council housing (which led so legend has it to yuppies asking taxi drivers to take them to "south Chelsea" when they wanted to cross the river to their gentrified Battersea homes), Sir Alf was a bit more consistent than others in defending the disgraced Dame Shirley Porter later on.

The Tesco heiress and leader of Westminster city council, having tried her hand selling council-owned cemeteries for peppercorn amounts (the council had to spend far more to buy them back), and shoving poor tenants into asbestos-ridden flats, was brought down by a scandal over keeping council-owned homes empty in marginal wards, till they could be sold to private buyers who were more likely to be Tory voters.

Notwithstanding his denunciation of social engineering aimed at greater equality, Sir Alfred thought this reversal for gerrymandering purposes was fine.
Writing in the Spectator he blamed Harold Wilson's subsidies to the hotel industry (not to be confused with Westminster council's putting homeless families, and public money, into vermin-infested B&Bs). This expansion had brought low-paid hotel and catering workers, many of them undesirable foreign immigrants, into desirable neighborhoods, he said; so Lady Porter was merely trying to reverse the trend.

Sir Alf, the son of impecunious Russian immigrants, had no sympathy for those who had come in since, especially not if they were black, or Arab, or other lesser breeds. Besides writing Margaret Thatcher's speeches he is credited with influencing her notorious remarks in a 1978 TV interview about the British public fearing being "swamped" by immigrants.

Disliked by Establishment Tories who found him crude and offensive, a sort of "thinking man"'s Alf Garnett, Sir Alf was denied a job in the 1979 Tory government despite the use its leader had made of his aggressive anti-immigrant line, and in 1983 he lost his job at the Centre for Policy Studies, getting his knighthood for services rendered instead.

Nothing daunted, Sir Alf moved if anything further to the Right, via the Monday Club and an organisation called Western Goals, which aimed at combatting the "menace of liberalism and communism" in British society, denouncing the work of charities like Oxfam, War on Want and Christian Aid, and defending "European culture" from non-European immigrants, whom it thought should be "resettled" somewhere else.

Sir Alfred's son Gideon became a director of the Western Goals Institute, but it was Sir Alf himself, the one time International Brigade "fighter against fascism" who had the dubious honour of inviting France's Front National leader Jean-Marie Le Pen to address a fringe meeting at the Tory party conference in 1987.

In 1993 a BBC reporter who had been able to visit the Serb nationalist leader Radovan Karadzic's forces in Bosnia was suprised when they boasted to him of the "British Lord" who was giving their leader advice. On enquiry he discovered that the "Lord" was but a Knight, Sir Alf no less. At a meeting in the House of Commons the following year organised by the newly-formed and badly misnamed Committee for Peace in the Balkans, and chaired by Alice Mahon, Labour MP, someone (I forget if it was me) mentioned this connection between a right-wing Tory and the Chetnik ethnic cleansing genius. Who should pop up to confirm it but Sir Alf himself, who declared "I am an adviser to Dr.Radovan Karadzic, and I am proud to be an adviser to Radovan Karadzic!"

He went on to claim that Bosnian Muslims were working to a plan devised by the Kremlin, and informed us that Muslim sharia law, and strict dress code for women, had been imposed in central Bosnia. Having not long returned from Bosnia, where the imams would have had considerable difficulty imposing the chador on the women I met at the trade union offices, serving in the forces , or broadcasting a rock concert on the student radio station, I found the picture he presented quite amusing. What was less amusing at this "peace" gathering were the Labourites (I was told they were from the shadowy Socialist Action) who sneered "in war people get killed" when someone mentioned atrocities, and the sinister figures with Chetnik cross badges who moved around videoing members of the audience, particularly Bosnian refugees. (Apparently the ban on filming in the Palace of Westminster did not apply to them).

Sir Alfred Sherman was not the only boy from Hackney Downs who wound up falling for the charms of ethnic cleansers. Harold Pinter, on the same side as whom I've often been, as well as admiring his work, naievely lent his name to the Committee to defend Slobodan Milosevic. (Incidentally, I was disappointed by Milosevic's death, as I had wanted to see a proper trial, fully covered in the media, at which he ought to have been able to call not just defenders like Sherman but Lords Owen and Hurd as character witnesses).

But in Alfred Sherman's case, if we say that he and Karadzic were birds of a feather, it is hard to say which one's friendship discredited the other. He may have been a bit of a "mystery man" sometimes, but it's clear Sir Alfred Sherman was a thoroughly nasty piece of work.


Monday, August 28, 2006

What the Iraqi people want?

In a press conference last week, George Dubya Bush insisted there would be no withdrawal of US troops from Iraq while he was president. Among the reasons he gave was that the continuing occupation was helping establish "democracy" and giving the Iraqi people what they want.

Here in Britain the government and tame media like to pretend that the occupation forces are keeping order and welcomed by the Iraqi people as protectors. Former lefties and liberals who have rallied to the colours (metaphorically you understand) still insist the invasion was a liberation, and that Iraqis welcome their occupiers, and if we differ we must be for Saddam Hussein or worse.

A survey of Iraqi public opinion suggests that however smart their columns for the chattering classes here, their arguments have failed to impress Iraqis. The figures released by Mark Tessler and Mansoor Moaddel show all three of Iraq's major ethnic and religious sections feel a growing sense of insecurity. The number of Iraqis who "strongly agreed" that life is "unpredictable and dangerous" jumped from 41% to 48% of Shiites, from 67% to 79% of Sunnis, and from 16% to 50% of Kurds.

The most recent survey, done in April this year, also asked for "the three main reasons for the U.S. invasion of Iraq." Less than 2% chose "to bring democracy to Iraq" as their first choice. The list was topped by "to control Iraqi oil" (76%), followed by "to build military bases" (41%) and "to help Israel" (32%).

The survey also asked a direct question about the presence of American troops in Iraq, which for some reason was not included in news reports or the University of Michigan press release, but has written up and is due to appear in the newsletter of the American Academic Research Institute in Iraq. In responses to the question "Do you support or oppose the presence of coalition forces in Iraq?"

91.7% of Iraqis oppose the presence of coalition troops in the country, up from 74.4% in 2004. 84.5% are "strongly opposed". Among Sunnis, opposition to the US presence went from 94.5% to 97.9% (97.2% "strongly opposed"). Among Shia, opposition to the US presence went from 81.2% to 94.6%, with "strongly opposed" going from 63.5% to 89.7%.
Even among the Kurds, who might have been said to gain most from the break up of the Ba'athist regime, opposition to the US presence went from 19.6% to 63.3%.

Whatever the reasons for keeping American troops in Iraq, "it's what the Iraqi people want" can't be claimed as one of them.

Info. from

Thanks to Saleh Mamon of Iraq Occupation Focus for drawing my attention to this report. And thanks to IOF's online newsletter for drawing attention to these item below:-

...Or the American people?

Poll: Opposition to Iraq war at all-time high
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Opposition among Americans to the war in Iraq has reached a new high, with only about a third of respondents saying they favor it, according to a poll released Monday.
Just 35 percent of 1,033 adults polled say they favor the war in Iraq; 61 percent say they oppose it -- the highest opposition noted in any CNN poll since the conflict began more than three years ago.
Despite the rising opposition to the war, President Bush said the U.S. will not withdraw from Iraq while he is president.
"In this case, it would give the terrorists and extremists an additional tool besides safe haven, and that is revenues from oil sales," the president said. "Leaving before the job is done would be a disaster," he said. A bare majority (51 percent) say they see Bush as a strong leader, but on most other attributes he gets negative marks. Most Americans (54 percent) don't consider him honest, most (54 percent) don't think he shares their values and most (58 percent) say he does not inspire confidence. Bush's stand on the issues is also problematic, with more than half (57 percent) of Americans saying they disagree with him on the issues they care about.
That's an indication that issues, not personal characteristics, are keeping his approval rating well below 50 percent.

Majority disapprove of Bush
Bush's disapproval rating exceeds his approval, 57 percent to 42 percent.
That's in the same ballpark as was found in an August 2-3 poll: Bush garnered a 40 percent approval.
And that was up slightly from a 37 percent approval in a poll carried out June 14-15.
Fewer than half of respondents (44 percent) say they believe Bush is honest and trustworthy; 54 percent do not.
And just 41 percent say they agree with Bush on issues, versus 57 percent who say they disagree.
Americans are about evenly split on whether their commander-in-chief understands complex issues, with 47 percent saying yes, and 51 percent saying no.

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Saturday, August 26, 2006

Derby defection: Writing on the Wall for those who can read it

"TAKE no notice,
it's probably just some
local difficulty."

WITH less than a month to go to the Labour Party's national conference, almost 40 Labour Party members in Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett's Derby South constituency have defected to the Liberal Democrat Party in protest at the British government's refusal to oppose Israel's war on Lebanon.

"The Lebanon war has made me change my mind and made me feel I am in the wrong party, " said Mohammed Rawail Peeno, who was chairman of Derby Labour Party's Arboretum branch. "The people who are getting killed out there are innocent women and children. It's sad. For many years I have been a Labour party member but we have no choice. We can't take it any more.

‘"When Margaret Beckett refused to back a ceasefire and instead sided with George Bush it was the breaking point for us," he said. ‘"New Labour have abandoned the beliefs that led me and thousands of others to join Labour in the first place."

"We need to stop aligning ourselves to America. ", said Shayad Mahmood, 31. "We are not backing Hizbullah but we are against the killing of innocent women and children. They are dropping bombs in highly populated areas where civilians are. In this day and age, in 2006, there is no way this government can allow this to carry on."

That seems clear enough. We can sympathise with how they must have felt, when the woman and the government they helped return stood alone with Condeleeza Rice and Bush opposing an end to the Israeli onslaught, even if we don't think they made the right move in going over to the Liberals.

Reporting "what appears to be a carefully managed coup for Sir Menzies Campbell's party", the Guardian noted that the 37 defectors were predominantly Muslims of Pakistani origin. "Sir Menzies called the defections "significant". "The government's position on the Middle East and Iraq shows just how out of touch it is with many in its party and the majority of the general public."

Putting on a brave face, the Labour party called in question the motives of those leaving. A spokesman said: "We understand that there are ongoing local factors arising from a selection process last year which have led to this defection."

"It is always disappointing when any member decides to leave the Labour party. It is important that the foreign secretary and prime minister continue to work hard to achieve a sustainable ceasefire in Lebanon - something we're sure all Labour party members would unite around."

A contributor to the Labour Left Briefing online discussion list was equally sure that the defections must have some "local" explanation:
"Having spent over three decades in inner-city politics, I can advise it's far from uncommon for groups to use national issues as a cloak of convenience.
In certain inner cities (Leicester included) members have often been recruited as a block into the party in order to support a particular cause or individual. It's not beyond the realms of possibility that in this instance they may have left in the same way".

Perhaps this cynicism tells us more about the writer, and the Party to which he belongs, than about those whose motives he was questioning. People are recruited on an opportunist basis, and no one worries about their political education or beliefs so long as they serve a purpose, put their hands up in the right place, and support the leadership. Then when they do turn, recoiling in disgust from the policies they are asked to support, you question their motives, and discover - sour grapes -that you didn't really want them anyway!

Who could possibly be so upset about some foreign people being bombed and their country destroyed? "A faraway country of which we know so little" - as someone once said of another case. Well, according to a Guardian/ICM poll published last month some 63 per cent of British voters think the Labour government is too subservient to Washington. More than half the electorate think the war in Iraq has been wrong, and less than a quarter thought Israel's action in Lebanon was proportionate and justified.

Unless we're going to believe that, by coincidence, around two-thirds of the British electorate have been troubled just recently by local issues like who gets what in the local council and Labour party offices, we have to conclude that whatever the particular circumstances in Derby, those disaffected party members, Muslim or not, were reflecting the feeling of the majority of people in this country.

It is the Labour loyalists, and the little cliques engaged in backroom manouvres for privilege and office, for whom little things like wars abroad don't count, who are out of step. Instead of challenging the motives of those who left, why not ask yourself about the ones who stay? Perhaps if there'd been a serious left-wing challenge to Beckett in her constituency the defectors would have thought it worthwhile staying around.

"But what kind of political education did they have, to join the Lib Dems?" , say some Labour left-wingers, while others try to console themselves by observing that the Derby defectors did not join any of the Left-wing groups nor even George Galloway's Respect.

The chief education that people have had under this government is that a Labour government, led by a man who sang the praises of Margaret Thatcher long after even Tory voters decided they'd had enough of her, can continue where the Tories left off, with privatisation and permanent wars. That, according to Mr.Blair we now have a classless society, because we are all middle class. That, ibid, trade unions are just a special interest group who should expect no better treatment from Labour, nor think their continued backing gives them any right to a say in policy. That when the BNP or the right-wing press blame the country's ills on asylum seekers and immigrants, it is the job of Labour ministers to argue they are better than the Tories at keeping them out and deporting children.

Those sincere socialists in the Labour Party who are aghast that anyone disenchanted with New Labour should think of joining the Liberal Democrats should ask themselves, what are you going to tell these people? That the Lib Dems on such and such a local authority joined with Tories, or carried out policies that hit working people? But are they that much worse than the Labour council they replaced which kept saying it was tied by central government, carried out cuts, then enthused over policies like business-funded City Academies, and so lost people's confidence that it lost the council to the Lib Dems?

That the Lib Dems, like the Tories, are a party of big business? Well, and looking at Blair and co. sucking up to US big business and offering honours to billionaire backers, how do you persuade people Labour is still "the People's party"? It's no good appealing to history, when the Labour Party that people see is the one they joined, not one that exists in theory. Since they don't want to take a leap into the dark by entrusting their concerns to some little left-wing group or a novelty like Respect, they decide they might as well switch to another mainstream party which appears at least better on a major moral issue like war.

At a time when, as Tony Benn has remarked, the majority of the people in this country are to the left of the Labour government on many things, even without realising it, it is currently the Tories who are leading in the opinion polls. Confused? Then it is up to those who consider themselves politically aware and conscious on the Left to find ways of clearing away the confusion.

Instead of dismissing this defection as insignificant or politically incorrect, those who are struggling inside the Labour Party should use it to strengthen their case that a change in leadership and policy is urgent, if Labour is not just to fall apart amid shattered hopes and disillusionment. All socialists, whether inside the Labour Party or out of it, should recognise that big issues like war and global privatisation concern everyone, and it is up to us not to be satisfied with internal discussion among the "politically educated" but to make our socialism relevant to everybody.


Friday, August 25, 2006

A piece of local history that's too "political"?

IT'S 30 years since a strike by 130 workers, mainly Asian women, at the Grunwick photo processing laboratory in Willesden, led to clashes on the street and battles in the courts, but this episode in history is once more a live issue causing controversy in north-west London.

Trade unionists from around the country rallied to the side of the Grunwick strikers in their fight for union rights and conditions. Unthinkable as it now seems, Labour cabinet ministers like Shirley Williams (a member of their particularly moderate trade union, APEX) joined the picket line. Post office workers at Cricklewood refused to handle Grunwicks mail until they were locked out and their union, facing legal action, disciplined them.

On the other side the Metropolitan Police were out in strength to keep Grunwicks open for scabs, and the right-wing National Association for Freedom intervened to support Grunwick boss George Ward with both strikebreaking and legal moves.

Now thirty years later, the Grunwick strike seems to have divided Brent borough council.

Brent Trades Union Council, whose then leader Jack Dromey made his name rallying support for the strike, is planning a commemoration event on Sunday, September 17. Bro.Dromey, now deputy secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union, and until recently Labour Party treasurer (as well as partner of Solicitor General Harriet Harman) has agreed to speak. Arthur Scargill, who brought Yorkshire miners down to join the picket is expected too. Jayaben Desai, whose refusal to work compulsory overtime started the strike, and who became the best-known of the strike leaders, may not be able to come now due to family illness, but another of the original strike committee has agreed to replace her.

Besides the speakers there's to be a photographic exhibition and a film.
The event takes place at the Tricycle Theatre, in Kilburn, on Sunday, September 17, and you can find out more by visiting

Two weeks ago the trades unionists delivered leaflets advertising their event to local libraries in Brent, which took them without any problem.
But then a week ago librarians contacted the trades council to say they could not display the Grunwick commemoration leaflets. Asked why, one said there had been complaints, including from local councillors, and the head of Libraries in Brent, had decided "the subject matter is political and therefore unsuitable for display in libraries". .

Brent TUC secretary Ben Rickman made some enquiries and found that the request to pull the leaflets came from Linda Silver in the Tory group office at Brent Town Hall. Apparently Tory Cllr Bob Blackman was involved.

So Brent trades unionists, including those who work in the libraries staff, were pleasantly surprised this week to see a press release announcing that Brent's local history museum - now housed in the Willesden library centre - is holding an exhibition to commemorate the Grunwick strike. The release quotes Cllr Alec Castle, Brent Council’s Lead Member for Human Resources and Diversity, Local Democracy and Consultation, praising the museum's work in encouraging residents "to learn more about our rich local history".

“Many people may not realise that an event of national importance happened close to where our own local museum is located. We would encourage residents to take some time this month to go and learn more about the Grunwick Strike and about the people involved who risked a great deal to stand up for what they believed in.”

Someone remembered that Councillor Castle, nowadays a Lib Dem, was on the Grunwick picket line. It was also noted that Grunwick boss George Ward resurfaced almost ten years ago as secretary of Hendon Conservative association, in the neighbouring borough of Barnet.* But that can't possibly have had any influence on fellow-Tories in Brent. Incidentally, I wonder who those "members of the public" were who complained, if such really exist, and how their complaint came to be routed via the Tory councillors' office. And what size boots they take.

If they get away with censoring leaflets what next? The exhibition at the museum? Publicity for plays at the Tricycle (which are sometimes "political")? Or newspapers and library books?

* Hansard, 6 April 1998:

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon): As we have already heard one or two blasts from the past, would it surprise my hon. Friend to learn that the infamous anti-trade unionist George Ward is chairman of Hendon Conservative association?
He has not lost his anti-democratic principles, and that association has, recently been suspended from the national association, on the ground that Mr. Ward, among others, has been trying to infiltrate the Conservative association
with his friends and relatives and employees of Grunwick?

PHOTO ABOVE of police at Grunwick is from Marg Nicol's Resist gallery.

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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Banners in the Belly of the Beast

ISRAEL's prime minister Ehud Olmert claimed to be making war in Lebanon on behalf of Jewish people around the world. Zionist lobbyists assure politicians and the media that they are speaking for all Jews.
Those who differ don't command the same resources, or find it so easy to make their voices heard. Especially as the United States not only approved, but encouraged Israel's latest war.
In America's "city of brotherly love" and other cities, however, they are finding ways of having their views noticed.

Here's a report from Philadelphia Independent Media Centre

Philadelphia Jews Stand Against Israel's War Crimes
Activists Hang Banners Calling for an End to U.S. Military Aid to Israel

PHILADELPHIA BRIDGES –Three banners were unfurled during this morning's rush hour from bridges across Philadelphia saying: "U.S. Jews Say: Israel, Stop Killing Civilians," "U.S. Jews Stand Against Israel's War Crimes," and "U.S. Jews Say: End U.S. Military $ to Israel." The banners were hung from the 18th & Vine Street and 15th & Vine Street overpasses visible to commuters along I-676 as well as an overpass on I-76 near 30th Street Station.

The Philadelphia Jews who hung these banners are working in coordination with Jews in New York and San Francisco, who also staged actions today demonstrating their opposition to recent aggression by the Israeli and U.S. governments in Lebanon, Gaza and the West Bank. These actions are building on the success of a similar demonstration by Jews in Boston, Massachusetts on August 1st.

"Many American Jews don't support Israel's recent actions in Lebanon. There is no Jewish consensus on this issue," said a Philadelphia rabbinical student who recently returned from a month on the West Bank documenting human rights abuses against Palestinians. "I don't believe, though, that Jews have more of a right than anyone else to speak out. We stand in solidarity with our Arab-American neighbors whose voices are often ignored by the mainstream media and whose families are in danger."

"We oppose the two billion dollars a year in U.S. foreign aid that goes directly to Israel's military, outfitting the violence we're seeing now in Lebanon as well as the ongoing occupation of Palestinian lives and land," said a participant in today's action. "This morning, we're making sure no one can go about their ordinary rush hour without thinking about what our tax dollars are doing today."


Thursday, August 17, 2006

A post-modern Lieutenant-General

"I am the very image of a modern Major-General!"
(Gilbert and Sullivan, Pirates of Penzance)

ISRAELI chief of staff Dan Halutz earned notoriety as air force commander by his reply to what he felt when releasing a bomb that would kill civilians - "a slight bump in the plane". Seems bombs aren't all the general knows when to dump.

A halutz is a pioneer, always in the vanguard, and Dan Halutz was way ahead on July 12, anticipating how things would go in the Israeli economy. Of course you could say it was insider dealing, since he was in a position to know more than most about what was about to happen..

Just hours after Hizbollah fighters raided Shaba Farms and captured two Israeli soldiers, offering to trade them for Lebanese held by Israel, the Israeli commander knew what he must do. A report in Maariv this week said Halutz went to his bank branch and sold shares worth 120,000 shekels ($27,460) three hours after the soldiers were seized on July 12.

Key share indexes in Israel fell around 12 percent at the outset of the latest war triggered by the incident. Share prices gradually recovered and now stand slightly below pre-war levels."It was my portfolio of shares, on which I had lost 25,000 shekels," Maariv quoted Halutz as saying."It is true that I sold the portfolio on July 12 but it is impossible to link that to the war. At the time, I did not expect or think there would be a war," he said, according to Maariv.

As that other famous soldier "the Iron Duke" once said, "If you can believe that, gentlemen, you can believe anything". It was Israel that made clear it wasn't interested in negotiating, any more than it had been over 19-year old Gilad Shalit, captured and taken prisoner in Gaza. A day after the soldiers were captured, Israeli aircraft bombed runways at Beirut airport. Next it was power stations, and then on to apartment blocks. Soon bombs and rockets were falling faster than shares could tumble. Over 1,300 people have been killed in Lebanon, thousands wounded and almost a million made homeless. Over 100 Israelis were killed, mainly soldiers.

Halutz seems more upset by suggestions he contributed to a share fall than his responsibility for bloodshed. "This is a malicious, biased report. I do not know who is behind it and I do not plan to be dragged into a subject that besmirches my integrity."

Some Knesset members have called on Israel's attorney-general to open an investigation, and one called for Halutz's resignation.But market analysts said it did not appear Halutz had broken any insider trading laws. Halutz has been attacked by some Israeli military commentators for over-reliance on his air force in the early stages of the war instead of sending in large contingents of ground forces to try to halt the rocket attacks on northern Israel. They forget that Lebanon did not have an air force to send up against Israel's bombers, whereas when you send in soldiers the other side might shoot back.

Notice, incidentally, how quickly "freeing the soldiers" gave way as a war aim to "stopping the rockets" - which had not started before the prepared bombing and invasion (though many have convinced themselves with the help of the media that it was otherwise). But leaving aside the morality of this war, these commentators might ask, as we do, if Chief of Staff Halutz did not know on July 12 there was going to be a war, who did?
What, didn't they tell him?


Tuesday, August 15, 2006

War in Lebanon, Made in Washington


Israel's rulers say "The world" -they mean Bush and Blair -"has given the green light for our action". Why not? Their boys are not yet involved, they can supply and try out all the weapons, and if it all goes wrong stand back and blame the Israelis.
Jewish Socialists'
Group Members Bulletin, August 2.2006.

HOW much of a hand did Washington have in planning the war in Lebanon? Not just approving, not just encouraging Olmert with a nod and a wink, and whatever weaponry the Israeli military requested, but
being in on it from the start?

More than one speaker at anti-war rallies, in Tel Aviv as in London, has voiced the view that this was America's war, and part of a bigger plan. Now, as Israeli politicians and military commanders row and recriminate about what went wrong and who was to blame, their soldiers and the Israeli public might ask, was it worth it, and what were the war aims? Maybe the reason they seemed confused was because someone else was pulling their strings.

According to top Washington correspondent Seymour M.Hersh the whole thing was just a rehearsal, a trial run for a bigger war. Behind its pretended passivity the US administration was watching closely to see how its favourite protege performed. Here are some extracts from his article, WATCHING LEBANON Washington’s interests in Israel’s war, in the current New Yorker:

' "It's a moment of clarification," President George W. Bush said at the G-8 summit, in St. Petersburg, on July 16th. "It's now become clear why we don't have peace in the Middle East." He described the relationship between Hezbollah and its supporters in Iran and Syria as one of the "root causes of instability," and subsequently said that it was up to those countries to end the crisis. Two days later, despite calls from several governments for the United States to take the lead in negotiations to end the fighting, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that a ceasefire should be put off until "the conditions are conducive."

'The Bush Administration, however, was closely involved in the planning of Israel's retaliatory attacks. President Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney were convinced, current and former intelligence and diplomatic officials told me, that a successful Israeli Air Force bombing campaign against Hezbollah's heavily fortified underground-missile and command-and-control complexes in Lebanon could ease Israel's security concerns and also serve as a prelude to a potential American preëmptive attack to destroy Iran's nuclear installations, some of which are also buried deep underground. Israeli military and intelligence experts I spoke to emphasized that the country's immediate security issues were reason enough to confront Hezbollah, regardless of what the Bush Administration wanted.

'According to a Middle East expert with knowledge of the current thinking of both the Israeli and the U.S. governments, Israel had devised a plan for attacking Hezbollah—and shared it with Bush Administration officials—well before the July 12th kidnappings. "It's not that the Israelis had a trap that Hezbollah walked into," he said, "but there was a strong feeling in the White House that sooner or later the Israelis were going to do it."

'The United States and Israel have shared intelligence and enjoyed close military coöperation for decades, but early this spring, according to a former senior intelligence official, high-level planners from the U.S. Air Force—under pressure from the White House to develop a war plan for a decisive strike against Iran's nuclear facilities—began consulting with their counterparts in the Israeli Air Force."The big question for our Air Force was how to hit a series of hard targets in Iran successfully," the former senior intelligence official said. "Who is the closest ally of the U.S. Air Force in its planning? It's not Congo—it's Israel. Everybody knows that Iranian engineers have been advising Hezbollah on tunnels and underground gun emplacements. And so the Air Force went to the Israelis with some new tactics and said to them, `Let's concentrate on the bombing and share what we have on Iran and what you have on Lebanon.' "

'The discussions reached the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, he said."The Israelis told us it would be a cheap war with many benefits," a U.S. government consultant with close ties to Israel said. "Why oppose it? We'll be able to hunt down and bomb missiles, tunnels, and bunkers from the air. It would be a demo for Iran."

'A Pentagon consultant said that the Bush White House "has been agitating for some time to find a reason for a preëmptive blow against Hezbollah." He added, "It was our intent to have Hezbollah diminished, and now we have someone else doing it." (As this article went to press, the United Nations Security Council passed a ceasefire resolution, although it was unclear if it would change the situation on the ground.)According to Richard Armitage, who served as Deputy Secretary of State in Bush's first term—and who, in 2002, said that Hezbollah "may be the A team of terrorists"—Israel's campaign in Lebanon, which has faced unexpected difficulties and widespread criticism, may, in the end, serve as a warning to the White House about Iran.

'"If the most dominant military force in the region—the Israel Defense Forces—can't pacify a country like Lebanon, with a population of four million, you should think carefully about taking that template to Iran, with strategic depth and a population of seventy million," Armitage said. "The only thing that the bombing has achieved so far is to unite the population against the Israelis."

'Several current and former officials involved in the Middle East told me that Israel viewed the soldiers' kidnapping as the opportune moment to begin its planned military campaign against Hezbollah.

. "The neocons in Washington may be happy, but Israel did not need to be pushed, because Israel has been wanting to get rid of Hezbollah," Yossi Melman, a journalist for the newspaper Ha'aretz, who has written several books about the Israeli intelligence community, said. "By provoking Israel, Hezbollah provided that opportunity." "We were facing a dilemma," an Israeli official said. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert "had to decide whether to go for a local response, which we always do, or for a comprehensive response—to really take on Hezbollah once and for all."

'Earlier this summer, before the Hezbollah kidnappings, the U.S. government consultant said, several Israeli officials visited Washington, separately, "to get a green light for the bombing operation and to find out how much the United States would bear." The consultant added, "Israel began with Cheney. It wanted to be sure that it had his support and the support of his office and the Middle East desk of the National Security Council." After that, "persuading Bush was never a problem, and Condi Rice was on board," the consultant said. The initial plan, as outlined by the Israelis, called for a major bombing campaign in response to the next Hezbollah provocation, according to the Middle East expert with knowledge of U.S. and Israeli thinking. Israel believed that, by targeting Lebanon's infrastructure, including highways, fuel depots, and even the civilian runways at the main Beirut airport, it could persuade Lebanon's large Christian and Sunni populations to turn against Hezbollah, according to the former senior intelligence official. The airport, highways, and bridges, among other things, have been hit in the bombing campaign. The Israeli Air Force had flown almost nine thousand missions as of last week.

'The Israeli plan, according to the former senior intelligence official, was "the mirror image of what the United States has been planning for Iran." (The initial U.S. Air Force proposals for an air attack to destroy Iran's nuclear capacity, which included the option of intense bombing of civilian infrastructure targets inside Iran, have been resisted by the top leadership of the Army, the Navy, and the Marine Corps, according to current and former officials. They argue that the Air Force plan will not work and will inevitably lead, as in the Israeli war with Hezbollah, to the insertion of troops on the ground.) "Cheney's point, the former senior intelligence official said, was "What if the Israelis execute their part of this first, and it's really successful? It'd be great. We can learn what to do in Iran by watching what the Israelis do in Lebanon."

'The Pentagon consultant told me that intelligence about Hezbollah and Iran is being mishandled by the White House the same way intelligence had been when, in 2002 and early 2003, the Administration was making the case that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. "The big complaint now in the intelligence community is that all of the important stuff is being sent directly to the top—at the insistence of the White House—and not being analyzed at all, or scarcely," he said. "It's an awful policy and violates all of the N.S.A.'s strictures, and if you complain about it you're out," he said. "Cheney had a strong hand in this."

'The long-term Administration goal was to help set up a Sunni Arab coalition—including countries like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt—that would join the United States and Europe to pressure the ruling Shiite mullahs in Iran. "But the thought behind that plan was that Israel would defeat Hezbollah, not lose to it," the consultant with close ties to Israel said. Some officials in Cheney's office and at the N.S.C. had become convinced, on the basis of private talks, that those nations would moderate their public criticism of Israel and blame Hezbollah for creating the crisis that led to war. Although they did so at first, they shifted their position in the wake of public protests in their countries about the Israeli bombing.

'The White House was clearly disappointed when, late last month, Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, came to Washington and, at a meeting with Bush, called for the President to intervene immediately to end the war. The Washington Post reported that Washington had hoped to enlist moderate Arab states "in an effort to pressure Syria and Iran to rein in Hezbollah, but the Saudi move . . . seemed to cloud that initiative."

'The surprising strength of Hezbollah's resistance, and its continuing ability to fire rockets into northern Israel in the face of the constant Israeli bombing, the Middle East expert told me, "is a massive setback for those in the White House who want to use force in Iran. And those who argue that the bombing will create internal dissent and revolt in Iran are also set back."

Those who send and supply the bombers, the state terrorists, believe that if they don't succeed at first in bombing people into submission, they should bomb some more. And where we see terrible destruction, they see prospect for real estate and construction. Washington's rulers won't lose much more sleep over katyushas hitting Kiryat Shmoneh than they do over bombs falling on Beirut. But they may think about what rockets and worse, popular revolt, could do to their Middle East oil interests. Is it worth risking? As a trial run, Lebanon might have taught the Washington warmongers not to try another bigger war, but to go for diplomacy. But do they ever learn? Hersh's informants fear not.

'Nonetheless, some officers serving with the Joint Chiefs of Staff remain deeply concerned that the Administration will have a far more positive assessment of the air campaign than they should, the former senior intelligence official said. "There is no way that Rumsfeld and Cheney will draw the right conclusion about this," he said. "When the smoke clears, they'll say it was a success, and they'll draw reinforcement for their plan to attack Iran."

For article in full see:


Monday, August 14, 2006

Dirty Work by the Irwell?

Salford University

from video, Rhetta Moran on Asylum, by Chris Edwards,

SALFORD, the city where I grew up, inspired Ewan McColl's song Dirty Old Town. A city of factories, mills, docks and a mine. They've cleaned it up a bit now, the colliery shut 15 years ago, and the docks are empty but have a marina. Reflecting the social changes there's a new young offenders' institution and prison, HMP Forest Bank, where Agecroft power station used to be.

Salford Tech, as once was, is a University now by the banks of the Irwell. Is someone there doing dirty work for the government?

Dr Rhetta Moran is an internationally recognised researcher on refugee issues, and a member of the National Union of Journalists. In 2002 she took up the case of Abdullah Rahmatullah, an Afghan refugee from the Taliban who had become a leader in his community. Rahmatullah was ‘arrested’ without warning when he reported to a Salford asylum seekers’ centre, and held at Manchester airport before being sent to the Harmonsworth Detention Centre near Heathrow

From there he was deported to Austria, on the grounds that he had stopped a few hours there on his way to Britain. Dr.Moran discovered he was being held at a remote camp near Austria's mountain border with Italy. This is how the British and other western governments are "batting for freedom", as Mrs.T used to put it when talking about Afghanistan.

Since Spring 2004, Rhetta has been battling to defend herself and her research against her employer, the University of Salford. Her colleagues, students, union and supporters believe she was targeted for the sack because she exposed how UK government policy was making people destitute.

Her research led to a Guardian article exposing how the British government was rejecting asylum claims from Iraqi men, telling them to leave this country and return to Saddam Hussein's Iraq, at the same time as Britain was finalising plans to bomb their country.,,4629565-103550,00.html

A year later, on Sunday March 28, 2004, the Observer carried an article on how young asylum-seeking women were having to go underground, living in permanent fear in Salford. It drew on work and contacts provided by Rhetta Moran.,,4889962-102285,00.html
Soon after this Rhetta was removed from her leadership of the £600,000 Salford RAPAR SRB5 research project about asylum issues. RAPAR, Refugee and Asylum Seeker Participation and Research, although in the "voluntary sector", is funded by government. Rhetta's union colleagues believe her work on the plight of asylum seekers in the north of England proved uncomfortable for the political establishment (Observer, 12 February 2006).

Within a month, the University of Salford wrote to Dr.Moran telling her that her research was not "compatible" and that her contract would not be renewed. An employment tribunal panel that is hearing her case has sat for 23 days so far. The university is insisting that Rhetta was dismissed because she was 'redundant'. But issues exposed in the courtroom so far include:·

  • Rhetta's professorial line manager says she is one of the best researchers he has ever worked with
  • · Within two weeks of sacking her, university bosses handed a £192,316 research grant from the European Social Fund which Rhetta had secured to a male researcher in the university and, when he could not deliver it because he did not have her networks and expertise, they sent the money back to Europe
  • Many of Rhetta's postgraduate students were left without any supervision for at least one year.

Jeremy Dear, general secretary of the National Union of Journalists, urging supporters to attend the ongoing hearings which re-open this week, says "This case is about academic freedom and human rights: "the rights of researchers to do their research and to communicate their findings about human rights abuses without interference and the responsibilities of universities and governments to protect these rights".

You can send email messages of support for Rhetta's continuing struggle to with copies to

Incidentally, supporters of an academic boycott of Israeli institutions point to their involvment with the state and occupation. Opponents protest that the boycott infringes upon "academic freedom". Perhaps both sides can unite in condemning what appears to be happening in Salford?

My own trades union council, like many others, does not meet in August, but our Secretary has been in touch proposing that we send a message of support to Rhetta Moran. I'm sure there will be lots more.

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Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Blood, sweat and tears that made Liverpool

AFTER THE BOMBING. Digging for survivors, Scotland Road.

AS Liverpool prepares for its stint as European City of Culture, due in 2008, people are keen to make it a success. I was given my badge for the event last year, which shows they are looking ahead. Liverpool has a rich history of course, and plenty of culture to show, from its fine buildings to the Philharmonic and the "Fab Four", as well as providing most of the comedians I listened to on the radio as a lad, and many of the actors we see on TV.

But some people are concerned now to make sure the "Year of Culture" does not omit Merseyside's greatest asset, its working people, and their struggle against adversity, which gave rise to humour, but to great resilience and courage as well.

Most films and books dealing with the World War II blitz concentrate on London, but as Britain's biggest westward facing seaport, handling vitally needed supplies from the United States, and Canada, Liverpool was a major target for German bombing, suffering and eventually triumphing at least as much as London. During the worst week, seven nights from 1st-7th May, 1941 around 681 planes dropped 870 tonnes of high explosives and over 112,000 incendiaries on the area, killing over 1,700 people and making around 76,000 homeless.*

When I first visited Liverpool with my parents as a child, whole areas around the city centre were still blackened ruins. On a later visit I was treated to a ride on the elevated railway along the waterfront, nicknamed "the dockers umbrella". Gazeing in delight on all the ships we passed, and the cargoes being unloaded, I amused the grown-ups by recognising the flags of so many nations in port, and trying to identify funnel markings.

The bomb damage has been cleared. But so, sadly, due to shifts in trade but also to economic policies, has the thriving maritime industry of which Liverpool was so justly proud. The overhead railway, which had once carried millions of passengers, closed on December 30, 1956 because neither the city council nor the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board came up with money for its maintenance.

It was not just ships that came and went from Liverpool, of course. To its shore came those fleeing Irish famine and European tyrrany. Many went on to the Americas and Australia and other places, not always voluntarily. Like Bristol, the city was a player in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Later, along with working people from Wales and Scotland and England came the African, Somali and Chinese seafarers to settle and found communities. Like the scouse, or stew, from which they take their name, your Scousers are made up of many flavours and ingrediants.

These are the people who built Liverpool, and Merseyside, who kept its port and factories runing through the blitz and provided many of the crew on Atlantic convoys without which Britain would have been denied munitions and daily bread. After the war the government set about deporting no longer wanted Chinese seafarers just as it had done Africans before. There was also the shameful post-war episode of orphan children shipped out and abused as cheap labour to sustain the "White Australia" policy.

But intelligent working people have resisted attempts to divide them, whether by religion or "race". They know the value of solidarity. Even the Toxteth "race riots" of 1981, sparked by a clash between police and black youth fed up with discrimination and poverty, became an "integrated" riot, of young people united against the police.

During the dockers' struggle a decade ago, dockers from Merseyside travelled the world gaining solidarity and support. Had the British labour movement pulled its finger out similarly, and not been tied by leaders who helped 'New Labour' betray the dockers, they would have won. Because they didn't we have all lost.

The bitter lessons learned have not been forgotten. But nor, on the positive side, have the international links built then. At the weekend I was in Liverpool meeting members of the United Socialist Party founded by sacked dockers, and former councillors, and we discussed what could be done about the war in Lebanon, as well as more local issues.

In the afternoon we had a meeting remembering building worker Des Warren, with a very moving film about his experience in prison for fighting for workers' rights, and how it effected his health. A campaign has begun to re-open the Shrewsbury building pickets' case and have their sentences reversed. Much to the discomfort I'm sure of those union leaders who would prefer a quiet life getting along with Blair and Brown, we have our memories.

In between, there was time for a short report from ex-docker Tony Nelson who was just back from a meeting with the Maritime Workers Union of Australia. He went on to speak of an ambitious idea for an event as part of Liverpool's "Year of Culture" - an international event, with a conference at the dockers' social club, the Casa, and exhibitions, celebrating the working class, from wherever they came, who built this city and became the source of so much wealth that others enjoy. I reckon it's the kind of idea that can grow and win enthusiasm and support. Soon as I hear more I'll be posting information about this project and how to get involved.

* For more on Liverpool during the Blitz see:

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Friday, August 04, 2006

Can Lebanon war wake labour movement?

FIGHT for workers' rights
is essential for anti-war
struggle and fight for humanity
around the world.
JOHN McDONNELL (in red scarf) with sacked Gate Gourmet workers. The Hayes and Harlington MP has announced his challenge for Labour leadership and will be speaking at Stop the War rally in London tomorrow.
(photo from Labour Representation Committee,

COULD the horror of Israel's war on Lebanon, and Tony Blair's refusal to call for a ceasefire, wake the labour movement in this country to its international responsibility? US planes rushing uranium-tipped bombs and other munitions to Israel are still being allowed to land in Britain, after the Qana massacre of civilians. Following the row over use of Glasgow's civilian airport at Prestwick the flights have been shifted to RAF Mildenhall, in Suffolk. There are also reports of planes with Hebrew markings spotted at Brize Norton, in Oxfordshire.

Labour MP John McDonnell, now standing for the party's leadership, has said he fully supports protests against the use of this country by the US as a base for arming the Israelis with such devastating weapons which are resulting in such heavy and terrible civilian casualties.

"I go further and express my support for any workers engaged in the operation of these airports or our airspace who refuse on grounds of conscience and international law to participate in supporting the shipment of these weapons. In the light of all the evidence in recent days demonstrating the use to which the Israelis are putting these weapons I believe that workers have every right to refuse to facilitate the transportation of these weapons".

It was reported at the weekend that Britain's own arms exports to Israel doubled in the past year. Even before the present war broke out the Foreign and Commonwealth Office had condemned Israel's policy of targetted killings as against international law, but it seems this stance did not stop them issuing licenses for the necessary equipment.

"Licences approved for Israel last year included components for combat helicopters, aircraft radars, air-to-surface missiles and airborne electronic warfare equipment. Special licences were also approved for the sale to Israel of components for military training aircraft, naval radars, naval communications equipment, and optical sensors for unmanned air vehicles.
These do not include components made by British companies in US Apache helicopters and F-16 bombers sold to Israel. The government provoked a storm of protest in 2002 by introducing new guidelines on the sale of military components. It cleared the way for head-up display units (HUDs, for presenting data without blocking view) - made by BAE Systems, Britain's largest arms company - to be sold to the US for use in F-16 planes. Ministers said the move was dictated by the interests of British arms companies. British equipment used in American Apache helicopters supplied to Israel includes missile trigger systems".,,1828246,00.html

So much for the "ethical dimension" which the late Robin Cook hoped to see in British foreign policy. One of Cook's civil servants scrawled "bollocks" on the Foreign Secretary's memorandum, and that's what they went for. After knocking him into shape as best they could, someone leaked details of his extra-marital indiscretions to the press and he was ousted. Since then we've had Jack Straw bending in the wind, and "sorry, I haven't a clue" Margaret Beckett.

Straw, Foreign Office Minister Kim Howells, Peter Hain and others are letting it be known they are unhappy over the war, but have yet to resign or openly challenge the prime minister.

What about the industrial wing of the labour movement, which despite the notorious links with business loans and dodgy donors remains Labour's main supporter? While striving to maintain a statesmanlike air, avoiding words like solidarity, and trusting in the United Nations, the Trades Union Congress(TUC) has expressed concern at the war and the suffering influicted on civilians and said:
"Alongside concerted international action to end the violence, urgent attention must be given to the serious and deteriorating economic and humanitarian situation in the Palestinian territories".

The TUC is supporting a call from the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions and the World Confederation of Labour for an immediate cease-fire. How far this stand is reflected in action may be seen in more trade union banners joining the anti-war march in London on Saturday.

Tory anti-union laws which Blair's "New Labour" have kept in force expose trade unionists to legal threats and victimisation even for taking action in support of fellow workers (as when Heathrow airport workers came out in support of sacked Gate Gourmet catering staff), let alone on international issues. But Liverpool dockers sacked for refusing to cross picket lines and then left high and dry by Labour say they would like to see workers taking action over the war in Lebanon. Former docks shop steward Terry Teague says:

'Over the years dockworkers have been at the forefront of organising action to stop the oppression of innocent men, women and children the world over. The boycotts of cargoes heading to or from apartheid South Africa or Pinochet’s fascist regime in Chile helped bring freedom and humanity to the people of those countries and in the case of South Africa irrevocably changed the path of the countries life style for the better.

'Although we no longer work in the Port Industry the Sacked Liverpool Dockworkers are being asked on a daily basis by many concerned trade unionists and members of the public, “should dockworkers in the United Kingdom be loading or discharging cargoes heading to or from Israel when that country is causing death and destruction to the people and the country of Lebanon”. Our answer is a straight forward “no they shouldn’t be working Israeli cargoes whilst the current bombardment of Lebanon continues”.

'Unfortunately there is very little that we can do about the situation in terms of direct action, but we can organise opposition and campaign against the carnage that is currently taking place in the Middle East which we intend to do and repectfully ask our international comrades to update us with any news of meetings or planned actions that they might be considering within their Ports.
In Solidarity,
The Sacked Liverpool Dockworkers'

More than once in meetings talking about action over Iraq or Palestine I have had to remind people of the way workers like the Liverpool dockers were treated, and the restrictions on working people in Britain, who possibly have fewer rights than any in western Europe. Now we might reflect on how failure to fully support the dockers or rescind anti-union laws has sapped the ability of ordinary working people in Britain to do anything when we are let down and disgraced by this government. We need to break the spell and restore fighting confidence.

As Blair flies off to sun himself in Barbados, John McDonnell has demanded that Parliament be recalled to debate the war in Lebanon:
"The military invasion of Lebanon by Israel and the escalation in the number of Hezbollah rocket attacks on Israel is a sure indication that far from being a limited and short lived enagagement the fighting in Lebanon is deteriorating into a full scale war,' McDonnell said. "Unless some resolution is found shortly there must be a real risk of other states being drawn into the conflict. . .

'The Bush/Blair strategy is failing before our eyes at such a dreadful cost in terms of loss of life and human suffering. The latest total of lives lost is nearly 700, with nearly 1 million refugees displaced in the Lebanon. We need to have an urgent and open debate on what we as a country can do to bring a swift end to the current escalating conflict and what role we can play with others to help prevent future aggression. One step in starting this critical debate would be the recall of Parliament. I called for the recall of Parliament last Sunday. Other MPs have now joined that call. What is the Prime Minister's fear of having a Parliamentary debate?

'We hear that a debate went on in Cabinet and a number of Cabinet Ministers have let it leak out that they questioned the Prime Minister's strategy. I have to say Cabinet Ministers trying to salve their consciences in this cowardly and pathetic way is almost as disgraceful as Tony Blair supporting the Bush strategy. If Cabinet Ministers had spoken out in public in opposing Tony Blair's support for the Bush line or had even done the honourable thing and resigned in order to speak out on this issue, I would have had some respect for them.

To hide behind leaks and off the record briefings is degrading. If those in Cabinet who were concerned about the Bush/Blar strategy had acted decisively together there may have been the opportunity of securing a break with Bush and Britain joining with others in calling for an immediate ceasefire. Their failure to act implicates them in this failure to demand and secure peace and end the killing in Lebanon, Gaza and Israel'.

'Recalling Parliament would give every Member of Parliament the opportunity to speak and vote on the basis of their conscience. If Parliament is recalled, I would wish to see the opportunity given to MPs to vote on a motion to determine Britain's independent strategy and for this vote to be unwhipped'.

John McDonnell is regarded as a rank outsider in the fight for Labour leadership. Establishment media, preferring trivial pursuits about personalities to discussion of serious politics, will probably do their best not to give him a mention. But already his campaign seems to be giving new heart to people still in the Labour Party on the Left. Results for elections to the Labour Party's National Executive Committee in the individual members category show Ann Black, Ellie Reeves, Christine Shawcroft, Peter Wheeler, Peter Willsman, and Walter Wolfgang have been elected. Black, Shawcroft, Willsman and Wolfgang reportedly topped the poll, and are all regarded as on the Left.

Walter Wolfgang is the octagenarian pensioner and nuclear disarmer thrown out of last year's Labour Party conference for heckling Jack Straw, and the Blair leadership campaigned to stop him getting on to the NEC. I expect that helped.


Tony Blair has had to postpone his holiday because of the Lebanon crisis.
We're glad it causes him some inconveniance. But for what good he will do, we've a better idea. Let's bring forward his retirement!

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