Remembering Denis Healey – the good, the bad and the utterly hilarious

October 4, 2015 at 10:07 pm (history, labour party, posted by JD, reformism, RIP)

A generous tribute to the old bruiser from a long-standing opponent, Jon Lansman (first published at Jon’s blog, Labour Futures):

Denis_HealeyDenis Healey was a great figure for twenty-five years of Labour history, a politician with “a hinterland”, very well-read and deeply interested in art and music, and, though Jeremy Corbyn may not have approved, was a master of the brilliant put-down. Geoffrey Howe was forever diminished by that greatest of personal attacks – his attacks summed up as being “like being savaged by a dead sheep“.  He will be remembered fondly even by many of us for whom he was a bête noire in our youth in the 1970s.

As Chancellor under Wilson and Callaghan he was undoubtedly the Chancellor who sealed the end of the Keynesian approach that had been adopted by both Labour and Tory governments in the post-war period until then, and has only been reintroduced as Labour’s by Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell. He led the battle in cabinet for the cuts in public expenditure which were the price of IMF support for Sterling.

However, with hindsight, he was chancellor in the most difficult of times with rampant inflation that was largely a consequence of the Barber boom (named after the Tory Chancellor between 1970 and 1974) and the oil price shock, and he was unfairly blamed for the winter of discontent following Callaghan’s insistence in 1978 on a disastrously low 5% pay norm when inflation was still 10%. He did, after all, favour a system of price controls far more extensive than anything being proposed by Corbyn and McDonnell and his incomes policy, agreed through full cooperation with the TUC and trade union leadership, was clearly designed to benefit the low paid.

In the years of New Labour, he may quite reasonably have been regarded as on the left of the party.

As it happens, I have a grievance against Denis Healey. On 20 September 1981, in the latter stages of Labour’s deputy leadership election campaign (the first that involved party and union members not just MPs) in which Denis Healey had been challenged by Tony Benn, Healey accused me personally on live television of “orchestrating the heckling and booing” which he had faced on the previous day at a Labour demonstration in Birmingham and at a similar event in Cardiff that July.

I was, at 24, the secretary of Benn’s campaign committee but had not been present at either demonstration. I never received an apology from Denis Healey though I did from London Weekend Television which accepted that I had been libelled. By that evening, ITN’s News at 10 ran what Tony Benn recorded in his diary as “a devastating denunciation of Healey” and showed Healey merely saying that “if I made a mistake it was unwise“. But in spite of that, as is so often the case in these situations, the Mail and Express and sundry other right-wing newspapers continued to carry nasty stories about me for several days. And even now when the incident is referred to, which happens from time to time, the accusation is normally reported without any reference to the fact that the TV company settled out of court to avoid a libel action.

Still I bear Denis no grudge. Though he won the election by a whisker of 0.5%, he so nearly failed to do so. That he suffered such an embarrassment on the eve of the Annual TUC congress was very damaging to his position. The TGWU, though it’s executive had already decided to nominate the “spoiler” candidate, John Silkin, decided the following day to give its second round vote to Tony Benn. Walt Greendale, then chair of the union executive and one of the outstanding lay union activists of the period, told me at the time that he thought it would probably not have reached that decision if it hadn’t been for Healey’s foolishness.

I hold no grudge against Denis. When he came to campaign for Tony Benn in the Chesterfield by-election in 1984, I spent a large part of the day with him and, though there was still no apology, he was witty, charming and impeccably polite. He campaigned hard all day, topping it off with the wonderfully memorable speech at one of the packed public meetings which characterised that campaign which culminated in the words “Healey without Benn would be like Torvill without Dean” at which precise point the Chesterfield Labour banner behind him came crashing down. It brought the house down with laughter, and we all retired afterwards to a pub where Denis entertained everyone, playing the piano and singing songs alongside Tony. It was one of the funniest evenings I have ever spent. He is sorely missed.

(Update:- Major Denis Winston Healey speaking at the Labour Party Conference in 1945)


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Phil Woods RIP

October 3, 2015 at 10:34 am (jazz, Jim D, music, RIP, United States)

I’m ashamed to admit that I came late to Phil Woods and have only been listening intently to his superb playing since news of his death, aged 83, came through earlier this week.

He played his final gig on September 4th using an oxygen mask and, before the final number announced that due to emphysema, he was retiring with immediate effect. Due to his extensive work as a session man on pop records, many people who are not particularly into jazz, will have heard his playing without knowing it: he plays the sax solo on Billy Joel’s Just The Way You Are, for instance.

But it is as one of the greatest of post-Parker altoists that he will be properly remembered. Here he is on a live recording from 1976 (‘Live From the Showboat’), in truly magisterial form on ‘Cheek To Cheek’, a difficult song not obviously suited to jazz improvisation – but Woods makes it all sound so easy:

Phil Woods (alto) with Harry Leahey, guitar Mike Melillo, piano Steve Gilmore, drums

H/t: Pete Neighbour, who wrote on facebook, “This is one of ‘THE’ Phil Woods tracks… I remember playing this endlessly when I first got it on vinyl; desperately trying to get somewhere near this masterful performance – and failing dismally I hasten to add. My mind struggling with the harmonic complexities that Phil found in this standard….. desperately trying not to copy…but wanting… so, so wanting to be influenced and to let some of his genius seep through my playing. Today, with everyone seemingly accorded ‘superstar status’ to listen to this brings home the meaning of true musical genius. I know all this sounds ‘gushing’……..but….if it does…..I don’t care!”

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Bill Hunter 1920-2015

July 30, 2015 at 6:22 pm (class, history, Marxism, posted by JD, RIP, socialism, trotskyism)

Bill Hunter (self-portrait above) died on 9 July. He was a leading member of the early British Trotskyist group, the Revolutionary Communist Party, later a member of the organisations led by the thug and (it turned out) sexual predator Gerry Healy, but in the 1980s joined an opposition faction that eventually broke with Healy

By Sean Matgamna (this obituary also appears in the AWL’s paper Solidarity)

Insofar as it is possible to separate personal qualities from politics, Bill Hunter was a model revolutionary: selfless, dedicated, always striving to be “objective” — that is, not to let personal feelings intrude on political attitudes and decisions — willing to  pay whatever personal price his politics demanded of him.

When I first encountered him, early in 1960, I thought he looked the part, with a long ascetic face (after a near-fatal car crash in 1962, his face had to be reconstructed), spare frame and his general air of driving political seriousness. Without these qualities no revolutionary movement is possible. They are not enough, of course. Bill’s political life was a tragic proof of that.

I have a fond memory of Bill from the early 60s. I came upon him in Manchester waiting in the little van he drove — he was Lancashire-Cheshire organiser for the Socialist Labour League — deeply engrossed in The ABC of Communism, the early 1920s book by  Bukharin and Preobrazhensky.  It was perhaps the sixth time he’d read it, he told me; he reread “the books” of the movement frequently.

He’d been a Trotskyist then for at least 20 years.  The title he put on his autobiography, Lifelong Apprentice summed up his attitude. It was the right attitude.

• The next issue of Solidarity will carry a longer obituary.

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Charles Kennedy: what Labour could learn

June 3, 2015 at 9:02 pm (good people, iraq war, labour party, Lib Dems, mental health, reformism, RIP, tragedy, war)

By Alan Theasby

RIP Charles Kennedy 1959-2015

I’m not a fan, but there is a lot Labour could learn from him.

When he took the boring “centre right” LibDems by the scruff of the neck and carved out a position as an independent “radical” party to the left of New Labour (at least to appearances), the result was a massive electoral swing in 2005, and LibDems were still seen by many as “left of Labour” in 2010 (how many thousands left in disgust at their role in the Coalition?)

When the LibDems presented radical, left politics – against the Iraq War, for EMA, against tuition fees, even anti-cuts to some extent – they got lots of support.

In Scotland the SNP is posing “left” and taking advantage of Scottish Labour’s abysmal policies: cuts, attacks on Unite union, and in bed with the Tories in “Better Together” etc. No wonder they swept the board, it’s a total indictment of Blairism and the likes of Jim Murphy!

In England the Greens are taking up the mantle that the LibDems had until 2010; this has not yet translated into votes but that’s a serious posibility if Labour contimues on its current “middle of the road/neither owt nor nowt” course or moves even further rightwards.

Lots of activists & “lefties” I know have  massive illusions in the SNP & Greens, and write off the Labour Party as dead. I disagree on both counts: the SNP & Greens can pose as “left” under the Tories and with a Labour Party looking to “middle England”/ the “middle classes” (etc), but I have no illusions in them; and (although I like the word “Pasokification” – and now “Pascotification”) this is not Greece and Labour has deep roots unlike PASOK, and thewre is no sign in Britain of anytrhing like Syriza (which did not spring from nowhere but was created through splits & fusions in the existing strong Greek Communist Party, left union activists and other left groups).

So what do others think? Given that there is not even a vaguely left candidate for Leader, will Labour become a pathetic rump – or can it recover? Meanwhile, it’s come to something, hasn’t it, when the record of a former SDP’er and leader of the Lib Dems, is much braver and more left-wing than any candidate for leader of the Labour Party?

JD adds: and, at a human level, a thought from Gaby Hinsliff in today’s Graun:

All those people getting cheap laughs on social media out of Kennedy’s last erratic performance on the BBC’s Question Time, or rejoicing in his defeat on election night, were just a visible example of a culture which not only stigmatises people with mental health problems but treats public figures – politicians or otherwise – as if they were somehow less than human. If Charles Kennedy’s death leads one or two to pause before unleashing mob scorn or fury, if it prompts an ounce more compassion for people whose lives might well be more complicated than they look – well, a fine liberal legacy that would be.

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The King of the Blues is dead

May 16, 2015 at 4:39 pm (good people, music, posted by JD, RIP, The blues)

BB King, 1925-2015

“[H]is instrumental virtuosity and the seamless interaction between the liquid, vocal tone he conjured from the numerous Gibson semi-acoustic guitars that have borne the nickname “Lucille” over the past six-and-a-half decades and his warm, chesty singing (“First I sing and then Lucille sings”) was only one part of the reason for his pre-eminence not only in his chosen field of the blues but in the broader expanse of the past musical century’s popular mainstream. BB King was also one of the planet’s consummate entertainers; his expansive stage presence, enveloping generosity of spirit, patent willingness to drive himself into the ground for his audiences and ability to put virtually any crowd at their ease took him from the backbreaking labour and harsh racism of the rural Southern states to the biggest stages of the world’s capital cities” -From the excellent appreciation by Charles Shaar Murray in today’s Guardian.

The Thrill Is Gone (probably his most famous recording):

…and here’s a live version of my personal favourite Three O’ Clock Blues:

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RIP Marty Napoleon: Louis Armstrong’s last pianist

May 2, 2015 at 3:38 pm (good people, jazz, Jim D, music, RIP)

In memory of Marty Napoleon:

Marty played piano with Gene Krupa, Red Allen (and – much later – Harry Allen), Doc Cheatham, and (perhaps most memorably) the last editions of the Louis Armstrong All Stars, after Billy Kyle’s death. Now Marty has gone, but here he is, aged 91 in 2012, playing a medley of latter-day Louis songs (he even sings himself at one point) in a New York club that had arranged a special night for him, with fellow-veterans Bill Crow on bass and Ray Mosca at the drums (and just watch – and listen to – those ol’ guys swing!).

As my good friend Michael Steinman (of the great Jazz Lives blog) wrote at the time : “If this is 91, I want to be a rug-cutter in just this Napoleonic manner. Marty, Bill and Ray rocked the room”:

Here’s Michael’s very moving tribute, posted at Jazz Lives a couple of days ago:

Pianist, singer, composer Marty Napoleon “made the transition” from this earthly world to another one on Monday night, April 27.  His dear friend Geri Goldman Reichgut told me that on his last night on the planet he ate some dessert and listened to music: the signs of what my Irish friends call “a beautiful death.”

I can’t find it in my heart to be too mournful about Marty’s moving out of this earthly realm.  It seems to me that the New Orleanians have the right idea: cry a little at the birth, because that spirit taking corporeal form might have some bumps in this life, and rejoice at the death, because the spirit is free — to ramble the cosmos in the company of other spirits.

I was in conversation with the wonderful pianist Mike Lipskin last night — we sat on a bench in Greenwich Village and lamented that fewer people are playing particular kinds of the music we both love . . . and we both envisioned a future where it might not even be performed.  But I said fervently, “The MUSIC will always be here,” and I believe that.

It is true in Marty’s case as well.  And as a tribute to the man and his spirit, I offer some tangible immortal evidence here and here.

And a closing story.  One of my heroes is the writer William Maxwell, also no longer around in his earthly shape.  Late in his life, he began taking piano lessons and working his way through some simple classical pieces.  I think this gave him great pleasure but was also frustrating — in the way making music is even more difficult for those who have spent their lives appreciating the superb performances of others.  In his final year, a dear friend said to him, “Bill, in the life to come you will be able to play the piano with ease, won’t you?”  And he replied, “In the next life I will not be making music.  I will be music.”

And he is.  As is Marty.

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Stan Freberg on political correctness and censorship

April 10, 2015 at 5:57 pm (comedy, Free Speech, Jim D, RIP)

The death of Stan Freberg, at the age of 88, has been all but ignored this side of the pond. But there was a time (the 1950s and 60s) when as well as being a leading US comedian, he was also a familiar voice on BBC radio. His great spoof recordings were not intended as political satire, but one at least is as relevant – possibly more relevant – today than when he recorded it in 1957:

H/t Gene at That Place

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Terry Pratchett: ‘Shaking Hands With Death’

March 12, 2015 at 6:41 pm (BBC, Disability, funny, good people, humanism, literature, posted by JD, RIP)

Below: an extract from Terry Pratchett’s Richard Dimbleby lecture, Shaking Hands With Death, February 2010:

When I was a young boy, playing on the floor of my grandmother’s front room, I glanced up at the television and saw Death, talking to a knight. I didn’t know much about death at that point. It was the thing that happened to ­budgerigars and hamsters. But it was Death, with a scythe and an amiable manner. I didn’t know it at the time, of course, but I had just watched a clip from Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, wherein the knight engages in protracted dialogue, and of course the ­famous chess game, with the Grim Reaper who, it seemed to me, did not seem so terribly grim.

The image has remained with me ever since and Death as a character ­appeared in the first of my Discworld novels. He has evolved in the series to be one of its most popular characters; implacable, because that is his job, he appears to have some sneaking regard and compassion for a race of creatures which are to him as ephemeral as mayflies, but which nevertheless spend their brief lives making rules for the universe and counting the stars.

I have no clear recollection of the death of my grandparents, but my ­paternal grandfather died in the ambulance on the way to hospital after just having cooked and eaten his own dinner at the age of 96. He had felt very odd, got a neighbour to ring for the doctor and stepped tidily into the ambulance and out of the world. A good death if ever there was one. Except that, ­according to my father, he did ­complain to the ambulance men that he hadn’t had time to finish his pudding. I am not at all sure about the truth of this, because my father had a finely tuned sense of humour that he was good enough to bequeath to me, presumably to make up for the weak bladder, short stature and male pattern baldness which regrettably came with the package.

My father’s own death was more protracted. He had a year’s warning. It was pancreatic cancer. Technology kept him alive, at home and in a state of reasonable comfort and cheerfulness, for that year, during which we had those conversations that you have with a dying parent. Perhaps it is when you truly get to know them, when you ­realise that it is now you marching ­towards the sound of the guns and you are ready to listen to the advice and reminiscences that life was too crowded for up to that point. He ­unloaded all the anecdotes that I had heard before, about his time in India during the war, and came up with a few more that I had never heard. Then, at one point, he suddenly looked up and said, “I can feel the sun of India on my face”, and his face did light up rather magically, brighter and happier than I had seen it at any time in the previous year, and if there had been any justice or even narrative sensibility in the ­universe, he would have died there and then, shading his eyes from the sun of Karachi.

He did not. Read the rest of this entry »

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RIP Konstandions Erik Sculfield: anti-fascist hero

March 4, 2015 at 7:52 pm (anti-fascism, good people, humanism, internationalism, Jim D, kurdistan, Middle East, RIP, solidarity, war)


.The ex-Royal Marine, named as Konstandinos Erik Scurfield, who was killed fighting for the Peshmerga in northern Iraq.

Make no mistake: ex-Royal Marine, Konstandinos Erik Scurfield, who was killed on Monday, fighting with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria, was an anti-fascist hero.

His comrade, ex-US soldier Jordan Matson, also a YPG volunteer, wrote on Facebook:

“Kosta as we call him was from the United Kingdom and was born a Greek citizen. He served in both the Greek army and as a British Royal Marine commando up until he came here. He served with me in Jezza and Shengal.

“Kosta volunteered for every attack and guard duty opportunity. He wanted nothing more than to bring the fight to the enemy.

“I’m going to carry on your legacy  brother, I will; never forget you. I love you man.

“Save ne a place up there big guy.”

Scurfield had been fighting in an area southwest of the town of Tal Hamis, which Kurdish forces seized from the ISIS/Daesh fascists last week, when (it is thought) the vehicle in which he was travelling was hit by mortar fire.

The death of this hero reminds us of how shamefully the Kurdish forces have been neglected by the West and that, despite their courage and superior fighting skills, they are often simply out-gunned by the well-equipped forces of ISIS/Daesh.

In memory of Kosta, we must demand of our government: Arm The Kurds!

Konstandions Erik Sculfield (kneeling); Credit: Facebook/Jordan Matson

Konstandions Erik Sculfield (kneeling); Credit: Facebook/Jordan Matson

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In memory of our beloved comrade, Avijit Roy

February 28, 2015 at 9:24 pm (Andrew Coates, Bangladesh, blogging, Free Speech, good people, humanism, islamism, murder, posted by JD, religion, RIP, terror)

Reblogged from Tendance Coatesy:

Memorial Protest for a Beloved Fighter for Freedom.

Avijit Roy, who has been killed in an attack in Dhaka at the age of 42, was a Bangladeshi-American blogger, published author, and prominent defender of the free-thought movement in Bangladesh.

Mr Roy rose to prominence though his prolific writing on his self-founded site, Mukto-Mona – an internet gathering of mostly South Asia free-thinkers, ratio­nalists, sceptics and humanists founded in 2000.

He was a passionate atheist and an adherent of metaphys­ical naturalism – the school of thought that rejects the supernatural concepts and explanations that are part of many religions.

He was the author of numerous books, and had many articles published in magazines and journals.

In a conservative country like Bangladesh, his subject matter was often contentious, covering sensitive issues such as homosexuality – which he argued was inherent in nature – religious unbelief and cosmology.

Mr Roy’s followers argue that many of his secular ideas are in the tradition of the great Bengali writer Rabindranath Tagore, who died in 1941 and is often referred to as “Bengal’s Shakespeare”.

Some of the last books Mr Roy wrote, Obisshahser Dorshon (The Philosophy of Disbelief) and Biswasher Virus (The Virus of Faith), were critically well received around the world.

In the Virus of Faith he argues that “faith-based terrorism will wreak havoc on society in epidemic proportions”.

In one of his last published articles in the Free Inquiry magazine, Mr Roy wrote: “To me, religious extremism is like a highly contagious virus. My own recent experiences in this regard verify the horrific reality that such religious extremism is a virus of faith.”

He said in the article that a book he published last year “hit the cranial nerve of Islamic fundamentalists” and led to him being targeted by militant Islamists and terrorists.

It also led, he said, to a man openly issuing death threats against him on Facebook.

“Avijit Roy lives in America and so it is not possible to kill him right now,” Mr Roy quoted one threat against him as saying, “but he will be murdered when he gets back.”


The Independent reports,

Avijit Roy and his wife were returning from a book fair at Dhaka University on Thursday evening when they were attacked.

Witnesses told local media their bicycle rickshaw was stopped by two men who dragged them on to the pavement but police chief Sirajul Islam said the couple were ambushed as they walked towards a roadside tea stall.

Both accounts said at least two men with machetes started hacking at the couple as they lay on the ground.

The attackers then ran away, disappearing into crowds.

Mr Roy, believed to be in his 40s, was pronounced dead during emergency surgery at the Dhaka Medical College hospital and his wife, Rafida Ahmed Banna, lost a finger and is being treated for serious injuries.

Police found her severed finger alongside two machetes and a bag possibly belonging to the attackers at the scene

In Commemoration: Avijit Roy.

News From Bangladesh:

BD News 24.

Avijit’s killing stirs world media Mohammad Abu Bakar Siddique

The brutal killing of writer, blogger Avijit Roy in hand of machete-wielding assailants has created a shockwave in the global media.

The leading news organisations from around the world including BBC, Reuters, the Guardian, The New York Times, NDTV etc condemned the barbarous killing, bringing out detail of the attack.

BBC placed the news on the attack that left the Bangladesh-born US citizen dead and his wife also a blogger Rafida Ahmed Bonna, critically injured, as its lead on the following day, with the headline suggesting “US-Bangladesh blogger Avijit Roy hacked to death.”

The contributions of Avijit, a naturalised US citizen, particularly his activism for scientific knowledge and secularism through online and publications, his receiving threats from militants groups, the attack by the widespread protest against the killing and for arrest of the attackers, and the country’s context were mentioned in the BBC’s report.

The killing of the son of the country’s one of the most prominent professors Ajay Roy was covered Reuters, as “American blogger killed in Bangladesh machete attack,” the New York Times reported “Avijit Roy, Bangladeshi-American Writer, Is Killed by Machete-Wielding Assailants,” besides several other versions with updates.

Roy came to Dhaka for publication of his new books in the book fair around mid-February with his wife, and on the evening they fell under the attack in the TSC area in Dhaka University on the way back from the fair.

Avijit wrote a number of books on mainly philosophy, rationalism and science, in line with his activism, also in online, for secularism and freedom of expression, for which he had been receiving death threats since long, including the recent one when social media fanatics openly declared to kill him on coming home, family told media.

The UK-based the Guardian reported “American atheist blogger hacked to death in Bangladesh” mentioning the previously happened similar attacks on the free thinkers.

“American-Bangladeshi atheist blogger Avijit Roy hacked to death by suspected Islamist extremists,” wrote the UK based the Independent.

The Telegraph wrote: “Atheist US blogger hacked to death in Bangladesh,” while The Times headlined “Atheist US blogger hacked to death in Bangladesh”

CNN titled “Prominent Bangladeshi-American blogger Avijit Roy killed” where it detailed with the facts related to the killing and the shocks emerged from it.

It reported on the very attack in two more stories with title “American writer hacked to death in Bangladesh spoke out against extremists”, and “Blogger’s brutal death for speaking his mind.”

From the murder to the UN condemnation, the media all around the world are coming up with the follow ups as well.

The attack was widely covered in the media of neighboring India and Pakistan.

India’s NDTV and Pakistan’s Dawn among the prominent news media covered the story, his contributions, threats were mentioned.

These news media are also following the developments in Bangladesh and the world, in response to the attack, protest and condemnation that began in Dhaka.


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