Archive for September, 2012

Swearing at Police officers then lying about it: a normal day in Downing Street

25 Sep

Normally, swearing at a police officer gets you arrested. In previous arguments or confrontations with the Police I’ve made great efforts not to swear, knowing that to do so invites trouble and allows them to ignore what you’re saying. I’ve been polite, respectful and insistent.

So I obviously missed the meeting where using the ‘f’ word was deemed OK in the vicinity of 10 Downing Street: presumably if you’re a bike-riding ex-public schoolboy with delusions of grandeur.

I wasn’t going to address ‘Gategate’ but this last two days has transformed a relatively minor matter – spoilt brat spitting the dummy because he couldn’t ride his little bike out of the big gate – into a zero sum game.

Either Andrew Mitchell is lying; or the Police officers who reported his behaviour and words are.

Cards on the table here: I am always ready to hear tales of misdeeds and troubles for the Conservative Party. But entrenched prejudices aside, I’m judging Mitchell guilty for one simple reason – five days on and at no stage has he told us what he said.

Any of us wrongly accused of something would immediately recount the correct and factual version. All Mitchell has said is ‘I didn’t use those words’.

That kind of snide political sophistry might be acceptable to a Prime Minister in deep electoral trouble who probably understands the crass stupidity of abusing police officers the day after two of their colleagues were murdered in cold blood, but it won’t wash with the rest of us.

Yvette Cooper is right to ask for an enquiry and the Labour Opposition are right to keep on at this.

Put simply, if Andrew Mitchell wants us to believe he didn’t call police officers ‘f*cking plebs’ and tell them ‘best you learn your f*cking place’, then he can kill this stone dead by telling us what he did say.

Go on Andrew, you know you want to…..

‘For me to speak about Cuba is a beautiful accident’: Che Guevara’s daughter in Oxford

21 Sep

‘For me to speak about Cuba is a beautiful accident; I am the dignified daughter of the Cuban people.’



Doctor Aleida Guevara spoke to 140 people packed into a hall in Oxford’s John Rushcliffe Hospital and opened with a candid admission that Cuba has made many errors, but reminded us that they had the right to solve their own problems, a right earned in blood.

Aleida cited the NHS as an example for Cuba’s health service and expressed sadness to hear of the threatened privatisation – ‘sadder yet that you would allow this to happen’.

As a paediatrician, Dr Guevara told us Cuban children are vaccinated against 14 diseases and conditions, and only 4 of those vaccines can’t be produced in Cuba. A new vaccine against lung cancer, no less, was not available outside Cuba because of the Blockade.

Yet ‘no multinationals steal from the Cuban people’ and in outlining a growing self-sufficiency she noted others in the so-called Third World couldn’t or wouldn’t follow the Cuban example because of the Blockade. Cuba doesn’t produce enough milk and has to import powdered milk from New Zealand at between 3 and 4 times market cost: yet southern US states produce enormous milk surpluses and can’t sell to Cuba. Ships delivering to Cuba are barred by the USA from entering American ports for six months.

The Carribean island has been subjected to an unrelenting economic, cultural and political war by the United States since 7 February 1962, a blockade condemned as illegal by the United Nations General Assembly every year since 1991.

This has involved support for terrorism, such as the bombing of a Cubana civil flight on 6 October 1976 when 78 people were murdered, and millions of US dollars spent supporting and fomenting internal discord, propaganda and opposition to Cuba’s government and civic society. For people like me who love the USA and the American people, the way the superpower treats the tiny socialist island is the single greatest stain on its modern history.

Before the triumph of the Revolution in 1959, Cuba’s infant mortality rate was 60 in every thousand births. Today it is less than 5. In 1959 one in three Cubans were illiterate, today no-one is. No children sleep on the streets, not one child left behind. Cuba sends health professionals abroad to work in 66 different countries and education is free to citizens because it is a right.

Yet Aleida Guevara pointed out that Cuba’s very achievements are part of the twisted rationale fuelling America’s unrelenting hostility to the path chosen; irony doesn’t begin to describe it. It is ‘the threat of a good example’.

Aleida contrasted the fate of the Miami Five, Cubans who infiltrated Florida-based terrorist cells who were subsequently tried and imprisoned when they passed information to the FBI, with that of convicted terrorists like Luis Posada Cariles, ‘free to walk the streets of Miami’.

Doctor Guevara concluded by talking eloquently about Latin American solidarity but in describing what Cuba held dear, she struck a note which reminded us of her father’s values and resonated with those who believe in a better future for humanity.

‘We hold two things sacred’ she said ‘our children and our older people. Children because they are our future; they have an infinite capacity to love and to grow and our older ones, because they have done their duty and made their contribution. We Cubans live poor but die rich.’

Hasta la Victoria Siempre.

Viva Cuba Libre.

An evening with Tony Benn

18 Sep

Aboriginal societies value age. Wise people recognise that miles on the clock usually mean greater wisdom and perspective and it was a great pleasure to sit in the front row at Birmingham Town Hall the other evening listening to Tony Benn, the 87 year old keeper of Labour’s socialist conscience. I’ve been interested in what this man had to say since I read ‘Arguments for Socialism’ as a teenager and as I listened to the person once described as ‘the most dangerous man in Britain’ I reflected on the fact that the power of ideas that move people, to think about making positive changes and speaking truth to power, is eternal and boundless. A Town Hall packed on a Monday night bore testimony to that.

His anecdotes were gems, culled from a life spent at the epicentre of public and political discourse. One of the reasons Benn attracted so much hate from the right-wing press was that he sprang came from the heart of the British Establishment, inheriting an unwanted peerage (given to his Father by Clement Atlee) on the death of his older brother in combat. The then Viscount Stansgate, newly elected MP for Bristol, fought a long battle to establish his right to represent his constituents and renounce his peerage, eventually winning a battle he was never forgiven for waging.

It’s acceptable for oiks from council estates to talk about redistribution, accountability and equality: that’s easily dismissed as ‘the politics of envy’. It isn’t so easy to hear the same things from a well-educated, upper-middle-class son of a Lord, exposing the poison of our right wing media and standing shoulder to shoulder with working people in struggle and solidarity.

Benn reflected on meeting Ghandi as a ten year old, Mandela when he was still classed as a terrorist, and on his Wartime pilot training in Birmingham, musing that when Hitler heard he had got his pilot wings he promptly surrendered. He spoke of meetings on troop ships in South Africa about what kind of Britain would be fashioned after the War. He spoke of Atlee, Aneurin Bevan, the establishment of the NHS and the post-War welfare state, of negotiating with Sadaam Hussein, of dancing with the future Queen in 1945 after winning a raffle (!), of serving in the Wilson and Callaghan Cabinets, of Enoch Powell, of changing his views on nuclear power, about the prevailing powers of democracy, the weaknesses and flaws of the Coalition, the birth and death of New Labour, Ed Miliband, and of being a socialist within the Labour Party.

Thankfully, Benn is a prolific writer, so his ideas and perspectives are there for all to see, in (sometimes painful) honesty and candour. He remains a totem for the Left, a reminder that our ideas can evolve and grow yet retain their core purpose: it was a joy to see and hear him in the flesh.

The British media; out of the gutter, now wallowing in the sewer.

13 Sep

Rather than write a blog, I have instead collated quotes from two day’s press coverage of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) at Brighton this week. 2012.

Decide for yourself whether the words and tone used by mainstream newspapers here are objective and impartial.

The extracts below illustrate perfectly the fact-averse and hysterical nature of the British press. They also show the mountainous scale of overt right-wing bias and vitriol which is always – and I do mean always – spat in the direction of trade unions.

It is worth remembering that trade unions are the country’s largest voluntary organisations, representing nearly 6 million working people. They are open, voluntary bodies with (mostly annually) elected leaders.

Now read on……

Monday 10 September 2012

‘TUC bully tactics; professional whingers; months of national disruption; Frances O’Grady, a dreary union apparatchik; wallowing in its own manufactured outrage; union barons the real rulers of Britain; union leaders do not speak for their own members; hopelessly deluded and economically illiterate; self-indulgent class warriors’ Daily Express;

‘threat of a new wave of nationwide strikes’ The Times,

‘congress motions inhabit a parallel universe in which the recession never happened and the UK has no growth of productivity problems’ City AM;

‘union barons’; ‘vital services would be wiped out’; ‘living in a parallel universe’ Daily Mail;

Tuesday 11 September 2012

‘schools face weeks of chaos’; ‘a 1926 style general strike…to create a winter of discontent’; ‘walkouts and actions such as occupying youth clubs and hospitals’ Daily Express;

‘militant teachers threaten action to cripple our schools’; ‘schools face being paralysed as unions yesterday launched a ‘militant manifesto’ barring teachers from carrying out routine tasks’; ‘vowing to wreak havoc with a campaign of co-ordinated strikes and civil disobedience’; ‘a return to the sustained industrial action of the 1980’s that caused havoc in schools for years’; Daily Mail;

‘strike threat increases’ Newcastle Journal;

‘mindless obstructionism that is holding back this country’; ‘industrial action will harm pupils’ Telegraph.;

‘school sports club could be axed after teachers announced a work-to-rule’ The Sun;

‘strike threat shows just how out of touch unions are’ Independent.;

‘we’ll go on strike and put the boot in, say union chiefs’; ‘back to the dark age of strife’; ‘the ugly language of class warfare, Labour’s paymasters seek to drag Britain back into the dark ages of industrial strife, proving they’ve learned nothing since they brought the country to it’s knees more than 30 years ago’; ‘how many of their members are really blinkered and irresponsible enough to follow them?’; Daily Mail.

‘I come to bury Boris, not to praise him’

12 Sep

The uplifting victory parade for the UK’s Olympic and Paralympic athletes this week was tainted by only one thing –a big section of the crowd at Buckingham Palace cheering Mayor of London Boris Johnson.

His popularity is baffling, irritating and intriguing in equal measure, the fruit of a thoroughly dishonest but successful effort by the right wing media portraying him as a lovable oaf, an amusing but essentially harmless toff.

The truth, sadly, is somewhat different.

Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson is the child of privilege, part of the 1% cabal who see themselves as born to rule. Johnson was at Eton with David Cameron, and then went to Oxford with him and George Osborne: all three were members of the Bullingdon Club, the arrogant obnoxious public school boys who thought it the height of sophistication to cause damage in restaurants.

Please note that this ‘high-spirited behaviour’ should not in any way, shape or form be confused with the vicious anti-social hooliganism and thuggery other teenage boys got involved in…

He describes himself as a journalist, but was fired from The Times for making up quotes in 1988. This was, bizarrely, no impediment to him segueing seamlessly to the Daily Telegraph for 12 years, then becoming Editor of The Spectator, which gave a platform for sharing Jurassic Park perspectives on race, hunting, trade unions, Margaret Thatcher, Liverpudlians and backing America’s most disastrous President in a pointless war which cost hundreds of thousands of innocent lives and goes on to this day.

In the February 26, 2004 Daily Telegraph, Johnson said of Bush: “He liberated Iraq. It is good enough for me.” and later “Whenever (Bush) appears on TV… I find a cheer rising irresistibly in my throat.” On Bush’s opposition to tackling climate change, Johnson thought that “When Bush says no [to Kyoto], he is doing what is right not just for America but for the world”.


His attitude to fidelity is flexible, having conducted a long extra-marital affair with Petronella Wyatt and then being caught cheating with journalist Anna Fazackerley. This proved no barrier to pronouncements on marriage, including the observation by Johnson that ‘If gay marriage was OK, I see no reason against a union of three men and a dog’.

But, hey, it’s only Boris having a laugh, isn’t it? Isn’t it?

In reality Johnson is a bigoted hard-right ideologue, describing Margaret Thatcher as ‘the 20th century’s “greatest peacetime Prime Minister” who “pioneered a revolution imitated around the world.”

So Boris, how’s that deregulation/privatisation/’I’m alright Jack’ revolution working out for the world’s economy?

He opposed the smoking ban, the minimum wage and the Social Charter saying they would ‘palpably destroy jobs’ – they didn’t – but it is as a racist that we should pay the supposedly harmless Johnson the most attention.

If you were to pick a man totally unsuited to govern one of the world’s largest, most diverse and multi-racial cities, you’d be hard pressed to beat Alexander ‘Boris’ Johnson.

He opposed the Macpherson Report, suggesting racism would be better tackled if  “we axed large chunks of the anti-racism industry, stopping taxing so many people with the threat of legal action, and left a bit more of the struggle against racism to tolerance and good manners”. This in the wake of the brutal murder of Stephen Lawrence.

A one-off outburst? Hardly.

Johnson’s Daily Telegraph column from 10 January 2002 referred to “flag-waving picaninnies” and “tribal warriors [breaking] out in watermelon smiles” upon Tony Blair’s arrival in Africa.

On South Africa, Johnson said “the minority tyranny of apartheid [has been] followed by the majority tyranny of black rule”.

While the problem with former British colonies is “not that we were once in charge, but that we are not in charge any more”.

As he himself said on 30 July 2010 ‘If you can’t turn the clock back to 1904, what’s the point of being a Conservative?’

Stephen Smith: writer

Rants, rambles and other assorted thoughts

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