This article first appeared in the New European, 19 August 2016:
Martin McGuinness on why Brexit is an affront to democracy
Fifty-six per cent of people in the north of Ireland voted to remain in the EU. The late Martin McGuinness, in an article written while he was still Deputy First Minister, explains why Brexit is an affront to democracy and explores its consequences:
The British Government appears determined to usurp the democratic will of the people here by dragging the north of Ireland out of the European Union against our will.
That is an affront to democracy.
Fifty-six per cent of the people in the north of Ireland – unionist, nationalist and republicans – voted to remain in the EU. That mandate should be respected not dismissed.
However, the new British Prime Minister – who I met in recent days – seems determined to ignore that mandate.
And that should be of no surprise to anyone because this toxic debate was never about the desire of the people. It wasn’t even about Brussels bureaucrats or British sovereignty. It was a power play within the Tory party which unleashed and fed upon xenophobia and racism.
The dynamics which led to that schism within the Tory party are still there. They will continue to influence the Tory leadership in the time ahead and we are the collateral damage.
Because there is nothing good in Brexit for Ireland. There are no opportunities. There are no silver linings. Brexit is an economic, political and social catastrophe.
Due to our legacy of conflict and peripheral geography, the north of Ireland is particularly dependent on EU support.
Between 2014 and 2020, we were set to receive 3.5 billion euros in direct European funding. A sizeable portion of that will be at risk if we are forced out of Europe. Such funds will, of course, not be available at all in the years following 2020 and I don’t think that anyone seriously believes that the British Government will reimburse these losses.
Certainly when I met with Mrs May she offered no guarantees about recompensing the North of Ireland for this loss.
The impact of losing billions from our economy will be a devastating blow in a region which is still emerging from a long and bitter conflict. We still suffer some of the highest levels of deprivation seen anywhere on these islands. We are dealing with the legacy of generations of neglect and under-investment from successive British governments, all of which has been compounded by the austerity agenda of the Tories.
In a society emerging from conflict, we need to be able to demonstrate that politics can deliver for people, that it can bring about positive change and consolidate the peace process. Our ability to do that has been crippled by the Tories and Brexit threatens to make a bad situation incalculably worse.
As well as these direct European funds, we are already losing an unquantifiable amount of private investment as foreign direct investors turn their attention to regions which can guarantee access to the European market.
The European Union has also been central to the peace agreements which have underpinned the incredible progress we have made in the past 20 years.
The role of Europe is written into the Good Friday Agreement. Brexit would directly challenge the integrity of that internationally-binding treaty and represent a major setback for the political process in the North.
It would undermine the all-Ireland bodies and co-operation created by the peace process and harden partition.
It would have huge consequences for human rights legislation which, again, is specifically referenced in the Good Friday and subsequent agreements.
The most tangible aspect of that would be the return of any kind of border on the island of Ireland.
An EU frontier, hard or soft, stretching from Dundalk to Derry is something no one in Ireland wants.
And it’s all very well for Theresa May to say she doesn’t want a return to the borders of the past. But when she was Home Secretary, she was absolutely clear that Brexit would inevitably lead to renewed border checks of some form.
I fear that is exactly what will happen.
And the simple fact is that Theresa May hasn’t ruled a new border out because she can’t rule it out. It’s not within her gift to make that decision because this will be a matter for negotiation with the other EU member states. It will be one of the many prices of Brexit.
And that is the great folly of this entire issue. Brexit may well mean Brexit but nobody – Theresa May included – has any idea of what it will actually look like. It is abundantly clear from the engagements I have had with the highest levels of the Westminster government that they are scrambling in the dark. They have no demonstrable plan to plot a way through this crisis because they didn’t expect this to actually happen.
I personally warned David Cameron nine months ago that he was sleepwalking us all out of the European Union. He clearly didn’t think then that he would lose the referendum but that is precisely what transpired. The British Government recklessly dragged us all into the unknown and they did so for entirely self-serving reasons. It was a foolish attempt to placate UKIP racists and the loony-right within the Conservative Party.
Unfortunately, for us, we will be dealing with the consequences of that decision for generations.
From our perspective, what is needed now is an island-wide approach to dealing with the EU. That is why Sinn Féin called on the Taoiseach to establish an all-Ireland forum to discuss the impact of the referendum. That now needs to go ahead.
The Taoiseach and the Irish government need to play their part in ensuring that the democratic rights of all Irish citizens are protected, regardless of where they live on the island.
Despite the huge challenges Brexit presents, it has also led to a focus on the potential for building a new Ireland.
The people of the north voted to remain in the European Union and we have to explore all options to give effect to that mandate.
A debate has already begun across the country about what a new Ireland within the EU, would look like.
That debate needs to be as wide-ranging as possible, inclusive of the views of a wide range of civic and political opinion from right across Ireland.
The example from Scotland has shown that such a debate can be carried out in a mature, reasonable and sensible manner.
The Tories and the British Government have demonstrated, yet again, that they care little for the needs, entitlements and democratic wishes of the people in the north of Ireland.
I believe the people here see their future as part of Europe. As part of an outward-looking, positive and inclusive new Ireland.
The agenda being pursued by the Tories is contrary to all of that and it is time we had a genuine, mature and rational debate about how we make that happen. regions which can guarantee access to the European market.
By Sean Matgamna (first published in 2012)
In a hugely symbolic moment on 27 June, during a royal visit to Northern Ireland to mark her jubilee, the former commander of the IRA shook hands with the Queen.
The man who commanded the force responsible for, amongst other things, the death of the Queen’s cousin Lord Mountbatten, exchanged a handshake with the woman whose armed forces murdered 14 innocent civil rights marchers in his hometown of Derry. This was, all proportions guarded, a real life instance of David Low’s famous cartoon “Rendezvous” in which Hitler (“the bloody assassin of the workers”) greets Stalin as “the scum of the earth”.
The response of the press, in Britain, Ireland and internationally, was very positive.
The Guardian thought “it underlined how far we have come since the Troubles”. The Mirror contained an unusually calm and rational article from Tony Parsons who described it as “the end of something — the decades of hatred, loathing and bloodshed” as well as “the beginning of something, too — when the raw wounds of the past can perhaps begin to heal”.
The Belfast Telegraph, traditionally a Unionist paper, hailed the handshake as “bridging a gulf that spanned centuries”. The southern Irish press was unreservedly impressed. The New York Times called it “a remarkable sign of reconciliation for both figures”.
The working-class socialist response to this would seem to be fairly straightforward. McGuinness claims still to be a republican in both important senses of the word. As a “capital R” Republican he appeared to make peace with the highest symbol of British rule while her state and government continue to “occupy” the northern part of Ireland and deny his people self-determination.
Even more objectionable is his apparent suspension of “lower case” republicanism — the rejection of rule by hereditary, unelected privilege. Contempt for such an institution should be taken for granted by even the mildest democrat.
Didn’t McGuinness, by shaking the Queen’s hand, acknowledge both her right to rule and her government’s sway in Ireland?
A glance at the fiercest critics of this historic handshake is a reminder that things are more complicated.
Before the meeting the Daily Mail advised the Queen to burn her gloves after carrying out her “distasteful duty”. The Sun’s front page headline declared “We don’t blame you for wearing gloves M’am”. The Times cartoonist provided an image of the Queen putting on four pairs of gloves before shaking the bloodstained hand of McGuinness.
The idea that there might be plenty of blood on the monarch’s hands too didn’t occur to any of them.
The Daily Mail was the one paper that didn’t deem the occasion to be worth a front page story. Inside, though, they brought us arch-militarist Max Hastings under the headline “I’m sorry, even in the name of peace, it was wrong to shake his blood-soaked hand”.
Hunting for evidence that McGuinness, the deputy prime minister and latter-day conciliator, remained “a fanatic”, Hastings alighted on his principled decision not to take his full ministerial salary (£71,000).
For me, that is evidence that Sinn Fein retains some connection with its mainly working-class base. For Hastings, it shows “certitude about his own moral compass” and this, he claims, is “the foremost requirement of a fanatic”.
On what appears to be the opposite side of the spectrum, McGuinness and Sinn Fein have been attacked by harder line Irish Republicans for yet another betrayal. Protests were held by dissident republicans, and senior SF councillor Alison Morris resigned in opposition to the event.
It’s important to register clearly what the critics are opposed to. On the republican side it isn’t seriously claimed that McGuinness or his party have become soft on the monarchy. For certain McGuinness and Sinn Fein have rapidly acclimatised to being part of the establishment and clearly enjoy being normal bourgeois politicians. What took place on 27 June was, however, more than just a further shift down that road.
The justification given by Sinn Fein had nothing to do with either the Queen or British rule. McGuinness described his move as “in a very pointed, deliberate and symbolic way offering the hand of friendship to unionists through the person of Queen Elizabeth for which many unionists have a deep affinity”. There is no reason not to take that rationale at face value. He went on to claim that this sort of symbolism had the potential to define “a new relationship between Britain and Ireland and between the Irish people themselves”.
That view can be criticised as naive. It can be attacked as a top-down way of managing the communal differences without challenging the fundamental causes. In common with most elements of the “peace process” it seems to reinforce rather than undercut cultural division. It’s a different matter, however, to criticise it for “going too far” towards the unionists. The least bad fault with modern-day SF is that they are insufficiently intransigent nationalists. Yet that is the criticism most commonly levelled at them from the left.
And it’s hard not to take some pleasure from the visible discomfort this event has caused to the British right. The fact that their Queen has felt it necessary to shake the hand of the former IRA commander has opened a very old sore for reactionaries.
The most reliable of these, Peter Hitchens, summed up the problem in the Mail on Sunday. After a few predictable and gratuitous personal swipes at McGuinness he compressed all his familiar anxieties into this short sentence: “If anyone doubted that the Good Friday Agreement was a humiliating surrender by a once-great country to a criminal gang, they can’t doubt it now.”
The sort of Tories whom Hitchens and Hastings write for spent their formative years insisting that those who took up arms to fight British rule anywhere in the world were no more than criminals. They said it too of Mandela and the ANC. Time and again they have seen these claims crumble to dust as the era of direct imperialist rule has given way to triumphant independence movements. And it hurts deeply.
Hitchens’ adult life has been blighted by one episode after another of “humiliating surrender” by his “once-great country” to movements fighting to free their countries from colonial or racist rule (or “criminal gangs” as he prefers to put it).
But the Irish people have not yet won a united independent state. The British have not surrendered and nor would it matter much if they did. The key to Irish territorial unity is, and has for decades been, democratic unity between its people. What Martin McGuinness did on 27 June offended the sensibilities of democrats and socialists because of our contempt for the institution of monarchy. However, his motive at least was progressive.
It was also republican in the sense defined by the founder of modern Irish republicanism Wolfe Tone — “to replace the name Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter with the common name Irishman”. We should be bold enough to point that out.
By Camila Bassi (at Anaemic On A Bike)
“In late modernity, authoritarian movements have arisen again that seek to ideologically combine an organic and holistic natural-social order, a purified nationality, a primeval mysticism, and a belief in a superlative civilisation that was created by an ancestral community of blood.” (Bhatt, 2000: 589)
Post-9/11 sections of the British Left have championed the term ‘Islamophobia’ (fear of Islam) to describe and challenge the surge of racism against people signified as Muslim. This term, however, has limited power to explain the vilification and discrimination of Muslims in the contemporary era both since 9/11 and with Brexit and the rise of Donald Trump. This prejudice and harm should be understood as anti-Muslim racism. What’s more, Islamophobia’s implied antithesis, ‘Islamophilia’ (love of Islam), is an inadequate basis for a politically progressive anti-racist politics. Much of the British Left – posed as champions against Islamophobia – through its anti-war campaigning at the height of the imperialist War on Terror, identified as allies Islamist movements to the disregard of solidarity with secular, feminist, and democratic forces who opposed both imperialism and Islamism (see Bassi, 2009). This Left not only failed to critique religious fundamentalism, but went further in silencing its critique of religion in general. Through the Stop the War Coalition, at rallies and on demonstrations, women-only areas were organised alongside propaganda stating, for example, “We are all Hezbollah”. Racism as a common sense ideology fixes and orders the world through a hierarchy of assumed and desired homogenised groups of people, whereas a socialist anti-racist politics should understand the reality, and our own desired future, of the world as driven by dynamic exchange and hybridisation of peoples. At a moment when reactionary nationalism is on the ascendancy, it is worth reasserting that we are in favour of globalisation – a globalisation by and for our class. Read the rest of this entry »
By Andrew Coates (reblogged from Tendance Coatesy):
Populists High on the Hog.
From the vantage point of the left, from liberals to socialists, Donald Trump is a ‘truth’, a reality, the “actuality of the populist revolution” that is hard to grapple with. The thousands who demonstrated against his Muslim/Visa Ban in London on Saturday, (40,000 to the organisers, 10,000 to everybody else), and the anti-Trump protests across the country, express heartfelt outrage at the US President’s xenophobic measures. It is to be hoped that they continue in the event of a Trump State visit to Britain. But beyond our backing for the worldwide campaigns against the new President the nature and destination of his politics needs serious reflection and debate.
In What is Populism? (2016) Jan-Werner Müller described modern populism as a “moralistic imagination of politics”. Müller’s description is tailor-made, not only for populist protest, the indignation at the ‘elites’, the neglect of “hard-working people” and respect for those who are “more ordinary” than others that marks UKIP and the galaxy of the Continental radical right.
But, What is Populism? argues, it is not just that for populists “only some of the people are really the people”. Trump has passed from the idea that his election represents the will of the ‘real’ American people, a claim to sovereignty that overrides any consideration of the plurality of the electing body, to efforts to bring the sovereignty of law to heel. In this case, the emerging political model, is an alternative to the ‘non-adversarial” consensus in ‘liberal’ democracies.
But Trump’s triumph is very far from a mobilisation against the “élitocratie” favoured by supporters of ‘left populist’ anticapitalism, through grassroots movements involving forces capable of giving voice and a progressive slant to demands for popular sovereignty.
It is an illiberal democracy.
Müller predicts that in power,
..with their basic commitment to the idea that only they represented the people”. Once installed in office, “they will engage in occupying the state mass clientelism and corruption, and the suppression of anything like a critical civil society. (Page 102)
This looks a good description of Trump’s first weeks in office.
Nick Cohen has warned that the British Conservatives have not only failed to stand up the British Populists but forces may lead some of them to shift in the same direction (What has become of conservatism? Observer. 2911.17)
Populist Calls to Break up the EU.
After Brexit, Trump’s victory has reverberated in the democratic left as warning that, for some, that the left, from its ‘liberal’ US version to our socialist and social democratic culture, has lost touch with ‘ordinary people’. A rapid response has been to advocate some kind of ‘left populism’. For the moment the prospect of a left-wing populism in Britain looks reduced to making appeals to the ‘people’ against the Tory and financial elite. Or to put it simply, using the term as a way of looking for popular support on issues which play well with the electorate. A more developed tool-box approach, perhaps best mirrored in the efforts of the French Presidential candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon to stand up for La France insoumise, ends up with precisely the problem of illiberal democracy sketched above.
This can be seen in the demand, formally announced today, by the French Front National, to prepare for what Marine le Pen has called ‘Frexit’. That is for a process which, if she wins power in the April-May Presidential elections, begins with renegotiating European Treaties, proceeds to France dropping the Euro, and ends with a referendum on leaving the European Union (Marine Le Pen promises Frexit referendum if she wins presidency).
Organising and supporting the anti-Trump demonstration were a number of individuals and organisations (Counterfire, SWP, Socialist Party) that backed Brexit. Trump is famous for his support for Brexit. It is alleged that Ted Malloch, who wishes the “break up of the EU” is waging a campaign to become Trump’s Ambassador to the European Union (Patrick Wintour. Guardian. 4.2.17).
Trump is said to be “cheering on” the populist forces in Europe. While not supporting UKIP the British ‘left’ supporters of Brexit cast their ballot in the same way to leave the EU. The results of the Referendum, it need hardly be said, are probably the best example of the failure of the left to ‘channel’ populism in its direction
Will these forces also welcome the “break up” of the EU? Would they back Frexit? An indication that they might well do comes from the strong support and attendance of Trade Unionists Against the EU at the ‘Internationalist’ Rally last year (May 28th Pour le Brexit) organised by the pro-Frexit Trotskyist sect, the Parti Ouvrier Indépendant Démocratique.(1)
If they take this stand, and these groups have to have views on every EU issue, regardless of ‘sovereignty;’ a part of the British left is in letting itself in for some major difficulties. In What is Populism? Müller asked, by placing the construction of the “people” against the “market people” – or the People against the European Union ‘neo-liberal superpower – will this “import the problems of a genuinely populist conception of politics? “ (Page 98)
The sovereigntist ideal of the Front National is quite clear about defining who the French ‘people’ are; it even intends to give them preference in jobs (préférence nationale).
What kind of ‘construction’ of the People around what Laclau has dubbed On Populist Reason (2005) as an “us” opposed to an (elite) “them” is that?
This indicates the kind of action Marine Le Pen takes against critics (the journalist asks her about employing her thuggish bodyguards as “Parliamentary Assistants” on the EU Payroll.
(1) “quitter l’Union Européenne” Wikipedia. More details in the Tribune des Travailleurs on the ‘Constituent Assembly’which will carry out this process. Mouvement pour la rupture avec l’UE et la 5e République
This article appears in today’s Morning Star:
We need to talk about homophobia
LGBT education is needed now more than ever in the wake of the Orlando shootings, argues RABBIL SIKDAR
FIFTY people killed because of their sexuality in Orlando. It’s clear that though 21st century is here with increasing legislations in support of LGBT people, there is still an entrenched camp of bigots who have nothing but seething hatred for these people.
What struck me the most wasn’t the incident itself. Jihadist violence against innocent people is becoming increasingly common. The appeal of Islamic State (Isis) is far-reaching.
What particularly struck me was the grief and rage of Owen Jones later on Sky News when he was trying to explain this to two heterosexuals.
This wasn’t violence against humanity, as they blindly insisted. It was violence against one of the most viciously oppressed and marginalised groups in the world, who face varying degrees of discrimination, prejudice and violence.
What happened was a terrorist attack, but it was also an attack on LGBT people. The killer’s father would come out and say his son was openly repulsed by the sight of two men kissing.
With any terrorist incident there come the inquests. Why did it happen, the motivations, the factors, who to blame, who not to blame?
Muslims often find themselves dragged into that blame game as the far-right brigade come out in their numbers.
Atrocities become shamelessly hijacked for right-wing propaganda. With the attacks in Orlando, we had Donald Trump praising himself and the EU Leave rightwingers warning about Islamism.
The issue of gun control and the easy access that mentally deranged lunatics and terrorists have to weapons has not been addressed.
It’s a failure of Barack Obama that he has been effectively blocked from gun reforms by an NRA-backed Republican Party.
The country has shifted in its opinion, but Republicans remain firmly wedded to the free access to guns. Even as violence rips through the US, the second amendment is fiercely protected.
But those who place the biggest problem from this at gun reforms are wrong. The biggest problem is homophobia.
It’s still rampant. Within the US, the LGBT community faces immense prejudice and discrimination. The right to marry and adopt is fiercely contested.
Though many states have now legalised gay marriage, the US faces a battle with homophobia.
The Orlando killer was also a Muslim. That doesn’t automatically mark Muslims out as being uniquely homophobic, as many are claiming.
But people need to be honest: the stances towards the LGBT community within parts of the Muslim community are often extremely regressive and troubling.
It’s why gay Muslims rarely come out. In the Muslim world, the punishment for homosexuality is often death.
In Britain, polls have shown that over half of Muslims believe homosexuality is wrong.
And of course at the extreme end of the scale Isis punishes homosexuals by throwing them off towers.
This despite the Koran itself never prescribing a punishment. Homosexuality is often treated as some sort of sin that’s as morally corrupt as murder or rape.
Countries such as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have institutionalised and rationalised homophobia rather than showing tolerance.
Within Britain, it’s not talked enough about in households or in schools. LGBT Muslims face huge identity conflicts, fear of being marginalised and treated as freaks, unable to find mosques welcoming them.
Conservative Muslims have insisted that whatever their stance on homosexuality, murder is wrong. But it misses the point.
When you treat homosexuality as a sin and LGBT people as abominations, you strip them of their humanity and empathy and forge a scenario where acts of violence can be inflicted upon them because they are regarded as lesser beings who have strayed wildly.
When the media continuously demonises Muslims or black people, we immediately point out how the antagonist was radicalised by the social environment of hatred and poisonous bile and bigotry towards these people.
Homophobia isn’t exclusive to Islam and, indeed, polls show that overall Roman Catholics tend to be more negative towards homosexuality than ordinary Muslims.
Historically, it wasn’t always the case that Muslim society reacted like this to LGBT people.
Under the Ottoman empire, homosexuality was not treated as a crime. But right now religious authorities have to act.
Within the Muslim world, Muslims who are politically, culturally or sexually different from others are treated as deviants and heretics. Their punishment is often execution.
LGBT people still have to live in fear of being who they are. Homophobic attitudes are harder to defeat in later stages of life. So start early. LGBT education is needed now more than ever.
And acknowledging that there are huge swathes of the Muslim community that do not tolerate homosexuality, peaceful though they may be, is one of these tasks.
By Champagne Charlie
Last Friday’s Guardian carried a piece by Education editor Richard Adams headlined “Ofsted Inspectors upgrade Birmingham school in ‘Trojan horse’ scandal to good”.
The piece begins “The school at the centre of the Trojan horse scandal has been given a clean bill of health by Ofsted inspectors, two years after allegations of an Islamist plot to infiltrate education made national headlines.”
The inattentive reader could be forgiven for thinking that it has now been shown that there was no Islamist plot and the allegations against senior teachers and governors at the school have been disproven. It is only when you read on, that it becomes apparent that Adams is writing about the school as it now is, under a new leadership team, the previous Islamist leadership having been removed. Even so, Adams feels it necessary to throw in one of his typical weaselling half-truths: “allegations of a city-wide plot were never substantiated and are thought to be a hoax.”
It’s time the facts of the ‘Trojan Horse’ affair that have been established beyond reasonable doubt (sources can be checked on Wikepedia, from which I’ve drawn extensively) were set out clearly, if only to counter the torrent of downright lies, half-truths and obfuscation that continues to emanate from Mr Adams, the SWP and elements within the NUT.
The ‘Operation Trojan Horse’ letter was leaked to the press in early March 2014. It is an anonymous document, purporting to be from an Islamist in Birmingham, advising a fellow Islamist in Bradford, on how to take over schools and impose an Islamist agenda. Early on, most informed commentators expressed the opinion that the letter was probably a fake, created by someone who wished to draw attention to alleged Islamist influence in Birmingham schools.
The author of the letter claimed responsibility for installing new headteachers at four schools in Birmingham, and identified 12 others in the city which would be easy targets due to large Muslim attendance and poor inspection reports. It suggests encouraging parents to complain about a school’s leadership with accusations of sex education, forced Christian prayer and mixed physical education, with the aim of obtaining a new, Islamist, leadership. It was also suggested that once successfully taken over, schools should apply for Academy status so as to have a curriculum independent of the Local Education Authority. The author described the plan as “totally invisible to the naked eye and [allowing] us to operate under the radar”.
Despite widespread doubts about the provenance of the letter, Birmingham’s education commissioner Sir Mike Tomlinson stated his belief that what the letter described was happening “without a shadow of doubt”. Read the rest of this entry »
From Tendance Coatesy
Salma Yaqoob and (behind her) Ger Francis “confront” Roger Godsiff MP in 2005
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.
For reasons that escape me Socialist Unity has chosen to publish this by Andy Newman: St Crispin’s Day.
Meanwhile the only remaining other member of Socialist Unity’s band of brothers John Wight, has published this stirring call to arms,
What we have seen take place is nothing less than a feral and unhinged scream from the swamp of reaction that resides in our culture, where every crank with a computer resides, consumed with bitterness and untreated angst, much of it in the form of self loathing over their own inadequacies and lack of talent – not to mention in some cases a jump from the extreme left to extreme right of the political spectrum, with all the psychological dysfunction such a metamorphosis describes.
So feral, so extreme has been this motley crew of first rate second rate men (and women) in their biblical denunciations of Seumas Milne, they make the McCarthy witchhunts seem like child’s play by comparison.
Wight ends this call to muster behind Milne with this remark,
“Ridicule is the tribute paid to the genius by the mediocrities.”
We learn that Corbyn has taken upon himself to appoint another genius to his team, who is, surely no-coincidence, a former Socialist Unity contributor (Telegraph – Thanks Jim…).
It can also be revealed that Mr Corbyn has employed a key aide to the disgraced former mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman. Ger Francis, Rahman’s former political adviser, worked for Mr Corbyn at the Commons, a member of Mr Corbyn’s Westminster office confirmed last week. “He worked here on the leadership campaign,” she said.
Mr Francis moved to work for Mr Corbyn after Rahman was disbarred from office in April. An election court found the mayor guilty of “corrupt and illegal practices” including vote-rigging, bribery and lying that his Labour opponent was a racist. The judge, Richard Mawrey QC, said Rahman had run a “ruthless and dishonest” campaign which “drove a coach and horses” through electoral law.
Mr Francis, one of Rahman’s highly-controversial twelve political appointees, was at the heart of the mayor’s personal machine which saw millions of pounds of taxpayers’ cash channelled to personal allies and Muslim groups in return for political support.
He is a former member of the Trotskyite Socialist Workers’ Party who was expelled from the SWP in 2007 for being too extreme. He then became an organiser for George Galloway’s far-Left Respect party and was agent for the party’s then leader, Salma Yaqoob, at the 2010 elections in Birmingham. He joined Rahman after the collapse of Respect and Ms Yaqoob’s resignation as leader.
This is what Ger said on what he intended to do in Respect (from, surprise, surprise, Socialist Unity March 2008).
Our contribution to the international class struggle starts with the work we do to undermine British imperialism. In this context, the significance of the developments that have taken place around Respect, under the leadership of George Galloway and Salma Yaqoob, should not be underestimated. The demands made by Respect would probably have been accommodated by left social democracy in previous generations, but they have been given backbone by a resolute anti-imperialism, anti-racism and a critique of capitalism. This is the correct political orientation for mass politics.
Francis is particularly hated by Iranian and other exiles from Islamist countries for the role he played in Birmingham back in 2001-2 – preventing these democratic secular socialists from expressing their views in the Stop the War Campaign.
You can read about Francis’s activities in this text by respected comrades Sue Blackwell and Rehan Hafeez – the pseudonym of a greatly valued Iranian activist [actually, South Asian -JD] I have had close contact with (WHY WE WERE RIGHT TO LEAVE THE SWP).
On 4th April 2002, Rehan Hafeez (SWP member of 16 years’ standing) and Sue Blackwell (SWP member of 19 years’ standing) sent a joint letter of resignation to the Central Committee of the SWP. Our letter was sent by Recorded Delivery and we had expected some sort of response from the CC. Of course we didn’t expect them to take all our allegations at face value, but we did hope that they would at least investigate them. However, we never received a reply in any form whatsoever – not even an acknowledgement of our resignations. The only contact from the Centre was a couple of months later when we each received a phone call from the Membership Office enquiring why our subs had stopped! (Sue took great pleasure in answering that at some length to the poor sod at the end of the phone).
We therefore decided to post our letters on the web along with related documents, so that people can judge for themselves whether we made the right decision. Since we posted them in 2003, we have received dozens of supportive e-mails from others who have left the SWP under similar circumstances, and remarkably also from people who are still in the SWP suffering the same kind of abuses but haven’t yet plucked up the courage to leave. (I call it “battered comrade syndrome”).
In our letter we complained about the packing of the Birmingham Stop the War Coalition (BSTWC) meeting on 5th February 2002, where the SWP rode roughshod over the existing democratic procedures in order to kick Steve Godward out of his post as Vice-Chair of BSTWC and to end the practice of open committee meetings and regular elections. This event was exactly mirrored at the Birmingham Socialist Alliance AGM held on 1st July 2003, where – guess what – the SWP packed the meeting in order to kick Steve Godward out of his position as Chair, along with every other committee member who was not in the SWP, including Rehan who was voted out of his post as Press Officer.
One point we would mention: the texts of these letters make repeated reference to Ger Francis, the Birmingham SWP full-timer. Ger was finally sacked by the SWP around the time of the Party Conference in early November 2002, and we are confident that our complaints about him contributed in some measure to that welcome decision. However, it would be wrong to think that the problems began and ended with comrade Francis: he was the symptom, not the cause. After his replacement the SWP in Brum continued to behave in exactly the same sectarian, dishonest and undemocratic manner within the anti-war movement and the Socialist Alliance. The rot, as far as we can see, comes from the head: Ger was repeatedly backed by CC members such as Chris Bambery, Lindsey German and John Rees and those individuals have not changed their positions. We have seen no real improvement in the internal democracy of the SWP.
We also note that no explanation was given to the rank-and-file as to WHY Ger was sacked, and why at THAT PARTICULAR TIME given that complaints against him had been made since the beginning of 2002. Ger carried on behaving in the exactly the same way, still taking a leading role in the BSTW Coalition for instance, but nothing was done to stop this. We considered this to be further evidence of the contempt the leadership had for ordinary members. Eventually Ger was expelled from the party itself as part of the fall-out from the split in Respect in 2007, when he sided with the Salma Yaqoob / George Galloway faction after the SWP had apparently seen the light.
This is one text: Concerning Events in Birmingham Since the Autumn of 2001. There are many more on the site.
This account of some of the events backs up their account of Ger’s factionist pro-Islamist stand in Birmingham: STWC gravediggers. Steve Davis. (Weekly Worker. 9.1.03).
Here is Ger lauding Galloway (November 2009).
For those involved in Palestinian solidarity in Birmingham, its university has long felt like some weird Zionist outpost. For years Israeli apologists, through bureaucratic bullying and intimidation via the Student Union Guild, have been able to hinder and stifle debate.
George Galloway is simply the most eloquent advocate of the Palestinian cause in the English speaking world.
To follow Henry the V is a hard task.
But this is what Sue said about Ger when he was finally booted out of the SWP (here),
Sue sent this as an e-mail to various comrades on hearing in early November 2002 that Ger Francis, the cause of so much of her misery, had been sacked from his post as full-time organiser for the SWP in Birmingham. Steve Godward replied “well said brother Wordsworth”.
In hindsight, however, this proved to be overly optimistic. Ger Francis remained very much in the driving seat of the Bham Stop The War Coalition, the “clumsy desperation” continues with a vengeance and there are still plenty of “madding factions” needing to be tranquilised ….
By the way – I shouldn’t need to say this but I’ll say it anyway – I do not in any way condone or encourage acts of individual violence and I do not wish anyone dead, even my worst enemies. In any case my worst enemies are the governments of the USA, the UK and Israel, not anyone on the British left. The “rivers of blood” here are strictly metaphorical (and nothing to do with Enoch Powell either!)
… but the foremost of the band
As he approached, no salutation given
In the familiar language of the day,
Cried, “Robespierre is dead!” – nor was a doubt,
After strict question, left within my mind
That he and his supporters all were fallen.
Great was my transport, deep my gratitude
To everlasting Justice, by this fiat
Made manifest. “Come now, ye golden times,”
Said I forth-pouring on those open sands
A hymn of triumph: “as the morning comes
From out the bosom of the night, come ye:
Thus far our trust is verified; behold!
They who with clumsy desperation brought
A river of Blood, and preached that nothing else
Could cleanse the Augean stable, by the might
Of their own helper have been swept away;
Their madness stands declared and visible;
Elsewhere will safety now be sought, and earth
March firmly towards righteousness and peace.”
Then schemes I framed more calmly, when and how
The madding factions might be tranquilised,
And how through hardships manifold and long
The glorious renovation would proceed.
Thus interrupted by uneasy bursts
Of exultation, I pursued my way …
William Wordsworth, The Prelude, Book
It is, frankly, outrageous that Ger Francis should be working for any Labour MP.
Credit to the Morning Star; they published my letter today:
The editorial of April 27 (An attack on democracy) defending Lutfar Rahman, was a disgrace. It was factually wrong on almost very point, and – worse – politically wrong.
Election Commissioner Mawrey’s report was not (as the editorial claims) based only on the PricewaterhouseCoopers report, but upon detailed evidence provided by the four petitioners, who risked bankruptcy had their case failed, and the evidence of a large number of witnesses. Did the author of the editorial even read the 200 page report, easily available online?
Many of those now denouncing Mawrey (eg George Galloway) were only too happy to praise him in March 2007, when he exposed Labour Party misuse of postal votes in both Tower Hamlets and Birmingham. Similarly, I do not recall anyone on the left denouncing the election court’s 2010 judgement removing Phil Woolas as MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth, and barring him from standing again.
As for “spiritual influence”: it is true that in the not-so-distant past the Catholic church used its influence in Liverpool and Glasgow to tell people how to vote: but the left had no hesitation in denouncing and fighting such religious interference in democracy. How is it that the Morning Star now seems to be defending such an outrage in Tower Hamlets?
Rahman has been found guilty by Judge Mowrey (whose impartiality was once hailed by Galloway) of corruption, vote-rigging, intimidation, using religious influence and making false allegations of racism and “Islamophobia” against all who dared oppose him. He and his cronies ran their own version of Tammany Hall in Tower Hamlets – and the Morning Star defends him!
As at least one commentator has noted, there is real racism at work in the reaction of some people to Mawrey’s judgement: the racism that believes the immigrant poor deserve no better. Shame on you!
Organized crime boss Joseph Anthony Colombo Sr. in 1971.
By Sean Matgamna (2006; very minor changes and additions made by JD, April 2015):
The story of Joe Columbo, the Mafia boss who briefly turned ethnic politician, is one of the most frightening stories I’ve come across. An instructive story, too. It sheds some light on [certain recent events in Tower Hamlets ]
Perhaps significantly, the year is 1970. In the USA there is a huge anti-Vietnam-war movement. The USA has also experienced the black civil rights movement and the black ghetto uprisings. It is a highly political period in American history.
When the gangster Joe Columbo, boss of one of the Mafia “Families” feels the pursuing FBI breathing down his neck, he reacts “politically”. He starts the “Italian-American Civil Rights League” (IACRL) to campaign against the FBl’s “harassment” of Italian-Americans!
IACRL’s message is simple and clear cut, the lie big and direct. The Mafia does not exist. There is no such thing as the Mafia. There never was. The Mafia is a myth invented by a racist police force less concerned with justice or with fighting real criminals than with self-publicity. The FBI has invented the Mafia and thus stigmatised and smeared the entire Italian-American community.
The Mafia myth is a burden and an affliction for every Italian-American, and it is time to fight back, says the mafioso Joe Columbo. The Italian-American Civil Rights League exists with Joe Columbo as its leading personality, to fight for justice, truth and the Italian-American way. It slots easily into the American system of ethnic politics, and it mushrooms into a powerful movement able to get tens of thousands to demonstrate on the streets.
They boldly picket the FBI, demanding that it should stop victimising and persecuting good Italian-Americans like Joe Columbo. They demand such things as more public recognition that it was an Italian who first discovered America for Europe, Christopher Columbus. The image of the Italian-American has to be changed.
Politicians, judges, entertainers, flock to get a piece of Columbo’s action. At $10 per member, the Italian American Civil Rights League becomes a nice little earner for Joe Columbo and his Mafia friends.
The IACRL is a political force for about a year, and then one day in 1971, just as Joe Columbo is starting to speak to a big audience of thousands of demonstrating Italian-Americans, to tell them once again that the mafia does not exist, a mafia guman shoots him in the head, blowing part of his brain away. The gunman is immediately killed by Columbo’s Mafioso bodyguards.
You see, the other Mafiosi hadn’t had Joe Columbo’s faith in the power of the big bold lie to protect them. Columbo had broken their traditional modus operandi of anonymous, background manipulation, and as little publicity as possible. They thought Columbo’s political operation would only get the FBI to intensify the heat on them. So they had him shot.
They didn’t quite kill Joe Columbo outright: he survived for seven years, incapacitated. What they did kill was the Italian American Civil Rights League. One irony of this strange all-American tale is that what Columbo said — the mafia is a myth — was what FBI Chief J Edgar Hoover had said for decades, until the late 50s. Hoover hadn’t wanted to admit that there were criminals and a criminal network too big for the FBI to bring down.
Joe Columbo would be the basis of one of the characters in Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather Part 3 (1990) He had, it seems, paid a visit to the Producer of the first of the 3 Godfather films,”The Godfather”, to threaten him out of too-close an identification of the film’s charaacters with their Italian background.
The story of Joe Columbo and his Italian-American Civil Rights League illustrates the ease with which politics can be faked and vast numbers of people fooled and led by their noses — the power of pseudo-political demagogy to drum up unreasoning movements around real grievances.
Marx said truly that ideas become a material force when they grip the masses. A big problem for socialists and people concerned to promote rational politics in general is that all sorts of ideas can grip the masses.
There are no political or ideological vacuums: it has to be either the ideas of the ruling class, even if in some “wild” varient like Columbo’s, or the ideas of Marxism, that prevail.
More than that: the emotion of resentment and rebellion can be hooked to many different ideas about the world in general — about what’s wrong with it and what needs to be done about that.
Democratic political processes are routinely corrupted and perverted not only by ruling-class political machines, but also by radical and pseudo-radical demagogues. Isn’t that what fascism — with its pretend anti-capitalism and its vicious scapegoating of Jews, black people, Muslims (in Britain now) and others — is all about: focusing the resentment of poor and ignorant people on nationalist and racist and cultural myths, and in binding them to the status quo by way of political mysticism and irrational leader cults?
Isn’t that what Stalinism was, with its reduction of the Marxist critique of bourgeois society to mere negativism, to “absolute anti-capitalism”, and its substitution for the democratic socialist Marxist alternative to the capitalism it criticised of advocacy for the totalitarian Russian Stalinist system?
Isn’t that what we see now in the bizarre combination by the SWP [and others on the] kitsch left with a supposedly “Marxist” critique of bourgeois society, combined with — to put it at it mildest — softness towards Islamist clerical-fascism?
One thing the Joe Columbo episode shows is the way that the expansion of democracy has separated the techniques of mass agitation and organisation from any necessary connection with serious politics or sincerely held ideas.
This deadly decadence of politics is nowhere more plain than in America, where politics is to a serious extent a branch of show business. In the years of Tony Blair’s “Presidential” premiership, Britain has taken giant strides in the wake of the USA.
When he was accused back in 1900 of exaggerating the power of socialist ideas to shape events, Lenin replied that the difference between the then Catholic trade unions of Italy and the class-conscious trade union movement of Germany was that in Italy the workers’ instinctive drive to combine together and fight for better wages and conditions had been corrupted and taken over by priests, who, naturally, brought to that workers movement, not the consciousness of socialists, but “the consciousness of priests”.
One and the same instinctive drive could produce either a fighting socialist working class movement, given ‘the consciousness of Marxists’, or, given the consciousness of priests, a sectarian, class-colaborationist working class based movement. The decisive thing is the battle to make ‘the consciousness of Marxists’ central to the labour movement and to movements of those —like many of the Italian-Americans who rallied to Columbo’s fake League — who feel themselves to be oppressed.
Examples of Lenin’s principle are very numerous. One is the emergence of the “revolutionary” Irish Republican movement,the Provisional IRA, which is now sinking into its natural place as part of the spectrum of Irish bourgeois nationalist politics.
If there: had been a sizeable Marxist movement in Ireland in the late 60s, when the Provisional IRA began to emerge, the consciousness of traditional physical-force Republicans, which permeated the Northern Irish Catholic community, kept alive in legend, reminiscences, songs and popular verse, would not have dominated and shaped the Catholic revolt; and that revolt would not have entered the blind alley of the Provo-war on the Northern Irish protestants and on Britain.
The existence and activity of a socialist group can make all the difference. The creation, education in authentic Marxism, and maintenance of such a force is the decisive immediate, practical question for serious socialists.
Comrade Coatesy has provided excellent coverage of today’s ruling of the Election Commissioner, who has found Rahman guilty of massive corruption and illegal practices, commented upon his personal dishonesty, barred him from office and fined him £250,000. Coatsey’s piece is rightly scathing about the various “leftists” who have defended and/or covered up for Rahman, often joining in with the ritual cries of “racist!” and “Islamophobe!” directed at anyone who dared criticise him.
Though Cowards Flinch places the scandal in the context of an underlying problem with elected mayors.
I will, no doubt be returning to this matter in due course. In the meanwhile, readers may find the following background information helpful:
Rahman was previously the leader of the Labour group on Tower Hamlets Council. However, he lost this position in 2010. The same year he was selected as the Labour candidate to stand as the directed elected mayor of Tower Hamlets before being removed by the party’s NEC. The reason for him losing both positions were accusations that the Islamic Foundation of Europe (IFE) had signed up some hundreds of members to the Labour Party to advance Rahman’s cause. The IFE is part of a network of groups around the East London Mosque aligned to the Jamaat-e-Islami (aka Maududists), which has its origins in India but is now more significantly is a force in Pakistan and were chief amongst the anti-secessionist forces in the civil war that created Bangladesh. They are Islamist in that they support an Islamic state based on Sharia law, but are (on the whole) social conservatives not jihadists.
Rahman won the 2010 mayoral election as an independent although Tower Hamlets is by no means a majority Muslim borough, less than 40% are Muslims but they do constitute the bulk of Labour’s electoral base and once Rahman was able to win this no-one could beat him. Rahman’s position was strengthened by the party formed around him, Tower Hamlets First (THF), winning 18 of the 45 council seats in 2014 and under the mayoral system Rahman could run the administration drawing on only these councillors. THF is entirely drawn from Tower Hamlets Bangladeshis (and one would assume, Muslims), although six have previously been councillors of both the Labour Party and Respect. One of these, Abjoi Miah, was a key member of Respect and appears to have been the key link person between Respect and IFE/Jamaat. He is now the central organiser of THF and a power behind Rahman’s throne. The turn to the Labour Party and Rahman appears to have been because IFE/Jamaat lost confidence in the Respect MP for Bow and Poplar (in Tower Hamlets), George Galloway, after he made a complete fool of himself on Celebrity Big Brother.
There are three important points to make about the Rahman/THF rule in Tower Hamlets and the possibility of other councils becoming Muslim run:
First Rahman and THF do not present as Islamists. For example, the council maintains an LGBT policy. It might be the case that Rahman and many of the THF councillors are not Islamists but communalists who wish to promote the interests of those of Bangladeshi origins, something that is not without precedent in local government politics in Britain. The most notable feature of Rahman/THF rule is not the establishment of an Islamic state in the East End, but the creation of a version of the millet system that existed under the Ottoman Empire whereby everyone is related to as a religious group. It is common for local councils to run a layer of social services through local voluntary groups and charities. In Tower Hamlets these are becoming increasingly demarcated on religious lines, that strengthens the links between people of Bangladeshi origin. Through its Community Faith Building Support Scheme the council gives direct support to faith based groups, the budget for 2014 being £1.3 million. Of the 2013 funding, although funding went to a variety of Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu and Sikh groups, two-thirds went to Muslim groups. It is such communalism and setting of religious identity into policy structures that is most problematic here, not any overt militancy.
Second, what is notable about Tower Hamlets First is their relative youth. These are not bearded elders in traditional attire, but young men in suits and whose beards are either neatly clipped or absent. In sharp distinction to older generations, there are women amongst THF’s councillors. This group has coalesced around three factors: the shutting down of channels in the Labour Party to their advancement, the rise of Respect in Tower Hamlets showing the potential to mobilise Muslim voters in a new way, and the organisation hub of Jamaat-e-Islami based on the East London Mosque. The last of these is probably the most important, but one that might not be readily replicated elsewhere. As Innes Bowen has shown in her recent book, Medina in Birmingham, Najaf in Brent, while most mosques in Britain are affiliated to the conservative quietism of the Deobandi and Barelwi strands of Sunni Islam, the East London Mosque is affiliated to the Islamist idea of Jamaat-e-Islami, with IFE being part of this stable too.
Third, success for Tower Hamlets First was tied up with the mayoral systems. Tower Hamlets First do not have the spread across the borough to win the majority of the council seats, and have only 40 per cent. Their control is thus based on winning the direct elections for mayor that Rahman did comfortably in 2010 where he took much of Labour’s vote, and more tightly in 2014 against a strong Labour challenge.
Rahman’s links with the Islamic Forum of Europe and Jamaat-e-Islami are described on pages 27-29 of this booklet.