Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Schools for Scandal

IF Prime Minister David Cameron and Education Secretary Michael Gove were sitting a difficult examination it's easy to see how they would tackle it.  Just ignore the questions, set down what you know as the answers, and expect to pass with flying colours since you are in charge.

That might not work for students, but it's the way with politicians, and to be fair, when it comes to Education, to imagine a big difference between New Labour and Tory you would need a deficient memory. It was after all while Labour was in office that many state schools were enabled to become Foundation schools, giving them relative autonomy in spending and admissions, and that business and religious bodies were invited to run so-called Academies - a Tory idea, just like the Private Finance Initiatives for which we are now paying in the NHS, but Labour brought it in.

Giving heads and administrators in schools and colleges more freedom with their chequebooks is one way of softening up resistance to privatisation, just as the pretence that GPs are to be given the running of the NHS (when most can barely spare ten minutes to see a patient) is a cover for letting more private middlemen in, away from public gaze.

It reminds me of the big-time crook who enlists the acquiescence of someone within an establishment by promising a share of the spoils. Even a modest bribe - sorry, inducement - can be a good investment by giving the recipient a taste.

All the more credit therefore to those heads and members of the professions who are telling the government where to stick its plans.

Not all have such integrity.

A friend of mine who taught in a north London school was wondering how far the intake of pupils reflected the local demography. This led to more sensitive questions, like how the head found time and resources to run a business on the side, Part of the answer to that came from the school secretary saying she was fed up of being given extra work which was not for the school. Then as my friend and his colleagues found enough information to present to the local authority and the press, lo, the head flew off for a job with OFSTED, which inspects schools,  

A few months ago I went to a quiz night in a Wembley pub, in aid of the campaign against local libraries closing, and as my normal team-mates from the trades council weren't available I teamed up with a geography teacher I knew and two of his colleagues. We didn't do too bad, but more to the point in between rounds I learned from their conversation how a bit of whistleblowing by staff at their school would be landing their head and his deputy in the law courts. The pair have now been remanded on bail to appear in court next September.    
 A Wembley head and deputy head are due to face fraud charges

The Copland Community School had been a foundation school, meaning its governors had relative autonomy, until news of its shenanigans caused the Brent council to take it back in hand. Depending which paper you read the school has had problems of falling standards and discipline, or collapsing buildings.

A school student confronted David Cameron about the state of her school.  

 Tackled by an articulate schoolgirl Cameron promised to "look into your borough" - perhaps nobody had told him about arms-length foundations - but the government is still witholding funds for repairs, and of course it cancelled Labour's schools rebuiding programme, replacing it with a scheme that is now held up waiting for private capital.

However it has placed Copland under
"Special Measures"

and is taking on the teachers who exposed wrongdoing by proposing to take the school out of reach of accountable, elected local government, to 
Turn it into an Academy!

Meanwhile in the journal of the Anti-Academies Alliance, Alisdair Smith has the tale of  another
enterprising school head, one who has been identified with the rush for Academies:

'In 2002 Jo Shuter took over Quintin Kynaston School in St John’s Wood, north London. Her appointment wasn’t popular with everyone – 100 staff left in her first year, 70 in the first term – but despite such a high staff turnover (which might have raised eyebrows elsewhere) she soon acquired the unofficial title of ‘superhead’ and the approving eye of Tony Blair, who used the school to launch his Children’s Services Green Paper in 2003.

'In 2005 a BBC documentary ‘Head on the Block’, billed as an “inspirational tale about an inspirational teacher”, was due to be broadcast but it had to be pulled after it was discovered that film had been produced by her sister, Debbie Shuter, and directed by her sister’s partner.
Debbie Shuter told the Telegraph: “I am gutted about the disappointment of all those children. The fact that it is my sister is totally irrelevant…I can absolutely hand on heart tell you that the film is objective. I have reported the truth.”

'In 2007 this inspirational superhead was deemed to be just what Pimlico School needed. Pimlico had recently been failed by Ofsted and, despite vociferous opposition from staff and parents, plans had been raised to turn it into an academy.

'“I’m never frightened to say what I think,” she told the Times Educational Supplement at the time. “I’ve never doubted myself. I will not be the head of a failing school.” “Leadership is my strength and if I can make a difference to other schools then I am keen to do so.”
A few months later Shuter was named Head Teacher of the Year. Ann Barton from SOL Consulting commented on the Teaching Awards website “The girl done good… A fantastic achievement Jo Jo, and richly deserved. Onward and upward!”

'In September 2008 Pimlico School was duly re-opened as an academy and handed over to hedge fund manager John Nash (now Baron Nash and an unelected schools minister) and in 2010 Shuter was awarded a CBE for “services to education”.

'Fast forward to September 2012 and the revelation that Shuter had been suspended from Quintin Kynaston after what Patrick Lees, Chair of Governors called “serious allegations relating to the management of the school” were referred to police.

'By this time Quintin Kynaston had also become an academy so the local authority, Westminster, was left unable to intervene. Students and parents were left in limbo as the Department for Education refused to get involved saying “The suspension of the head teacher is a matter for the Quintin Kynaston Trust.”

'So what were these allegations that were so serious that a woman with a CBE for services to education had to be suspended from her job? After an eight month suspension the governors announced that Jo Shuter had received “a formal final written warning” following “a long and robust disciplinary process”. But the reasons for the written warning or remained shrouded in mystery.
That is until the BBC reported that one of Shuter’s alleged misdemeanours had been using £7000 of the school’s money to pay for her 50th birthday party.

'The full findings of the DfE internal report into the goings on at Quintin Kynaston appear damning. They include:
Evidence that since November 2011 the Academy has spent £17,293.75 on taxi accounts including trips to some of London’s leading restaurants such as the Savoy, the Ivy, and the Wolsey,
• Overnight meetings by the Senior Leadership Team of the school were held at the five-star Landmark Hotel at a cost of thousands.
• Shuter was paid tens of thousands of pounds for consultancy work completed in school time.
• Shuter’s PA, whose salary was paid by the Academy, was used to book family holidays, schedule consultancy work, and organise the rental of her Turkish holiday villa
• Expenses were claimed more than once from different organisations
• A number of issues related to the employment of family members are still being investigated
The report notes that, as an Academy, the school was allowed to assess itself for Financial Management and Governance. Shuter as Head Teacher and Accounting Officer was ultimately responsible for the fiscal well-being of the school. The report notes that the rating the school gave itself for Financial Management was ‘Good’. The DfE report downgrades this self-assessed rating to ‘Inadequate’.'

Shuter remained Head Teacher of Quintin Kynaston, though following the publication of the DfE’s report, it seems unlikely she can remain in place for long.

Smith says part of the problem is the  cult of the personality in school leadership. Our schools are among the best in the world but they have been denigrated and our teaching standards have been besmirched. Jo Shuter was one of a number of school leaders lauded as being the new broom needed to sweep away all of the detritus and make us all shiny and new. Perhaps they felt invincible?

"But the main culprit is Gove and his obsession with privatisation and deregulation. Schools are being encouraged to run themselves on business models. Head teachers are ‘CEOs’, or “public sector entrepreneurs” who are “saving” education and “raising standards”.
In reality, academy status and autonomy for heads isn’t about raising standards, it’s about breaking up state education allowing individual heads to build small business franchises and large chains to take tens, if not hundreds of schools. This is what Gove meant when he wrote in the 2009 Tory election manifesto about a ‘supply side revolution. The next stage is running schools ‘for-profit’.

"Some are suggesting Shuter has done nothing wrong and is the victim of a media witch hunt. Well, I suggest you read the DfE report in full."

 Copland school teachers intend to strike tomorrow against the Academy scheme. All three teaching unions are in support of their members' anti-Academy stand and demand for decent funding. Brent's Labour council has urged the teachers to work as normal. It is wrong. It ought to take its responsibility as seriously as Copland teachers have done and support them against Michael Gove.

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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Mott and the missing accomplices

MOTT convicted after public campaigning

FORMER Guatemalan dictator Efraín Ríos Montt has been sentenced to 80 years in prison after being found guilty of crimes against humanity, and specifically for his part in the slaughter of 1,771 Mayan Ixils in the 1980s. 

It is the first time a former head of state has been found guilty of genocide in their own country, and the first time a former head of government has been held to account in Guatemala for the abuses carried out during a 36-year conflict that killed an estimated 200,000 people and led to 45,000 other "disappearances".

The verdict was greeted with satisfaction by Guatemalan and international human rights organisations. Pascal Paradis, director of Lawyers Without Borders Canada, which advised lawyers acting for victims' families said the fact the trial happened at all was a big achievement.
"It was quite a feat to get past the amnesty law that was passed when Guatemala signed a peace deal in 1996 to end its 36-year war. Impunity is no longer the rule," he said.

Some of the victims's families and other Guatemalans expressed less satisfaction.
"What I want is for Ríos to feel the pain we felt," said Elena de Paz Santiago, who was 12 when she and her mother fled a massacre in their village in 1982.
They hid in the mountains and survived by eating roots and wild plants for months, before being caught and taken to an army outpost to cook and clean for the soldiers. Her mother died while they were both being gang-raped and was later buried in a mass grave.
"He [Rios Montt] will go to jail but he will have food. We nearly starved hiding out in the mountains," she said in an interview outside the courtroom.
Guardian, May 11 -Former dictator Rios Mott jailed for Genocide

Guatemala may be a faraway country of which we normally hear little, but one of my earliest memories of international affairs was the news of US bombers and the CIA removing a "pro-communist" government headed by Colonel Arbenz, in 1954, supposedly because it had imported Czech weapons with which to defend itself. Assuming that Washington did not seriously fear Guatemala was planning to invade the United States there seemed no reason to object to Guateemala having weapons, unless you were planning to attack it anyway.

I subsequantly learned that Colonel Arbenz had wanted to take some uncultivated land from the American-owned United Fruit Company in order to give it to Guatemalan peasants, a truly dreadful crime. Nowadays there are more than bananas at stake for companies involved in Guatemala, and more international interest than the media might reflect.

Even before he gained infamy as a mass murderer Rios Mott had distinguishing features from the long list of Latin American dictators. He was known as “Brother Efraín,” having converted to a fundamentalist brand of Christianity offered by the California-based “Church of the Word” (Verbo), But as well as thanking God in heaven for anointing him as Guatemala’s president, he had the State of Israel on earth to thank for his successful March 1982 military coup.

Israeli press reported that 300 Israeli advisors were on hand to assist and train his soldiers. Israel became a major supplier of weapons and aircraft, as well as technical expertise, to the Guatemalan regime. While the United States taxpayer could go on subsidising the regime, letting Israel supply the weaponry, even US planes built under licence, had the advantage that it was not restricted by Congress, Indeed US officials have learned over the years that mentioning Israel is one way to quieten congresspersons from asking awkward questions.

Rios Mott justified his war on native peoples by claiming he was fighting against subversion.
 “Look, the problem of the war is not just a question of who is shooting. For each one who is shooting there are ten working behind him.” Rios Montt’s press secretary added: “The guerrillas won over many Indian collaborators. Therefore, the Indians were subversives, right? And how do you fight subversion? Clearly, you had to kill Indians because they were collaborating with subversion. And then they say, ‘You’re massacring innocent people’. But they weren’t innocent. They had sold out to subversion” (Witness to Genocide, Survival International, 1983, p. 12).

The Israelis helped the Guatemalan forces build an airbase, and set up an intelligence network similar to that in Israel's occupied territories, as well as outposts resembling those of the Israeli army. A report for Time magazine:: “Colonel Gustavo Menendez Herrera pointed out that his troops are using Israeli communications equipment, mortars, submachine guns, battle gear and helmets.” Army Chief of Staff Benedicto Lucas García had stated previously: “The Israeli soldier is a model and an example to us.”

Israel had always boasted good relations with Guatemala, promoting agricultural projects and cultural links. But as Yossi Sarid protested in the Knesset, it had “abandoned the green route of agriculture for the red and bloody route of arms,” .  Likud member Yigal Hurwitz replied, “Your speeches, Yossi, are not saleable on the foreign market; weaponry we can sell."

If  acting as America's proxy and even competitor in this way was profitable, it brought some other results. Guatemalan refugees and exiles, from those driven from heir land into refugee camps in southern Mexico to those fortunate enough to be in US universities, have found it not too difficult to identify with faraway Palestinians, dreaming of the right of return, and to their land.  

María García Hernández, co-founder of a refugee women’s organization called Mama Maquín, described the standpoint of her group: “The Guatemalan refugee and returnee women are clear about the fact that land is the most important family possession that we have. Land is…a space where we can live and work, defend our rights and pass on our culture, customs and languages to our daughters and sons.”

Some of Israel's supporters seemed to think that because Guatemala supported Palestine partition and was first to recognise the State of Israel back in 1948, it would oppose Palestinian recognition at the UN. In fact, last month Guatemala's governmen became the first to recgnise a sovereign state of Palestine. There's a sort of continuity there, as well as poetic justice.

See also:

Matt Carr on Mott and his crimes

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Thursday, May 09, 2013

Taking wrong side on Bangladesh

WOMEN DEMAND JUSTICE.  But SWP joined wrong demonstration!
THERE were cheers in the courtroom and outside today, as a Bangladesh war crimes tribunal convicted and sentenced a leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami party to death for war crimes committed during the 197 war for independence from Pakistan.

The right-wing party's assistant secretary general, Mohammad Kamaruzzaman, 59, was found guilty on charges of genocide and torture of unarmed civilians. He had previously been acquitted for two of the seven original charges. One of the charges that carried the death penalty was being a commander of a  massacre of 120 people.

Kamaruzzaman was a Jamaat e Islam student leader during the 1971 war when the Islamist party sided with Pakistan and fought as militia, killing patriots, leftists and non-Muslim minorities. He is the fourth man to be convicted for these war crimes.

Although some may see the current government's willingness to prosecute past crimes as a way of diverting people from present problems, as highlighted by the death of 700 workers in a factory collapse, others say it is justice that was long overdue. Among those in the court today welcoming the verdict and sentence were veterans from the 1971 freedom fight, while outside and in the country generally, particularly Dhaka the capital, younger people fighting for democracy and social progress see settling accounts with the war criminals as part of their broader struggle against reaction.

 There have been mass demonstrations both for an against the the war crimes trials, with Jamaat e Islami supporters claiming the trials were a politically-motivated attack on their party, and right-wing Islamists taking the opportunity to attack those they call "atheists" or just insufficiently conservative in their adherance to Islam. Jama'ata has bussed supporters from rural areas into the capital.Several people have been killed in bitter street clashes, or assassinated.

This sharp division is not confined to Bangladesh.

I don't usually trust stories in the Daily Express , which in recent years has specialised in horrified headlines about schools serving Halal meat or immigrants stealing our homes and jobs, and I am not suspending my skepticism for this one from May 4, forwarded by a friend :

 BRITAIN’S most senior policeman has ordered a security review for 10 Bangladeshi political activists after they were named in a hit list compiled by Islamic extremists.
Met Police Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe has personally intervened following a series of death threats and sinister break-ins at the Britons’ homes.
The intimidation even includes the targeting of fundraising efforts for the victims of the Bangladesh building disaster.
“We will eliminate your entire ancestry,” one fundraiser was told in an anonymous Facebook message.
Another threat from Facebook user Islam Power reads: “We will exterminate all the atheists like you who work against Islam. Final warning.”
The 10 bloggers, singers, writers and charity workers have been denounced as “atheists”, a condemnation some worry will be taken as a cue by jihadists for assassination.
The threats are linked to the volatile politics of Bangladesh where dozens of activists have been murdered in recent weeks.
Security experts fear the violence might be exported as bloodshed on Britain’s streets.
The 10 on the hit list are leaders of the UK arm of the Shahbag campaign calling for justice against those accused of war crimes during the 1971 independence struggle with Pakistan.
The alleged war criminals, whose atrocities included genocide, rape and murder of academics and journalists, were pro-Pakistan.
Many have since become leaders of the Islamist Jamaat e Islami party, which wants an Islamic republic of Bangladesh.
They accuse the current legal process against them in Bangladesh as being politically tainted.
More than 60 people have been killed since February during clashes between Shahbag and Jamaat activists in Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka.
One popular Shahbag blogger was murdered by a man wielding a machete for alleged insults against Islam.
Last Sunday, dozens of riot police were on duty in case of violence in Whitechapel, east London, where there have also been regular protests.
Scotland Yard is now studying a dossier of evidence detailing the recent threats against the UK activists.
The lone woman among the 10, Ajanta Deb Roy, a 27-year-old marketing manager, has been forced to move out of her home in east London following the threats.
Police have equipped her with a panic alarm and classified her as a top security priority.
Within days of raising money for families of the 500 people killed in the Dhaka garments factory collapse, she was even accused of exploiting the tragedy for political purposes.
She said: “It’s disgusting. I feel threatened because some of the Bengali community here are really conservative.
“They strictly follow religion and they don’t really follow the details of the news, they live in their own world.
“So if they see I’ve been called an atheist they just assume I’m abusing Islam and they wouldn’t try to verify that.
“They’ll just see my name on a list and come and attack me and think they’ll go to heaven. They’re brainwashed.
“I’m not an atheist, I’m just an activist.”

The Express story went on to quote threats made on Facebook, which immediately put me in mind of the Sun 'scoop' during the Gaza war about Islamists supposedly threatening prominent British Jews, which rested on messages posted on a Muslim web list. The postings turned out to come from the same computer used by the "expert on terrorism" whom the Sun was quoting. Sir Alan Sugar, whom the paper had depicted as a possible target successfully sued the Sun.

The comments made to the Express by readers whose outlook is plainly that of the lumpen EDL are a salutary reminder of the context in which such stories appear.
Nevertheless in this case Ted Jeory, described as the paper's Home Affairs editor, does show some knowledge of the political background, and does quote genuine people. His report goes on to report  London Assembly member Murad Qureshi:: “Jihadists will think it is their duty to annihilate those listed as atheist. “Much of this is a reflection of the politics of Bangladesh being played out in London, but nonetheless it poses a real threat to British subjects.”

Murad Qureshi, a Labour member of the London Assembly, is of Bangladeshi parentage, and he was in Bangladesh for the 2008 election. The other day he was at Westbourne Park with trades unionists protesting blacklisting outside the Crossrail site. If Murad says the threat is real that is good enough for me.

It is over a decade in fact that I heard from some Bangladeshi socialists their concern that the British government had connived at the entry to Britain of men who were wanted for war crimes in Bangladesh. They named at least three who had slipped into positions in the East London mosque. Their fear was that with most Bangladeshi immigrants in Tower Hamlets having come from Sylhet province before the 1971 war from which Bngladesh emerged, they might be unable to counteract the miseducation which these men could impart to the young.

Their suspicion, and mine, was that some people in the British state might see conservative, even reactionary, religious dominance as a welcome ally in combatting left-wing influences fed by the struggle for better social conditons and against racism.

Back in the 1930s it was the Left which succeeded in uniting East End Jewish and non-Jewish workers in the fight against slum landlords as well as Mosley's fascists. In 1945 the Mile End division of Stepney returned a Communist MP, Phil Piratin. Our enemies can learn from our history even if we don't.

Over the years, the Jama'at e Islami has extended its influence in Tower Hamlets politics as much as in Bangladesh. It has learned how to play the system, whether in getting councillors elected under whatever party label or raising funds. It has been assisted by the opportunism of British politicians like Galloway and Livingstone, among those who don't ask too many questions. And it seems they are not alone.  

Here is Socialist Worker reporting a march by Bangladeshis against the war crimes trials:

   "Around 1,000 people protested in central London last Sunday in solidarity with anti-government protesters in Bangladesh. The protest marched from Hyde Park to the Bangladeshi Embassy.
    Muhammad Ayyub is part of the Feb28 Justice for Bangladesh group that organised the protest. “We stand with the people of Bangladesh against the government,” he told Socialist Worker.
    “Police are killing protesters there and opposition supporters have been unlawfully arrested.”    The protest coincided with a deepening political crisis in Bangladesh.    “Ordinary people in Bangladesh don’t matter,” said Rashid. “Many live on less than a dollar a day. But when the rich people came here for the Olympics they booked a whole floor of a five-star hotel.”
    Protesters chanted, “We want peace. We want justice,” at a rally outside the embassy.  Speakers who talked about the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt won loud cheers. Charlie Kimber, national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party, told the crowd, “The tide of revolution has swept through Tunisia and Egypt.“Now the tide of revolution must sweep through Gaza, Syria and Bangladesh.”

 A tide of hogwash from so-called socialists who purport to educate the working class but can't even be trusted to know their left from right! 

On May 4, there was another kind of demonstration. On May 4, 1978 a young Bengali clothing worker called Altab Ali was stabbed to death by racists on Whitechapel Road. People gathered in the park which now bears his name, to mark the 35th anniversary of his death, which helped stimulate the big fightback in the area to drive the racists and fascists out. It was also inevitably an occasion to think about the hundreds of clothing workers killed in Bangladesh.  

The SWP must often have boasted, with whatever justification, of the part played by the Anti-Nazi League which it led in the fight against the fascists in the East End. Surprisingly, while getting carried away over taking part in a Jamaati march, Socialist Worker quite forgot to notice the Altab Ali event. 

It might be tempting to put this dalliance down to simple ignorance. We all make mistakes. But the SWP, even after its recent loss of members, has no shortage of educated people, professors and 'experts' on this or that country, even if it sometimes uses their dubious expertise only to explain why members should not get involved in say, solidarity with Bosnia, where people really were being persecuted as 'Muslim's, regardless of whether they were religious, or Darfur, where it explained that both sides were Muslim, as though this meant that massacres did not count.

I suspect some of the SWP's ordinary Asian members could tell it why it is wrong to support Jamaat e Islami, if it bothered to listen. As it is, with thousands of Bangladeshi workers having taken to the streets over the deaths in the factory collapse, Socialist Worker has had an article by someone in Bangladesh dealing with the isues of capitalist exploitation involved, and it has had a comment saying that if socialists there take up such issues they might win over people influenced by the religious right.

Very helpful advice, I am sure, like it used to tend to workers in Bosnia (though without actually speaking to any) that all would be well if only the workers could unite.  After all, you can't expect these people to work out these brilliant ideas for themselves.

And if you did, they might ask how it was that the advanced comrades in Britain could take their place on the same platform as people who cover for war crimes, including rape, demand a place for Allah restored in the constitution, and advocate the segregation of sexes, and denial of rights to Ahmadi Muslims, as well as the death penalty for atheists and 'blasphemers'.

But we must not be sectarians by reading the small print. It's tactics comrades!  Besides, there's not that many places willing to give the 'comrades' a platform these days.    

Jamata leader sentenced to death

Threats to Bangladeshi activists

Profiteers behind factory collapse

"London protest in solidarity with Bangladesh"

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Monday, May 06, 2013

It's That Man Again!

COMING BACK FROM SHOWBIZ ?  Neil and Christine Hamilton.   

"Hamilton held strong conservative views. He opposed trade unions, immigration and child benefits. He supported free market economics, privatisation of public bodies and the continuance of capital punishment. Hamilton was in favour of coal mine closures and the development of nuclear power as an alternative".


"I was not in any way embarrassed in being in the Rocky Horror Picture Show, where I had to dance down the stairs in six-inch stiletto heels, a basque, suspenders and stockings," he says, .... "It was strangely pleasurable." I am wondering, I say, if you did it solely for pleasure. "No," he says, sounding amazed, "we did it for money." 
                   London Evening Standard

THERE was the woman in Kent who confided her conspiracy theory that Jews had organised the Holocaust, and the man in Cornwall who said disabled children ought to have been aborted to prevent them being a burden on the taxpayer.

Nigel Farage might have assured us his United Kingdom Independence Party(UKIP) was not allowing itself to be infiltrated by extremists from the British National Perty (BNP), but the more we hear of some of its candidates, we are expecting Nick Griffin of the BNP to issue a statement repudiating anything to do with the nutters from UKIP.

Still, as Farage's ambitions turn from Brussels to Westminster, buoyed by his party's success in riding the tide of public bewilderment about the crisis, disenchantment with the old same-same parties, and newspapers repeatedly blaming the EU and immigrants for everything, he may have just the man to entrust with maintaining things on the European front.

Indeed this guy making a comeback via UKIP has more front than Mae West, and if that's not enough his partner Christine could be joining him..

According to the Independent:

The controversial former Tory MP Neil Hamilton is being lined up to head Ukip’s list of candidates for the June 2014 European elections, party sources have claimed

Mr Hamilton, who reinvented himself as a television personality after he lost his seat following the “cash-for-questions” affair, was elected onto the party’s national executive committee two years ago. Party members hope his wife can be convinced to run alongside him.
Showing that the debacle of Robert Kilroy-Silk’s nine-month membership has not put Nigel Farage’s party off celebrity candidates, the pair could be joined on the list by DJs Jon Gaunt and Mike Read. But The Independent has seen internal emails from grassroots members complaining about being “totally ignored” over selection choices.

Neil Hamilton lined up as UKIP MEP

Former Tory MP Neil Hamilton was never one from the top drawer like Old Etonian David Cameron and chums. Like Margaret Thatcher, of whom he was a devoted adnirer, Hamilton came from relatively humble origins. Her father was a Grantham grocer, his worked for the National Coal Board in Wales according to Wikipedia, though in an interview with the Telegraph business page Hamilton claimed to have learnt about money while helping in the family pub.
Fame and Fortune: the Hamiltons

Like Thatcher, Hamilton seems to have been determined to put distance between himself and his origins (grandad a miner) and prove his True Blue credentials to the Tory Right.  His first speech at a Tory party conference called for mass privatisation.  But whereas Thatcher took pride in the "Iron Lady" title and even fancied herself a female Churchill for a time, Hamilton has always trodden a path of uncertainty between taking his right-wing views seriously further and merely taking the piss.

As a student he managed to obtain Master's degree in economics and politics while also finding time to edit something called the Feudal Times and Reactionary Herald, and pose in funny uniforms to suit. While at Aberystwith he became a leading member of the Federation of Conservative Students, and represented it at a conference of the neo-fascist Italian Social Movement (MSI) in 1973. Joining the right-wing Monday Club for a time, Hamilton also went on to join Western Goals, which declared its aim to "combat the insidious menace of liberalism and Communism within all sectors of British society".  Western Goals said it had been a "mistake" to allow non-European immigrants into Britain, and it opposed charities supporting the struggle against Apartheid. It was not against all foreigners - in fact it invited French fascist Jean-Marie le Pen to Britain.
After the Panorama programme "Maggie's Militant Tendency" (broadcast January 30, 1984), which dealt with the rise of the right-wingers from the FCS, Hamilton and fellow MP Gerald Howarth sued the BBC for libel over an allegation that he had given a Nazi salute while 'messing around' on a parliamentary visit to Germany in August 1983. The MP had a post-graduate qualification in law, but to further strengthen his confidence he had financial backing from among others, Sir James Goldsmith, Tate and Lyle, and Lord Harris of High Cross.

According to The Guardian newspaper, Hamilton admitted in The Sunday Times that he did give "a little salute with two fingers to his nose to give the impression of a toothbrush moustache." During the case, Hamilton said he saw himself as "the Mike Yarwood of the Federation of Young Conservatives", and that he frequently did impressions of public figures. 

The BBC capitulated on October 21, 1986. The BBC Director-General Alasdair Milne, stated he was instructed to do so by the Governors of the BBC. The corporation was directed to pay the men's legal costs. Hamilton and Howarth were awarded £20,000 each and in the next edition of Panorama on 27 October, the BBC made an unreserved apology.

Eight years later however On 20 October 1994, The Guardian published an article which claimed that Hamilton and another minister, Tim Smith, had received money, in the form of cash in brown envelopes. It claimed the money was paid to the men by Mohamed Al-Fayed, the owner of Harrods. In return, the men were to ask questions on behalf of Al-Fayed in the House of Commons. Smith admitted his guilt and resigned immediately. Hamilton claimed innocence but was forced to resign five days later, on October 25, 1994.

Hamilton brought legal action against The Guardian regarding a case of libel. Hamilton joined Ian Greer, a parliamentary lobbyist as a co-plaintiff.  But September 30, 1996, one day prior to the start of the trial, Hamilton and Greer settled, citing a conflict of interest and lack of funds. They each paid £7500 towards The Guardian's legal costs. All the "cash-for-questions" evidence was sent to Sir Gordon Downey, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.

Before this Hamilton had enjoyed a 16,000 vote majority in his Tatton, Cheshire, constituency, making it the fourth safest Tory seat in Great Britain.  Determined to stand again, he was adopted by the Tatton Tories for the 1997 election, though not without dissent. BBC war correspondent Martin Bell announced he would stand against Hamilton as an independent, Labour and Lib dems withdrew to give Bell a clear run, and he beat Hamilton by a resounding 11,000 votes. The seemingly bizarre offer of support to Hamilton by followers of LM magazine (formerly the Revolutionary Communist Party) does not seem to have impressed the Tatton voters, though it may have marked a milestone in this group's impressive career path towards niche Establishment jobs.

It might have seemed like the end for Neil Hamilton's political career. Unlike the late John Profumo who sought to scrub off disgrace by plunging into good deeds and social work, the Hamilton's found a new forte in entertainment, appearing in a number of shows and TV programmes which might have made them figures of fun but also helped obscure their less than lovable side from those who had either forgotten or been too young to know about their politics.

Meanwhile, the couple moved to Wiltshire, where they bought a big house, and began getting into politics again. In September 2011, Hamilton attended UKIP's annual conference and let it be known that he was available. The party's leader Nigel Farage pledged to support him in the election for the National Executive Committee, and  Hamilton was elected to the committee on November 1, 2011. We shall be interested to see how he gets on now.

See also:
The Weird and Wonderful World of ex-Tory MP Neil Hamilton


Thursday, May 02, 2013

Tell corrupt Iraqi regime to take its hands off trade union brother!


HASSAN JUMA'A  leader of the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions is facing a potential jail sentence when he appears in a Basra court on Sunday, May 4, chrged with ‘Overstepping the Duties of a Public Official’. His ‘crime’ is organising protests and building union strength in opposition to oil privatisation, and standing up to anti-union Baath regime legislation which the Occupation and successive Iraqi governments have upheld since 2003.  

Journalist, campaigner and Unite union activist EWA JASIEWICZ met Hassan Juma'a in Iraq, and helped bring him to Britain to meet trade inionists and peace campaigners. Appointd by the Iraqi oil union as its international representative Ewa worked with Iraq Occupation Focus and the oil industry-focussed group Platform on the Hands Off Iraqi Oil campaign, supporting Iraqi oil workers resistance to the big Western oil companies and privatisation. Ewa has written about her friendship with Hassan, and the background to his court case, in this guest blog for Platform.

I first met Hassan 10 years ago in Basra. It was six months since the invasion and the fall of some echelons of the regime – others were being recycled into the service of the Occupation. I'd heard about strikes in the Oil Sector and travelled down to Basra to check out was happening. I was excited that class struggle was challenging imperialism in such a direct and collective and open way, after so many decades of repressive dictatorship.

But I was wary. Who was behind these unions? Were there Baathists at the helm? What were their politics? Baathist yellow unions were still around and I had no intention of supporting them. Meeting Hassan and the other men and women fronting up the Southern Oil Company Union I was struck by the diversity of the steering committee. Communists, Islamists, younger and older activists. All were anti-regime – Hassan himself had been jailed three times under Saddam – and all were anti-occupation. They knew exactly what the invasion had been focused on – oil, support for Israel, widening western influence in the region, weakening Iran, imposing corporate rule and fomenting sectarianism to achieve this.

Hassan’s wife was Sunni, he was Shia. This had never come up in all the months I spent with his family – six children, 3 boys and 3 girls – during the many evenings in his humble, deteriorating stone house in Jhoumouria, a working class district in Northern Basra. We drank sweet thick tea, boiled on the stove all day, and ate fresh naan-like bread with fried-to-a-pulp tomatoes. We talked about the new Bremer Orders, anti-union managers, how to garner international support, how to organise, what was Privatisation going to mean? And about the Baathist security apparatus employees that were now working as security guards for the new mercenary companies crawling all over Iraq.

I found out about the ‘difference’ between Abu and Om Ali when were on a trip to Scotland to meet Fire Brigades Union leaders. Hassan joked that under the occupation administration’s agenda, he should kill his wife ! Such was the level of sectarian rhetoric and policy being pushed in the country. For Hassan and the SOC Union, unity at work and unity nationwide were key priorities. It was common to hear ‘We do not recognise these categories, Sunna and Shia, the Occupation brought them – we are Iraqis’.

Hassan enjoyed his visits to the UK. He stayed in my home when I lived in Manchester and we visited Manchester United’s Old Trafford stadium where his message of support in Arabic can still be found in the visitor’s book. Comrades from the then Transport and General Workers Union in Salford were fascinated by him. ‘Whass his name again? Nessun Dorma?’ The nickname stuck.

From an original founding membership of about a hundred, the Union grew to a federation of over 23,000 workers. Links were made with unions in the Kurdish north. Joint co-ordinating meetings became common-place. Anti-privatisation conferences where papers examining the agendas of the likes of Shell and BP were presented and links with international trade unions and NGOs were developed.

"... to me, and so many others, he was and is, a working class hero" 

                                       Ewa Jasiewicz

The SOC Union grew to become the General Union of Oil Employees and later the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions and a front of working class resistance to the western aims of privatising and controlling Iraq’s oil. An Oil Law, part drafted by and hard-lobbied for by the biggest oil companies in the world, has still not been passed, due to popular resistance. Oil experts, some political parties and Islamic scholars had their role in making sure it would not pass but it was also the visible, loud and determined street and workplace protests of the oil and other trade unions that established a public, common interest in keeping Iraq’s oil in the hands of the Iraqi people.

The Production Sharing Agreement – the PSA – is an unknown entity in the UK and arguably all over the world, but a household terms and a red hot potato in Iraq. The neutral and fluffy sounding contract that private oil companies crave to secure decades of control over public resources became emblazoned across banners and placards all over the country, in large part due to awareness raising by the IFOU, with the help of social justice and environmental campaigners from the global North, like Platform in London. Who would have thought that this secretive, codified, technocratic ‘thing’ that is the PSA was become a shouted-out, negated, we-know-your-game public enemy?

Abu Ali, or Hassan Jumaa, was a well respected figure in the community, as someone who had supported the families and widows of those killed under the Baath regime and in the wars with Iran and the West. He was often inscrutable. Never a word wasted. Every word counted under the regime because the wrong one could be your last one. He played his cards close to his chest. But he also had a killer sense of humour and was often hilarious and irreverent. For some in Basra he was an ardent communist, for others, an Islamist. Rumours flew. But to me, and so many others, he was and is, a working class hero, a community, workplace and country-wide activist for social and economic justice and liberation.

Real liberation, human, class-struggle liberation that sees all resources and the environment as a commons to be respected. These were and are the politics of the IFOU – developed through an understanding of Iraq’s anti-colonial history, Islamic economics and Islamic social principles, communism and on-the-ground organising in the face of dictatorship, war and occupation. These are the politics – the politics of a commons – that are so dangerous to Power which seeks to dominate, divide and denigrate people who get ‘in the way’ of capital. It’s no wonder that the Iraqi government, the subcontractor of Western imperialism, is cracking down on mass, participatory movements – like the trade union movement – that challenges its’ anti-social agenda.
Last week, I met an Iraqi shop-owner in Warsaw, we had a chat over the cumin and dates. We talked about his family in Baghdad, and how bad the situation was. I told him about the Union and Hassan and how he might end up in Jail. Saeed, the shop owner, was not shocked. ‘For challenging the oil companies? Of course he is going to Jail, aaadi, normal’. I looked back at him glumly. He continued, matter-of-fact but up-beat. ‘No really, it’s normal, he will go, directly, ah, but its ok’.
The ‘ok’ being the so common ‘T’awodna’ – ‘we got used to it’ ethos – that you hear all over the Arab world in response to bloody and harrowing struggles that never end, and which steadfastness holds out over. But it isnt ok. And there’s a real risk it will happen.

Dozens of unions worldwide have endorsed the solidarity pledge for Hassan, thousands have signed a petition and there was a snowy protest at the Iraqi embassy in Warsaw (a one-woman protest if I’m honest. My Polish friends joked this a ‘medium sized protest for Poland. A small one is just over facebook and the web. Nah you did well’ they said). There will be solidarity observers at Hassan’s trial and his comrades in all Union in Iraq will be watching too. The story should be news but the ‘what bleeds leads’ agenda still rules when it comes to the Mainstream Media.

We need to be prepared for more punitive and repressive actions against trade unionists in Iraq and to respond to them with solidarity and support. The game of divide and rule is still being violently played out on the bodies and in the communities of ordinary people all over the country. Death and imprisonment are still key tools of censorship in the hands of Iraq’s and all governments. The battle for justice and liberation is far from over and we can’t forget the working class heroes in Iraq still fighting the occupation of capital and designs of imperial powers.

SHOW YOUR SUPPORT: Get your organisation or union to sign on to US Labor Against War’s letter to the Iraqi Prime Minister
Protest at your local Iraqi Embassy, and let us know about it!

Oil workers leader facing jail sentence

STOP PRESS!  Change of Dates -
Hassan's case is postponed until SUNDAY MAY 19th now. This is the second time it has been postponed. Has the Iraqi government found it difficult making its case?  The Ministry of Oil has not provided the Southern Oil Company with any 'evidence' against Hassan. The judge also reminded the SOC that protest is allowed under the Iraqi constitution.  Our protest now postponed till MONDAY May 20th

21 Queen's Gate London, Greater London SW7 5JE

Hassan Jumaa Awad is the leader of the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions. He is facing up to 3 years in prison for 'overstepping the boundaries of a public official' for 'organising strikes and protests' against Oil privatisation, occupation and attacks on workers' terms and conditions in the oil sector. He is in court in Basra on Sunday May 5th. This protest is in solidarity with him and the thousands of Iraqi workers who are forbidden from organising, have had their unions ruled illegal and are fighting back under an ongoing Occupation. The Iraqi government still bans Unions in the Public Sector - Iraqi Unions want this lifted.

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