EDIT: Actually this is a bit unfair. Motion did write two poems in protest against the Iraq war, which can be found linked from the abobe Wikipedia page. I just thought his remarks were a bit daft – if he’d really wanted to go out there surely it could’ve been arranged…
“The idea of US nuclear attack on Iran is just nuts,” says Jack Straw in today’s Times. A conventional attack on the other hand…
Elsewhere he says, “We can’t be certain about Iran’s intentions and that is, therefore, not a basis on which anybody would gain authority to go for military action.” Funny – it didn’t stop you last time, Jack.
I am very proud to say that Walter Wolfgang, the 82-year-old anti-war activist who was manhandled out of the Labour Party conference this week for shouting the word “nonsense” during a Jack Straw speech about Iraq, lives in my neighbourhood. I sometimes see him shopping in my local Waitrose (a home from home, but that’s another story). He actually used to be a much closer neighbour of mine when I lived in a different part of the town years ago but at that time I didn’t know anything about him. Now the whole world knows about Mr Wolfgang (or “Walter” as Tony Blair called him rather patronisingly in his “apology” for the delegate’s treatment).
The first time I got to know about WW was during the war in Kosovo when I attended a local political meeting. (That invasion seemed pretty dire at the time, although compared to Iraq it now seems a model of legitimacy.) It was a slightly weird occasion – in fact so much so that this was not only the first but the last political meeting I’ve ever been to – where the war wasn’t really discussed but railed against by a bunch of lefty oddballs whose views ranged from moderately critical to downright bonkers. As chair of the “debate”, WW was one of the few calm voices in the room. I have to admit that when I first saw the footage of WW being bundled out of the conference on Wednesday’s Channel 4 News, my gut reaction was that the poor old sod had finally lost it, but I was delighted to see that this was a million miles from the truth.
Yesterday’s Independent lost no time in citing Mr Wolfgang’s treatment as the perfect example of everything that is sick at the heart of the government. As if that front page splash with a photo of WW being led away by police wasn’t enough, today’s front page features a whole article by the man himself about the incident and why he was protesting. It’s excellent: “My case is not important” is the self-effacing opening sentence, while later he describes Blair as “the worst leader the Labour Party has ever had” and observes: “Blair’s instincts are basically those of a Tory. He picked up this cause from the Americans without even analysing it. I suspect that he is too theatrical even to realise that he is lying.” That’s a great line and I think the best and most succinct explanation I’ve yet heard for why Blair has acted (pun intended) the way he has.
So, good on you, Mr Wolfgang. If I ran a restaurant I’d invite you in for a meal on the house but as it is I’ll probably have to make do with shaking your hand the next time I see you in Waitrose.
I don’t know about you, but I have a thing for checking the obituary pages of news websites on a daily basis, generally out of curiosity but also with a note of anxiety – it seems to be looking for trouble. While I will of course want to know immediately if someone important (or important to me) has died, I dread actually reading the words. As it happens, today I didn’t have to go to the obituaries for the sad news of two deaths, as they were headline news. The first is Robin Cook, one of the few modern Labour MPs (and MPs full stop) who could rightly claim to be a man of principle and integrity. I mean, Tony Blair uses every possible opportunity to persuade everyone that he has those qualities in abundance, but there’s a vast difference between doing that and actually having them. Blair, being a lawyer by profession, could defend the indefensible, including (seemingly endlessly) his own right to continue as prime minister, but Cook by contrast was the highly respected cabinet politician who took the rare step of actually resigning from the government over its insane determination to take the UK to war in Iraq. The Guardian/Observer website today publishes an extract from his amazing resignation speech, one of the very, very few truly memorable and moving Commons moments in recent memory.
The second sad “celebrity” death today was that of Ibrahim Ferrer, the great Buena Vista Social Club singer. Admittedly he was 78, but I still mourn the decline (with some Thunderbird wine) of that beautiful voice.
This brilliant article in today’s Times calls this “the Basil Fawlty” election (the UK general election I mean, not the one for the new Pope). Journo Martin Samuel’s reference is to the John Cleese character’s catchphrase “Don’t mention the war!”, on account of the three main parties’ hypocritical and cowardly silence over Iraq. But another quote from that great TV series also springs to mind, the one about “the bleedin’ obvious”.
Samuel’s piece, in being staggeringly simple, honest and true, is exactly the opposite of the politicians’ bluster. Iraq is the real divisive issue in this election, the real issue, the only issue. It’s bleedin’ obvious – but nobody seems to be seeing it. Worryingly, one of the people not seeming to see it is Charles Kennedy, leader of the Liberal Democrats. As Jeremy Paxman said to him in a TV grilling last night, “You were the only party that opposed the war. People should be flocking to you in droves. Why aren’t they?”
“There remains a tremendous amount of anger over the invasion of Iraq,” writes Samuel, “and Kennedy is the only party leader that can rightfully lay claim to it. Howard supported the war, Blair started it, but Kennedy spoke against it throughout. This is what any capable marketing executive would call his Unique Selling Point. The Lib Dems should be the true opposition party in this election, yet they are stuck peddling the same tired lines as the big two.”
The reason for this, it seems to me, is that the Lib Dems are afraid (as, in fairness, would the other two parties be if they were in the same position) that the electorate will turn off if they start talking about “stuff happening abroad”; the emphasis of policy, it is perceived, has to be on what’s happening at home – hospitals, tax, education, crime. But this isn’t a normal election with only those normal election issues at stake. As Samuel says, “Vote for what you think a politician will achieve, based around a loose bag of pledges, promises, bluster and speculation. The war is not like that. It happened. We’re in. They’re dead.”
And, I would add – even if Charles Kennedy won’t – vote Lib Dem.
According to today’s Observer, Labour are several points ahead of the Tories in the paper’s latest opinion poll. This article also reports that Peter Hain “launched a fierce attack on self-indulgent ‘dinner party critics’ among the liberal middle classes who are tempted to use the ballot box to punish Blair”. By doing so, he says, such voters “would only hurt the poorest, who were dependent on a Labour victory”. Blair has “got the message” about their displeasure, Hain insists, arguing that those who still disagreed over Iraq or civil liberties “should reopen the arguments after the election”. “There’s now a kind of dinner party critics [sic] who quaff shiraz or chardonnay and just sneeringly say, ‘You are no different from the Tories,'” Hain goes on. “Most of the people in this category are pretty comfortably off: it’s not going to be the end of the world if they get a Tory government. In a working-class constituency like mine, this is a lifeline. It’s not a luxury.”
Well, I have no doubt Peter Hain would love for Iraq and civil liberties to slip off the agenda until after the election. However, he might like to know that it is precisely because of these two issues that I will not be voting Labour on 5th May. He needn’t worry, though, about my vote going to the Tories – they are indeed the totally desperate option. As one of the middle-class liberals he so despises (and, therefore, very proud of it), as stated elsewhere here I will be voting Lib Dem.
Incidentally, Peter should note that I prefer cabernet sauvignon to shiraz, although seeing as he’s so busy generalising I doubt he’s got time for such details. And by the way, are we middle classes he lambasts the same middle classes as those his party want “the poor” to aspire to being? Surely not!
The improbably-named Daniel Finkelstein writes an interesting piece in the Times today headlined “How do you know when a politician is lying? When his lips move”. He concludes: “Claiming that the world can be transformed radically and quickly by political action is bound to result in disappointment. But politicians don’t do this because they are liars. They do it because they are fools.” Can I take it then that the bottom line is that the public wouldn’t be interested in an honest politician? Go on, Westminster! Break the mould!
Spotted while out walking in Richmond today. Click here for more info about the Association of British Jazz’s campaign against Tony Blair’s licensing bill.
It was an appropriate spotting on the day that Mark Lawson wrote an excellent review in the Guardian of The Last Party, a new book by John Harris about the uneasy and short-lived cosying-up between “Britpop” and New Labour when the latter (and the former, come to that) was still trendy. The print version of the review features a cringing photo of Noel Gallagher having a laugh and a glass of champas with Blair back in 1997 – a time when we were all that much more innocent and Tone’s hair was still brown. (NB: Amazon is offering the £15 book at £10.50.)
Talking of Noel, I wonder what Tone’s four-noun autobiography title would be? Suggestions please.
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And talking of Tony, Matthew Parris writes in today’s Times about “the evidence that millions of ordinary people are not amnesiacs, do remember why Mr Blair said Britain must attack [Iraq] and do still care whether that was true.” Along the way, old Tory Parris unnecessarily compares Margaret Thatcher favourably to Blair to back up his argument, but it’s otherwise an excellent piece.
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Also superb in today’s Guardian Review is this essay by E.L. Doctorow about how he started writing, concluding with this interesting thought: “I believe nothing of any beauty or truth comes of a piece of writing without the author’s thinking he has sinned against something – propriety, custom, faith, privacy, tradition, political orthodoxy, historical fact, literary convention, or indeed, all the prevailing community standards together. And that the work will not be realised without the liberation that comes to the writer from his feeling of having transgressed, broken the rules, played a forbidden game without his understanding or even fearing his work as a possibly unforgivable transgression.”
Week 94: the housemates are on day 62 of their pedalo task. They’ve only three hours to go and then they’ll be given their next task – painting the house. That’s right – tune into Big Brother tomorrow night and watch paint dry…
Big Brother. The very words strike fear into the soul: someone watching you 24 hours a day, telling you what to do, what to think, what to believe. If it’s not George W. Bush and Tony Blair, it’s Enema Productions or whatever they’re called. Oh, that’s a nice kitchen. Mm, she’s pretty. God, he’s boring. In fact, it’s all boring. Why am I watching this crap? Why don’t these people just GET A LIFE???
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Jilly Cooper (no relation) and Joanna Trollope have descended on the Guardian Hay Festival to defend the honour of their “bonkbusters” and “Aga sagas”. Cooper claims: “There are two categories of writers. Jeffrey Archer and me who long and long for a kind word in the Guardian and the others who get all the kind words and long to be able to do what Jeffrey and I do.” One for Private Eye’s Modesty Corner, I should think. What can she possibly care what the Guardian says about her books when Telegraph and Mail readers lap them up wholesale? She then goes on to say, “My new book has got paedophilia, September 11 and lots of black people in it. I’m moving on, we’ve got to progress.” If that isn’t the most desperate, sad cry for literary credibility I don’t know what is.
Trollope meanwhile pours scorn on the “grim lit” popular with critics “that makes you want to slash your wrists”. Sounds a bit like the old argument about Leonard Cohen’s records being “music to slash your wrists to” – always levelled by people who’d never listened to them, of course. And as LC himself once said, “My feeling about music I don’t like is that I keep my mouth shut about it.” A lesson for us all, maybe, Joanna?
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Thoughtcat’s spy in West Drayton highlights a very good article on ZNet today by Ian Hislop’s favourite “left-wing comedian” and scourge of the Iraq war, Mark Steele, entitled Truth, Lies and Weapons of Mass Destruction.
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And finally today, in an exclusive to all newspapers, Prince William, a.k.a. Ordinary Geezer Bill Windser, talks about life as a student at the University of St Andrews, where he’s reading history of art. Commenting on the subject, he describes his father’s watercolours as “brilliant” and Picasso as “revolutionary”. “His blue period,” he ruminates: “I do like that.”
Call me naive if you will (I suppose it’s at least better than being cynical), but I was astonished to read in the Guardian about the looting of radioactive material from nuclear facilities in Iraq as US troops stood aside. Given that it’s not quite as easy to do this as to nick a bag of rice from a food shop, isn’t this tantamount to just handing the stuff to the same terrorists the US is allegedly “at war” with? I suppose next we’ll be hearing that the Ministry of Oil was the only government department left intact after the bombing of Baghdad, or that Jack Straw and Donald Rumsfeld will say it doesn’t really matter if no weapons of mass destruction are discovered after all…
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To the Odeon for the second time this week, this time to see Secretary. Both my wife and I used to be secretaries in previous lives but neither of us remembered it being quite like this. Maggie Gyllenhaal was magnificent – a really gripping, intense performance; she sort of became the part, without taking herself seriously for a moment. Apart from that I can’t say I enjoyed the film exactly, but after the dazzling spectacle of Matrix Reloaded the other day, it was refreshing to see that small, intimate films about offbeat people and curious relationships can still do well at the box office. Plus, it was great to hear Leonard Cohen sneaking onto the soundtrack with the exquisite I’m Your Man (“If you want a lover, I’ll do anything you ask me to / And if you want another kind of love, I’ll wear a mask for you…”) It was also good to see James Spader again, who doesn’t seem to have aged a day since he made White Palace, one of my all-time favourite films, in 1990.
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Meanwhile, the Guardian reports on a new biography of Sylvia Plath by Anne Middleton, which will controversially claim that the poet was not “the downtrodden victim of feminist legend” after all. I’m glad to hear it; despite Ted Hughes’s reported philandering, which obviously didn’t help, it always seemed obvious to me from her writing that she was a very strong personality and character who was simply besieged by mental illness. There’s no rationalising with that, whether you’re a feminist or not.
Thinking about Plath put me in mind of this exchange in Annie Hall:
ALVY (picking up copy of “Ariel” in Annie’s flat): Ah, Sylvia Plath – the poetess whose tragic suicide was misinterpreted as romantic by the college-girl mentality.
ANNIE: Oh, I don’t know – I just think some of her poems are neat.
ALVY: Neat? I think “neat” went out sometime around the turn of the century…