Thursday, 8 December 2016

Warning to the world in John Pilger's film The Coming War in China

Journalist John Pilger has produced an excellent film chronicling the build up of tension between the US and China, which will have repercussions for us all.

The film looks at how over the years the US has built its military might, placing its bases across the world but particularly recently encircling China. There seems to be a push to fence in the biggest growing economic power via military means.

The Pacific Ocean it would seem is packed full of US warships, just off the China coast. In a telling interview with a US official, Pilger asks how the US would react were there a similar build up off the coast of California.

The veteran documentary maker looks at how the US has behaved in the post war period, using the Marshall Islands for its nuclear tests, with devastating consequences for the inhabitants – many of whom died from cancers.

At one point Pilger looks at a near miss during the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, when nuclear warheads based on Okinawa, off the Chinese coast, were about to be fired at China. One of the military personnel involved gives a powerful interview 53 years later, where he is still clearly shaken as to how the action could have effectively ended the world.

The focus on nuclear weapons brings home to any rational person the lunacy of proliferation. The number of times these weapons have almost been accidentally set off over the past 50 years should be enough alone to bring an immediate ban. The deterrent argument is a grotesque miscalculation that could have grave consequences for humanity.

Pilger unveils what appears to be the unstoppable growth of the US military industrial complex, with spending on nuclear weaponery and other forms of offence spiraling up under President Obama.

The hope from this rather frightening film comes from people resisting on the ground. There is the Catholic priest Father Mun Jeong-hyeon who has been protesting for a decade against the building of a US base on the Korean island of Jeju.

Father Jeong-hyeon together with other priests says mass every day on the site of the base. He has been arrested and manhandled many times for his protest. There are other similar protests in Okinawa.

These people give the hope needed to fight back against what seems to be a drift to a terrible conflict between the US and China. The most worrying element going forward is the election of President Donald Trump. The film carries footage of some of Trump’s most belicose attacks on China.

John Pilger has revealed a war that is virtually growing in the shadows. The sabre rattling of the US seems intended to provoke some sort of response from the Chinese. The hope must be that as more people become aware of what is happening that the world can be pulled back from what could be the last war.  

*The Coming War on China can be viewed on playback, while the DVD can be bought from John Pilger’s website –

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Michael Heseltine relives tarzan moment at performance of This House

Lord Michael Heseltine was taking a trip down memory lane on Monday night when he attended a performance of the political play This House. The play tells the story of the struggle of the whips in the Labour minority government of the 1970s to get Parliamentary business enacted. Sitting a couple of rows back from the stage, there must have been a sense of deja vue as one scene relived the night in 1976 when Tarzan (Heseltine) wielded the mace amid angry scenes in the Commons. There was also the EU referendum in 1975 that resulted in a vote to remain..oh those were the days.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Bilic apologises to the fans after humiliating defeat at the hands of Arsenal

West Ham 1- 5 Arsenal

West Ham dived further toward the relegation zone with this comprehensive defeat at the hands of Arsenal.

A  distraught West Ham manager  Slaven Bilic apologised to the fans and the club for the display.

The manager agreed with Arsenal counter part Arsene Wenger’s assertion that the Hammers lacked confidence. “Confidence is one of the reasons,” said Bilic. “We don’t have the intensity at the level required. The intensity is in the players but there is a lack of consistency. Intensity and dedication to the cause is mssing. It is my responsibility as the manager and we have to get it (intensity) back as soon as possible.”

The home side had the opportunity early on to take the lead when Dimitri Payet split the Arsenal rearguard, putting Manuel Lanzini clear but the little Argentinian saw his shot hit the side netting.

Arsenal capitalised on the miss when Francis Coquelin intercepted a pass from Angelo Ogbonna, putting Alexis Sanchez clear to square for Mesut Ozil to tap home.

It wasn’t though until the 71st minute that the game turned into the Alexis Sanchez show, with the Chilean forward plundering a quick fire hat trick to sink the home team.

First, Sanchez picked up the ball in mid half, then driving into the West Ham area he finished expertly slotting the ball past keeper Darren Randolph.

Nine minutes later Sanchez jinked on the edge of the penalty area, working a space that allowed him to slot home to the right of Randolph.

West Ham did belatedly hit back when a Payet free kick rebounded off the bar to returning striker Andy Carroll, who heade d home.

The Gunners though were not finished, with Alex Oxlade Chamberlain curling in an exquisite shot from outside the area to make it four, before Sanchez completed his hat trick expertly chipping over Randolph after being put clear by Oxlade Chamberlain.

Wenger was happy with the result, reflecting that  his team have scored more goals away than at home, where they play with “a bit more freedom.”

The Arsenal boss confirmed that Sanchez has all the qualities needed to be a top striker. “Sanchez  is quick, dribbles, has a short back lift and killer instinct, he has the quality to play there and is sharp,” said Wenger, who reflected that all the top strikers in Europe at the moment are South American.  

* published Morning Star - 5/12/2016

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Nurture not neglect needed for Wanstead Park

How disappointing to see notices appearing in Wanstead Park warning of "deep mud" around the Ornamental Water. It has been with much dismay that those who regularly visit the park have watched the water gradually draining out of the Ornamental and other lakes over this year. Now, much of the lake is just mud with the amount of debris in the way of fallen trees and silt that has been allowed to build up over the years visible for all to see.
The disappearance of the water has been well documented with the Ilford Recorder highlighting the issue in January.
The custodians of the park, the City of London Corporation appear to have done little to address the issues.
There are I believe now plans to get a licence to obtain water from the nearby River Roding pumped into the Ornamental but this is only a stop gap measure.
The unique water system of the park which sees the lakes flowing into each other to retain water levels is broken. It has been broken for some time, it is the major reason why the park was put on the At Risk register by English Heritage in 2009. It must be a matter of ongoing embarrassment that the park remains on the register seven years later.
The Corporation are aware of the problems but seems dedicated only to a sticking plaster approach.
A lack of money is always quoted as the reason why things cannot be done. But we know the Corporation has deep pockets, it spends huge amounts of money on maintenance in other parts on its estate - such as Hampstead Heath. Why is Wanstead Park always the poor relation?
Wanstead Park is a fantastic ecological treasure for the local community, it needs to be nurtured and cared for, not left alone to die.
published Ilford Recorder - 24/11/2016

Monday, 21 November 2016

Review of "Citizen Clem"

This excellent book from John Bew gives a comprehensive account of the life of Labour Prime Minister Clement Attlee from cradle to grave.

The book charts Attlee’s journey from a middle class upbringing, going to the public school Haileybury and on to Oxford. He is set to follow his father into the law but then gets diverted to the east end, finishing up working for a charitable organisation, linked to his old public school. It is this experience that leads Attlee from big C conservatism to socialism.

Attlee served in the First World War, taking part in the failed Gallipoli venture and getting badly injured. His war service though also serves him in good stead for his future life as an MP and later war leader. He was elected as MP for Limehouse in 1922.

Bew captures the sense of Attlee being the right man in the right place. A good example being the rout of the Labour Party in 1931, which saw the party reduced from 288 to 46 MPs. As one of the few remaining, Attlee was well placed to take over the leadership, when his friend George Lansbury stood down in 1935.

One fascinating element of this book is the examination of the relationship between Attlee and Winston Churchill. Bew reveals the crucial role that Labour played in first opposing appeasement in the 1930s and then insisting it would not serve in a government with Chamberlain as PM. There seems to have been a close if at times antagonistic relationship between Churchill and Attlee, the latter often acting as a lightening conductor for criticism really intended for the former. .

Attlee was also a visionary, making preparations very early in the war for the building of a new socialist based society afterwards.

Bew makes much of how the reforms brought in by the 1945 Labour government, including the welfare state and NHS, encompassed Attlee’s radical views going back 40 years.

The author does overplay how much Attlee’s vision was a continuation of the reforms begun by the Liberal Party in the early part of the century. The role of nationalisation in laying the building blocks of what Attlee saw as a socialist future is underplayed.

The fascination of Attlee is that a man who was himself basically small C conservative all his life oversaw such radical change. Bew points out how Attlee would use the institutions to bring about real change in people’s lives, rather than destroying those bodies. He was foremost a pragmatist and realist, not a dreamer.

Perhaps the best example of Attlee’s conservatism was his lifelong devotion to public schools, born of his own childhood at Haileybury. The 1945 Labour government probably had the best chance of sweeping away the public schools forever but declined to do so. This was in part due to Attlee, who called for the public schools to “not be killed but adapted.”

Bew also brings out Attlee’s supreme skill at managing the Labour Party, harnessing the diverse skills of the likes of Herbert Morrison, Ernie Bevin, Aneuran Bevan, Hugh Dalton and Stafford Cripps for the common good of the party and country.

The leader had to deal with the constant left right battles that have marked the Labour Party down the years. The left led by Bevan was particularly critical of the leadership in the wartime coalition. The hostilities simmered during time in government, but Attlee was able to keep the actors together bringing about radical change in society.

Once Attlee was gone one of the many civil wars in the party broke out with the right being led by Hugh Gaitskell facing the left led by Aneurin Bevan.

At the start of the book Bew seeks to set Attlee in a Labour context, in doing so he dismisses any parallels some might like to draw with Jeremy Corbyn. At the start, this was off putting, however by the end it was possible to see that the author was right with his analysis. Corbyn is no Attlee. Both men share basic socialist principles but Attlee was a master of managing the party both in and outside Parliament.

Where there maybe a parallel is Attlee, the quiet man who was pilloried by Labour’s big beasts and the media generally, but came good. By the post war period, Attlee’s personal ratings with the public were high, a man who could be trusted and depended upon. He became Labour biggest electoral asset.

Taking the parallel argument further, there is possibly more similarity between Attlee’s predecessor as leader, George Lansbury, and Corbyn but that is another tale.

Bew has done an excellent job in chronicling the life of one of Britain’s greatest Prime Ministers. There are many lessons for the Labour Party today. It must also be hoped that this latest contribution to the legacy of Attlee and the post war Labour government does something to further raise that memory in the popular consciousness. There has been far too little written and broadcast about the amazing story of Attlee and what the Labour Party achieved during those post war years. The domestic reforms, as well as granting independence to India and other countries of the empire.

It is a period that needs to become better known, if for no other reason than that people come to learn what can be achieved when there is a genuine socialist government in power working for the common good of all.

Published by Riverrun Price £30

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Emily Maitlis reveals lack of Catholic knowledge with Knights of St Columbus gaffe

Emily Maitlis, the BBC Newsnight’s expert on all things American, exposed the limits of her Catholic knowledge in a special programme, following the election of Donald Trump as president.

In a discussion with two members of the programme’s panel, Maitlis was questioning the candidates endorsement by the Klu Klux Klan (KKK).

Robert Emmet Tyrrell jnr, editor in chief of the American Spectator, shot back on the accusation that the KKK were holding a celebratory rally following the Trump victory. “But so too probably are the Knights of St Columbus (KSC),” said Emmett, who sensing Maitlis maybe out of her depth, suggested “maybe you don’t know who the Knights of St Columbas are?” Maitlis duly confirmed Emmet’s suspicion declaring:“another terrorist organisation?”

The US commentator then triumphantly revealed that the KSC are the largest organisation of Catholic males in the country. Hook line and sinker, the Newsnight’s anchor was sunk.

The US  Knights of St Columbus ofcourse are a member of the International Alliance of Catholic Knights, which includes the UK based Knights of St Columba. The organisation is devoted to charitable works and promoting Catholic education.

Maitlis later tweeted an apology: "Dear Knights of Columbus I apologise."

* published Tablet - 19/11/2016

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Dave Harewood’s documentary “Will Britain ever have a black Prime Minister?” is good on analysis but weak on class and solutions

The BBC programme, Will Britain ever have a Black Prime Minister, presented by actor Dave Harewood, provided some devastating facts to illustrate the prejudice that still exists in British society.

Facts like that 45% of black children were growing up in poverty, compared to 25% of whites. A black person is 12 times less likely than a white one to become Prime Minister.

The programme went through the various institutions, such as education, the media, the law and Parliament, finding high barriers in all to the advancement of black people.

There are just 13 black MPs, representing 2% of the total number of MPs, whilst 4% of the total British population is black.

A visit to the BBC news room, revealed a sea of white faces. There was reference to past Director General Greg Dyke’s comment about the corporation being “hideously white.”

Little it would seem has changed throughout the Corporation, though there are more Black And Minority Ethnic (BAME) people fronting programmes like the news, so some might claim a window dressing exercise has taken place.

What the programme did not underline clearly enough was the role of class in keeping working class people out of the top positions in society. The few people who go to public schools, then onto Oxbridge are the ones who dominate the top roles in society – whether it be in Parliament, the City, the law, medicine or education. It is the priveliged route for the very few, mainly white, and wealthy.

Now, within that class definition, race and gender play a key role, disadvantaging people even more. So those with the least chance are likely to be working class BAME females.

The programme presented by David Hare, with Faiza Shaheen, director of the think tank Class, providing the stats, did well in outlining the problem but failed really to provide solutions. There was no mention of things like positive discrimination or forcibly opening up some of these institutions to make them more diverse.

Solutions are what is needed, because a more ethnically and gender representative Parliament say is bound to act differently to one drawn largely from a narrow priveliged band of what are in the main are white males (Faiza Shaheen’s blog provides some answers – see:@faizashaheen).  

These solutions are also part of addressing the increasing feeling of dissolution and disempowerment that was so clearly voiced at the EU referendum, for whatever reason.

It would also be wrong to suggest that if we had a black prime minister all would be well. A black prime minister could be an indication that things are moving in the right direction but not that the problem is solved.

Hare was quick to unfavourably compare Britain with America, which has horrendous race issues. Yes, there maybe more BAME actors in prominent roles in the leading roles in society – most notable being the first black President Barack Obama. But the presidency of Obama provides encapsulates the point, not having done a great deal for the welfare of the average black working class person in America.

If anything, America should provide a salutary class lesson for the Britain, in that in the US there was a tendency amongst some, especially in the middle class commentariat, to treat the election of Obama as a sign of total diversity and that the problems of the black community were no more. Nothing could be further from the truth.

So there is much to be done on both sides of the Atlantic when it comes to giving proper representation for BAME but it is wise to remember that this is only part of a problem that is class based, requiring some major changes in society - if the country is ever to be run for the mass of people as opposed to a narrow clique of the priveliged.

*published Morning Star 17/11/2016 - Class structures hold us back from a black PM