Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Is it Murphy's Law for Labour in Scotland?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(On the other hand, see:

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

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Monday, October 27, 2014

Mr.Farage Finds a Friend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Blood and Oil on the Tarmac

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monday, October 20, 2014

Police and Blacklists:. Hand in Glove

HOW LAING O'ROURKE HANDLE PROTEST. Dave Smith of the Blacklist Support Group being removed after trying to make his point at construction firm's Dartford headquarters

WORKERS fighting against the blacklist in the building industry are angry that the Metropolitan Police would  ‘neither confirm nor deny’  that Special Branch and undercover cops have been snooping on the Construction Support Group.

Phil Chamberlain, an investigative journalist whose work led to the Information Commissioner's raid on the employer-funded Consulting Association, causing it to close in 2009, had made a Freedom of Information request for “copies of any files held by the Metropolitan Police (including Special Branch) on the organisation called the Blacklist Support Group. This is a group campaigning for the rights of those refused work because of their union activities.”

The Metropolitan Police Service S responded on October 9 that it was in the “public interest” for them to refuse to “confirm or deny in order to safeguard national security” the existence of files on the Blacklist Support Group. It did though admit it held information that “some information is held that may ‘relate’ to the Blacklist Support Group.”

The raid on the Consulting Association, a successor to the notorious right-wing Economic League, revealed that data was illegally stored on thousands of people, concerning their personal and family  life and trade union or political activities. Not all were building workers. The companies who subscribed to this service were also interested in environmental campaigners. They also apparently discussed what could be done about a Glasgow university who reported unfavourably on safety in the North Sea oil industry after the Piper Alpha disaster.

But building workers were particularly vulnerable because of the nature of the industry. What has happened is that a trade unionist who tries to organise colleagues on a site, attends meetings, or simply tries to raise concern over health and safety issues at work, is not only liable to be victimised, but becomes the subject of a secret report which follows him or her through life. They can no longer get a job even when there is work about, and of course their families suffer.

If the Special Branch or undercover cops are spying on those who campaign against the blacklist, then as has been revealed in the Stephen Lawrence case, the police have been pursuing the families of the victims of crime, rather than the perpetrators.

As for the claim that they cannot admit anything or disclose documents, on "national security" grounds, this is the very same pretext that government has been using for refusing to release documents on the Shrewsbury building worker pickets that were jailed.

It is as good as an admission that so far as police and the state are concerned, workers who fight for their rights are still what Thatcher called them, that is us, the Enemy Within.

It has been evident all along that whatever the law may say, and whatever we may be told about "equality before the law" and the police force being neutral, the state and private sectors of the snooping industry have been working hand and glove.

A Commons Select Committee investigation found that the undercover police unit known as the National Extremism Tactical Coordination Unit (NETCU) attended and gave powerpoint presentations to meetings of the Consulting Association blacklisting organisation. The head of the covert blacklisting organisation, which was financed and controlled by major construction companies, was prosecuted for holding illegally files on construction workers. Construction firms paid on a case-by-case basis for frequently inaccurate information contained in these files.

The difference between this and the police activity is that whereas the bosses paid for the Consulting Association and private detectives etc, we the public are expected to pay for the Special Branch and other agencies to spy on ourselves!  And we are not allowed to see the results. It is evident from some of the Consulting Association files revealed that their material did not just concern workplace activity or come from employers sharing information.

 The Metropolitan Police service notes there was a pre-agreed police line on queries about the Consulting Association.   “IF ASKED: is it true that NETCU shared information with the Consulting Association? We do not discuss matters of intelligence.”

Supt Steve Pearl, who ran NECTU, is now a director at Agenda Security Services, which provides employment vetting services. His former boss, ex-Assistant Chief Constable Anton Setchell, who was the senior police officer in charge of the UK police domestic extremism machinery between 2004 and 2010, is currently head of global security at Laing O’Rourke – one of the construction companies subscribing to the Consulting Association.

 Following exposure of how the police Special Demonstrations Squad and other secret units conducted undercover - and under- the -covers   - spying on women activists, the High Court ruled in September against them using the "neither confirm nor deny" formula. Some women currently suing the Metropolitan Police are also on the Consulting Association blacklist.

But it seems the Met  are in no hurry to clear up speculation and answer allegations concerning their collaboration with the bosses' blacklist. Blacklist Support Group secretary Dave Smith is one of a
 number of campaigners who have been refused copies of their own personal police files.

Dave says: “It is without doubt that the police and security services are spying on trade unionists fighting for justice on the issue of blacklisting. They have colluded with big business to deliberately target trade unionism over decades. Shrewsbury, Orgreave, blacklisting; the list goes on and on. The refusal to provide any information whatsoever smacks of an establishment cover-up. Blacklisting is no longer an industrial relations issue: it is a human rights conspiracy.”

Besides seeking legal redress from companies which blacklisted him and others, Dave continues to publicise the issues,  and has asked friends to share the photograph above of what happened when he went with fellow-campaigners to the headquarters of the big construction giant Laing O'Rourke recently.

Safe in their hands

VIGIL FOR RICHARD LACO,  killed on Laing O'Rourke site.
As I've said, blacklisting is often linked  to another issue in the building trade, and that is safety, or the lack of it. The accident rate can even go up when times are hard, because bosses are anxious to cut corners and be competitive, firms push bogus self-employment making workers responsible for their own protection, and workers fear speaking up about conditions and ways of working will result in their being singled out as "troublemakers".

Certainly many of those who found themselves on the Consulting Association files appear to have committed the "offence" of becoming safety reps.  Yet with already insufficient HSE inspections being hit by cuts, the government of Old Etonian toffs who have never done a day's work proclaiming building and other industries "safe", and even regulations like those on asbestos being undermined, the need for workers to organise, and protect their safety at work, has never been greater.

Anyway, seeing that photo of the brother being manhandled from Laing O'Rourke's headquarters reminded me of another protest, that I attended.

 It is almost a year since Richard Laco, a 31 year old labourer, was killed by falling steel and concrete on a Laing O'Rourke site at Kings Cross. 

Union officers revealed they had not been allowed on site, where the company has
a £600 million contract to build the Crick medical research centre. Nor were Richard Laco's workmates allowed off site to join a vigil outside the gate. The management claimed they were holding their own event on site, but Richard's gilfriend was not allowed in, and had to plant her wreath of flowers with others at the gate.

Five years ago Laing O'Rourke were fined over the August 2005 death of a worker at Heathrow. The firm was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive along with SGB Services Ltd, a supplier of construction equipment. Both pleaded guilty to breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act. Laing O’Rourke Infrastructure Ltd was fined £75,000 and ordered to pay £75,000 costs. SGB Services Ltd was fined £30,000 and ordered to pay £30,000 in costs.

Matthew Gilbert, a 27-year-old carpenter from Plymouth and a 21-year-old engineer’s assistant, Parminder Singh, from Slough, had been standing on a concrete slab when it collapsed and fell 17 metres to the level below. Gilbert was killed in the collapse, while Singh suffered extensive scarring, along with a broken back, broken leg and a broken jaw.

The court heard that SGB failed to ensure Threaded Shoring Adaptors, TSAs which they supplied were able to carry maximum loads. The company had carried on supplying defective TSAs despite a recall programme, and two of these failed, causing the concrete slab to collapse. The HSE investigation also found that Laing O’Rourke Infrastructure Ltd failed to have adequate systems in place to inspect the quality and condition of the TSAs before they were used in safety-critical applications, and had failed to remove sub-standard TSAs from use when warned.

HSE Inspector Karen Morris said: “The tragic death of one man and the serious injuries suffered by his colleague could have been prevented if both companies had had more robust systems in place. “This case demonstrates an extremely serious failure of both the principal contractor and the supplier to ensure the materials they supplied for the work were fit for purpose.”
Another Laing O'Rourke worker was killed at Heathrow at the beginning of October. Philip Andrew Griffiths, 38, who had been working on the airport's terminal 2 car park on night shift, was hit by a dumper truck that was being used to move a broken down hoist. 

A Met Police spokesperson said: “Police were called by London Ambulance Service at 04:46hrs on Thursday, 2 October to Cayley Road, close to the Ground Floor Car Park at Terminal 2, Heathrow Airport, following reports of a road traffic collision.  “Officers attended and found a man in his thirties suffering serious injuries following a collision with a truck".  The victim died shortly before 5.45.
HSE officials say they are investigating.  The £77 million Terminal 2 car park is near completion

Laing O'Rourke say they are aiming to eliminate all accidents not just the fatal ones on their sites.
Perhaps they genuinely are.  But I'd sooner trust workers' self organisation, trade unionism, and safety representatives, along with campaigning for a change in policy and government, for that "health and safety culture" that David Cameron and his friends despise.

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Thursday, October 16, 2014

For Kobani, Kurdish freedom, and International Solidarity

PKK FIGHTER. Women as well as men have will to fight, but not always the weapons. And as they face ISIS, Turkish NATO forces attack their back. 

The militant Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) has expressed its solidarity with the Kurdish resistance in Kobani struggling to defend themselves and their community from the reactionary Islamicist armed group, ISIS, which it says was ennabled to enter the Middle East region by the support it received from imperialist powers and their lackeys.

Khaled Barakat of the PFLP called on “All Palestinian and Arab revolutionary forces to unify their efforts to support the struggle of the Kurdish resistance in Kobane against ISIS and their imperialist supporters.”

"People in Syria, Iraq and everywhere in the region have been under attack by imperialism – an attack that comes not only through air strikes and occupation, but through the support of reactionary regional powers, through the promotion of sectarianism, and through reactionary armed groups carrying out a program of sectarian chaos. They have sought to replace the central conflict in the region: that of the people with Zionism and imperialism, with sectarianism and the imposition of massive, reactionary violence against minority groups who are an integral part of the region, while these same reactionary armed groups leave the Zionist state and imperialist forces untouched."

For once I agree with the PFLP, and I'm inclined to accept their support for the Kurds as genuine. Some years ago at a conference in Vienna, attended by many high-powered Arab and pro-Palestinian delegations, I arose somewhat nervously during a session on nuclear and chemical weapons, to point out that the latter had already been used in the Middle East. "Yes, against the Kurds!"  exclaimed someone from the large PFLP delegation (which included famous 'plane hijacker Leila Khaled), to murmurs of assent. So I knew I was not alone, and need not feel hesitant about the point I was making.

Having armed Saddam Hussein's Iraqi regime with all they could, Western powers were reluctant to admit that he had gassed Kurds at Halabja, until years later when they wanted excuses to invade Iraq and it suited them to remember.  Then one of the places the US managed to bomb too was Halabja.

The situation in Syria and northern Iraq now is complex, but it's good to see the PFLP for one not turning away, nor letting their justified suspicion of imperialist aims and motives serve as an excuse for not taking sides, and ignoring the basic right of the Kurdish people and others to fight to survive, and expect solidarity. 

 Here is a letter which Labour MP Diane Abbott received from one of her north London constituents:

 Dear Diane,

I am a British Kurd living the UK. Kurds in West Kurdistan ‘Rojava’ are being attacked by the barbaric gang ISIS or ‘Islamic State’. Right now in Rojava town Kobani, ISIS has nearly entered the city. There have been heavy clashes and Kurds are not stepping down as they have no choice but to fight for their livelihood. It is a matter of hours that a mass murder by this gang is waiting to happen. It is very important that Kobani town is helped by the International military coalition.

Dear Diane, as an elected member parliament in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and my elected representative, I ask you to act now on the name of humanity. Kurds are the only secular, society who respect international laws and uphold the universal human right values. Humanity is under attacks not just Kobani. I beg you as a fellow human being and I know that you can change this. Please ask our PM, Mr Cameron to instruct our military forces to assist Kobani. Please tell Turks not to help ISIS. Yours truly, etc.
Many Kurds from Turkey live in Diane Abbott's Hackney North and Stoke Newington constituency, and many of them support the Kurdistan Workers Party, PKK, whose fighters have gone to the aid of Yezidi refugees and are supporting those fellow Kurds fighting in Rogava, and resisting ISIS siege of Kobani.

Yet the Turkish government, with which the PKK had been negotiating, after ceasing its armed struggle in Turkey, has launched its own raids against Kurds in Rogava, used its forces to prevent Kurdish fighters crossing into Syria, and bombed Kurdish targets in Turkey. Turkey is a NATO member. So is it not helping ISIS?

The British and other NATO governments still list the PKK as a "terrorist" organisation, if only to please Turkey. Diane Abbott herself has in the past asked whether the then Labour government intended to arrest hundreds of her otherwise law-abiding constituents for their political sympathies. The Home Secretary said that was ridiculous. But now I have seen quote attributed to Diane Abbott to the effect that arming the PKK would be no different to arming and supporting ISIS. I have not been able to verify whether the MP said anything as foolish. But I can easily answer the assertion.

One, if anyone wants to know the difference between ISIS and the PKK or any of the Kurdish parties, just check which direction the refugees have been moving. The second difference is that from what we have seen of the conflict so far, someone has already been arming and training ISIS - with mainly American equipment. Directing some weapons and aid to the poorly-equipped Kurdish fighters woul only be making up some of the difference.

While what is left of the once massively supported Stop the War Coalition has, true to form, staged demonstrations against Western intervention without saying a word in support of the Kurds, Yazidis, Christians or secular, progressive Iraqis, the national executive of the National Union of Students found itself called upon to debate a motion on the issue. According to Daniel Lemberger Cooper, who sits on the NUS NEC:

The “Iraqi solidarity” motion had been worked on with Roza Salih, a Strathclyde university student of Kurdish descent (she submitted an almost identical motion to the Scottish equivalent of the executive, the Scottish Executive Council, which I will post later, which, incidentally, did pass! One must ask Scottish executive members why vote for a motion in Scotland, but not in England?!).

"The motion was opposed by Malia Bouattia, the NUS Black Students’ Officer, for astonishing and bewildering reasons. Bouattia argued that the motion was “Islamophobic” and “pro USA intervention” ...Apparently another NEC member, Aaron Kiely, tweeted during the debate to say how marvellous Bouattia's speech was. " The motion then fell as large numbers of NEC members either abstained or voted against (including the bulk of the political Left on NEC). I think this says a lot about the current state of the student movement."

Not being well up on the internal politics of the NUS, but wary that Daniel might be giving a slanted account of the arguments, I looked at the actual resolution:

Iraqi/Kurdish solidarity

Proposed: Daniel Cooper.  Seconded: Shreya Paudel, Clifford Fleming

NUS NEC notes

1. The ongoing humanitarian crisis and sectarian polarisation in Iraq
- which has resulted in thousands of Yazidi Kurds being massacred.

NUS NEC believes

1. That the people of Iraq have suffered for years under the sectarian
and brutally repressive dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, the US/UK
invasion and occupation, the current sectarian regime linked to both
the US and Iran, and now the barbaric repression of the “Islamic
State” organisation.

2. That rape and other forms of sexual violence are being used as
weapons against women in IS-occupied areas, while minorities are being
ethnically cleansed.

NUS NEC resolves

1. To work with the International Students' Campaign to support Iraqi,
Syrian and other international students in the UK affected by this

2. To campaign in solidarity with the Iraqi people and in particular
support the hard-pressed student, workers' and women's organisations
against all the competing nationalist and religious-right forces.

3. To support Iraqis trying to bridge the Sunni-Shia divide to fight
for equality and democracy, including defence of the rights of the
Christian and Yazidi-Kurd minorities.

4. To condemn the IS and support the Kurdish forces fighting against
it, while expressing no confidence or trust in the US military

5. Encourage students to boycott anyone found to be funding the IS or
supplying them with goods, training, travel or soldiers.

6. To make contact with Iraqi and Kurdish organisations, in Iraq and
in the UK, in order to build solidarity and to support refugees.

7. To issue a statement on the above basis.

I can see nothing "Islamophobic" or "pro-imperialist" in this, nor does it owe anything to a "Western narrative",  as the opponents claimed. If anyone felt it did not go far enough in denouncing US or British motives I am sure a simple amendment would have sufficed, rather than Britain's student union turning its back on the Kurds and effectively siding with ISIS. Perhaps some NUS NEC members fancy themselves more principled and doughty fighters against imperialism than the PFLP, but hopefully more students will have something to say about this.

Although some more important left-wing movements in other countries are supporting the Kurdish struggle, it seems reluctance to do so is not confined to the British Left. Among the dishonourable episodes of the Stop the War Coalition here was when a group of Iranian comrades set out from Birmingham to march to London and take part in an anti-war rally, only to be told they could not have five minutes to speak from the platform because, being, refugees, they did not support the Islamicist regime in Iran.

So I was not entirely surprised to hear that in Australia, a group called Socialist Alternative, with roots not dissimilar to some of the Stop the War Coalition leadership, was opposed to opening anti-war platforms to speakers representing immigrants from Kurdistan.

If we want to build principled working class internationalism we have a lot of wok to do.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

One small step - but an important one

 MPs at Westminster have voted overwhelmingly for recognition of a state of Palestine. The vote does not mean any immediate change in British government policy, but the government cannot ignore it. The vote reflects a seismic shift in public opinion set off by the Israeli onslaught on Gaza, and increased awareness of the effects of Israeli blockade and occupation.

Though a minority of MPs have a good and principled record on Palestine, others must have considered the effect, if any, on their election prospects next year, before deciding to turn this into a majority. Yet only a dozen MPs opposed - six Tories, six Democratic Unionists from Ulster, and one Liberal Democrat. 

For the Palestinians, the price has been high, in blood and suffering, and the reward is limited.  It of course calls only for a Palestinian state alongside Israel, and says nothing about the Right of Return. The state it recognises has yet to be achieved in practice. Israeli occupation forces control people's movements in the West Bank, the Palestinian parliament is unable to meet, and Palestinian police cannot stop the IDF's raids on homes or halt the rampages of settlers.

For the Israeli government and its lobbyists, the Commons vote is a serious rebuff, and a rebuke for its consistent policies of taking away the territorial basis of Palestinian statehood, and relying on its allies internationally to block recognition.   We might note however that an impressive array of prominent Israelis wrote to British MPs at the weekend supporting the call for recognition, though their Labour Party didn't.

Though this vote was one small step for humanity, it was an important one, not least for British Labour.  In 1983 the Labour Party withstood the tide of feeling over Lebanon and massacres at Sabra and Shatila, lining up alongside Shimon Peres and Israeli Labour to oppose the invitation to Issam Sartawi of the PLO to address the Socialist International. When they failed it was left to Abu Nidal's gunman to silence Sartawi.

This motion from Labour's Grahame Morris was supported by Labour leader Ed Miliband - whose mother incidentally is a supporter of Jews for Justice for Palestinians. Grahame Morris said it was right to take the “small but symbolically important” step of recognising the Palestinian right to statehood.

Although there were the usual whinges from some quarters and attempts to play down the vote's importance from others, it is clear that the result  upset the Israeli government and gratified Palestinians.
Warning his government that it should not underestimate the significance of the British vote, Michael Oren, a former ambassador to the US said it was more important than the Swedish government's decision to recognise Palestine.  “Britain is a member of the UN security council. The Palestinians are going to the UN in November and they want at least nine votes in the security council (to force Israel to commit to a timeline for withdrawing from the West Bank). There is a chance America will abstain, but a lot of it is up to us. “Britain is one of our closest friends and allies, and still 274 parliament members supported the (non-binding) movement, with only 12 objecting". 

Dr Hanan Ashrawi, an elected Palestinian MP and executive member of the PLO, said: “On behalf of the Palestinian people and its leadership, I would like to thank everyone who worked to bring about this vote. The recognition of Palestine and its people is both a principled decision and a significant step towards justice and peace.”

She continued: “Our right to self-determination has never been up to negotiations. The recognition of Palestine is not contingent upon on the outcome of negotiations with Israel and certainly not something we will trade for; this claim is not only unfair, but immoral.”

“This vote sends the right message to the British government and the rest of Europe – it will enhance the European voices calling for the recognition of the state of Palestine and will create the right environment for the international community to grant the Palestinian people legal parity and rights.

“We would like to thank the British people, the thousands who lobbied their members in parliament, and the religious leaders, trade unions, artists, and civil society at large who stood up in the name of justice. We would also like to thank those Israelis who courageously called upon the British parliament to recognise the state of Palestine.”

In London, Bernard Regan of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, who is also a leading member of the National Union of Teachers,  commented on Facebook (extracts):

" The vote in Parliament for the recognition of a Palestinian state was overwhelming 274 For - 12 Against.Of course it does not bind the Government to any form of action but it reflects the sea change in attitudes amongst the public about the plight of the Palestinians and the actions of the Israeli Government.

"No one should be starry eyed about this - but it is an important statement about recognising the rights of the Palestinian people to self-determination. No one should have illusions that this will make the Israeli Government buckle and rush to the negotiating table but it will be a breach in the wall if Britain - hitherto an uncritical supporter of Israel and backer of the United States - breaks ranks and translates this expression of opinion into political practice - ending the arms sales for a start.

"This vote belongs to the Palestinian people - it belongs to all those who have been campaigning over the decades inside historic Palestine and internationally. In Britain the Palestine Solidarity Campaign has been an important contributor to this process - as Richard Burden said - the views of trade unions and bodies like PSC were important in shifting public opinion.

"It's a cliché but of course we now have to step up the campaign including giving support to those inside Israel who courageously opposed the war on Gaza and protested against the Government of their country.

"Let's celebrate this moment - without deluding ourselves and then let's get on and build the mass campaign. Solidarity with the Palestinian people."

I'll drink to that.

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Sunday, October 12, 2014

A Tale of Two Cities

"HANDS OFF DEMOCRACY!" banner outside the mother of all parliaments. Fears TTIP shifts more power to big business interests.

 IF you happen to meet a supporter of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), or you know someone who is thinking of voting for it, ask them what they think about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

Come to think of it, you could put the question to anyone coming to your door from any of the political parties.

TTIP is the deal being cooked up between European Union and North American governments to "boost trade and jobs", so we are told by the media, though if its aims are so positive and beneficial,  it is strange that we don't hear more about it. You would think that in these times of austerity, falling incomes and promises of more cuts, politicians would be missing no opportunity to tell us how marvellous it is, and there would be extended coverage with film of happy workers making stuff, in the media.

I don't know whether TTIP was a major topic at any of the party conferences taking place in recent weeks, but it did get  a brief mention on TV yesterday with the news that people would be demonstrating because "They" believed that the agreement being negotiated would make it harder to resist privatisation of health and education services, or protect the environment.

This comes on a weekend when all the media were saying how well UKIP had done in by-elections, by coming second to Labour in Middleton and Heywood, and keeping the Clacton seat of a Tory MP who had defected to them. We know that, besides the votes of those who get carried along with the stream and have only a vague idea about what party's policies are, UKIP benefits by people readily accepting that all their problems, real and imagined, can be blamed on immigrants and foreigners.
After all that only fits what they are told week in and week out by tabloid newspapers.

When established politicians do their best to convince people that there's nothing wrong with the economic system, and the banks must be appeased, it's no wonder many look elsewhere for issues, or try to put up with austerity by arguing who should be excluded from the queue. Add to this a disillusion with politicians, and the corporate media can persuade them to back an "ordinary bloke" like Nigel Farage as an "outsider", when all the time he's really rich and one of theirs.

But now, here's an odd thing. The United Kingdom Independence Party, like those patriotic newspapers, might say it is championing the right of true born Brits, or more especially English people, to run their own affairs, and not be "ruled" from Brussels, where we do have some Members, including UKIP members, seated, or at least claiming their expenses, in the European Parliament.  But far less, if anything, has been heard about what they would do to stop voters wishes and elected governments being over-ruled by the lawyers working for powerful companies, and bypassing our own courts. Be it over "fracking", hospital services, food legislation or minimum wages, TTIP would give big business, particularly American big business  the upper hand. Governments which did not back down would have to pay billions from the public purse.

  As a taste of what's to come US companies using an existing procedure have been able to sue governments 127 times,    Cases range from Egypt being taken to court for setting a "too high" minimum wage to tobacco giant Philip Morris (which once hired Margaret Thatcher as a lobbyist) suing authorities in Australia over plain packet legislation. 

Meanwhile in Dublin....

PAUL MURPHY.  Socialist elected to the Dail.
Some good news, which coming from over the Irish Sea, might not be widely reported in the media here in the UK. 

Paul Murphy, standing for the Anti-Austerity Alliance, and a member of the Socialist Party in Ireland, has won the Dublin South-West by-election. Initially running almost neck-and-neck with Sinn Fein, and ahead of the usual 'main' parties - including Labour -the Socialist candidate gained the lead when electors second choice votes were counted. After the distribution of the votes of eliminated candidates Paul had 9,565 votes and Sinn Féin's Cathal King had 8,999.

A very important part of the election campaign was an ongoing fight against the imposition of water charges. Yesterday there was a mass anti-water charge demo of up to 100,000 in Dublin. But while running for the Anti-Austerity Alliance which the Socialist Party helped to form, Paul Murphy is not just a 'single issue' or community campaigner.  Previously a Socialist MEP for Dublin until defeated by Sinn Fein, he made his name campaigning on both social and international issues, and took part in the Freedom Flotilla to Gaza.

The Socialist Party in Ireland is affiliated to the Committee for a Workers International, like the Socialist Party in England and Wales, ex-'Militant' tendency as was. With Paul Murphy's election  there are now three members of the Socialist Party in the Dáil, the Irish parliament, as Paul joins Joe Higgins and Ruth Coppinger.

Whatever our differences with the Socialist Party, or the differences between the electoral systems in Ireland and Britain, the election of an openly left-wing candidate, trusted by the voters, and triumphing over the more traditional parties, is something for all of us on the Left to celebrate, and draw encouragement from. Which is probably why we won't be hearing much about it from the media over here. 
The results for each round of counting can be seen at:
Irish Times - Paul Murphy shocks Sinn Féin's Cathal King in Dublin South West:

See also

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Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Remembering for our future

REMEMBERED.  Blair Peach, above, and on union banner

It is thirty years since Margaret Thatcher's government unleahed the police on Britain's miners, and two films now going around, 'Pride' and 'Still the Enemy Within' recall that year of struggle. 

"The Enemy Within" was of course the expression Thatcher used about the miners, and  we now know she intended to use it about the miners and the Labour movement in a public speech if the IRA Brighton bomb had not caused a slight change of plans.  Seems ironic that Thatcher had been briefed this way about Neil Kinnock and his advisers, while Kinnock was listening to those who said the working class and its struggles were over.

Thatcher is dead, but the struggle against the forces she represented goes on. The exposure of how police, press and prime minister lied about Hillsborough has spurred the demand for truth about the Battle of Orgreave.   'Still the Enemey Within'  challenges us to look again at our past so that in the words of one miner, “we can still seek to do something about the future”. 

In 'Who Killed Blair Peach?', David Renton takes up the thread of politics, police brutality and lies from the past, not thirty but thirty five years ago, to be precise, St.George's Day, April 23, 1979, just over a week before the general election which brought Thatcher's Tory government in.
James Callaghan, former Home Secretary, and before that Parliamentary Adviser to the Police Federation, was still prime minister.  Merlyn Rees was Home Secretary.  In Southall, west London, an area whose large population of Asian origin had become used to fighting off racist attacks,  the far-right National Front had booked the town hall for a meeting.

People had tried petitioning the authorities to stop the National Front coming to Southall. On the Sunday, April 22,  5,000 people marched on Ealing town hall with a petition signed by 10,000 urging the local authority to deny the NF the use of council premises.  When the protesters encountered a bunch of young white racists shouting abuse, police arrested a young Asian lad who'd sworn back at the racists.

On Monday, April 23,  many shops and businesses on Southall High street closed for the afternoon,  and several factories in the area were also shut by workers walking out to join the protest against the fascists.  People thought they could block the streets to stop the NF reaching the town hall.  Anti-fascists, supporters of the Anti-Nazi League from other parts of London were coming to reinforce them.

But the police, several thousand of them, with armoured vehicles and including members of the Special Patrol Group, took control of the centre of Southall. 

Blair Peach, a New Zealander teaching in a special needs school in London's East End, elected president of the East London Teachers Association in 1978, a member of the Socialist Workers Party and active anti-racist, had gone to Southall that evening with a group of friends.   As the police forced a way through the crowd for a bus carrying the National Fronters, he found himself among demonstrators pushed into a side street, Beachcroft Avenue, police coming after them. This offered no chance to retreat much further or disperse, as it only led into  Orchard Avenue and then back onto the Broadway.

Several people saw Blair hit on the back of his head by  a policeman, in Orchard Avenue.  He slumped to the ground.  A family who found him outside their house, dazed and injured, took him inside, to lie on their sofa, and phoned for an ambulance.  In hospital Blair was taken into intensive care, but  despite surgery he died at 12.30 a,m on April 24, as a result of a fractured skull.

How Blair Peach was killed, and who by, is not a secret.  On the day before his funeral his body lay in state at the Dominion cinema in Southall, and thousands queued to pay their respects.  In the years since people have commemorated his life and campaigned for justice for Blair Peach.  Yet in these same years the deployment of fully-equipped riot police has become common, the police have acquired more gear and greater powers, and they have claimed more victims.

As Susan Matthews, the mother of injured student demonstrator Alfie Meadows, writes in an introduction to this pamphlet, "... when I spoke live to the BBC World at One on 10 December 2010 after a night spent waiting to discover whether emergency brain surgery had saved the life of my 20-year old son, I found myself speaking about the death of Blair Peach".
Yet an inquest on Blair Peach in May 1980 reached a verdict of "death by misadventure".

Dave Rention came into anti-racist politics in his youth, the days of Rock Against Racism, and was impressed by the Battle of Lewisham. But Dave is also a barrister, and I'd say a good one, judging by the way I saw him demolish the representatives of a major construction company, in a test blacklisting case.

Besides carefully assembling the facts about what happened in Southall with the help of witnesses, he skilfully takes apart that 1980 inquest.  First, there was the reluctance of the coroner. John Burton, to have a jury hear the case, something only obtained in the Court of Appeal. Then there was his blatant bias, shown by constantly interrupyimg those acting for Blair Peach's family or the Anti-Nazi League, and his later memo to the Home Office  claiming the National Front and the police were blameless, and Asian witnesses were unreliable.

Above all,  neither Burton  nor the police, whose representatives cross-examined witnesses, disclosed the police's own  Cass report,which would have backed what those witnesses were saying, and made nonsense of Burton's assertion that blaming police was an "extreme" theory, on a par with suggesting one of the demonstrators might have killed Peach to make him a martyr.

It was not until April, 2010,  that Commander Cass' report was published. The officer makes clear he had little sympathy for Blair Peach's suppoters, saying his funeral had been  "akin to a political demonstration with left-wing political elements most prominent". But his report goes on to describe how police  in vehicles had gone into Beachcroft Avenue in pursuit of demonstrators, how SPG officers had dismounted to attack people, and how a Professor Bowen who carrried out the initial post-mortem thought Peach might have been struck with a police radio.  Though inclined to be skeptical about civilian witnesses - more than a dozen of whom had seen police striking Blair Peach, Cass accepts that Mrs.Balwant Atwal had given an accurate account of what she saw.   He concluded "it is now obvious that the officers concerned were Special Patrol Group".

Perusing the reports by Commander Cass and his team,  Dave Renton shows how an Inspector Murray of the SPG had left his vehicle at exactly the spot where Mrs.Atwal saw an officer strike Blair Peach. This officer initially lied about  it, and he further troubled Cass  by  having had a row with TV crew further along the road.   "Officer E was not as cool as he should have been , and the strain was showing. ...he has not given a credible account of his movements, and it s disturbing."

 On June 1 , 1980, having resigned from the Metropolitan Police, Inspector Murray gave an interview to the Sunday Times, in which he referred to the Southall demonstrators as the "loony left". and said the protest had promised to be a "tasty one". Boasting how he  and  his mates had been able to act on their own initiative, he reckoned he could always spot the ringleaders and "nasties" in a crowd.

Nobody who knew Blair Peach would recognise anything nasty or violent about the quiet New Zealander who worked patiently with vulnerable children.

Whereas we can recognise  a recurrent pattern of nastiness such as led to Blair Peach's death and the dishonesty of the inquest. In 2009 Ian Tomlinson was struck down by an officer of the Territorial Support Group, the successor to the SPG, during the G20 protests. Though this time the inquest recorded a verdict of unlawful killing, the officer was acquitted. In the case of student Alfie Meadows, a story was put around that he was hit a lump of concrete thrown by a fellow protestor, though there was no evidence for this.

From kettling to declaring protests illegal, police seem to keep discovering new powers for themselves on top of those they are given by parliament. 

As for new toys, they have tasers, and in July the Met received its first water cannon.

Dave Rention, and Defend the Right to Protest, believe that demanding a new, proper inquest  into the death of Blair Peach is important, not only for upholding Blairs memory, and forestalling any attempts to befog the truth and revise history, but to raise awareness and consciousness about the threat to our rights today.

Who Killed Blair Peach by David Renton, is available for £2.60 (inc. post and packing) from Defend the Right to Protest.

Further reading

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Sunday, October 05, 2014

Pony Express

WITH the Tories trumpeting their intention to slash benefits and tear up the European Convention on Human Rights, and their papers plainly convinced they're on a winner, we have to face two of the less pleasant features of British politics.

One is the readiness of too many people to forgive and forget whatever our rulers are doing to us, so long as we are persuaded it is doing things a damn sight worse to "them", the less deserving poor, and "foreigners"  (that category can be extended to include "the enemy within", whom Thatcher was preparing to denounce before the Brighton bombing). This is what some are satisfied and even proud to call "British justice".

The other is that whatever contrary facts or pictures of reality you try to raise will only exasperate those who are already, while waxing indignant, comfortable in their prejudice.  It is thus out of a sense of duty to their readers and viewers that some media endeavour to keep nurturing ignorance and are reluctant to admit anything which might disturb it.

As my fellow blogger Tom Pride reveals this week:

The Daily Express - like most of the UK press - doesn't like to be criticised. And - like most of the UK press - it doesn't like to give a right of reply to anyone, not even to respected organisations such as the British Red Cross.

That's why the newspaper is refusing to publish a joint letter from the British Red Cross, Refugee Action and the Refugee Council which is critical of it. This is the letter the Daily Express doesn’t want you to see. So please share it as widely as possible.

Dear Sir,

The stream of aggressive stories about asylum seekers appearing in this paper in recent days is of serious concern to all of us who work with and support people fleeing persecution.
Your readers would be forgiven for thinking the UK is being flooded by asylum seekers. This couldn’t be further from the truth, with asylum applications around the 23,000 mark a year the UK is home to less than 1 per cent of the world’s refugees and takes proportionately below the EU average.

To characterise the people housed in Folkestone as having a ‘lovely break’ by the sea that Brits would be envious of is hugely misleading and dangerous.

Asylum seekers are people who have often fled horrifying experiences in their home countries. Some have been raped. Some have been tortured. Many have witnessed the death of a loved one. Be assured, people who have suffered extreme trauma and whose lives are hanging in the balance will not be focusing on the sea view of temporary room.

There are no refugee visas available for people fleeing persecution. The fact that people are forced to travel clandestinely is recognised within the Refugee Convention and British Law. Entering Britain illegally can be a necessity; it is not an indication of the validity of someone’s asylum claim.
Additionally, appealing a refusal does not indicate someone cheating the system. Decisions on asylum claims can be life or death and the appeal overturn rate shows the Government frequently gets it wrong the first time.

Stirring up hostility against asylum seekers is as unwelcome as it is unsavoury in a country with a proud tradition of protecting refugees.

Maurice Wren, Chief Executive, Refugee Council
 Mike Adamson, Acting Chief Executive, British Red Cross
 Dave Garratt, Chief Executive, Refugee Action


Which reminds me, talking of human rights, I'm sure we'll be hearing they are safe in the Con Dem government's hands, but I wonder how the government is getting on with its Lobbying Bill, not the price of big business lobbying, but the law which besides requiring trade unions hand over lists of their members, restricts what charities like the Red Cross can spend or do on putting their views across.

That could be handy before the elections coming up.

But hang on. Besides his ownership of the Express, over whose contents he modestly disclaims control, Richard "Dirty" Desmond likes to be known for his charitable works. He started up the Health Lottery, and has even donated to the Labour Party. Perhaps he will come out against what the government is doing?  Not that I'm holding my breath.

That pony?  Pony and trap, cockney rhyming slang. 

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