Monday, February 26, 2007


Rudd Election Victory Nowhere Near in Bag

Politics A cautious rider to my earlier peices on Kevin rudd who, as Labor(their spelling) leader has been streaking ahead in the polls of John Howard, the Liberal Party PM. In British conditions we would probably be already annointing the assumed new leader with champagne and rave review leaders in the broadsheets. But down here, the Oz 'commetariat' is some distance from doing that and Labor officials themsleves are keen to discount the importance of recent polls. The reason is that since the loss of Paul Keating to Howard in 1996, there have been a number of Labor leaders- Beazley and Latham for example- who have held poll leads only to see their assumed victories implode disastrously when the votes have been cast. Labour now is a bit like New Labour back in 1997 when it looked back on an uninterupted aeon of power by the other main party.

Howard is a tough competitor- the Ricky Ponting of Australian politics maybe- and he'll do his best to reel back the lead which Rudd currently enjoys. He's a bit like Ponting's team and the coming World Cup: recent heavy defeats have taken the shine off them and it's realistic to think they may not retain their title, but the bookies still offer only a miserly 10-1 on them, making them still the favourites. Rudd has some time to go and much more to do before he enters 'The Lodge', the fine house which accommodates Austrailian Prime Ministers just a few minutes walk from where I noisily(I note the frown on the person working nnext to me) tap out these thoughts in the Internet Suite of the Kirribilli Neighbourhood Centre. I just hope the election, later this year, will resemble New Labour's 1997 rather than Kinnock's 19987 or 1992.

Mike Ion has pleaded in a comment on my last post that I stop posting from Oz as he is fed up of feeling jealous after reading about the sun, sand, food and English cricketing successes(!). Well, it's still a great palce and a great holiday but he might allow himself a quiet smile of schadenfreude when he hears that we've had cloud and rain plus a pyrtechnic thunder storm two nights ago. And it's still cloudy today too...

Wednesday, February 21, 2007


Blair Pull- Out Makes Problems for Howard (another post from Oz)

Blair's announcement of a pull-out of some 3000 troops from Iraq by the end of the year was more or less expected in the UK, where Blair has presaged it with statements, but has caused a mild sensation down here in Oz where it dominated the headlines for while. Australia has only 1400 troops in Iraq; they are reliant on UK support, do little or no active service and have so far not suffered any losses. But they are there symbolically and this is of key imnportance both to Bush and to Howard who has made much of his tough stand on national security. His problem is that the young Leader of the Opposition, Kevin Rudd, is calling for a pull-out of troops and the polls show he is beginning to make inroads on Howard's key issue. 'If Blair can do it, why can't we?' is a conmpelling argument. With Rudd moving up fast on all the major issues, this new development must have been intensely unwelcome.

Howard has taken the line that the Brits have decided to do this as the conditions allow it- the south is sufficiently safe to enable troops to be pulled out while in strife torn Bagdhad, Bush has ben forced to increase troop levels. So the fitness mad 68 year old has decided his future is still inextricably bound with that of the lame duck Bush. Blair, however seems to have eventually followed the advice of the Baker ISG reeport and opted for a planned withdrawal. This is a little odd as he contrived to welcome the report before distancing himself once Bush shiowed he thought his Dad's old mate had got it wrong on the most important issue since Vietnam.

But I suspect Blair's sense of obligation to Bush has declined markedly as his imminent departure has concentrated his mind. Why toe the line so biddably when nothing has come back in return for such demeaning loyalty? Also I suspect this is part of a deal with Gordon Brown to untie his hands once in Number 10; Brown has never been a hawk on Iraq and I daresay wants to withdraw as soon as he decently can from the quagmire. Tony has merely marked out the route for him to do so.

Monday, February 19, 2007


Politics in Oz

Well, I've been in Sydney for a fortnight and enjoyed it immensely. Food is terrific, opera-Marriage Figaro- was immaculate, circket- we got tickets for the SCG destruction of Ponting's men- and sun is endless along with the sky. But the politics? It is interesting and I've already become addicted to The Australian as my Guardian substitute. The things I'd pick out, in this election year for the Aussies are:

1. They have a PM who is trying to redefine his attitude to a vastly unpopular war and his dependence on a US relationship which has gone the same way. Howard's attack on Barack Obama for offering a kind of 'Terrorist's Charter' was poipular only with the White House and only confirms him as a Blairalike in his poodle like prostration to Bush.

2. They have a leader of the Opposition who also resembles Blair, not the one we know and of whom we're rather tired, b ut the one full of hbope in the mid nineties. He is genuinely clever- more so than Blair- and is superb on the media- though probably not quite as good a communicator as our very own old master manipulator.

3. They are in the middle of 'greening' their politics. Professor Tim Flannery was chosen 'Australian of the Year' last year for putting the subject on the map. Coal miners are up in arms but we'd expect that. Again, Howard is having to row back desperately on this issue on which he tended to shadow the White House until this year.

4. There is a political corrupion scandal rumbling in Western Australia- much worse, as a crime, it would seem than the Cash for Honours Blair is facing.

5. The national discourse is very abrasive. The father of the air hostess who allegedly had sex with Ralph Fiennes accused her detractors of jaelousy as 'they are all ugly as as a hatful of arses'. I liked that.

Will Kevin Rudd do a Blair and steam into power this year with his newish brand of Labor? It certainly looks like it but the polls show that while Rudd leads on education and health and green issues, Howard still leads on the economy, security and immigration. And Howard is no John Major but a battle hardened competitor who resembles their redoubtable cricketers more than our Consrervative politicians back in the nineties. So remarkable echoes of home but the next election is still too far away to call. {Oh, yes(sorry to go on about it), and I was there in the SCG to see ponting's men humbled by freddie and Collingwood. What a delight that was.]

Wednesday, February 14, 2007


Is Singapore a Good Place to Live in?

En route to Australia we stayed three days in Singapore and I fopund it a fascinating place. On the plus side I thought:

1. Technologically it was impressive: everything worked so smoothly and i thought the congestioon charging 'smart-card' system superior to London's.

2. Environmentally it was very imnpressive too. No litter, or virtually none and no chewing gum on the pavements- both bugbears of mine back in UK.

3. Truly multiracial society: four languages and cultures co-existing in evident harmony- raree enough anywhere these days.

4. Social attitudes very civic minded and wholly lacking in the sort of thing of which we despair back home. So we see no noisy, anti-social behaviour; no groups of young men or women getting embarrassingly drunk and making others feel uneasy or manaced; no groups of threatening young males; inn fact, very low crime rates and a transparent honesty I thought unless-and I'm aware of this danger on a short visit- I'm horribly naive.

On the debit side I thought:

1. There is an intense focus on making money which is a bit daunting. Mammon rules very much every aspect of the place and it's no fun not being comfortably off I would imagine.

2. Civil liberties are scarcely defended and one can be imprisoned merely for criticising the government which is very authoritarian and insists on conformity. However, most people seem willing to trade liberty for prosperity and as a short visit tourist, it did not affect me.

Conclusion: Singapore has achieved huge success but in the process has lost something very important. A great place to visit but, I suspect, not a place I'd enjoy living in for very long.

Sunday, February 04, 2007


Skipper on Holiday in Australia Sensation

Yes, I'm hoping very much that throughout February, I'll be waking up to a sight something similar to the picture on the left as my other half and I have rented a flat on the north side of Sydney Harbour. We rise into the air tomorrow, arrive Singapore Tuesday, and then on to Australia on the evening of Thursday.

Then it's seeing how they live down there for a full four weeks. It's one of the pipe dreams I've had all my life: not to scoot around a country, trying to see everything, but to stay put somewhere interesting and see how it feels.

I don't intend to keep on blogging but I may well post the odd observation on politics down-under, or a few reflections on life in Blighty from the vantage point of a former 'colony'. This blogging business, as it has been observed by my friend Norman Geras , tends to become obsessive. It all depends on how available access to the web is and; if my flat is online that will make it a lot easier. So it's so long for the time being, but I'll be watching from 12 thousand miles away...

Saturday, February 03, 2007


Odds are Blair will Survive yet Another Crisis yet Again

When that exceedingly wise commentator, Peter Riddell of The Times writes about you as follows...

The next five months look like being humiliating for Tony Blair. His political authority is disappearing day by day and it is now hard to see how he can depart with dignity and without a cloud over his reputation.

... then things do not look so good for you. This prophesy was written a week ago before the second questioning and the current renewal of calls for him to go at once.

It almost seems like September 2006 all over again but this time there does not yet seem to be a group of determined Labour backbenchers leading the pack; instead the hue and cry seems to have been set off by David Cameron's injunction to the prime minister at PMQs. At the time I thought it just standard rhetoric but it proved a well judged ploy which resonated with the way many others were thinking.

I'm sure Simon Hoggart is right when he suggests Blair would hang on until 2009 if he could. By the masterly way he dealt with John Humphreys' deadly questions on Today, he demonstrated his ability to survive even in these Arctic political conditions. Will he survive? It all depends, of course, on what Labour MPs think; the two interviewed on The Week in Westminster, David Chaytor and Andrew McKinlay, seemed relatively sanguine about his situation and accounts of the row I've read did not suggest another 'coup' is in the offing just yet. I predict Blair will hang on grimly and get through it once again.

On a slightly different tack I was much taken by Martin Kettle's article today in which he wonders why the cash for honours case has dragged on for 10 months while the fiendishly complex Litvinenko one was with the CPS within two. He points out that the case employs eight detectives and that last July, Asst Commander Yates promised a preliminary report by September; six months on and we're still waiting. Kettle draws a parallel with Kenneth's Starr's somewhat ruthless and arguably partisan pursuit of Bill Clinton. I suspect that if delays in concluding the investigation continue, such suspicious questionings will intensify.

Friday, February 02, 2007


Islamophobia and Anti-semitism Comparison Overstated

The article today in the Guardian by London University Law Lecturer, Maleiha Malik, suggests current Islamophobia equals the anti-semitism of a century ago. She points to the spate of anarchist outrages at the end of the 19th century and how the ensuing 'discourse' was 'racialised' into anti-semitism. It is certainly true that anti-semitism was a powerful and malign element in British ruling class thinking in the late 19th and early 20th centuries; Churchill is quoted as believing the Jews part of a 'worldwide conspiracy for the overthrow of civilisation. Indeed, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion - a crude Russian secret police forgery which appeared in the early 1900s and was widely quoted, attempted to prove just that. But I think the comparison does not stand up to closer scrutiny.

1. The connection made by Malik between anarchism and anti-semitism is not supported by other historical sources. Anarchists' use of bombs to assassinate and blow up things like the Greenwich Observatory in 1894 was generally not closely linked to the activities of Jews. Maybe in the wake of the Seige of Sydney St in 1911 the two Jewish anarchists involved set off predictable anti-semitic reactions, but these seem to have been limited.

2. The allegations about Jews were actually wrong, though their evil myths subsequently inflicted huge damage and suffering. By contrast, whilst we might be sceptical of some security services alleged discoveries, we know the 7-7 bombers, and their less successful 21-7 copy-cats were Muslim and that a disturbingly large proportion of young Muslims sympathize with their actions.

3. The Jews did not have any worldwide plan to take over the world but the radical reaches of Islam certainly contains activists who wish to make Britain an Islamic republic.

I'm sure Islam is being unfairly represented and made the object of appalling racist abuse and I'm sure this is harmful I am sure also that the language used in the current discourse is inappropriate, as Malik argues, and as Ken MacDonald, the DPP, argued only recently. But by the same token, in reacting, we should not allow false analogies to mislead us nor concern to pre-empt racial tension to blind us to unpleasant realities.

Thursday, February 01, 2007


Attorney General's Role Long Overdue for Reform

Lord Lester today aims some well directed critical shafts at the vulnerability of the UK Attorney General to political pressure. In the USA this problem is less likely to arise as they have a clearer separation of powers; though under George Bush, unsurprisingly, similar accusations have been made. Our judiciary is in theory independent but in practice is not. The existence and role of the Lord Chancellor had been an anomaly for centuries until the botched reshuffle of 2003 proposed to make it less so. He was at once head of the judiciary and a practising judge; a member of the legislature by virtue of sitting in the Lords(and acting,of course, as its Speaker); and in the executive through being a Cabinet member. So he was involved in making, implementing and interpreting the law, quite in violation of best copnstitional thinking. The 2005 Constitutional Reform Act ended the 'Speaker' and head of judiciary roles. Now the AG's role has entered the sights of Lord Lester and his fellow reformers. He cites two major recent events and one less so recent, in support of his case.

Iraq War:Lord Lester accuses the government of making nonsense of established procedures over the decision to go to war in Iraq, more particularly the fact that the Attorney's written advice was not made available to either the Cabinet or the legislature. He adds that Goldsmith had changed his mind over legality and offered advice contrary to the deputy legal adviser to the Foreign Office, Elizabeth Wilmshurst, who thereupon, to her credit, resigned.

BAE Systems: Lester argues that Goldsmith's halting of the criminal investigation into alleged BAE corruption, 'shows how fragile and inadequate are our present constitutional arrangements for protecting the rule of law.' The well authenticated article by veteran investigative hacks David Leigh and Rob Evans in today's Guardian, suggests Goldsmith only changed his mind after pressure from Downing St. The rule of law has little chance if its implementation is being constantly influenced by the political whims of the prime minister.

Suez:Lester draws the parallel with Suez when Eden and his Cabinet, knowing they were acting illegally, were able to bypass the law officers: 'That episode provides another illustration of the need for reform today.' Lester approves of Charlie Falconer's indication that the AG's role needs to be changed and the reinforcing indications that Gordon Brown will enter office is considering 'radical reform so as to restore public trust.' No prizes for identifying who squandered that trust: the prime minister and his law officer poodle.

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