Posts Tagged ‘Olympics’

Refuting Anti-Semitism Smears with the Reasonableness Test: Part 3

May 25, 2018

It is also possible to find parallels in the careers of individuals, which, when carefully selected, may refer to a completely different person. As an extreme example, consider the eulogy made by some of the French at the Berlin Olympics in Nazi Germany. They began praising a great national leader, responsible for aggressively including those parts of his nation, that had been separated from the main, parent homeland for centuries. Sounds like Hitler after the annexation of the Sudetenland, doesn’t it? This same national figure was also responsible for persecuting and expelling a religious minority, working against his country and its faith. Which also sounds like Hitler and the Jews.

It wasn’t.

The figure they were talking about was Louis XIV. The Sun King had begun a series of wars to annex French-speaking communities in other nations, like the Kingdom of Burgundy, which had previously been part of the Holy Roman Empire. He was also responsible for the revocation of the Edict of Nantes and the renewal of persecution and final expulsion of the Huguenots, French Protestants. Many of these fled to England, where they brought new skills in weaving and clock-making, for example, and contributed to Britain’s industrial revolution taking off earlier than its counterpart in France. People hearing the speech were intended to believe it was about Hitler until the real identity of this national leader was revealed.

Through carefully selecting parallels and facts, you can make almost anyone appear as something they are not. Which is something the Israel lobby and the people making those smears know very well, as they twist and deny facts, and take words and comments out of context, or simply make them up.

But to return to the subject of racial insults and the subjective evidence of how they may appear to other people, this reminds me of two notorious cases in America where people were falsely accused of racially insulting Blacks.

One of these concerned a Black staffer working in the US Treasury department during Clinton’s presidency. He was responsible for setting or estimating the funding levels. A Black colleague tackled him on his figures, criticising them for being too low. The staffer rejected this, and said, ‘No, I’m not being niggardly’. His interlocutor then sued him for his use of racist language. Presumably this was because ‘niggardly’ sounds like ‘n888er’. In fact, the two words are etymologically distinct. The modern English term ‘niggard’, comes from the Middle English word ‘nig’, meaning a miser or worthless person. It has absolutely nothing to do with later racist terms for people of colour. But it’s similarity to that term was enough to anger his opponent, who doubtless sincerely felt that it was a derogatory term, and that he had been insulted.

The case was much discussed in the press, because of its similarity to a novel that had recently come out by one of America’s great literary giants, The Human Stain. This is about a man in a well-paid, responsible job, who is also brought low and sued for racism, when he uses an ambiguous term, which his accusers believe is racist, but which really isn’t.

And then there’s the case of the Jewish student at one of the American colleges, who was sued by a group of Black sorority girls. The poor fellow had been revising for an exam he had the next day. Unfortunately, right outside his window and below him there were a group of young Black women very loudly celebrating some sorority even. At last, driven to exasperation by his inability to concentrate due to the noise they were making, he threw open his window and shouted out, ‘Shut up, you water buffalo!’ The girls decided they’d been insulted, and so took him to the college authorities. And the court proceeding there seem almost farcical. One member of staff turned up to give evidence that water buffalo were African animals. They aren’t. They’re East Asian. The accused student himself defended himself by saying that he was using ‘water buffalo’ to translate the Hebrew word ‘behema’, which has no racial connotations. In fact, as I understand it, the word ‘behema’ simply means ‘beast’, of any kind.

Both of these are stupid, wrongful accusations, that should never have come to court, although I’ve no doubt the people making the accusations sincerely believed they’d been terribly insulted because of their race.

And they clearly show the terrible dangers and miscarriages of justice which occur when subjective impressions are taken as the yardstick for assessing whether a comment or statement is racist or not.

And subjective impressions, and the rule that something may be racist, if another person thinks it is, regardless of whether it really is, or was intended to be, must not be allowed to become the standard for upholding the anti-Semitism smears against Labour party members. Or anyone else for that matter.

As this article has shown, it privileges emotion, ignorance and pernicious urban myths against truth and fact. It is also of a piece with the ‘paranoid style’ animating the Fascist right, and which has resulted in the creation of real, terribly evil conspiracy theories, which are a danger to Blacks, Jews, left-wingers and members of new religious movements, like practising occultists, who were accused of Satanic ritual abuse in real witch hunts back in the 1990s. Quite apart from ordinary people, who also found themselves accused of Satanism because of false memories and the coaching of those utterly convinced that a Satanic conspiracy exists.

Subjective impressions don’t lead to truth. They lead to witch hunts, false convictions and massive injustice. Which is why the Israel lobby and is collaborators in the Labour party are determined to use it. It has to be stopped, and the real yardsticks – impartial fact – used instead.

Boris Runs Away from Questions on Gaza Massacre

May 22, 2018

This comes from Gordon Dimmack’s channel on YouTube. It’s his report and comments about Boris Johnson showing once again how massively unsuited he is to be foreign secretary. After the Gaza massacre, Labour’s Emily Thornberry rose to ask for the government’s statement on the mass murder, and how it would affect the peace process. As you can see from the video below, before Thornberry has even asked the question, Boris gets up and rushes out of the chamber almost as soon as Bercow announces that she is to speak.

The reason he does is, as Dimmack shows, parliamentary questions are tabled in a schedule given to MPs, so that they know exactly what questions they will be facing and which are going to be discussed. Boris therefore knew the question was coming, and definitely didn’t want to answer it. And so he did a runner.

And this isn’t the first time BoJo the Clown has run away from Thornberry. Dimmack himself says that he had a bit of Deja Vu when watching Boris. He then found that Boris had indeed done it once before. This was back in February, when Emily Thornberry tormented him by rising to ask a question about Northern Ireland. Johnson couldn’t – or wouldn’t – answer that one either, and so he fled.

It’s becoming increasingly obvious that Boris Johnson is massively incompetent, and it’s a real mystery why he got the post in the first place. This is the man, whose ill-judged and erroneous comments resulted in the Iranians adding more years to Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s sentence, who started reciting the ‘Road to Mandalay’ in Thailand’s holiest Buddhist temple, and who managed to increase tensions with Russia during talks to calm them down. I suppose one answer to how he got the job in the first place was because the Tories were impressed with the way he handled the Chinese at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. But I think the real reason is simply Tory internal politics. Boris is an inveterate intriguer, who can’t be trust for an instant. May wants to keep in the government, where she can keep an eye on him, rather than exclude him from power and give him the freedom to attack her. It looks to me very much like a case of the old saying ‘keep your friends close, and your enemies closer’.

But if that’s the real reason BoJo’s got the position, then it shows that Britain’s relations with the rest of the world, and issues of peace and international justice, are of much less importance than letting Tweezer cling on to power.

Review: Joe Sacco’s ‘Palestine’

May 12, 2018

(London: Jonathan Cape 2001)

This is one of the classics of the graphic novel. Joe Sacco is an American journalist. He spent two months with the Palestinians in late 1991 and early 1992 in Gaza and the West Bank during the time of the first Intifada. He wrote and drew Palestine after his return to the US, basing it on his notes, publishing it as a nine-part comic strip. These were later collected into a single volume to form the graphic novel. The book also has a kind of introduction, ‘Homage to Joe Sacco’, from Edward Said, the author of Orientalism, critic of western imperialism and attitudes to the Arabs, and himself a Palestinian.

This is precisely the type of book the Israel lobby does not want people to read. Not BICOM, not the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, which was set up because Gideon Falter, its founder, was worried about British attitudes becoming more hostile to Israel after the blockade of Gaza, not the Jewish Labour Movement, formerly Paole Zion and the companion party to the Israeli Labor Party, not the various ‘Friends of Israel’ societies in the political parties, Tories and Labour, nor the Jewish Leadership Council and definitely not the Board of Deputies of British Jews. All of them shout ‘anti-Semitism’ at anyone who dares to publish anything critical of Israel, or show the barbarity with which it treats the Palestinians.

The book shows Sacco’s experiences as he goes around Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, talking to both Palestinians and Israelis, meeting them, entering their homes, and listening to their stories. He starts the book in Cairo, the beginning of his journey to Israel, and to which he returns at his departure. During his time there, he visits the Vale of Kidron, the Arab quarter of Old Jerusalem, Hebron, Ramallah, Jabalia refugee camp in the Gaza strip, as it then was, Balata, another refugee camp on the West Bank, Nablus, the town of Gaza itself, and finally Tel Aviv.

It’s not an easy read. This is an occupied country during deep unrest, and the threat of violence and arbitrary arrest and detention without trial is every where. There are patrols of soldiers, demonstrations, explosions and stone throwing. And he shows, with quotes, the contemptuous, lofty and hostile attitude the early Zionists and Lord Balfour had for the indigenous population. He quotes Balfour as saying

‘Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-long tradition, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder import than the desire and prejudices of 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit this ancient land. We do not propose even to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the inhabitants’.

Ben Gurion thought it would be simple to expel the Palestinians, because he felt they had no real attachment to their homeland. He wrote that the Palestinian ‘is equally at ease whether in Jordan, Lebanon or a variety of other places’. With the approach of war, he made it clear their expulsion was going to be through military force: ‘In each attack a decisive blow should be struck, resulting in the destruction of homes and the expulsion of the population.’ When that was done, ‘Palestinian Arabs have only one role – to flee’. He also quotes Golda Meir, who stated that a Palestinian people, defining itself as a Palestinian people, did not exist, and ‘we came and threw them out and took their country away from them. They do not exist’. 400 Palestinian villages were razed in the war marking the birth of Israel. Meir’s lie – that the Palestinians don’t exist as a people – is still repeated by Republican and pro-Israel bloggers. Golda Meir was also concerned about the Palestinian population outstripping that of the Israelis, another issue that is still very alive today.

His hosts are polite, welcoming him into their homes, and plying him with tea. But occasionally there is an outburst from one of them, when he’s asked what the point of him being there, of them talking to him, is. Because other journalists have been there too, and they’ve talked to them, and nothing has happened, nothing has changed. They also talk to him about the other factions, and of the peace process. In a separate text at the beginning of the book, he states that, while the peace process set up the Palestinian authority and gave them a government, it changed nothing for ordinary Palestinians, and the occupation and theft of land by the Israelis still goes on.

He also reveals that the Israelis appropriate 2/3 of the land in the West Bank for their own us, which includes the establishment of Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law. And the governments gives Israelis plenty of incentives to move to them. They’re given a government grant if they do, lower interest rates on loan, the housing itself is cheaper than in Israel, and an income tax rate of 7 per cent. The settlers themselves can be extremely aggressive. Sacco’s hosts tell them about incidents where settlers have come into Palestinian villages, smashing windows and demanding that the owners come out. Of people shot by them, and the trivial sentences given to the settlers guilty of this. They’re given jail sentences of a few months. If they’re convicted in the first place. Palestinians who shoot and kill Israelis are jailed for years. Some lavish homes do exist in Palestine, occupied by Arabs, but most live in very bare houses, often with leaking roofs, which are vulnerable to storms.

His cartoons show what his Palestinian hosts tell him it’s like in prison camps like Ansar III, with crowds of prisoners crammed into small, bare rooms with no heat and poor ventilation. There are also few eating utensils, to the various political factions in the camp – Fateh, Hamas, Popular Front, organise meal times so that everyone gets a turn with the cup and plate to eat and drink. Several of the people he talks to were arrested simply on suspicion. Israeli law allowed them to be held without charge while evidence was compiled, with his captors returning to court over and over again to request a few more days more, until the judge finally listens to their lawyer, has the procedure stopped and the prisoner released. He also shows how the prisoners were tortured through beatings, being forced to stand for hours with bags over their heads, a process permitted under Israel law. A judge ruled that torture could not be used, but what methods were to replace them were kept secret. So many Palestinians have been incarcerated, that a green identity card showing a man has been in jail is a matter of pride. And not to have been to prison correspondingly is a mark of shame.

He talks about how the Israelis have a deliberate policy of not allowing the Palestinians to industrialise, so that they compete with the Israel. The State has also put obstacles in place to prevent Palestinian farmers competing with Israelis. They also deliberately uproot the olive trees many Palestinians grow to support themselves. The Israelis also appropriate most of the water, and dig deeper wells, so that the Palestinians have a much poorer water supply and their own wells are becoming increasingly saline. As a result, unemployment in Gaza was at 40 per cent. And Sacco himself was approached several times by Palestinians, hoping he could do something so that they could leave and go abroad to study or find work.

He describes a school, without electricity, as well as a school for the deaf, which is supported through volunteers and whose staff complain of their lack of training for dealing with people with disabilities. He also hears and illustrates the story of one Palestinian woman, whose son was shot by Israeli soldiers, but was prevented from taking him directly to hospital. Instead she was ordered to go hither and thither, where she was told a helicopter was waiting to take her and the boy. When she gets there, there is no helicopter. She eventually takes him to the hospital herself in a car, by which time it’s too late and the lad dies.

The book also shows the mass of roadblocks and the permit system which Palestinians have to go through to go to Israel. At the same time, Israelis are simply allowed to whiz through in their separate lanes.

Sacco also doesn’t shy away from showing the negative side of Palestine – the anti-Semitism, and particularly infamous murders, like the killing of Klinghoffer aboard the Achille Lauro, and the massacre of the Israeli Olympic team by the terrorist group Black September. This can turn into support for the murder of Israeli civilians. There’s also a chapter on the plight of Palestinian women, This is a society where women are still very much treated as inferiors and subordinates, where honour killings are carried out as the punishment for female adultery. It is also a society where collaborators are murdered, and those, who belong to the wrong faction may also be shot and killed.

The book was written 27 years ago, but nothing really seems to have changed since then. The illegal settlements are still there and expanding. Settlers are still seizing Palestinian homes and property, the apartheid separating Israelis from Palestinians is still in place, unemployment is still high, and Palestinians are still being treated as foreigners, refugees and second-class citizens on their own land.

However, some attitudes are changing. The Israeli liberals Sacco talks to only support the Palestinians up to a point. When pressed, some of them will say that Israel should keep the Occupied Territories, because they seized them in war. Or that they need to keep them for security reasons. But an increasing number of young Jews in America and elsewhere are appalled at the continuing maltreatment of the Palestinians and are becoming increasingly critical and hostile to Israel because of this. And there have also grown up major opposition groups like the human rights organisation B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence in Israel.

The Israeli state and its lobby and supporters in this country and others are increasingly scared. It’s why they’re trying to pass laws to criminalise the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement in America, and to outlaw criticism of Israel in this country through tortuous definitions of anti-Semitism that are stretched to include it. It’s why they’re smearing, with the connivance of the right-wing media, the Blairites in the Labour party, and the Conservatives, decent people, who have fought racism and anti-Semitism, as anti-Semites.

Very long, detailed books have been written about Israel’s brutal treatment, dispossession and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. Sacco’s Palestine presenting this as graphic novel, is an example of how comics can also be serious literature, tackling a difficult subject with both narrative and artistic skill and style. I’ve mentioned on this blog before the alternative comics that were also published from the ’60s to the 1980s/1990s on political topics, including the Israeli maltreatment of Palestinians in Pat Mills’ Crisis. Palestine is very much in that tradition, and in 1996 won the American Book Award.

Casetteboi Versus Jeremy Hunt

April 28, 2016

Remember Cassetteboi? They’re the couple of jolly jesters, who edit footage of the great and good to make them look stupid. They’ve done it to David Cameron, and with Boris Johnson at the Olympics. In this video, they attack Jeremy Hunt to show what he is doing with the imposition of the junior doctors’ contract. It’s about the deliberate underfunding of the NHS and its privatisation. At one point, they have him say that NHS stands for ‘Nightmare Health Secretary’. And at the end, they state that the junior doctors are striking over patients’ safety, and urge people to support them.

And it’s all done to the Village People’s ‘YMCA’.

Cameron Has Killed at 2,200 People’ : Frankie Boyle at the 2014 Television Festival

January 24, 2015

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This follows on from the question Mike raised in the previous post Class divide in the arts – are they just for the toffs? at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2015/01/24/class-divide-in-the-arts-is-it-just-for-the-toffs/. The controversial Scots comedian, Frankie Boyle, was interviewed last year at the Guardian’s International Television Festival last year by Pointless’s Richard Osman. The interview was a review of the state of television. And Boyle made it very clear that he though British television was being held back by the desire of TV commissioning editors to remain safe. Boyle made it very clear that class attitudes were very definitely a part of this. The interview can be found on Youtube with the title GEITF 2014 – Frankie Boyle: State of the TV Nation.
Boyle on the Two Most Offensive Jokes

Boyle is one of Britain’s very edgiest comedians. Osman tackled him about two of his most controversial jokes. These were about Katie Price being raped by her mentally disabled son, and a disparaging comment about the appearance of the Paralympic swimming heroine, Rebecca Adlington. Osman states that he’s a fan of Boyle, but makes it clear that he feels those jokes should never have been broadcast, and an apology should have been issued. Boyle defended the Katie Price joke by stating that he thought very hard about it. He told it because he felt it was a valid comment about Price. She had two points on which she sold herself: her looks, and her disabled son. She had other, non-handicapped children, who you never heard anything about. Boyle felt that the joke was a suitable comment on Price’s self-publicity.

False Banter on Comedy Panel Shows

Boyle made the comment that television panel shows, like Mock the Week, now relied on banter. It looked like normal conversation, but was all false. It was all scripted. And it was there, because the TV companies did not want to tackle other, more difficult issues. He specifically mentioned the two land wars in which Britain was involved at the time. Five years ago, Boyle said, you could mention them. Now they were verboten. He tried on Mock the Week to make a joke commenting on them, but was told that he couldn’t. As an example of the depths the show how reached now, he said that the last time he watched it had to make jokes about the Ryder Cup. He told the Katie Price joke because for the past ten weeks they’d been making jokes about the Olympics, and then they were being asked to return to them. Boyle’s controversial joke followed soon after.

No Challenge to Cameron’s Murder of the Disabled by Atos

As a further example, Boyle gave the murderous campaign of Cameron against the disabled. He said outright that Cameron had killed at least 2,200 people ‘bottom line’ through Atos and the fit for work test. But he was never challenged. Osman raised the topic of the Channel 4 conspiracy drama, Utopia, as an example of television tackling difficult topics. Boyle stated in his usual forthright terms that the show was rubbish. It was based very much on the type of comics produced by Alan Moore and his ilk. However, Channel 4 had taken all the good material out of it. If they were really determined to produce quality television, they’d hire Alan Moore and co. Instead Channel 4 produced endless programmes genuinely exploiting deformity and sneering at the working class, explicitly mentioning Benefits Street.

TV Bosses’ Misogyny

He criticised the channel bosses for their peculiar ideas of what was ‘fringe’ and ‘mainstream’. He’d tried to get Andrew Newsom on a programme, only to be told that she was too fringe. He felt this was rubbish, as he’d just seen her play at the Royal Albert Hall. He was also sharply critical at television’s very misogynist attitudes. When asked about the issue of quotas, and putting more women and members of ethnic minorities on screen, Boyle said he agreed with them. Regarding the proportion of women on panel shows, he felt it should be 50/50 with men. This, however, was definitely unwelcome to channel bosses. He told how he heard the regular host of a panel show use an extremely crude term for women comedians. It’s extremely coarse, so be warned. The bosses had very definite ideas about how many women should be allowed on a panel show. He tried to get a female comedian on Never Mind the Buzzcocks four times. One of these times he tried to get them to bring on Sarah Millican. He was told that this was not possible, as they already had a female comedian on for that week.

Sack the Bosses, Not Cancel BBC 3

He was very critical of the efforts of the television bosses themselves and their personal failure to increase diversity. He noted that Alan Yentob and the others bewailed the fact that there weren’t enough women and Black people on TV, while doing absolutely nothing about it, despite the fact that it was their jobs. On the subject of the scrapping of BBC 3, the Corporation’s youth channel, Boyle said that the Beeb had admitted they had made a mistake. They had been trying to get young people to watch TV instead of other media. The age demographic for the other channels was very high – in the 50s. Yet they had scrapped the channel in order to concentrate on the internet, which was precisely the thing that was taking da yoof away from TV. When Osman asked Boyle where Boyle would cut to save money, he replied that it would be with the bosses. They formed a useless layer of people, whose job was to stop programme being commissioned, often for the most bizarre reasons.

Class Bias in Satire and the Westminster Bubble

Boyle considered that such satire that was permitted, was only allowed because it came from an upper middle class voice. He gave as examples Peter Cook and Patrick Morris, the creator of Brass Eye. Anything that did not come from that social echelon, which could be easily identified as ‘ironic’, or ‘playing with concepts’, was therefore dangerous and unsettling.

He felt part of the problem was that satire in this country was very newspaper-based. He gave Have I Got News for You and Private Eye as examples. They were stuck in the Westminster bubble and the Westminster cycle as a result. Comedians like Boyle presented a problem, as editors and producers wanted them to produce party political satire, which Boyle didn’t.

Jeremy Clarkson’s a Cultural Tumour

They got on to the different way Boyle and Jeremy Clarkson had been treated by television. Clarkson, like Boyle, made controversial jokes and comments. Boyle, however, declared that Clarkson, whom he described as ‘a cultural tumour’, was acceptable because there was no context for what he said. For example, Boyle had been criticised for a comment he made about Israel during the Gaza conflict. He was attacked as anti-Semitic, an accusation which he denied. Yet when Clarkson was attacked for using the ‘N’ word in nursery rhyme, the head of BBC 1 appeared to defend him and state that he wasn’t racist. Boyle felt this might have been due to rights issues. Most producers, Boyle said, would be happy with 3/4s of the ratings, if the content was less controversial. Clarkson, however, still had his job, which suggested to him that they were afraid to sack him because of the problem of who owned the rights.

The Beeb and Scots Independence

Boyle was also one of those, who support Scots independence. He remarked on the media bias against the independence campaign, and the weird behaviour of David Cameron and the leaders of the ‘No’ team, when they ventured north of the Border. He stated that the Beeb were against independence, because the licence money from Scotland acted a subsidy for the corporation as a whole. Altogether, the BBC gains £300 million from the licence fee in Scotland. Of this, only about £40 million is spent on Scottish programmes. Another £60 million is spent ‘finessing’ programmes produced elsewhere, but which travel up to Scotland. Thus the Beeb effectively got a subsidy of £200 million from Scots viewers.

As for David Cameron, Boyle stated that when he and the ‘No’ coterie travelled up to fair Caledonia, they were so out of place that they looked like time travellers trying to find oil to power their time machine. He was particularly amused by Cameron’s comments about the ‘silent Scottish majority’. He’d never known Scots to be silent about anything.

The Sun

Osman raised the topic of Boyle’s writing for the Sun. Boyle was a left-wing comedian, but there he was, writing for Murdoch. Boyle replied that there were no ‘good’ papers, as far as he was concerned. The Observer, for example, had also cheered on the war in Iraq. He started writing for the Sun because they censored him less than the BBC. He also developed a particular technique of making sure they didn’t take too much out of his work. However, during one newspaper and magazine media event, Boyle had found his material disappearing. He asked why it was suddenly being edited out. He was told that it was because Murdoch himself was up for the event, and liked to edit everything in person. Boyle didn’t believe it was true, but went into the cafeteria early one morning to see Murdoch sat at a table, going through everything with black marker. So perhaps, he concluded, it really was true.

Upbringing of the Ruling Class

As for the ruling class, they were so appalling because of the way they were raised. It was exactly like the Spartans. At seven or eight they were taken away from their parents and placed in an all-male environment. They were then bored with Latin and other useless subjects, in order to inculcate the right attitudes into them ‘like a brainwashing cult’. And then finally and suddenly, sodomy. With this background, no wonder they were like they were.

Drama, Brothel Keeping and the Hedge Fund Managers

And as an example of the way television was reluctant to tackle anything too challenging, he gave the example of a friend of his, who was a professional television writer. The man had been hired to write a story about people trafficking for one of the cop dramas. In the script he subsequently produced, the villain was a hedge fund manager, who went into people smuggling because the returns were so good. This was very definitely not what the Beeb wanted. They told him that instead of a hedge fund manager, the villain was going to be a Russian gangster called ‘Sergey’.

So he subsequently revised the script. The villain was turned into the gangster, Sergey. But in his treatment, Sergey had gone into the people smuggling business, after borrowing money from hedge fund managers, because the return was so spectacular. This was, against, unacceptable. The villain was a Russian gangster called Sergey. He had a black leather jacket and a gun, and he was into people smuggling because he was evil. End of. The story was taken away from the writer for someone else to work on.

A few months later, the cops in New England raided a brothel. It was one of string of them, all run by a hedge fund manager. Because the returns were spectacular. It was a reality that the Beeb had literally not wanted to imagine.

Here’s the interview. Warning: Boyle’s language is at times very coarse, and the jokes about Price and Addlington are offensive.

It’s a fascinating perspective from the state of television today from someone, whose frequently tasteless jokes have almost made him an outsider. Nevertheless, Boyle makes it clear that he thinks very hard about what he says. As for the comments about satire being acceptable if it comes from an establishment voice, he has a point. Even so, Private Eye and Brass Eye at various points in their careers were barely acceptable. When it started out, Private Eye was only stocked by a very few newsagents. I remember ten years ago I took a copy of the Eye into work, and was asked by an older colleague, ‘You don’t actually read that, do you?’ Some of the Eye’s jokes have been considered in such bad taste, such as their cover satirising the mass adulation at the funeral of Princess Di, that newsagents have refused to stock it. As for Brass Eye, that was indeed so extreme in its satire that Grade had to fight hard to save it from cancellation.

As the founders of Private Eye, Richard Ingrams and co themselves made clear, they, Ingrams, Peter Cook and Willie Rushton were all far from outsiders. They were privately educated members of the middle class. Auberon Waugh was the son of the novelist Evelyn, and John Wells had been the headmaster of Eton. You couldn’t get much more establishment than that.

Private Eye also inspired David Frost’s That Was The Week That Was, the ’60s ancestor of popular satirical television. While it’s now regarded as a classic, it was intensely controversial at the time. Even in the 1980s Robin Day, the heavyweight interviewer of politicians on the Beeb, disliked it so much that he described it as ‘deplorable’ in his autobiography, Grand Inquisitor. Satire has become acceptable on TV, only because so many of its producers were respectably middle class, and even they had to work very, very hard.

Italian Chambers of Labour – Needed in 21st Century Britain

May 11, 2014

One of the peculiar institutions of the Italian working class movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was the Camera Del Lavoro, or ‘Chamber of Labour’. They were based on the French Borse du Travaille (Labour Exchange) set up in France in the late 1880s. They were introduced into Italy by Osvaldo Gnocchi-Viani, a Socialist Milanese lawyer, in his 1889 book, Le Borse del lavoro. This led the leaders of the Milanese printers’ union and the Partito Operaio Italiano – the Italian Worker’s Party to establish the first Chamber of Labour in the city two years later in 1891. By 1904 ninety Chambers of labour, representing the nearly 300,000 workers had been set up throughout Italy.

The Chambers varied in structure, but most consisted of an assembly of representatives from the labour organisations participating in it. These in turn elected a governing body, such as an executive committee or commission, which organised its practical management. The Chambers were theoretically bureaux for employment and labour information. In practice they often had a wide variety of functions. They provided a meeting place for workers, conference and reading rooms, recreational facilities and also education. They organised strikes, boycotts and demonstrations, as well as mediating in industrial disputes. As well as representing the workers in dispute with private industry, they also did so with the local authorities, although many were in fact funded by these. While the trade unions were federated at the national level, the Chambers were autonomous organisations that included and brought together the various workers’ organisations in their local areas, and defended the interests of the unskilled and semi-skilled workers not represented in the skilled labour unions.

The Chambers were intended as purely economic in purpose, but in practice most followed the various working class political parties and organisations – the Socialists, Republicans, Syndicalists and Anarchists. The majority were Socialist. They frequently took the lead in organising demonstrations, strikes and protests against the government at the local level. The Chambers of Labour joined the federated trade unions to form the Confederazione Generale del Lavoro – General Confederation of Labour in 1906. They received their greatest increase in membership after the First World War, but went into rapid decline afterwards due to attacks from the Fascists. They were finally suppressed by Mussolini’s dictatorship in 1926 along with other, autonomous labour organisations.

The Chambers of Labour attracted Fascist hatred and violence because of their role in creating a powerful, autonomous working class. Changes in society since then has made many of their functions obsolete. The massive expansion of state education, for example, has removed some of the necessity for providing specific education courses aimed at workers, and entertainment is far more freely available today than it was in the 19th and early 20th centuries, before the development of cinema, radio and television and the gramophone. Furthermore, many towns in Britain do have employment agencies, thus lessening the need for another of the Chambers’ functions.

However, I think something like the French and Italian Chambers of Labour/ Borses du Travaille/ Camere del Lavoro are still needed. Owen Jones in Chavs describes the destruction of working class culture and its colonisation by the middle classes. Football, which was for a long time the sport of the working classes, has become increasingly middle class. A proportion of the tickets for matches are reserved for parties from corporations as part of corporate hospitality. Ticket prices have become so expensive that many fans feel – and are – priced out of attendance at matches. Despite the government’s urging after the Olympics that more people should become involved in sport, actual sports facilities have been cut, so that the few which survive are oversubscribed.

Similarly, that hub of traditional working class culture, the pub is also under attack. Many are being closed down and redeveloped as flats. This has an effect far beyond simply where people go to drink their beer or alcoholic poison of choice. As well as the place where people traditionally met and relaxed, pubs were also the venues where local bands got their first gigs. Furthermore, a variety of local clubs and groups also meet in pubs and bars. Pub closures also effect the continued existence of these groups by denying them a venue.

As for general cultural activities, Quentin Letts in his book, Fifty People Who Buggered Up Britain, contrasts the loutishness and slovenly ignorance of much of today’s popular culture with the attitude of the miners portrayed in the film, The Pitman Painters. These were a real group of mineworkers, who taught themselves to paint over a century ago. They were not unique. One of the functions of the Mechanics’ Institutes, founded in the 19th century across Britain was to spread education and culture amongst the working class as part of the general Victorian attitude of improvement. The intentions behind them were paternalistic. The complaint was made at the time that they were founded by the middle classes, and patronised predominantly by the more skilled, affluent and presumably aspirational workers, while those less fortunate stayed away. They were also intended partly to bring employer and employees together and so create class peace. Nevertheless, they did contribute to improving the conditions and the educational and cultural opportunities available to the workers.

Owen Jones also points out in Chavs that some of the rise in racism and anti-immigrant feeling is a reaction to the way White working class culture has been attacked and discarded as worthless by the middle classes and the major political parties. Their celebration – rightly – of the cultures of Britain’s ethnic minorities and immigrant communities, in the absence of a corresponding celebration of traditional British working class culture has resulted in working class Whites feeling marginalised and resentful in their own country. The result is a rise in support for the BNP – now peaked – and UKIP. He suggests that one way of combatting this racism and xenophobia is simply to stress a common, working class identity stretching across ethnic groups.

Finally, trade unions were attacked and devastated by Thatcher’s onslaught, and the continued attacks by her successors, including those in the Labour party. Tony Blair remembers in the 1990s threatened to cut union ties, and Ed Milliband has also demanded further cuts to union power and states he wishes to reach out to the middle classes. We need new forms of industrial organisation to represent and protect the poorly paid workers in unskilled or semi-skilled work, like the hundreds of thousands now staffing call centres, a point Guy Standing makes in A Precariat Charter. And I believe that an employment bureau, controlled by the workers themselves, might just help to empower the workers and employees themselves against the employers in the jobs market.

The Chambers of Labour were peculiar features of the French and Italian working class movements, but something like them is still desperately needed in 21st century Britain as the Tories try to drag us back to the 19th century.

The Discreet Charm of Lord Coe

July 28, 2013

Lord Coe has been on TV a lot lately. It’s been a year since the London Olympics, and the BBC has been full of pieces on their sports programmes debating whether it has been successful in encouraging more Brits to take up sport. The Beeb’s opinion on this issue has been ‘yes… and no’. More people are taking up sport, and thanks to the Games more facilities have been built, and the area of east London on which the Games were held has been regenerated. On the other hand, some sports still have no funding, and not enough facilities are available everywhere. In fact Private Eye noted that many people, who wished to take up a sport, simply couldn’t because the Conservatives had closed and sold off many venues. Those that remained were massively oversubscribed.

Coe himself, because of his leading role in the Games’ management and promotion, has effectively become their public face. Many voters will no doubt consider voting for him simply because of his role in the Games, and the ‘feel-good’ factor their success has generated. So it’s worth reading Another Angry Voice’s article on Coe’s connection to a number of healthcare companies looking to profit from the privatisation of the NHS. It’s entitled ‘Lazy Lord Coe and Tory NHS Reforms’. Coe is lazy, as his voting record in parliament is extremely low. When he does appear, it’s to defend his own commercial interest by voting against amendments to preserve the NHS. The Angry One’s article states

‘Sebastian Coe is a lazy lord. He has occupied a place in the House of Lords since the year 2000, and since then he has bothered to participate in just 136 out of 1,714 votes, which works out at a feeble 7.9%.

It is interesting to note that of the 11 votes he has bothered to participate in over the last 24 months, 4 have been in support of Tory NHS reforms.

As you should know, the Tory Health and Social Care Bill and the keystone SI257 amendment (which compels NHS commissioners to tender virtually all services to the private sector and to accept the lowest bid, irrespective of other considerations such as patient safety, quality of service or long-term continuity of service provision) have been designed to carve the NHS open in order to allow the private sector to cherry-pick the most lucrative services.

In October 2011 Coe voted with the government three times in order to help the hugely controversial Health and Social Care Bill pass through the upper house, including a vote against allowing a specialist health select committee to scrutinise the bill properly before it became law.

In April 2013 Coe voted against a motion to overturn the secretive anti-democratic SI257 amendment on the grounds that it went against assurances that were made in both houses of parliament that “NHS commissioners would be free to commission services in the way they consider in the best interests of NHS patients”. So along with his fellow Tories, and all but one of the Lib Dem peers to vote, Sebastian Coe voted against NHS commissioners freedom to commission services in the best interests of patients.

One must wonder which interests Sebastian Coe places above the best interests of NHS patients?

Is there a possibility that it could be his own financial interests?’

He then supplies numerous evidence to show that this is very definitely the case.

The article is at http://anotherangryvoice.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/lazy-lord-coe-and-tory-nhs-reforms.html

It’s worth reading, especially if you’re inclined to believe that ‘he’s all right’ or a ‘good bloke’, because of what he did for the Games.