Monday, 31 May 2010
Sunday, 23 May 2010
Monday, 17 May 2010
The Blair-Brown era is over. New Labour is not new any more. New Labour did fantastic things for the country but what counts is next Labour.
Speech today said Labour must look outward and forward not inward and backward. Key to winning and changing the country.
Europe is not a question of left or right, but a question of the future or the past, of strength or weakness. [...] It's about today versus yesterday. Less about politics and more about a state of mind; open as opposed to closed.
Apparently Chomsky was on his way to give a lecture at the Palestinian university in Bir Zeit when he was denied entry:
Prof Chomsky said the officials were very polite but he was denied entry because 'the government did not like the kinds of things I say and they did not like that I was only talking at Birzeit and not at an Israeli university too.'
Note that we only have Chomsky's word for the rationale behind his exclusion: handy that it aggrandises his own reputation. Note too the characteristic Chomskyan attempt to cast himself as the fearless outsider:
He added: 'I asked them if they could find any government in the world that likes the things I say.'
Well, yes, that might be difficult, now that Pol Pot and Milosevic are no longer around. But I reckon authoritarian populist Hugo Chavez is quite pleased with the things Prof. Chomsky says, and he also seems pretty popular with the theo-fascist government of Iran.
The BBC quotes the reaction of Chomsky's Palestinian host, Mustafa al-Barghouti: 'This decision is a fascist action, amounting to suppression of freedom of expression'. Well, maybe. But there's also this quote from Israeli interior ministry spokeswoman, Sabine Hadad: 'We are trying to contact the military to clear things up and if they have no objection we see no reason why he should not be allowed in'. Even Chomsky admits that the officials who denied him were 'polite'. The incident has been widely reported in the Israeli press and has been the subject of protests by the Association for Civil Right in Israel. Sound like a fascist state to you?
Of course Chomsky shouldn't have been denied entry to the West Bank, any more than that other objectionable self-publicist Geert Wilders should have been refused entry to Britain. But to present this incident as the action of a repressive state against a poor innocent scholar is at the very least disingenuous (but unfortunately rather typical) of the BBC.
Saturday, 15 May 2010
The commentators seem to agree that, contrary to expectations, this was a television rather than an internet election. But in this peculiar post-election week, when the political landscape has changed from hour to hour, the web - and Twitter in particular - has come into its own. I've been a Twitter sceptic until recently, failing to understand our teenage offspring's compulsion to tweet at regular intervals, and certainly unable to see its relevance for myself: what one earth would I tweet about, and who would be interested?
But this has been the week that micro-blogging has come into its own, especially for political obsessives like me, as journalists have used Twitter to provide minute-by-minute updates on the coalition talks, and commentators have exchanged instant reactions to events. I signed up for Twitter last Friday, and already I can't imagine doing without it (mind you, the appeal might wear off as British politics settles into something like a normal rhythm again). It's hard now to imagine getting by without my regular updates from the BBC's Laura Kuenssberg, tweeting and twit-piccing even as she broadcasts to the nation from outside No. 10. The woman is a force of nature - US readers should try to imagine NBC's Savannah Guthrie with a Glasgow accent. (Speaking of whom: Savannah interviewed the BBC's Matt Frei on The Daily Rundown the other day. He claimed he'd flown over to Washington with a senior female member of Nick Clegg's party who was on the phone with the Lib Dem leader, urging him not to cut a deal with the Tories but link up with Labour instead: it must have been Shirley Williams.)
I guess the whole thing must look very odd from the other side of the Atlantic. Barack Obama, with his constant struggles to get key legislation through Congress, must envy the powers of the incoming British government to use its parliamentary majority to push through major reforms. Fixed-term parliaments might be a good thing, and everyone's now saying that the 55% needed to unseat the government is not as undemocratic as it sounds, but still: one could wish for a few more of the US constitution's checks and balances to restrain the executive from simply imposing this kind of change by fiat. There's something a little Chavez-esque about a new administration immediately changing the rules by which it can be kicked out. Tony Benn always used to say that, when he met a foreign leader, his first question was 'How do I get rid of you?' (Mind you, I don't recall him raising that issue in his infamous interview with Saddam.)
Turning to Labour: I still think refusing the temptation of a cobbled-together rainbow coalition was the right thing to do, morally and politically. I think Polly Toynbee and others were wrong to see refuseniks like John Reid and David Blunkett as tribalists. If anything, it was the pro-coalitionists, with their unwillingness to accept the public's verdict and desperation to hang on to power by their fingernails, by offering unrealistic concessions to assorted nationalists, who represented the old politics.
Now Labour has a chance to refresh its policies and its leadership. As regular readers will be aware, I've long been a partisan for David Miliband, though I wouldn't be unhappy if his brother, Ed (who has just declared his candidacy) were to win. You can already imagine a David vs. Ed divide opening up across progressive dinner tables across the land. Certainly most of my lefty academic colleagues, among whom disappointment with New Labour and dislike of Blair is de rigueur, are going for Ed, while to speak up for David is to mark yourself out as a hopelessly Blairite centrist. I'm sticking with David, but offer him a word of advice: for goodness sake shave off that half-moustache, it makes you look like an overgrown schoolboy - and get yourself a decent haircut.