BBC Radio 4′s The Moral Maze is a superb programme that deals with serious issues in an intelligent, usually balanced, and often passionate, manner. Recent editions have included debates on the future of the NHS, assisted dying and the limits (if any) of freedom of expression.
Last night’s debate on Gaza was outstanding, even by the usual high standards of the show. If you didn’t hear it, click here.
Sarah AB, over at That Place gives a pretty good account of the discussion, but I’m reproducing, below, the assessment posted by one ‘Craig’, shortly after the broadcast, at a blog (new to me) called simply Is The BBC Biased? Quite clearly, whatever other reservations ‘Craig’ may have about the BBC, he was impressed by what he heard last night:
Tonight’s The Moral Maze was quite something.
To do justice to the thoughts it provoked would demand a post that took longer to read than it actually took to listen to the programme (and no one wants that), so I will simply sketch my initial impressions of it.
The panel contained two strongly pro-Israeli speakers, namely Melanie Phillips and Jill Kirby (making her debut), and one strongly pro-Palestinian speaker, Giles Fraser. The final speaker, Matthew Taylor, was happier to sit on the fence but dangled his feet on the Palestinian side.
The ‘witnesses’ were Colonel Richard Kemp and Dr Hugo Slim on the Israeli side, and Mehdi Hasan and Ted Honderich on the Palestinian side.
Michael Buerk gave a characteristically fine introduction (firm but fair).
Then came the first witness, Mehdi Hasan.
Mehdi (characteristically) was very canny in making repeated denunciations of Hamas, saying that they too had committed war crimes. Of course, that concession allowed him to repeatedly make his main point – that Israel is committing war crimes and that Israel is worse than Hamas because of its superior military strength and because it is ‘the occupier’.
His argument didn’t convince me but I can well imagine, unfortunately, that his fluency might have struck home with many a Radio 4 listener.
Melanie’s repeated attempts to talk him down, and both her and Jill’s attempts to get him to condone Hamas rather misfired. He was perfectly happy to condemn Hamas (#Taqiyya?) in order to make his condemnation of Israel tell, thus (in the process) somewhat taking the wind out of their sails.
Next came Colonel Richard Kemp.
He was very persuasive, making Israel’s case with considerable reasonableness (as opposed to Mehdi’s excitability). I suspect (and hope) that Radio 4 listeners will have responded well to his arguments.
Both Matthew Taylor and Giles Fraser gave him space to make his arguments and seemed rather hard-placed to argue with them. Giles, characteristically, was passionate but also seemed somewhat disarmed by Col. Kemp’s quietly-made points. It was a clear win for Col. Kemp.
Then came Ted Honderich.
Prof. Honderich is a philosopher. [I own an encyclopedia of philosophy edited by him]. He sought to make a philosophical case in defence of Hamas. Yes, really.
I suspect (like me) that most Radio 4 listeners will have failed to make much sense of his arguments. All I took from his contribution is that he thinks Hamas is good and that Israel is bad, and that he thinks that Hamas is justified in deliberately seeking to kill Israeli civilians. Philosophically-speaking.
I almost wish that Michael Buerk hadn’t cut him off so curtly from making his initial argument as I suspect that Radio 4 listeners would have been even more put off by the result. (Michael clearly didn’t like Ted Honderich). Partly as a result, Prof. Honderich made very little headway here.
His remarkable (and reprehensible) appearance was dominated by his spiteful encounter with Melanie Phillips. Insults flew in both directions.
Finally came Dr Hugo Slim, who put the case for Israel well, but who was also willing to give his hands a good wringing in the process. Giles Fraser tried to wax passionate against him but seemed to find him too likable (too liberal) to get into a proper fistfight with, and Matthew Taylor appeared to reach a meeting of minds with him
The final panel discussion was lively. Giles Fraser came out (extraordinarily) as being sympathetic to Ted Honderich’s pro-Hamas points (well, he is a Guardian editorial writer these days). Melanie Phillips tried to talk him down (and everyone else – until Jill Kirby made a good, pro-Israel point). Jill Kirby floundered somewhat, though she made some good points (first day nerves?). Michael Buerk had a dig at Giles for seeming to back up Prof. Honderich, and Matthew Taylor sat on the fence.
All in all, a fiercely balanced programme.
I did note that some people on Twitter denounced it as biased, though I couldn’t work out in what direction they meant (and was deeply unwilling to check their Twitter feeds).
We’re reproducing another article by Jon Lansman of Left Futures. A behind-the-scenes supporter of Shiraz, who holds a senior position in one of the major unions, recommends Jon’s stuff as the best informed and most incisive commentary there is on the Labour-union link. This secret Shiraz-supporter particularly likes the way Jon brings out the fact (ignored by the likes of the Socialist Party and the SWP) that the trade union leadership is 100% complicit in all the Labour leadership’s “betrayals.”
Above: Unite funds the People’s Assembly, but Len votes for austerity at Labour’s NPF
The climax of Labour’s formal policy process this weekend which had involved 1,300 amendments from local parties to eight policy documents, filtered down and composited by 77 regional representatives, was a debate on austerity. That’s fitting given that it is the foundation of the Coalition’s disastrous economic policy and, unfortunately, in a lighter version, of Ed Balls’s approach too.
What was less fitting, indeed shocking, was that it was a debate in which George McManus, the Yorkshire constituency representative moving the amendment, was given just one minute to speak, and Ed Balls the same. George made a great speech which you can read below. Ed’s speech consisted of a list of those who had withdrawn their amendments in favour of the “consensus wording” as if that was a sufficient argument for the perpetuation of austerity (and he ran over his time). There were no other speakers. The vote was 127 to 14 against the proposal that Labour’s policy be amended to read:
We recognise that the cost of living crisis is inextricably linked to government’s self-defeating austerity agenda. That is why we will introduce an emergency budget in 2015 to reject Tory spending plans for 2015-16 and beyond and set out how we will pursue a policy of investment for jobs and growth.”
Those voting against included some people representing the seven CLPs and numerous NPF members who had submitted almost identical wording and many more who essentially agreed with the amendment including representatives of all major trade unions (I’m told media and entertainment union BECTU voted for). After the vote, some of them, including leading MPs and trade unionists admitted their continuing support. They nevertheless felt compelled to vote against their own preferences and the policies of their unions. Continue reading →
From Eric Lee of LabourStart:
On 14 July 2014, the International Trade Union Confederation, representing 176 million workers around the globe, issued a call for an immediate ceasefire in the fighting between Israel and Palestinians in Gaza. The ITUC expressed its full support for the UN Security Council resolution calling for “de-escalation of the situation, restoration of calm, reinstitution of the November 2012 ceasefire and respect for international humanitarian law, including the protection of civilians.”
Please show your support for the ITUC call:
And please share this with your fellow trade union members.
Nice to know he really was a good guy (is that Nina Simone he’s holding hands with?)
The SWP/NUT/Guardian “line” on Islamist influence on Birmingham schools – that it’s all an “islamophobic” campaign – is no longer tenable.
Even Rick Hatcher of Socialist Resistance, which is broadly sympathetic to the Graun/SWP line, has cast doubt upon their claim that there are simply no problems in Birmingham schools.
Just for the record, let me remind you of what the Graun‘s education editor, Richard Adams, had to say about this matter: “Is the Trojan Horse row just a witch hunt triggered by a hoax?”
This shabby article by Adams was not a one-off: he had previously reported on Park View School (the academy at the centre of the allegations) following a visit that was quite obviously organised and supervised by the school’s ultra-reactionary Islamist chair of governors, Tahir Alam. In short, Adams has been a mouthpiece and conduit for the Islamist propaganda of people like Alam, Salma Yaqoob and the SWP.
Yet now, even the Graun has had to face reality, and last week leaked the conclusions of the Peter Clarke enquiry (commissioned by the government) and then gave extensive and detailed coverage of the enquiry led by Ian Kershaw, commissioned by Birmingham City Council.
Both reports backed the main thrust of the ‘Trojan Horse’ allegations – that there had been (in the words of Ian Kershaw, quoted in the Graun), a “determined effort to change schools, often by unacceptable practices, in order to influence educational and religious provision for the students served.”
Kershaw differs with Clarke only in nuance, with the former finding “no evidence of a conspiracy to promote an anti-British agenda, violent extremism or radicalisation of schools in East Birmingham”, while the latter found there had been a “sustained and coordinated agenda to impose upon children in a number of Birmingham schools the segregationist attitudes and practices of a hardline and politicised strain of Sunni Islam.”
Clarke uncovered emails circulated amongst a group of governors and others, calling themselves the ‘Park View Brotherhood’ which he describes thus: “The all-male group discussions include explicit homophobia, highly offensive comments about British service personnel, a stated ambition to increase segregation at the school, disparagement of Muslims in sectors other than their own, scepticism about the truth of reports on the murder of [soldier] Lee Rigby and the Boston bombings, and constant undercurrent of anti-western, anti-American and anti-Israeli sentiment.”
Both reports also agree that Birmingham City Council, on grounds of “community cohesion” chose to ignore evidence of headteachers and other staff being bullied and driven out in order to turn what were supposed to be secular schools into de facto Islamic schools. The Council preferred a quiet life and turned a blind eye in the name of “community cohesion.” Council leader Albert Bore has since apologised “for the way the actions of a few, including some within the council, have undermined the great reputation of our city.”
Perhaps surprisingly, the Gove-commissioned Clarke report makes the obvious, but politically inconvenient, point that the academy status of many of the ‘Trojan Horse’ schools made them especially vulnerable to extremist influence: “In theory academies are accountable to the secretary of state, but in practice the accountability can amount to benign neglect where educational and financial performance seems to indicate everything is fine. This inquiry has highlighted there are potentially serious problems in some academies”
So we now have a situation in which the two reports commissioned into ‘Trojan Horse’ have both concluded that there was a real issue of organised, ultra-reactionary Islamist influence in some Birmingham schools. The newspaper at the forefront of the campaign of denial that followed the allegations has now relented and faced reality. The leader of Birmingham City Council has acknowledged what happened and apologised. But will those on the left (in particular, but not only, the SWP), who took the Guardian ‘line’ now admit their mistake? More importantly, will the NUT leadership, instead of prevaricating on the issue, now take a clear stand in support of secular education?
I was going to write a spoof article, loosely based upon the oeuvre of the Graun‘s Shameless Milne, blaming “the West” and the “fascist” Ukraine government for the MH17 atrocity. But I see that Mr John Wight of Socialist Unity (and Russia Today) has saved me the trouble. Only I fear Mr Wight’s piece is intended to be taken seriously. I republish it here as an (perhaps extreme) example of the crass stupidity, hypocrisy, pig-ignorance and wilful denial of reality that continues to infect sections of the so-called “left” when it comes to international affairs:
By John Wight (pictured above)
The downing of a Malaysian passenger aircraft over eastern Ukraine is a terrible tragedy. Almost 300 people have been killed in the most awful circumstances and though it is self evident that a full and thorough investigation must follow to find out what happened, its conclusions will be scant comfort to the families and loved ones of those who perished.
That said, the mind boggles that a civilian passenger aircraft should be flying anywhere near a war zone, especially one in which fighter jets, military aircraft, and military transport aircraft are playing such a key role in hostilities.
The alacrity with which Washington and its allies have sought to exploit this tragedy to attack Russia is as unedifying as it’s despicable. Whoever was responsible for downing the Malaysian passenger jet, it was clearly an accident. Moreover, the underlying causes of the conflict in eastern Ukraine, despite efforts to argue otherwise, is the toppling of the last legitimate democratically elected Ukrainian government of Viktor Yanukovich by an armed mob in Kiev in February, in which avowed fascists and neo-Nazis played a key role. Those fascists now occupy ministerial offices in the regime led by Petro Poroshenko and are prevalent in the violence that has been visited on the people in the east of the country, who have risen up in resistance to Kiev and its sponsors in the West.
The need for a political solution to the conflict is beyond dispute, and has been for some time now. The Russian government has been calling for a de-escalation in hostilities since the ill fated Geneva peace conference back in April, and has shown remarkable restraint in holding back from mounting a military intervention in response to the Poroshenko regime’s brutal military assault on Ukrainian citizens across its western border with tanks, artillery, fighter jets, and attack helicopters.
Let’s be clear: if Russia decided to deploy its military forces against those of Kiev it would crush them in a matter of hours. Sadly, though, when it comes to the US and its allies restraint when it comes to war and conflict is anathema. Indeed, the very word has been stricken from the dictionary where they are concerned. Consequently, Russia’s restraint has been taken for weakness, evidenced in a ramping up of the conflict since Poroshenko’s election as President of western Ukraine in May.
The recent signing of an association agreement between the EU and the regime in Kiev has brought the EU into disrepute. Just think about this for a moment: the EU has entered a state into its ranks which is bathed in the blood of its own citizens.
The pressure being brought to bear against Russia, exploiting this tragedy as a pretext, shouldn’t blind anyone as to the role of the West in fomenting and prolonging the ongoing military conflict for its own geopolitical interests. Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Ukraine, Palestine – their crimes would shame all the devils in hell.
Only when Washington and its allies understand that their days of uncontested hegemony and unipolarity are over will there be a chance for a new global framework in which respect for national sovereignty and international law is returned to prominence and upheld as the non negotiable arbiter of international affairs and foreign policy. The alternative is more conflict and more of the chaos we are witnessing today.
This response to the present horror in Gaza is a little confusing:
BDS (total boycott of all things – and people – Israeli) activist Haim Bresheeth appears to be heavily involved in an appeal, also involving Noam Chomsky, which quite rightly, calls on Israeli academics to speak out against the bombardment and siege of Gaza:
How does this fit with his and others’ desire for a boycott? The appeal is signed by at least one SWP’er (Mick Cushman, assuming he’s still a member) and also by leading boycotter and Hamas apologist Ilan Pappé.
An account of the difficulties of getting Israeli signatures (written by a supporter of Pappé) is linked to, but criticised for being “too dismissive of the Israeli reaction.”
The actual statement has so far been signed by about 40 Israeli academics and is a clear call for a negotiated settlement and peace agreement that will end the occupation and settlements. Unless anyone tries to interpret this as a voluntary liquidation of Israel it can only be a call for a two state solution.
The signatories to this statement, all academics at Israeli universities, wish it to be known that they utterly deplore the aggressive military strategy being deployed by the Israeli government. The slaughter of large numbers of wholly innocent people, is placing yet more barriers of blood in the way of the negotiated agreement which is the only alternative to the occupation and endless oppression of the Palestinian people. Israel must agree to an immediate cease-fire, and start negotiating in good faith for the end of the occupation and settlements, through a just peace agreement.
So the BDS movement (SWP included) is calling for action, from people they say should not be engaged with in any way, advocating support for two states and laying into Pappé’s supporters for being unduly cynical about it.
Can anyone explain the logic behind this?
H/t: Comrade Pete
Guest post from Robin Carmody. A full version can be read here.
It was reading Yvonne Ridley’s tweets on this matter which finally got me to write this.
The one thing that matters about Scotland, the one thing from which everything else comes and to which everything else returns, , is this: 1968 never really happened there, and therefore neither did its principal legacy in the rest of Europe (but especially England), the separation of economic Leftism from social and cultural conservatism, the rendering incompatible of these two once-allied forces. This is why England can’t be Scotland. and why Scotland can’t be England, for those souixante-huitards and Black Atlanticists who would find Scotland unsettlingly folksy and homogeneous. In the end, that is all it is, and whether or not an English Leftist supports and sympathises with Scotland’s claims to nationhood depends entirely on what sort of Leftist he or she is, which criteria (1945 or 1968, basically) he or she considers most important. Maybe that’s all I need to write.
But it isn’t quite, of course; I have to write something more because I am in equal parts both kinds of Leftist; my basic inability to take sides (in itself a very English thing rather than a Celtic thing, as detailed further below) has me taking in equal parts from the 1945 and 1968 traditions, and thus from traditions with fundamentally oppositional views of the merits and worth of Scottish independence. Yvonne Ridley is, of course, is the ultimate anti-68-er (on a scale of one to ten, with the most hardline souixante-huitards rating ten, she’d be way, way down minus one). Not only has she allied herself with forces of extreme social and religious conservatism (as much of the international Left has admittedly done), she has actually joined up with such forces herself, and become not merely an ally of convenience but an actual believer (which the great majority of the Western Left has not) and moved to Scotland because within it her sense of the Left – the most extreme form of a world where 1968 never happened – seems to her to be protected and preserved. And there is nothing more unpleasant and extreme than the zeal of the convert, with which she is infected on two subtly-related fronts. Her take on Scottish independence seems defensive and negative There are others rooted in far more humanistic values, an approach to the world far closer to mine, which may be critical of the Israeli state but does not share her aggressive paranoia.. I can easily forget it when reading Ridley’s religious self-assurance, but there are plenty of visions of Scottish independence which evoke a world in which I could happily live.
The most traditionalist parts of both Right and Left in England share a conspiratorial mindset, a belief that the entire modern world represents a conspiracy against them and their approach to life. When I see the Traditional Britain Group, which represents a quasi-fascist, Third Positionist undercurrent which in my worst nightmares exploits the instability of England after Scottish secession to create a totalitarian state from which Puerto Rico status seems like a positive relief and national saviour, I could not help thinking of elements of the old Left in England, lost and homeless and yearning for what their Scottish counterparts can cling to in hope of escape, the belief that everything has been permanently corrupted and the only way out is a total retaking and restaffing of all institutions. John Pilger’s sense of the entire media saturation of the present age as a grand-scale lie, an organised delusion from a deeper truth, has more than a little crossover with this part of the Right. There is a shared hatred for both economic and social liberalism. Both yearn for a moment in history when everything was perfect, uncorrupted: it’s just that for one that moment was a notional pre-capitalist mediaeval state of being, and for the other it was 1945; one calls the world that is out to get them “cultural Marxism”, the other calls it “neoliberalism”. But both share an elemental romanticism which has been a far stronger political undercurrent among both mainland Europeans and Celts than among the English. (Searchlight notes with some accuracy that the European intellectualism of the Traditional Britain Group may very easily turn off many of the sort of people in England they are aiming to turn on).
And both, in their own ways, are trying to find answers to the question which Scottish independence, or not, asks for their neighbours, and inwardly screaming (it can only be inward: they are, after all, English) that no comparable question can give them in turn something to live for. Living alongside something so seismic is so hard to take in isolation that it can only be that very English distrust of elemental romanticism which stops both old Left and old Right from being far stronger forces in England than they are.
In the Scottish referendum every argument from either side can reasonably be counterbalanced by the other: the Yes campaign can say with total justification that, if you can’t block out whatever is channel 865 on Sky then you can’t block out BBC1, and the inference by some in Westminster that you could is, like so many other stances taken from that end, stupid and counter-productive. The No campaign can respond, equally reasonably, that if you can’t control the global spread of media and you don’t even attempt to, then the point of secession is negated and undermined. The Yes campaign can say, quite reasonably, that Scotland’s role in Europe is being held back by people and institutions far more sceptical of the EU and its purpose than the general Scottish population; the No campaign can respond, also with a good deal of truth behind it, that Hollywood and rock’n’roll have been as important, as foundational, to proportionately as many Scots as English people. Certainly there is a tendency on the part of some Yes supporters either to deny this or almost to infer that a Yes vote could eliminate it, wipe it from the folk memory, and in the process to divert too far from the far more universally applicable economic reasons for independence; if there is a narrow No vote, this would probably be the biggest reason, just as the unfounded scaremongering, which might well partially be driven by a desire to eliminate politically inconvenient socialist tendencies from the Anglosphere, would be the main cause of a narrow Yes. People in my position frequently, with some justification, accuse the Yes campaign of selfishness (and also of hypocrisy, since they see themselves as above and separate from the drift in such a direction in post-1979 England) – of being concerned purely for their own social democratic idyll and of being indifferent to the fate of the rest of us. The Yes campaign can respond, perfectly reasonably, that we are the selfish ones for wanting to use others to give us what we cannot give ourselves.
Or maybe it is a matter of tone, a fundamental psychological difference between the English and the Celts. Over and over again I find myself agreeing with the basic meat of what Scottish independence supporters have to say, but being turned off by what often comes over to me as a rather arrogant, combative, dismissive tone to it. It was once said that, to understand Enoch Powell, you had to be conscious of his Welsh ancestry because it was the source of his “un-English, but Celtic, passion for going all the way”.
Does this mean that, underneath it all, I’m a Tory as well (at least in the gentle, diffident shire sense that Powell, the proto-Thatcherite child of a great industrial city, very definitely wasn’t, part of)? Some people would say yes, no doubt, and yes I can hear all the jokes about moderation to excess starting already. But I prefer to think of myself as a liberal humanist – in TPL terms, in the tradition which runs from On the Threshold of a Dream to ELO’s Time, and the pieces about them, not the vast, unedifying swathes of proto-Cameronite muck to come. I do cherish the English liberal humanist tradition which has been so eroded and threatened in recent times, and I don’t want it to be weakened still further, turned more than ever into a defensive, bull-headed nationalism, defined far more by what it is against rather than what it is for, which bears disturbing resemblances to Serbian nationalism as it developed in the early 1990s. Scotland has its own traditions, and they can no doubt thrive better apart. What worries me is the survival, or not, of the liberal traditions I myself was raised for, which I fear need the help of others to thrive now because those theoretically raised for them increasingly don’t really understand them.
The frustration caused by the gulf between my identification and sympathy with some aspects of Scottish independence aspirations – my basic belief that it represents a positive, progressive social model for those who can be part of it – and the way I must live, the way I am confined to live, is a cause of almost unbearable pain. In the end – for the purely emotional side of me, for the 1945 side of me – “I want the one I can’t have”. That Morrissey – precisely the sort of English Leftist who could only have thrived and really been understood if England had been Scotland – could be a wise chap, when he wanted to be.
Hmmm… May be able to tell the strategic political and industrial sense of the slogan “Gove out!” now. I wonder if he’ll be replaced by someone committed to a well funded, public education system…