Archive for July, 2009

Right-wing nutters and their obsession with birth certificates

July 29, 2009

BIRTHERSOver in the United States there are a number of conservatives of the tin foil hat wearing variety who believe that Barack Obama is not an American citizen and therefore declare his presidency to be illegitimate.

The ‘birthers’ (as they have become known) insist that Obama does not have a proper US birth certificate and that he is instead a citizen of Kenya. The loopiest of the loopiest think that this is all part of a massive conspiracy concocted by dirty foreigners who want to bring down the United States from the inside.

It’s all very silly and very mad. There is an unpleasant racial element to the whole thing as well, of course, with many birthers expressing nativist sentiments and incredulity that a black man could become President of the US without cheating.

Watch Jon Stewart’s take on the birthers – and those in the media and mainstream politics who are irresponsibly encouraging them – here.

Is Tory blogger Donal Blaney a paid-up member of the birther movement? He claims not to be, but still delights in repeating the allegations made against Obama by the lunatic fringes of the American right.

Blaney constantly refers to Obama as America’s “first Kenyan-American president“. He seems to doubt the authenticity of the official account of Obama’s life. For some reason, he also has a weird fixation with Barack Hussein Obama’s middle-name.

Anyway, efforts by reactionary cranks to undermine a democratically elected politician through spreading not-very-wild allegations about the circumstances of their birth are not new.

Ramsay MacDonald (of whom I have posted a few times before!) faced similarly pathetic tactics.

During the First World War MacDonald, then Labour MP for Leicester, became notorious for his steadfast opposition to the conflict and his attempts to negotiate an end to the fighting through the Socialist International. At a time when even the majority of the Labour movement got caught up in pro-war jingoism, MacDonald was one of the few voices questioning the value of sending hundreds of thousands of men to slaughter each other in the trenches.

Unsurprisingly, MacDonald’s anti-war stand incurred the wrath of the populist right-wing press. The journal John Bull wrote:

“We call him traitor, coward, cur. We demand his trial by Court Martial, his condemnation as an aider and abetter of the King’s enemies, and that he be taken to the Tower and shot at dawn.”

Lovely stuff. Best of British. The culmination of John Bull‘s campaign against MacDonald in 1915 was the revelation that – *shock horror* – the name MacDonald went under was slightly different to that recorded on his birth certificate and that his parents were not married:

“For months past – ever since the man who calls himself James Ramsay MacDonald, but whose real name is James McDonald Ramsay, has stood aloof from the almost unanimous response of the nation to the call of the King – we have persistently labelled him as a traitor and a coward; and we have called upon Leicester to rid itself of the stigma of having such a ‘representative’ in Parliament…

…we have remained silent with regard to certain facts which have been in our possession for a long time. First of all, we knew that this man was living under an adopted name – and that he was registerd as James McDonald Ramsay – and that, therefore, he had obtained admission to the House of Commons in false colours, and was probably liable to heavy penalties to have his election declared void.

But to have disclosed this state of things would have imposed upon us a very painful and unsavoury duty. We should have been compelled to produce the man’s birth certificate. And that would have revealed what today we are judtified in revealing…It would have revealed that ‘James Ramsay MacDonald’, MP for Leicester, late ‘leader’ of the Labour Party, late member of a Royal Commission, under the seal of His Majesty, the leading light of the Union of Democratic Control – libeller and slanderer of his country – it would have revealed him as the illegitimate son of a Scotch servant girl!

The journal then printed out a copy of MacDonald’s birth certificate. It was apparently news to him that he had originally been named ‘James McDonald Ramsay’ and he was genuinely shocked by the revelation.

MacDonald’s political career collapsed in the period immediately following the First World War. It seems highly unlikely that the ‘birther’ allegations he faced were as significant in explaining his temporary lack of electoral appeal as the accusations of treachery and allegiance with the Kaiser, but they certainly didn’t help his situation.

I hope Obama has more success in defending himself from today’s swivel-eyed, birth certificate-waving loons!


Barking mad

July 29, 2009

I spent yesterday in Barking. The sun was shining and lots of people were out and about. On Tuesdays the town centre hosts a market and yesterday it was very busy.

As I was walking around I came across a stall which stood out from the rest. It was flying a large Islamic flag on a pole and had numerous religious books, clothes, and miscellenia on display (the possible symbolism of the stall’s flag can be read about here).

The stall-keeper was a white man with a huge ginger beard wearing Islamic dress. Whilst his appearance was certainly eccentric, he was giving everybody a big proselytizing smile and seemed friendly enough.

I wanted to ask him whether he thought it really was a good idea to be trying to sell t-shirts with the words ‘SOLDIER OF ISLAM’ written upon them.

Doesn’t this just serve to confirm people’s prejudices about your religion, I would have suggested.

Why are you deliberately portraying the ‘religion of peace’ in a militant manner?

Do you think your stall has managed to win over more converts to Islam or more converts to the British National Party?

But since I myself was trying to conduct a public opinion survey on people’s attitudes to terrorism and multiculturalism in the nearby vicinity I thought it would be best to avoid any controversy.

Maybe next time!

Sir Charles James Napier and negotiating the dilemmas of multiculturalism

July 25, 2009

An eight-year-old girl of Liberian origin in the States has suffered the horrific ordeals of being raped and then consequently of being abandoned by her family.

They are apparently claiming that according to their cultural traditions she has brought shame upon them and so must be shunned. The girl is now in the care of social services.

Here in London a man has been hospitalised after a gang attacked him with acid and stabbed him. He was seemingly targeted because he was having an affair with a married Muslim woman who was not his wife. The woman also needs police protection.

A spokesman from the Active Change Foundation has said: “Honour crime happens a lot in our community, especially the Pakistani community, but we try to educate the people. It’s a cultural thing that comes from back home”.

Of course such extreme and dramatic stories are thankfully fairly rare, but the prevelance of forced marriages, for example, indicates that these culture-clash issues cannot be ignored.

Now on one level such depressing reports highlight the difficulties that a multicultural society faces and lead to all kinds of headache-inducing questions.

At what point do we stop tolerating cultural diversity and instead start insisting on imposing core collective values on everybody, even if these contradict the sincere traditions of minority groups? How can we improve the integration of immigrant communities into the cultural mainstream without becoming overly assimiliationist and risk alienating them further?

Or perhaps such liberal agonising is unnecessary, for the words of Sir Charles James Napier (1782-1853) provide some straightforward advice on negotiating such cultural contentions.

As can be seen from his wiki entry, a story for which Napier is famous involves a delegation of Hindu locals approaching him and complaining about prohibition of Sati, often referred to at the time as suttee, by British authorities. This was the custom of burning widows alive on the funeral pyres of their husbands. The exact wording of his response varies somewhat in different reports, but the following version captures its essence:

“You say that it is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom: when men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows. You may follow your custom. And then we will follow ours.”


July 23, 2009

Unity writes a characteristically detailed post at Liberal Conspiracy on how pseudoscience is not a valid educational choice. I agree entirely! Just because a bunch of people with eccentric views (to put it kindly) are well organised and fairly minted it does not mean that we should let them run schools.

Hopi Sen has been  interviewing Jon Cruddas. Hopi says he placed Cruddas sixth in the 2007 deputy leadership election. I put Cruddas at number one – I’ve always been a bit of a Cruddas enthusiast. JC refers to “the most interesting meeting” he has been to since becoming an MP taking place in a sports hall in his constituency. I think I was there whilst working for a political consultancy; we distributed some high-tech gadgets amongst the attendees allowing them to vote on different suggestions for Barking and Dagenham’s future. It was indeed a fun day. 

I’m not sure what exactly Cruddas is up to hanging out with James Purnell and his thoughts on the necessity of a progressive narrative sound a tad wishy-washy to me. Narrative is one thing but policies should come first! I still think the Cruddmeister is one to watch, even though he has declared that he does not want to be party leader.

And finally, Gene at Harry’s Place writes on a subject that I’ve also been thinking about recently. At Tolpuddle there was a lot of ‘Cuba Solidarity’, wholly uncritical of the Castro regime, on display. It’s disappointing, to say the least, when senior British trade unionists go over to Cuba (who’s paying for these trips?) and apparently neglect to question the lack of trade union freedom there, as well as all kinds of other human rights violations.

Tolpuddle Thoughts Part 2: The Politics

July 23, 2009

wobbliesThe marquee at Tolpuddle is a veritable hotbed of sedition. For example, on one side of the tent you will be presented with the banner of the British branch of the Wobblies – the ‘Industrial Workers of the World’ – who are surely little more than an anarcho-syndicalist historical reenactment society. On the other side you will find the stall for the ‘Troops Out Movement – Self-Determination for the Irish People’.

I’m not going to link to the ‘Troops Out Movement’ website. At the top of the site is the suspect claim that “everything posted here is 100% factual”. I could find no condemnations of Republican violence and terrorism and no acknoweldgement that the majority of people in Northern Ireland wish to remain part of the UK.

Other unpleasant politico-mentalism was to be found in the July edition of Workers, the journal of the Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist), which was being handed out for free in the marquee. Here is a list of things that anger all six members of the Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist):

  • When people confuse them with the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist).
  • When people confuse them with the Revolutionary Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist).
  • When asylum seekers come to the UK.

I’m being serious. Those other far-left sects also exist. Presumably when these sorts of people watch the famous Life of Brian splitters scene they do not find it all amusing but nod seriously in agreement with the People’s Front of Judea expressing their distaste for the Popular Front of Judea. The CPB(M-L) is distinguished by its initial ideological love of Maoism in the 1960s, then an infatuation with Albanian communism in the ’70s, and finally infuriation at Gorbachev’s reforms in the USSR in the ’80s.

Since they don’t have so many communist regimes to get excited about these days they weirdly seem to have focused their attention on criticising international migration. Their hatred of asylum seekers can be found within the pages of  Workers. In an article on refugees, the CPB(M-L) writes:

“The increase of migration and asylum seeking has made this a recurring theme in the pages of Workers, where we have argued that workers should fight where they are. Instead of claiming persecution in their own country and finding a way to travel half way around the world to get to Europe, or specifically Britain, they should stay and fight their own class enemy or rebuild their country”.

Elsewhere in the rag the CPB(M-L) expresses disgust at the proposal to grant amnesty to illegal migrants working in London, as this will just encourage more to come to the UK. Lovely stuff. If it wasn’t for their occasional references to Marxism being a good thing, I’m not sure it would always be easy to tell their views apart from those of the BNP.

Another publication being distributed at the festival was a print-out of the Workers’ Daily Internet Edition – the Daily On Line Newspaper of the Revolutionary Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist). REMEMBER NOT TO MIX THEM UP WITH THE COMMUNIST PARTY OF BRITAIN (MARXIST-LENINIST)!!

The Workers’ Daily was pretty dull, to be honest. It was simply two sides of A4 filled up with the author’s thoughts on how capitalism is nasty and how communism will be nice. I hardly had the patience to read through it once, so I can barely imagine any human being wanting to read the Workers’ Daily every day, and yet the paper confidently announces to readers that a year’s subscription would cost them only £36.95!

The Workers’ Daily I was given ends with the following not especially rousing statements:

No to Monopoloy Dictate!

No to the Wrecking of the Social Economy!

There is a Way Out of the Crisis!

Stop Paying the Rich! Increase Investments in Social Programmes!

For a Pro-Social Programme for the National Economy!

To be fair it was not only minor commie parties and moonbat political campaigns that could be found at Tolpuddle. Workers from the Vestas wind turbine factory on the Isle of Wight were asking people to sign a petition opposing its planned closure. 

One of the workers told me that they were planning to occupy the factory this week if they weren’t given assurances that it would stay open, and they have indeed organised a sit-in that has hit the headlines in recent days. Here is their blog.

It seems ridiculous that this factory should be allowed to close due to lack of demand for wind turbines when the government has committed itself to providing green jobs and investing in renewable energy sources. A bit of state intervention here would not go amiss, as far as I can see.

Yes to Ed Miliband going to speak to the Vestas workers!

Yes to maintaining much-needed skilled jobs by building wind turbines all over Tory constituencies!

Yes to using all the hot air generated in the Tolpuddle marquee to power some wind turbines and thus save the Vestas jobs!

Seriously though, good luck to them.

Tolpuddle Thoughts Part 1: The Music

July 22, 2009

Myself, some other Paintbrushers, and a Scotch comrade went camping at the Tolpuddle Martyrs’ Festival 2009 last weekend. It was ace.

Tolpuddle is a top notch festival – it takes place in a beautiful rural setting; it has very impressive facilities (i.e. hot showers and toilets that you’re not afraid to use!); and of course it attracts a wonderfully diverse array of loony lefties.

The focus is on the political remembrance. Most people turn up at Tolpuddle on the Sunday for the march and speeches and then head away again.

However, as the festival has become more established over the years it has started hosting more and more musical acts, presumably to distract the socialist, communist, and anarchist campers and prevent them from fighting each other.

Much of the music wasn’t anything to write home about (perhaps the 21st equivalent of that phrase should be ‘to blog about’?). I doubt that anyone goes to Tolpuddle just for the music.

Amongst the biggest musical disappointments, in my opinion, were Trotsky’s Talkin Blues Buro, a band fronted by Marina, aka ‘the Soviet Sweetheart’, who was supposed to sing traditional Marxist music from Georgia.

The name was wacky, but the tunes and lyrics were just a bit tacky.

I’m not even convinced that Marina and her band really were from the Republic of Georgia! I think they may just have been putting on weird accents and singing songs vaguely about communism – which was all very odd.

A verse from one of their numbers went:

Wherever there’s a disaster

You know I get there faster

Than a capitalist can

Cos I’m a Marxist-Leninist man.

Bizarre! Taking into account that they might not have been genuine foreigners then the words seem especially unimpressive.

I insisted on taking us to see Rev Hammer play in the marquee on Sunday. I expected interesting things from Rev Hammer as I know he is buddies with some of my favourite crusty bands (the Levellers and New Model Army) and I’d heard he writes songs about 17th century radical John Lilburne.

Unfortunately the Rev came out with all sorts of soppy stuff dedicated to his wife, which sounded nice enough but wasn’t really what I was looking for at midday on the Sunday. Durbinite described him as a bit pedestrian. We didn’t stay long.

Of mediocre quality were five-piece folk rockers Jigsaw. They were fine, but I only really got excited when they played Levellers and Oysterband covers.

Next best was the Dublin City Workingman’s Band who headlined the Saturday night. Although I don’t really buy into the whole romanto-nationalist view of Irish culture (which country was the only one in Europe where more people volunteered to fight for Franco than for the Republic eh? Eh?!), I will admit that they were entertaining.

Durbinite was not satisfied with the relatively moderate level of fenianism displayed by the band and so had to get his more stridently nationalist kicks with some drunken anarchists afterwards.

An obvious contender for best music from this year’s Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival is of course Billy Bragg, who played on Sunday after the march and speeches to a large crowd.

BB was on top form. He played a good mix of songs (‘Sexuality’, ‘Greetings to the New Brunette’, and the essential ‘There is Power in a Union’). His inter-song banter was as articulate and reasonable as ever. Draft that man into Parliament, says I! There are indeed few things better in life than Billy Bragg leading a rendition of The Red Flag.

However, because Billy has already enjoyed enough success and it goes without saying that he was excellent, I’m going to redistribute my musical praise onto Friday night’s headliners: the local band Who’s Afear’d.

They describe themselves as the pride of Dorset’s scrumpy and western scene. I think calling them Dorset nationalist or county chauvinist nutjobs would be more accurate. They were deranged and fantastic!

who's afear'dNever before did I know that there were people in Dorset sincerely angry about the “devestating 1974 ruling that severed Bournemouth’s ties with Dirty Hampshire County and forced the town’s incorporation into the green splendor of Dorset County”.

Who’s Afear’d are revisionists who refuse to accept the boundary changes and still consider Bournemouth to be part of Hampshire. They are very passionate about this.

They are also very frank in their hatred of Hampshire, so considering the fact that I spent many years living near Portsmouth I was understandably slightly concerned for my safety lest they were to whip the crowd up into a Hampshire-hating lynch mob.

But surely the best type of music is that which makes you feel a little bit scared?

I advise you to check out the “badger baitin, ‘ampshire hatin’ toss” that is Who’s Afear’d as they are certainly bound to become the next big thing (in Dorset!).

Here’s Who’s Afear’d proclaiming their love of Dorset:

Here’s an amusing video about their hatred of neighbouring Hampshire county that they’ve obviously put quite a bit of effort into:


So in conclusion, the music was a bit hit and miss, but Billy Bragg was reliably great and Who’s Afear’d were eye-opening. Remember folks: Always look on the bright cider life!

Knowing me, VoteRedGoGreen, knowing you, Norwich North…

July 19, 2009

I have just returned from the Norwich North by-election.

Not a great deal to report, although we didn’t see an awful lot of Tories, Liberals or Greens out. Lots of Labour people, and a really good vibe about the campaign (although, in fairness, there always is on a by-election – even Crewe and Nantwich had a certain something in the air).

Norwich is a lovely city, though, and does not deserve its reputation as described in the “Perception” section of Norwich’s Wikipedia page:

Norwich is sometimes portrayed in the UK media as a place which is remote, unsophisticated, gauche, and out-of-step with national trends (see Alan Partridge).

Now that’s just rude.

We’ve been rubbish…

July 17, 2009

…at blogging recently. Take heart, loyal fans who aren’t just here after googling ‘Lily Allen’, we will have some amazingly brilliant posts for you next week!

The Daily Show and Sweden

July 14, 2009

The Daily Show takes a look at America’s socialist future…

This and this made me laugh.

Good old Sweden!

Ramsay MacDonald responds to the economic crisis

July 12, 2009
So what did you think of my speech?

"So what did you think of my speech?"

A week or so ago VoteRedGoGreen wrote a post on what he would like to hear Gordon Brown say in a speech outlining the Labour government’s response to the country’s economic problems.

In October 1930 Britain was suffering from the effects of the Great Depression. The U.S stock market had crashed in 1929 and the worldwide economic downturn was exacerbated by the onset of protectionist fervour (such as the moronic U.S Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act) and a subsequent collapse in global trade. Unemployment was growing and Ramsay MacDonald’s Labour government was feeling the pressure.

Of course, it all went horribly wrong after a bit, but MacDonald’s speech to the 1930 Labour Party Conference (the last he was to make, if I’m not mistaken) was a tour de force which managed to convey the impression that here was a Prime Minister undaunted by the scale of crisis:

“So, my friends, we are not on trial; it is the system under which we live. It has broken down, not only in this little island, it has broken down in Europe, in Asia, in America; it has broken down everywhere, as it was bound to break down.

And the cure, the new path, the new idea is organisation – organisation which will protect life, not property.

I appeal to you, my friends, today, with all that is going on outside – I appeal to you to go back on to your socialist faith. Do not mix that up with pettifogging patching, either of a Poor Law kind or of Relief Work kind.

Construction, ideas, architecture, building line upon line, stone upon stone, storey upon storey; it will not be your happiness, and it will certainly not be mine, to see that every stone laid in sincerity has been well laid.

But I think it will be your happiness, as it is mine, to go on convinced that the great foundations are being well laid…and that by skilled craftsmen, confident in each other’s goodwill and sincerity, the temple will rise and rise and rise until at last it is complete, and the genius of humanity will find within it an appropriate resting place.”

Ok, so the image of a socialist temple being slowly but surely built is a bit wacky, and MacDonald seemingly managed to get through the speech without any serious discussion of government policy.

But it was still a triumph. Through appeal to principle, MacDonald successfully rallied the previously discontented party behind him (temporarily at least).

James Maxton’s motion criticising the government had the misfortune to be scheduled for discussion immediately after MacDonald’s address. After the enthusiastic cheering for the leader’s speech had begun to die down, big leftie Maxton rose to half-heartedly condemn the leadership’s feebleness.

Maxton had to pay tribute to MacDonald’s “very great speech” even as he listed his many complaints against MacDonald’s policies (or lack of). The Maxton motion was then defeated by 1,800,000 votes to 330,000.

Ideally a leader’s speech is solid in both the style and substance departments.

Talk about values and utopian visions (unlikely these days!), fine, but be prepared to explain to your party how you will make those values and visions a policy reality.

We’ll see what Gordo comes up with in the autumn…