Category Archives: UK

Scratching a bad rash

I’m getting a bit sick of the design and layout arond here. Thinking about a change. Also, the content: more righteous indignation, less paranoid speculation. Or was it the other way around?

Actually, I’ve been reading Nick Cohen’s interesting criticism of the left in today’s Observer. He makes a number of salient points in his dissection of everything that is wrong today with liberal-left politics and its general failure to adapt to the 21st century. I don’t agree with him on everything. But he does remind me why I decided some time ago never to align myself with any political group or party because there are simply none who seem to have the right approach to things. Spain is a classic example: I’m not a Catalan nationalist but I’m sympathetic with those who would like more autonomy for Catalonia. At the same time, I couldn’t support any of the parties who push for greater autonomy here because their memberships and leaders seem to be conniving, divisive pricks to a man. Besides, if greater autonomy means more laws banning me from drinking calimotxo or Xibeca and smoking weed at the beach with my mates, then perhaps it’s not such a hot tip?

The Iraq debacle is another good example (and this is what Nick Cohen is focused on): I’m naturally a Labour man but how can I vote for that party when Tony Blair still insists that it was the right thing to do. It wasn’t. Saddam was an awful, murderous bastard but the hell which has been unleashed on ordinary Iraqis does not justify his removal. Nick Cohen’s main argument seems to be that the left has lost its way because in its opposition to illegal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, curtailed human rights at home, rendition and Guantanamo, it has failed to condemn the evil which so called ‘neo-conservatives’ are determined to defeat. There’s a lot of ammunition for this argument and those employing it get a very real thrill from expounding the claim that the left wing is stuck in a bygone age when it could rely on being morally superior and nothing more. And it is true that numerous anti-American and anti-Semite worms have crawled out of the woodwork just in time to make us all look bad.

But the problem with Cohen’s position is that all he’s doing is claiming the moral high ground for the neocons. Basically, he seems happy to tell the left that they don’t recognise that the world has changed and things aren’t as clear cut as they once were, while at the same time he’s stating quite firmly that this is a simple case of moral imperative: we had to remove Saddam at any cost. Clearly, he wants to have his cake and eat it.

He continues by drawing attention to the millions of left wingers who demonstrated against ‘the overthrow of a fascist government’. To emphasise his point, he makes trite references to Rome, Madrid and Berlin – as if the residents of cities which had once lived under the shadow of a dictator should somehow ‘know better’. The problem is that opposing the war was never the same as appeasing Saddam. Who cares if he was happy about the protests? The point of the demos was to let our governments know that we weren’t going to be hoodwinked into an illegal war which would end up killing tens of thousands of civilians. And we were absolutley right.

The problem for those who were (and, carazily, still are) in favour of the war is that they really did think they were going to get things over and done with pretty quickly. They didn’t realise that they were going to visit on Iraq a state of murderous destruction not seen since the dark days of Saddam’s purges. Or if they did, they didn’t care.

The point of all this is, I suppose, to say that in the case of Iraq, there is no moral high ground. We on the left had nothing to suggest in the way of alternatives to getting rid of Saddam. We need the oil, the Iraqis need democracy and the world is a better place without that awful man. At the same time, supporters of the war must accept that they have made a colossal mistake in Iraq, causing the deaths of many tens of thousands of civilians, enraging an already volatile muslim community, establishing the dangerous precedent of pre-emptive attack and handing vast strategic power to a much more dangerous country: Iran.

In the end, Nick Cohen’s article is more or less spot on, insofar as it discusses the facts of the dispersal of the left-wing in Britain… (I only wish he’d write another about modern conservatism). While there are aspects of his argument which I find I can’t agree with, he’s correct about two important things: the left wing has lost its way horribly and we have failed to display any reasonable degree of solidarity with the Iraqis: the true victims of all this mess. Think on.

Victory for the homeland!

Those of you who visit thebadrash.com regularly might well be aware that I’m from Devon in England. The second biggest county in the country, Devon is the home of cream teas, Buckfast Tonic* Wine, Old Mother Hubbard and the guys who defeated the Spanish Armada. As well as this, Devon played a crucial role in the establishment of America, played host to a captured Napoleon and is the original location of the world famous Widdecombe Fayre.

So it is with great pride that I, a son of this noble, blessed land, can bring to wider attention the news that once again, Devon has shown itself to be superior to those simpering maniacs to our west, the Cornish. For decades, these Celtic rebels have done their best to steal the limelight from once-proud Devon. At long, long last we can confidently claim that we have scored a major victory against our wicked, seditious neighbours.

That’s right, evidence has proven what many of us have long suspected to be true: the so-called ‘Cornish Pasty’, a delicious snack of buttery pastry, minced beef, turnip and potato is in fact the ‘Devon Pasty’ – and much tastier for the name change, too.

But we Devonish folk won’t gloat about this important moment. Not for long, anyway. The Cornish have lost something which they have valued deeply since they stole it from us, and it must hurt very much to know that they now have nothing.

*Use of the word ‘tonic’ does not imply health-giving or medicinal properties.

All this environmental stuff

I know I’m meant to be worried. Sometimes I do worry. And I’m glad that the news is talking about climate change and pollution again. I do consider it to be a far greater risk to my life than, say, ‘international terrorism’.

But when it comes down to it, I’m not planning to do much to help to deal with climate change, CO2 emissions, etc etc. There are a few reasons that I’ve come to this conclusion and the first is that stupid one I always criticise other people for using: I cannot make any difference so there’s no point bothering.

Now, before you say I’ve lost my mojo, just think. Given that I already conserve energy in a loose, easy sort of way at home, I’d say that my energy consumption is probably average for Spain. The new TV uses a lot of juice but then I never drive. If I managed to reduce that energy use to nil, the resulting effect on the overall consumption of energy in Spain (or in Catalonia or Barcelona, for that matter) would be so infinitesimally useless and pathetic that all I would really have succeeded in achieving would be ruining my quality of life by forcing myself to eat raw vegetables and lentils soaked in (spring) water over night. Never mind the emissions that a diet like that would cause.

A popular statistic around at the moment is that if the UK closed down all their CO2-emitting power stations, it would take China only six months to fill in the gas gap that we’d left behind. What about India and China together?

The problem with climate change is that there is literally nothing any of us can do to help the situation. Why not recycle? Did you know that most of the stuff you recycle ends up in land-fill? Gemma and I recycle religiously… it’s something to do, you know? And yet I know that it’s a complete waste of time.

When it comes down to it, the single worst thing I ever do to the environment is air travel. I like to fly to places. It’s much quicker than taking a canoe or a bullock-cart. It’s selfish of me and I know it’s not helping but I like to see my parents once a year if I can. How else am I going to do that? If I forswear that I’ll no longer fly then I guess they’d eventually fly out to see me here. So what would I have achieved then? I’ve got two sets of parents (both parents and both step-parents), a brother, a sister, a step-sister and two half-sisters. By my refusing to fly, I’d force them to fly. So there’s no point bothering with it.

My other reason for not helping any more than I already am is skepticism. I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that things aren’t quite as bad as Al “I couldn’t even beat George Bush in an election I’d won” Gore would have us believe. The initial warnings on climate change, emissions and environmental damage which came out thirty years ago warned about very similar consequences and that it would be too late by 2006. Well, we haven’t done a single thing about it and now we’re being told we’ve got more time, even though the picture being painted is that things are even worse than we thought they were.

My point is: either we’re already screwed, or the science isn’t completely right. If the science is right, we’re already too late to do anything. While this doubtless smacks of lazy refusal to do more to combat climate change, it’s something I’ve struggled with for a long time. I was a real environmentalist a few years back and I’m still pissed off that Bush didn’t ratify Kyoto. So what’s changed? I got so sick of the religiosity behind the environmentalist movement that I started to question it. My central belief when it comes to politics has become: whatever people keep saying over and over again, mistrust it.

So that’s it. I’ll keep up with the useless recycling, the energy saving light-bulbs, the public transport and the support for green alternatives to burning coal for electricity production. But I’m going to keep up with my air travel, my expensive, energy hungry gadgets, the coal fire at home in Devon in the winter, putting the heater on, using the tumble-dryer etc etc etc. I make no apologies. I’m just sick of the whole business.

A coup is a transition

There’s a lot of interesting spin coming out of the PM’s office and the Treasury at the moment. Blair’s supporters are blaming Gordon Brown for orchestrating a ‘coup’ and have appeared on the BBC in their droves insisting that forcing Blair out now will be ‘damaging to the party’ and that Brown wouldn’t want to inherit that, now would he?

I take issue with the main argument here: that removing Blair ASAP will damage the Labour party, whereas allowing Blair to hang on for eight months will strengthen it. Is it not true that the single most unattractive thing about Labour is Tony Blair himself? Is it really worth hurting the party even more than it has been hurt over the last decade, just so that Blair can get his jubilee?

It looks to me as if Blair is now committed to preventing Gordon Brown from becoming leader. The eight month wait is ample time for John Reid or another loyal Blairite to establish himself as a successor to the great leader.

I wouldn’t say that Brown deserves to be PM in any way. But someone needs to take over pretty quickly if Labour is to slow – and reverse – its sliding in the polls. Besides, where’s the categorical difference between a coup and a transition? A coup is a transition… much quicker, of course, and sometimes bloodless.

(Oh, and by the way: anyone referring to Blair as ‘Bliar’ in these pages will have their IP address blocked.)

Why does everyone hate the BBC?

There is a widespread trend in the so-called ‘blogosphere’ which consists of bashing the BBC for an alleged bias behind their coverage of home and international news. Sites like ‘Biased BBC’, ‘Busting BBC Bias’, and several others are dedicated to highlighting a perceived anti-conservative or more often anti-Israeli agenda.

Analysis of state-run news agencies is important. I have witnessed plenty of occasions when the BBC has taken up its ‘public service – unite the people’ mantle with a bit too much enthusiasm. Golden Jubilees and other uninteresting royal events leap to mind.

However, I have never detected anything in their coverage of the Israel-Palestine or Israel-Lebanon which amounted to anti-Israeli bias. Every news report I’ve watched over the last few weeks has matched Fox News for the amount of content broadcast from the Israeli side of the frontier, spending plenty of time talking to Israeli civilians in shelters, inspecting damage to houses and shops, asking for the opinions of shoppers and holidaymakers in Tel Aviv. All of this was done in a sensitive, humane way with absolutely no hint of malice or put-downs on the part of the BBC.

Of course, the BBC also showed images of devastation in southern Lebanon. Blocks of flats which had collapsed, two-storey-deep holes in Beirut, dead women and children. Several times, it was noted that the BBC weren’t allowed to enter Hezbollah-controlled zones. It was made clear at these times that this might have been because Hezbollah had ‘command and control bunkers’ or ‘armed fighters’ on the streets. Continue reading Why does everyone hate the BBC?

‘Islamism’ in Swansea University

The Guardian reports today that many universities across the UK house extremist and Islamist groups which ‘pose a threat to national security’. Swansea University is listed as one of the institutions where Islamist groups have been found to operate by professor Anthony Glees, head of Brunel University’s centre for intelligence and security studies.

While I haven’t been a student at Swansea for some time now, it’s true that there was a fair degree of student activism on campus. I took part in campaigns for the abolishment of university tuition fees, to prevent the closure of university departments and on behalf of the Socialist Workers’ Party against the war in Afghanistan.

At around the same time, a motion was put before the student union council to boycott Israeli academics and institutions because of acts being committed by the Israeli state against Palestinians. These were the days of Ramallah and Jenin where crimes against humanity were carried out by the Israeli army.

The main critics of the motion to boycott Israeli academics and institutions were American and Jewish students, understandably fearful that the left wing of the student body were turning to an anti-Semitic position. A synagogue was damaged in an attack in 2002 – and though it was never proven that this was connected with Muslim or socialist students – the suggestion was that the socialists had helped to create a culture of hatred in the town.

Naturally, I think that this was the wrong conclusion. At a time when the BNP were trying to claw their way into local politics, race riots were taking place in Bradford and Leeds, the US had started its racist war against Muslims in Asia, there were a lot of violent and malicious incidents occurring. I believe that the intellectual boycott brought about by the student union was one of the best considered political acts I have witnessed. It was absolutely not anti-Semitic, and I find it personally insulting that whenever there is any discussion of the wrongs that have been committed on either side of the Palestinian conflict, accusations to that effect will be made.

The reason I have brought this up is that I have a sneaking suspicion that Swansea’s ‘extremism’ and ‘Islamic’ will be found to be intrinsically linked with the boycott of Israeli academics and institutions – which just isn’t the truth. As ought to be expected in the climate of fear that the British government is doing its best to create, any free thinking or direct action is automatically challenged as a threat to security.

Anyone familiar with Swansea university, Swansea City Council and the Swansea Police’s attitude towards leftist student activism will already be aware of the attempts made to silence lecturers, terrorise students and prevent demonstrations. It seems that the next attempt might be to refer to Muslim student activists as ‘terrorists’. This is exactly the sort of thing warned about before, throughout and after my brief time in Swansea.

The defamation of any politicised student or worker body has reached such a degree of acceptance in the UK that we may well have gone beyond the point of no return. It’s imperative that anyone who can, speaks out against this attitude.

The legality of the war never mattered.

Recent leaks and admissions over exactly what Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General said in his two bits of advice to the PM about war in Iraq has been generated by the Labour party to cloud our memories of why it is we opposed the war.

Legality was never the factor that bothered us. It was the only argument that could have been used to physically prevent our troops going into battle; but the argument against the war was always a moral one. And we were right. Today, Iraq still barely has a government, is under foreign occupation and suffers continual attacks from foreign insurgents. It seems trite to mention all this again, but there were no terrorists in Iraq until the US and the UK let them in. 21,000 civilians have died because of our greed. Half a million children died because of the hopelessly corrupt and inept UN Oil-for-Food programme and the allied air-strikes which went on for 10 years.

So now, Tony Blair says that he is happy to fight the election on trust, but at the same time, he makes the insupportable claim that if 10% of Labour voters stay at home, the Tories will get in “by the back door”.

We can trust Blair on some points: he’s committed to curtailing human rights in the UK; he’s willing to support the phoney wars started by the US; he will intentionally mislead the government and the electorate to pursue policies he believes are right; he cannot be trusted.

Of course, Michael Howard is no better.

So it makes sense to vote for smaller parties. England would benefit from an increase in the number of parties asking for support in the election. The Lib Dems might well still be interested in introducing proportional representation as a replacement for our current system.

Give Labour a bloody nose, but don’t let the Tories back in! Is what I think.

Christmas in Foreign Lands

“Instead of the placid ox and ass of Bethlehem, we have for companions the ravening tiger and exotic camel, the furtive jackal and the ponderous elephant” (Evelyn Waugh, A Handful Of Dust)

Christmas in a foreign country is always slightly absurd. Traditions, food, the correct time for opening gifts – everything is turned on its head so thoroughly, you could almost believe that Christmas isn’t an English festival.

But Christmas is English, just like Hallowe’en and Guy Fawke’s day. What could be more English than roasted meat, boiled vegetables, gravy, silly hats and dodgy jokes? As Orwell wrote, “Yes, there is something distinctive and recognizable in English civilization. It is a culture as individual as that of Spain. It is somehow bound up with solid breakfasts and gloomy Sundays, smoky towns and winding roads, green fields and red pillar-boxes. It has a flavour of its own.

This passage always reminds me of Modbury, Devon and home. Old fashioned? Yes. Stereotyped? Absolutely. But like it or not, that is a major part of the England I grew up in – a place which still has a feeling of continuity which I only rarely sense in Barcelona. If we travel to some of the more remote country towns here in Catalonia, I sometimes get a whiff of that continuity. Cerdanyola, however, has no redeeming features – especially not at this English time of year.

It seems to me that the reason Christmas seems so quintissentially English to me is that most of the ‘classic’ images of Christmas (except for those odd nativity scenes) are themselves quintissentially English. The snowy village with Victorian streetlamps, the frosty roofs and windows misted up, glowing with warmth against the bitter winter, holly and mistletoe, fights in the pub – all images typical of England. Well, my England anyway. And that’s the problem. When you grew up in a town so staid, traditional and olde-worlde picturesque like Modbury, Christmas actually is exactly like an old fashioned Christmas card to the tune of ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’. And Christmas in Tarragona isn’t.

Now don’t get me wrong – I’m not complaining about the opportunity to spend Christmas with Gemma’s family in the family town. I enjoy that. All I’m trying to do is explain how whatever they do, however much fun we have, however many fights they have in the local cerveceria, Christmas for me is English and old fashioned. I’m all for change but I’m really looking forward to next year.


Bon Nadal!


[This post was edited and updated on December 15th 2010]