Sunday, 30 August 2015

Corbyn, from fringe to frontrunner, an insider's perspective .

It’s been a while since that first tiny meeting at the Newcastle Irish Centre so many weeks ago, so the best question to ask is where did we start from, where are we now, and maybe  even how we got there.
Way back on Sunday July 12th we were mostly resigned to hitching our wagon to a principled man and his ideas which were ours as well and knowing we’d never get out of last place because let’s face it, who would have wanted to vote for a lefty like Corbyn? The day before I’d been out canvasing in South Heaton on the Chili road with Mick Bowman and few others of our ilk and had declared that given the choices, we’d rather go down with the ship with principles intact than support a candidate who would quietly bury us in the history books  come 2020.  Armed with this fatalistic, doom laden “now is a good time to die” approach, some of us dove in feet first and waited to see what the man was like in person.
Not disappointed, from his entrance into the packed function room that holds about 200, Corbyn walked in, knocked over the music stand of the singer who will now forever be known as that lass who sang at the Corbyn do, helped her pick up her bits and pieces, thus making him the only man she’d ever had to bow down to.  With the candidate Once on stage, Ben Sellers, David Stockdale and all the others who had come to or organised the event were treated to a fairly direct and honest  Q&A with Jeremy Corbyn.  Ranging from the soft and flippant to the harder edged serious questions, the veteran Islington MP managed to keep an even, sincere tone while never wholly shaking that image of a man thrust into a strange new place despite himself. I can’t speak for others, but I knew from about the second question in, I liked the man. He reminded me of the great lefty activists I used to know when I lived in Montreal, sincere to a fault and unlikely to shrink from a fight if forced into a corner. Those who mistake his laid back nature for weakness do so at their peril, there is a sharp tongue and even sharper mind in that head and he’s not a jumped out of nowhere phenom with no policy, unlike last year’s flavour of the moment, UKIP. It’s likely that barring a few meetings, that was the last time Corbyn would speak to a room as small and the last time any of us would feel as suicidally principled.  But you know even as the meeting was breaking up, the photo ops and souvenir shots taken and the man was going out the door, I still hadn’t shaken the feeling we were anything but a valiant last stand of the real left. 

A week later on the 20th of July, Harriet Harman put on a three line whip and ordered to our horror Labour MPs abstain on the welfare bill.  As it happened, 48 broke the whip including only one leadership candidate. From that day onward our fatalism became anger, the public who were till then somewhat supportive but incredibly sceptical of the chances of a good man, a mensch, surviving the process let alone getting elected leader, turned on the Labour establishment with a flashing anger and determination not to give up.  From that day, we started collecting, first in ones and twos then in whole groups, people who wanted to at least register their support for the one decent, good candidate that spoke their language. Then those who had come to our fairly large tent started to believe we should try, could even make a fight of it. New people from the trade unions, community groups, young, old, native,  immigrant, well off, poor , men, women, hopeful , disillusioned etc…  all of them came wanting to join what was becoming a wave, a movement. 

I knew we had come to that no turning back moment when a mate who shall remain nameless , Ed, co created Kittens for Corbyn. When you have kittens, all other arguments become invalid and Mum's net declares your man sexiest man on Earth.  You can't make it up. 

I want to take a step back here now, a few years ago  when I first came to Newcastle I said that the complacent  comfortable, dare I say presumptuous air of the Labour Party in the North East could easily be  swept aside in a tsunami of  populist,  charismatic , hope renewed politics. When UKIP came along, it shook us a bit but not enough to dislodge or  create a wave, the Greens and Tusc  hurt us but no so much that we lost ground, if anything Labour picked up votes on the back of a real desire to stick it to the tories, at least in the North.  But if there had been an SNP candidate around, I can tell you that we could have had a nasty shock on election night.  The SNP did to us what the rotten empty shell of the Labour party deserved. It swept it aside in a popular wave that took even great hard working MPs in its wake.   So imagine my relief when the next wave, the one that would have washed the last remains of the old Labour Party was a Labour man from North London riding the crest with his sensible suit and socialist beard, bearing the ideas and the tools to take the barely standing shell and fill it once again with strength, principle and volunteers. 

The next big thank you I have is to Tony Blair…. The day he informed us we needed a heart transplant, there was no turning back. Those still wondering and waiting, waited no more. If there was a day on which this race was lost by the right, it was that one. Everything else has been second third and fourth helping of Sh… . Just when I think there is no more mud to sling they scraped a bit more off the bottom of the barrel. Tis a miracle it is we have kept our tongues civil, but we shall march on knowing we have the people and the truth with us. 

So roll on a few weeks, add to the mix a relentless smear campaign against Corbyn  by all but a few so called journalists and political types, fold in a generous dose of paranoia fed by all the talk of purges and threats from infiltrators…. and you have an establishment running scared.  Nothing sticks, his numbers grow, and his ratings are incredibly strong even in places where we should be weak. This is an election like none other, in all my years I have not seen the likes of such a thing. In one constituency where we should have been beaten by a huge margin, we are in fact 10 points ahead of the rest. Suffice to say where we are strong; the numbers are at times so hard to swallow we have to check twice to make sure we aren’t somehow imagining it all. 

Days away from the close of the vote, Ladbrookes having paid out on wagers, any result other than a win will be seen as tampering of the first order. What the Grandees and PLP have done is just insure that when the change does come it will not be the one they wanted or nearly as nice to them as it would have been. We on the left have been asked by our leader to turn the other cheek, be nice, and not play their game. Well most of us won’t, at least not in the open, why should we? We’ve already won; we’ve won because we are no longer the long shot, the crazy ones, and the disconnected unelectable ones. We are the future, we had been before but no one was listening, in giving us Corbyn the party gave us the two things we needed to win… a platform and a candidate. We will not now be ignored, we will not now be cowed, and we will not now be robbed of our party and our leader.
First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, and you win. Transformed since July from the unwilling standard bearer of the left into the smooth front runner with the confidence to confront the worst of the dirt thrown at him, Jeremy Corbyn has done the one thing none of the others have done; produce popular, vetted and principled positions that resonate with the party and the public. On the night he came to Newcastle the second time I saw him in his dressing room alone with his son and an advisor, composing himself. Let me tell you, the defiant, confident powerful speaker we saw, come from deep inside a private man who knows he is the holder of the dreams, desires and demands of hundreds of thousands of ordinary people. The mantle we have laid on him lays heavy but he is equal to the task. 

Fool to fighter and winner in such a short time, Jeremy Corbyn has been the figure head and vessel for an entire movement that slumbers no more, what the party does with us in the next few days will go far in determining if there is a Labour Party after 2020. 

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

The night we crossed the Rubicon

so 48 Labour MPs voted NO on welfare cuts, my own MP Nick Brown was not
among them, though according to stories in the papers he was among a
great many not happy at being forced to abstain. At the end of the day
it is the 48 who said no who will have made the stand those of us who
voted Labour in the last election and kept faith, wanted to see.

At the Newcastle Irish Centre

My choice weeks ago was not set, but vaguely left and curious about
Corbyn. As of two or three weeks ago I fell into the Corbyn camp more
out of comfort with fellow travellers than understanding that I was,
like them , following my principles to their logical conclusions. During
the election I had longed for us to steal the thunder of the SNP and be
kind to immigrants, fight austerity, bin Trident adding my own personal
goal of nationalising the rail lines and utilities. Positions
described as unpopular but surprisingly gaining traction even before
election day dawned. As it happened we had no spine, our leaders were
weak and never did figure out we wanted more distance between us and
the tories not less.

Who's NHS? OUR NHS! well apparently no...
not with our comfortable season ticket holding career leadership
cowering behind the wall in fear of the dark mass of Daily Mail readers
that wouldn't vote for us even if we promised to castrate Millwall fans.
Last night's vote proves they fear wandering from the Tory narrative so
much they prefer to be known as the ones who put the final nails in
the coffin of the Labour party. Well I can hear you saying that Corbyn
and the left wing of the party will do that. At least it would be a
choice we give the electorate, a clear obvious dramatically clear
choice. I'd rather go down fighting than be smothered quietly in the
soft mushy quicksand the Parliamentary party wants us to perish in. 

Speaking at the Durham Miners Gala

The fact is that we have five years of the Tories in a majority
government, we've lost the Scots, the left and the middle ground. If we
don't have a discussion now about policy and reform, when will we? Who
will trust us ever again? By choosing Jeremy Corbyn, we as individuals
make clear to the Westminster mob that the rank and file will not stand
idly by and be dictated too like small naughty children who don't know
any better. Our popular positions are in fact what people want, and it's
time the party reflected that. So who's party is it anyways? You'd be
surprised how complicated and expensive it was until recently to join
the party of the people, starved of volunteers, local constituencies ,
hands tied by regulations and sliding scales, have been unable to
operate anywhere near as busy or active as they should due to the
Byzantine politics of recruiting. Policy dictated from above and
filtered out so carefully we are at times at a loss to determine what is
and is not official policy.

I can tell you that from where I
sit, only Jeremy Corbyn can force the conversation that has to take
place to halt the rot and turn around the decline in what are supposed
to be core Labour values. Compassion, fairness, openness to the world
and the balls to take the acceptable risks to get Britain working again.
And it is a discussion, one in which we will not all agree nor will we
get all our bits in. Which brings me to another thing. Some have said
they cannot vote for a candidate because he or she does not tick the one
foreign policy box they see as a deal breaker. For some its BDS, yet
others Palestine or our involvement in foreign wars. Let me tell you
comrades, I as a member of stop the war coalition desperately want
peace, but cannot agree for reasons of culture and personal self
interest on every iota they have to say , and yet ... I will work hard
for them. Are some of you troubled by the one or two positions held by
Jeremy Corbyn on Palestine? Will that stop you, an otherwise committed
voter on the left from supporting him? That would be sad as this is less
about foreign policy than it is about the kind of Britain we want to
live in. There is only one candidate willing to put that vision into
practice. World events come and go, but we need a party that will save
our NHS, protect the weakest in society, promote education, trade unions
and yes even hard working business people willing to pay their fair
share of tax. Like all things that change, working conditions have
changed along with the challenges that come with the Internet economy.
The self employed, the small family business and the need to harness,
feed and house all this talent rather than doom them to the back alleys
and food banks. But if you are hung up on one issue and think some
perfect person will come along that fits you like a glove, mate you're
in for a long wait while the rest of us get on with it. Europe is at yet
another crossroads where we can veer left or carry on with austerity.
Country by country we are lurching towards a real alternative that does
not abandon compassion, fairness or security. Hard fought worker rights
are under threat, health care, access to education and civil rights are
crumbling before our eyes. If we allow the right and the fascists to
high jack the agenda of change we have only ourselves to blame.

Now is our turn to take the first step by joining the Labour Party as a
supporter at a £3 level before August 12th. Let's elect a real socialist
as leader who will conduct the conversation our top most layer seems to
fear so much. I would be shocked if it turned out what we're saying
wasn't connecting with the public and the rank and file. Long ago the
mainstream press from the Guardian to the Telegraph became more
interested in selling papers than the truth; on the street, in meeting
halls and in the privacy of social media outlets people have been moving
along and past these now paralysed old organs of the establishment
looking for an instrument of change, Jeremy Corbyn is that instrument.

Did you vote TUSC, Green, SNP or not at all in the last election? Maybe
you held your nose and voted Labour, no matter; that was then, this is
now. Get the party you want by taking part in the process. I don't
promise you perfection or that we'll win every time. But I will tell you
this, a few weeks ago we thought it would be a miracle if Corbyn got on the ballot, then we figured he'll at least make a good show of it, but
look at where we are. 15 points in the lead according to some polls, the
party establishment is afraid, very afraid. Last time I saw such a
thing we won a close municipal marginal much to the surprise and dismay of the Lib Dems. ‪#‎jezwecan‬ The only thing crazy about this campaign is that it looks like as long we don't take our eye off the ball, we will win this!

Contact your local constituency party, Labour councillor or trade union to see about joining and helping.

Join the Labour Party

Corbyn for leader North

Monday, 21 July 2014

Sanctuary Artspace presents: Maya Horton Silent Seas

Running from the 21st to the 31st of July, at St-Edmunds church in Gateshead, Sanctuary Artspace presents a retrospective of works by local artist Maya Horton.

Maya is a trained marine biologist who's work has taken her to far flung places in the northernmost reaches of the planet. From as close to home as South Shields to the wintry vistas of the frozen tundra, when free time presented itself, Maya recorded the special way water and sky combine at sea. She has captured in particular, the strong blues that only ever occur this close to the top of the world. Combined with the variety of weather and the eternal dusk of her paintings, you cannot help be transported to these wild isolated places.

The gallery is open from noon to 4 pm most days and is right across from the Trinity Square shopping Centre. To close the show on the 31st, from 7 pm to 9pm there will be a special story telling evening starring the Moss Troopers. In the setting of an 800 year old church, hear northern culture come to life.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Sanctuary Artspace presents: The selfie as mirror of the soul

Gateshead's Sanctuary Artspace, known for it's many and varied exhibits in the past,  has for  this week only, an interactive display art event they hope to move into a more permanent viral format . When asked if this was an one off, Rev Jim Craig said he hoped an online version of this could be set up  and maintained so that more people could participate.

The "how do you see your #selfie " exhibition opened on Monday with over 100 hand drawn selfies, each as unique as the person who drew it.

Ranging from small children to adults and crossing the wide gulf that is perceived artistic talent, the selfies reveal a range of ambitions, emotions and self image. In amongst the many tiny images, I found inspirational combinations of words and images that alone or in juxtaposition to other images revealed a healthy, spiritual and hopeful community. If we as people could find a way to wear our hopes, dreams and desires as clearly as this display does, we might realize that in a very real way that no man is an Island, we are not alone in a sea of utter gloom, nor are the aspirations and connections around us as uniform as we think they are. 

In my own selfie I drew a man who is among the views and vistas he loves, but the instrument I view them with and share with the rest of the world... my camera... was bold, clear, distinct. The camera is revealed as my face to the world, my images,  how I  hope to be seen.  While I was saying don't look at me, look at my work, others were in your face and bold about themselves rather than what they do.

Rev. Jim Craig

The creators of this event, Sanctuary Artspace director Rev Jim Craig and his visiting trainee Vicar Kate Jamie,  were also looking for signs of spirituality and faith. In the art works  we see a variety of  self belief, reliance on faith for guidance and the flame of those who hope that they are in fact good examples to those around them. If there is a word that comes to mind that links both the timid and the bold in these spiritual selfies, it is hope.  Hope that we are the best we can be in the eyes of others, hope that others see us as we are ourselves and hope that what it is we are, is of some use to others.

Is this public made installation, art? Are the various  bits of art meant to be seen solely as unique expressions of individuality and nothing more? I like to see it as the DNA of  those  moved  to lift part of their mask joining up into a single bright lamp.  Be like them, show your soul, be inspired by others.

Cut out the flame , fill it in, add it to the others.

Monday, 30 June 2014

Dear Labour party: Time to engage in a fact based dialogue

Dear Labour party and Ed, it occurred to me a while ago while watching the news on Al Jazeera and Euro news in several languages, that we are not alone in facing a similar onslaught of far right lies and conservative trickle down theology that is held up by a barely believable but well financed media campaign that has pulled the wool over the eyes of even some of the smartest people I know, some of them even in the front benches of Her Majesty's loyal Opposition. Isn't it time we stopped "taking on board the concerns of the people" and started maybe putting out the case for the vision of the future under Labour?

I have no problem with reactionary politics if it means

1- We de-construct the myths from the truths in any public policy debate.

2- Show people the genuine consequences of some of the other parties policies if they are elected for the one popular policy or slogan they have.

3- Insure that who ever is being the straw man of the day is rescued before it becomes not only ok  but required ritual to demonize any one group of people regardless of class, level of wealth, ethnicity or religion.

4- Boldly strip the media bullies of the power to lie by not going for the bait. 

5- We stand by the principles that underpin the NHS, the welfare state and the Just Society so many other people are fighting deadly awful wars and revolutions to achieve. 

and lastly.

6- We finally make a move on creating that coalition with the electorate we used to have.  Only this time it's young women who are not their mothers and grandmothers, immigrants who are on the whole, hard working, educated and business minded and what about all those middle and upper class people you abandoned to the Lib Dems and the Tories. There are a lot more of those people than a hard core of former trade unionists or rabid common sense revolution far right nutters.

Here are a few things some people in the party seem to not know or pretend not to know.

Posh people vote and they are not all tories. If anything, educated, slightly better off and not blue collar still make an impact in the market place and the fair trade world of consumerism, do you honestly think they will bite you if you talk to them?

Religious people are not all right wing  swivel eyed loons. In fact most immigrants are a delightful combination of Catholic, Muslim or Sikh and do not believe in creationism, buggery of children or homophobia. As for your bog standard "English" religious person, and they are legion, they are also in the same mould as the immigrants.  All of these people, who by the way  support the separation of Church and state to some extent or other,  have in the past  and will again, vote Labour, the question is, how much recognition and respect will you give them?

About Immigrants. Immigrants are in the vast majority, not on benefits, many even if they wanted to, cannot qualify for at least three years. They are healthy, young, educated and multilingual, here to work and build businesses that pay taxes and contribute to the cost of all those English people on benefits moaning about immigrants on benefits. Nobody is living in £3 million houses for free with 20 children. It may not mean much to some, but to people of immigrant stock or recent arrivals, it's beyond insulting and has to stop. BTW, where do you think all those immigrants, old and new  go to for advice, spiritual  needs, food, meetings and parties? PUB? no, more like Churches, Mosques, small family run businesses, community halls and centres. Without these institutions many of us would not even have our cultures, basic liberties or dignity. We shop in small community grocers and we cook, we buy in bulk, our food is smelly and funny and sometimes it even becomes flavour of the week and yet despite all those vital and interesting contributions to the community, local economy and democracy, we have to fight still in 2014 to be treated as something more that just a colourful dance troupe on special days.

 What are British values? Well not to put too fine a point on it, Judeo Christian values that are best expressed by a combination of basic laws that protect the weak, the poor and the truth from oppression and tyranny. It is a system that has evolved to create a better distribution of wealth and tolerance of difference in culture and language where the basic laws that govern civil society need not bar or limit the free expression of people or peoples in a community. It is since 1948, a system that takes it as given that all people have a right to proper health care, education and upward mobility. Most if asked, are proud of the relatively recent tradition of accepting refugees and helping those who cannot help themselves.  These values have evolved and gotten better with every generation and with every wave of immigration. If we stand for inclusion, tolerance , justice and  equality, then I'm fine with British values.  But let's be careful where we go if we insist on blindly going along with IDS and Theresa May.

As for White Voters, let's draw a line under that term and call a spade a spade..... White means English/Scot/Irish/Welsh, everybody else is something else. Some of us are excitable Slavs, emotional Latins or Mediteranians and equally mysterious Nordic types. We have as many different and varied ways of  interacting with others or ourselves as there are ethnic groups and regional traditions. If you think you can appeal to every so called WHITE PERSON with a uniform campaign strategy, media message and direct contact, then you are doomed to miss out on vast swathes of the electorate. Not everybody drinks down the pub or shops at the Morrison's. There is so much happening out there away from the tired old spots; Parks, Churches, Mosques, YMCAs, allotments and schools, these are all the other natural collection points for people that don't spend all their time at the pub or at home watching telly.

About the White Voters. How come so many are so afraid? Well the further away you are from the more multi ethnic city centres the more likely you are to be a bigot. The less education you have, the more likely you are to be a bigot. The poorer you are the more likely you are to be lured in by the far right fantasies about immigrants, poor people, the unemployed and the sick. So what to do with them? Firstly some of them will never change and there is no point in trying to dissuade them. Secondly, the rest of them, if given a better laid out situation with the truth in plain sight, will at the very least be less openly bigoted or even .... come around and see reason.

I am mystified at the continued belief among some that we can somehow win the next election with only the unlikely combination of worried "working class" white voters, atheists, ageing feminists and disillusioned 40 and 50 something year old Guardian readers.

When the likes of the Tory front benches and the increasingly shrill right wing media, including the BBC now, put up straw man after straw man and the media and gullible public lap it up like mother's milk, it's time we as a party made a decision to stop being so bloody cautious and understanding. 

The fact is that with hardly any declared policy and a less than stellar performance from the leadership, we are in a position to win a majority government. Imagine if we showed some spine and spirit,  I'm giddy with the idea of waking up the electorate. We sit on the cusp of a major rebellion among the most destitute and the least powerful, we ignore the middle class that is slipping into the same trap and still despite saying next to nothing, have a shot at power. Now if we also tried to lure back all those people being temped by the Greens on the intellectual left, the toff left, and the grumpy old Hippie left, instead of apologising to the UKIP/Tory hordes, the narrative in UK politics would be different.

Do we not stand for something good? Is not the Labour party about rising above the easy the trite and the safe? When principles are as easily abandoned as yesterdays dirty pants then they are not principles. When it wasn't popular or easy, Labour promoted the NHS, social equality, immigration, environmental policy and Europe.  Even now we can high jack the agenda by turning it on its head and making it about the big multi nationals that don't pay taxes, protecting the migrant workers from exploitation, rebuilding the trust and the foundations of the NHS, creating new long lasting jobs for well educated young people who have hope not despair. I'm still waiting for the rumble to be heard over the din of the Number 10 orchestrated pro Murdoch press.

From now on in, the conversation with the electorate and the press, if with nobody else, needs to be in the tone of a Government in waiting. Labour need to discredit the lies and defend the legacy it took decades to build. People are not as stupid as they sometimes let on. An informed electorate will be less likely to fall for the lies peddled by the red tops and now sadly the BBC. We need to grow a spine, strip the lies away and deal with the actual problems head on. It won't make the party friends with everybody, but why would you want that? You want a solid mass of voters to support a properly thought out platform that can be carried out over the life of a Parliament or even two.

What about the European question? I cannot speak for others but I believe in Europe, I believe in a union that is keeping us free from a major war and the sort of chaos that sucked the world into a frenzy of  racism, ethnic cleansing and intolerance that lead to the ovens of Auschwitz.  NEVER AGAIN. The EU is not perfect but the alternative is far worse. Political and economic union is hardly the end of the world and has despite a few hick ups created a zone where we are frankly better off than we were before the EU. A massive level playing field will never be a bad thing and even now benefits the UK more than harms it. And in case people are missing this particular bit of news, were it not the active involvement of the EU right now, Putin would not have backed down and we would be knee deep in a Central European war with all that goes with it.... refugees on a scale not seen since 1945, escalations and massive destruction and the disruption of the gas supply from Russia, followed by the inevitable reconstruction decade where we rebuild everything that got burned bombed and levelled to the stone age. To me, Europe is not an academic question nor is it just about a few miserable regulations.

So in short, please Eds, both of them and all the others, please start acting like the next Government.  We have a year, let's not waste the time.

Ed Miliband's recently released text from the Sunday Times. It's a start, but we need more.

Are you considering Labour? Help shape the message

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Why a federal South Sudan

As I write this, Riek Machar is in the bush fighting for the survival of the dream of a just and equal South Sudan while  the rest of the world is grasping at straws or is pretending that Silva Kiir is just another politician who's head has been filled with the desire of power past the point of recognizing reason.

The truth is far less simple and the root of the problem is to be found in the very nature of the old Sudan and the way even the South of the country operated from 1957 onwards. South Sudan much like the rest of the country it broke away from, is far from homogeneous. It is a place where a multitude of peoples, some more numerous than others, live cheek by jowel with each other in a mixed society that only found an identity when the desire for an independent South Sudan got enough traction within the ranks of the SPLA/SPLM and it's splinter movements over the years. As far back as John Garang, there was always a plan to create a federated Sudan or Riek Machar's plan do the same to an independent South Sudan.

John Garang

Why federalism? What is the attraction of a system that creates a filtering of power from the people v the direct application of power by the all the people over the entire region?  It's simple,  South Sudan is not easily lumped into one chamber and one identity in that sort of organic natural way that you could say.... expect of Portugal. Tribally or ethnically the end result of a Presidential system leads to the selection of  a leader by all Southern Sudanese who is flawed in as much as the only possible result is yet another Dinka or Nuer who will think of nobody else or Riek Machar who along with his alies was always for a more representative leadership that took into account the needs of the entire nation. Such a system requires all Equatorians to band together and support one party or create a party that will somehow attract votes from across the country, but inevitably, never enough to win the presidency. But in a federal system with a prime minister, such a party in a parliamentary system would be very powerful indeed.

When  I was working for RASS many years ago during the long dark years of struggle, we realized quickly that the creation of an identity for the new country would not come from ethnicity,  but from the cooperation of many ethnicities in the fashion that had always existed. Towit; every time there was a Gordian knot of  massive proportions to cut through, it was done by people from smaller, less populous tribes from Equatoria. This worked for the simple reason that traditional mediation by such peoples was accepted by the much larger tribes on the basis that these smaller groups would not propose any solution that would allow for a worse situation in which they themselves would be hurt and by extension the rest of the country would be equally protected from further disagreement that usually stemmed from a Dinka Nuer conflict, that  as we have just seen , could lead to bloodshed on a massive scale.

Why this traditional tribal structure that has worked for decades was set aside, I do not know. The current  artificial presidential model has led to numerous policy disasters not least of which was the apparent decision that it would be a good idea for Dinka cow herders to take over farm land in Equatoria for grazing in the name of the national interest. This national interest is little more than the more obvious example of Dinkocracy in which the winner of the presidential vote got to make policy for his people, not all the people, just his people.

If there had a been a properly set up federal system with a proportionally balanced and weighed amount of seats by region in a national Parliament that could counter weigh such tendencies as have rocked the country in the last year, we could have avoided this entire bloody mess.  The mere feeling backed up by unchecked political power  that one man  from one tribe could today favour the Dinkas  and the next one the Nuer, sets up a perpetual see saw of conflict that will doom South Sudan to faliure before it's got on it's own two feet. The moderating influence of Equatorian counter weight in any discussion means that no policy will ever be adopted in Juba that isn't genuinely in the national interest.

After the shooting stops from the latest  round of violence, it would be nice to see the creation of a party political system that isn't based on ethnic or regional loyalty. There is need to establish such an ideological/practical array of  political division or there will be a repeat of  incidents like the ones plaguing South Sudan right now.  National interest cannot be created nor can a national consensus exist as long as people do not rise above the current voting patterns. I am aware from as early as the years just prior to the peace agreement and the cooling off period following the end of the war of liberation, that the only way we created consensus in the North American diaspora was when we made people leave the tribal divisions at the door. Only then were we able to create the list of jobs needed to do when the time came, the list of priority spending targets when the money became available.  At the end of the day at every one of those conferences we knew that almost everybody in the room had lost people to the bullets and bombs of Khartoum. How many hours, days , weeks and months were spent building the consensus that created the new identity of  "South Sudanese". How could we allow petty self interest now that the country is liberated , ruin what could be one of the most prosperous nations in Africa.

South Sudanese is not something you can point to in an anthropology study or linguistic map of Africa, South Sudanese is as artificial as American, Canadian or even Italian.  A country as large as Western Europe, with as many linguistic groupings and regions cannot be expected to become ONE seamless perfect identity overnight,  but with the help of a federal system and the taking into account of all the regional and ethnic interests in decision making, it wouldn't take long for a stable albeit new identity to take root. Tribalism should give way to multiculturalism and cooperation, a society where it is ok to be Dinka , Nuer  or any other tribe and still be like a brother or sister to your fellow South Sudanese. Celebrate your diversity, but never forget that the nation was forged in the blood and the steel of all the peoples of South Sudan, not just those of the current presidency.

In the years I served the Movement ( SPLM/SPLA indepence then SSIM/SSIA ) in my RASS capacity, I was proud to be part of a process that slowly over time took people from a disconnected group of people with a similar strugle against oppression, to a path where all concerned were agreed that there should be a country called South Sudan and that the country should learn from the errors of the North. To be clear, what precisely did the North do ? How did they treat the South from the 1950's to the last day the bullet flew?  Sisal, sesame and coffee, all crops that would have made South Sudan prosperous were suppressed or stolen and the profits all went to Khartoum, oil revenues and fields were entirely in the control of the North while population centres from Juba, Malakal, Torit and others were bombed and destabilised. Is this what people really want to do yet again but this time in the name of  skewed national self interest? Should  Equatoria be made the next South, to be marginalized and maltreated at the hands of a string of un representative non pan-national leaders whose only desire is to insure the comfort of one large tribe or the other?

What is required now is a meritocracy in the civil service, national bank, judiciary and police, the estblishment of a fully British styled assembly with the power to name a Prime Minister from amongst it's own, empowered to run federal affairs via a cabinet also named of assembly members supporting the PM's party.  This federal assembly needs to however work with and for the various interests as represented by the states or provinces that speak for specific regions and the interests that arise from that region's resources and talents. The benefits of strong provincial governments and strong federal government mean the tight balancing act between regional interests, national interests and good common sense solutions to problems  that otherwise left to fester, will only lead later to the sort of bloodshed we have seen or the ultimate dissolution of South Sudan and the glee of many who said it should never have been allowed to go it alone.

I know the desire of my old boss Commander Chairman Riek Machar and all those that were imprisoned  and now recently released, as well as all of those under them, was to make South Sudan a rich, prosperous and fair country. I would like to think that if Silva Kiir has the best interests of the country at heart, he would rapidly move to make sure the talks start soon and the reforms put in place quickly. I however will not hold my breath, I was aware early on that there was every possibility that because Riek Machar, or for that matter anybody else, could have beaten Mr Kiir, trouble was brewing. When, the mass firing occurred after the removal of  VP Machar, I knew that paranoia had taken hold. Such was the situation that only the blindest could not see the bloodbath to come.  That the UN and the rest of the world are doing nothing to stop Uganda from propping up the rotten and dangerous regime of Silva Kiir is even more distressing given the extra work this gives the rebels who would otherwise have cleared the crumbling vestiges of legitimacy and power still left.

Riek Machar

As it is, it would appear that the South Sudanese diaspora is coming to side with Riek Machar and his rebels, most recently the Dinka community in Minnesota has joined in the many other voices calling for the toppling of the current president of the country. One hopes this ends soon and the rebuilding can start without delay.

Friday, 25 April 2014

The far right, UKIP and why we should vote in the European elections

May 22nd Europe will vote, even the bit of Europe that isn't on the continent, yes, by that I mean the UK.  What's interesting is that until about last week I thought UKIP and Nigel Farage were going to be the embarrassing winners of  a lightly attended vote thus sticking them further and more firmly on the front pages of every newspaper in the land. Turns out however that in the last few days the shine has come off of the UKIP penny, and that by their own hand.

By making it known that the money guy paying for the ads won't let the party craft the message and accepting the message this man is putting out, UKIP acknowledge once and for all they are out and out racists. No better than the BNP, The National Front and the EDL. It gets worse for them and better for us, suddenly, it would appear, parties including the Lib Dems and Labour are growing a spine, saying nice things about immigrants, talking about the real issues  of  a level labour playing field and the unchecked power of big business. The deflection of immigration and other racial issues that seemed to seep into the mainstream with the disgraceful apology by Gordon Brown for having called a racist ,  shock..... Racist, and seemed to have slipped in the  way of reasoned discussion is now giving way to a more cautious and careful approach that has in recent days broken into a full blown defence of the previously indefensible. Faced with a choice of allowing the further radicalisation of the British electorate  or fighting back, the instinct seems to finally show the revulsion of having to compete for the same handful of racist bigots who are even now tearing the Tory party to pieces. In point of fact, the rise of UKIP is directly tied to the moment the mainstream parties abandoned the moral high ground and egged on Farage and his goons in the hope of hurting the left or hurting the right. All three parties are guilty of  not seeing the danger earlier. Like the German power brokers who thought they could harness Hitler in the hope he would stop the left, they learned, tho not fast enough, that there was no holding him back once they had given him the room to grow and flourish. Are Nigel Farage and UKIP, Hitler and his Nazis? God no, but only because most of us like to think that no one would actually vote for these barking mad pedlars of fear. So far so good.

For an interesting read.... Is UKIP a party of  bigots from the New Statesman.

Links with European far-right parties ( from the article cited above)

Ukip is part of the group Europe of Freedom and Democracy (EFD). The group includes representatives of the Danish People’s Party, the True Finns Party, the Dutch SGP and the infamous Italian Lega Nord – all of them far-right. Nigel Farage is co-President of the group along with Lega Nord’s Francesco Speroni, who described multiple murderer Anders Breivik as someone whose “ideas are in defence of western civilisation."

That said, I don't for a second think that a person who is a racist and ignorant of the general easily verifiable truth out there will stop being a racist in a sudden flash of remorse; that would be too Moffat  love conquers all, but I do think that people who might have bought into the surface bile and lies and might have voted UKIP now won't. They will either stay at home or vote for parties that aren't trying to ignite a race war in the streets of Britain. What with Russia, Ukraine and fuel prices showing conclusively that we not only need the EU to stop WW3 but we need it to establish a fair social and economic balance across all of Europe. If enough rational people vote on May 22nd, the rise of the far right will not be contributed to by voters in the UK, it may even be given a solid kick in the chops by greens, socialists and even fiscal conservatives across Europe who have no problem with gays, blacks, Jews, Muslims, Romanians or Polish plumbers.

The sickening tone of the far right message regardless of where it comes from is the single greatest cause of concern in Europe today, and if isn't, it should be. The rise of the far right and it's reach into the very heart of the discussion of what it means to be European and where we should go as a block,  has so intruded on the debate, it has derailed the very real important questions that need asking even now. Is it necessary to re-arm the constituent states in order to protect ourselves from Russian hunger? Can we create a larger fairer marketplace for labour and manufacturing to thrive where even now some governments would prefer to keep stifling protectionist measures up. What ever happened to the green agenda? Like all the other issues, it's been sidetracked by apologists, climate change deniers and Eurosceptics intent on showing how bad the EU is by trying to break it.

As long as the right continues to pillory immigrants, we continue to loose sight of things like  recently released figures  showing an increasingly aged population with a shrinking pool of young people in employment also being asked to care for the elderly. Any nation state that permits immigrants, will have an easy pool of working tax payers to cushion this blow, those that wish to remain closed off will find not only that the ill equipped poorly trained local labour force is not willing to take up certain jobs but is also simply not trained to.  If you want your society to collapse, by all means, stop immigration.

And if that weren't enough.... the jobs these immigrants are going to steal have been created by a ratio of 6 out of 7 by other immigrants. In my time in North America and here in the UK I have always been aware of a certain over representation of ethnics and immigrants in the riskier parts of the economy. These people, these dangerous people, are  the ones who have been creating jobs for decades and will continue to do so. And yet, we see the ignorant and the closed minded politics of the far right in every corner of Europe scoring points on the backs of Gypsies, Jews, Turks, Africans and Muslims amongst many other selected targets. How can these people get on with life and what they do best when around every corner there are parties who's principle aim is to come to power by solving the economic woes of a country by advocating the 4th Reich?

Most recently has the acceptability of anti-Semitism, which had been on the wane overall and had in fact all but disappeared in some places, become so strong that a group of  Russian sponsored activists thought it was ok to pass out a pamphlet that appeared to officially demand that Jews in the Donetsk region register or leave. In Hungary an anti semetic and anti muslim party is the 3rd largest in Parliament, Nordic democracies long known for tolerance and social activism are lurching to the right with Muslims first and foremost in the line of fire, but hardly exclusively.

Mosley black shirts
In the 1930's, Europe from the streets of London to the Black sea, was awash with strong  read brutal regimes and parties that espoused a view of the world that we thought had died with the extinguishing of the last oven in the last German concentration camp in 1945. Alas, even the upheavals and soul searching of the 60's and 70's has not extinguished the appeal of the far right. As a child who's own father's family was split between fascist and socialist, I chose to insure in the most absolute way that never again would a Nazi, Fascist or other such scum be allowed to flourish let alone come to power. I have a bookshelf full of books  about rebuilding entire nations dating from the post war period, all of them demonstrating the incredible waste of resources and the destruction of cultural, commercial and agricultural capacity that took in some cases  over a decade to recover  and some cases never, as for the human toll, not including military deaths and collateral damage to civilians, over 12 million died in the camps that we know of .  Do we really want to go through that all over again?

So with  the next great European war simmering away on the front burner in Ukraine, Putin being hailed by the right as a strong leader who should be admired and an economic crisis hanging over the Eurozone and Europe over all, what are the actual issues that should be exorcising people today? I'm glad you asked.  How about getting on with the job of finding a new source of gas and oil other than Russia till we find new greener ways to keep warm, cook and build things. Extending the benefits of justice to every corner of the EU, keeping open a road and rail system that hasn't been this free and easy to use since the start of WW 1.  Creating a better Euro or finding another way to insure the economies of Europe already interlincked one way or the other don't fall victim to the poor judgement of one country or one sector. How about training people to participate in labour intensive lucrative industrial sectors that would make multiple parts of Europe, World leaders in industries that will not fade and die as quickly as the dot com bubble or the building boom fuelled by reckless bankers who are still asking for double bonuses and want us to pay for their mistakes.

Of course to do that, European leaders and people themselves need to admit that some of this won't be easy, and issues like food security have to take into account reality and  be less driven  by the wide eyes innocence of the 70's and 80's. Issues like regional security will include a component of choosing to stop pretending that Russia under Putin is in any hurry to become part of the Union or to be democratic. Energy security which has become more pressing since the ongoing problems in Ukraine, recently hotted up, is far from resolved. There is a school of thought that feels regulatory powers are used with little regard to reality or regional circumstances. A more focussed approach by politicians and technocrats can find the solutions if the process is not distracted by growing numbers of far right protest parties who's only goal appears to be sabotage.

So what's so bad about having a few clown fish from every nation sitting in Strasbourg? Surely these far from rational people are not harming the greater dream of an integrated Europe? Well maybe they are. Every time deputations like those of UKIP do not vote on key issues or worse vote against what even the most Eurosceptic Tory would find reasonable , even important, they help create a block of hate that gives oxygen to the views of parties  like Golden Dawn, Jobbik and many others. Despite the lack of  awareness the average British voter has regarding The EU or because of it, small numbers of determined nutters are taking the jobs of what should be Tory, Labour, Lib Dem and Green MEPs . The voice of Britain in Europe is the sound of screeching hyenas baying at the moon and waving their toy plastic swords in defence of the fantasy white world that never existed. In their haste to show just how useless the European Parliament is, UKIP were 6 among the 14 to vote against a ban on elephant ivory poaching.  Just what did the elephants ever do to UKIP ? There isn't a day that doesn't go by where yet another elected UKIP swivel eyed loon pops his or her head over the ramparts for a shot at everything the Daily Mail hates and a few things even the Daily Mail have yet to hate.

And so what is it that will convince the great British electorate that what happens in Europe, even far off Kiev with whom the UK have 5 iron clad treaties of cooperation and defence, is as important to them as Paris, London or Manchester?  How will the suffering and deaths of people in Donetsk, the consequent ripples of worry all through Central Europe from Warsaw to Vienna, the utter misery of being Greek or Spanish in austerity finally convince Britons it has something to do with them? I would like to think they care now, but I know most of them are oblivious to events further than their doorstep and couldn't even name their own MP let alone consider what occurs in Brussels as significant to them. However there will come a time when the specific events in the Ukraine and the need for a united Pan European reaction to Putin and his empire will make it all very close to home. Will it take the near break out of WW3? Will it take the tripling of gas and oil prices? Will it perhaps come when the average Briton sees the rest of Europe as just another place where they can, like anybody else, go forth and seek work, their own back yard, the next county over.  Maybe then . At some point the people of Britain will take as seriously European elections as they do the ones to Westminster, till that day we need to keep working at getting the numbers up steadily in order to insure that come election night, we won't be sending any more UKIP etc... fruitcakes to  Brussels than we absolutely have to.

 I'll be voting Labour as they are part of the Socialist block (S & D), their platform is one  I find practical to apply, creating a world closer to my liking. I have chosen a path that is not hatred and isolation, I have chosen a path that promises a solution to the  challenges facing the greater society we live in. I urge you to explore the blocks on your own and see where you fit in. Be part of the dialogue that is Europe.

If you have not yet registered for the election , you have till May 6th.... don't delay.