Likely bedfellows – UPDATE

I said I’d keep you posted so here goes…

I got a voicemail from Westminster University’s PR company (really) asking me to call them back. Before I got chance, the event was cancelled.

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Likely bedfellows?

Nick Cohen wrote long ago about the weird relationship between the elements of the left and Muslims so extreme they could be called fascist (I even had a crack myself). For the perennially unpopular left the potential muscle offered by extremist Islam offered a tiger they could ride, if not all the way to power, certainly towards a bit of sought after relevance. This left were less Atlee, more Von Papen.

Of course, there were huge hurdles to overcome; issues of women’s rights, gay rights or even animal rights. The left avoided them by going quiet on these issues. The card of Anti-Americanism trumped all others. As Churchill said, “If Hitler invaded hell I would make at least a favourable reference to the devil in the House of Commons”. Well I’ve yet to see a production of Faustus where Mephistopheles doesn’t come to collect.

Well now the ‘left-right’ axis or ‘ideology horseshoe’ has been bent into a pretzel. Next Tuesday the University of Westminster will be playing host to an event called ‘Zionism, Jewishness and Israel’ which is billed as “A panel discussion examining Israeli Criminality in the wake of the Goldstone Retract”. Speakers include John Rose, a leading figure in the Socialist Workers Party, Alan Hart who, according to the post which brought this whole thing to my attention, has made up stories about Israel, notably that Israelis were behind 9/11, and Dr Ghada Karmi, an academic at Exeter University.

Also on the roster is Gilad Aztmon, a shameless anti Semite who was expelled from the SWP for calling the holocaust “a complete falsification invented by Zionists and Americans”. No wonder Stormfront, a leading neo Nazi website, are advertising the event. So are members of the Stop the War Coalition. The left are now making common cause, not just with Islamofascists, but with common or garden fascists.

However, it now appears that John Rose and Ghanda Karmi have pulled out of the event. That leaves just Alan Hart and the University of Westminster which is still, apparently, playing host to Aztmon’s noxious fantasies.

I tried to contact the University to find out who had booked the event and how I could get in touch with them. After a bit of passing around I spoke to a guy called Jordan who told me that though the event was indeed booked for next Tuesday, he knew nothing about it and neither did anyone he had been able to speak to. He did say, however, that the event could have been arranged via the Student Union. This would be the same student union which recently saw three activists from Hizb ut Tahrir elected.

Anyway, Jordan has told me that his director will be in touch with me. I’ll keep you posted.

Don’t fear to speak of Easter Week, but speak the truth

Speaking for himself

“The only solution is to kill 600 people in one night. Let the UN and Bill Clinton and everyone else make a scene – and it is over for 20 years”

Such was the late Alan Clark’s prescription for dealing with the Provisional IRA. It says much for the peace process and the changed state of Northern Ireland that yesterday’s ‘rally’ by the Real IRA drew only half that amount.

The gathering was held to commemorate the Easter Rising of 1916. The 300 souls in attendance, clad mostly in tracksuits as befits such a somber occasion, listened to a speech read haltingly from a crumpled bit of paper by a fat man kitted out from Millets. Many of his words were lost in the strong wind which whipped the hillside cemetery.

What could be made out was chilling. With the Queen due to visit Ireland next month this tubby masked man claimed to speak for “the Irish people” and warned that “The Queen of England is wanted for war crimes in Ireland and not wanted on Irish soil. We will do our best to ensure she and the gombeen class that act as her cheerleaders get that message”

This mans grand claim in front of his smattering of followers to be speaking for “the Irish people” is rather undone by opinion polls suggesting that the majority of Irish citizens actually support the visit. But then men dressing up in military uniforms and issuing declarations which claim their opinion is shared by all “Irishmen and Irishwomen” and that they are “entitled to…the allegiance of every Irishman and Irishwoman” is something of an Easter tradition in my ancestral homeland. At least Patrick Pearse had a way with words and enough personal bravery to show his face.

More chilling given the recent murder of young policeman Ronan Kerr was the warning that the Real IRA would target police officers

“Oglaigh na hEireann (the IRA) call on any young nationalist who may have been sold the lie that the RUC/PSNI (Royal Ulster Constabulary/Police Service of Northern Ireland) is somehow an reformed, non-political police service to think again, those who think they are serving their community are in fact serving the occupation and will be treated as such. The GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association), Catholic Church and constitutional nationalism will be unable to protect those who turn traitor, they are as liable for execution as anyone else regardless of their religion, cultural background or motivation”

Threats to the Queen and threats to police officers; why did the police not swoop in and arrest these people?

Sadly, despite the pitiful crowd yesterday and all the outrage over PC Kerr’s death, the answer is that a strong police response to these people would probably have been condemned. ‘Counter productive’ and ‘harmful to the peace process’ are phrases which would, no doubt, have been quickly on the lips of even supposedly respectable nationalists like Sinn Fein.

This is because even now Sinn Fein are not anti violence, they are just anti other people’s violence. Violence, after all, got them where they are so, unsurprisingly, they take a pragmatic rather than moral view of it. Gerry Adams condemned the murders of two soldiers in 2009 as “counter productive”

But even mainstream nationalism is tainted with this equivocation. As my friend Ruth Dudley Edwards pointed out recently the men of 1916 “were a clique within a clique within a clique”. The Irish Volunteers who, along with the Marxist Irish Citizen Army, mounted the 1916 rebellion, numbered 180,000 men on the outbreak of the First World War. 170,000 of these joined the British army. Of the 10,000 left only 2,000 went out with Pearse at Easter Week. Yet Pearse, like the sweaty terrorist yesterday, claimed to speak for the Irish people.

Yet these men who, acting on their own, unleashed violence on the streets of Ireland are venerated by mainstream politicians in the south. Until this changes we will never hear a true condemnation of dissident Republicanism. As Dudley Edwards puts it “as long as we continue to glamorise 1916 and any of what followed, we legitimise the activities of those who believe they carry the torch lit by Patrick Pearse”

This is why we wont yet see strong action taken against the Real IRA. Newly respectable Sinn Fein and long respectable parties in the Republic might well look at the Real IRA and see only an unwelcome, distant, grubby and deluded cousin, but they see a cousin all the same.

Did The Leopard really change his spots?

Would they have?

You may be one of those people, like me, who always tries to sneak a look at someone’s library, record or DVD collection when you visit their home. Perhaps the shelves are a window on the soul?

In October last year Nick Clegg told Desert Island Discs that his book choice would be The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa. By then Clegg’s popularity had plunged from the heady heights of the pre election TV debates in April to somewhere lower than a snakes waistcoat. What does Clegg’s choice of The Leopard tell us about the man who is one of the most controversial figures in Britain? And how useful is this sort of analysis?

The Leopard is a book both written and set in changing times. Tomasi di Lampedusa, the last in a long line of minor Sicilian princes, wrote the book in the wake of World War II during which his estate had been badly bombed. The novel’s setting is the culmination of the ‘Risorgimento’, or resurgence, the name given to the period of Italian nationalism which brought about the unification of Italy, led by Giuseppe Garibaldi, in 1861.

The book tells the story of how the Salina’s, a minor aristocratic family like Tomasi’s own, navigate the turbulent social and economic waters of the Risorgimento. The challenge for the head of the family, Prince Fabrizio, is to adapt the family to the new Italy being created by Garibaldi’s nationalists.

The book is full of portents of the apparent impossibility of the task. It opens with Fabrizio’s daily routine being interrupted by a grisly flashback of a dying soldier. Later on a cake in the shape of the family castle is devoured before Fabrizio’s son gets to have any. Fabrizio himself seems unsure whether the aristocracy can survive. In conversation with his staff he believes that the old order can be maintained but when he encounters Father Pirrone, who warns that the new order will bring the destruction of the nobility and church, Fabrizio says that change and adaptation to it are the natural order of things.

This dilemma is resolved in the character of Tancredi, Fabrizio’s nephew. He throws his lot in with the nationalists, explaining to Fabrizio, in the books most famous epigrammatic moment, “They will foist a republic on us. If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change”

But if Tomasi sees the end of the old aristocracy as inevitable he seems to see as equally inevitable its replacement with something remarkably similar. One of Garibaldi’s men, Don Calogero, has risen from poverty to become wealthier than the Salina’s. He is nouveau riche and, early on, arrives at one of Fabrizio’s parties tastelessly dressed, to Fabrizio’s quiet satisfaction. But despite having the money he still craves the respect which the old nobility brings. A marriage is arranged between Dan Calogero’s daughter, Angelica, and Tancredi. Don Calogero gets the Salina’s nobility and the Salina’s get Don Calogero’s cash. Fabrizio and Don Calogero soon begin to assume more and more of each others characteristics. The prediction of Don Ciccio that the union of Tancredi and Angelica will simply cause the negative characteristics of the two families to thrive at the expense of the positive characteristics comes true.

In this sense The Leopard is a fundamentally conservative book. The very nature of conservatism is the conservation of an existing order. It is based on a conception of human nature as a constant from which it follows that methods and norms of behaviour in the past are equally worthy of respect as those originating today and that a good case must be made for change. If the duty of the conservative is not quite, as William Buckley put it, to stand astride history shouting “Stop!”, it is certainly to say “Hang on a minute” in a rather stern voice.

And in The Leopard Tomasi questions whether the changes wrought by the Risorgimento were beneficial. At one point Father Pirrone, the novels conscience, returns to his home village and sees the changes since the arrival of Garibaldi’s troops. The land, which used to belong to the church, has been seized and handed over to a moneylender much like a young Don Calogero. Whereas the monks, embedded in the community for several centuries, allowed the peasants to collect herbs on the land for free the new owner charges them. That this echoes the Marxist critique of capitalism for ditching “feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations” in favour of the alienating ‘cash nexus’ only goes to highlight that we are discussing conservatism with a small rather than capital ‘C’.

What does this tell us about Nick Clegg? After all that it’s hard to say. Someone looking at my bookshelves might see The Downing Street Years by Margaret Thatcher and Capital by Karl Marx and conclude that I’m a total schizophrenic. If you saw American Psycho on a bookshelf would you panic and reach for the mace?

Does Clegg empathise with any of these characters? It is difficult to see the son of a wealthy banker and descendant of Russian nobility seeing much of himself in the counter jumping Don Calogero. It is difficult, if you believe Clegg is at all sincere, to see him picturing himself as either Fabrizio or Tancredi, one doubtful of the possibility or worth of change the other resigned to it but determined to use it for his own ends. If you doubt his sincerity then Tancredi would seem to fit the bill perfectly. More likely, given his recent tear stained interview with the New Statesman, he may identify with Concetta, Fabrizio’s put upon daughter who retains the family’s noble traits only to be appreciated too late.

Perhaps he may identify with Tomasi himself? The Leopard was turned down by publishers fearing a scandal in Tomasi’s lifetime. When the book was published in 1958, the year after Tomasi’s death, it lived up to the publishers fears. From the left the book was accused of smearing the progressive achievements of the Risorgimento. From the right it was attacked for its depiction of desiccated nobility. Clegg would certainly recognise that situation.

Or perhaps he may value the novels deeper points about change. The many people who voted for Nick Clegg based on his promises of change may, perhaps, have thought twice if they had known that the one book he would read if he could read no other, questioned both the possibility and desirability of radical change.

This article originally appeared at Middlebrow Magazine

S**t my economist says #3

As if by magic

The following joke is currently doing the rounds on the ‘Keep spending’ circuit

“A banker, a Daily Mail reader and a benefit claimant are sitting around a table. There are 12 biscuits in the middle of the table. The banker takes 11, and then says to the Daily Mail reader, “Watch out for that bloke, he’s after your biscuit!”

All very amusing no doubt but you might have found yourself asking ‘How did the biscuits get there?’

This joke reveals alot about the economic attitudes of those who make it. Wealth is just assumed to arrive out of nowhere. It isn’t even a given, it just appears as if by magic. It focuses on how wealth is divided, saying nothing about how it is generated.

And that is the crucial question. There can be no debate, no debate at all, about how to divide up national wealth until there is a clear idea of where that wealth will come from.

Misunderestimating the Tea Party

More than a storm in a tea cup

Just after the Presidential election of 1972 Pauline Kael, a critic for the New Yorker, is reputed to have said “I can’t believe that Richard Nixon won. I don’t know anyone who voted for him”. Given that Nixon had just won by a 23% margin and 18 million clear votes, the widest margin in the history of presidential elections, you have to wonder who Kael had been talking to.

The success of the Tea Party movement in a little over two years has been just as spectacular as Nixon’s. They have energised a Republican party which was moribund in 2008 and helped them take control of the House, bring the Senate near balance, and sweep up governors mansions and seats in state legislatures across the country. Incredibly, the Republicans now have a good shot at winning back the White House in 2012.

And this success has been just as baffling for some as Tricky Dicky’s. Take Max Blumenthal, author of 2009’s ‘Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement that Shattered the Party’, for example. On openDemocracy in September last year he set out “to unravel the mix of driven personalities, feverish rhetoric, toxic hatreds, and flirtation with violence that fuel [the Tea Party] sub-culture’s insurgent activism”. Not surprisingly, having set out to find extremist nuts, he found them.

Blumenthal attended what he called one of the Tea Party’s “days of rage” in 2009. “While covering the rally”, he wrote,

“I witnessed sign after sign declaring Obama a greater danger to America’s security than al-Qaida; demonstrators held images that juxtaposed Obama’s face with images of evildoers from Hitler to Pol Pot to Bin Laden; others carried signs questioning Obama’s status as a United States citizen. ‘We can fight al-Qaida, we can’t kill Obama’, said an aging demonstrator. Another told me, ‘Obama is the biggest Nazi in the world’, pointing to placards he had fashioned depicting Obama and House of Representatives’ majority leader Nancy Pelosi in SS outfits. According to another activist, Obama’s agenda was similar to Hitler’s: ‘Hitler took over the banking industry, did he not? And Hitler had his own personal secret service police. [The community-organising group] Acorn is an extension of that’”

The phrase “far right” appeared nine times in Blumenthal’s piece.

Blumenthal also found plenty of racism at the event claiming “The racial subtext was always transparent”. Indeed, to opponents it is an article of faith that the Tea Party is racist, 61% believing it motivates the movement according to the Washington Post.

The message of Blumenthal and others is clear; the Tea Party are a fringe bunch of psychotic, racist loons who want to turn America into a fascist state. The trouble for Blumenthal and other opponents is that this view isn’t actually true.

Let’s begin with race. The Tea Party lacks a central organisation, it is more an amorphous constellation of groups and individuals, some overlapping and some contradictory, and it is obvious that any collection of people that size will contain some weirdo’s. The Tea Party is no exception.

However, one poll found that views on race “are not significant predictors of support for the Tea Party movement”. Contrary to Blumenthal’s Nuremburg Rally like experiences the Washington Post analysed Tea Party placards in October 2010 and found that “the vast majority of activists expressed narrow concerns about the government’s economic and spending policies and steered clear of the racially charged anti-Obama messages that have helped define some media coverage of such events”. 50% of placards at the rally showed a “limited government ethos” while just 5% reflected anger with President Obama directly and a tiny 1% questioned his citizenship. Emily Elkins, the UCLA graduate student who conducted the research, commented that “media coverage of tea party rallies over the past year have focused so heavily on the more controversial signs that it has contributed to the perception that such content dominates the tea party movement more than it actually does”.

So what does drive the Tea Party? The BBC’s US correspondent, Mark Mardell, has “spoken to many supporters of the Tea Party and been to lots of rallies” and found, agreeing with Elkins far more than Blumenthal, that “talk to people for more than a few minutes and fury tends to dissolve into concern, worry about the economic direction of the country, worry about the size of the government and the level of taxation”. The ABC poll quoted earlier found

“Tea Party supporters broadly agree on motivations for backing the movement – economic concern (cited by 83 percent), distrust of government (79 percent) and opposition to President Obama and the Democrats (72 percent). Many fewer supporters, but still 39 percent, cite dissatisfaction with the Republican Party as a reason for favoring the Tea Party.

At the same time, the movement’s supporters broadly reject the suggestion of racial prejudice against Obama. Eighty-seven percent of Tea Party backers say this is not a reason people support it. (One in 10 say it is)”

And far from being the extremist psychotics of Blumenthal’s fevered imagination the Tea Party are in tune with most Americans here. A recent Gallup poll found that 71% of Americans worry about the economy “a great deal”. A CNBC poll found just 14% of Americans believed that the economic policies of the Democratic Congress and Obama administration had helped them. Rasmussen found that 52% of Americans said their own views were closer to those of Tea Party heroine Sarah Palin than President Obama and that 61% supported repeal of Obamacare. And on the size of government a CNN poll showed that 56% of Americans thought that the government is “so large and powerful that it poses an immediate threat to rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens”.

Despite what people like Mr Blumenthal might like to believe the Tea Party articulate views much more commonly held than he thinks, views which are much more commonly held than his. This is why the Tea Party has been so successful. And as long as people like Mr Blumenthal continue to mischaracterise it the Tea Party will continue to be successful.

Democratic Party Chairman Tim Kaine went on CNN in September to predict “I think it’s become very clear now…that the control of the Republican Party is in tea party candidates who do not speak for independent or moderate voters at all…We have a feeling that we’re going to do very, very well in closing that gap with independent voters between now and the second of November, because independents do not like what they see from this ascendant tea party and the Republican Party”. He said this two months before the Republicans best result since 1938.

It’s obvious why Kaine couldn’t see the train hurtling down the tracks towards him. He persisted with the same comfortable view many Tea Party opponents have, namely that people who hold views opposite to theirs must be a mere handful of extremists. Even though all the polling evidence was there Kaine, like, Pauline Kael back in 1972, wasn’t speaking to the right people. This led him to make his stupid prediction about “closing that gap with independent voters”. In fact independent voters chose Republican candidates over Democrats by a margin of 56% to 38% in November’s mid terms.

That is because, as we’ve seen, independent and moderate voters do share the Tea Party’s concern about the spiralling national debt, stagnant employment and collapsing currency. Furthermore, it’s a concern that is shared by rating agencies, the Chinese Central Bank and now President Obama himself.

“Its the economy stupid” is one of the most famous aphorisms in politics. But until they ditch the slurs and engage with these issues the Tea Party’s opponents, to their detriment, will continue to “misunderestimate” them.

This article originally appeared at openDemocracy

Shrivelling Balls

Ed who?

Things just aren’t working out for Ed Balls as Shadow Chancellor. Over the past year or so he has consistently pointed across the Atlantic Ocean to the United States for proof that the George Osborne’s fiscal restraint is unnecessary and dangerous.

A massive hole was blown in that argument last week when President Obama unveiled a plan to cut the US deficit at a faster rate than the UK, 2% per year as opposed to 1.6%. Understandably, George Osborne was crowing; “It reinforces the point that Labour are entirely isolated in the international community…That has left them in no-man’s land”

Balls quickly issued a flustered rejoinder. He accused Osborne of “once again playing fast and loose with international comparisons to score political points” before making the blatantly false argument that “George Osborne is going much further and faster than any other major economy in the world. He is the one who is isolated”

Then Balls handed fortune another hostage by paying tribute to Obama’s “steadier approach to secure the US recovery”.

Perhaps not. On Monday Standard & Poor’s, a rating agency, downgraded the outlook for the USA’s debt from ‘stable’ to ‘negative’. This has already caused shocks to stock markets, sent gold to a stratospheric $1,496, and higher borrowing costs for the Treasury may be looming.

What the US is now learning is the lesson the UK has been painfully learning for the last few months: vast government spending does not bring about a recovery, it merely keeps the previous show on the road a little longer.

It is often claimed that the British economy was recovering when Labour left office. As Balls himself put it last month “When Labour left office last spring the economy was strengthening with growth of 1.1 per cent in the second quarter of 2010. Inflation was lower and unemployment was falling”.

Of course it was. If you throw £150 billion of borrowed money at an economy you are bound to see some result. So it is in the United States. The United States Treasury has been throwing trillions of borrowed dollars at the economy. It has brought some benefit, growth was a comparatively healthy 2.6% last quarter and unemployment drifted down to 8.8% last month from 9.8% in December 2010.

But what happens when, as it must, you can no longer borrow at that level? That is a question Balls and other Keynesians consistently fail to answer.

It is a question Timothy Geithner and even Barack Obama are finally facing up to. But who will the Shadow Chancellor point to now? Ed Balls, the Fernando Torres of economics, continues to misfire.

This article originally appeared at The Cobden Centre

Max Blumenthal – Master of Irony

“To say the stuff I do take balls this big”

In September last year left wing American journalist Max Blumenthal wrote on openDemocracy that

“Members of the Tea Party “Patriots” did not seem to care that their rhetoric was irrational, or that comparing Obama to Hitler and Stalin was contradictory and obviously hyperbolic”

In the same article he wrote

“The seemingly incongruous Tea Party propaganda recalled signs waved by right-wing Jewish settlers during rallies against Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and his support of the peace process, portraying him as an SS officer and as the French collaborator Marshall Pétain. In 1995, amid this provocative atmosphere, a young right-wing Jewish zealot assassinated Rabin. The Israeli tragedy was a cautionary example of targeted hatred leading to violence.”

S**t my economist says #2

This week the ever amusing Labourlist.org tried to cite the cutting of funding for English for speakers of other languages (Esol) courses while David Cameron is urging immigrants to learn English as evidence of his hypocrisy.

Labour still dont seem to have grasped that, just because something ought to happen, it doesn’t automatically follow that the government ought to pay for it.

David Cameron talks some sense – now wait for the backlash

“Calm down, calm down”

David Cameron is capable of saying some very silly things. He was at it again earlier this week when he branded Oxford University, his alma mater, a disgrace for only accepting one black student last year. It was doubly silly in fact. First, it wasn’t actually true. Secondly, the problem isn’t some sort of racism on the part of the dons but the total failure of the comprehensive education system.

He is also capable of saying some very accurate things and in his statements on multiculturalism and immigration he has been not only wise but quite brave too.

Back in February Cameron joined the ranks of European leaders to announce the death of ‘multiculturalism’. Like Sarkozy and Merkel he was right to do so, multiculturalism has failed. This isn’t the same as saying multiracialism has failed, it clearly hasn’t, but you’d never know to listen to some of the reactions to Cameron’s remarks.

The left believes in multiculturalism because it doesn’t believe, with notable exceptions like George Orwell, that culture itself is anything special. According to Marx all society was just a manifestation of the social relations generated by prevailing economic relationships, a social superstructure erected on the economic substructure to borrow his terminology. It followed from this that as these economic relations changed so the culture would change; there was nothing immutably valuable about culture itself.

The Labour party rightly pays little lip service to the crank doctrines of Marxism today. But you can see a very definite economism at work in their belief that there is no problem which cannot be solved by the liberal application of a bit cash. To the left the answer to every social problem is financial, or economic. Though they don’t put it in these terms any more, they still believe that the substructure wags the superstructure.

So if culture was a trifling matter then having multi cultures was nothing to be worried about. This allowed Labour to fling the UK’s doors open which also had the handy result for them that many of these immigrants tended to vote for them. They were importing voters.

The problem is that culture does matter. It evolves to facilitate communication, becoming a standard stock of norms of thought, speech and behaviour. It does this based on a host of factors besides economic relations. Culture is far more complex and important than the left believe.

The result is that cultures haven’t dissolved when placed next to other by mass immigration, they have persisted and cultures haven’t integrated. Rather they have settled into separate but parallel existences with minimal contact with each other.

This was encouraged by another favourite tool of the left, identity politics. This emerged in the 1960’s and 1970’s when the left realised that the working class, its traditional support, was deserting it. It responded by hanging its hat on a constellation of groups based around disability, religion, sexuality and race. By chopping up society into interest groups, each with an interlocutor, the left fostered division.

Cameron was totally correct that multiculturalism had failed. Predictably the left responded in the way it does when anyone tries to discuss an issue which the British public are so concerned about; it screamed ‘Racist!’, ignoring the fact that it’s entirely possible for different ethnicities to share a common culture.

Now Cameron has gone and said something accurate and brave again. In a speech today he will say that mass immigration has “created a kind of discomfort and disjointedness in some neighbourhoods” and “placed real pressures on communities up and down the country”. That this is self evidently true wont stop some from trying to paint him as the Grand Wizard of the Whitney Ku Klux Klan which to the left is almost as bad as the Bullingdon Club. Almost.