Posted: Mon Jan 02, 2012 6:04 am Post subject: George Galloway - Daily Record Archive 2009
I'm going into battle against the dark lord
Jan 22, 2009
LORD RECTOR of Edinburgh University, like John Lennon's eponymous working-class hero, would be something to be. I have accepted the nomination to run for a job held by the likes of Sir Winston Churchill and, er, Gordon Brown. The election - all online - is on February 11 and 12 and well over 20,000 students and staff have the right to vote. My opponents are the likeable Ian McWhirter and the, well, less likeable Lord George Foulkes, who regularly features in these pages.
Foulkes was confused once for me by the Daily Telegraph in a court report. He had staggered out drunk from a Scotch Whisky Association soiree, knocked over two old ladies, assaulted a policeman - he made a grab for the bobby's helmet - and resisted arrest. He slept it all off in a cell, and was driven, with admirable loyalty, by former MP and MSP John Home Robertson, back into Parliament under a blanket in the back seat, to be sacked from the Labour front bench by the late John Smith.
Unaccountably - I am a wellknown teetotaller - the Torygraph tried to pin that whole rap on me, though I have never a) tasted whisky, b)been on the front bench, c)handled a bobby's helmet, d) slept a single night in a police cell. But I did pick up a right few quid in the subsequent libel settlement.
Foulkes has a long record of crimes against the people. He brought the Romanovs into Scottish football and became chairman of Hearts. He ate every pie in the vicinity of Tynecastle for a couple of seasons and left twice the man he'd been before. He refused to condemn the actions of his son, when the latter was fined for police described as the longest and most vile sectarian tirade they had ever heard at a Scottish football match. He was one of the loudest foghorns blaring out support for the George Bush-Tony Blair invasion of Iraq, indeed virtually everything that axis of evil did in the world.
With all due respect to Mr McWhirter, the main battle is between Old Labour - me - and New Labour - Lord Foulkes. Even though he is considerably older and, er, less fit than me. Of course, even the most handsome men can go physically to seed. But at least with, say Marlon Brando, there were marvellous photos of him in his salad days. The noble lord, whose ermine robes were rivetted at Harland and Wolff, never much cared for salad.
The first question I was asked by the student newspaper when I toured the university on Saturday was "Which university did you go to?" Michelin Tyres I answered, making ZX Radials. I am the only parliamentarian who can make one. Most can't even change one, though Foulksie wears four around his middle. Though I did not have the benefit of a public school and university beginning, I did pay for others to do so. And was glad to.
When my opponents went to university, they did so absolutely free of charge ... and got a student grant to enjoy it with. Once New Labour got into power, they kicked that ladder away from my children. For 18 years as an MP in Glasgow's west end, I represented the University of Glasgow, the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow School of Art, Caledonian University and even the Domestic Science College, so I'm well up on the issues facing students, academic staff and the unsung manual workers who sweep up after them, literally and metaphorically.
I'm not standing as a figurehead, or a token. I'm in it to win it and, if I do, I won't be found wanting. Another planted question asked was whether I, being Westminster based, could service an Edinburgh university, as opposed to my opponents. But Lord Foulkes spends as much time in the London parliament as I do. At least that's what his controversial expenses claims indicate, as extensively reported in this and many other newspapers.
And anyway, even my worst enemies couldn't deny there is no harder working figure in British politics today than me. And by the way, my parliamentary expenses are ... nil, zero, duck's egg, nothing.
Let's Have A Fair Deal
Jan 22, 2009
ANOTHER day and another bail-out for the banks. A year ago, if you'd have suggested nationalising one of them, you'd have been dismissed as a loonie leftie with no financial sense, now it has become City orthodoxy. But while HBOS and the rest have been forced to cut their interest rates, nothing has been done to cut the rates of interest banks are charging on their credit cards.
You're lucky if you're paying 17 per cent a year interest, and other rates spiral up to 30 per cent. So if you can't get a loan, then you have to use your card to meet your commitments and be exploited by the same banks who precipitated this crisis. At least £55billion is owed on credit cards. Expect that to rise. I'm raising questions in Parliament about this scandal. Join my campaign by demanding that your credit card owner brings down the rates in line with the bank rate reduction.
I remember terror of David vs Goliath battle
Jan 22, 2009
I FIRST landed in Gaza 29 years ago and I thought then it was a benighted place on a par with some of the most emaciated parts of Africa I had visited - and that's before the bombs began to fall. Israel was stimulating a little-known Islamist movement called Hamas hoping to use them as a rival to Yasser Arafat's PLO.
Unlike most commentators, I have actually been under aerial bombardment - 25 years ago I buried my face in the ground as bombs scythed young flesh all around me. It was in Eritrea, formerly part of Abyssinia, where Mussolini once dropped bombs on the uncivilised. When the bombs stopped the cries of the children began. I watched ITN filming helplessly as the dead and the maimed were rushed into a makeshift hospital where they bled into the next night's News at Ten. It was a minor incident but the terror of it remains alive in my memory and is revived when I see defenceless people bombed by a superior enemy.
Israel has no need of tunnels and smuggling. It gets its lethal firepower free from the US. Now Gordon Brown has announced that the threadbare Royal Navy is to be stretched to breaking point in Israel's service to patrol Gaza's coast. Its mission will be to prevent the resupply of the pitiful small arms which are all Palestinian. David has to defend himself against the Israeli Goliath. Thus the former British colonial power will return for the first time in alliance with Israel against the Arabs since Suez in 1956.
That debacle was the straw that broke the back of the government of Anthony Eden. Brown's rash promise to send Britain's Jack Tars into yet another Middle Eastern war may well do the same for him.
Tommy tactics are a winner
Jan 22, 2009
TOMMY Sheridan is playing a blinder in the Big Brother house - staying out of trouble, keeping his eyes off the women and being, as well as Shameless star Tina Malone, the voice of reason. Not bad for 10 days' work. Tommy's participation has lifted his name out of the ordinary, making him one of the best known left-wing figures in the land. And he's even been allowed to wear political T-shirts and give an anti-war speech, neither of which I was. Who knows, he might be in with a chance of being the last one out.
That was the fate of the socialist politician - a leading figure in the Refounded Communist Party in Italy - who's just won the show over there. Meanwhile, Tory Big Brother contestant Lucy Pinder has taken her prize assets back to the pages of the Daily Star, saving Ulrika Jonsson for the nation.
Christian leaders should be ashamed
Jan 22, 2009
THE image from the Christmas war launched on the Palestinians in the Holy Land, which will endure for ever, comes from the district of al Zeitouna in Gaza City. After a savage Israeli bombardment, medical services were forbidden for four days from recovering the dead and injured. When the Red Cross arrived, they found two babies starved to death, their mouths suckled to the toes of their dead mothers. This war has been another catastrophic blunder by the lawless state of Israel, as well as a bloody tragedy for its victims.
The next time you see a dapper Western-accented apologist for mass-murder appearing on TV as an Israeli spokesperson, hold that image in your mind. Many people from the worlds of politics, music and the arts have been on the march these last days protesting against this aggression. The voices which remain still are those of Britain's Christian leaders, who largely appear to have decided to pass this suffering by and take to the other side of the road.
"Suffer the little children to come unto me," said Jesus, the Prince of Peace. His vicars on Earth haven't got beyond the fourth word.
If Harry says this on camera, what's he like when filming ends?
Jan 22, 2009
I BROKE the news to the venerable royal correspondent James Whittaker that Prince Harry was in another Windsor soup. James had been asleep so I told him he was in for a busy media day ahead. I was on air on Talksport just as the story broke that the third in line to the British throne is prepared on camera to describe his own colleagues as P***s and ragheads.
Whittaker's explanation, having known Harry since he was born, was that he was thick. Further, he said that this is not only how the officer class speaks but how the Royal Family speaks, too. I don't know which is the more depressing. Not a few of my listeners claimed not to be able to discern the difference between the P word and the appellation Taffy or Jock.
It's fair to assume this view was expressed by people who are neither "P***s" nor "ragheads". Unlike the slang for Scots or Welsh, the word P*** is seldom used affectionately and more usually accompanied by a word meaning illegitimate. Frequently, it's accompanied by a flurry of fists, a hail of boots, sometimes the plunge of a knife. Few, if any, have gone to their deaths with the last word ringing in their ear being Jock or Taffy.
The word P*** is, of course, used by the vile to describe the entire 1.4billion people of the Indian subcontinent, whether they're Indian, Bangladeshi or Pakistani. Just as Sikhs are regularly attacked as Muslims. The then India answered the call of Great Britain in two world wars. They did not arrive several years after the kick-off, neither did they present us with a bill at the end of it which we'd have to pay for the next 60 years. In World War Two, two million soldiers from the subcontinent wore our uniform. Thirty-one of them were awarded the Victoria Cross. The largest number of VCs won by any non-British participants in the war.
Considering Harry and his like had been occupying and plundering their country for a couple of centuries beforehand, you might imagine that their generosity bordering on madness might have earned them a modicum more gratitude from the Empress of India's great, great, great grandson.
Ragheads, of course, is what our armies call Johnny Arab, although you don't have to be an Arab to qualify - Afghans and Iranians are usually assumed to be the same thing. Prince Harry displayed this mentality when outed on the "front line" of the Afghan war, in which he was dripping high explosives from above the clouds on virtually defenceless villagers. During his TV interview, he wore a hat bearing the legend: "We do bad things to bad people." When you see what Harry will say and do on camera, it leaves you wondering what he's like when the filming stops.
The scion of the family formerly known as von Battenburg thought it a scream to wear a Nazi uniform to a fancy dress party. Assuming his parentage is all it's cracked up to be, I suppose we shouldn't be surprised. His uncle, Prince Edward, was caught on camera beating a dog the week before.
Fair play to the RSPCA, though. They concluded there was "insufficient evidence" of cruelty to animals, even though he had beaten the dog on film while out massacring golden pheasants with a 12 bore. His grandfather went around the world for decades calling different races variously: slittyeyed, pot-bellied, spear-throwers. Once, when referring to the "cowboy" electricians, he called them Indians. I don't know what Her Majesty makes of all of this, but we are not amused.
Neither, one imagines, would have been Harry's late mother, Princess Diana. After all, the last two of her long line of lovers were Dr Hasnat Khan and Dodi Al Fayed - uncle P*** and uncle raghead in Harry's terminology. 'The scion of the family thought it a scream to wear a Nazi uniform to a fancy dress party'
Jan 26, 2009
CONSIDERING the sometimes difficult brogue in which he wrote, it is a remarkable and wondrous truth that Robert Burns has united the literate world in appreciation of his genius. A socialist, an internationalist, a republican, a labourer, a lover of the loveliness of women and, above all, a man who could see above the coarseness of his own hard times the beauty and majesty of life as God created it.
"Nature's social union" he saw long before the Greens. He watered the tree of liberty with his words, he pierced the hearts of lovers down the generations. He is the greatest of all Scotsmen, the only one honoured from Mauchline to Moscow on this, his 250th birthday. Edinburgh Airport should be renamed Robert Burns International.
House of rising sin
Jan 26, 2009
THE news that the House of Lords is a sink of corruption will have surprised few. Most have worked out that appointing placemen, dressing them in ermine robes, and giving them an unelected seat in Parliament for the rest of their lives is a recipe for crookedness. The convicted criminals sitting there - the Tory perjurer Jeffrey Archer, the New Labour arsonist Mike Watson - turn out to have been only the tip of the iceberg.
It's difficult to describe just how lush are the surroundings of the upper house. The carpets and the upholstery are deepest red. The oak panelling burnished beautifully. The soft lighting adds to the feel of 19th-century grandeur. Even the muffins are more delicious and thickly buttered than in the Commons, hence the body mass index explosion of most who disappear there.
The Sunday newspaper which blew their cover yesterday - recording no fewer than four New Labour Lords accused of offering to change the law in exchange for fat fees from what they were fooled into thinking were lobbyists - has done the country a service. More than the whole man-jack of the Lords have ever done.
Enoch Powell said: "Never enter the Parliament chamber without a couple of verbal handgrenades in your pockets." In their Lordships' House, it seems the grenades have been replaced by brown envelopes.
Reward the Wonder of Stevie's achievements
Jan 26, 2009
ROBERT BURNS could see beauty even when all around him was stunted by the grim poverty of Scottish rural life of the mid 18th century. But at least he had eyes.
I was listening the other night to the astonishing 40-year oeuvre of the boy who, when I was a boy, was Little Stevie Wonder. The boy Wonder writes of things he never saw and could never do ... "Lately I've been staring in the mirror, very slowly picking me apart". He writes of issues of colour, though he has seen neither black nor white. "Isn't she lovely?" he asks of his baby Ayesha, when less than one minute old. But he cannot know what physical beauty or ugliness look like. He writes of the stars, sun and the moon, though he can have felt their majesty in only the rough script of Braille. His musical achievements would be awesome if he wasn't blind.
But he can feel the human spirit resplendent, which makes him a great poet of our age. When I'm in Motown on my US speaking tour in March, I'll suggest the renaming of Detroit airport. President Obama can cut the ribbon. After all, Stevie helped sign, seal and deliver it for him.
Beeb airwave strike on Gaza is deadly
Jan 26, 2009
THE BBC's admirable reporter Alan Johnston was rescued from his cruel incarceration in Gaza by the Palestinian government led by Hamas. At the time, the BBC thanked the people of Gaza, and Hamas Prime Minister Ismael Haniya in particular, for breaking the criminal gang of extortionists who had seized their man - at the risk of their own lives to save his.
Now in the winter of their hardships, as 61,000 families shiver in the ruins of their bombed-out houses, in rags and hungry, the same BBC has stabbed them in the back. The achievement of the corporation's management, in uniting the Government, the opposition, the churches, the press, right and left, the anti-war movement, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5, on one side and they and the Israel lobby on the other is almost unparalelled in modern public relations.
After a 22-day attack which has left thousands of children dead or orphaned and left the Strip looking like a moonscape, the publicly funded, bloated, arrogant, insensitive bosses who've presided over the Beeb through scandals from Blue Peter to Jonathan Ross have now launched their own airwave strike on the refugees. And their smokescreen of "impartiality" will prove as deadly to these refugees as any cloud of white phosphorous gas.
The BBC, once the proud emblem of Britishness, is now branded around the world, and dangerously the Muslim world, as an arm of Israeli propaganda. Its journalists - new Alan Johnstons - have been imperilled. Its reputation for "impartiality" shot full of as many holes as a UN compound under Israeli bombers. Its arguments against broadcasting the Disasters Emergency Committee Appeal for Gaza are an insult. First to the intelligence of the people who pay their licence fees and second to the British charities within the DEC, the likes of Christian Aid, Save the Children (Patron HRH the Princess Anne), Oxfam and the rest.
The BBC's claim that they can't be sure the aid will get through is aclear accusation against the very humanitarian organisations we trust to deliver aid from Britain in every other world disaster around the world. In any case, Gaza is a tiny place, now, though not when it most mattered, moving with western journalists. Gaza is sealed shut. Where could Christian Aid's deliveries of medicines and nappies go if not to the suffering?
The mouthpiece of the corporation in this miserable scandal is a Scot, like Alan Johnston. She is Caroline Thompson, the daughter of Dundee's highest political achiever, the late Lord George Thompson, a member of Harold Wilson's cabinet in the 1960s and a former European Union Commissioner. 'Once an emblem of Britishness, the BBC is now branded around the world - and the Muslim world - as an arm of Israeli propaganda' Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org and let her have apiece of your mind.
Get the house in order
Feb 2, 2009
TWELVE years too late, Jack Straw is finally moving to staunch the flow of confidence out of British Parliamentary democracy. His proposals are hardly revolutionary. Convicted criminals in the House of Lords - such as Lord Conrad Black, the former proprietor of the Daily Telegraph now languishing in a US penitentiary and Lord Jeffrey Archer of sundry British open prisons - are to be permitted to resign their seats in the upper chamber, whereas now they are condemned to a life sentence passing the laws which govern us.
Last week, four Labour peers - Scot Lord Moonie, Lord Truscott, Lord Taylor of Blackburn and Lord Snape - were accused by a Sunday paper of offering to help change laws in return for cash. All four deny any wrongdoing. But Moonie is not the only Scottish "New Labour" Lord on whom interest has descended in this imbroglio. In the latest twist, the sleaze watchdog at Holyrood is to investigate payments to Lord George Foulkes of £3000 a month as a lobbyist. (This is on top of his MSP salary, his London housing allowance, his £330 a day Lords Allowances and the huge cost of him shuttling between the two Parliaments in which he sits.) MSPs are not allowed to be lobbyists or "parliamentary consultants", but Lords are.
Foulkes is a lobbyist/consultant for a law firm. The defence, M'Lud, is a simple one. He says he's only a lobbyist when he's being a Lord. When he's being an MSP, he puts away such childish things along with his ermine robes. Until say, 3pm, when he puts both mantles on again.
And then there's "Lord" Mike Watson, a former New Labour MSP. Not only does he still sit in the Lords following his prison term for arson - setting fire to the curtains of a hotel full of people because the staff had refused him any more strong drink. But Lord Watson turns out also to be a Parliamentary lobbyist! Now leave aside what kind of companies would want to hire a drunken ex-convict arsonist - the Acme fire alarm company, perhaps - the point is the House of Lords is full of crooks.
Lord Conrad Black, former owner of the Daily Telegraph, is still a Lord even though he is currently banged up in a US penitentiary. Lord Jeffrey Archer is another ex-con on the red benches. New Labour once stood for the abolition of this farce; now it stuffs its mediocrities in to stuff their faces and keep their mouths shut, except when they have to say Yes. Oh Keir Hardie, you should be alive at this hour.
Student critic creates a fuss about nothing
Feb 2, 2009
WHILE out walking the streets of Edinburgh last week, I was bearded by a student critic who accused me of being a creationist. He claimed to have "a transcript" of my confession to this sin which, of course, turns out to be nothing of the kind. A creationist claims there is no such thing as evolution and believes in the literal truth of the Book of Genesis. I, on the other hand, think evolution is an incontestable scientific fact, and that the Bible was written by men, not God.
I do, however, believe in God, and it follows that I believe evolution must have been willed by God. I believe God created all the worlds and all within them. It will be interesting to see if believing in God has become a disqualification for the post of Lord Rector of Edinburgh University. That would be big news. We'll know on the 12th of this month.
Button it, Brad
Feb 2, 2009
At two and a half hours long, the Oscar nominated The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button is an awesome, indeed awful endurance test. It is a tale of a man who lives life backwards, born with the characteristics of an octogenarian, he dies, predictably, as a newly born baby. The film feels decades long. For some, the saving grace will be the presence of the dumbly handsome Brad Pitt, though for me it would have saved the movie only if Mrs Pitt could have been squeezed in. The nomination of Pitt as best actor is like putting up John Prescott for poet laureate. Pitt is a well polished plank of wood. And all the computer generated imagery in the world can't disguise it.
We must protect wages in winter of discontent
Feb 2, 2009
IN the midst of the coldest winter for 13 years, Britain might be heading back to the Seventies - with power stations closing down and lights going off, and saving water by bathing with a friend. The reason couldn't be more traditional - British workers out on strike, pickets huddled around braziers and, you know what, they would be right.
The calculated provocation staged by the owners of the Lindsey oil refinery - operated by the French multinational Total - is the reason. The bringing in of an entire foreign workforce to construct the £200million plant on the site while qualified, organised local workers looked on from the perimeter, was done for one reason only. Profit. The Italian and Portuguese workforce living on ships moored nearby is not subject to the national engineering construction agreement which would have covered British workers doing the same job. The employers counted on the current recession to dragoon the locals into quiescence.
Left to some of the union leaders, themselves terrified by the Thatcher-era, anti-union laws now cherished by Gordon Bratcher, we might have heard no more about it. But, as I've told you here before, while there are decades where nothing happens, there are weeks where decades happen. The workers have voted with their feet against the neo-liberal economics enshrined in the Maastricht and Nice treaties and sympathy strikes are spreading like wildfire. The wildcats have broken free from domesticity. If this leads to an era of fighting trade unionism, all will be changed utterly. If not, we could be heading back to the Thirties.
I had Arthur Scargill on my radio show last Saturday and the old lion's roar still shook the timbers. I first met Arthur in the Salutation Hotel in Perth. At the time, I was a young protege of the late and really great Mick McGahey, the Scots miners' leader, and Mick told Arthur that he would be hearing much more about me in years to come. I found Scargill to be a cold fish compared with the warm and enveloping McGahey. I never changed that opinion and Scargill never took much to me, either.
But Scargill was right about all the important things, and his heroic stand against Thatcherism remains one of the great defining moments of my lifetime. Scargill was right, too, on my show, when he pledged his full backing to the strikers on the cobbles against Total and other "contractors" bringing in foreign workers to drive down British workers' wages and conditions, break national union agreements and lead a scramble to the bottom as we enter this slump.
This is no less than a recourse to "Coolie labour" opposed by the US trades unions during the great railway boom when employers preferred Chinese virtual slaves to the unionised men who struck outside. To say so is not to hate the Chinese, or the Italians in Lincolnshire shipped in by Total. This is not a question of race, but a question of class. If we let them, the very people who brought our whole economy low will seek to make the working people pay for their crisis of their system. Up with it we should not put.
Lord Mandelson, from the well upholstered comfort of the House of Lords, rails against "protectionism". Well me, Scargill, and the workers from Longannet to Lincolnshire this week say "All hail protectionism"- the protection of decent standards, wages and employment levels and the rights of free trade unions to defend them. And if the law don't like it, the law is an ass.
When I First Announced
Feb 9, 2009
VALENTINE'S Day sees me ready to go to Gaza at the front of a one mile convoy of more than 100 vehicles, 250 people, and, I hope, £1million of aid. We are hoping to reach Palestine in early March. When I first announced my intention to build such a convoy, I had no idea how huge it would become. Meetings with audiences of thousands and raising six-figure sums have been my lot these last weeks. I'll be keeping readers abreast of progress, with my tin hat on, but a spring in my step.
Vote for Iain
Feb 9, 2009
THE students and staff of Edinburgh University may be the creme de la creme but they'll have to settle for second best when they start voting for the Lord Rector tomorrow. I've had to pull out of the race due to the pressure of other work. I had a great young team who worked hard for me and I owe them one. It's no contest however. Upmarket scribbler and sometime broadcaster Iain Macwhirter would make a great Rector
Frank's fat on success
Feb 9, 2009
I HAD former New Labour Culture Minister Frank McAveety on my radio show at the weekend, and sparky he was too. Once called a "philistine" by the SNP, he explained he couldn't find the definition of this insult, but then he had been looking in the dictionary under F. Frankie. He could have been a contender in Scottish politics at one time.
When I left him - or rather him me - he was young, handsome, funny, iconoclastic and radical, with the country's top record collection - rare first editions of Status Quo albums being the only embarrassing bits. He joined the establishment, ate too many pies - famously missing his ministerial question time while scoffing one - and generally petered out. The George Connelly of Scottish politics he once called me. And as you can tell, I have never forgotten it.
Why waste £50m to line duke's pockets?
Feb 9, 2009
THEY must be a right pair ay Titians if the Chooky Sutherland is letting us continue to have a look at them for what they insist is the knockdown price of £50million. Each. Detached by miles at least from the kind of day-to-day scrutiny of the SNP "government" which other readers are exercising, I may have missed other examples, but for me this is the SNP's first really big mistake since coming to power.
Let me level with you. I think the art form we call painting is overpriced and overrated. I have seen the Mona Lisa and been unmoved. It certainly wasn't necessary in the era of digital photography, high definition and holographs for me to see the ACTUAL original. It won't surprise you then that I have lived more than half a century in this "nation", was born hardly 60 miles from the National Gallery for Scotland, have visited Edinburgh 1000 times but have never felt the need to check out the Chook's pair ay Titians.
Yet I'm supposed to rejoice that the first Titian has been "saved for the nation", in that phrase straight out of Passport To Pimlico. There are a number of issues which arise here. The first is the fact that the Duke of Sutherland's ancestors were anti-national traitors who betrayed the country they now fleece, having preferred the company of sheep, if you know what I mean. If the current duke was a man at all, he'd donate the paintings, rather than threaten to sell them abroad as a penance for the crimes of his forefathers. After all, the huge wealth which funded his collection is stained with the blood and the tears of His Grace's Highland tenants, who were cleared and driven across the ocean and lost to us forever.
The second is that in the grip of a recession with mass unemployment threatening, old people shivering in a bitter winter and so many other calls on the Scottish purse, it is simply obscene that public money is stuffed into the duke's deep pockets.
The third is genuinely curious. I've always said the SNP bigwigs were singing shortbread tins and that Scotland as Brigadoon, and the White Heather Club, beckoned if they ever got in. But I suppose I only half believed it. This decision, when its alternative would have been truly popular, shows the SNP in their true petty bourgeois plaid. And also that, as negotiators, you wouldn't send them out for a loaf.
Scotland contributes £12.5million towards the cost of this ducal subvention, but will actually have this painting in Scotland less than a quarter of the time. So the Scottish taxpayer has actually saved the Titian for the nation all right. Just not their nation. Charitable indeed.
Spot the Brit brat in Hollywood
Feb 9, 2009
HOLLYWOOD star Christian Bale rarely lives up to his first name, but usually lives down to his last. The latest YouTube sensation is Bale pouring out a baleful tirade of abuse on the head of the director of photography who had accidentally strayed on to the movie set. There's definitely something of the Dark Knight about Bale, who also starred in American Psycho. Unfortunately for us, he's British - as becomes embarrassingly obvious roughly halfway through the diatribe, when he drops his Hollywood pretensions and becomes just another provincial oik.
Time All Of Britain Got Behind Our Convoy...
Feb 16, 2009
MY mile-long convoy of aid to Gaza has snaked across the Pyrenees into the Basque country and the splendours of St.Sebastian. Tonight we hit Madrid, where no less than the Prime Minister of Spain awaits our arrival at the steps of the Cortes. The police will have cleared the roads for a triumphal entry of now nearly 150 vehicles, with nearly 300 Brits, more than one mile long. Spain, of course, has a real labour government - whose very first act was to withdraw their army from the occupation of Iraq.
Tomorrow we'll cross to Tangiers, north Africa, and the Arab world. Of all the towns in all the world, our first north African rally is in Casablanca, after which I'll have a fruit cocktail and smoke a shisha in Rick's place - Cafe American, I kid you not. Of course, back in Rick's day Americans were better thought of than they are now. Come to think of it, so were we. My grandfather Tommy O'Reilly drove this way, with Montgomery (not that Monty noticed!) as a Desert Rat in the Eighth Army, chasing fascism all the way to El Alamein.
We are the biggest British convoy to cross here since then, and in just as noble a cause. And this time I'm the general; my grand-daddy would be proud of that. The British government, if it had any sense, would be right behind this convoy. It would send the message to the million Muslim voters in Britain for a start that they cared about the Palestinian suffering in Gaza. Instead they have ignored us, while sending the Royal Navy to bolster Israel's defence of the Gaza coast (like she needs it!).
And what should we make of the peculiar events early on Valentine's Day when two vehicles allegedly bound for London to join our convoy were huckled by the police in a "terror probe"? The event was video-taped and given to the press, as was the "Galloway-connection". The attempt to rain on our parade somewhat backfired when six of the nine arrested were quickly released without charge, with the police promising to help them catch up with the convoy. The remaining three are still uncharged, though in custody, suspected of who knows what? We don't know the names of those involved, as the police haven't released them. I can't tell you if they were bound for Gaza with us or not.
If you'd like to keep abreast of this Dundee boy's progress, go to www.VivaPalestina.org It will be worth the trouble.
Storm Is Brewing For PM
Feb 16, 2009
THE PM has now taken New Labour lower than Michael Foot - with Tony Benn breathing down his neck - ever took the old party, and at a time when the auld enemy, capitalism, has never been weaker or less popular. The battlefield is wide open for someone, anyone, with a credible way forward to step up. Like the Bush administration, to whom they owe so much of their odium in the public's mind, the Tony Blair/Gordon Brown axis at its last, is crashing and burning before our eyes.
At just 25 per cent in yesterday's opinion poll - just two points ahead of somebody called Nick Clegg - and 16 points behind the most Etonian, richest, most silver-spooned Tory front bench since the 19th century, the Government is surely doomed, as are the seats of probably hundreds of Labour MPs, some of them - Jack Straw, Jacqui Smith, Nigel Griffiths... - wellknown New Labour worthies.
The last-day judgment can possibly be delayed until is June next year. By then, if the global derivatives time-bomb - worth 22 times the total economy of the whole planet - has exploded, if we have a parliamentary system at all there won't be many supporters of New Labour in it. Even if it is defused, the depression will destroy millions of jobs, including those of the lemmings on Labour benches who brayed as Blair then Brown marched their party to the edge.
Unfortunately for the rest of us, the melt-down of the fools gold that was the Blairite "Third Way", means perhaps a generation of Thatcherite government; brute, nasty and far from short. Alex Salmond must be rubbing his hands in glee. The timing of his Scottish independence referendum may coincide with the perfect storm in the UK.
Meet The Man The Bankers Must Answer To
Feb 16, 2009
ONE man who's having a good recession is West Dunbartonshire MP John McFall. He's the chairman of the Treasury Select Committee doing the light grilling of the scumbag millionaires who brought the country to the edge of ruin. Looking and sounding like the average bloke has been an asset as he slipped his stiletto between the ribs of the rats, both in the committee and in interminable interviews around the world - I've just watched him in the Basque country!
More than 20 years ago McFall beat me to the Labour nomination to be candidate. We plodded together through the Renton, Balloch, where I used to take childhood holidays, Helensburgh and all around what must be the most beautiful constituency in Scotland. McFall, a headmaster at the time, won comfortably and has proved a cute pick. He didn't prosper at Westminster, unaccountably, under the Dewar, Maxton, Foulkes, Galbraith regime.
Dewar's front bench was dubbed "Ross, Harper and Murphy" so "ancient universities" was the feel of it; though as McFall said you'd never get a Murphy on Donald's front bench. Now with his feet in the stirrups of a warhorse select committee and the scent of the enemies' blood, John McFall has come into his own. We have a Scottish Prime Minister, a Scottish Chancellor of the Exchequer and a Scotsman holding them all to account.And some fools say we are dominated by the English!
A Few Good Men Can't Save Brown
Feb 16, 2009
NOT just because Demi Moore looked swell in her navy uniform as, I kid you not, Captain Galloway, I watched again the courtroom devastation of Jack Nicholson by pretty boy Tom Cruise in the oscar-winning A Few Good Men. Colonel Jessep, played by Nicholson, swaggered into court like he owned the place; no "faggoty white uniformed" Cruise, still less the luscious but over-emotional Captain Galloway, could possibly lay a glove on him.
The film ends with Jack being led away by MPs, if not in shackles then on his way to the glasshouse. Gordon Brown similarly bestrode the parliamentary scene here these last 15 years. The Boy David, he thought was just a lightweight popinjay who could be swept away by his great clunking fist. He was a novice, while grizzled Gordon knew it all. But he was too clever by half. And New Labour doesn't have the kind of MPs who could lead the old man away.
Needless obstacles on the road to peace
Feb 23, 2009
MY Winnebago wouldnae go, go and so if your columnist is walking with a stoop, it's the result of nights spent sleeping in the front seat of a car. I'm in Algeria, a land which had to sacrifice a million martyrs to overthrow French colonial rule and which knows a thing or two about occupation and resistance, which will account for the mass welcome by thousands of well-wishers on the route so far.
The border between Algeria and Morocco has been shut since 1994 and has been opened only twice during those long years. The first time was for my big red London bus headed for Baghdad, and the second for our 110-vehicle convoy now powering towards Gaza. Never thought of me as a diplomat, did you? The reason for the freeze in the two countries' relations is the Western Sahara - the mineral-rich Atlantic coast territory, which Morocco absorbed upon the collapse of fascism in Spain and the consequent withdrawal from its former colonies.
But I don't get every diplomatic question right. The first thing the Moroccan authorities did on our arrival in Tangier was to strip our 300- strong crew of their Viva Palestina T-shirts on account of the fact that the map of our route imprinted on the back of our shirts depicted Morocco sans Sahara. Algeria supports the creation of a new country of the Sahara, over which the two states are at daggers drawn.
For our ships of the desert, it hasn't been plain sailing. Many of our vehicles are old and slow. Fan belts, tyres, batteries were, as in the case of my Winnebago, bought and donated by a well-wisher days before our departure and everything that can go wrong has done. My would-be charabanc now sits, possibly on bricks, in a poor area of Bordeaux. I never even got to sit in it. After this, it will be Tunisia, Libya - where we will try to visit the British war graves meticulously kept there by the Libyans, despite the long years of hostility between the two countries - then, of course, Egypt. We'll see the pyramids along the Nile, where we'll be joined by a huge crowd from Britain, who could only make the last leg. The Rafah crossing point into Gaza is open this week for the first time in years, so things are looking good for a triumphal entry into Palestine around the end of the first week in March.
Last week, I told you about the high-profile police swoop on vehicles from Blackburn carrying aid for Gaza and headed for our convoy's departure from Hyde Park. Nine men were arrested under the anti-Terrorism Act. All nine of them have now been released without charge; wholly innocent men shamefully traduced by police and press to whom the dramatic video of the raid on the M65 was fed.
I said at the time that the police had better have a case against these men because, if not, we will certainly have a case against them and those who gullibly reported their version of events. We now have that case and my lawyers are on to it. Anyone with half a brain would know that it's in everyone's interest to encourage young British Muslims into peaceful democratic political actions because apathy is not the only alternative. By smearing these men and their community in this way, the police, or whoever directed them, have set back community relations by years and made easier the job of the Islamist fanatics, who seek to lure these communities on to the rocks of separatism, extremism and violence.
Rich must realise cash flash is going out of fashion
Feb 23, 2009
AS the world sinks into a slump, millions out of work, out of hope and out of homes, the catwalk queens still sashayed through London Fashion Week and the divas danced the night away at last night's Oscar celebration in LA. The svengalis behind both clearly haven't noticed that their number is up and everything is about to change.
The rich in the world will have to downsize. The super-sized epoch is over. Conspicuous consumption, obese waste, champagne and cocaine-fuelled decades will, like the roaring Twenties before them, be succeeded by at least a decade of bitter austerity. Except this time - as the demonstration in Dublin at the weekend (its British equivalent would have been a million-strong rally) has shown - the working people will not take it lying down.
There have been more union leaders in the news in the last couple of weeks than in the past 10 years. This will be an era where the complacent consensus of centrist capitalism parties of the old type will be sunk by the explosion of reality below their water line. The BNP in a poll last week seemed destined to make a breakthrough in the European elections in June. We on the left intend to make a breakthrough as well. Let battle commence.
Can't fail to be moved by Jade
Feb 23, 2009
I SPENT three days in London - attending to my constituency duties and presenting my radio and television shows over the weekend - to discover that not only was this great British effort to show the Muslim world that we are not their enemies being roundly ignored by the British media but the media was full of the desperate plight of another Big Brother contestant, Jade Goody.
Many callers to my TalkSPORT radio show insisted that interest in the dying mother of two was being exaggerated. But that's not true, as my full switchboard over three whole hours almost exclusively on that subject testified. People care about Jade Goody because she's just an ordinary girl. Because she has two young children, a faithless groom and will soon be dead at 27. Whatever great events are going on around the world, you'd have to have a heart of stone not be moved by that.
Homing in on Darling's letting row
Feb 23, 2009
BUY to let may be one of the catalytic converters of the boom-to-bust period, but some Scottish MPs seem to have done well out of it. News that the Chancellor Alistair Darling himself at public expense is coining it while letting out his London home to tenants as he lived in a council house in Downing Street and Dorneywood achieved that rare thing these days - it actually shocked me.
It is further evidence that the boys in the bubble at Westminster are as oblivious as any Hollywood mogul to the gathering storms outside. It is scant consolation that Darling and the rest of his party are about to be repossessed by the electorate and with a vengeance.
We're Getting Warm Welcome During Our Ice Cold In Alex Trek
Mar 2, 2009
I'VE met my share of Arab leaders - not always wisely - but I'd never been to Libya until the last few days and I've never met its leader Muammar Gaddafi. That may all change in the next few days if I can just negotiate the heat, the breakdowns and the thousands of miles of flat and featureless desert. If you've ever seen the classic black and white movie Ice Cold In Alex, you'll get the general picture.
The aid caravan to Gaza is moving across Libya - at more than a mile-long, it's the largest British convoy since Monty's Desert Rats. And, if all goes well, we'll be in Alexandria by the weekend. Although where I'll depart from the script is that I won't be downing any chilled lager. The reception here has been unbelievable. Cheering crowds, meals in candle-lit tents, hospitality in abundance, petrol top-ups and breakdown assistance.
You wouldn't think the Libyan people would have much truck with Brits, or Scots, after Lockerbie, the conviction of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi and the resultant 20 years of economic sanctions. Like most people who have studied the evidence, including some of the world's foremost legal minds, I've never believed al-Megrahi was guilty. And why we're holding on to him in Greenock prison when he's dying of cancer is shameful. Just contrast that with the treatment of Jade Goody. But none of this seems to have registered adversely with the Libyan people. Since World War Two, and through all the hostility and isolation, the graves of thousands of British and Allied soldiers who died in the desert war to liberate us all have been kept immaculate. I hope it might be some comfort to those who lost loved ones here that their resting places are so revered and honoured.
So it's on to Egypt and Alex at the weekend and then on to Rafah and the crossing into Gaza next week, if all of the mysterious mechanical bits under all the different bonnets hold out until then. Meanwhile, Israel's greatest friend - his own words - popped into Gaza briefly yesterday to find out what the people want. Which must be pretty obvious even to Tony Blair. They want peace in the region and the ability to bring their children up without the real prospect of them being decapitated by exploding, razor-sharp shrapnel or burned through to the bone by phosphorus bombs, supplied by the US to Israel.
What you certainly won't hear coming out of the mouth of Blair, or any of the other world leaders from the conference on Gaza reconstruction in Egypt today, is a demand for an embargo on weapons supplies to Israel.
Still Hope For Gary
Mar 2, 2009
I'VE been campaigning to have the Glasgow born Pentagon hacker Gary McKinnon tried in Britain. He faces being extradited to the United States and 70 years in prison for breaking into almost 100 top-secret US army, navy and Nasa computers and leaving rude messages about their security, although he has always maintained he hacked in to find evidence about UFOs. Gary suffers from Asperger's syndrome and I know from his mother that he has been contemplating suicide.
The extradition act, which will be used to remove him, has been signed by Britain, but not the US, so it is not reciprocal. But help may be at hand. Pop star Sting has appealed to Home Secretary Jacqui Smith for a judicial review. And as we know, celebrity appeals more to New Labour than reason or justice.
Eye On The Ball
Mar 2, 2009
HENRY McLeish got papped out of the Scottish Parliament because he sub-let his constituency office to the local Labour Party in Glenrothes. Gordon Brown does the same thing in Kirkcaldy, and he doesn't even get a slap on the wrist from the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner.
I've got a lot of time for Henry. Anyone who calls Dr John Reid a "patronising b******" is sound in my book. But Henry's going to need all the support he can get now he's taken on chairing the review body into Scottish fitba. I could fill the sports pages on what I think needs to be done. But here's a starter. Delegate all the executive powers of the selfinterest groups which divide the game to SFA chief executive Gordon Smith for five years, making him the game's commissioner. Just watch the change and improvement.
He would start by demanding cash for decent grass-roots facilities and academies throughout the land. And Henry, let's have that chat.
Strange Case Of The Mp And Two Forged Letters
Mar 2, 2009
IT'S the East Kilbride question. Who exactly did forge the two glowingly supportive letters in the East Kilbride News about local MP and former Defence and Northern Ireland Minister Adam Ingram? Supposedly, they were written by a former Labour councillor who praised the "tireless campaigner". But he denies it and Ingram is staying silent on the matter. And indeed about the five other jobs which earn him £170,000 in addition to his parliamentary pay of £63,000 and expenses of more than £100,000.
I've had run-ins with Ingram in the past. He tried and failed to injunct my book, I'm Not The Only One, over his adolescent connection to the Orange Order. I said he marched with them to a flute band. He said he'd never played the flute. The judge, Lord Kingarth, ruled in my favour. He said Ingram admitted once being a junior member of the Orange Order, so statements in the book were fair comment. Ingram was ordered to pay substantial costs, which, given his earnings, was a mere financial bagatelle.
Back To Very Grim Reality
Mar 2, 2009
IT'S not just a young man's dream to be accosted by Angelina Jolie. It happened to 10-year-old Azharuddin Ismail on the Hollywood red carpet last Sunday, and he didn't even know who she was. He is one of the stars of Slumdog Millionaire, Danny Boyle's multi-Oscar winner. Now he's back in the 4ft by 8ft shack in Mumbai with a Nintendo DS he won't be able to recharge when the batteries run out because there's no electricity.
Unsurprisingly, he and the other child stars are having difficulty settling back down into poverty. Boyle is reportedly looking after the kids and it wouldn't surprise me in the least if Angelina pops in to see them in the future.
50 years on Barbie is still a hot topic
Mar 9, 2009
COMPARE and contrast. Yesterday was International Women's Day and today is the 50th birthday of Barbara Millicent Roberts. You probably know her better as Barbie, the doll loved by the three billion girls who have one and reviled by feminists for representing negative stereotypes of women.
Apparently there is a 'Barbie syndrome' which is when a woman strives for an unrealistic body type. When Barbie was launched she was the equivalent of a 40DD bust and seven-feet tall. Now she's five-feet nine, 36 inches in the chest with an 18-inch waist, the full-on size zero. Was the dear old Teddy ever so controversial?
So it looks as if teenagers were designed to be lazy
Mar 9, 2009
IT'S, err, official. Teenagers get up late not because they're lazy but because they're biologically programmed to do so. Rather than dragging them out of bed and shunting them off to school we should let them sleep in for an extra couple of hours.
It's long been a sense of wonderment to me how academics manage to win grants into the bizarre, the arcane and nonsensical, but if Professor Russell Foster of Oxford University doesn't take the biscuit he's certainly hoovered up a few crumbs. He tested 200 pupils at a Tyneside high school and apparently discovered that there's a time shift in teenagers' body clocks of two hours, so they deserve a couple of extra hours in their pits. It so impressed the headmaster of the school, Monkseaton Community High, that he wants all secondary schools to follow the research and he's asking school governors whether classes can start at 11am rather than 9am. Not that pupils will stay on for two more hours' studying. I can predict the answer he'll get.
Sale will home in on debt
Mar 9, 2009
I DON'T normally condone squatting, but when you actually own the property then it isn't really squatting, is it? So I hope the elegant, Category A-listed, five-storey Edinburgh townhouse in Heriot Row owned by the Royal Bank of Scotland - that's you and me now - will soon be occupied 24/7. It cost £1.6million and many thousands more were spent on furnishings and works of art, for the exclusive use of the bank's chairman, who uses it for just 12 days a year. He's Sir Philip Hampton and he earns £750,000 plus £1.5million in share options, so you'd think he could afford a cheap hotel on his infrequent visits to Edinburgh for board meetings.
It was bought in June 2006 for the then newly-installed bank chairman Sir Tom McKillop. It was Tam the Bam who presided over the bank's catastrophic collapse and subsequent taxpayer bail-out. When Tam arrived the RBS share price was £13, when he left it was 20p. Number 44 could put up dozens of needy families I'm sure. Or RBS could sell it forthwith. I know property prices are falling, but if it drops a few hundred thousand on resale that would be just a drop in the ocean of debt Tam and his pal, the wealthy pensioner Fred Goodwin, created.
Figures are out of this world...
Mar 9, 2009
I CAN'T claim to know my carbon footprint, but with the amount of travelling I do it must be huge. My argument, of course, is that all or most of it is essential - and political. Like the aid convoy to Gaza. But I do try to do my bit to avert global warming, from the eco lightbulbs to the hybrid car I drive.
How much more there is to be done has been brought home to me by the website www.breathing earth.net which, in real time, logs the CO2 we create and the net population gain across the world. In the time it's taken me to write this, the world's population has grown by more than 1000 and 320,000 tonnes of toxic CO2 have been released into the atmosphere. Chilling.
We're held up at the final frontier
Mar 9, 2009
THE aid convoy has come more than 5000 miles without let or hindrance, as the flyleaf of our passports demands, and here we are stuck on the Egyptian border, a few paces from Gaza, and it's another night in the car and more negotiation before we can pass across. The problem is that the authorities are insisting that some of the vehicles, led by the big red Manchester fire engine and the truck carrying a generator, should cross through an Israeli checkpoint, rather than this one.
Egypt is extremely sensitive to Israeli demands, no doubt with US leverage as well. But our attitude is that we've come all this way together and we're not going to be split now. All for one, one for all. To give in to this would be to admit to Israeli command and control, which we can't do. Let them permanently open all of the crossings into Gaza so aid can flow in and we'll lead the surge. But we can't accept a special favour from Israel which, for almost two years, has sealed the borders and starved the Palestinian people, a communal punishment which is illegal under the Geneva Conventions.
It's frustrating, but we wait. A game of football has started between Brits and Libyan drivers who have joined our convoy. Earlier, a massive cheering crowd of thousands of local people, as well as hundreds of goats and sheep, greeted us when we arrived. It was sunny and warm but the wind had whipped up a sandstorm. At least that's my excuse for pranging my car against a barrier.
By the time we reached Rafah, our convoy, which set out from London on Valentine's Day with 100 vehicles, had grown to almost 250 and the mile-long caravan stretched for more than three miles as more joined us. When we get through, we'll leave behind more than £1million but, more than that, the legacy will be a symbolic one, of hope and friendship, the message that the majority of Brits do not support the Israeli attacks on the densest-packed piece of earth on the planet and the blockage of essential supplies. Just minutes before we reached the border, US-made jets were screaming overhead bombing Gaza once more.
This has been an amazing journey. The only slight blemish has been the neglect of it in the press back home, with some notable exceptions. The Guardian even unearthed a Trotskyist in Egypt - the only one, surely - to pour ordure on me. I bet it wouldn't have happened to Bono.
In tune with the Palestinian people
Mar 16, 2009
THIS week sees the launch of my new record label Respect Records and our debut album Viva Palestina. The album showcases boys from Babyshambles and the like singing up for Palestine and my convoy - which successfully reached Gaza with all of its crew, almost all of its vehicles, and most of its aid - some having being diverted through a slower, much slower, Israeli controlled checkpoint.
The suffering in Gaza is painful, the devastation extreme, the hardships real and grinding. Yet if Israel, or anyone else for that matter, is counting on this pressure to make the people surrender, they are deluding themselves. The Palestinian people will never surrender. After 35 years in their cause, I am quite sure about that.
Just like Ireland before it, the eventual solution is obvious, and has been since thousands of deaths ago. We will, in the end, have to do a deal with the people chosen by the Palestinians to represent them - not the people we wish they had chosen. If you want to help that happen, go to www.vivapalestina.org and sing along.
Homing in on US policies
Mar 16, 2009
NEXT week, I begin a sweep of north American cities, giving speeches in New York, Newark, New Jersey, Ohio, Detroit, Michigan, LA and San Diego in California, Fort Lauderdale in Florida, Washington DC, as well as Toronto and Ottawa in Canada. All the gigs are sold out.
I will be trying to intervene in the public debate about where US and Canadian foreign policy should go in the post Bush era. In short, my advice will be this. Go home. Not because we hate you, we don't. My great-great grandmother was the only woman in the history of the 19th century to emigrate FROM New York TO Dundee (my guess is she got on the wrong boat). But my letter to America will be that the era of US domination is gone. With it, we will not put up any more.
Concentrate on fixing your own country and leave others alone. God gave you a beautiful, bountiful country from sea to shining sea. From the Everglades to the redwood forests, from California to the New York islands. Enjoy it, make it great again. Know that God gave all of us beautiful countries and our own languages cultures and religions. That He intended us to live in harmony with each other and with the Earth He best bestowed upon us.
So, thanks for the memories, Uncle Sam, of when you were overpaid, oversexed and over here. So long, its been good to know ya. Let's be friends. Just not the kind of friend Miss Lewinsky was to President Clinton.
Dundee's lost legacy
Mar 16, 2009
MY father, God rest his sweet soul, worked most of his life in the modern, post-war directed National Cash Register Co factory - whose headquarters were in Dayton, Ohio, where I will be speaking later this month. At its height, some 7000 factory workers were the princes of Dundee's labour aristocracy, earning double what the mill workers then earned. They gave Christmas parties for the workers' children, which I remember as the best bashes I ever attended. They had football teams, overalls, canteens, clean air, and solid trade unions.
Last week, the company announced they were pulling out of the city. Now Dundee has neither factory, workshop, mine, shipyard nor mill. It is the post-war British industrial story all wrapped up in one. Even Keillor's, makers of jams and marmalades are gone. Only desperate, truly Desperate Dan remains.
Where did it all go wrong for Labour?
Mar 16, 2009
I DON'T know which is the sadder fact: that the Scottish separatists are poised to run my old home town after a local government by-election win, or that if they do take over, they will be replacing a Labour/Tory coalition. That's like being a Celtic/Rangers supporter. An unnatural thing. Mary Shelly, author of Frankenstein, would have hesitated before fictionalising such a Jekyll and Hyde government. Where did it all go wrong?
When I left Dundee more than 25 years ago, Labour reigned almost supreme in the city. Our local party was big, well organised, financed, tightly connected to a bristlingly militant trades union base, ideologically clear, controlling the city council and the over-arching Tayside Regional Council, with a rock solid majority in one parliamentary constituency and poised, finally, to take the other. My party office, 1Rattray Street, was as significant an address in the city as the Kremlin in Moscow.
A quarter of a century later, the party of Cook and Strachey, George Morgan Thomson, Willie McKelvey and me is in bed with the party of Dame Florence Horsburgh, the party of Margaret Thatcher. And about to be thrown out of office in disgust. Dame Florence, during the last depression, was giving a talk in the city to hungry housewives on how one could make a nourishing soup from a fish's head. Angry Dundee weavers demanded to know what happened to the rest of the fish.
The chronicler of Dundee's working class life was singer songwriter and poet Mary Brooksbank. "Oh dear me," she said, "the mill's gaen fest; the pair wee shifters, canna get a rest. Shiftin bobbins coorse and fine; they fairly mak ye work, fir yer ten and nine."
All four of my grandparents worked in those canyons of dust and sweat called the Dundee jute and flax mills; from six in the morning until six at night, and for the princely sum of 10s and 9pence a week. In fairness, I should say they got a half day on a Saturday. The clatter of the mill is responsible for our less than melodious accents, shouting to be heard knocked some of the music out of our discourse.
I have taught my 22-month-old son Zein to say "and an ingin ane anaw". It will be useful when he comes to the city and is able to order: "Two bridies, a plen ane... and an ingin ane anaw." 'When I left Dundee more than 25 years ago, my Labour party office was as significant an address as the Kremlin in Moscow'
United we stand?
Mar 23, 2009
BY the time you read this, I will be on a plane to the United States to begin my speaking tour there. I will criss-cross the land of the free, home of the brave, from sea to shining sea. At least that's what my travel agent says. Let's see if the Homeland Security agents see it the same way. Next week I will be reporting from Arkansas. Or Auchtermuchty. Watch this space.
Politicians will pay for this mess
Mar 23, 2009
THERE are already many in Britain who think that Swarfega is a Balearic island rather than an industrial-strength handwash. The country in which I grew up; of factories, workshops, mines and mills, is already a museum piece. Mass unemployment of the kind now being experienced is not even a folk memory for the population now facing it. Already more than two million - itself an underestimate - I had an economist on my radio show at the weekend who predicted four million on the dole before the sun comes out again. That's four million families, perhaps 10 million people, living under the dark cloud of enforced idleness. That's one person in every six.
Factor in the regional concentrations of this unemployment and, as he said, no-one can predict how the country will react. Some will turn against their neighbours, against "scroungers", immigrants, people who look, speak, pray, dress differently to them. Some will look left for answers, others to their far right. One thing is certain; politicians who think it will be business as usual are inhabiting a fools' paradise. The economic and political elites of Britain are a discredited, derelict and utterly fragile force.
They have sat here too long for all the good they have been doing. Go now, will be the cry on many a tongue. Ministers of the Crown appear on TV to justify, straight-faced, their near fraudulent abuse of the parliamentary expenses system. Others lecture on tax evasion, while being up to their necks in the avoidance business themselves. Senior new Labour figures swan around the houses of parliament as if they were emperors. But these are the last days of Pompeii.
A month ago he was lecturing me on my morals..
Mar 23, 2009
NEWS of Edinburgh's finest pipsqueak Nigel Griffiths' naked romps breaks in the Sunday press. That was one Remembrance Day the former minister will never forget. The news surprised me on at least a couple of grounds.
First the bantam-weight politician always struck me as, how shall I put it, not a ladies' man. If anything, I saw him as an inky-fingered policy wonker whose idea of a good night in was curling up with a book of Treasury forecasts. Second, well only a month or two ago he was regaling a mutual friend at the BBC with an excoriating lecture on my own morals and standards.
Not knowing he was among all the other things a hypocrite, I obviously concluded he must be, himself, a paragon of virtue. Now that we know that while his loyal wife was at home minding the constituency, he would have a Miss Terry Brunette round for tea, crumpet and an oak table end rogering, well, we must all re-calibrate, as he would put it, our estimation of this parliamentary top-pocket Titan.
Unaccountably, the old joke popped into my head as I pictured him, pin-striped breeks at his ankles, the member risen and not on a point of order. Why are the Wee Frees so against sex standing up? Because it might lead to dancing! God save us from the uncoguid.
Jade is gone but not forgotten
Mar 23, 2009
WITH shocking swiftness she was gone. Jade Goody, aged just 27, and the mother of two young boys, blazed across the British skies like a comet and has now expired. She was "ignorant" in her own words to Max Clifford, who did a good job for her, by the way. But she was not untypical in that. There are sadly many people in this country who don't know East Anglia is not an island, or who the Chancellor of the Exchequer is.
She was prejudiced, "Shilpa Poppadum" and all that. But who will cast the first stone at her for that? She was foulmouthed - just like virtually every contestant on Big Brother, bar Tommy Sheridan and myself. I know of no reality TV appearances which have not been peppered with obscenities. But she was determined to better herself and make a better childhood for her sons than she had for herself.
We can't choose our backgrounds and not all of us are lucky. Now she is dead. There but for the grace of God go we; may she rest in peace.
I won't be silenced by Canadian Tories
Mar 23, 2009
BEING called a "street corner Cromwell" might in Galway or Cork be quite an insult. But even Jade Goody might have known that Oliver Cromwell is principally remembered as the champion of parliamentary supremacy and the hammer of autocracy and arbitrary power. Yet that was what I was called by the spokesman for the Canadian government in their banning order issued to stop my addressing church and peace groups in Toronto.
I speak in Canada regularly and without incident of any kind. Suddenly I have become a "security risk" for the minority and discredited Tory government in Ottawa. Claiming to be fighting for freedom and liberty up the Khyber Pass, they seek to prove it by shutting down freedom and liberty at home. It was ever thus.
Scots built much that was good in Canada and our cousins there are not best pleased at my ban. The substantial ethnic minority population too - Toronto is the world's only city where the minorities are the majority - who would have constituted much of my audience are incensed. Even right-wing libertarians can't stomach this political misuse of the "war on terror" to try and silence a five-time-selected British parliamentarian.
And my crime? To take an aid convoy of ambulances, fire engines, children's nappies, wheelchairs, food, medicine and blankets to the besieged and wartorn Gaza strip and hand them over to the democratically elected government of the Palestinian people. As it happens, I'm not a supporter of Hamas, as you've heard me say many times before. All my life and to the last days of his, I was a friend, comrade and confidant of President Yasser Arafat. I am a supporter of democracy, and recognising the rights of people to choose their governments.
The reason Gaza is besieged is to punish the people for voting the wrong way. I cannot be a party to that. I'd be surprised if the majority of Canadians could either if only they knew that's what is happening. I wanted to so persuade them. And that's why, for now, I've been declared "inadmissible". Of course, the audience for what I would have said is now vastly greater than before the blundering flatfooted immigration minister stepped in. But I warn him, I always get my man. Just ask ex-Senator "Norm" Coleman.
World is waiting, Obama
Mar 30, 2009
LIKE our own prime minister, Barack Obama's bail-out of the big bankers is a currency devaluing by the day as the bonuses keep on tumbling out of the publicly-funded slot machine. Obama's first 100 days haven't even been run yet, and the first signs of strain are appearing. He's being attacked from the right as a big spender, but increasingly from the left with people asking what's in it for the ordinary Joe struggling for his six-pack while the Wall Street elite are sinking their Manhattans.
Capitalism has sunk America to its lowest level since the Crash. Can Obama refloat this fiscal wreck? If he can't, we're all sunk.
Looking to chip in
Mar 30, 2009
IN the land of the gleaming full set of teeth, your columnist chipped his front gnasher and has spent the week posing for photos while trying to hide the fact. The result, either inexplicably glum next to a smiling supporter who has paid Palestinian charities $50 for the snap, or a mouth which looks like Rocky after a few rounds with Apollo Creed.
I haven't been in one place long enough to have it seen to but, when I do, it will be no expense spared. When I come back think "Gorgeous George Clooney" or at least no longer Pa Clampett!
You Kenney make it up
Mar 30, 2009
ON the back of a cartoon coaster in the blue TV screen light, I drew a map of Canada with Jason Kenney's face sketched on it twice. I have never been banned from anywhere before and somehow exclusion from what was a land so far away, yet so close to us, seems an unnatural thing. I have stravaiged from Vancouver's snowy mountain tops to Toronto's hookah lounges. I have French-kissed in Quebec and canoodled in Calgary and run away. All in the past, I quickly add. Today, I'm dallying on the border waiting for the verdict. Oh Canada, you're in my blood like holy wine, you taste so bitter and so sweet, I could drink a case of you and still be on my feet.
Terrible states of telly
Mar 30, 2009
AS the song says, there are 57 channels and nothing on in the US media. It is impossible to overstate how simply awful American television is. Although sit-coms of genius such as Seinfeld, Friends and Frasier, and HBO programmes, such as The Wire and Sopranos, sometimes shine through the fug, the news is a succession of gleaming veneers below too much eye make-up and bouffant hair - and the women are just as bad.
Local doesn't begin to describe the news. The next-door state might as well be in Uttar Pradesh. And as for the "special relationship", I must break the news to you that it's about your bond with your borzoi or the dental care of your poodle. In more than a week in the US, I have not seen the word Britain in a single newspaper or heard our country referred to on the news. Barack Obama's America doesn't give us a second thought and why should it? But it's time we wised up and looked to our own continent for the future.
Bid to silence me is golden opportunity
Mar 30, 2009
IF it's Monday, it might be Canada. Either on foot or via the airwaves from Manhattan. Later today, we'll know if the injunction sought by my supporters to lift the ban on me entering the country has succeeded. It has been ahelluva brouhaha. For over a week, the Canadian media has been thick with controversy over the right-wing, dead end, has-been, Bushite administration in Ottawa and their abuse of words like "terrorism" and "national security".
Every day, Canadian reporters express their surprise to me that I can be travelling and speaking freely in the Patriot Act and Homeland Security obsessed USA yet be inadmissible in the kinder, gentler North American country. You can be more royal than the king, even more Catholic than the Pope, but the biscuit is yours once you try to out-do the US over "terrorism". And what Speaker Michael Martin must make of the notion that the House has harboured such asecurity risk as me for nearly a quarter of a century, God only knows.
Of course, this ban has nothing to do with terrorism or security. Only a mad man could contend that delivering ambulances, fire engines, nappies, wheelchairs and medicine to the besieged Gaza Strip equalled anything other than the humanitarian response our governments should have been mounting. Yet it is my aid convoy to Gaza which is the sum total of the Canadian government's case for keeping me out. Or rather, the defence they took to court.
Because, originally gazetted in a down market English tabloid, they said it was my opposition to the Afghan war wot dun it. And this may be closer to the truth, if legally indefensible. That war is taking a terrible toll among Canadian soldiers, who are losing more young men than either us or the Americans as a proportion of their troops in the field. And as the war drags on, the minority government in Ottawa is finding it more difficult to justify.
Ironically, if they had let me in, perhaps a few thousand folk would have noticed. Maybe another few thousand would have caught it all on YouTube. But their attempted ban has meant that, tonight, much of Canada will be viewing me on the country's most-watched television show and many will stay on to watch my speech. Canadian hits on my website www.georgegalloway.com have gone through the roof. I am the book they could not ban, the man they could not hang.
Even Irvine Welsh, whose recent novel was largely set in the languid, humid, steamy setting of the Florida Keys, couldn't prepare me for the sprawling nothingness that is the Sunshine State. The sun may shine, but all that glitters is not gold. At the risk of sounding Eurocentric, it really is the superior way to live - having an actual town or city around which suburbs grow - rather than an endless series of what look like mini industrial estates, which are called plazas, retailing tasteless tat or super-sizing 57 varieties of fat.
The smallest coffee you can have is a "Tall" one, the largest would provide enough caffeine to keep a battalion marching for days. It's a real contrast with Michigan, still freezing by its great lakes, and Pennsylvania and Noo Joisey in the days before. Incidentally, the backwater Hoboken, once known, if at all, as the birthplace of Ol' Blue Eyes Frank Sinatra, is now filling up with bobbysoxers who can no longer afford their lofts in Manhattan's Upper East Side but can look across the George Washington Bridge at a skyline bereft of the Twin Towers but still one of the modern wonders of the world. New York, so good they named it twice, really is my kind of town.
Line was worth the weight
Apr 6, 2009
Everything over here is monumental, and usually the waistlines. Going through the endless security, I was brought up short by the incredible bulk in front of me who had fallen foul of the X-ray machine. He was so huge he could barely get through the device front-on, his Bermuda shorts would have shrouded a small nation and his top could have blanketed Ben Nevis.
He objected mildly to the Homeland Security official giving him a frisking. "I'm just doing my job, sir," the guy shot back, "there could be another person in there!" Billy Connolly couldn't have put it better.
Sad to see demise of the National Cash Register
Apr 6, 2009
Taking advantage of being by the banks of the O-Hi-Oh, I took a sentimental detour to Dayton, home of National Cash Register Limited. My father worked in the Dundee branch of NCR, in the factory modelled on its parent, for over 20 years. The 'Cash' workers were the backbone of trade unionism in the former industrial city. The NCR is now limited to the head office, having closed Dundee last month after half a century . Nonetheless I hoped to admire the art deco façade of the building. I was dismayed to discover I was just too late. It was pulled down just a matter of weeks ago.
Memories of a more innocent time
Apr 6, 2009
News reached even the mid-West about the Scotland players banned, sine die, for their 12-hour booze binge. It brought back memories of the Seventies boating trip by Jimmy Johnstone, oarless and legless at Seamill. He got off lightly in the more innocent, if alcohol-fuelled days and went on to enhance his career. The Rangers duo, Barry Ferguson and Allan McGregor, might have escaped the bullet, but for their two-fingered greeting to the world.
It's the lifelong nature of the ban that makes my blood run cold. I remember as a kid my father talking in hushed tones about the Rangers centre-half Willie Woodburn getting 'sin dye'. I didn't know the Latin then, but it sounded like condign punishment. Lawyers nowadays would drive a dray horse and cart through a ban which took away someone's livelihood.
Of course, I never saw Woodburn play but my father thought the 'sin dye' richly deserved. No footage exists of his size 10s blootering limbs. Memories from older readers are of course welcome.
Apr 6, 2009
One of my old adversaries' newspapers libelled me a few years back and it cost them more than £2million. The then-proprietor and now fraudster Conrad Black is banged-up in some cushy penitentiary but that doesn't stop him penning op-ed pieces for one of the papers he used to own, Canada's National Post.
Bizarrely he even wrote one in my support. He didn't have the influence he once had because I was refused entry into Canada, as you may have noted. They seem to be saying that I'm linked to international terrorism because I brought aid to Gaza. In the 'you couldn't make it up department' the media campaign to keep me out was led by the Jewish Defence League, an organisation labelled genuine terrorists by the FBI.
Not only am I challenging the government in the courts, my lawyers are issuing writs to the malign oafs and incompetent broadcasters who have carried a series of wild defamations about me. In the court of public opinion in Canada they've all taken a hiding. My meetings did go ahead although not quite in the way planned. I broadcast live to 23 Canadian cities from New York, which knows a thing or two about genuine terrorism. I was front-page news for more than a week and the publicity, created by the right-wing Canadian government, meant tens of thousands heard my anti-war message rather than the hundreds there might have been.
A change of luck with my flight connections
Apr 6, 2009
DATELINE SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA, SUNDAY. On my last speaking tour of the States in 2005, it was a whirlwind of meetings, sleep deprivation and endless plane rides. I got on one flight to Toronto from Washington, clearing post 9/11 levels of security, bags in the hold, only to find someone else sitting in my designated seat. I remonstrated mildly. Only to discover that I had been put on to a different and delayed flight than the one for which I had a boarding pass and my suits and smalls were on the correct jet. So much for the heightened James Bond-like security devices. More like Austin Powers.
Thankfully this time it has been smooth and the pilot knew the way to San Jose, which is why I am writing this beneath the swaying California palms, the sun scorching the sidewalk, straight out of a James Ellroy novel - without the corpses so far. Although the body count in the last 48 hours - not counting your ordinary everyday homicides - was 16 shot in an immigrant centre in New York and three cops killed in Pittsburgh, the first officers down there in 18 years.
My wee maw in Dundee, catching the news of the immigrant shootings, phoned desperately wondering if I had been caught up in the carnage. She figured that what with the immigrants and that with my way with them, I'd be bound to be involved. I explained to her that there are tens of millions of people here, but for her it was a case of 'Titanic sinks, Dundee man feared lost'.
On the way I de-planed in Minneapolis, which was thick with snow and with the sky the colour of dust. It was the fiefdom of the defenestrated senator Norm Coleman, whom I rummled-up at the Senate hearing in 2005. Given he only lost by 250 votes out of six million I like to think I played a part in his demise. Norm lost to comedian Al Franken, a Saturday Night Live stalwart and who, among others things, wrote Lies And The Lying Liars That Tell Them. It could have been dedicated to Norm. I vowed to bring him down and, like the Mounties, I always get my man.
Spinning all the way to the political grave
Apr 13, 2009
These are the last days of the New Labour project. Like Richard Nixon's White House, Whitehall and the corridors of power are sinking in a rising tide of sleaze and derision. Ministers, and the Speaker, with three houses earning money from letting out one while claiming on a second and living in another. Porn films and bath plugs on expense claims, lying, always lying, spinning all the way to the political grave.
And now this. A man at the heart of government, using a Downing Street email address, writing to one of what Clare Short called the people who live in the dark, Derek Draper, in terms that would have made Nixon blush. Allegations that so and so is having a gay affair, this Tory MP is sleeping with that one, somebody's wife is having a nervous breakdown, and that the leader of the opposition may have had an STD check. The disease, alas, is that afflicting the governing class, and it is spreading like poison throughout the body politic.
I remind you that I wasn't good enough for this scurvy crew. I was expelled for bringing this gang of corrupt liars into "disrepute". Worse, much worse, they have brought us to the brink of the return of the Tories, the same gang who beggared us for nearly 20 years. Satan himself could not have done a better job of bringing Labour into disrepute than this lot. And that's before I even mention the war. Remember that one, the one built on a tower of falsehoods, which killed a million people and spread hatred and madness throughout the world? Damian McBride lives a heartbeat away from the Prime Minister. He spends more time with him than even Mrs Brown does. If you tell me the PM didn't know what his right-hand man was doing, I call you naive. Gordon Brown is the most controlling micro-managing premier this country has ever known.
The recipient of his poison pen letters was Derek Draper who, whatever he says now, said they were pure dead brilliant, in writing, when he got them. Draper was for many years at the heart of New Labour. He became a lobbyist when Blair came to power. "There are 17 people who count (in this government). And to say I am intimate with every one of them is the understatement of the century," he boasted to an undercover reporter posing as a possible business client.
Draper was at the beck and call of Peter Mandelson - now back effectively as deputy PM. It is inconceivable that Mandelson did not know about this dirty tricks unit. So, I'm saying that both the PM and his "deputy" must have known. Thus the old Watergate questions are back on the table. Who knew what and when did they know it? McBride has gone, Draper will have to be next. Who goes after him?
This is the perfect storm for SNP
By George Galloway
Apr 13, 2009
Of course, for Scotland the consequences of all this are even more serious. The prospect of a Tory Government and a bankrupt New Labour Party provide the perfect storm for Alex Salmond and the slippery separatists of the SNP. With the right timing for an independence referendum, it could be a close-run thing. With Scottish votes out of Britain, Labour may never be elected to government again.
Almost exactly 30 years ago, the 11 members of the White Heather Club at Westminster - otherwise known as "Scotland's first 11" - the SNP MPs for whom it was said every night was Burns' Night in the House of Commons bars, voted with Thatcher to bring down Jim Callaghan's Labour government. I was a left-wing critic of that government, but given all that's happened since, come back Jim Callaghan, all is forgiven I say.
Obama's America - a place I can believe in
Apr 13, 2009
I may end up having to move to America to live in a country closer to what I believe in. Who would have thought I would ever end up saying that? Having just toured it, and planning a vast US convoy to head for Gaza, I felt the fresh breeze of optimism Obama's victory has brought in its wake.
The convoy will be co-led by me and Ron Kovic, upon whose life the Tom Cruise epic Born On The Fourth Of July was based. It's leaving for Cairo, when else, on the 4th of July. Where I led 110 vehicles, this one will be 500 trucks long. It aims to deliver 10 million dollars worth of aid to the suffering people there. You can follow it until the US website is up at www.vivapalestina.org.
There you can also buy the campaign CD with its wonderful collection of songs for Palestine.
Labour I loved is lost
Apr 13, 2009
I hate to say I told you so but, I told you so. When the late and great John Smith was brought down by a fatal heart attack, I warned that it would all lead to this. I begged the Scottish Labour conference not to back the snake-oil salesman Tony Blair's project to strangle the Labour Party I loved. The party of Smith, of Tom Johnston, of Keir Hardie, of James Maxton - whose biographer was the same Gordon Brown. At the Labour conference in Inverness I begged them not to let our proud banner be taken from our hands.
Within weeks the party unilaterally rebranded itself "Scottish New Labour" and the long precipitous deadly decline began. If I sound bitter, that's because I am. Personally, things have never been brighter. But I warn you, over the next few years do not be old, do not be sick, do not be vulnerable, do not need a helping hand from the state. Do not be poor, do not be unemployed. Do not hope for peace at home or abroad, do not dream of justice.
The ideals of Labour have been betrayed by a parcel o' rogues as has never been seen in this nation.
Murdoch's press are changing sides
Apr 13, 2009
THE Murdoch press, having slavered over New Labour for a dozen years, are clearly for turning. Having lain down with these dogs, no wonder the ruling party is now crawling with fleas. The civil service, now leaking like a sieve and against their masters, clearly know the change is gonna come. Barack Obama's stardust didn't sprinkle over Gordon Brown, that was dandruff off a weary discredited head. We might as well have that General Election now. The country is going to the dogs, the economy is wrecked, Parliament stinks like a midden, and it's only going to get worse. In the name of God, Gordon, go now, for all the good that you have been doing, in the name of God, man, go.
Al's chance to be Darling of the people
Apr 20, 20
It's fair to say Alistair Darling won't do a Susan Boyle when he delivers the first post-slump budget on Wednesday. And judging by yesterday's opinion polls - putting the Tories on 43 per cent to New Labour's 26 per cent - the home audience wants him out anyway. But my money is on the Chancellor quietly surprising us.
In a Government of bigheaded incompetents, Darling is a modest success. No one should think the economic problems we have are his fault - the worldwide capitalist collapse and the hubris of his predecessor are to blame for those - and he was, after all, the first Government Minister to tell us that we were in for the worst circumstances since the 1930s depression. He was slapped down and sent out to recant; just weeks before the house fell down.
This may be his last budget and so his one last chance. When he was a young man, a bearded Edinburgh Marxist, he could only have dreamed of such a chance. A chance to properly tax the rich, and the super-profits of the oil and energy suppliers.
A chance to set the working poor free from tax altogether. A chance to halve our deficit by scrapping the ludicrous new nuclear weapons purchases. A chance to use the collapse of finance capital to change the paradigm. Go on Alistair, you know you want to. Show them Scotland's Got Talent
DARLING is certainly not the GLS
Apr 20, 2009
Darling is certainly not the GLS - Greatest Living Scotsman. That title still belongs to Sir Alex Ferguson. I know Fergie is not the kind of man to be injecting botulism into his broo' but what is the secret of his 67-year -old youthfulness? He looks younger by the year, in one of the most stressful jobs in the country . Neither are his skills dimming with the years. United are poised for another host of silverware and, down in England, his genius for psy-ops has destabilised yet another of his rivals... to Kevin Keegan and Jose Mourinhio should be added the balding scalp of Liverpool's Rafa Benitez. He keeps coming out to fight with Fergie but I'm afraid it's rope-a-dope-time again.
Liverpool are out of the Champions League and shortly will be out of sight in the league. The car in front is a Scotsman..
Born with a special Brand of charisma
Apr 20, 2009
When I drove into the Talksport car park on Saturday to present my Mother of All Talkshows, I knew something was up. The normal collection of Transits had become bumper Lamborghinis and gleaming automobiles usually seen only in the movies. Once inside, it became clear that the Russell Brand/Noel Gallagher show was still being pre-recorded. Pre-recorded for obvious reasons.
The normal Saturday night skeleton crew was bloated with an entourage only the biggest stars can afford. Talksport high heid yins were in conclave, presumably calibrating just how rich a discourse they could afford to put out on to the air. Then the white smoke appeared. It was just smoke, I checked, and first Russell Brand appeared and I had a chance to assess what star quality had paid for those expensive motors.
He's tall, slim, and handsome in a unique way, no doubt. His androgynous wardrobe, long string cardigan, gold lame belt, skintight black jeans and silver boots would look ridiculous on anyone else. But not on him. Gallagher, one of the geniuses behind the most successful British act since The Beatles, on the other hand, emerges like everyman. He dresses his age, and looks it. Both have that most intangible of things - charisma. No one can legislate for it, set out to acquire it, or be bestowed it by anyone else.
It's quite a coup for Talksport to get them, and last night's record audience for the show will have fully covered the wage bill. Brand's phone call to Jonathan Ross during the show was hair-raisingly risky - not for but for the station, and more for Jonathan Ross. It typified Brand. One thing's sure... BBC Radio 2 could no longer afford him.
Susan Boyle's dream performance was broadcasting gold
Apr 20, 2009
I have never in my life experienced a televisual epiphany like watching Susan Boyle's appearance on Britain's Got Talent. Of course, like 40 million other people, I saw it on YouTube rather than its original form. Dowdy duckling Susan becomes, in a matter of seconds, a swan so resplendent, the transformation from expectation to realisation so utter, Walt Disney's animators would have struggled to convey it. And now she is the GLSW, The Greatest Living Scotswoman, and the whole country, north and south of the Border, indeed beyond even the ocean, is proud of her And a little bit ashamed of ourselves.
That's where the sense of epiphany comes from. The sniggerers, eyes rolling, who judged Susan Boyle a kind of bearded lady freak exhibit when she walked on to the stage did not include only those unlucky enough to be seen doing so by 40millionYouTube viewers. All of us judged that book by its cover. And its fair to say that no book ever transcended its jacket quite so sensationally. But that's the message about our age we should draw. That the superficial and the transitory are but cheap wrapping paper. The real gift lies within.
Susan is 48 and never been kissed. Now she's a swan, all sorts of sharks will be queueing up to do the deed. I hope Simon Cowell looks after her well - even just 10 per cent of her earnings in the next decade will make him as rich as Croesus. I think we can say Simon will resist temptation and keep it strictly professional.
I must say I admired Cowell even before the transparently honest eyebrow-raising shock and surprise he displayed after the first line of Susan's performance. He has put together the best of British television and conquered America, too. Piers Morgan is another. Ridiculed by some, Morgan has survived his sacking as editor of the Daily Mirror and become a big TV personality. And Amanda Holden was the first in the auditorium to rise to her feet in the most spontaneous standing ovation ever seen on television.
It was all broadcasting gold, and a wee Blackburn spinster made it happen. Hallelujah.
The weekend was, of course, the 12th anniversary of the New Labour victory, when 18 years of Thatcher-Major rule was swept away. Bouncing on top of an open-topped bus in Byres Road in Glasgow's west end, my friends and I sang along with D:Ream. Things, we thought, could only get better. That was five wars, a million dead people and 11 million broken hearts ago. As the rats - Charles Clarke, Stephen Byers, David Blunkett and Hazel Blears - start fighting in the sack, I don't know whether to laugh or cry.
Two-dinners Clarke, the man who left the Home Office "not fit for purpose", in the words of his successor Dr John Reid, talks about being "ashamed" to be a Labour MP. Blunkett warns of "selfinflicted wounds", he the man who had to be twice sacked from the Cabinet, the second time after impregnating another man's wife then taking her to court for paternity access. Talk about the blind trying to lead the blind. Byers, a former left-winger, bemoans the punitive nature of Alistair Darling's 50p tax rate on the rich. Meanwhile, Gordon Brown, I adjudge - and I've know him more than 30 years - sways dangerously on YouTube.
Twenty points behind in the polls, in danger of falling below 20 per cent of the vote next month in the Euro-elections, the only thing Brown can do now for the party he - and all his friends - have destroyed is resign like Anthony Eden and head for Goldeneye Jamaica to rest and recuperate. With a new leader - and only former postman Alan Johnson has anything like the right stuff - a damage limitation exercise might be mounted.
With Brown in charge, Labour really is on the eve of destruction.
This is what you call real music, for Pete's sake
May 4, 2009
On my radio show, I played the music of Pete Seeger, the 90-year-old American singersong writer who had a hand, one way or another, in the marching songs of the 20th century. He popularised Woody Guthrie's This Land Is Your Land, which ought to be the US national anthem. He adapted Turn Turn Turn, made famous by the Byrds, putting the Bible into the top 10. He wrote Bring 'Em Home, which, when sung by Bruce Springsteen and the Seeger Session Band, became an anti-war anthem for yet another generation of Americans.
He forged If I Had A Hammer, co-cultivated Where Have All The Flowers Gone?, and on and on his credits roll. Aged 89, he sang at President Obama's inauguration in Washington. He marched with Martin Luther King in Alabama and was blacklisted in McCarthyite Fifties America.
In the midst of my Seegerfest, a caller from Glasgow reminded me that Pete gave our own Matt McGinn his first paid gig - on a stage which he shared with the little-known troubadour Bob Dylan. Dylan played Glasgow last weekend in his never ending tour and I wonder if he thought of Matt?
BOXING HAS LOST ITS LUSTRE
May 4, 2009
New York's Madison Square Garden is a place where once great and epic fights captured the attention of the world on radio and television. There's no doubting the fight game has lost its lustre since then. Ken Buchanan, in his tartan trunks, versus Roberto Duran was probably the last time a Scotsman stood alone in America and took on and tried to conquer the world.
Ricky Hatton was flattened by the Filipino Manny Pacquiao in Vegas, to where the boxing has migrated. But at least he will never have to go back to carpet-laying. Call me old-fashioned, but I still love boxing. And if I could have got that Iain Dale into the ring last Saturday night - albeit as a surrogate for his real mother, not Mrs Dale but Mrs Thatcher - I'd have knocked his lights out..
Ugly face of Thatcher is under Cameron's mask
May 4, 2009
Dogs and Margaret Thatcher are two subjects guaranteed to light up the switchboard on my Talksport Mother of all Talkshows. Boxing is another one. Put them all in the same ring and you get a fight of epic proportions. That's what happened last Saturday night - which you can hear again at www.georgegalloway.com
It was the 30th anniversary of the wicked witch's first broomstick sweep into Downing Street, Ricky Hatton was soon, briefly, to shape up in Las Vegas, and Tory lapdog Iain Dale, the blogger, biographer and Thatcher apologist, had stepped up to fight her corner. Most media outlets give Dale an easy ride, as is the fashion with right-wing scribblers, and he had clearly gotten used to deference.
I don't do deference. The Thatcher years are a scar across my consciousness, still livid after all these years. What happened to Scotland, the north of England, Wales, Northern Ireland, inner London, the coalfield communities, the burning of our North Sea oil revenues in mass unemployment pay, the dead laid on trolleys in filthy hospitals, two recessions, division, racism, greed, the Belgrano... it's all too much.
And it came flooding back as Dale tried to rewrite her history. Matthew Parris, the former Tory MP and Thatcher apparatchik-turned broadcaster and exquisite writer, made a more measured appraisal of those locust years. He called them merciless and cruel while opining that they probably needed to happen. But what surprised me was the number of Scots who called or wrote in to the show singing the old bat's praises.
What kind of Scots are these? Hardly anybody votes Tory in Scotland - the land of the Poll Tax Guinea Pigs. When she came to power, we had car, bus, truck, tractor, steel and aluminium industries. We had shipbuilding, coal mines and factories employing thousands of well-organised, highly paid industrial workers. Our universities were free, students even got grants. If you're writing a Letter to America, you can tell them all of that is gone. As an example of false consciousness, there is nothing like Rab C Nesbitt in his string vest, living in a post-industrial wasteland, standing up for people who would pass him by on the other side of the road for fear they might catch something.
But the clash between me and Dale told me, and I hope those listening, something else. The fake "modernism", indeed "moderation", of the New Cameron Tories is a mask behind which lies the familiar ugly face of Thatcher and her ilk. If or, as seems likely, when they get back in, be afraid. This country will be back to the Eighties. And a terrible day will have dawned.
LESSON FOR OUR POLITICIANS FROM HAVE-A-GO HERO FIREFIGHTER
May 11, 2009
FiREMAN Raymond Forsyth was the Record's Hero at a glittering awards ceremony last week. The Peterhead man "had a go" not in defence of his own property, but of someone else's. So badly beaten he was told he'd probably never work again, within six months Raymond had rebuilt his strength and has returned to service. As a contrast with some other, er, public servants recently, it's a salutary example. But, in fact, it's what firefighters do every day.
If "market forces" really was "as good as it gets" then the fire crews would bargain with you on the pavement while all that was yours was about to go up in smoke inside. Trust me, they'd be considerably richer if they did. And if it really was "human nature" to be as selfish, "I'm all right Jack", as some MPs, no firefighter would ever risk his life to save anything of yours. The Record's Our Hero 2009 Fireman Raymond Forsyth, you are a credit to Scotland. And your spirit is what will save all humanity in the end.
Sell-out Labour's last post
May 11, 2009
Postmen don't like Pat McFadden, the former communist turned Blairite Industry Minister, and it's not hard to see why. Facing absolute defeat at the hands of nearly 150 Labour rebels, or, worse, relying on David Cameron's Tories for a majority, McFadden, merely the butler in this, and his lordship Peter Mandelson seem determined to privatise the Royal Mail.
Along comes Compass, a centre-left think tank, and points a way forward whereby the Royal Mail can remain public while allowing it to borrow in the market (a bit like Network Rail) and the crisis seems over. No way, says his lordship and Scotsman Pat has to fall into line. It's private or nothing. Or rather, it's Labour MPs vote for privatisation or we'll privatise it using Tory votes. In one way, that would be a fittingly ignominious end to the New Labour era. In another, it would be another theft from the public purse.
Do you remember when the taxpayer owned 50 per cent of BP? Just in the past 12 months, that share would have netted us all a £10billion dividend. The Post Office is profitable. If the Government would make more use of it, it could be more profitable still. We don't want it sold off, at the bottom of the market, for reasons of dogma. This is one privatisation which must be returned to sender.
Fighting Gurkhas was bound to end in defeat
May 11, 2009
When the Daily Telegraph - a right-wing London paper owned by two reclusive feudal lords who live on a Channel island they own and pay few British taxes - told the world that Gordon Brown had paid his brother more than £6000 for "cleaning services", they knew that to be untrue.
They were in possession of the contract between Messrs Brown and their cleaner - making the Browns virtually the only people in London with a cleaner with a contract - which made clear that the PM was paying his brother merely his share of the cleaning bill for their respective London flats.Their attempt thus, to paint the Prime Minister as the kind of chiselling crook that, say, the Telegraph's last owner Lord Conrad Black was (he's banged up in a US penitentiary), has been successful in the short term.
Flashman Cameron, the public school bully, and his sidekick Gideon Osborne (his real name) have taken to calling the PM stupid, while their house journal the Telegraph calls him venal. Gordon Brown is the cleverest man I know and the most punctiliously correct, too. To see him brought low by sleazy right-wingers is difficult to bear. Not least because this is the crew who will soon be running things. Equally, when the same newspaper told us my former star employee Phil Woolas, the Immigration Minister, had claimed from the taxpayer the costs of tampons, nappies and women's clothing, they must have known this was untrue also.
They had a receipt which included those things (purchased from a thief) but Woolas claimed for other items on that receipt. He knew that there are things even the House of Commons won't wear. But not many. Hanging baskets, mock Tudor beams, dry-rot on seaside houses hundreds of miles from Westminster or constituency, silk cushions, serial abuse of plasma TVs, private security patrols, plugs, porn films, stamp duty... and that's just Mr Brown's A-team! Wait until they get to the back benches. It's obvious that New Labour have forfeited the public's trust on a scale at least equal to that suffered by John Major. They'll be lucky to escape with the kind of landslide defeat inflicted by Blair on Major.
It is possible that the defeat could be of Thirties proportions, with Labour destroyed for a generation - that's 30 years for those Labour MPs whose maths doesn't stretch much beyond the John Lewis checkout. It's not just this damned thing. As SuperMac Harold Macmillan put it, it's one damned thing after another. The Gurkhas, the YouTube debacle, the abandonment of the halving of child poverty pledge, the widest income differentials since the Sixties - and that was just last week's news. Harold Macmillan said that there were three institutions with whom no sensible statesman would tangle: the Roman Catholic Church, the Brigade of Guards, and the National Union of Mineworkers.
The miners are gone, but they may well have been replaced by the more fragrant Joanna Lumley. And the Brigade of Guards by the Regiment of Gurkhas. Which fool "didnae ken" that taking on the Gurkhas was a kamikaze mission? Was it Woolas, whose calvary in the BBC forced him to nod vigorously to each of Joanna's assertions? He looked like he'd sooner have appeared on the news in the aforementioned nappies and ladies' clothing.
Or was it Alistair Darling, the unexpectedly adroit property magnate, who, whatever else happens in the recession, is certainly going to come out well ahead on a personal level? Was it Jacqui Smith? And has there been, since Caligula appointed his horse a proconsul of Rome, a worse pick for a post than she as Home Secretary? But which ass appointed her? Why, the same one who first sacked Margaret Beckett, only to bring her back. Who endured a decade of being smeared by Lord Mandelson and then made him de facto deputy Prime Minister.
Who fiddled while subordinates burned his party's remaining credibility in a bonfire of past principles. Stand up Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the cleverest fool in Christendom.
Coffey's blind ignorance
May 18, 2009
WITH the economy collapsing around our ears, you'd have thought the Chancellor's parliamentary private secretary, and long-time amanuensis, Ann Coffey MP would be a busy wee bee. Instead, she's just a hard-faced besom. Spotting a blind man with a guide dog speaking to me in the library corridor in Parliament last week, she cast aside the woes of the House of Ill Repute and marched right up to a police officer and ordered him to shoo us away on the grounds that the man I was talking to shouldn't have been there.
Maybe it was me she didn't like. Maybe him. Maybe she just doesn't like labradors. Whatever, the policeman who carried out her orders could only smile wanly when I said that he should have put this New Labour Rosa Klebb under arrest as an enemy of the people. Memo to Darling - you and your mates need to make friends and influence people. The man with the dog was a recently appointed lobby correspondent. With quite a bite.
It's a diversion
May 18, 2009
Mind you, there are still some who think all of this is a diversion. Somebody phoned Talksport on Friday night and said this whole brouhaha had been deliberately got up by the media to divert us from the real news - the marriage break-up of Jordan and Peter Andre. Well, it's worth a thought. Maybe Gordon Brown could run with it. It's got as much chance of saving him as anything else...
Speaker Michael Martin is on the way out
May 18, 2009
SPEAKER Michael Martin is another whose days, rather than weeks, are numbered and, in his case, it really is a pity. The former sheet metal worker, from Anderston, described by Billy Connolly as a "quiet little fishing village by the Clyde", the first Catholic Speaker since the Stuarts, was the pride and joy of people like me when he got the top job - more prestigious than almost any in the land.
But he's let us all down. When he should have stood up for MPs - when policemen were blundering around the House, arresting a Tory grandee not for receiving bungs or even expenses for his moat but for receiving leaks of Government policy - the Speaker was nowhere to be seen. The police didn't even bother to ask his permission and he didn't think to ask them if they had a warrant - they didn't. And when he should have stood up for the public interest in the expenses scandal, he reverted to shop steward of the Parliamentary club instead.
He has been unfairly traduced - about his background, accent and class. But he has proved to be not up to the job. And, alas, it's time for him to go.
Time for MPs to go
May 18, 2009
In fact, it's time for all of us to leave. The only possible solution to this, the greatest crisis in modern Parliamentary history, is to disolve this Parliament and elect a new one. Now. If no catharsis can be possible under Speaker Michael Martin - something a clear majority in the House now believes - then neither can this morally bankrupted Parliament, stinking in the ordure, command the confidence of the people to clear out the Augean Stables.
If Gordon Brown will not go to the palace to ask the Queen to disolve Parliament, then her majesty will have to go to him, and tell him, in the name of God, for all the good that you have been doing: "Go now."
Expenses scandal is a costly business
May 18, 2009
MPs who still don't get how much trouble they are in are still 10 a penny (on expenses). Take my old friend Shahid Malik, the Justice Minister. Rumbled by the newspapers as having claimed a nearly £800 "massage chair" and trying for a £2000 "home cinema system" he'd bought for his "second home" in London (he claimed, unwisely, that he spent "most of his time" in the mill-town of Dewsbury rather than London, where he is a Government Minister and where his wife lives), Malik came out fighting like the snooker-hall shark he is.
Drinking coffee from a St George's Cross mug, he took on Sky news, with disastrous results. And within the hour, he'd been ordered to step down from the Government. Decisive action by the Prime Minster, right enough, though Muslim Malik might well ask why he was ordered off while wee Hazel Blears (a hate figure among Muslims in Britain) surely guilty of much more serious offences, continues to sit in the Cabinet, albeit not on a massage chair.
Malik said he needed the chair because he has a bad back - that's true. In fact, he doesn't even have a backbone, as the following tale will show. You see, Shahid Malik was a really close friend of mine. We worked closely together, on the issue of Kashmir and Palestine. He even managed an Asian newspaper with me and his sister was its editor. He slept in my house, ate my wife's food, even stayed with her relatives in Jordan and Palestine. When my father died, Malik made a 400-mile round trip to attend his funeral. He even took a holiday with me, in Cuba.
We were both good-looking men - him more so than me - and we attracted lots of female attention. One woman I spent some time with - platonically, I should add - then miraculously turned up on the front page of the News of the World claiming I'd made love to her five times a night under the stars, said I had a "good body for my age" and was an all-round stud. It was a pack of lies, of course, especially the "good body" bit. I intended to sue (my then wife would accept nothing less) and naturally asked my pal, ex-minister Malik, to back me up.
He got his wee sister to phone me up to explain that he couldn't do so, couldn't get involved in a "sex scandal" etc. From that day to this, he hasn't been able to look me in the face, or exchange a simple good morning.
There is a hilarious postscript. Years later, during another stramash in the papers about me, the paper simply re-interviewed the same woman and put her on the front page again. This time, she explained that I had been accompanied in Cuba by a mysterious "Arab Prince", and God knows, she said, what we were always discussing all the time. Step forward Shahid Malik MP, for he was that "Arab Prince". Now you know why he likes to live like royalty.
And now, of course, he's in the middle of a scandal all of his own. As we say in Glasgow: "So sad, too bad, never mind."
Names up in fights
May 25, 2009
They have a habit of naming their airports after the famous, although I'm not sure Orange County's is best named after the dead, right-wing movie star John Wayne. But it's a great idea. New Orleans named its after Satchmo, aka Louis Armstrong, Washington has Ronald Reagan, although most of the overwhelmingly black locals would prefer to forget him. In Houston, it's George Bush, so why don't we do it in Scotland? Dull as dishwater Prestwick could be Rabbie Burns International, Aberdeen could not be anything other than Sir Alex Ferguson, Dundee could be William McGonagall, Edinburgh Shirr Shawn, but Glasgow would probably find an obscure cooncillor, although I'd go for Chic Murray. The great Arnold Brown could open it.
Golden legacy lives on
May 25, 2009
The richest little city in the richest part of the richest country on the planet is Irvine, California - pronounced Irr-vine. Any similarities with its namesake in Ayrshire are entirely coincidental. It has the lowest crime rate in the US and abuts Newport and Laguna beaches, which make Saint Tropez look like Rothesay.
Irvine is the result of a great immigrant story. James Irvine, surely of Scottish stock but implanted in County Down, set off with his brother for the New World when the potato famine decimated Ireland. He joined the Californian gold rush and, boy, did he make it big. He started a company, invested the profits in real estate and ended up owning a massive ranch after the Spanish left California. The rest, as we say, is solid-gold history.
Nowadays, by law, there must be a palm tree every few yards - at the insistence of Irvine's bequest - the 30,000-strong university community is housed in Beverly Hills-style condominiums on his gifted land, and the streets are full of tanned ladies who jangle their jewellery as they jog. The town is planned to manicured perfection, even the aircraft out of John Wayne have to turn the throttle down as they pass over for fear of disturbing the natives.
Of course, the real natives are stuck on a reservation somewhere drinking firewater - just like Rothesay! (Note to Irvine councillors: get twinned to Irvine, CA sharpish and tell them they can run aboot wi' ye until their money's done.)
Speaking out to aid my next Gaza aid venture
May 25, 2009
I'm writing this beside a pool in California. The palms are swaying in the background (unlike the palms firmly open in the parliament) on another gruelling - honest - speaking tour of the States, raising money and awareness for my next aid convoy to Gaza. I'm trying to huckle $10million and send more than 500 vehicles on Viva Palestina USA, but obviously they won't be traversing the thousands of miles of ocean intervening. They'll fly to Cairo on July 4, Independence Day, buy the vehicles and medical supplies there, then head for the Egyptian border with the Strip.
On Sunday it was an audience of more than 1000 in Houston, on Monday it was 108 degrees in Phoenix. I've been in New Orleans and through Orange County airport so often that the staff think I'm one of them. I had a stop-over in Salt Lake City, home of the Osmonds, multiple marriages and all sorts of religious mumbojumbo, but taking off from there and viewing the Great Lake stretch out below like a snowfield in summer was amazing. The inhabitants of the place are not without a sense of humour and irony either.
I spotted - although of course never touched - one of the premium local brews. It's called Polygamy Porter.
Looks like the game's a bogey for politicians
May 25, 2009
In the space of just six months our financial and political systems have been brought to the point of collapse. Neither Old Moore's Almanack nor Nostradamus predicted such a meltdown. If Gypsy Rose Lee, on the Saltcoats pier, had told us our top bankers and leading parliamentarians would be now one step ahead of the prosecutors, her crystal ball would have cracked.
As I predicted last week - to derision in some quarters - Speaker Michael Martin had only days left in his tights and buckled shoes. Tory grandees are pulling up their drawbridges over their pristine moats and announcing their departure from the political scene to the boardrooms of failed banks and building societies. Ministers have fallen, members of the Cabinet cling on by their varnished fingernails, their grip on power about to be prised from their grasp. Two-thirds of the population demand an early election and that, too, will come to pass.
The New Labour project, once adorned with whistles and bells, is now a belching Trabant, limping to the breakers' yard. Buck-toothed Esther Rantzen is getting her dentures out of the Steradent and Martin Bell is getting his white suit out of the cleaners and proferring their 'clean hands' to a nation they hope will respond. Between now and the election, all manner of white knights will canter forth bearing banners displaying anything other than politics. It's the best of times and the worst of times. The political class as we have known it for 100 years is on the eve of destruction. There is no guarantee, however, that what comes next will be better.
Non-political MPs is a contradiction in terms. On questions on tax and spend, war and peace, public versus private, there is a left way and a wrong way. Clean hands MPs would soon have to get dirty one way or the other - that's life. And, although damaged, David Cameron's Etonian brigade are still marching towards a big victory. While Gordon Brown looks like a half-kippered bloater on the slab, his mouth opening and closing but nothing coming out, Cameron is consistently finding the tone which belies his own deep implication in the expenses scandal.
A Tory victory will likely break up the country, faced with half a generation of right-wing rule or independence many Scots voters will opt for Brigadoon. Shorn of its 50-plus MPs Labour may never govern in London again. All bets are off. The 'ba's on the slates, the gemme may well be a bogey.
JOHNSON WINS WAR OF WORDS ON EXPENSES
Jun 1, 2009
One of the things I like about the next Labour leader (though God knows what there will be left to lead), Alan Johnson, is his background story. He was an orphan boy brought up by his teenage sister, he was a mod who rode a scooter and wanted to be Paul Weller (didn't we all) and grew up to be a postie.
Another is his way with words, which the educated fool Gordon Brown couldn't even dream of matching. Johnson called David Cameron and Nick Clegg the "self-Righteous Brothers" (note to younger readers: The Righteous Brothers were a popular music combo of the mid Sixties) with regard to expenses. He couldn't believe the easy ride the media have given both in relation to their plum properties. And neither can I. Cameron's situation, however, may be beginning to curdle.
It turns out the millionaire old Etonian and his even richer wife borrowed £350,000 for a taxpayer funded mortgage on their constituency pile then promptly paid off in cash the loan on their London home. This breathtaking insouciance of the super-rich - another in that frame is Labour minister (ex-Tory) Shaun Woodward, who owns EIGHT houses and employs a butler, yet charges you for the mortgage on a London riverside luxury flat - is one of the hallmarks of this whole affair.
While Brown was still fumbling for such whizzing wheezes as a "code of conduct" for MPs - talk about fiddling while Rome burns - Johnson raised the only thing which can save us from an old Etonian landslide at the next election: proportional representation. There is no Tory majority in Britain. Even Mrs Thatcher in her pomp never got near one. Only our grotesquely unfair voting system ever gave her a majority in Parliament.
If all votes in Britain counted equally, then the centre left would always rule - and I'd be leading a group of half a dozen MPs. If New Labour hubris hadn't intervened after Tony Blair's landslide victory in 1997, then the plans for reform of my Glasgow Hillhead predecessor Roy Jenkins would have been in long ago and a dictatorship of public school Flashmans would not be on the horizon. It's not too late.
Let the Government put a comprehensive constitutional reform package through Parliament double quick and put it to the country in an autumn referendum. Such haste would be extraordinary. But these are extraordinary times - Parliament will be stormed by an angry populace if this goes on much longer. Let's sweep away the Lords as we know them, change the voting system, scrap the system of expenses and allowances, sweep Parliament of the detritus and the ridiculous. It would feel like a revolution, and so it should. There are decades when nothing happens in history. But there are weeks when decades happen.
Jun 1, 2009
Nae luck Susan darling, thon dancers couldnae get a gig at the Edinburgh Festival if ye ask me. You, oan the ither haun, will sweep the boards. Your albums will sell in their millions, Carnegie Hall awaits. You're the Edith Piaf de nos jours. As they say in Blackburn.
NO VICTORY FOR BROWN
Jun 1, 2009
Evidence that Gordon Brown has no political pulse is not hard to find. The sight of President Obama and President Sarkozy on the Normandy beaches this week will quicken his downfall. These heads of state will be commemorating the D-Day 65th anniversary . Ours will be at home with her corgis.
The British Government decided not to celebrate one of the most decisive days in our history, preferring to wait until the 70th, when all the survivors will likely be dead. I'm sponsoring two veterans - among the 800 or so who will be travelling at the expense of the great British public, the public purse having been exhausted in John Lewis - and for them it could be their last such sojourn. For Brown - who thought it was a good idea for him to go instead of the Queen - having just been ravaged in the elections, it truly will be the Longest Day.
Homing in on the real scandal about MPs
Jun 1, 2009
My expenses are zero. I have no second home, I have never bought a bean from the "John Lewis List", which I didn't know existed and I don't claim a penny in travel expenses. Not because I'm a monk, but because I'm an inner-London MP and would have had to move to outer London in order to qualify for the lucrative second-home allowance (though some MPs appear to have done just that). And though I could claim about £25 a day in mileage allowance or taxi fares, my time is more valuable to me than to spend it filling out the claim form. By working hard and having marketable media talents, I earn enough elsewhere to compensate.
MPs in Scottish constituencies have to have two homes and inevitably run up a fortune running up and down to London. Any criticism of expenses which deals only with the quantum, therefore, is absurd. Some of the things which found their way into MPs' expense claims are clearly ridiculous and I can only wonder at the incompetence of the likes of Charles Kennedy, who claimed for mints and teddy bears.
I know Charlie liked a drink, but the taxpayer clearly should not have been paying to freshen his breath. Though that claim was clearly an error, others smell of rancid calculation. The clearing of moats, the planting of trees and the floating of duck ponds by Tory Toffs on country estates, the scattering of KeithVaz's silk cushions, hanging of Margaret Beckett's flower baskets and erection of John Prescott's beams (mock Tudor don't you know, not chipolatas) are just larceny of the public purse.
But much more serious is the profiting in property appreciation at the public's expense and the flipping of "second home" designations to maximise it. One Scots Tory besom - Eleanor Laing, MP for Epping Forest, where once Churchill sat - made a £1million profit from the sale of her central London property. The taxpayer paid the mortgage because she told Parliament it was her "second home". But she avoided paying £180,000 capital gains tax on the sale because she told the taxman it was her "principal residence". If that's not a crime then there really is one law for the rich in Britain and one for the poor.'Charlie liked a drink but the taxpayer clearly should not have been paying to freshen his breath'
Government's rock is crumbling before our very eyes
Jun 4, 2009
RODIN'S The Thinker has nothing on Gordon Brown. A brain the size of Hampden Park, grim, brooding, full of oreboding - he's like a character out of Shakespeare. Except no one could have written a tragedy like this. Since his teens, he spent every day planning to be PM. Every step he took had that in mind. Today, the dream has turned to ashes in his mouth and the fire will consume his premiership as electoral disaster spreads.
Brown has surely led his party to the deepest pit since the betrayal of 1931, when leader Ramsay MacDonald left to form a coalition with the Tories and saw Labour lose hundreds of seats, wrecked for a generation. For Brown - the swashbuckling student rector of Edinburgh University, the young Lochinvar editor of the Red Paper on Scotland, the destroyer of Thatcherite ministers from the opposition despatch box, the brilliant chancellor delivering prudent budgets, and finally the unchallenged king of New Labour - in the summer of 2007, it
was 10 Downing Street at last.
Brown - whom I've known for over 30 years - is not as Alistair Campbell called
him "psychologically flawed". But he has a character flaw running through him like the motif in Edinburgh rock. Break open all the major events and you will find it. It's indecision. It's no accident that he took up with his next chancellor, for Gordon Brown has never had any Balls of his own. When that mighty oak John Smith fell in 1994, the Labour leadership was Gordon's for the taking. I won £100 from Gorbals boy Jimmy Wray by betting Gordon would quit the contest.
When Tony Blair subsequently made that Granita restaurant promise to leave halfway through the second term to let Gordon in the side door, Brown failed to make him stick to it. When Blair needed Brown to get him through the sticky 2005 election, Gordon was again on a promise. Which was broken, again. Brown sulked and slammed the Downing Street doors, but he never had the guts to do any more.
He twice had the opportunity to force Blair out. Over student tuition fees and even more so after the strange death of Dr David Kelly, there was a majority in the House of Commons for a change of PM. Gordon marched his men - among whom I was then one - to the top of the hill. Then he marched them down again. In Downing Street, he was no different. Surfing the floods of 2007, slaying sick cows in the foot-and-mouth crisis and promising the faithful that their sacred relics would be cherished, he arrived at the Labour conference in Bournemouth that autumn like a colossus. There was an election in the wind. Treasurer Jack Dromey announced the party's finances were "election ready" .Even Mrs Brown thought the battle had commenced. But "Backdown Brown" again shirked the tackle.
Edinburgh Rock, though it looks like rock and is called rock, is in fact a soft confection which crumbles easily and melts away. That's what's happening with Gordon Brown's premiership. It's crumbling and melting away. And it will likely all be finished by next week.
It's time we cleaned up House of ill repute
Jun 4, 2009
I'll be in the House on Wednesday hoping to speak - if I can catch the Speaker's eye - what are my chances? I'm supporting the Nationalist motion for a general election now. I believe the current parliament is utterly bereft of credibility.
Virtually to a man and woman, it gave a standing ovation to the war criminal Tony Blair - whose expenses claims have mysteriously been shredded - and literally hundreds of its members have been looting John Lewis at the public's expense. It is a parliament of poodles with pagers and follow the leader politics - until the leader looks like losing them their seats, at which point they knife him in the back.
I've been in some rum company in my time, but never so insalubrious as the current membership of the House of ill repute. You'll remember the current speaker threw me out of the chamber for calling into question the integrity of some of the "honourable" members. Although suspended for 17 days, I lost three months' wages because of the way the calendar cookie crumbled. The Speaker was no MPs' shop steward then, at least not for me.
At the time, I said being lectured on ethics by that scurvy crew was like being told to sit up straight by the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Little did I know that it was worse, much worse, than that. Still, at least I currently enjoy the comfort of being several thousand miles away from the den of iniquity.
I flew into Chicago's windy city yesterday and then to LA this morning. I hope to have lunch today with Warren Beatty, the first star of the silver screen I ever watched in an X-certificate film, Bonnie and Clyde. My date was the only blonde I ever took out, Lynda Justice. I've been in love with Justice ever since.With a bit of luck our VivaPalestina-US convoy to Gaza on July 4 will be headed up by famous personalities. Danny Glover, Sean Penn, Beatty, even Angelina Jolie have been asked to join the desert road from Cairo - where Barack Obama took the Arab world by storm last week- to the besieged Palestinian entity.
The time is ripe for a change. The Americans elected a man with the middle name Hussein, the Israelis elected a gruesome pair of killers, Netanyahu and Lieberman. The whole world knows that without a solution to the Palestine issue, the radicalisation of Muslims and the destabilising of the world will continue apace. The last US leader had the alibi he was stupid. The current professorial president has no such excuse. It's got to be change we can believe in; but can we do it?Yes we can.
Labour pain needs to end
Jun 8, 2009
Dillinger's gang were a lot more loyal than Gordon Brown's, that's for sure. No moll would have dreamt of the kind of treachery displayed by chipmunk Blears and hard-faced Flint and wouldn't have got a tribute letter in return for their selling him out to the posse on his tail.
As will be known, I am sad for how it's all turned out for Big Gordie, though only in the way one could feel a momentary stab of poignancy at Hoover getting his man in the FBI versus Dillinger. In the end you knew it had to happen. Brown has led his people to disaster. It was always doomed to end this way. It was an un-natural thing, this New Labour". It would have been better if it had been strangled at birth.
It is now being shot the back by those who supported it every inch of the way through the killing fields and who were accomplices to the murder of the Labour Party we used to have. The Blairites versus the Brownites? As Henry Kissinger might put it ... it's a pity both can't lose. I will write a book this summer called "Hard Labour".
It tells the story of my 36 years in the party of Keir Hardie, Nye Bevan, Ernie Bevin, Jim Callaghan, Michael Foot and John Smith. Of how that party was hijacked and has been driven distraction. And of what needs to rise like a phoenix from its ashes. Readers interested should write to me at email@example.com.It will be worth the trouble.
Banking on a gangster
Jun 8, 2009
When Bonnie and Clyde murdered their way through America's south and mid-west in 1933 and 1934, a much more important and somewhat classier robber emerged from nowhere as king of the criminal heap. John Dillinger, currently played by Johnny Depp in Public Enemies, spent most of his life in prison, yet blazed like a comet across the skies of gloomy, Depression-stricken America in a little more than a year of sticking-up the then hated US banks.
Millions were unemployed, and blamed bankers for re-possessing their homes and losing their assets in failed businesses. Somehow, the bankers always kept their own nests wellfeathered. sir. money one caught his his shot movie down where - killed So when Dillinger leaped over the counter toting asub-machine-gun, saying: "This is a bank robbery. or hold the Everybody keep calm and no one get hurt", much of disinherited America cheered.
It helped that he good-looking, neither he nor Barrow were in Beatty-Depp and Bonnie was more Blears than Dunaway. And that he could play Robin Hood. "Keep your money, It's the bank's I want," he told terrified customer up in one of increasingly bloody raids. And that he went to grave - he was dead outside a theatre just the road from I am in Chicago denying he had ever a man.
Banks being more less impossible to up nowadays, public has no chance to vicariously enjoy their discomfiture. But most people think bankers are bigger robbers than John Dillinger, and that the real villains nowadays don't rob banks - they open them.
I'm still crying for JFK
Jun 15, 2009
I was playing "headers" with a tanner ba' in the dimly lit streets of a council housing estate in Dundee when my father - on his way to his darts match - told me that President Kennedy had been assassinated. I burst into tears. While others sang or danced for their party pieces, I recited chunks of the slain president's speeches. I was nine years old.
Finally, I am today in Dallas, Texas, where the terrible crime was committed. His killers hated Kennedy for what he was - a Catholic - or what he did - black emancipation or tackling the Mob, for example - or what he wouldn't do - invade Cuba or wage full-scale war in Vietnam. All these 46 years later, amazingly I still feel upset about it.
You can count on the fact election was fair
Jun 15, 2009
There are grounds for being surprised at the result of the Iranian election. Even grounds for being disappointed. But there are absolutely no grounds for the cats' chorus of criticism and allegations now emanating from some quarters after the cookie crumbled the wrong way.
I have been more closely interested than normal in this poll. I present two weekly shows for Iranian-owned Press TV. As such, I know that, uniquely for a developing country, the Iranian broadcast media went to extraordinary lengths to be fair to all four presidential candidates. More than 85 per cent of the electors turned out to vote - compared with 35 per cent in our own elections recently. That's nearly 40million Xs on ballot papers.
This massive exercise took place without trouble of any kind - the polling stations were kept open longer than required to facilitate the huge lines of people outside. Indeed, that's one of the reasons I discount the opposition complaints. When a candidate is reduced to protesting that too MANY people were allowed to vote, you know he's in trouble. The counting, too, was awesome. And, by the way, there were observers from all four camps present throughout these stages.
Although the western media largely did the usual thing - not straying far from their five-star hotels, talking to those who would happily talk to them and especially if they spoke English - it's clear they mistook the plusher parts of the capital for the country at large. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad commands the loyalty of the poor, the working class and the rural voters whose development he has championed. He lives like them, looks like them - he's never worn a suit since becoming president - and there's more of them than the English speaking more liberal elites now on the streets demonstrating. It will soon fizzle out.
This election almost mirrors the class composition of the recent polls in Venezuela. President Hugo Chavez has exactly the same friends in his country. And the same enemies. I've said many times that Ahmadinejad's comments about the Holocaust are a disgrace. His rhetoric can be ugly and he does not play well in Peoria, the mid-west weather vane here in the US where I am at present. But he is the president of an important country and we'll just have to accept it.
Jun 15, 2009
We have just, of course, elected a couple of Holocaust deniers ourselves. One of the two BNP members of the European Parliament, Andrew Brons, actually has a criminal conviction for incitement - chanting "Death to the Jews". The BNP - whose supporters deluged my radio show at the weekend, at least 50 of them from the environs of Glasgow, alas - come from a long line of Hitler-loving creeps.
Brons was a founding member of the National Socialist Movement - whose most solemn event was the commemoration of the furher's birthday. One million Britons freely voted for Hitler this month. That makes me feel ashamed of my country.
Jordan proves west is not always best
Jun 15, 2009
For reasons too bizarre to explain, I ended up watching Katie And Peter: Stateside on TV at the weekend. Until then, I had no view on their marriage break-up. But I'm in no doubt who's the guilty party now. Peter, an apparently loving father to their children and to Jordan's profoundly damaged child from footballer Dwight Yorke, is the most put-upon victim of spousal abuse I have seen - certainly on TV.
This woman - who is apparently a role-model for many of today's young women - is simply awful. I mention it because all the regular stereotyping about "respect for women" is being dragged out in the furore over Iran's elections. The west respects women we are told, while Islam does not. Well, I drove in central London yesterday past a topless bar, where I have no doubt young women were dispensing bevvy to beery men with it all hanging out. Though impractical, perhaps some of them had jugs like Jordan. The sexualisation of women in the west, the reduction of young women, in particular, to objects to be leered at is among the least attractive of western attractions.
Show respect and reshuffle voting systems
Jun 15, 2009
We have to accept Ahmadinejad's re-election, not least because all our best friends in that region don't have any elections at all. It seems that some western governments are all for democracy unless a) it might produce the wrong result or b) it already has done so.
The people of Gaza - for whose relief I am again in the United States fundraising - are being starved precisely because they voted the wrong way. Hugo Chavez, with whom I hope to organise my next Gaza convoy - has won more elections than any leader in world history, yet some still call him a dictator.
Despite my presence in the voting lobbies last week, we, too, are to be denied an election which would be neither free nor fair in any case. When it comes, the parties will have neither the same amounts to spend nor will they get a fair crack of the whip in the media. Although my party, Respect, will field 50 to 60 candidates, we will be roundly ignored by the mainstream media. And you'll only hear about my own contest if I lose.
Above all, when those British people who do turn out actually vote, their votes will be meaningless in the vast majority of cases because of our totally unfair voting system.
Let's get our facts straight
Jun 22, 2009
Here is the declaration of interest to start. I host a weekly programme on Press TV which is Iranian-owned. I just wish people like John Simpson would admit that the BBC - that's the Bush and Blair Corporation - has an agenda in its coverage of Iran, which is vehemently antigovernment. Poor old John looks a shadow - OK, a pretty substantial shadow - of his former confident and incisive self, falling over his words as he hams a take into a blurry digicam from a toilet in Tehran, or wherever he sends these faltering reports from.
Can we just look at the facts here, which sadly get in the way of a good story? We do not have one iota of evidence that the Iranian election was fiddled. Until we do, we should respect the result. As we should the rights of the Tehran protesters to demonstrate peacefully on the streets without being shot or beaten up by government militias or soldiers.
It's plane simple
Jun 22, 2009
It's not often the advert lives up to the reality, but with Virgin Atlantic it does. Or it did for me. I've always tried to give BA my custom because we owned them, they were unionised and they looked after their employees. Now they want staff to work for nothing, they're expensive and their service is appalling. Contrast this with Virgin. I turned up yesterday late for a trans-Atlantic flight after a mix-up in my arrangements. The flight, having been booked an hour before, about the only thing I had with me was a passport. But the staff couldn't have treated me any better if I'd been Richard Branson, and smoothed everything out. It's the 25th anniversary of Virgin Atlantic today. This is an unashamed plug. They deserve it.
A good sport?
Jun 22, 2009
My old adversary Ben Bradshaw, who was forced to apologise in the House for smearing me, is the new sports minister. God help athletes all. He voted for introducing identity cards, foundation hospitals, for the war in Iraq and against any investigation into it, for student top-up fees and the multi-billion pound replacement of Trident. I can't trace any prior interest in sport, although he lists a principal interest as hiking. But he does have one of the more embarrassing parliamentary expense claims, £3.25 for a gay lifestyle magazine.
I don't suppose wee Douglas Alexander, brother of my former employee Wendy, has a subscription to Playboy - well, he's not claiming for one! He, too, has a face-reddening charge on the public purse - £9.20 for latex gloves. That's one to get to the bottom of! Eric Joyce, the odious squirt representing Falkirk, claimed £180 for some paintings, eight grand he had paid to a close pal for consultancy work, but apparently failed to pay the £40K of capital gains he made on the sale of a Croydon home. He was one of the principal Government lickspittles brought on to Newsnight to justify war and pestilence worldwide, so it was good to see him skewered on Newsnicht midweek by Gordon Brewer. Taxi for Joyce, but forget the exes chit.
Nats real winners in devolution probe
Jun 22, 2009
The Calman Commission on Scottish Devolution delivered its report and, while it will never be implemented, it may well be the starting point for negotiations between Alex Salmond and an incoming Conservative government. David Cameron will be under pressure from his backwoodsmen over the West Lothian Question and to curb spending in Scotland by abolishing the Barnett formula, reducing the number of Scots MPs (not before time) and giving Holyrood full or partial tax autonomy. After all, he'll have the Labour-inspired Calman conclusions to back him.
It will be another triumph for the contestants who were not even competing, the Nats. I wonder if this is what dear Donald Dewar envisaged when he set this avalanche off. There's nothing wrong with a federal solution to constitutional demands. There are varieties of it which work successfully throughout the world. But this is another major own goal for New Labour. Calman has only fed the appetite for further concessions. The simple answer is a referendum, as soon as it can be organised, on independence. That is the last thing Salmond, smirking behind his fingers, wants.
Lex Gold must pay the penalty for football fiasco
Jun 22, 2009
BY the end of today, it looks as if the Setanta TV fiasco will finally have reached its conclusion and several SPL clubs may have to crawl abjectly to their bank managers, promote the ball boys to the first team or turn their pitches into allotments. It's easy to have 20-20 vision after the event, but three clubs, Rangers, Celtic and Aberdeen, did have sufficient fears about the shaky challenger to Sky to vote for selling the rights to the well-established broadcaster.
They haven't yet said "I told you so" but you can bet that behind the scenes they will be polishing the lino to hasten the exit of SPL chairman Lex Gold, above. He's the man who essentially brokered the new deal. Pumped up and clucking, this is what he said at the time: "Today, as we look ahead to our next 10 years, we can do so with confidence." He added that "the biggest deal" in Scottish football history would allow clubs to re-invest to "make the Scottish game even stronger". He and the nine numpties will argue that they could not possibly have predicted the collapse of Setanta.
But did Gold or any of them even pick up the phone to their colleagues south of the Border and ask them about the legal firewall they had put around their deal? Clearly not. Because my information is that the English Premier League, worried about the financial stability of Setanta, insisted on parent company guarantees, clauses in the contract that would obligate the major backers - such as Goldman Sachs and Doughty Hanson - to pay up what was due if the TV company folded. Which was one of the reasons that they could hang so tough in their negotiations, unlike the SPL. The main reason, of course, is confidence that they can quickly sell on the rights, again unlike the SPL.
For the sake of Scottish football, I hope something can be salvaged from the ashes, but Gold should go, and go today.'Did Lex Gold or any of them pick up the phone to their colleagues south of the Border and ask about the legal firewall they had around their deal?'
THE FEEL HIGH CLUB
Jun 29, 2009
I've discovered the answer to jet-lag. If you keep criss-crossing the Atlantic your body goes into a deeply-settled state of tranquility. Or perhaps it's befuddlement. I'm back in Springsteen's back yard for the final preparations for the US convoy to Gaza which sets out this Saturday, American Independence Day. My co-leader is Ron Kovic, the Vietnam veteran played by Tom Cruise in the movie of his life, Born On The Fourth of July. We'll be taking the plane, hundreds of US citizens and millions of dollars to Cairo on Saturday, to buy vehicles, stock them with humanitarian aid and deliver it to the beleaguered citizens of the benighted Gaza Strip. My next column will update you.
BEEB'S FREE FOR ALL
Jun 29, 2009
Four years ago, I appeared at Glastonbury ... and I still have the commemorative green wellies somewhere in a cupboard. Although it was at one of the smaller venues - in a large marquee and the audience looked like one of those mythical tribes anthropologists uncover, the mud people of Borneo probably - it was one of the more interesting experiences of my speechifying career.
I can't claim to have camped out. In fact, I stayed in an exceptional bed and breakfast place off-site, more a set from To The Manor Born than B& B, and each day turned up to wade through the slurry and trip over TV cables and little-known BBC 'talent'. I had one of those access-all-areas passes which allowed me to mingle with the famous beat combos, models, groupies and drug dealers, and knock on the doors and windows of their Winnebagos in passing. Kate Moss was particularly unappreciative.
But every second person in the hospitality tents seemed to be a producer from the Beeb. So I wasn't really surprised to learn that this year Auntie has sent more than 400 people, just slightly less than covered the Olympics, and block-booked hotels within a 10-mile radius of the festival site for the staff and freeloaders, aka BBC executives on lavish expenses.
I watched some of this year's coverage - wasn't The Boss brilliant? - and I'm not against part of my licence fee paying for it. But 27 television and radio presenters, presided over by a witless Jo Whiley, Mark Radcliffe, who looks and acts like the embarrassing dad trying to upstage their cool teenagers' party, and Edith Bowman, for whom silence would be her best attribute, were she just to embrace it. I want the acts, not the acolytes.
JIM, CALL THE REF
Jun 29, 2009
Jim Murphy is probably the best midfielder to grace the Commons football team and may turn out to be a monumental Scottish Secretary. He has the wit and eloquence that dour Des Browne so lacked and is a Technicolour contrast to the aptly-surnamed Gray chap who heads Scottish Labour.
Jim may not need my advice, but he's getting it. There are still unresolved issues about devolution, but they're minor ones. So kick Calman into the long grass and put the real debate about Scotland's future to the people. Let's have that referendum on Scottish independence - sooner rather than later. It's a win-win for Jim - the result would surely buoy him in his Tory-threatened seat - and for the Scottish people, whose decisive vote against would damn the Nats for a generation.
I'm not a traitor ..or a hypocrite
Jun 29, 2009
Without even trying to speak to me, a tiny, American owned Scottish Sunday newspaper brands me a "traitor" in a headline, which is manna for my libel lawyers salivating for a fresh kill. I'm accused of defending the Iran regime on my TV shows, while the truth is that I've been fiercely critical of the biased coverage of the recent election and aftermath. The BBC - the Bush and Blair Corporation, as I call it - and other broadcasters have constructed this false narrative that an evil dictatorship has rigged an election, going on to violently suppress resultant protest which foreign agents have provoked.
Here's the true story, which I stated on my show, The Real Deal. " Press TV (which broadcasts the show) is Iranian-owned but that doesn't influence my opinion, which is that until there is even a scintilla of evidence that the election was fiddled, we have to accept the verdict of the Iranian people, however much some of us might not like it." I deplore the brutality with which demonstrations have been put down, but still we're waiting on a scrap of proof that the election was stolen. A couple of weeks before the vote, a poll by the BBC and ABC predicted a two-to-one victory for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad over Mir Hossein Mousavi, which is much the way it turned out.
The official result is also similar to the split in the second round of the previous election, where Ahmadinejad took just over 61 per cent of the poll. Yes, the total number of voters increased in this one, but is that so unexpected given the unprecedented focus on its importance the election received? I don't think so. Even the head of the intelligence agency of Iran's most implacable enemy, Israel's Mossad, said there were no greater irregularities in the Iranian vote than in liberal democracies.
There have been 10 presidential elections in three decades in Iran, few if any in the surrounding Arab countries - excepting Palestine, a democratic result we don't recognise - and none whatever in Saudi Arabia where, if women could vote, they would have to do so with their faces shrouded and in the presence of their husbands. But of course Saudi Arabia hosts US bases, buys our armaments, accepts our bungs and does what our leaders demand. I was in Iran recently and it is at least semi-democratic, it is independent of outside influence and is rightly suspicious of the West.
It was Britain and the US, after all, who, in 1953, orchestrated the overthrow of the moderate and elected prime minister Mohammad Mossadegh after he nationalised the oil industry. Our intelligence agencies then eased-in one of the world's most brutal dictator, the Shah, and tens of thousands perished. Iran is loathed because it opposes the US military presence in the region and supports resistance to Israeli aggression. Iran has not attacked another country in its modern history, Israel never stops doing so and continues to occupy Lebanese, Syrian and Palestinian territory. The world frets over the Iran nuclear energy programme, while keeping mum about Israel's 200-plus rockets and nuclear warheads.
Most of the rest of the world outside Britain and the United States thinks this is rank, rotten hypocrisy.'The BBC and other broadcasters have constructed this false narrative that an evil dictatorship has rigged an election'
I solved a right royal pickle
Jul 6, 2009
The credit crunch has hit royalty, the Queen is on her uppers and unless we bale her out she could be a bag lady by her Diamond Jubilee year of 2012. I exaggerate only slightly. We pay her £41.5million a year for the royal household, but she's been having to dip into her reserves and she'll be flat broke in three years. This is bad news for the freeloading Prince Andy - that was him at Wimbledon the other day watching the other Andy - those £55,000 trips to the World Economic Forum to share his expertise are a thing of the past. But fear not, your Majesty, I have a solution. As it happens, your having to leave Buck House when it turns into luxury flats coincides with the vacancy of a perfect new spread. Following the 2012 Olympics all the royals can move to the east end, to the empty facility where there is ample opportunity for shooting and your equestrian pursuits.
The rabbi who's pro Palestine
Jul 6, 2009
Cairo, Sunday: They have seen nothing like it. People are open mouthed, as if they have wandered into a film set. And no wonder. Here's an Orthodox Jewish rabbi wandering through the streets, all beard and curls, head to toe in black, warmly greeting Arabs and pledging his commitment to a free and independent Palestine. People are looking around for the hidden cameras. But it's real and Rabbi Yisrael Dovid Weiss is the star of the show.
Think a younger, hairier Woody Allen, with the rat-a-tat New Yoik drawl and delivery and you've got it. He's an anti-Zionist Jew and he's here with the Viva Palestina convoy as we collect humanitarian goods and the vehicles to transport us to Gaza. He's going to be a riot in Gaza City. Zionism and Judaism are extreme opposites, says the rabbi, and quotes the Torah at length as to why it's expressly forbidden to expel Palestinians from their lands. Jews and Palestinians got along for hundreds of years together without human rights groups to protect them, he goes on, and can do so again, given the chance.
Rabbi Weiss is just the most colourful of the hundreds of US citizens who are on this convoy, and it's saying something to upstage my co-leader, Ron Kovic, played by Tom Cruise in the movie Born On The Fourth Of July. (Note to potential producers: the rabbi must play himself.) We left New York on July 4, Independence Day, and arrived in Cairo, nearly 300-strong, carrying millions of dollars to be spent in Cairo on aid for Gaza. We'll collect it all in the next couple of days and set out for the Rafah border where, we hope and believe, the blockade will be lifted to allow us to deliver the tons of medicines. We're blessed, of course, by the rabbi.
Taking the rules to task
Jul 6, 2009
More than one-in-three of my constituents in Bethnal Green and Bow are of Bangladeshi origin. Which is one reason why I'll be raising the issue of the Grameen Bank in parliament. The bank, which has no shareholders, takes no profits and relies on trust, was started in 1976 by Professor Muhammad Yunus in with a $27 loan. It makes small business loans to the poor in Bangladesh and other countries and it has helped raise people out of poverty. Professor Yunus rightly won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for his work.
Grameen wants to launch in Glasgow but the problem is that anyone who takes a business loan loses benefits. That's a nonsense which I'll be attempting to remedy.
Beeb pension disgrace
Jul 6, 2009
At least disgraced Sir Fred "The Shred" Goodwin was in the private sector when he trousered his mega-pension. The two biggest pensions in the public sector belong to two BBC grandees, and we don't yet know the full benefits of top man Mark Thompson. His deputy, Mark Byford, has an £8million pot, which is £230,000 a year. If he stays on until retiral in nine years, it'll be worth £10million. The intensely annoying and pretentious arts presenter Alan Yentob will be given £216,000 for the rest of his life. No wonder he can afford to stage lavish country house parties at his mock Tudor pile in Somerset. So will they, like Fred, give some of their pensions back to the licence-payer? Do me a favour.
The man who would be king is just a leech
Jul 6, 2009
Keep your friends close and your enemies closer is a well-known political maxim ... and that's one way of looking at Gordon Brown's reluctance to do anything against the man who is actively plotting to replace him. But only after Labour is flattened in the coming election, of course, and its tiny and demoralised rump is looking for a saviour. David Miliband sees himself as that man, able to raise the party from the dead, or reinvent it for the 21st century, in his description.
It is the reinventing of the party, by Blairites such as Miliband, which has brought Labour to its deathbed. When Blair took office in 1997, Labour had more than 400,000 members. Today, according to insiders, it's little more than 150,000. It's the economic policies, further enriching the richest at the expense of the poorest, and the catastrophic wars New Labour has led us into that have resulted in the arterial bleeding of a once-great and principled party.
Miliband is no tourniquet or transfusion, he's more of a leech.While he might be a media-friendly face, a brighter and younger Blair, he will do nothing to alter the disastrous course he has helped pilot. Two more British soldiers died in Afghanistan on Saturday, but he was more interested in discussing the trunks sported by the new head of MI6, Sir John Sawers. We cannot even get a Parliamentary debate about why we are in Afghanistan - and how we are going to get out - because Foreign Secretary Miliband and his cohorts won't allow it.
It's almost exactly a year since Miliband fired the first shot in his campaign, writing then that the party needed "renewed" and conspicuously and repeatedly failing to back Brown. And almost a month to the day since he welshed on his Cabinet colleague and amigo James Purnell by refusing to also resign from the Government. After all, being openly disloyal isn't the brightest career move. So, will Brown remove this turbulent Blairite priest? The Prime Minister's indecision is final. And fatal.
Can you hear the silence?
Jul 13, 2009
Shhh, can you hear the silence? Andy Coulson, the Tories' spin doctor, is keeping mum over what he knew and when over the phone-tapping which went on under his watch News of the World editor. But what we want to know, Andy, is whether it was custom and practice to bug the phones of celebrities and politicians when you were in charge? Are you a fool or a knave, Andy? Or both? Hopefully, the House of Commons inquiry into this will get to the bottom of the murk. My bet is that Coulson will not see out the summer in his post.
Sister cashes in on Jackson
Jul 13, 2009
Dead rock stars are always good business and Michael Jackson will be a mega-earner. His albums top the charts again, earning fortunes for record companies and everyone even tangentially connected to him is cashing in. Someone who may fall into that latter category is his elder sister LaToya - the least successful solo sibling - who claims that her brother was murdered by persons unknown. Known to her, of course, although she's unable to produce even a scintilla of evidence. Never mind. It may help resuscitate her dead record career.
LaToya has variously claimed, then denied, she was molested by her father as a child. And when her brother was accused of child abuse in 1993, she claimed she was forced to say the allegations were true. If the US police do get involved in this, it should be by charging LaToya with wasting their time.
Time to let Lennon legend be
Jul 13, 2009
Sadly, when it comes to legends, truth will out. So the Press and Journal did not actually report that an Aberdeen man had died in a boating accident involving the Titanic. But the paper did record the death of Charlie Chaplin with the headline that Nairn was his favourite holiday resort.
I was minded of this when I read that SNP culture minister Mike Russell was donating the profits of his photography exhibition to the upkeep of the John Lennon Memorial Garden in Durness. Lennon was taken on holiday - I imagine there was a degree of force involved - to the tiny village in the far north-west of Scotland between the ages of nine and 14. Russell has already written a book about this and he needs to be credited as the founder of the tiny Durness Lennon industry. I don't imagine the expo it will be wall-to-wall with visitors.
But if Mike could just persuade Sir Paul and Ringo to turn up... !
Race is a true Tour de force
Jul 13, 2009
About my only real experience of serious cycling involved climbing the Hilltown in Dundee on an old boneshaker. This does not, I concede, make me any kind of expert on the Tour de France. But I've been watching this week as 180 riders (and falling) battle near-vertical hills and endless miles at average speeds which exceed the legal limit for town driving. Of course, legality and the Tour are intertwined.
The last years have been plagued by drug exposures and enforced retirals. British rider Tom Simpson, stuffed with amphetamines, died on Mont Ventoux 42 years ago today and this sheer, 6000ft mountain will again be the challenge on the last proper day of racing a week on Friday. Allegations - never proved - have always swirled around seven-times winner Lance Armstrong, back this year after retiring from cycling four years ago.
Before this year's start, Armstong, 37, had been drug-tested 33 times in 11 months and that total has surely increased over the last days. He beat cancer to win. Can he beat the ticking of his internal clock to set what would be another record in a career littered with them? Probably not, but I'd recommend his autobiography, It's Not About The Bike, which documents his indomitability, conquering cancer then the toughest sporting event in the world.
Tune in to ITV4 at 7pm each day to watch this epic unfold. The programme is presented by the excellent Gary Imlach, who is also author of the book My Father And Other Working-Class Football Heroes. Stewart Imlach came from a Highland village and went on to win the FA Cup and play four times for Scotland in the 1958 World Cup - although the SFA refused to award him a cap because none of the games was against a home country.
Bring in helicopters.. to get our boys home
Jul 13, 2009
Apparently, it's a lack of helicopters, or perhaps soldiers, or again it could be that the vehicles are not sufficiently resilient. Sorry, but it's because our troops are there. Fifteen British soldiers' deaths in just over a week in Afghanistan isn't just a tragedy - it's a bloody disgrace. And will we have a parliamentary debate about it, about why we are there and what the end game is? We will not.
The political handling of this dirty war mirrors that of the previous one in Iraq. Gordon Brown claims this is a war that can be won - without defining what constitutes victory. Don't get me wrong, we do have legitimate, if limited, interests in the border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan - rooting out al-Qaeda elements nesting there. The ones responsible for sending the suicide bombers into my constituency on 7/7.
But our troops are dying in Afghanistan to prop up a corrupt government and to impose our brand of democracy. The Taliban are not trying to export their narrow Islamic politics to Britain. They want us out and it's clear that a critical part of the population does, too. I saw one report that more than 90 hidden improvised explosive devices had been defused over a couple of days by our sappers and it's roadside bombs like these that have claimed most of the lives. You don't plant these in broad daylight unless you have either an absent or colluding population. We've already lost the most important battle - for hearts and minds.
More helicopters by all means - as long as they're evacuating our boys from an unwinnable war.
United we stand for Braveheart Colin Hendry
Jul 20, 2009
A braveheart is something to be. On the football park, few deserved the accolade like Colin Hendry. How we remember his last-gasp-stopper performances in Scotland's colours, his blonde mane flying features set to do or die. The sight of the former national captain and his four children burying brave Mrs Hendry last week would have moved a heart of stone. How she suffered for the botched cosmetic surgery and how stoically the family bore the resultant tragedy. Stand up, Scotland: for one of our national heroes, his children and in memory of his departed wife.
I spy the real David Shayler
Jul 20, 2009
Dundee University have the dubious honour of having educated MI5 spy and whistleblower David Shayler. In the last decade, few rows have passed without new and more lurid allegations against the security services being made by Shayler. He's recently argued that senior Labour politicians were routinely bugged by his service. In the past, he told me I was a constant target.
I thought he was a blowhard and probably a fantasist, not so much a James Bond as an Austin Powers. But now that Special Agent Shayler is stepping out in high heels and animal print mini-skirts, wearing false breasts, calling himself Delores Kane and, confusingly, the son of God (daughter surely?), it's obvious he's just been undercover all these years. With spies like these, it's a wonder the Russians didn't turn up when they could have. They might have won.
Celtic should check for Dynamo's 12th man
Jul 20, 2009
I was brought up on the myth that the famous Moscow Dynamo had slipped a 12th man on to the pitch in the fog when taking on Rangers in the Fifties. My mentor, former Kilmarnock MP Willie McKelvey, once told a visiting phalanx of tough Soviet trade unionists the "joke" about this Russian perfidy and the frozen stares he got in return were a cold-war classic. Now they're coming back - to Celtic.
In fact, "the Russians are coming" has a quite different ring to it now as perusal of a book by an old mate of mine, Londongrad: From Russia With Cash - The Inside Story Of The Oligarchs (HarperCollins by Mark Hollingsworth and Stewart Lansley), reveals. Mark says much couldn't make it into the book, so aggressive are the oligarchs' legal eagles. What made it in is startling enough. The Russians are not just coming - they're taking over in London. So double-check the numbers, just the same, Celts.
If just one child is spared abuse, vetting is worth the hassle
Jul 20, 2009
It takes bravery to be Harriet Harman. A rosy-cheeked Miss Prim, she can appear like a school teacher circa 1958, lecturing us all on the latest political correctness. But even the stopped clock is right twice a day. On BBC's Any Questions - Radio 4's flagship (I know it's the flagship because I've only been invited on it once in 35 years of public life) - Harriet bravely defended the "barring and vetting" proposals of the Government to force all whose work brings them into contact with children to be positively vetted, certificated and relieved of £65 in the process.
All sorts of prima donnas I've never heard of are lining up, for example, to declare: "I will not pay to prove I'm not a paedophile... says children's author." And such headlines have put the Government behind the eight ball. Even though Lewis Carroll, a reverend to boot, only wrote about Alice because he was sexually obsessed by her.
The entire Any Questions panel took the easy populist line against the vetting plan and had already pocketed the cheap applause. Then came hockey-sticks Harriet. "This isn't about you," she said to the adults in the room. "This is about children who are abused and whose lives may be ruined as a result." "Just look at you," she as much as said, "puffing out your chests and standing on your dignity. Spare a thought for the mites who might be saved as a result of this vetting." It was one of the noblest New Labour flurries I can remember and, if I could have drawn my sword to defend her from the derision at that moment, I would have. But then I have an interest to declare which I never have before.
I was a victim of sexual abuse, at the age of 11, at the hands of a person in a position of trust. He was a school janitor. He didn't just strike against me and he should not have been employed in that capacity. If Harriet's plans had been in place then, he never would have been. I'm not saying the abuse has ruined my life or anything. I've had a happy life. But it did affect my life and not in a good way and neither in ways I care to rehearse before you.
Every time a Soham murderer or a Dunblane Thomas Hamilton emerges, I die a little inside as I remember that dirty old man driven by the same perverted interest in sexually attacking kids. I told no one, not even my wives, of what happened to me. All I feel is ashamed, though I was the child victim and he the aggressive predator. He must be dead now and past shame and in a spirit of forgiveness; I hope he's roasting in the hell-fires. I tell you now because it just might help Harriet Harman win the argument with the anti-PC brigade.
Read my lips: EVERY person whose work brings them into regular contact with children should be proven fit and proper to do so. It's not about you. If just one child is spared the horrors of sexual abuse by someone they had a reason to trust then it would be worth it. Trust me. I know. Everyone whose work brings them into regular contact with kids should be proven fit to do so
Celebrities snap in the face of cameras
Jul 27, 2009
Steven Gerrard had a moment with a local worthy in a Stockport boozer but left court last week without a stain on his character, which is more than can be said for his accuser. What a waste of public money that prosecution was. Ditto the ludicrous trial of Amy Winehouse. There were some on my radio show who looked for conspiracies in these famous aquittals but, in truth, when forced to look closely at some people's reaction to the presence of famous people in social, alcohol-fuelled situations, most jurors are sympathetic.
I don't go to bars and never drink and what happened to Gerrard and Winehouse would never happen to me. Though less famous than either of them, I am myself constantly asked to pose for pictures. Now that every mobile phone is a camera, that can become wearing, especially when you have so little time to spend with family and true friends and every stranger is an intrusion on that time. Add drink, light blue touch-paper and retire. Or rather explode. So if you see someone famous, smile sweetly and leave them alone.
Mankind still needs to reach for the stars
Jul 27, 2009
Forty years ago this weekend the first Moon-walkers came back to Earth, a date reached just as the most famous moonwalker - Michael Jackson - departs for the next life. It is an interesting reflection on fame that few of us would even recognise the men who performed that magnificent feat while the shuffling shoes of MJ are the most recognised steps in the world.
Some see the exploration of space as a cosmic waste of money. Not me. The drive to search for new frontiers is one of the best of human instincts and its pioneers should be valued much more highly than they are. We should have reached Mars by now if budgets had not been diverted to pay for the destruction of the earth. The NASA space budget is $16billion dollars a year; the US army alone costs $600billion. Which would you rather cut?
TUTTI FRUTTI A TREAT 22 YEARS LATER
Jul 27, 2009
It is eyewatering to think Tutti Frutti was last seen 22 years ago. John Byrne's classic, written by the banks of the silvery Tay, was the iconic arrival of the now world-famous Robbie Coltrane in the national consciousness. And what a big Scot he's turned out to be. Emma Thompson, Katy Murphy... there were so many new stars on show it wasn't just the tartan suits that lit up the silver screen. It was pure dead brilliant and younger readers should not miss it now it is out on DVD. Piers Morgan writes in his latest book of an encounter of the rude kind with big Robbie at the fancy Ivy Restaurant in London, where, he says, Robbie was close to killing him.
At least 20 years ago in the Groucho Club in Soho, Coltrane came bearing down on me. But he was a teddy bear not a grizzly that night. It turned out he'd been a communist in his youth before he turned Cracker, and he clearly still lent left. We had a wonderful night. Coltrane is one of the most talented Scots ever and we should be prouder of him than we are. Second helpings of Tutti Frutti will rekindle affection all right and I hope it resurrects the career of the lovely Katy Murphy, too.
Mixed messages from my TV night in Norwich
Jul 27, 2009
Question Time from Norwich last week lit new hope in me on lots of levels. First because, though the Tories won the by-election going on as the show was recorded, hardly a single Labour voter switched to them. Most stayed at home or plumped for the Greens or Scots' ambassador Craig Murray, sacked by Jack Straw, then foreign secretary, for being "pre-occupied" by torture in his posting to Uzbekistan.
If New Labour got down on their knees and asked popular MP Dr Ian Gibson to return from exile and be their candidate again, they could even win this seat back at the general election. Most people want MPs of independent mind and despise the boot-licking mediocrities who proliferate in parliament. People are still furious about the betrayal of trust in the expenses scandal and many MPs are done for at the polls, even if national media attention has moved on. People hate hypocrisy.
Gordon Brown solemnly marks the passing of Great War veterans as his defence minister Bob Ainsworth - yet another former communist turned Captain Mainwaring - takes wounded veterans of the AfghanWar to court to cut their compensation money. And the most important of all New Labour defence chiefs (Scotland's New Labour "finest" war leaders John Reid and Des "who?" Browne being mere footnotes) Geoff Hoon, my fellow panelist on the show, is an utterly beaten man. Hoon, who took Britain into more wars in fewer years than any in history, was the proverbial dead sheep. It became a liberty to land blows on him, like Rocky Marciano punching a small boy.
A light has gone out on the apostates who, 15 years ago this very weekend, took over the Labour Party of John Smith, put a pillow over its face and murdered it.
It's Cliff's road to happy holidays
Aug 3, 2009
It's hard to believe it's exactly 50 years since Cliff wrapped her up in a trunk so no big hunk could steal her away from him. And there that Livin' Doll has remained this half century past. Even harder is the realisation that: a) I remember the record playing as a five-year-old and, b) Cliff hasn't produced a decent record since, unless you count Summer Holiday, which I do...
Red London buses having been quite significant in my life. We're all going on a summer holiday, doing things we always wanted to. We're going where the sun shines brightly. We're going where the sea is blue. I can't say there'll be no more working for a week or two, for the MP's work is never done. But fun and laughter I'm hoping for, for me and for you. Happy holidays, dear readers.
Hamlet may have been in two minds.. but I'm not
Aug 3, 2009
RELATIVES of her indoors came all the way from Germany this weekend to see Hamlet at London's Wyndham Theatre. Evidence of the drawing power of Shakespeare? No, the pulling power of a pretty boy playing the prince. Jude Law seems to have been around for decades.We know more than we wanted about his tumultuous marriage to Sadie Frost, her fecundity, her underwear business and her relationship with Kate Moss. And his hurly-burly on the chaise longue with his children's nanny Daisy Wright, Rod the Mod's girl Kimberley Stewart and Lily Cole, all of 21. Then there was his romancing of film star Sienna Miller.
Personally, I believe he can't act for toffee. But at least he doesn't take himself too seriously. He regretted the re-make of the classic Alfie, with him in the Michael Caine role of feckless fornicator, on the grounds that nobody does that better than Maurice Micklewhite. Quite. Except, it seems the real-life Law-man, in what might be called a Boris Becker broom cupboard wham bam thank you ma'am, has apparently fathered his fourth child with a Kiwi model, Samantha Burke. The 24-year-old's family say they had to give him a good talking to, reminding him of his responsibilities (and asking for his bank details).
Anyway, my relatives won't hear a word against him. They say I'm envious. Jealous ... ich? Schadenfreude, more like. In Hamlet, of course, the prince tells us: "The Lord hath set his cannon against self-slaughter." A double entendre - cannon meaning both law and weapon. Well may the Lord, but the strange death-cult apparently sweeping Britain for euthanasia on demand seems like it's winning to me. Though parliament has made no decisions, step by step the judges are delivering us into a "choose your own exit" society.
Last week's decision from the English Law Lords now all but rules out prosecution of anyone for assisting suicide, even though it's illegal with a maximum penalty of 13 years. Which must mean that soon the socalled "Dignitas" Swiss finishing-off school, where sad cases go to drink the Kool-Aid, will be coming to a street like yours. It's not that there are not bitterly hard cases and many of their relatives have been speaking out with great sincerity and passion. Watching a close relative die is indeed distressing. But it's no accident that euthanasia was pioneered by Adolf Hitler.
He was brutally frank. Those who could no longer work, the elderly, the chronically sick, those who couldn't produce wealth, would be put to death. Though this hideous idea seems mainly to be gaining ground on the left of centre - like its twin, abortion - in truth it is the ultimate fascist idea. Just think how much money the state would save if it could medically cleanse the hospital long-stay beds. Think of how it could solve the pensions crisis, the increase in life expectancy, if people could just be persuaded "voluntarily" to opt for an offing instead of "being a burden" on the rest of us. And that's before I even raise the issue of the relatives wondering just how much they've got coming when the old buddy's will is finally read.
Hamlet may have been in two minds about most things. I know where I stand on this. And stand I intend to.
I'm leaping to defence of high heels
Aug 10, 2009
Talk about fiddling while Rome burns - Brendan Barber, head of the once-mighty TUC, a latter day Nero if ever there was, has launched a campaign. Not about the bailiffs who were preparing to throw out the men occupying Vestas on the Isle of Wight, Britain's only wind turbine manufacturers, in protest at its closure. Not about the mass unemployment or the savage cuts in services promised (discreetly) by both the main parties. No, Brendan wants to mobilise the depleted ranks against...high heels in the workplace.
They're sexist, apparently, but most women I know have an entirely feminine desire to buy as many heels as they can. I canvassed for male and female perspectives on the radio about this and the results were surprising. Men liked them for their effect on the women's legs and the ardour of the male. Females liked heels because they made them feel like women but most acknowledged they can be dangerous, restrictive and, if worn too long or high, painful.
It emerged high heels were born in the 1500s, Marie Antoinette had gone to the guillotine in a pair and that Billie Holiday walked on a racist sailor wearing heels. But the best was from Sophie in Manchester, who wrote: "The unconscious psychology behind high heels lies in the wearing of same, raising the angle of the buttocks by about 25 per cent whilst causing the muscles therein to tense. The resultant angle and the enhanced pertness give the impression the wearer is ready to mate."
I couldn't have put it better. That's why we love them, will max our credit cards to buy them and give over wardrobe space to house them. Butt out, Barber, and leave those heels alone.
We gorged on debt and the price is sickening
Aug 10, 2009
A survey has predicted that between 3.5million and 4million people in Britain will be unemployed this time next year. And that's before the massive public expenditure cuts being planned by an incoming Tory government which could add millions more. Andrew Lilico, of Europe Economics, was on my radio show at the weekend. He described the current slight upturn - in the motor trade and in some house prices - as a kind of "dead cat bounce". He said we were in for a "double dip" with the second, cataclysmic, slump next summer. The reason for our troubles are the astronomical levels of debt in the country - public and private - about which I've been banging on about for years.
We have all been living beyond our means in a way unprecedented in history and unique to the UK. Our state imagines itself as a booming world power but we have been declining since Harry Patch (God rest his soul) was fed into the trenches of the First World War. We order and maintain huge nuclear weapons fleets and throw out military procurement contracts like confetti while, according to a suppressed report, billions of pounds of the procurement is lost through profligate incompetence. We are the first to send troops we can't afford into battles in which they pay with their blood and us with money we borrowed.
We ask for an Olympics for which we'll pay for decades and we're in PFI contracts for public buildings which will bleed us for 100 years. The public have been encouraged to sink trillions of pounds into "home ownership". But, in fact, the homes are owned by increasingly precarious banks sitting on a mountain of debt they believe may all come tumbling down if mass unemployment and deflation lead people to renege on their debts en masse.
Credit card debt in the UK is the biggest in the world - well over £1trillion (paid up at astronomical interest rates). Millions of Brits are on holidays they haven't paid for and, if the unemployment axe falls, will not be able to. Britain is like a Potemkin village, those ersatz town frontages built for the Russian Tsar to gaze upon from his barge as he sailed by, apparently oblivious to the truth that there was nothing behind the facade. British "prosperity" was built on clouds of house prices, shares and financial "instruments", shoving illusory money around on computer screens. We make next to nothing of which we partake. The workshop of the world has become an ice cream parlour, selling things using cash that exists only in imagination.
Ulrika is not as nice as her £11k new look
Aug 10, 2009
I work at Talksport with ex-footballer Stan Collymore, former beau of Ulrika Jonsson. I think I can say Ulrika is not as nice as she now looks after she spent £11,000 on a new body. The winner of Celebrity Big Brother is now on to husband number three. He is the dad of one of her four children, who were fathered by four different men - earning her the title "4x4". Ulrika would be the first to admit her personal life has not been untroubled.
Then there was the John Leslie affair. She accused an unnamed celebrity of rape and he was named as the perpetrator but there was no trace of it at the time. It ruined his career even though the police never proceeded with the allegations. But plastic surgeons have done a great job. Husband number four will be delighted.
Oh baby.. I'm fitter than Madge
Aug 17, 2009
As always I was linked, yet again, with Madonna in the Sunday papers. But only in the celebrity birthday lists in the posh ones. She's only five years younger than me, but I think I'm wearing better than she is. And I'm still fathering my own babies, rather than hoovering them up out of Africa. I'm hoping there will be another on the way soon. People ask me what it's like at my age being clambered over by a two-yearold at six in the morning telling me to wake up.
All I can say is this: it's better than Madonna, Debbie Harry and Julia Roberts clambering over me all at the same time. Let's all have another baby next year. The football team needs it.
A national disgrace
Aug 10, 2009
I watched Scotland v Norway alongside a group of foreigners and was slumped in embarrassment by the end. Norway - with a similar population to us and the same distractions, such as computer games, TV etc. - humiliated even the ultra-loyal Tartan Army. We don't have great players nowadays but even the good ones looked ordinary. And worse still, unconcerned.
In my lifetime, the Denis Laws, Jim Baxters, Jimmy Johnstones, Billy Bremners, Kenny Dalglishes and Graeme Sounesses have become ... well, what we saw last week. It must be a relief that we now have next to no chance of qualifying for the World Cup next year. Imagine last Wednesday but on a bigger stage against better teams? How did it come to this? Are they putting something debilitating in the water supply? How come our international side now plays like permanent sufferers of swine flu? And who is going to do something about it?
The jute old days
Aug 17, 2009
I will be speaking in Dundee soon - for the first time, I think, since I left the city in 1983, more than a quarter of a century ago. I've been invited to address the Pensioners' Forum, which I might not have done but for the fact that it seems many of them are my comrades from my salad days. The organiser turns out to be none other than ex-MP John McAllion, one of the brightest and best parliamentarians I have ever worked with.
I was 28 when I left my home town and now I'm exactly 55. My father's bones are in the Balgay Cemetery overlooking the silvery Tay. My own teeth were cut there, and on some of the necks I'm likely to meet again when I get amongst the pensioners. I ask their forgiveness for my rough, youthful ways - and for any mistakes I made. I'm looking forward to coming home to Jute Town.
Soundtrack of hope has never really died
Aug 17, 2009
Forty years ago the British Government sent troops into Northern Ireland and thus began the longest period of war on the British mainland in our history. Soldiers welcomed with tea and sandwiches by the minority Catholic population became their target and much blood and treasure was expended.
Afghanistan is much the same and, as we await further deaths in action of our young soldiers in Helmand, surely some of their parents, at least, are wondering why? The British Army chief recently opined that we would be there for 40 years too; so not just today's soldiers but their sons, even grandsons, may make the return journey in a wooden box. In the end, whenever it comes, we will leave Afghanistan as we left Ireland; in the wake of a political settlement with those we deride as terrorists today. Britain has left three armies' bones on the plains of Afghanistan in the last 150 years.
How many more? As the British troops were entering the streets of Derry, where the houses and dress of the people looked like World War Two Britain rather than 1969, the beautiful people were reaching Woodstock a half-amillion people strong; and everywhere there was song and celebration. I was just hitting my political stride, 15 years old and fixated upon both sets of events unfolding at the same time.
It was the height of the youthful counter-culture and it seemed to contain the seeds of a future without bigotry, racism, occupation and war. Jimi Hendrix wailed out a wholly different arrangement of the Star Spangled Banner and we woke up to George Harrison's beautiful Here Comes the Sun. But the clouds were not long in gathering and before long we were drenched in the acid-rain which drowned the hopes of the young people gathered there.
Our enemies proved redoubtable, vigilant, brutal. From Ulster's B-Specials (not a band but a wholly Protestant group of part-time police thugs given uniforms and clubs to defend the indefensible) to Richard Nixon, they triumphed, at least for a time. But somehow the causes of the Sixties and the music soundtrack which accompanied it have never died. Wallow in the sounds of Woodstock dear reader and remember what might have been.
Not all war is wrong, of course. If I had been alive at the time, I would have been first in the recruitment line for the fight against Hitler. Indeed, I would have been amongst those agitating for a stand to be made against Fascism three years earlier in Spain, where Franco, backed by the divebombing Stukas of the Luftwaffe and the legions of Mussolini, was drowning Spanish democracy in blood while the "international community" looked away.
If I had been there I might have met my hero, John Cornford, whose "Great Life" I celebrate tomorrow at 4.30pm (repeated on Friday night) on BBC Radio 4 in the company of Mathew Parris and former Dundee University Professor Stan Smith. Not that Cornford had much time for a Great Life - he was killed, shot in the head near Cordoba the day after his 21st birthday. Yet in that short life, this grandson of Charles Darwin wrote some of the best war poetry ever, inspired a generation of anti-fascists, fathered a son at 17 (with whom I am now at last in contact) and is remembered in the memoirs of the likes of Dennis Healy and Michael Foot.
One day soon I will write my Spanish Civil War epic, Heart of the Heartless World, which is the title of Cornford's greatest poem. The International Brigade, which Cornford effectively started, was the labour movement's finest hour. In their thousands they left these and other shores to fight and die in Spain. If they had been supported, Britain might never have had to show its own mettle in the finest hours to come. Hitler could have been stopped in his tracks.
FBI's case of double standards
Aug 24, 2009
Kenny MacAskill was upbraided by the FBI director, who's not just Robert Mueller - he's Robert S. Mueller. The Third. Reaching back into the Bush lexicon, Mueller chuntered on about "terrorism" and the "rule of law". That would have been easier to take without laughing if the US had not permitted the funding and harbouring of terrorism all over the world.
The Cantinas of Miami are a cocktail of anti-Castro terror cells - and don't get me started on the Irish Bars of Chicago during the "troubles". And no state on the Earth is as persistent a lawbreaker as the one Mueller works for. He is a lightweight whom J. Edgar Hoover, the founder of the FBI, wouldn't have had carry his purse. Or his handbag, as we say in the old country. Oh, and calls for a boycott of Scotland in the US will soon peter out.
When I asked for "freedom fries" in a Texas canteen a couple of months ago, the waitress had no idea what I was talking about.
Speaking out of turn
Aug 24, 2009
I've always thought Kenny MacAskill was a big palooka. His marathon press statement last week - like the Rev I. M. Jolly who had run out of medication on a wet Tuesday in Greenock - confirmed my view. He's no novice, big Kenny; he has been in politics as long as I have. But this announcement shouldn't have been his to make. Scotland is not an independent country and can't have its own foreign policy unless and until it becomes one.
This should have been a decision for the Prime Minister Gordon Brown currently, like Macavity's cat, doing another of his disappearing acts. Nonetheless, MacAskill's decision was the correct one. Justice, in a civilised society, must be tempered with mercy. It is merciful to allow a prisoner to die amongst his ain folk.
Alex should have put Jack back in his place
Aug 24, 2009
Alex Salmond proved, contrary to appearances, that he's a bit of a lightweight, too. As correspondence only now being leaked makes clear, New Labour in London is in favour of the release of Megrahi. Gordon Brown's handshake with Gaddafi, and the subsequent exchange of letters of intent to rapidly and profitably improve relations with oil and gas-rich Libya, sealed the deal many months ago. And why not? Apart from the fact that Libya was framed for the crime in the first place, all "wars" have to end sometime. And nothing is for nothing.
What kind of British government would it be that didn't work to secure better trade and investment opportunities for the country once "peace" breaks out with old adversaries? Which makes it all the more surprising that Salmond, left, didn't insist on simultaneous approbation from Whitehall when the release was announced. He knows they approve. They know he knows they approve. And if he had, we could all have been spared the re-appearance on the political stage of that political dwarf Jack McConnell, he of the short, oh so short, tartanless black kilt.
Red Rose Jack was back heaping scorn on the SNP which retired him from politics. But I suppose if you must have enemies, spring-heeled Jack and Robert S. Mueller III are as insubstantial as they come.
The murky business of pleasing Col Gaddafi
Aug 24, 2009
Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al-Megrahi was innocent anyway. I said so from the start. I have never met Colonel Gaddafi, nor his sons. I have nothing to do with his regime, which I do not support. But Libya was framed for the horrific crime at Lockerbie, and Megrahi was merely a fall guy.
I've always been close to the Palestinian cause, so I know what I'm talking about when I say the Pan Am airliner was downed by a Palestinian splinter-group, the PFLP - General Command, led by Ahmed Jibril, an ex-air force officer based in Damascus, Syria. The crime was committed in retaliation for the American shooting down of a civilian Iranian Airbus in the Persian Gulf, which cost the lives of hundreds of men, women and children and for which the terrorists - in the US navy - were given medals by President Ronald Reagan.
I work for Press TV, a station owned by Iran. Yet I say, as I have always said, that logic dictates the view that the funding for the crime at Lockerbie came from Iranian sources, probably the Revolutionary Guard. All this has long been known by the authorities on both sides of the Atlantic. The "trial" at Camp Zeist, without a jury and before three Scottish judges, was a farce. It was a political show trial in which one defendant was found not guilty, though he faced exactly the same "evidence" as Megrahi.
Like Iraq later, Libya was an international outcast state at the time. Gaddafi, before Saddam, but after Nasser, was the "Mad Dog" of his day, the "new Hitler". Following a previous framing involving a bomb aimed at US military personnel in a Berlin club, Libya had been bombarded by the US on the orders of President Reagan. Gaddafi's house was hit by missiles that killed, among others, his daughter.
Now all the tables have turned. Gaddafi is courted by the West and must be pleased. Why? Well as Mrs Merton said to Debbie McGee: "Tell me, what first attracted you to multi-millionaire magician Paul Daniels?" And so, finally, all the ducks were in the right row. The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Board had, unprecedentedly, allowed Megrahi to launch a new appeal, in which not only his innocence would have been clear but the guilt of those who framed him. This was a day in court to be avoided.
Megrahi's prostate cancer was so advanced a "compassionate" case for his release could plausibly be advanced. Brown and Mandelson had met Gaddafi and his son, BP and others were increasingly profitably buzzing around the honey pot. The SNP had a chance to appear on the international stage as the "government" (sic) of Scotland and show what independence - not least from the US - could look like.
The much lampooned Kenny MacAskill was brought out looking like the Manchurian Candidate. Blinking into the limelight, he creaked open Megrahi's unjustly closed cell door. The rest, as they say, is the future. Glasgow Springburn will be an early test of the public's appreciation or otherwise. Let the games begin.
Gordon's dress sense has deserted him
Aug 31, 2009
Is nobody in Downing Street capable of telling the PM that if you're off to the desert for an expensive pre-election photo-op it's better to dress for the occasion? If there is one thing that looks worse than a dark suit, white shirt and blue tie jumping out of a (apparently quite rare) British military helicopter in Afghanistan, it's a man who appears overnight to have become seven months' pregnant taking the suit jacket off but otherwise remaining the buttoned-up misanthrope he so deeply is.
How did Brown get so fat, how can he look so miserable and why does he want to stay on? When did he start thinking the rest of us are so stupid that we'd fall for that old line about sending out even more of our young men, the faster to get all of them home? Just one more push, as they used to say at the Somme. That the biographer of James Maxton - make that hero worshipper - should see out the last days of his service vainly, desperately seeking to shore up a colonial adventure that would have embarrassed Lord Palmerston is sadder, much sadder, than the rending asunder of Mrs Gallagher's two wee boys.
Labour hypocrites in limbo over Lockerbie
Aug 31, 2009
The Scottish Labour party, standing on each other's shoulders, could limbo under a snake and still leave headroom. I say that as someone brought up to believe Labour was the dynamic force for social justice, responsible for all that was good and decent in our society, from education to health provision, from pensions to prisons. But watching the Lockerbie debate, the fall-out and the duplicitous and venal behaviour of the New Labour numpties made me want to retch.
People I know and have worked with, formerly progressives, became part of the mob baying for the head of Kenny MacAskill - not one overly endowed with grey matter, I grant you. But they knew beyond peradventure that he was doing exactly what their masters in Westminster wanted and would have done in a breath, had they the power.
Gordon Brown's silence on the release of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi convicts him. No senior national New Labour figure has said Megrahi should not have been released or, had the UK government had the decision, he wouldn't have been. Jack Straw, looking more like a Dickens character every day (Sowerberry, the undertaker in Oliver Twist, is my choice), was never short of a scruple to get shot of. His leaked letters to MacAskill and the SNP government make it clear, having insisted on keeping Megrahi out of a prisoner exchange deal with Libya, he caved in when the gravity of the potential loss to BP was pointed out. This slimy about-turn, his spokesman said, was "academic" as the decision to free him was made in Edinburgh. Aye, right Jack! I've said before that MacAskill is a big palooka but his opponents in Scottish Labour haven't laid a glove on him and they have taken the dive.
Perhaps I'm doing MacAskill down because he used nifty footwork to avoid the trap that surely would have caught him - releasing Megrahi under the prisoner exchange deal rather than humanitarian - and, if he had, he'd now be caught up in Straw's web of deceit. I'll bet canny old Uncle Eck had a word or two in his ear about that danger.
It was right, and strictly in keeping with precedent, to release Megrahi on compassionate grounds. To keep him on a drip, handcuffed to a bed in a hospital or a safe house with a rotating cast of police officers would have satisfied only the barbarous elements in our society. We are better than the beast. Whether or not he was guilty of blowing up Pan Am 103 - and my doubts can only be assuaged by a full, independent public inquiry - Megrahi is paying the ultimate price. Whether he lives two, three or 10 months is irrelevant.
Bestowing even secondhand praise on the SNP sticks in my gullet. More than that, it puts me in a dilemma. I campaigned for a Scottish parliament and, all my political life, against independence. But if - and it's a considerable if - the Nats are able, next year, to get through a referendum bill, can I line up with the opposition knowing a 'no' vote would condemn the country to Conservatism and David Cameron? By the time it takes place David and the Bullingdon boys will be, in tradition of that Oxford club, hog-whimperingly drunk on power. A rock and a hard place.
The Lockerbie debate at Holyrood on Wednesday will see another communal Labour bout of hypocrisy and self-interest masquerading as principle. The SNP will, no doubt, lose the vote and win the argument. They should have made it an issue of confidence and, with an election to face, Labour would have scuttled rapidly for the undergrowth.
Cheers to the end of Oasis..just pub bores
Aug 31, 2009
It's a shame about Oasis splitting up - they were the best Beatles tribute band to come out of Manchester. Not since Cain and Able have there been two brothers more poisonously divided than the Gallaghers. Foul-mouthed Liam and his shy, retiring brother Noel are best kept apart, lest one of them kill the other - and it might be the wrong one. The one who writes like Ringo Starr or the one who wishes he was John Lennon but whom John wouldn't have showered a moment of his time. Liam was involved in the "bringing up" of the child of my friend for a while. Though the boy was a toddler, he was way more toilet trained than the man in his house (no longer, thank God). At Talksport a few months ago, a taxi drew up in front of me and out got Noel. Modest, with much to be modest about.
His ammenuensis Russell Brand acted like a star but he's never done anything remotely stellar. Noel could have been just a local Mancunian pub bore. Which is, in the end, all they were.
The Glasgow North-East by-election will be an early test of the parties' standing post-Megrahi - if New Labour ever musters the courage to call it. I'll be coming up to speak for my old pal Tommy Sheridan, formerly of this parish. Looking at the line-up, Tommy, with eight years' parliamentary time and years as a Glasgow councillor behind him, is far and away the most experienced candidate.
No one in the country has ever heard of the grey blurs being fielded by the other parties. Sure, Tommy is a sinner, but he should be forgiven his sins because he is a wholehearted and talented star player. He is the James McFadden of this contest. Give him the ball and he knows the way to goal. He can hold it, weave magic with it, he will never give up. And the result will show he has supporters by the thousand.
Don't vote for any split
Sep 7, 2009
It's because of our island story that I oppose the SNP's referendum question, which, if successful, would partition this small piece of land on an entirely unneccessary basis. We are a small country on a small planet. The English - with whom we fought the war side by side - are not foreigners to us. We speak the same language as them, work for the same employers, belong to the same unions, watch the same TV, eat the same food, share the same culture. Our fate is inextricably bound up with theirs.
There should be a referendum - Scottish Labour would be making yet another grave mistake to deny the Scottish people their right to choose. But we should vote 'No' when it comes. I will. And I'll do everything I can to persuade you to do the same.
War heroes saved our lives
Sep 7, 2009
Seventy years ago, the country was at war - the most cataclysmic of all-time. By its end, 50million people had been laid in premature graves - half of them in the USSR. It was a war which had to be fought, which should have been fought sooner and, if we'd confronted Hitler and Mussolini in the Spanish Civil War three years earlier, might never have had to be fought at all. And it was our finest hour. Rallied by ex-Dundee MP Winston Churchill, our islands stood alone against the beast who had subjugated the whole of Europe. If we hadn't, I would be writing this column in German - or would not have been writing it at all.
Somewhere in your street, there will still be someone to whom you owe a great debt of gratitude. They may have been soldiers in that war or they may have nursed the wounded. They may have formed the Home Guard, produced the munitions, manned the coastal defences or merely kept the home fires burning. Thank them them for what they did. Without their bravery, we may not have had a country. The Nazis may still have being ruling the roost and many of us wouldn't be alive today.
Why I'm proud to be a compassionate Scot
Sep 7, 2009
First, an apology. I have been wittering on about the calibre of the White Heather Club, the wee pretendy parliament at Holyrood. To me the structure and the interior are the most expensive piece of modern junk I've ever seen. And the members of it are Cumbernauld Toon Cooncillors whose three- minute speeches were so wooden that woodpeckers had been spotted in the vicinity.
But last week's debate on the release of al Megrahi was thrilling, at times noble, mostly venal, just like the big parly in Westminster. Jack McConnell looked positively statesman-like, certainly by contrast to the wooden post who now sits in his place, the perfectly named Iain Gray. Malcolm Chisholm like a saint. The Leither, whom you could easilly imagine in a dog-collar, is instead in the dog-house; the only Labour member to live up to the principles, all of them, presumably, espoused when they joined the party of labour. Others were so crushingly shameless in their mendacious posturing they could have a future in the Blair-Brown Labour Party.
There's a boy, I forget his name but he was dubbed in my house Adrian Mole aged 14-and-a-half, who is something called the "Shadow Justice Minister". His hair cow's-licked across his forhead and dressed for the Sunday School, he squeaked in fake outrage at Kenny MacAskill's decision to free the Libyan prisoner to die and didn't even blush when, towards the end of the debate, it was announced that his own leader Gordon Brown had, finally and curmudgeonly, backed the very decision he was denouncing. That ought to have been collapse of stout party, but Scottish Labour has no spine for the shiver of fear to run up and so, bottom-dwelling pond life that they are, the slugs crept on and on.
Some speeches were almost grotesque. Frank McAveety, who once could've been a contender, radical campaigner, possible leader has always been a strange 'un. He owns, in mint condition, the country's finest collection of Status Quo records and memorabilia and used to breathlessly ask me if I'd ever met his numbskull heroes. He was a culture minister at Holyrood until he missed his Question Time whilst scoffing in the Holyrood canteen. He once thought he looked like a young Robert De Niro. He's now more Robert Morley.
But his speech was a lot less pretty than that. Put up to deal with the uncomfortable fact that all of Scotland's churches (including his own) were supporting the SNP in this affair, he attempted a theological debunking of Christian scholarship on the issues of compassion and mercy which made me feel embarrassed that he'd once been my friend.
In fact, having spent almost 40 years as a soldier in the Labour army myself before being expelled in less than 40 minutes over the IraqWar, my main feeling throughout the debate was shame. "Did we waste our young lives?" I asked a fellow Scottish Labour man, my friend and practically daily communicant since 1980? "Probably" he said. "But who cares? That was then, and this is now."
The SNP, on other hand, were head and shoulders above the rest. MacAskill, another Rev waiting to happen, in his case Rev I.M. Jolly, was dignity and forebearance personified. They had a real Rev, whose name I missed, who really did speak for Scots Christendom. They had a young blade who was sharp as a knife, and Christine Graham who (along with veteran newsman and good egg Tory Ted Brocklebank) was one of the few who mentioned the elephant sitting in this room - that Megrahi is almost certainly an innocent man. Above all they had Alex Salmond, who is in such a different league from the others it's like watching Jim Baxter strolling through a game against Third Lanark reserves.
Scotland is lucky that Baxter rather than Roger Hynd/Iain Gray, is captaining our side in this match. At the end of his speech, although no Scottish nationalist myself, I actually felt proud to be a haggis eating compassion monkey myself. Of course the venal cheats won the game but for Salmond it was a moral victory. The kind Scotland does best.
Celebrating our laughter lines
Sep 14, 2009
If we have a national characteristic it must be a sense of humour. In this often wet, dark place, we surely need it. Yesterday I was the guest of Radio Scotland's Off The Ball Sunday Supplement, the anarchic barelyabout-football Rabelaisian romp through the papers and sundry zany subjects. If there is a better show anywhere on radio anywhere - including my own - then I've never heard it.
For more years than I can remember it's been inducing deep belly laughs under the duvets of Scotland and surely, like Chewin' The Fat, Rab C Nesbitt and Billy Connolly, deserves a wider airing. It's hosted by the funniest man Scotland has produced since Chic Murray - that's what Tam Cowan of this Parish truly is - and the more urbane Stuart Cosgrove.
Stuart achieves the ambitious goal of being at one and the same time a supporter of Buck McCarry's St Johnstone (the only team in British football with a J in it's name by the way) and a left bank sophisticate who reads Jean-Paul Sartre by the Seine in his spare time. And the team are even greater than the sum of their parts.
Tam, a mate of mine, promised ages ago to send me some "I was so poor jokes" with which I could start my one-man shows in the theatre. You know, the kind of "I was so poor when I was young that I was glad I was born a boy... otherwise I'd have had nothing to play with on Christmas Day" gags beloved of those like me, who have clambered out of the gutter and reached, well, somewhere. He mentioned this on the show then threw it out to the audience to get me some more.
Boy, did the audience respond. I was so poor that... my first joab was as a rear gunner on a breid van up the hill in Drumchapel... my dad gave me a box at Christmas containing two batteries - a sign on the box said No Toy Included, that sort of thing. But the most brilliant was the listener who said when he was young his mother would give him 50p to go to the shops and he would come back with a pound of sausages, two pound of spuds, a loaf, a box of Milk Tray, a half bottle of sherry, two top shelf mags... but no' nowadays. No' since they invented that bloody CCTV!
Stuart lang may yer beef bourguignon broil and Tam, king of Scotland's debauched ditches, keep aff they fritter rolls.
Shameless plugs for legalised lying coin it in
Sep 14, 2009
Sharp-eyed readers will have noticed a bit of product placement in the item above. I could have said chocolates but I said Milk Tray. That's verbally subliminal advertising for which there seems no ethical reason not to charge. The cheque, I hope, is in the post. I mention it because in order to help struggling ITV, rules are to be relaxed to allow that sort of thing in programmes - and a right few bob to be earned as a result.
Now, on this I'm with George Orwell who, in the mouth of his character Gordon Comstock in Keep the Aspidistra Flying, described advertising as merely "legalised lying". I like to think myself all but immune to the glossy, upfront advert (though comparethemeerkat. com was my first point of call recently, quite involuntarily).
Will product placement be more effective, how will it work, how far will it go... These are all questions we'll soon find out. Will Question Time guests have a box of branded humbugs in front of them alongside Perrier water? Will Chick Young be allowed to wear his Rangers strip on screen or Shereen Nanjiani eat a ruby murray with Balbir Singh's name on it? Will the Scottish Tourist Board ask, What's the story with Balamory? Or Diageo sponsor Shameless?
Sep 14, 2009
Stornoway is fighting to patent the black pudding. This nugget of knowledge came again from Cowan and Cosgrove. I never knew the black pudding had anything to do with Angus Ogg, but I doff my cap to the teuchter for I like a bit of black pudding. Within the European Union there is a battle going on as regions seek to corner the market in their own specialities - Melton Mowbray Pork Pies for example. The most effective being the name Champagne - which can only be thus described if it comes from that small part of France, however much it might taste like the real thing. Forfar would probably have few rivals claiming to make the bridie - plen anes or even ingin anes - and Motherwell has made the fritter roll its very own.
But on a serious note; given how despicably Diageo have treated the workforce in Kilmarnock, why can't we try and stop them claiming to be makers of Scotch Whisky rather than breakers of Scottish hearts? Let me do some product placements next week - of Diageo products which all right thinking people in the world should boycott until the company puts a fraction back into Kilmarnock of what Kilmarnock has put into Diageo's pockets. Watch this space..
Taking a walk on the wild side
Sep 14, 2009
I was asked to do a bit of TV celebrity bird-watching for an upcoming programme. No, it wasn't hanging out in Chelsea waterholes spotting long-legged lovelies, but real life twitching, under canvas on the Island of Mull with comedian Bill Bailey. The idea is that well-known townies like me would spend three days in the wild competing against each other identifying, well, burds.
Alas my diary did not permit - maybe Frank McAvennie could have my spot - but in any case, beyond being able to identify chicken in a curry I wouldn't be much good. Besides, our feathered friends leave me cold to the point of shivering, a flock of starlings brings back Hitchcock and I coined the phrase that pigeons were merely "rats wi' wings". Bees, on the other hand have my unqualified respect. According to the laws of aerodynamics the bee can't fly; its wingspan shouldn't permit its bulky body to get off the ground. But nature knows better and fly so beautifully it certainly does.
Bees are now in trouble. Millions of bees throughout much of the world have been wiped out by disease and the very extinction of the species is being seriously discussed. One plan is to put drugs in icing sugar and drench the habitat to save the bees and their role in pollination without which many of us would go hungry. Though as Tam Cowan said, there are some parts of the country where the bees wouldn't get near the drugs for the burds.
Subtlety's just not for everyone
Sep 21, 2009
EVERY television personality seems to think they have a book in them. Tiresomely, some believe they have more than one. And so we turn, reluctantly, to Gavin Esler, the bit-part Newsnight presenter. He and I have a bit of previous. When the bombs went off on 7/7 in my constituency in 2005 I said that, despicable as the attack was, it was linked to our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It seemed self-evident and it is now the accepted wisdom. Esler described it as crass.
I'll concede that Esler knows something about crass. His new book is called Power Play, a hackneyed tale of politics and international crisis with the usual cast of terrorists, Iranian mischief and a US vice-president who goes missing in Scotland. It features among other characters a former alcoholic, 15 years in tabloid journalism and now the prime minister's director of communications, with the initials AC. And the only Respect MP, based in East London, with the initials GG. Esler doesn't do subtlety but he does do obvious.
I was looking forward to discussing his oeuvre with him on the airwaves during the week. I was standing in for a colleague on talkSPORT and Esler was booked as a guest. Surprise, surprise, he cancelled at the last minute. As I said, Gavin doesn't do subtle
Moscow mule will deliver
Sep 21, 2009
I'M in Moscow and despite what some of you may think, I've never been. I'm here to persuade the government to get behind the effort we're raising to have a Russian convoy deliver essential aid to Gaza. It will be the third Viva Palestina one, after Britain and the US. So as they say in these parts dasvidania until next week.
Why Scotland faces a huge dilemma
Sep 21, 2009
IAIN BANKS is a real author. His debut novel The Wasp Factory was stunning and since then I've read and admired each new book. But Banks has hit on a genuine problem for progressive people in Scotland, one which I mentioned in this column a few weeks back - how to vote in a referendum on independence.
New Labour is dead and the ones who buried it won't be able to dig up the political bones or re-establish the credibility, to disinter it. The clock is ticking. Britain is set to become a Tory fiefdom, however the people of Scotland vote? Essential services, public-sector wages will be decimated. The NHS, pensioners, the poor will be bled to sustain the rich. The SNP, despite the faux outrage about their budget, are at least trying to maintain decent living standards for the majority of the population, much as it pains me to write this. So if they manage to push their referendum bill through - a big if I grant you - then a 'no' vote will be a 'yes' vote for the status quo, Tory Britain and all that entails.
I've opposed an independent Scotland all my life but Banks has eloquently defined the insoluble dilemma of the voting choice. For me it's damned if you do, damned if you don't.
Clegg to take savage bite from public purse
Sep 21, 2009
I ALWAYS thought that a clegg was an unpleasant insect which sucked blood and left a scabby and sore swelling. The Liberal Democrat leader is well named. Nasty Nick promises to take a savage bite out of crucial public services. He wouldn't scrap tuition fees as promised, he argues for a long-term freeze on public sector pay and the scything of tax credits and universal child benefit. He's already admitted that he has used private medicine to jump queues in the NHS so there's clearly not going to be any commitment to the most important creation for all of our lives - even BUPA subscribers rely on doctors who were trained and produced in our universal health service.
None of this may matter, you may think, because the Lib Dems have no chance of achieving power. Well, not quite. Clegg is hoping for his formerly socially liberal party to hold the balance of power in the new parliament, and so complete is the collapse of New Labour that he may just be right. The parliament may well see a rump of Lib Dems whipping-on Cameron's toffs to even greater excesses. But you do have to give the Tory leader credit for one thing - successfully changing the agenda.
Let's just remind ourselves how we got here. A year ago at this time Lehman Brothers collapse tipped the global banking system into freefall, with a string of casualties in its wake. The bankers had been ploughing our money into hare-brained schemes and impossible mortgages while trousering billions of pounds in bonuses. Governments throughout the world bailed them out, propped them up despite Cameron's naysaying and now all the parties are telling us we're going to have to pay for the greed and folly of these grasping, incompetent chancers in cuts to essential services.
So the argument - and the blame - has moved from boundless, reckless greed and the failure of the market, to the increase in government debt to pay for it and how we must all suffer now to cut it. Whatever the hue or composition of a new administration, Britain will face the tightest squeeze on public spending since the 1970s. Leaked Treasury documents indicate that there is going to be up to a 10 per cent cut in public spending.
But hold on. Simple justice surely demands that the guilty should pay. So I'm campaigning for the Tobin Tax, named after the US economist who came up with the idea in the 1970s. It's simple one, a tax on all currency trades across borders. James Tobin suggested a one per cent levy, but setting the rate at even a twentieth of that today would raise around £20billion a year. Then we can cut Trident and ID cards and all the other New Labour nonsencies.
And I'm not alone in calling for Tobin. Adair Turner, chairman of the Financial Services Authority wants it, President Sarkozy and the French government are behind it and so is our foreign secretary David Miliband, who allegedly told his French opposite number mid-week that he supported it. Miliband isn't old enough to remember when Labour promised to tax the rich until their pips squeaked. Tobin is hardly that. But it's a start.
Iran complied.. but for what?
Sep 28, 2009
Take Iran and the nuclear issue. The Big Five have the weapon of a veto in the UN, because they posses enough nuclear missles to eviscerate the world many times over. Britain, France and the USA, illegally and secretly, gave Israel - the world's No.1 lawbreaker - all the parts to build the bomb, and it has hundreds mostly pointing at Iran.
The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty has bound us to disarm our own weapons. I've told you Gordon's plan to comply with our obligations. Israel refuses to sign the NPT, likewise Pakistan and India. None are sanctioned. All are rewarded with our lucrative friendship. Iran signed and complied with its terms. They don't intend to build a bomb. We see the trouble that's gotten them in to.
Fashionista keeps it real
Sep 28, 2009
Mark Fast struck a blow for all real women at London fashion week when he insisted on slipping his mini-dresses over sized 12 to 14 models. The grisly demi-monde of the catwalks, where starving girls are now the norm, was aghast. But all the world's sexiest women are that size - from Scarlett Johannson to Marilyn Monroe. Long live real women - and by the looks of the other poor waifs in the show, the size zero appeal crowd - a long life is far from guaranteed for the rest.
Old friend will not be matched
Sep 28, 2009
He was a man we'll be lucky should we look upon his like again. Bill Speirs, the leader of the Scottish TUC who is to be buried in Renfrew on Thursday, was one of my oldest and closest friends. I met him on the stairs of the Angus Hotel, Dundee, over 30 years ago when he came to speak at a meeting I'd organised - on Palestine (on which he was even then the authority) and fixing me with a mock gimlet eye he revealed he knew I'd applied for his job - as Assistant Secretary of the STUC.
We became so close over the years that a posh English broadsheet sent a sniffer up to Glasgow to investigate the rumour (I wonder who could have placed it?) that he and I were lovers - they even had an address that was supposedly our love nest. It turned out to be a chemists collecting medical aid for the Palestinian refugees in Beirut camps.
We did once share a bed - in a B&B in Blackpool at the Labour conference. Carefully wearing vests and pants we kept our distance. Two straight working class Scotsmen hardly daring to sleep in case we touched. Unfortunately, we each thought the other had settled the bill and waltzed away the next morning, off to do battle on the conference floor. The owner contacted an important man he knew who bearded us down at Westminster weeks later. "Ahem, about this bill for a double room in Blackpool," coughed an embarrassed Rt Hon John Smith QC MP.
I'll be speaking at the funeral but the words don't feel like they'll come easily - or rather that, when I start, I won't be able to stop. He was my brother, my teacher, my comrade, my friend. I'll never find another one like him.
Gord embarrassingly close
Sep 28, 2009
At Pittsburgh for the G20, Gordon Brown had his "Yo Blair" moment (you'll recall George Bush's encounter with Tony when he patted his head). Obama, Sarkozy and Brown (the three leaders of the countries which conspired to nuclear-arm Israel) came on stage to act out a "weapons of mass destruction" moment. Sarkozy kept his distance from Obama on the platform. A dignified leader of a proud country. Brown was so close to Obama to be in the shot the president seemed nervous, Brown staring like the Manchurian Candidate making him think his number was up. He looked like a one of the Temptations ready to gyrate behind Marvin Gaye. Except GB could never carry off a Tonic Mohair suit.
Brown the Palooka is like a fish out of water
Sep 28, 2009
There's not much battle about this week's Labour conference, or rather, all the knifing is done in the back in the papers before the delegates - if they still call them that - arrive. Though he knows nothing about football, the Chancellor, Alistair Darling, called his own side "a gutless football team... whose heads have gone down". That could be, of course, Alistair, because the team have realised that they're led by donkeys like you who behind their backs have adopted the other side's colours and actually been scoring own goals. And they can see the result gaping before their eyes, a decimating anihilation which will see them relegated for the rest of most of their lives. They can't up their game because you lot have broken their laces, their morale, their legs and above all their hearts.
I've taken to calling the manager Gordon Brown, a big Palooka. Searching for the origin of the term on my talksport radio show at the weekend, the listeners, as always, produced a bewildering torrent of possibilities. I thought it refered to Primo Carnera, the big Palooka and one time American heavyweight, a man mountain with the heart of a sheep immortalised in the film The Harder They Fall. I knew that Marlon Brando in his famous "I coulda been a contender" speech in On The Waterfront said that all he'd got out of the fight game was a "oneway ticket to palookaville".
But it turns out that the term may have originated with a Twenties comic hero Joe Palooka, a boxer with good intentions but so clumsy and hamfisted he had himself beat in the ring before his opponent had landed a glove. As a description of the PM that would be hard to beat. Until you consider the alternative theory. A Jewish man from Hendon rang up to say that the word wasYiddish and from the Old Testament story of Jonah being swallowed whole. Had it been a whale, or a fish that had done the deed? No fish surely could have the capacity to swallow man and boat as Jonah had been. Until a huge sturgeon was produced and identified as the culprit. It lay, eyes staring, its strange mouth opening and closing with nothing coming out but stale air...
Could there be a better description of Brown than this? At the UN in New York, he spouted out his "DISARMAMENT" proposal - Britain should reduce its Trident submarine fleet from four to three but transfer every one of the nuclear missiles we hold on to remaining boats. Following Barak Obama around like a faithful and lugubrious bloodhound, panting for a bit of face-time with his master, Brown finally got a one-on-one. In the kitchen of the United Nations.
The UN's predecessor the League of Nations was once described as a "thieves' kitchen". It's now a sink of double standards and hypocrisy so brazen you really wonder how those involved can keep their faces straight as they instruct the world not to do as they do but to do as they say.
Irish ayes won't bring a smile to Tory toff David
Oct 5, 2009
Having found themselves in the unusual position of praying for Ireland, the Union Jack waist-coated, florid-faced little-Englanders who've spent 30 years on the white cliffs of Dover booing at Johnnie Foreigner exploded with fury as the referendum result came in. On the wrecking of the Lisbon Treaty they had pinned their hopes of finally jamming up the works of the hated "Europe".
Now Ireland's opportunity had turned into England's difficulty. And David Cameron's, too. The Bruges Group of Tory xenophobes were quickly on my TV show predicting major trouble for Cameron this week in Manchester - unless he promises a British referendum regardless of whether the treaty has become European law by then or not. If he agrees, Britain will be uniquely isolated - even by Thatcherite standards - exposed as little more than a Trojan horse within the Union.
If he doesn't, we may see a return of all the suppurating divisions within the Tories - with the "b******s", denounced so eloquently, if accidentally, at the end of a TV interview by the beleaguered John Major, running riot. This could be a gamechanger in the run-up to the British general election if Gordon Brown plays it right. Of course, the Lisbon Treaty is a messy abortion of the European Constitution. And, of course, the Irish were cheated in being made to vote again until they got it right.
Of course, too, the outspending of the No camp by 10 to one reflected the panic among Irish businesses at a potential maiming of the euro cash cow from which they've grown fat. The hysterical fear-mongering of theYes campaigners was, no doubt, disgraceful. But the sheer weight of the Yes victory changes everything - and leaves euro-phobic Britain beached like a whale.
So now must be the the time for a referendum in Britain - not on the important, but limited, issue of Lisbon but on Britain and Europe... in or out. And if we're in, then we must be in for a penny, in for, er, a pound. Britain is paralysed by this question right now. We have never grown up - having lost an empire, we never found a dignified role. Were we still a world power? No, but for many Britons you wouldn't think it. Were we the 51st state of the United States of America? No, only in our special-relationship fantasy, our drooling not even noticed by our potential lover. It's time we got over it. Britain is a European country - and lucky for us, too.
I have travelled the world several times over and I can tell you without equivocation - with all the things that are said to be wrong with the EU (and I acknowledge most of them), post-war Europe is the best place to live you will ever find. But Germany, Spain, Italy, France, Denmark, Sweden, Holland, Belgium and Portugal all have better lives than we do. Full and enthusiastic membership of the European Union is the only realistic way to catch up.
Funerals are a time when we remember that blood is thicker than water - and Bill Speirs' in Renfrew Town Hall last week was no exception. There, gathered under one roof, people who have hated each other for years were suddenly transported back to when we were one. Snappers clicked as I embraced the likes of Wendy Alexander, MPs Jimmy Hood, Mark Lazarowicz and David Hamilton, and others from whom I parted long ago. Bill would have liked that as he was one of nature's unifiers.
Why, even Alex Salmond was welcomed warmly in the Labour movement crowd. And full marks to him for coming - unusually in a non-playing capacity. He proved that he is the national leader of our country. Whether the bonhomie will continue when we get back to business, I doubt. But it was heartwarming while it lasted.
No Sun for the brothers
Oct 5, 2009
The defection of The Sun from New Labour to the rats of Toryism has depressed the brothers. Their ire would be more credible if they hadn't spent 15 years wallowing in the guttersnipe's support. What did Murdoch and his Sun ever have to do with Labour - or common decency - anyway? No other country would allow a foreign tax-avoider to build up such a multi-media empire. New Labour could have done something about that. But they prefered to lie down with dogs - and now, predictably, they have fleas.
Foulkes is still Lording it over the public purse
Oct 5, 2009
George Foulkes, or Lord Foulkes MSP to give him his Sunday name, wasn't at Bill Speirs' funeral. He was probably flying up and down to London adding to the more than £200,000 for half a parliamentary term he's picked up in personal allowances, travel and wages in the last two years. Figures released last week showed the New Labour heavyweight is quite a weight on the public purse, too.
I just don't know why he bothers with the House of Lords when he has a busy life in the Scottish Parliament surely? Perhaps it's the opportunity to network at the many soirees down there. Foulkes famously fell out of a Scotch Whisky Association do, knocked over two old ladies (literally I mean, I imply no sexual innuendo) assaulted a policeman (by grabbing his helmet) and slept the whole thing off in the cells. The next morning, he was fined and sacked by the late John Smith. You can't keep a good man down, though, and Lord George does seem to be prospering now. The Daily Telegraph, of course, and not for the last time, had to give me a large sum in a libel payment in the wake of that whiskygate affair. In their report of the incident, they somehow - indeed inexplicably - confused George Foulkes with George Galloway.
Sopranos is Shakespeare of modern times
Oct 12, 2009
I've just watched, throughout this summer, virtually the full box set of The Sopranos, all 10 years' worth of television. Some nights I watched three episodes back to back. If I tell you that I am watching the last five episodes with the sadness one might feel at the impending demise of a much-loved relative, you'll probably think I'm crazy. But The Sopranos is simply the greatest television ever made. James Gandolfini (Tony Soprano) and Edie Falco, his wife Carmela, are the two greatest TV actors in history.
David Chase, who created this masterpiece as well as the dozen or so characters (getting whacked at an increasing rate as we near the show's end) who populate the New Jersey mob family, has made something, I kid you not, which will be studied in centuries to come as we today study Shakespeare. It really is that good. Get your other half the box set for Christmas. And watch it together. You'll be talking about it before and after sex... I'm not joking.
Road to Damascus
Oct 12, 2009
By the time you read this I will be in Damascus, still desperately seeking that Palestinian state. Most likely I will meet the president, Bashar al-Asad. Had I got here sooner, I'd have run into Angelina Jolie, not just the world's most desirable woman but a strong supporter of Palestinian rights, as is Brad Pitt.
Brangelina were in occupied Iraq, too, before visiting Syria. Like Brad, Syria gets a bum rap from the critics. It is a modernising, moderate, religiously tolerant Arab country with no time for Islamist extremism. Al-Qaeda wouldn't last five minutes in Baathist Syria. But it does, irritatingly to some, have a habit of insisting upon its rights. Not the least of those is the return of the Golan Heights, stolen by Israel 42 years ago. Funnily enough, Golan Heights is where Dr Albert Jacob has settled, the lead campaigner against the twinning between Dundee and Nablus, and Sir Malcolm Rifkind's amanuensis. Perhaps we can wave to each other through the barbed wire.
Dossiers unveil my epic fight in Dundee
Oct 12, 2009
They say you know you're getting old when policemen start looking younger. But nothing, I assure you, beats being called up to comment on things you've done in politics just uncovered due to the expiry of the 30-year secrecy rule. Such was my fate at the weekend, as a dossier destined to be destroyed, was instead requested and released. It covered the epic battle in my salad days in Dundee to twin with the Palestinian town of Nablus. I'm returning to the city next month to speak for the first time in 25 years.
It was a controversial thing to be sure, but merely ahead of its time. Now the whole world knows that without justice for the Palestinian people there will be no peace in the region or the world. Thirty years ago that was not so. Supporters of Israel mounted a ferocious assault on me and my friends in the city council. Demonstrators, dressed like concentration camp inmates, protested in the city square and the closure of a department store, Goldbergs, with the loss of 60 jobs, was blamed on the twinning.
Our American twin, Langley, Virginia (home of the CIA), threatened to sever relations. Even Hampden Park was festooned with advertising hoardings during a televised floodlit midweek match, exclaiming: "No PLO in Dundee". Before the floodlights went on, the hoardings read: "No Pub Like Ours in Dundee". I know because I was there watching and wondering.
The Scottish media, too, had another embarrassing hysterical and oh so "little knowledge is dangerous" episodes. For example, and this canard was repeated ad nauseam, it was said by the then "Queen" of Scots journalism that we had insulted the Mayor of Nablus by giving him a bottle of scotch and a kilt when he was a Muslim and had no legs - those having been blown off in an Israeli terrorist bomb.The Mayor was a whisky connoisseur - Muslim or not - and the "kilt" was in fact a tartan blanket to cover his raw stumps in the Dundee winter. The writer was too clever to have been genuinely mistaken about all that, so I wonder how she feels now? Perhaps she can tell us under the 30-year rule.
What we did not know then, but know now thanks to this dossier, was the strange and persistent role of Sir Malcolm Rifkind, nowadays an obscure Tory backbencher, but then a powerful minister in Maggie Thatcher's first administration, in the Scottish Office. Malcolm, who is my office neighbour at Westminster, emerges from the hitherto secret papers as quite obsessively determined to wreck the twinning. He tries to persuade Tayside police that flying the Palestinian flag must be illegal, the Lord Lyon - whoever he is - that the heraldry of Scotland is being offended and local ratepayers to begin a legal action against us. One document I shall investigate further, from a civil servant, openly canvasses someone entering the city chambers and destroying or stealing the flag. An illegal act, of course.
I tried to speak to Rifkind last week when this all emerged. I thought a 30 years on "mea culpa" from him would be good. Not just because he grew up to be the first British foreign secretary to call for the creation of a Palestinian state (still, alas, a mirage), but because - until recently - he held a lucrative business position in the Arab world. Alas, his business is no more and wee Malcolm was not for turning. Though, rather disturbingly for a former Foreign Secretary, he kept arguing that it was a "PLO flag" he was concerned about. There is no such flag. The PLO didn't have a flag. The flag in Dundee was, is, and will always be the flag of Palestine, the country. It would be like describing the flag of Ireland as an IRA flag.
Fine on the unreconstructed football slopes, hardly what you would expect from Rifkind of the FO.
THE GOLDEN AGE OF WILSON . .
Oct 19, 2009
Thirty-FIVE years ago last week, Harold Wilson became Britain's Prime Minister for the second time and the country got ready to go again. His first era in the sixties brought us the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Open University, Concorde, swinging London, the mini-skirt, the other Mini, kept us out of Vietnam, and many other good things. He was a real Labour man, the likes of which, since the demise of John Smith, we have not seen again. Sure he made mistakes and there were downsides, too. But looking back, it feels like a golden age, no? Come back, Harold. All is forgiven.
On the brink
Oct 19, 2009
This week in 1962, we were deep in the middle of the Cuban missile crisis. Younger readers cannot imagine the terror of those days when it seemed the world was on the brink of a nuclear holocaust. Pentagon hawks were openly, even seditiously, plotting a nuclear attack on the USSR, despite knowing it would kill tens of millions of people, perhaps ending the world as we knew it.
If you haven't seen Stanley Kubrick's Dr Strangelove, you simply must in order to grasp how spooky, even absurd, it all was. I was only eight but I can still remember how chilling it was. Thanks to Kennedy and Khrushchev, both sides stepped back. The Soviets withdrew their missiles from Cuba and the Yanks theirs from Turkey. Thus, and I mean it, I'm still here to write this and you to read it.
I'll spoil their nasty little party
Oct 19, 2009
I just watched the loathsome Nick Griffin MEP being interviewed on Sky News. It was a powder-puff interrogation and Griffin got away with murder and glossing over the greatest mass-murder in modern times - the Holocaust. He was allowed to smear two million British citizens - Britain's Muslims - with no one, least of all Mr Murdoch's man, there to defend them.
This will become important on Thursday when the rat appears on BBC Question Time. With next to nobody up against him - Jack Straw simply isn't up to the job - Griffin will run riot. And there might be a riot outside as the Left maintains its stance of demanding no platform for the likes of him. But this is a stable door no longer worth trying to keep shut. This horse has bolted and is thrilling at least a million spectators as it comes down the righthand rail. It's time to confront these racist AGE nationalists - on the streets and on TV.
There was a campaign on Facebook for me to be put up against Griffin on Thursday. But I couldn't have done it even if the Beeb had succumbed, such is the hostility of the Left. But this will have to change. It's time to lock horns. And on this one at least, I'm the best man for the job.
Heroes have a habit of being real villains
Oct 19, 2009
My friend Ricky Ross, one of the greatest acts to emerge from Scotland, once told me he wished he had never met his hero and mine, Bob Dylan. An idol best made of stone, he was rude, dismissive and arrogant - everything you've ever heard and worse. Ricky, then youthful, was crushed.
I felt the same reading Cynthia Lennon's new book about Beatle John, also a hero of mine. Though fulsome in its praise for Lennon's great talent, she lays bare his many failings as a man, a husband and, above all, a father. After all, it's possible to fall out of love with your wife, but inexplicable and despicable to ignore, even desert, your five-year-old son. This is what John did with Julian, who seems to have suffered greatly throughout his life as a result.
I split from my first wife and childhood sweetheart when my daughter was about Julian's age in circumstances of which I'm far from proud. But I could never have left my kid and went to extraordinary lengths to maintain the closest possible bond. I'm so proud that it worked. Now a mother of two herself, she's with me all the time and gives me some of the best political advice I ever get. Like last Saturday when I went off on another rant about dangerous dogs on my radio show. She texted me, saying, "Dad, it's far too close to an election to be deliberately alienating eight million dog-owners." I felt like I'd stepped in poo and quickly changed the subject.
I'm back in Dundee the second week in November for the first time really in decades. I'm holding a private party to which I invite all my friends (and former enemies if they'd like to kiss and make up) from school, work and politics in my home city. Anyone who knew me back then is welcome. Just write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org for details. I promise it won't be a Bob Dylan experience.
Nobody likes to see a woman cry. But some women do it so irresistibly. Demi Moore in Ghost, during Patrick Swayze's premature demise, was one, and Cheryl Cole dealing with Simon Cowell's beastliness is another. Although Cowell, a genius in my book, is generally on the money, he can be raspingly brutal, and was in blaming Cole's poor choice of diva song for her Welsh boy-star Lloyd Daniels. The girl wept aloud, so winningly it probably saved her act from oblivion. If only for now. Of course, some women can turn on the waterworks for effect. But sweet Cheryl would never do anything like that, would she?
Multicultural Malaysia designed to please
Oct 26, 2009
I'll be in Malaysia today, in Kuala Lumpur. Not seeking political asylum - well, not yet. Malaysia is one of the world's most successful countries despite, maybe because of, the fact that it is totally multicultural. Millions of Malays live alongside millions of Chinese and millions of Indians in, if not perfect synchronicity, then huge profitability and with racism and bigotry quite simply outlawed. Though I won't have time to see much on this trip - I'm at a peace conference and must be back by Thursday - the country is breathtakingly beautiful, from high sierra to sweeping golden beaches. It's about as close to paradise as you can get.
I will hit the KL shopping malls, though, where the bargains are so good that it's worth the air fare just to go there for a break in the dank winter months. And I'll be stocking up on Dolce & Gabbana, Giorgio Armani, Hugo Boss, Yves St Laurent, Paco Rabanne, Chanel No5, Cuban cigars, Swiss chocolates and Berlei lingerie because, as you well know, I quite like foreigners.
Billy Fury, Burton suits and case against BNP
Oct 26, 2009
Didn't he do well. Well, maybe not. But no thanks to the panel, who were - as I predicted - utterly gormless. Thanks to the peerless David Dimbleby (whose father Richard was the first journalist into Belsen to see the Holocaust) and the gloriously cosmopolitan audience, Nick Griffin, grinning like the Churchill TV dog, drowned in derision. Attempts by the right-wing press to attract a wave of sympathy for the "underdog" will not wash. Indeed, all the perfumes of Arabia will not wash the stains from this sewer rat. And what a picture he was.
Take a look at this lardy one-eyed goon and you can see why he's so concerned not to dilute his gene pool. What is it about these "we are the master race" types? Adolf Hitler was a weirdo who famously only had one ball and may never have had sex in his life. Goebbels, his wizened propaganda chief, was a freak. Martin Webster, Griffin's predecessor, claims he had a five-year homosexual affair with nasty Nick, who denies it and who claimed he found men kissing "creepy". It's difficult to imagine anyone kissing Griffin but his views and documented actions over the years ought to have been the kiss of death.
He cavorts with the Ku Klux Klan (but only the non-violent lynch mobs), he insisted that the Auschwitz gas chambers were a hoax, he calls black people monkeys, and says London is no longer a British city, preferring remote Welshpool, where it's said his sheep love him very much - or is it he, them? But it wasn't the kiss of death at all. If the polls are to be believed, quite the reverse. So what does that tell us? Firstly, the British are not as nice as they look. All this talk of fair play and tolerance is self-serving narcissism.
Last week's Panorama showed two Asian undercover journalists with hidden cameras when they went to whitest Bristol and rented a house. They were attacked virtually every time they stepped outside the door. Grown men struck an Asian "housewife", telling her Iraq is "that way", calling her Taliban, and small children threatened to shoot and knife her before stealing her bag. The man was assaulted brutally.
As I warned at the time, if you go to war with Muslims all around the world, don't imagine it won't spread to the home front. And, secondly, that the mainstream hypocrites are responsible, not the far-right - they're merely profiting. Griffin might hate Muslims but Jack Straw has more of their blood on his hands. The man whose father was a conscientious objector to fighting Hitler and who refused to pick up a gun at his public school officer training corps has no problem about ordering other men to kill. And it's mainstream politicians who have abandoned millions of working-class Britons to mass unemployment, growing levels of poverty, bad housing, poor public services and hopelessness about the future - on which the far-right rats feed in such a frenzy.
Britain today is dangerous. New Labour bankrupted social democracy for a generation. The Blair-Brownites with their designer drivel, class treachery, war drive fuelled by imperial delusion and the desert that is their parliamentary phalanx, will be swept away in a landslide. The Tories will inherit a broken Britain in which a foreign-owned, right-wing media will bear false testimony - that foreigners and Muslims cause our problems. Either the Tories will dress right to reap the whirlwind of bigotry and hate, or the BNP will grow and grow.
I'd begin to wonder if we Scots wouldn't be better off getting out of here - if the great majority of fascistic filth I get in my postbag wasn't postmarked Scotland. No one on the Question Time panel would put the case FOR immigration, so I will. Not least because I am the grandson of immigrants myself. If my grandparents hadn't washed up on Anderston Quay, right where the Record building is, in their bare feet on a cattle boat from Ireland, none of my family - hardly a day of work lost in nearly a century - would have been able to contribute what we have to life in this country.
Unlike Straw's father, both my grandfathers had no qualms about fighting Hitler - they were itching to get at him. My grandmothers did warwork to keep home fires burning and the war machine turning. My mother cleaned schools and libraries. My father started life as a poor electrician whose siblings died of TB in the Dundee slums and ended up a geography teacher after going to night school then university for 20 years.
Unlike Griffin, I didn't attend Cambridge University, or inherit money. I am from white working class, unlike him. I lived in Britain when it was the 99 per cent white country he pines for. I'm here to tell you eggand-chips monochrome Britain - where Burton was the acme of tailoring, Billy Fury was as good as the charts got, and the spiciest taste was HP sauce - wasn't half the place we have now.
Britain, still more Scotland, needs more immigrants - not fewer. Our ageing population and pitiful birth-rate is producing a demographic inversion in which the numbers of people working to produce the wealth to keep millions of pensioners for 25 or 30 years after their retirement is becoming fatally deficient. Until last year, our population was the only one in the world declining. As anyone who's flown across this country knows, it's empty - thanks to the pure white Dukes of Sutherland and Buccleuch who preferred sheep to their ain folk. Not carnally, you understand. It was just business.
What's in store now for Tesco Tone
Nov 2, 2009
Of course the Afghan War like so many others was Tony Blair's to begin with. He's another one presumably seeking to expiate his sins. Though maybe not. The knowledge that while engaged in the not inconsiderable task of bringing peace to the Middle East as the "Peace Envoy" he was haggling with Tesco over an alleged £1million-a-year role helping them open stores in the, er, Middle East puts the tin hat on his collapsing reputation, surely.
Imagine his shuttles throughout the region; negotiating ceasefires, a dry cough, and then... "Now then Your Majesty, there's a plot just down the road from the palace we think would be just ideal for an out-of-town supermarket..." Cherie could have come to the openings and filled her trolley with all sorts of freebies. Well... every little helps.
They can't keep me out forever
Nov 2, 2009
News arrives from the north of another great courtroom victory for your columnist, yours truly, and I'm as happy as a bear gulping down a leaping salmon. Readers may recall that earlier this year while addressing, among others, the audience at the UN building in New York City (site of the mass murder of 9/11) I was banned from entering Canada on the grounds I may be a terrorist. This because I had delivered a convoy of aid to the besieged Gaza Strip just after it had been flattened by Israel. You know, potentially dangerous stuff, like wheelchairs and ambulances.
The far-right government of that once kindly country has been making a habit of banning dissenters, at the same time welcoming killers like George W Bush for well-paid speaking tours. And the suspicion is abroad that its role as Benjamin Netanyahu's main international cheerleader may have unduly influenced it in what are surely purely Canadian immigration decisions.
Last week the Canadian Chief Justice granted me leave to appeal against the decision despite ferocious (and expensive) opposition from the Canadian Government. As only one in 10 of such applications is granted and my legal team are working for nothing it was David v Goliath stuff. And we won. If the Canadian Tories had any sense they would now back down and let me in. I'm going to win the case if they don't the and there must be better things to spend their country's money on. And if I do win; just think of the crowds, coverage, not to mention book sales when I enter in triumph.
I did warn them, when it comes to courts I always get my man.
Ill wind blows in veggie debate
Nov 2, 2009
Lord Stern, the Government's climate change supremo, says the meat counters in Tesco and elsewhere should be closed down, eating sausages should become as socially unacceptable as smoking and we should all fart methane-rich flatulence as converts to vegetarianism. All to halt global warming. A spirited debate thundered throughout my radio show at the weekend on this as the special ones insisted eating the flesh of dead animals was morally degenerate compared to pulling screaming plants from the earth and wolfing them down.
Carnivores retaliated - if we were meant to be grass and leaf eaters why are our teeth so sharp, our digestive systems not like a cow's? And if God hadn't intended us to eat animals why had he made them of meat? And taste so good? As for the moral superiority of plant-eaters... well, Adolf Hitler was a vegetarian. But the clincher for me was the news leaked out on the show... if you opt for the veggie lifestyle you'd better make sure your other half does too. Because there's going to be lots of warming though noxious winds circulating indoors. It's (apparently) official; vegetarians are world-class farters. Discuss.
It was high time for Nutt job to go
Nov 2, 2009
Another Government adviser went nuts at the weekend after he got the sack for saying that taking LSD and Ecstasy was relatively harmless - well at least compared to horse-riding or skiing. This caused another fierce row on my show - who knew Talksport had so many drug-crazed listeners? I back the Government all the way - and no I haven't been sniffing the Colombian marching powder, I've never even seen a drug let alone taken one.
The question you have to ask yourselves is this. Do you want your children to take LSD and Ecstasy ? If the answer is no (and who among us will answer yes?), then it must be irresponsible for the Government's chief drugs adviser to describe these mind-altering substances in such a trivial way. This is not about whether drug users are criminals or patients or whether drugs should be legalised or not. It's about the POSTURE the state must take in relation to the further stupefaction of the masses.
It's true that on Prof Nutt's - I'm not making that up, it IS his name - scientific charts alcohol is MUCH more dangerous than drugs. But no British Government, ever, is going to ban alcohol. Not least because new Al Capone's would be in business before you could say Jack Robinson. Of course there are Al Capones in the prohibited drug business. But how would it profit us to add more to the mix? Of course, rationally, if drugs are banned so should alcohol be. But the implausibility of the latter can't be allowed to dictate that we should add to our alcohol problems a new free-for-all in drugs, with drugs companies marketing the latest Acid and Es (maybe supermarkets could have their "own brand").
War is too important to be left to generals, said Napoleon. Advisers must always be on tap, but never on top, said Winston Churchill. Advisers advise but elected governments must decide. On this one, the Government decided right.
TIME TO SEND IN BEYONCE
Nov 9, 2009
Maybe instead of expeditionary forces the "West" should have sent Beyonce? She's currently being advertised in her underwear - a fetching red ensemble including the fabled suspender belt - as playing in Egypt. Mullahs denounce her as the devil but the young people appear to be voting with their feet, and mostly for her. It is a common misconception that Muslims hate the West and its ways but that's not at all true. They just hate being invaded and occupied, raped and pillaged and having to live under dictators loyal to us who couldn't care less about them. Beyonce, on the other hand, on any hand... they rather like.
Propping up poppy warlords
Nov 9, 2009
It's as well Afghanistan produces poppies like Topsy because, well, there is an increasing need for Remembrance poppies to remember those dying while the warlords they are protecting are, er, growing the poppies which end up coursing through the veins of young kids on the very poor housing estates from which the fallen soldier hailed... Confused? You must have been by Gordon Brown's big speech on the subject last week. He said that the Afghan government had become a "by-word for corruption". But that we "would not walk away" from it. But he will walk away, and soon, as ex-prime minister Lord Brown of Raith or some such and you'll never hear a cheep about it from him again. So will the hundred Labour MPs who backed the war who will be bombed out of parliament with him. They'll walk away alright, as have the scores of Labour prowar MPs who lost their seats four years ago - all getting ready to "walk away" from what they've done.
For thousands of our young men, however, walking away is no longer an option. They're either dead, without limbs with which to walk, or clogging up our prisons, our mental health wards, or sleeping rough on the streets. Or they're still out there guarding the shrines to the dead we sent there in the first place. In the words of the First World War song 'we're here because we're here, because we're here'. All to prop up a "byword for corruption". Not everyone believes in a Day of Judgement. Mr Brown, as a son of the Manse, presumably does. He faces explaining his role over 12 years of almost constant aggressive war; the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. If he's facing that day with equanimity, then he really is going blind.
For thousands of our young men, however, walking away is no longer an option. They're either dead, without limbs with which to walk, or clogging up our prisons, our mental health wards, or sleeping rough on the streets. Or they're still out there guarding the shrines to the dead we sent there in the first place. In the words of the First World War song 'we're here because we're here, because we're here'. All to prop up a "byword for corruption". Not everyone believes in a Day of Judgement. Mr Brown, as a son of the Manse, presumably does. He faces explaining his role over 12 years of almost constant aggressive war; the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. If he's facing that day with equanimity, then he really is going blind.
WHY NOT WAGE WAR ON DISEASE?
Nov 9, 2009
My veins are coursing with the toxins of no less than four innoculations - Polio (which I imagined had been done by sugar cube half a century ago), Diptheria, Typhoid and Hepatitis... All were on the National Health Sevice and expertly administered by an eastern European nurse at London's St Thomas's. All were neccessary for travel to Bangladesh later this month.
Isn't it amazing that Polio, which is just a distant memory now for people my age and unknown for those younger, is still afflicting people in poor countries? And they can't afford the innoculations. I don't even really know what Diptheria is. But it stalks the places I'm going to. I've got malaria tablets as well. Malaria kills more people even than the Bush 'n' Blair wars. And did you know that we could have absolutely eliminated every one of the diseases I've just mentioned throughout the world, and had lots left to toss to poor bankers, for the price of the wars we've been fighting?
Passion for cigars had to be binned
Nov 9, 2009
Remember remember the 6th of November because,as the smoke of bonfire night cleared,I gave up the cigars I've puffed for almost 40 years.It's been no big deal.I've never smoked cigarettes but I expect it's harder to give up those. There's no chemical pull, no constant craving for the big leaf. It's just that I liked them and became moreused to them than anything else in my life.
I started as a waiter in the Angus Hotel (now defunct) in Dundee, nicking cigar stubs off the ashtrays of the plutocrats - well the local Rotarians anyway - and soon developed the taste. The Rotarians could have sworn they hadn't smoked even half of that cigar I'd just "cleared away". Sorry sir.
Beforelong I was in Cuba, rolling tobacco on caramel coloured thighs... Well, reading Dickens out loud as a kind of music while you work for the cutters and rollers of the Partagas factory in Havana. Payment - a bundle of cheroots wrapped in a red ribbon. Nice work if you can get it.
A cigar habit is more expensive than narcotics if you were to buy in Britain. But I developed a network of friends passing through the exotic duty free shops of Dubai, Beirut, Amman... And, of course, those returning from Cuba itself. My cupboard runneth over with prime tobacco kept moist by loving hands. So why giveit all up at this stage? No medical scare, no dip in performance of any kind. I just decided in the wee small hours that as the father of wee small children, at the age of 55, if I was going to have a chance of seeing them become men I ought to get fit, stop smoking, eat healthier. I'll probably now get knocked down by a corporation bus!
I'm back in Glasgow tomorrow campaigning for my pal Tommy Sheridan in the by-election. It's been a dreich affair so far. Tommy is a working class hero and that's something to be. He's trying to keep the red flag flying. New Labour is flying the orange banners of the Grand Lodge having received the surprise endorsement of the Grand Master, while the SNP candidate is a devotee of Opus Dei... oh isn't it all so confusing these days.
Tommy's got me speaking four times in one day so I'll need all the extra breath I've now found already. Try and get to one of the gigs - you can get details on www.georgegalloway.com. I've admired Sheridan since he was a teenager and student prodigy. He's advertising himself as the best fighter money can't buy and that's true. For decades north east Glasgow has been a New Labour sinecure, a rotten burgh where every kind of problem festered unattended. Like Tommy or not, agree with his politics or not, nobody can deny that in Thursday's field there's only one winner who would make a difference, who would make the whole governing class sit up and take notice. And that's Oor Tommy.
Murphy is the man to take on Salmond
Nov 16, 2009
I'm speaking in Dundee's Marryat Hall tonight, my first speech in the city for a quarter of a century. And it's quite a hall to fill. One of the greatest speeches I heard there was in 1979 by the Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood Benn, then Secretary of State for Energy, in the last days of the Callaghan government and the night before the ill-fated referendum on Scottish devolution.
The weather was dreich and cold, the hoops - the 40 per cent rule - proved insurmountable, the referendum bombed, the government fell (helped to the knacker's yard by a crazy decision by the SNP to back Mrs Thatcher in the subsequent vote of confidence) and a long, dark night descended on Scotland. The SNP was virtually wiped out - falling from 11 MPs to two (winning me thousands of pounds from the bookie) but, much worse, so was Scotland as we knew it. Our coal, steel, car, shipbuilding, railway, bus, truck and aluminium industries went to the knacker's yard with Callaghan. Mass unemployment and hopelessness stalked the land.
I'm showing my new family Jute Town for the first time - the Law Hill, the silvery Tay, my old schools. And introducing my wee boy Zein to long lost relatives, visiting my father's grave and meeting up with old friends and comrades. Last night, I had a reunion of schoolmates, too. My first girlfriend was there, but no jealousy reared its head. It was FIFTY years ago that I fell for her, and it was never mutual; she turned up her nose and turned me down. She's still with her childhood sweetheart to whom she's been married for 35 years. The first girl I took to the pictures didn't even show up last night - in favour of her grandchildren's birthday party. Gosh, doesn't time fly.
The Nats had another disaster last week in the Glasgow North East by-election. Sure, the turnout was a national disgrace - though not as disgraceful as conditions in some parts of the constituency - and the New Labour campaign ruthlessly disingenuous. But to come in 8000 votes behind a party in its 13th and, surely, last year of unpopular government must have been nightmarish for Alex Salmond, who's beginning to seem like he's lost his mojo. Just like in 1979, some of it is self-inflicted.
The scrapping of the Glasgow airport rail-link confirmed a feeling in the city that the Nats are an east coast party. Salmond's insistence on David Kerr - a gawky, unpersuasive zealot - as SNP candidate was another blunder. New Labour have shown in Glenrothes, as well as here, that they can "win ugly" and get a result at whatever cost to their reputation. Here, they successfully ran as the opposition to the Government in Holyrood rather than the party of power slouching towards electoral Armageddon in the UK as a whole.
But it won't wash as those foolish triumphalists parading with their placards in Springburn on Friday 13 must have known. But like the Don Revies always say: a win, however ugly, is a win. As I predicted long ago, New Labour is under better management now. Jim Murphy is a class act. His Zen-like approach to opponents, his zero-tolerance of amateurism in the political machine, his media-friendliness have all made a difference.
It's a pity he's doomed to lose his seat at Westminster, caught in a pincer between boundary reorganisation and a rising tide of Toryism in the leafy suburbs. Or is it a pity? If I'm right and Murphy's tea is out next year, he could then stand for Holyrood and lead Labour there. Then Salmond would have a fight on his hands.
Tommy, it's time for a rethink
Nov 16, 2009
If politics is showbusiness for ugly people, what would Tommy Sheridan know about that? Compared with the other candidates in the Glasgow North East contest, Tommy had star quality. He is a legend, while the new MP Willie Bain is not even a legend in his own household, not least because at the age of 39 he still lives with his mum and dad. Tommy has seen and done it all.
Going to jail for his principles, getting elected from Barlinnie to Glasgow City Council, where he served for 11 years. Winning, against the odds, two terms in the Holyrood parliament. Tommy wrecked Mrs Thatcher's poll tax - and contributed thereby to her political demise. And yet although the by-election result showed Sheridan head-and-shoulders above the also-rans, he was lamentably off the pace of the main two parties. Which shows that mojo just isn't enough. There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood can surge to victory and glory. Left-wing politics of the kind Tommy - and, to some extent, I - represent have missed that floodtide. We will have return to the drawing board, or else be beached for ever.
All shook up over Elvis hair piece
Nov 16, 2009
One of my friends, Brian Yule, had an aunt in Dundee, now sadly deceased. She was a cracker when I was a young schoolboy and her attractiveness was enhanced by her love of Elvis. As compensation for my ardour, she gave me an album, lovingly hand-made, of rare pictures of the King, which I still treasure. Not least because her pink lipstick still adorns (40 years on - maybe it was Maybelline?) Elvis's face on the cover.
By coincidence, a lock of Elvis's hair, shorn by his barber and smuggled out, has just been sold at an auction in Devizes, Wiltshire, for £1k or a little more. It's a snip, I say. If only one of our political leaders could get hold of Elvis's mojo we'd be All Shook Up all right. For a king, of course, Elvis was born way on the wrong side of the tracks. What would now be called white trailer trash, he still bestrides popular culture, luminous as ever and decades after his death. What did he have? What the French call, "Je ne sais quoi." I don't know what.
It's difficult to define but easy to recognise. His voice, what he did with it, how he stood, how he moved, smiled and swivelled. Especially how he swivelled. And he was the right man in the right place at the right time.
Top spot in Dundonian fame game
Nov 23, 2009
During a speech at Dundee University, I was introduced as "the most famous Dundonian in the world", which caused me quite a start. But when I thought about it, it must be true if the world is taken in the round. When I touched down at Dundee airport I literally bumped into Lorraine Kelly, the lovely TV host who has made the city her home. Later that night, the actor Brian Cox appeared in a Hollywood movie on television. And anyone in real trouble could do much worse than hire Donald Findlay QC to defend them. We four are the only famous living Dundonians I can think of.
Findlay and I attended the same school, Harris Academy. Neither of us is mentioned in the school, however. I suppose neither Donald nor me, were quite the famous sons they'd hoped for. Last week a film-maker was interviewing me outside the school. The headmaster was out like a shot. Though not forbidding he made it clear we were not welcome. He certainly didn't invite us in for a cup of tea.
Worth waiting for
Nov 23, 2009
When I was a teenager, I worked in Dundee's Angus Hotel, where I met a young Asian waiter called Rauf. Last week, I ate in one of his many restaurants. His empire is spread far and wide, he is a friend of royalty (purveyor of curry to Prince William in St Andrews), and holds some or other of the nonsensical trappings of the British Empire. But the best food I ate back in the city was a takeaway from De Niro's. But if someone had told me the day would come when three fish suppers and a single white pudding would be £17 I'd never have believed that either!
Essex girl Stacey is Streisand in making
Nov 23, 2009
Not since Leona has The X Factor found a potential star like Stacey Solomon. The girl from Dagenham, Essex, is so sweet you want to eat her, her story would bring a tear to a glass eye, and her voice will secure a place in the heavenly choir of angels, that's for sure. But before that she's got to surmount the vicious infighting of the show's judges.
Stacey is the protege of Dannii Minogue, who seems the least powerful of the four. Louis Walsh has done wonders for Jedward, Cheryl Cole can hardly put a foot wrong nowadays and Simon Cowell has the makings of a New Labour cabinet minister, such is his mastery of the dark arts and the sharpness of his elbows. But for me Dannii has in Stacey a potential Barbra Streisand, and I'm talking the whole nine yards. In a few years, this girl will be the biggest thing to come out of Dagenham since the Ford Zodiac. She is a star!
I'm currying favour with Bangladeshis
Nov 23, 2009
I am en route for Bangladesh, my third visit to one of the poorest countries in the world. Extreme instability in the world's climate threatens the very existence of Bangladesh, persistently lashed by cyclone and flood, inundated, saturated, drowned. All the more reason, then, to worry about the Tipaimukh Dam to be constructed by neighbouring India just across the border, and on an earthquake fault line. It will be a weapon of mass destruction pointing at millions of Bangladeshis from the district of Sylhet. You may not know it, but you already know many Sylhetis.
Virtually all "Indian restaurants" in Britain are in fact Bangladeshi, and owners and staff are almost all Sylhetis. If there is an earthquake and the dam breaks, Sylhet will be no more. Those of its people who can escape will be in headlong flight. Here. When Britain arrived in what was then the all-Indian state of Bengal the princely entrepot, whose centre was Calcutta, was the richest place in the world. And when we left, under fire, just a few years before I was born, it was the poorest place in the world. You don't have to be Einstein to work out what happened in between.
When I was at school, it used still to be said that Britain had had an Empire so vast that upon it the sun never set. To which my Irish grandfather would reply: "That's because God would never trust the British in the dark." Across from my school in Dundee was the pungent red-brick edifice of the Dundee linoleum works. Younger readers may not know that "lino" was once the acme of cool as a floor covering. It was highly polished with a backing of jute, from the city's mills - which were almost without number then. The raw jute came from what was then Pakistan, and is now Bangladesh.
All day long in my classroom we would see the little trains deliver the jute and take away the lino. Little did I know that half a century on, as a London MP, I would represent tens of thousands of Bangladeshis in Parliament, that the linoleum works, the trains and all the mills in my home town would be long gone - and that the only connection between Dundee and Bangladesh would be "Indian" curry.
Your country needs you.. back at home
Nov 30, 2009
The recruiting poster for World War I subsequently became a style icon. A heavily-moustachioed Lord Kitchener pointed accusingly out of it, declaring 'Your Country Needs You'. In the Sixties, or so I'm told, it became chic and fashionable when it adorned merchandising and livery of a King's Road shop called I Was Lord Kitchener's Valet.
This came back to me during the week when Gordon Brown urged the British people to get behind the mission of 'our boys' in Afghanistan, careful as he was to issue a mild rebuke to the gang of criminals and ne'er-do-wells fleecing the place and collectively calling themselves a government. This followed heartbreaking statements by widows and parents of the latest fallen, some of whom urged us to support the soldiers even if we deplored the orders they follow. Sadly, that is simply illogical.
They are there simply as an invading army and no matter how big the next troop surge may be, it will alienate more Afghans and stimulate the recruitment of even more fighters to dig holes for explosive devices or pore fire on our troops. The only way to safeguard our soldiers is to campaign for their urgent removal.
I have no idea whether the Kitchener poster was successful but it did attach to a horrific, inglorious and tragic war. I can think of no more fitting image for this one than Brown urging us to get into line behind the fifes and drums overlaid with the slogan, 'Their country needs you'.
We now know the then attorney-general Lord Goldsmith pronounced the war in Iraq illegal, changing his mind no doubt under pressure. That advice will doubtless come out for Chilcot. But it really does point out the absurdity of this inquiry. It may blackguard Blair and his willing apparatchiks but it has no legal redress. It should be taking place in the British parliament although, of course, all of those 412 who voted for war would have to declare an interest and not take part. Indeed, if they had a shred of decency they would resign and crawl through their constituencies in penance.
My friend was no ordinary Joe
Nov 30, 2009
I lost another friend last week - a sorely missed one. His life was cut brutally short on the eve of his 45th birthday. Joe Owens was from Blackburn (he claims to have taught SuBo to sing in tune and keep time), he was a miner and NUM official through the strike and was made redundant shortly after. He retrained as a journalist, started on a community newspaper in Glasgow, went on to work on national papers, including this one, and had a book published. It hadn't been going too well recently but Joe's humour didn't fail and I never heard him complain or bad-mouth anyone. I'll miss him - although not nearly as much as Liz and his boy Patrick will. I'm thinking of you.
Piggy banks will be raided after Owen goal in Dubai
Nov 30, 2009
When he finally hangs up his boots, Michael Owen is unlikely to embark on a further career as a financial adviser. He invested money in Allen Stanford's bent bank and was an ambassador for it, as he was for that monument to Mammon, Dubai, where he was given a house at a knock-down price in return for endorsing the city and its burgeoning property market.Owen is one of dozens of international sports stars who made the bargain with the regime of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum - from David Beckham, Steven Gerrard to the dodgem-driving Tiger Woods.
The collapse of the stars' property market - the Dubai World group are seeking a six-month moratorium on $60bn of their $80bn debt - may provide a spot of schadenfreude for the rest of us but the consequences for our fragile,and largely state-owned banks, could again be cataclysmic. It's a Fred Goodwin aftershock. The Royal Bank of Scotland, who Goodwin drove into penury through crazy deals like this one, have the biggest potential problem.It arranged $2.3bn of the loans. The state piggy bank may be raided once more.
Knights of long knives lining up to finish Blair
Nov 30, 2009
In the cloakrooms of the British parliament there are special pegs for the knights and baronets and belted earls to hang up their ceremonial swords. I don't suppose they have the same in the nearby Queen Elizabeth Hall where the Chilcot inquiry has so many titled people jostling, either sitting on it or giving evidence to it, that there's barely room to swing a scabbard.
Two of them quietly slipped their blades into Tony Blair. Sir Christopher Meyer was the British ambassador to the US in the run-up to the war. He went with the then prime minister to a fateful meeting with George Bush in 2002and says, conveniently, that he wasn't present at all the meetings but that his master's attitude to war hardened after it. Sir Jeremy Greenstock, then ambassador to the UN, reckoned that while it might be impossible to decide whether the war was illegal. Piffle! It was probably jolly unwise, given the rest of Europe and the majority of Brits were against it.
Oor Mags goes the extra mile
Nov 30, 2009
There's nothing a quango loves more than an expensive beanfeast. In Kilmarnock last week the management of Crosshouse hospital held a celebration dinner entitled Ayrshire Achieves. The event heralded their staff 'champions'. A few quid in each and every staff member's pay packet might have been more appreciated. Nonetheless, it recognised the brilliant achievements of nurses, auxiliaries, cleaners, cooks and ambulance staff working in jobs most of us wouldn't last in till tea break.
So I congratulate champion Margaret McGregor - 'oor Maagrit' - who, as the fulsome commendation put it, goes the extra mile for patients and fellow workers. She keeps emergency ward 4C immaculate, she runs errands, makes cups of tea for patients and she's unfailingly helpful and cheerful. When her work is finished she goes home to care for her father. Thanks Margaret - from me and millions of others who have needed health service care.
Scared Fitz is on the run
Nov 30, 2009
In election campaigns I belt out the message from an open-topped double decker bus. This time around it's a tad different. I'm in Bangladesh visiting the area where my constituents come from. Around 40 per cent of my constituency is originally from Bangladesh and it's about the same proportion in Poplar and Canning Town, where I'm now taking on the war apologist, New Labour's Jim Fitzpatrick.
So I've taken to the jumbo mode of transport. I intend to trample Fitzpatrick. Incidentally, his website has been down for some time. Could he have given up before the first whiff of grapeshot
A wet end to the dry season
Dec 7, 2009
I'm just back from a very soggy Bangladesh - it's the dry season but much of the country is still under water due to rising sea levels as the ice melts and oceans are warming. In the next five years, it's expected that 11 per cent of Bangladesh will be under water - like Atlantis, but real. That's despite whatever happens at Copenhagen in the climate change summit. Saudi Arabia, big oil and gas firms, their paid stooges and mouth pieces and their Philadelphia lawyers have done a good - if expensively purchased - job of muddying the waters of the climate change debate.
A weekend poll showed one in two voters disbelieved the Earth is warming, ice thinning and melting, and extreme weather events becoming more traumatic - even though they could see it with their own eyes, if they'd open them. The hatred of regulation in the free market of corporations has conflated with sceptics and conspiracy theorists who, since 9/11 and the lies over the Iraq war, just don't believe any official information at all. But I'm not crying wolf. I have seen the wolf at large in Bangladesh - and it's now coming our way.
Good Lord, Taylor is in trouble for expenses
Dec 7, 2009
Seems Lord Taylor of Warwick is in soapy bubble. The police could now look into his living arrangements. He was claiming his principal residence was a house he'd never owned or rented. He claimed thousands in expenses for staying away overnight from the residence he had never lived in in any case. Lord Taylor, formerly John Taylor, was a black Tory Commons candidate, treated disgracefully by his local party and the so-called Liberal Democrats who defeated him in very posh Cheltenham - where they have fur coats AND knickers. And that's just the Tory men.
Taylor got a seat in the Lords just like fire-raiser Lord Watson of Invergowrie, who might now be able to give his fellow Lord some prison tips - like where not to bend down to pick up stuff. Watson, Taylor and I played in the parliamentary football team. After the for game, our bus was in traffic when one of the players shouted out: "There's a man running behind our coach." It was Taylor. He's caught up with parliamentary practices since, it seems.
Craig for Scotland
Dec 7, 2009
Now that the SFA are going back to the future, tapping Walter Smith for a return as Scotland's team manager, why not go the whole hog and get wee Craig Brown, whose record puts his successors in the shade? Craig has scored for Scotland, too. And with younger ladies than even Tiger Woods. When outed by the tabloids, he handled it with more aplomb, however. At a fundraiser for Yorkhill hospital I attended with Sir Alex Ferguson and Walter Smith, Craig told of a date he'd had with a young girl in Glasgow's Rogano restaurant.
The waiter asked Craig: "What will it be, sir?" He replied: "I'll have the fillet steak, dauphinoise potatoes, petit pois, and a bottle of Chateauneuf-du-Pape." "What about your girlfriend?" "Oh, she'll have the usual - spaghetti hoops and some ginger."
I'll never walk in a free Palestine
Dec 7, 2009
I'm at Folkestone with the Viva Palestina convoy en route for Gaza by way of France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Austria, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Syria, Jordan and Egypt. An epic journey by any standards, especially as the caravan will be 200 trucks long by the end. And ambulances by the dozen among them to replace those wilfully destroyed along with the 15 medics and paramedics inside them by the Israeli attack last Christmas.
Many readers will know already that the Palestinian issue is personal for me. I even married into it and, though divorced, I will never be separated from the cause. I used to believe that one day I would walk in a free Palestine. I no longer do. A settlement whereby Christians, Muslims and Jews could share the Holy Land and the refugees could return to their homes has never been further away. But I hope my son - now two and a half - will one day. And that the locals tell him they remember his father.
I'm not expecting the next British government to be more sympathetic to the Palestinian cause than the current one. Gordon Brown boasts that his late father fundraised for the European settlers who took the Palestinian land and that he would be as faithful a friend of Israel's as Tony Blair - a hard act to follow. Channel 4 Dispatches presenter, author and journalist Peter Oborne recently revealed the extent of the penetration of top Tory circles by the Israel lobby - right into the private office of David Cameron himself.
Mind you, the shadow chancellor George Osborne now has a brother-Adam-who is a converted Muslim. Adam married a beautiful Bangladeshi - 31-year-old Rahala Noor - whom he met and romanced at St Andrews University. So he will now be known as Mohammed Osborne.Well, if the mountain won't come to Mohammed...
Dec 14, 2009
The Viva Palestina aid convoy (www.vivapalestina.org) has reached Turkey and I'll meet it in Istanbul tomorrow. Turkey was once the ruler of the Arab world, and the Arabs thought things could only get better when their empire collapsed at the end of World War I. They got much worse. Turkey has turned out for the convoy all right, doubling the number of trucks. Now US, UK, Ireland, Switzerland, Malaysia and Turkish flags fly aloft 200 vehicles. We aim to reach Gaza on the anniversary of the December 27 war. Try and help us if you can.
Loss of Tiger is absurd
Dec 14, 2009
So Tiger Woods prefers the rough and tumble of the Las Vegas chaise longues to the deep manicured green peace of the marriage bed. He's not the first good looking billionaire athlete to play away from his home course, and he will not be the last. The media and corporate hypocrites have gone into the full paroxysms of moral panic. And what peculiar morals they are.
Thierry Henry, who was caught red-handed by a billion TV viewers stealing a place for France in the World Cup finals and who promised his wife and his club Arsenal he would be faithful before he cheated on them both, he's a fine role model for Gilette - the best a man can get. Tiger, who may have cheated on his wife but not at his sport, well, he's being dropped. An energy drink has ditched him, too. Mind you, lack of energy doesn't seem to be his problem.
My main observation on this tale is the sheer lack of class of bimbos erupting, for pay, over the media. If Tiger had got himself a burd or two who liked him, rather than his money, he wouldn't be in this mess. I hope it gets resolved to the satisfaction of him, his Mrs and his two small children. Woods is the greatest golfer who lived and his departure from the sport is absurd. Once upon a time a crowd of white men chasing a young black man was probably a lynch mob. Then it was the leader board. Now it's those paragons of virtue, the media.
It's high time we rang the changes
Dec 14, 2009
MPs' expenses are knocked into a top hat by the eye-watering news that David Cameron's star parliamentary candidate Zac Goldsmith - son of billionaire Jimmy and brother of comely Jemima Khan - has robbed the British taxpayer of £5.8million in dodged tax.
Nothing could speak louder about the nature of the would-be Tory government than this. There are more Old Etonians and other public school types on Cameron's front bench than at any time since the 19th century. Their treasurer and chief funder Lord Ashcroft presides over their affairs from the tax exile of Belize.
As Gordon Brown voluntarily paid back the £500 for the painting of his shed, how about would-be MP and non-domicile Zac pays back the £5million in unpaid taxes? From time to time, I come across the deluded and the deceived who've fallen for the "We're closing in" rhetoric of the campaign against benefit cheats. Of course nobody should be allowed to rip off the benefits system. But why don't we start at the top, where the big money is going missing? Why don't we start with Lord Ashcroft and Zac Goldsmith? If Brown and Darling were men instead of mice they'd do just that, and quickly.
Who knows, guys, it might even help in the forthcoming election? Did anyone check that Tory defector, now a New Labour Defence Minister, Quentin Davies - surely the only rat ever to clamber aboard a sinking ship - hasn't slipped in a claim for the removal of that hump on his back? In the middle of a war in which he is the spectacularly unsuccessful procurement minister - a combination of essential equipment never ordered and a £6billion overspend on the otiose, the grandiose and the merely gross - he sat down to compose a £20,000 expense claim for, among other things, the repair of the bell tower on his stately home. A Labour MP, that is, with a stately home. And a bell tower. There is another Labour MP, also a Tory defector, Shaun Woodward. Married to a Sainsbury, he has SEVEN homes worth tens of millions and complete with butlers. He is the richest man in parliament, one of the richest in the country. But that doesn't stop him sitting down and filling in an expense claim form on which he extracts to the penny the exact maximum in second home allowance.
What's wrong with these people? Then there's Tory grandee, head of the controversial Conservative Friends of Israel, James Arbuthnot MP. He's the chairman of the Commons Defence Select Committee. In the middle of a war, he too had other things on his mind. He might have been watching the history channel. Or Newsnight, Question Time or the BBC.
Instead one night last summer he was watching the shopping channel QVC. As you do when you're a top parliamentarian. His eye was caught by a three-pack of garlic crushers and peelers. Well, every home should have one. But three? And at the public expense? Even Gordon Brown claimed £500 for the re-painting of his "summer house" - what the rest of us call a shed - in Queensferry. Why? Tory toff Lord Snooty Cameron, who last year claimed to cut back his Wisteria, now bills us £1000 for Aga oil.
Two millennia ago, the Roman Emperor Nero famously fiddled whilst Rome burned. Our rulers fiddle while they burn our money and destroy what's left of parliament's reputation. Ask not for whom Mr Quentin's bell tolls? It tolls for all of them.
Dec 21, 2009
It's said you should never meet your heroe s. In real life they turn out to be arrogant, self-regarding and hollow appendages to their images. But there's always the exception. It was at a country house dinner party a few years ago - obviously I was the gatecrasher - and he was suave in a white dinner jacket, the centre of attraction. I was introduced to him and, as he grabbed my hand. I asked: "Do I call you Michael or Mr Caine?" For a millisecond he looked almost nonplussed. "It's Maurice," he replied, "Maurice Micklewhite." He was charming, personable and down to earth.
Maurice was Kirsty Young's guest on Desert Island Discs yesterday. Kirsty has transformed what was an irrelevance caught in a time-warp into a quirky and simply unmissable show - and, no, this isn't a plea for inclusion. Maurice was self-deprecating and funny. The film Zulu was his big breakthrough after virtual penury, able then to give up sharing the digs with another young aspirant, Terence Stamp. This was the 60s in London which, for Mo and Tel, didn't just swing, it looped the loop. Their bedposts weren't so much notched as turned into sawdust.
But Maurice has been married now for almost 40 years and you couldn't find a bad word against him personally or professionally. He has made some poor films. But he doesn't take acting too seriously. He turns up, does his best, takes the large cheque and realises what could have been, when he and Tel could barely afford a bob for the gas meter. His final song on Desert Island Discs was My Way. What else?
Blair's facing facts
Dec 21, 2009
I interviewed the "biographer" of Tony Blair on my Talksport show at the weekend. His name's John Rentoul and he's certainly rented out his entire set of services for the defence of Mr Blair. But as anyone who saw the recent "interview" with Fern Britton - no stranger to a bit of economy with the actualite herself - will see, it really isn't working.
Like the portrait of Dorian Gray, Mr Blair was, for a time, able to appear unravaged indeed untroubled by the life he was leading. But what goes up must come down. The mortification of Tony Blair for the mass murderer has begun. It's written on every new line on his face. Though now a multimillionaire, happiness and peace elude him and his grasping wife. His more accomplished biographer Anthony Seldon said at the weekend that the invasion of Iraq, and his failure to acknowledge the sin, is steadily destroying what's left of his reputation.
The Blairs are doomed to live a long life after power, haunted like the Macbeths, by the impossibility of expunging that damned spot. All the perfumes of Arabia will not out that damned spot.
Legacy of epic lies of Lawrence
Dec 21, 2009
I'm on the road to Damascus where the Viva Palestina convoy, now some 200 vehicles long, has paused, like Lawrence of Arabia before us, making for Aqaba. Just along the road on the wall of a small hotel, is a framed thank-you letter from Lawrence (surely indissolubly linked to the persona of Peter O'Toole in David Lean's epic Lawrence Of Arabia) and a framed copy of his laundry list.
Partly through not wishing to wash our dirty laundry in public, I seldom point out to Arab admirers of the crazed sado-masochistic imperial liar and fantasist that Lawrence, like most of perfidious Albion abroad in that era, was one of the most duplicitous betrayers ever to set forth to lie abroad for his country. And that's saying something.
The Ottoman Empire, whose "sublime porte" in Istanbul opened on to the "centre of the world", had ruled a sleepy Arab world for 400 years. It was a Muslim empire, the remains of the ancient day when the streets of Andalucia in Spain were lit and science culture and religious pluralism flourished. Turkey chose the Kaiser's side in the cataclysm of World War I and the rest is history. Sensing the importance of the black gold under the sands of the Caliphate's Arab provinces - not least to the Royal Navy which had just switched from coal-fired to oil-fired engines - Britain and France set about forming The Arab Revolt, captured so magnificently by Lean, O'Toole, Omar Sharif et al.
It was a stab in the back for the Turks from which they did not recover for nearly a century. But it was such a stab for the Arabs too. Lawrence promised Arab independence to his dashing cavalry warriors while besuited mandarins in Parliament and Whitehall secretly divided the Arab world - often, like in Iraq-Kuwait, dismembering countries in their own selfish interests - parcelled it out to the Allies and chose puppet kings to sit in the splendour of desert palaces - in office but never in power. The deal was done - we'll keep you in luxury and power and you avert your eyes while we steal most of your people's wealth.
Damascus was not allowed its own puppet king. Then, as now, the city was thought thoroughly undependable. Today Syria, warts and all, is the last Arab country. The last castle of Arab honour, refusing occupation either of itself or any other part of the Arab world. That's why you'll never hear a good word about it in the West, even though it's probably the best example of religious harmony. Christian churches, monasteries, nunneries, images proliferate by the thousands, cheek by jowl with the kind of minarets they've just banned in the heart of Christian Europe.
We prefer the friendship of the medieval despots of Saudi Arabia. where the wearing of a crucifix or the saying of Mass will earn you a sentence involving a public lashing, if not the severing of your head in a public square. Bitter about Lawrence and all the lying British hypocrites who came after him? Moi?
Braving the pain
Dec 28, 2009
Gerry Adams, the West Belfast MP, is enduring his own troubles. His brother allegedly sexually abused his own daughter between the age of four and 12. And Adams revealed his father sexually abused some of his children - though not him - throughout their childhood.
Adams has carried this story around his neck for many years while trying to focus on great national and international issues. He deserves sympathy and support from all for his candour and courage in facing up to this pernicious and widespread wickedness. Adults preying on children is just about as bad as it gets.
A sorry tale of Christmas on road to Gaza
Dec 28, 2009
Dateline Aqaba. It was Christmas Day and there was no room for the weary travellers. As is traditional amongst tyrants in these parts, the Egyptian government turned our 500 supplicants away. So Christmas was spent in a car park, Turks, Arabs and British, who formerly fought each other in this town in World War I, played football instead.
Local people streamed into the arena bearing gifts of food, blankets - even a Santa roamed between the vehicles distributing good cheer. Christmas Mass was celebrated at one of many beautiful churches here and in the evening candles and a fire were lit. It's not something any of us will ever forget.
The Turkish prime minister has sent his envoy as has the former prime minister of Malaysia to try to resolve the matter. Ten members of the convoy, bound for Gaza with hundreds of tons of medicine, have begun a hunger strike in the town led by a Tyrone man whose relative was the sixth hunger striker to die in Long Kesh.
A demonstration took place yesterday to mark the begining of the massacre of the innocents in Gaza by Israel exactly one year before. One thousand four hundred were killed - hundreds of them on the first day of the war - more than 400 of them were children and another three hundred and 50 were women. Almost none of them were Hamas fighters. It was as if the British airforce had decided to reduce west Belfast to rubble slaughtering everyone in it because the IRA had armed men therein.
Meanwhile, our medicines race towards their expiry date and spoil in the midday sun while those whom it is meant to assist die for the want of it. It is a sorry Christmas story to be sure. You can follow progress, or the lack of it, at www.vivapalestina.org
Dark echoes of Holocaust
Dec 28, 2009
Last week the most infamous sign in modern history was stolen from above the gates of Auschwitz. Arbeit Macht Frei - work will set you free - was the last thing the doomed read as they entered the doors of the inferno. The Satanic evil of Nazism murdered many millions. Some they merely worked to death, others they tortured then executed. Still others were systematically starved.
Many, most of them Jews, were shuffled into gas chambers on the pretext of being given a shower. The shoes they took off on the way in are perfectly preserved in the camp. After they were dead their gold fillings were extracted, their body parts were harvested, some were subject to medical experimentation even before death. It was thought that such a thing could never happen again. And it has not - on such a scale of barbarism the Holocaust remains unique.
But the revelation in the Israeli parliament in recent days that the body parts of Palestinian prisoners were systematically harvested without the knowledge or consent of their families has had an impact in these parts which it is difficult to overstate. When the story first broke, on Swedish TV, I frankly did not believe it. Implacable critic of Israel as I am, it was beyond belief that a country calling itself the "Jewish State" could ever do such a thing. I met the correspondent responsible for the story months ago and rigorously questioned him about it. I was not satisfied, and didn't use the information. The man was offended and I owe him an apology. Israel has admitted this evil, wicked crime and declared it no longer practises it.
While it is to their credit that they have stopped it and even more creditable that at least within their own people robust freedom of the press and parliament has allowed the truth to come out, there is little evidence of national soul searching of how such a thing could happen. Still less of anyone being held accountable for playing mini-Mengele on Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.
Of course in most of the Arab world there is neither press nor parliamentary freedom. Torture and murder for political purposes goes on all the time, some even rent their dungeons out for other countries too squeamish to do the torturing themselves. There is a unique and extraordinary exception to this darkness, and its name is Al Jazeera. Emanating from the tiny Gulf emirate of Qatar and paid for by royal largesse, the courageous journalists and broadcasters reach seventy million viewers a day.
For most of the last week, that has meant leading the hourly news bulletins with the story of the Viva Palestina convoy and its impasse with Egypt. Which, of course, means that few amongst the Arab world's 300 million people are not aware that hundreds of British people and others are holed up in a Jordanian car park trying to reach the Holy Land. But East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet it appears.
Apart from what I have written here in the Record, there has not been a single word in the British media about this huge aid effort and its fate. Of course, if it had been trying to reach Darfur or another favoured location it would be different. Not that anyone issued a D Notice of course, or threatened cajoled censored or paid anyone to induce the media silence. There was no need to. As the old saw put it: Thank God you cannot bribe or twist the average Br it ish journal ist But when you see what unbribed he'll do You see that there's no I reason to!
Happy New Year to the Fourth Estate from all your fellow citizens and licence payers out here in the desert.
Thank you, Michelle, things are looking up
Jan 4, 2010
It was Erin Brockovich, aka Julia Roberts, who first drew my, er, attention to Michelle Mone, the Scots businesswoman just ennobled in the honours list. Let me explain. My Mrs thought Julia's embonpoint in the film was just the ticket and searched the internet to discover Julia had chosen the "balcony" bra made by Michelle. The rest is history. For those less able to unhook the secrets of women's lingerie, let me explain that the "balcony" achieves cleavage through the use of gel, without having to inject it with all the risks and costs of that.
There are many Scots inventions which have changed the world, from penicillin to tar, from the steam engine to TV, but Michelle, below, is the inventor who has brought me the most pleasure. Arise, Michelle, you have elevated many a Dame.
Why I'm a Major John fan
Jan 4, 2010
Former PM John Major's attack on Tony Blair's conduct over the war on Iraq has rescued some honour for the Tories who, in fact, mainly incited Blair to go even faster over the cliff, down the face of which we are still falling. I wasn't surprised by Major's intervention. For one thing, in the library corridor of the House of Commons, he had already confided to me that he had concluded "the whole thing had been a pack of lies".
Secondly, though not a lot of people know this, John Major and Jim Callaghan are the only two fundamentally decent people to have governed this country in my lifetime. I agreed with neither very much but, having known them both personally and dealt with Major on a person-to-person basis over such things as naval orders for Yarrow on the Clyde and the aftermath of the murder of the daughter of a constituent, I can tell you that Major is a good egg (if you can get over him making the beast with two backs with Edwina Currie, the plague of salmonella).
It's no surprise to me that the former premier spends most of his time at the cricket. He may not have been a great player. But he is a proper gent.
Black eye for a decade of music
Jan 4, 2010
There can't have been many less distinguished musical decades than the one just gone. Reviewing it for my radio show at the weekend, I couldn't believe that the likes of Kylie, right, was in the top 10 most-played artistes of the decade. Kylie is lovely, all right. But for those of us brought up in the Sixties and Seventies, it is just inconceivable that the likes of the Sugababes and Scissor Sisters could have been the top bands of a whole decade. For me, in an admittedly poor field, the only crop which stood out in the Noughties was The Black Eyed Peas.
Phone trick was on wrong track
Jan 4, 2010
The New York Times, in the form at least of stringer Ravi Somaiya, tricked their way onto my private phone number last week, claiming to want to talk to me about the convoy. They, in fact, wanted to put to me that I had once spoken at a meeting organised by the airline underpants bomber, who wanted to massacre hundreds, maybe thousands, on Christmas Day.
As it turned out, I had not spoken at the meeting. And the meeting, in any case, had nothing to do with him. He'd already left University College London by the time I didn't speak at the meeting he didn't organise. Nice try, Ravi, but no cigar. But the implication, of course, was that people like me, by opposing Western policy towards the East, are somehow complicit in these dastardly acts.
When the opposite is the case. If this bomber really had organised a meeting at which I spoke, he might have been with me now, united with Christians, Jews, Muslims and atheists in democratic, peaceful, political action rather than facing the rest of his life in a US penitentiary, narrowly having failed to incinerate himself and countless innocents in an act of mass murder.
It is, in fact, people like me who are the antidote to the siren calls of the fanatics who seek to lure young Muslims onto the rocks of separatism and violence. Worse, it is the likes of The New York Times who, in fact, ARE responsible for inciting fanaticism. By their blind - and, in the case of the run-up to the Iraq war, by their own admission their mendacious - support of the Bush and Blair wars and the double standards which seep through their every page. It is the likes of THEY who have driven so many young Muslims crazy enough to see the way ahead blazing with nihilistic murder and carnage. What part of that simple equation do the powerful and their mouthpieces not understand?
By the time you read this I should be in Gaza or, at least, waiting at its gates. Virtually the whole imprisoned population there has been transfixed for almost a month as this huge convoy - more than 500 people from 17 countries driving more than 200 vehicles, a column several miles long - was strung out on the desert highway. It should be quite a welcome.
Next week, when I've been and gone, I'll tell you more about how this journey became an epic, who is responsible for the extra miles and costs we've had to endure, and what the future is for the worldwide phenomenon Viva Palestina. As the name and idea came to your columnist on a bitter winter's day demonstration a year ago, I'm particularly proud of that. "Dundee boy done good" - hopefully that can be my epitaph. But not yet, Lord.
Run of Mill diplomacy is failing us
Jan 11, 2010
We used to run the world too but now our diplomatic service couldn't run a menage. The chinless wonders of the Foreign Office - whose silence in the run up to the Iraq war (when they knew it would be a bloody disaster) is slowly seeping out at the Chilcot Inquiry now that Blair is safely out of office - are just about the last people with whom one would go tiger shooting.
Sent to lie abroad for their country's rulers, they are very good at that but not much else. Certainly not when travellers are in trouble and if they're largely Muslim British who've just broken the siege on Gaza and incurred the wrath of the tinpot dictatorship in Cairo.
Viva Palestina have kept a log of everything they asked the British Embassy in Cairo to do. At the time of writing, the convoy still has Brits in detention at Cairo airport without access to basic facilities. I'd complain to their boss, foreign secretary David Milliband, but what's the point? He met the Egyptian foreign minister the day before my arrest and gave the Egyptians the green light to go ahead. Anyway, he's busy sheathing his banana after yet another failed assassination attempt on Gordon Brown.
Talking a great game...
Jan 11, 2010
Two great Scots clashed at St Andrews stadium in Birmingham at the weekend. Alex Ferguson and Alex McLeish are of course no strangers. Indeed, Sir Alex was young Alex's boss at Aberdeen in what seems like a lifetime ago. Sir Alex is the Greatest Living Scotsman and his apprentice now runs a formerly horse and cart outfit called Birmingham City FC and has led them to their best ever run in the top flight.
Neither are they the only Scots still setting the heather of English football on fire. Wee Billy Davies, another former Rangers man, is arguably the English manager of the season performing miracles in the footsteps of legends at Nottingham Forest. Owen Coyle performed wonders at Burnley and has now moved to Bolton, a much bigger club. And Alan Irvine has taken on sleeping giants Sheffield Wednesday. No English Premier League Sky programme is complete without Andy Gray, Davie Provan, Charlie Nicholas or Alan McInally.
We may not be able to play football anymore. But there's nane like us when it comes to talking about the game.
Tinpot tyrant ain't seen nothing yet
Jan 11, 2010
I have been in a few dangerous places in my life. In the mid 80s along with an ITN news crew I was bombed by the Ethiopian air force. My face pressing into the dirt, with no cover around, I saw the shrapnel tear and kill small children and watched others die on a wooden table in a grass hut after they bombers had gone. I have been bombed by Israel in Beirut and held with an Israeli machine gun at my chest in Nablus during the first Iraq war. Involuntarily, I put my hands up and the blue-eyed blonde "Israeli" said that if I didn't put my hands down he would kill me.
I've never, however, been in a more dangerous situation than last week in the tiny Sinai port of Al Arish to which the Egyptian dictatorship had insisted we bring our convoy. Five hundred foreigners from 17 different nationalities with 200 vehicles were crammed into a compound without water, food or toilet facilities. They included 10 Turkish MPs one of whom was the chairman of Turkey's foreign relations committee.
We captured on film from a third floor office the thugs of the Mukhabarat (Intelligence) piling stones and sharpening their sticks behind the backs of several ranks of riot police with helmets, batons and shields. Then mayhem. We may have complaints about our police, but I tell you, when you see policemen hurling half-bricks into a crowd of women and men who'd come to deliver medicine to desperate people under siege, you thank your lucky stars we don't live in such a state. Fifty five of our 500 were wounded and, but for the shocking effect on Arab public opinion (our own media didn't give a damn) of the live footage (all on Youtube now), we might still be there yet.
Next day, the dictatorship wanted us on our way. We refused to leave without our wounded comrades and the seven of our number who had been taken prisoner. After another stand-off our demands were met and we proceeded to a tumultuous welcome in Gaza our numbers complete. Word came to me from inside the Egyptian tyranny that I was to be arrested when we came out. Had that happened while I was surrounded by 500 pumped up convoy members there would have been serious trouble.
So I sent them the message that I would come out in the dead of the night before and face the music alone but for my old friend Scots journalist Ron McKay. McKay is a thriller writer these days but what happened next would have taxed even his imagination. We emerged into the hands of a grim phalanx of mainly plain clothed secret policemen, none of whom could speak English. They tried to keep our passports but we refused to budge without them - even though there was menace in the air, or perhaps because of it.
They bundled us into an unmarked van which they refused to let us climb out of, at one stage man-handling us. An Egyptian gumshoe journalist from the Daily News tried to interview us but he was battered away. We were driven off at speed. I knew we were not going to be killed as we were able to make the necessary calls - well at least the call to the Press Association which makes all the difference in these situations.
We made the formal call to the British Foreign Office but it wasn't worth the money. During the five-hour journey to Cairo the British diplomats did nothing but tell us to co-operate. That co-operation was difficult as the police could speak no English and were saying nothing.
Word came from London that Nile News, a mouthpiece of the dictatorship, were reporting in the morning the seven convoy prisoners we had released at al Arish were to be re-arrested on emerging from Gaza. Thus the bloodbath we sought to avoid now looked inevitable. We demanded to return to the Gaza-Egypt border but were refused. At Cairo airport we refused to enter the terminal and tried to hail a taxi to take us back.
Security forces goons pushed us physically into the airport building and gave close quarter attention to both of us, even in the toilet. They followed us everywhere and when McKay took a picture there was nearly a serious incident. They ushered us up to the entrance of the BA plane and the first English speaker of the night stepped forward to declare me persona non grata in Egypt.
I made my own declaration to him which was that he and his fellow torturers would one day face the wrath of the Egyptian people, who had queued up at the airport in full view of the goons, to shake hands with us. Later, his department stated I had been banned from Egypt because I was "a trouble-maker". Mr Tinpot tyrant 99.99 of the vote Mubarak, you ain't seen nothing yet.
Tragedy in Haiti is nothing new
Jan 18, 2010
Maybe 200,000 souls have been lost in the carnage of Haiti. What was one of the poorest, most miserable places on Earth has been turned into a living nightmare for those who have survived. The public and state responses to the earthquake have been heartwarming if likely transitory. And there has been little cluckclucking about "looting" - as if anyone would let their child go thirsty in an earthquake when there was mineral water in the shop window but no one to work the cash register.
More focus has centered on the absolute dearth of any kind of government in Haiti, any infrastructure through and across which the huge amounts of aid now arriving can be channelled. But there's less on how Haiti got here. The Americans now declaring their "friendship" for Haiti are, in fact - along with former colonial power France - deeply implicated in this mess. Both countries encouraged the Papa Doc dictatorship - followed by his son Baby Doc - that stole billions of dollars (which they sank into French and US real estate and spent in the casinos and bordellos of the west). They armed the regime and kept it in power - even though the black magic voodoo torture state could have seeped from the pages of Joseph Conrad or Graham Greene.
When the dictatorship was swept away, and especially when the radical priest Aristide was swept into power, the countries now bemoaning the lack even of the most basic roads turned their faces away. The International Monetary Fund then took over and its policies soon became the new slavery for poor Haitians - 90 per cent of the population. That led to the destruction of the agricultural sector, the bloating of the Port au Prince capital city by urban flight, and the almost complete deforestation of the country to provide fuel for cooking by fire.
Yet it was not always thus. In fact, Haiti was the scene of the very first successful slave revolt. Unlike Spartacus - rightly remembered - the leader of the Haitian slave uprising, Toussaint Louverture, has been forgotten. The entire population of Haiti are the descendants of slaves - whose blood stained the sugar that sweetened western palates in the 18th century. Emboldened by the rhetoric of liberty from Napoleon Bonaparte, the Haitian slaves rose up and drove out their French masters, declaring the first Slave Republic in 1804.
However, their leader found Napoleon was not as nice as he looked when the French captured him and he died of TB in their dungeons. The French came back, were replaced by a 20-year occupation of "friendly" Americans, who then installed the Duvaliers for another 30 years. The dictatorship of the IMF followed. However many died under falling masonry, it's a fair bet that many more Haitians will have died, not directly because of the quake, but crushed under the altogether avoidable weight of never-ending poverty.
Sick man of the NHS
Jan 18, 2010
One of the many curses of growing older is you find so many people with no historical memory. David Cameron's face emblazoned on billboards throughout London at least has not just been air-brushed for taste. Words accompanying the matinee idol David Niven look are so ugly as to make you want to turn away, if you are a certain age at least.
They proclaim Cameron's Tories as the party of the NHS - it doesn't get more disingenuous than that. The Tories fought the creation of the health service with every weapon at their disposal - including a rearguard action by the doctors and the drug companies. Think of the trouble Obama has had from Fox News - and then double it or more.
When in power, the Tories starved it. Why wouldn't they? Most of them didn't use it and they didn't believe in the optout of health from the market they worship like voodoo dolls. When Thatcher was in office, the hospital corridors were jammed with patients on trolleys, people waited years for operations and cleaning and catering services were privatised, bringing dirt and diahorrea into almost every ward. One of the reasons the Tories were swept away in 1997 was the state of the NHS. Yet, without a trace of irony, Cameron asks for votes because his party of billionaire old Etonians will protect it. If you believe that, you'll believe anything.
Vaccine cost is a swine
Jan 18, 2010
The Government ordered 90million doses of swine flu vaccine while only three million were ever used - and with mixed results at that. The chief medical officer predicted 65,000 people would die. Well, 360 did, and many had underlying serious health problems. The cost of the fiasco has been a billion pounds wasted on unused vaccines that will have to be given away or destroyed.
As a piece of forecasting, it is the medical equivalent of the weatherman Michael Fish who told us there would be no hurricanes in 1987. But if there's no doubt who lost - you - then who won? GlaxoSmithKline sold 440million doses of a vaccine worldwide that was almost wholly unnecessary. The company made at least a billion pounds in profit. And why not? They exist not to make you feel better but to make shareholders feel ecstatic.
Labour should have taken them into public ownership when the NHS was created. Let private drug companies sell their goods on the free market. And let the NHS be supplied by its pharmaceutical wing. Yes, even the dullards of New Labour know it makes sense.
Ivana plays trump card
Jan 25, 2010
Lord Martin of Springburn threw me out of parliament and stopped my wages for three months on a 17-day suspension during my famous "sluts speech" - no, not the MPs. I had just made the point that being accused over fundraising ethics by the House of Commons (little did I know then) was like being told to sit up straight by the Hunchback of Notre Dame.
Or being told one had bad taste by Donald Trump. Well, if Donald's taste in other things is like Ivana, now queen of the Big Brother house, I got that wrong. When she entered, like most of you, I thought she'd be a spoilt lazy-bones wanting to be waited on hand and foot. Rich white trash in other words. But she's funny, wise, calm, capable and on course to win, if I'm any judge. Vinnie Jones, like me in the end, is taking it all too seriously. I started out liking him and fell away, even before I learned he's to be a Tory candidate! Dane is nice but a milk-sop.
Loss of Bill is like demise of beloved uncle
Jan 25, 2010
Perhaps because I was forced to play it on the windy sandbanks of the River Tay until third year at school, rugby has always left me cold. And it's not normal to feel sad at the death of an 86-year-old man who led a long and happy life. Yet the death of Bill McLaren is like the demise of a beloved uncle all over this land. There will never be a more masterful broadcaster, more true to his roots yet perfectly unbiased, capable of inflecting excitement even at English tries against his own side Scotland, such was his love of his game.
I never met him yet some of his stock-in-trade phrases still ring in my ears - "he's as quick as a trout up a burn", "a little bit of argy-bargy there" and "he's like a raging bull with a sore head". Bill McLaren you were "magic, magic, magic, all the way". They should rename a Murrayfield stand after him right away. But it won't stand as tall as him in the annals of rugby football.
The boys they are a changing
Jan 25, 2010
Names like Alf Snodgrass, Albert Smith or Arnold Arkwright long since ceased to be hegemonic on the British landscape, but somehow I was unprepared for the news that there is now a Dylan in almost every classroom in the country. It's now in the top ten of British boys' names and rising fast. In my grandchildren's South London school there are at least half a dozen little Dylans.
Looking at the age of the parents, it seems unlikely that it's The Magic Roundabout that's done it. Even less than Dylan Thomas's deep black fishing boat bobbing on the sea which has caused the name to float so high in parental affections. It must be Robert Zimmerman, the skinny oddball troubadour from Duluth what's done it. AKA Bob Dylan, the greatest little genius since Shakespeare, the neverending tourer, the man who, on however big a stage, no-one can ever take their eyes off.
Fame is remarkable. When Bob set off for New York City in the coldest winter for decades nearly 50 years ago, his greatest ambition was to find a coffee shop to play in Greenwich Village to shelter from the storm. Now he bestrides popular music like a colossus and people call their children after him from Maida Vale to Motherwell.
Britain's Bob Dylan could have been Billy Bragg. White, working class, classically untrained and with a raw vocal power which was, like Dylan's, an acquired taste. Leftwing too, against war, injustice and oppression. Imagine my surprise, then, when Bragg popped up to campaign against me at the last election, against a Blair babe who'd backed every betrayal of the New Labour years and been a forthright proponent of the war on Iraq.
Billy remained on the stage while my opponent's election agent compared me to the moustachioed fascist Sir Oswald Mosley. Which, given I was accused of only caring about the welfare of immigrants to London's east end, whilst Mosley sought to crush them under the jackboot, was perverse indeed.
But last weekend I forgave Bragg and invited him on to my radio show on Talksport. The reason was his campaign against the paying of huge bankers' bonuses to executives and traders at Royal Bank of Scotland. The matter has so incensed him that he's risking jail by refusing to pay his taxes to Chancellor Alistair Darling until the latter makes use of his veto powers to stop the state-owned bank using taxpayers' money to feather the nests of rich people, whose business would now be burst but for the taxes of poor people, who can't even get an overdraft from the RBS they saved from extinction.
The role of RBS came into bitter focus last week when it was revealed that the bank was using British taxpayers' money to partfund the purchase of the historic British chocolatier Cadbury by cheesy American outfit Kraft. Even though everyone knows huge numbers of British jobs are at risk if the takeover goes ahead, for RBS that's all chunky-dory as long as the money's right.
All this shows is that when I asked Darling why he did not put the government on the board of the banks he was saving, and warned if he did not he'd end up owning but not controlling these leviathans who would go on with business as usual, I was right. Darling's answer was that he had never been in favour of governments on the boards of banks. I called him a liar. He had once been very much in favour. He insists on the lie but I never forget.
A fat lot of good it's done him. In today's polls, it is revealed he is set for defeat in his Edinburgh constituency at the hands of the Tories. A nippy sweetie, right enough.
So far but not quite far enough. Andy Murray, playing the best tennis of his career, couldn't match the best player of all time, Roger Federer.
The expectation that he would win the Australian Open was hyped hugely by the very newspapers and media which trashed him over his quip about supporting any team playing against England. Andy has learned a lot, and not just on the court, so don't expect him to be publicly behind Algeria when the inevitable question comes up on the eve of the World Cup.
I predict Murray will win a Grand Slam. He's still only 22 and, by any standard, he's now the world's No.2. But for me the most memorable sight of this tournament was that of the less-successful Williams sister, Venus, not in blue jeans but in flesh-coloured knickers.
Alex wins - by a nose
Feb 1, 2010
Cage fighter Alex Reid's victory in what is supposed to be the last Celebrity Big Brother is proof that the housemates don't have to be A-listers to produce riveting TV. On the face of it, this last house was a dead loss. But people we had never heard of before, or dimly remembered, were picked by the clever people at Endemol with the precision of an Apple app.
But for his nose, Alex Reid could be a contender for a Hollywood career dwarfing Tory-boy Vinnie Jones. His celebrity hook-up with Jordan, or Katie Price, could have made them a Not-so-Posh and Becks. But again you've got to hand it to Jordan. To have won the hearts of such nice men as Peter Andre, Dane Bowers and Reid must tell us something we didn't really know about her, despite her multiple bestselling memoirs.
Here's a bit of advice from someone who has been there - put the prize money on the nose. Sort out the hooter and stardom beckons.
Man the Barack aides
Feb 1, 2010
I'm writing this from the Soprano lands of New Jersey, or Joisey in the local argot. It's 10 degrees below and the smokes from the stacks of industrial America drift like snow across the skyline.
Tonight it's New York - so good they named it twice - where I'm under strict instructions to have no Sex In The City. Tomorrow Boston. The lights haven't gone out in Massachusetts but the flame of Barack Obama is guttering, judging by the by-election in the Kennedys' old fiefdom. It's said the president couldn't defeat Charles Manson in an election right now. Certainly his party couldn't have expected to have their butts whipped by a former nude model.
I was listening over breakfast in my hotel to a group of seniors - almost certainly Democrats - as, in voices as loud as any of the Sopranos cast, they bemoaned the tax burden, with not even a health service to show for it, the bank bail-out which has left the US $1.3trillion in deficit, the state of the roads - never mind the state of the union - and even the Arctic winter.
I got to thinking that Obama better hope Manson never gets parole or that nude model, new Senator Scott Brown, never decides to stand.
Nothing can erase Tony Blair's failure
Feb 1, 2010
Robin Cook, the novelist, would have to stretch his imagination to create a plot which comes half way to matching that in which his namesake tragically featured. The Chilcot Inquiry, on the principle that even a stopped clock is right twice a day, is edging into the light one of the darkest chapters in contemporary British history.
Secret notes and promises between a swivel-eyed, messianic Prime Minister and a simian, swaggering US President on a dusty Texas ranch. The swift and unexpected death of Swivel-eyes' main rival on a Scottish mountain top conveniently occurred just as the plotters' scheme reached its climax. And that would have been that, if the plot had prospered. Alas, it led to the deaths of a million people and the spreading of fanaticism and hatred right across the world.
Former Foreign Secretary Robin Cook can't, unfortunately, be with us to testify. Spry, skinny and still in his honeymoon period, climbing mountains for fun, he had a fatal heart attack well out of reach of the paramedics atop a Munro. Possessed of many secrets, it's likely Cook could have sunk this whole Iraq enterprise and emerged as Britain's honourable Prime Minister. I'm not saying they done him in, but the novelist surely would.
This week, we must make do with Clare Short, Robin's less principled amanuensis who resigned from the Cabinet many weeks too late and has been nursing her wrath ever since. Clare liked to party in Parliament, but now she sits, like me, a party of one on the opposition benches beside me. It seems she will try to exculpate Prime Minister Gordon Brown, claiming he was too preoccupied with other things, not least his decades-long struggle for the leadership of Labour, a patrimony he believes was stolen from him over the breadsticks in a north London bistro. What a novel all this would make.
For what it's worth, I suspect Short is right that Brown was marginalised over the war and was quite content to be so. I see him pacing the battlements of Elsinore like the Prince of Denmark procrastinating about whether to join the war party or not. I suspect his calculus of risk came up with the conclusion that he could have been collateral damage if the bloody treason had prospered.
In the Scottish play, Macbeth discovers that not all of the perfumes of Arabia will expunge the damned spot. Blair knows by now nothing is ever going to erase the catastrophic failure in which he is up to his neck and will drown his legacy far into history. As he sat in Chilcot's cramped little room, I recalled from elsewhere in Macbeth how loose his garments now hung about him like a giant's robes on a dwarfish thief.
Get a good deal, Alex
Feb 8, 2010
Marry in haste, repent at leisure. Will Katie Price have cause to reflect on that old saying? She is a millionaire many times over and he is a cage-fighter, so his career will be short. If they stay together, he will be dependent on her capricious whim. He has taken on the step-fatherhood of kids from two other men. But judging by his gracious behaviour to Dane in the BB house, he's not the kind to bother about that. However, I predict it will all be over by Christmas. I hope he has negotiated a best-of-three-falls deal with her.
No Tory mercy for sick or poor
Feb 8, 2010
The spectre of a double-dip recession is haunting Europe, with share prices crashing, currency values plummeting and whole governments - like Greece, Spain and Portugal - in danger of default.
Andrew Lillico, of Europe Economics, predicts that the next 18 months will see mass unemployment in Britain, accompanied by and partly caused by savage 1970s-style cuts in public services. All the more reason then to hope a cabal of multi-millionaire Old Etonians aren't in charge of the country when it happens.
I was thinking the other day about my childhood. Once, in the grip of a bleak mid-winter, the man from the electricity board came to cut us off. I was 10 and my sister five. My father was at work, my mother also out. The man was beside himself as he wrestled with his dilemma. He had been told to cut off the supply, yet to do so would leave two young children in a freezing house. He packed his tools away and left. My life is a world away from all that now but I have never forgotten it.
David Cameron and Gideon Osborne and the other gilded Brideshead Revisited Bullingdon Club, wing-collared, popinjays of the Conservative Party have never known a day's hardship in their lives. I warn you, if the Tories come back, don't dare be poor, don't be unemployed, don't be sick, don't be old. There will be absolutely no mercy.
Who's got the dirtiest mind?
Feb 8, 2010
If Melanie Phillips, the right-winger with me on Question Time last week, had looked any closer at the love life of England captain John Terry she might have turned into a pillar of salt. Sure, Terry's life, if rumours are to be believed, is a Sodom and Gomorrah compared to most. But moral disapproval is always distasteful when pouring from the lips of hypocrites.
Cluck-clucking about humans rutting in a Bentley while cheering on massacres from air, land and sea. Politicians pursuing benefit cheats down every street while filling their own pockets. MPs claiming parliamentary privilege to keep themselves out of the same jails they voted to put suspected Muslims in for 90 days without trial.
It was quite a Question Time. We learned - from Blair's flatmate, roly poly Lord Charlie Falconer - that even if the Chilcot Inquiry finds the Iraq War to have been illegal then nothing could happen to any of the miscreants because the criminals concerned had not meant to commit a crime. A crime, not of sleeping with the exgirlfriend of a former teammate but of causing the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people to whom you'd told a pack of lies.
Terry may have a dirty mind. But not as dirty as those who thought that one up.
No place in society for Dr Deaths
Feb 8, 2010
Yesterday, outside Mass, I was upbraided by a parishioner puzzled by my permissive approach to John Terry compared to my exemplary attitude to euthanasia on Question Time. But the answer is simple. We are all sinners and some sins are more mortal than venal. Putting others to death is as mortal as it gets, even if the victim says he wants it. Thus the legalisation of "assisted suicide" currently all the rage in the chattering classes is of much more importance than foul play in the undressing rooms of footballers.
Let's look at the consent argument first. Many people who have attempted suicide are glad they survived. They thought they wanted to die, for a variety of reasons, but realised life is better. If someone had helped their effort, they might have succeeded. People get depressed but also get over it. The idea advanced by Sir Terry Pratchett the novelist, who has a wasting disease, of a panel or tribunal that the suicide and his would-be helper should appear before, with Dr Deaths having the power of thumbs up or thumbs down, sounds positively nightmarish to me.
The twin of assisted suicide is euthanasia, whatever they say. Last week, I heard a senior figure on the Daily Telegraph describe his time in a vegetative state from which he recovered. He was conscious throughout of the talks going on around his hospital bedside - he just couldn't communicate his determination to live.
Can you imagine the terror of such a patient as the doctors stepped forward to switch off the life support? And just last week, a medical study showed, through the use of CAT scans, the brains of such "vegetables" lighting up at suggestions put to them. We cannot know for sure the level of consciousness of people in those conditions still less if they can consent to dying. Many who want to end their lives are truly motivated by that over-used word "mercy". But not all.
It's all to easy to see how, in an era when people are living longer, the burden of paying for and looking after the elderly could become the script of Blade Runner where only the young are allowed to live. It could well become the cultural norm in a society as materialist as ours that the elderly chronically sick or terminally ill began to feel it was the expected thing to do - to shuffle off this mortal coil. There could even be a chain of pastel coloured Puccini playing clinics with honey-voiced Dr Shipmans ready to help them . That really would be the final victory of sin.
Lib Democrats don't have a Clegg to stand on
Feb 15, 2010
It is a universal truth, oft-acknowledged across the benches between all parties, that there's nowt as untrustworthy as a Liberal Democrat. With the exception of Ming Campbell, throughout all my life in politics on both sides of the border I have never known one I actually liked (Vince Cable, who I admire, I have never met).
Clegg called the week before for the lifting of the siege on Gaza, though I missed it as he was whispering at the time. Last week he sacked his health spokeswoman in the Lords, Jenny Tonge, for criticising Israel. This is the second time they have sacked her over the Israel and Palestine issue. Instead of raising the roof at this scandalous victimisation, the noble Baroness has since expressed her 'unreserved apologies and deepest regret' for the remarks she made.
Why? She is already in the Lords and cannot be removed. She has been sacked not once but twice - and over the same issue. Perhaps she thinks that she'll be appointed to this meaningless sinecure once again. In which case, I really don't know who I despise more - Clegg the hypocrite or Baroness backside licker Jenny Tonge.
Price is right for Alistair
Feb 15, 2010
When I first met Gordon Brown he was a firebrand follower of Red Clydeside leader James Maxton. Now he's the prime minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and a right cod he's made of it too. So much so, it looks as if Lord Snooty and his Etonian set will win the general election.
I won't go through the many betrayals of Maxton's philosophy, which Brown used to say he believed in. You know them well enough. I only mention it as I had Lance Price on my TV and radio shows plugging his book Where Power Lies.
The Tory press have been going bananas for Lance, who I hope has extracted quite a price for his labours. It's worth 30 pieces of silver, or perhaps more, to betray the Labour party which put you in Downing Street. And therein lies the secret, I suspect, of Price's animus, nay make that hatred, for Gordon Brown, a man he never worked for or with and I believe scarcely knows.
It's love, you see. There is a class of courtiers whose love of Tony Blair was so intense that they simply cannot love another. They cannot accept that Dorian Gray is no longer with us, that he has been usurped.
For the record, I have known Gordon Brown for more than 30 years. He's a cold fish. But I have never heard him shout, scream, throw anything or bully anybody. So he seems an unlikely candidate to have created a reign of terror. That seems more like the kind of atmosphere engendered by, er, Lance's ex-boss, Alistair Campbell, he of the Blair-Price team, swaggering through Labour Party conferences threatening to crunch people's knuckles.
Mr Campbell stood purposely on my toes at a party conference, tried to break my legs on a football pitch and was described by a high court judge as a 'thoroughly unreliable witness'. If you were relying on him, Lance, no wonder you got it so wrong. It's a good book though...
Feb 15, 2010
It's hard to believe that anybody who got to go to bed at night with Cheryl Cole would want to play away from home. But it's even harder to believe Ashley's excuse about how naked pictures of him ended up being sent to a Page 3 model's phone. Certainly Cheryl didn't look like she'd bought the greedy beggar's story when she picked him up from the hospital the other day and her mother is reportedly telling her daughter that 'enough's enough'.
At least John Terry and his Mrs appear to have kissed and made up. Dubai that? I do too. After all Mrs Terry, what did you first see in the £170,000-a-week Chelsea captain? The enduring mystery is how, in a sport where coaches used to forbid even marital coitus the night before a big match, and with all this testosterone being tossed hither and tither, Chelsea are still at the top of the league? With a bit of luck they'll have some left over to take to South Africa in the summer.
How BBC took the Marr out of Marxist
Feb 15, 2010
Andrew Marr is a Scotsman and when I first met him he was a raving Marxist - a bit like Alistair Darling and Dr John Reid... Nowadays Marr, the BBC man, is of course a pet poodle of the Establishment against which he once barked as a Scots terrier. He is still frisky, mind, and can entertain on his perambulations around Britain talking to camera from weird angles, expressive, alternately comic and sinister as he shifts the shape of his unique face and jug ears. Older readers will know what I mean when I say that he's a poor man's AJP Taylor.
The other night I caught a bit of his Making Of Modern Britain on BBC2. It happened to cover a historical event I know well - the great miners' strike of 1984-85. While pirouetting in cliched miners' welfare bars with the pint he'd never drink in London in front of him and, I kid you not, the smoke from a hidden cigarette fuming illegally away, Marr did his best to do the miners' legacy down...
Fine people, but all washed up, old hat, old boy, swept away in a Thatcherite revolution, and all that guff. None of that would have worried me much - I've seen a lot of these traitors come and go. But it was when Andrew Marr - the former seller of Trotskyite newspapers - started laying in to Arthur Scargill that smoke came from my ears.
"Scargill was... a Marxist," exclaimed Marr in disgust, as if most miners' leaders throughout the 20th century hadn't been Marxists. And, of course, as if he hadn't been a Marxist himself. Scargill was just a "deluded insurrectionist" who led the miners and their families to disaster. At this, my ears pricked up, a bit like Andrew's own. Or like the elephant that never forgets.
You see, a quarter of a century ago, I myself had a conversation with Andrew 'Marxist' Marr about this very subject, the destruction of the mining communities, this very man Scargill and, indeed, these very 'delusions' - that another world was possible but you had to fight for it. Let's just say Marr, like Saul of Tarsus, has experienced a great conversion from one point of view to its diametric opposite. In which case he should be a man about it and, AJP Taylor-like, he should stand up in front of the cameras and state his case...
How he, a clever young Cambridge man, had spent years of his life as an absolutely deluded insurrectionist. But he knows better now. Come to think of it, he's not a poor man's Taylor, he's a poor man's Andrew Roberts, the rabid, right-wing historian.
Israel must answer for Dubai killing
Feb 22, 2010
There is a history in my family of second guessing serious crimes and imagining miscarriages of justice. Sometimes we're wildly wrong. My father was the only man in Scotland who maintained Peter Manuel - the last man hanged here - was innocent.
He was kidded about this by his workmates throughout his life and I grew up with quite a knowledge of the case. By freakish accident I later knew well the sister - my glamorous boss in Dundee's Angus Hotel - of Peter Manuel's last victim. Almost impossible to believe, I was later billeted by Lady Helen Liddell, then Labour's Scottish Secretary, in the home of Manuel's sister at a parliamentary by-election.
Some cases, like the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four, we all knew were political fit-ups and on which we campaigned hard. We followed the adage coined by the great Irish journalist Claude Cockburn (grandfather of two of Britain's finest journalists today, writer Patrick Coburn and Stephanie Flanders, the BBC economics correspondent) that "nothing is true until it has been officially denied". In other words, trust "official" truth at your peril.
Some years ago when I made parliamentary interventions on behalf of Britain's most reviled murderer Jeremy Bamber, described by his trial judge as truly evil and sent to prison for the rest of his life for the murder of his sister and her two children as well as his mother and father, I was ridiculed just as my father had been over Manuel. But I was right.
New forensic evidence has just emerged which will show - and soon - that Bamber, who has spent 25 years protesting his innocence, has been the victim of one of the most serious miscarriages of justice in British judicial history. He will go free, for sure, on the basis of this new evidence and the financial compensation is almost impossible to compute.
Police at first believed - reflected in the first press coverage - that Bamber's mentally-ill sister had slaughtered everyone in the house then turned the gun upon herself. When a silencer was found in the cupboard days later, suspicion fell on the family's sole survivor. The clinching evidence was scratch marks apparently made by the silencer on the red-painted mantelpiece. This it is was said was made after the shooting and could not have been made of course by the sister after she had shot herself. It turns out to be true that the scratches were made after the shooting - long, long after.
Careful analysis by Britain's foremost expert in the field, who has examined more than 100,000 photographic images for Kodak in his career, has shown that there were no scratches at all on the mantelpiece until Bamber was well behind bars. In fact, it turns out that the photographs which show the scratches, on which the case turned, were taken 34 days after the crime and were therefore put there by someone else.
It is a simply stunning piece of work by Bamber's lawyers and their expert witnesses and can only result in the Criminal Cases Review body freeing him without delay. Of course if we had capital punishment in this country, "Evil Bamber" would have long ago swung silently from the gallows.
There was another murder most foul of course, in Dubai recently - that of the Palestinian official Mahmoud al-Mabhouh. No fewer than 18 brave men and women of the Israeli security service Mossad massed in the desert kingdom to cold-bloodedly murder one man. They surprised him in his hotel bedroom where he was, unarmed and without a bodyguard, then electrocuted to the head to stun him and suffocated, put into his pyjamas and tucked in nicely.
Somehow, the hotel door was locked from the inside and the murderers left him to be discovered and, they hoped, assumed to have died from natural causes. But they reckoned without the plucky police chief and bravery of the authorities in Dubai. What they discovered would have been covered up in many countries in the world on the basis it would cause the mother of all political storms.
They discovered the true cause of death and then pieced together a jigsaw of CCTV images from airport shopping malls and every conceivable hotel angle. They identified first the suspicious foreigners, got their hands thanks to Jordan on two Palestinian traitors, tracked the communications of the gang to a nerve centre in Austria and, most explosively of all, revealed that the murderers were travelling on British, Irish, French and German passports, some of them diplomatic passports, which had all been stolen by thieves working for Mossad in absolute defiance of promises given to foreign governments by Israel in the wake of previous crimes.
The Israeli press has done more than anyone else to uncover all of this. It is not denied by anyone in Israel that they committed this act of state terrorism in a third country using the sovereign property of friendly countries to do so.
So what is to be done? First there must be a comprehensive review of Britain's relations with Israel. Now that they have been caught crimson-handed not just in an act of terrorism but endangering the safety of British citizens travelling or living abroad, it's time to say enough is enough.
There can be no more crawling to the Israel lobby who mobilise thousands of sycophants to complain every time people like me write or broadcast items like this, hoping to intimidate editors and proprietors into putting a lid on criticism of Israel.
It usually works. It frightened the BBC into the scandal of the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal that never was during the recent Gaza War and it has circumscribed my work on both Talksport and even Press TV during the last year. The Record's editor is still busy, months after an article I wrote here, dealing with complaints from "outraged Record readers"..in, er, Israel.
Some people say they'll kill me. Maybe so; but if they do my son will pick up my banner. If they kill my son, my daughter will pick up the banner. If they kill her, others will pick up the banner of justice for the Palestinians. Israel cannot kill its way out of this pickle. Only an acknowledgement of its involvement in crimes against Palestine will begin to do that.
TALKING of Libya, you can hear a classic exchange between me and our former man in Tripoli. Recorded during Nicky Campbell's Radio 5Live show, pay particular regard to the long silence from the ambassador. Perhaps he swallowed his silver teaspoon.
Sir Richard Dalton - for it was he - is not someone against whom I bear any personal animus. When I was arrested at rifle-point by Israeli occupation troops in Dundee's twin town Nablus in 1991, Sir Richard, then Consul-General, sped from Jerusalem to rescue me, for which I remain grateful. When I visited Libya to lecture academics on the untrustworthiness of perfidious Albion, he did invite me for tea (though neither for lunch nor dinner as he would have done for any other MP) and was most convivial.
He insisted on attending my lecture to the Libyans and when I told them they should trust not in Tony Blair and that Britain and the US were after their money and nothing else, he cried out in the kind of pain one might expect from a wounded stag. That's why when, silver spoons rattling volubly, Sir Richard rebuked me majesterially for interrupting him during the interview, I could tell him not to talk to me as if I was his servant. I have, you see, heard him talk to his servants.
Old Firm's threats, lies and videotape
Mar 7, 2011
YOU can always tell when a politician is trailing, fatally, in the polls - they call a "summit". Not about anything they can actually do something about - like the apparently inexorable rise in knife crime in Scotland, the drunkenness that sluices through our no-go city centres at weekends or the mass unemployment and hopelessness that drowns the prospects of so many of our young people.
Like the "sectarianism" summit called by First Minister Jack McConnell in 2005. Or the "Old Firm" summit called by the beleaguered old war-horse Alex Salmond in the Year of Our Lord (and his hopes of re-election) 2011.
There is so much pompous hot air surrounding the stramash at Celtic Park last week, it's difficult to know where to start. But I have some pertinent questions. Salmond must confirm, or otherwise, the claim by police sources that "people were being driven 50 miles to find a vacant police cell", such was the pressure after the Old Firm game before last.
I believe this to be untrue - but it is a statement that has gone round the world, shaming us (and in the process, doing the Police Federation no harm in their fight for more overtime, resources and better pay). The claim, again sourced to the police, that the public purse is £40million depleted by the five Old Firm games so far this season - another "fact" I believe to be inaccurate - must be either stood up or knocked down by Salmond.
He could have stayed out of this fight but has volunteered to enter it and must find the facts. Did Neil Lennon - note to Dr John Reid, Lennon doesn't belong in the same sentence as Mr Stein - use the "N word" when El Hadji Diouf (a player fined £5000 for spitting on Celtic fans while playing for Liverpool in 2003, yet signed by Rangers nonetheless) came over for a verbal punch-up to the Celtic bench? It's surely all on camera, so lipreaders should find it easy enough. If he did, he must be dismissed forthwith.
If Ron Atkinson can't appear on TV having used this word, Lennon can't manage Celtic, in the footsteps of gentlemen Jimmy McGrory, Jock Stein and Billy McNeill. But if he did not, why are hundreds of Rangers fans claiming on Facebook he did? Why is Facebook hosting such combustible claims? Why is the Scottish media circulating such claims, despite the fact an alleged criminal offence may thereby have been committed? And why has no one been arrested for the repeated threats against the life of a football manager? Involving bullets in the post. And suspect packages. In Scotland. In 2011.
Tsunami horror demonstrates how lucky we are back in UK
Mar 14, 2011
Heading for the Pacific coast of North America, I couldn't get out of my mind the tsunami powering across that ocean from Japan. And when a nuclear emergency was announced, with two nuclear plants overheating and emitting 1000 times the normal levels of nuclear radiation - in a country hit in 1945 with the only two nuclear bombs ever fired in anger - I felt sick. The awesome power of nature has been demonstrated again. And once again we thank our lucky stars for the green, pleasant and largely placid land in which we live.
Big time beckons on radio
Mar 14, 2011
Like Scotland's Craig Ferguson before me, I begin to tread the boards in the USA this week, with the launch of my weekly radio show on Wednesday. In his case, shivering from the memory of East Kilbride (home of comley Kirsty Young and preacher man Bobby Gillespie, too) Ferguson headed for sunny California.
Me, I'm more an off-Broadway guy and my gig is with Radio WBAI serving New York and the tri-state area, though you can listen online. My debut is in the Big Apple but thereafter I will do the show from Edinburgh.
Coincidentally Craig Ferguson - aka Bing Hitler - was "discovered" in Glasgow's Tron Theatre, where I myself will be performing next week on Thursday and Friday evenings. Try to catch up with me there, if you're well intentioned, of course.
Film romeo Warren Beatty's tale makes time fly
Mar 14, 2011
I took a nine-hour flight to the Rocky Mountains at the weekend. It sped by, courtesy of my new Bose headphones, which provide virtually perfect silence - a relief for me in my life, to be sure - and a new biography of Warren Beatty (not BEETIE but rhyming with weighty).
This tale raises the eyebrows on every page and makes the eyes water on some. Although I've been in his house, met his wife and children (his wife Annette Bening is a great movie star herself) and was thrilled that he had memorised chunks of my speech to the US Senate in 2005, I'm finding things out about Beatty I never knew and, occasionally, wish I still didn't.
He was a virgin until he was almost 20 but to say he has made up for lost time would be the understatement of the 20th century. This we all know but not a lot of people know, I suspect, that his first girlfriend was our own Joan Collins. He was 21, she was 26. She was not a virgin. Soon, according to her, they were doing it "five six seven times a day". Every day. There's a lot more where that came from - Cher, Vivian Leigh, Julie Christie, Madonna. The list goes on and on and on.
He doesn't meet a woman of any age, size or obvious attractiveness without trying to seduce her. Why? Just because he can. Of course, all that changed when he met Bening while co-starring with her in Bugsy. The problem with that industrial-scale womanising is it has detracted from his work. It has helped him choose an amazing number of turkeys in which to perform, of which Ishtar is the best known.
Yet he remains the only movie star ever to be nominated twice for four separate Academy Awards. The back story of his four greatest movies, Bonnie And Clyde, Shampoo, Heaven Can Wait and Reds is the more interesting material for me. There's only so much you can take of the other stuff, as Joan Collins says.
Bonnie And Clyde was the first X-Certificate film I ever saw. The slo-mo death scene of the pair of depression-era Texas bank robbers was the most extreme act of violence ever portrayed on screen up to that point. Faye Dunaway and Beatty somehow still looked cool being riddled with hundreds of rounds.
The book reveals, however, it could have been more controversial. The original screenplay - and the true story - involved a menage a trois between the pair and Michael J Pollard's character. But Beatty wasn't having any of that. The director's revenge was to render Clyde Barrow impotent for almost all of the movie, a frustrating challenge for Bonnie Parker and a most unlikely state of affairs.
Beatty remains the most political and left-wing of all the Hollywood stars. When I was with him, he was considering taking on Arnold Shwarzenegger for the state house in California. He'd have made a great candidate, as anyone who has seen Bulworth could testify.
Does Hell have to freeze over before bigots learn?
Mar 14, 2011
Now that the death threats are flying, I know I'm back in Scottish public life, and I don't know whether to laugh or cry. I have protection and I'm deeply involved in controversial political issues but what did Neil Lennon, his wife and their child do to deserve the deluge of filthy sectarian death threats painted on walls around his house, bullets in the post, suspect packages, disclosure of his address on the internet and much besides? Well what did he do? Apart from being an Irish Catholic manager of Celtic.
A football manager, in Scotland, in 2011, is now under police guard - his family taken to a safe house when he's at away games. A police-installed panic alarm sits in the house, his wife's finger, no doubt, hovering nervously above it. As Paul McBride QC asked last week, how come the perpetrators of this reign of terror have not been apprehended? Is the law taking seriously enough this deep, ugly, livid scar across the face of Scotland? And when will those hurling their hate-filled bigoted billet-doux in my direction actually get a life? When Hell freezes over, I guess
I will be launching my election campaign in Glasgow next week. I will head a list - of eight candidates - called George Galloway (Respect) - Coalition against Cuts. We will fight against cuts in universities, local government and the civil service and for deprived communities and trade union rights in the teeth of the Con-Dem onslaught. announced, overheating normal country nuclear sick. has We'll even field a Scottish-Libyan human rights activist. Now that's a first for Holyrood.
Ugliest exhibit at the freak show
Mar 21, 2011
IN a freak show it's always difficult to pick out which is the ugliest exhibit. In the war against Libya, though, it's easy - it's the Pentagon vice-admiral who told us that the "Arab countries" participating "did not want their names mentioned" but that the US, Canada, Britain, France, Denmark (maybe they painted cartoons of the Prophet on their bombs) and Italy were striking hard. Of course the last time the Italians were in Tripoli in anger they were wearing the uniforms of Mussolini. The mass murder, torture and sexual degradation which accompanied their occupation is still very well remembered in Libya. Only recently, Berlusconi agreed to pay Libya five billion euros in compensation for Italian war crimes against the country. Picking the plastic-surgeoned, priapic Berlusconi to participate in your coalition of the killing must take the biscuit. Maybe it will prove to be an own goal.
Oil is at heart of dirty war in Libya
Mar 21, 2011
THOUSANDS have already watched on YouTube my Saturday morning altercation with yet another Sky News mistress of the universe personifying the old saw that a little knowledge is dangerous. Invited by me to speculate on why we "can't just stand by" as civillians are killed by the brute Gaddafi whilst we "can just stand by" whilst civillians are killed by the Yemeni president and the Bahraini king, she expressed incredulity that the difference between the three cases might be a three-letter word.
Libyan oil is "only two per cent" of world output, she said, apparently oblivious that oil is now 150 dollars a barrel and that Libya produces hundreds of millions of barrels a year with billions more in reserve. And it sits atop a sea of natural gas. And its population is just about the same as Scotland's. And that BP have invested £15billion in Libyan exploration to exploit more.
What other reason could there be for using the airforces of the likes of Saudi Arabia to protect Libyans being killed protesting for democracy? The same Saudi Arabia which is not only killing civillians protesting for democracy in their own country but has just invaded, with our connivance, Bahrain, to help their dictatorship kill civillians protesting for democracy.
Red Nose day is well-intentioned but won't change a thing
Mar 21, 2011
RED Nose Day always makes me blue. Not because I don't appreciate the national effort bringing together teachers and schoolchildren, public and performers in a good and creative cause. I'm also quite partial to the colour red.
But because while all around me are sad at the accompanying television narrative, I'm just angry. And while most think the little bit they do every year can really change things, I know it cannot. Of course I wept with Lenny Henry when, going off-script, he bought a house in Kenya and transformed life forever for a shanty-town orphaned family who'd been so unlucky in the lottery of life.
Except it's not a lottery. It's a rigged casino in which those with all the chips set the house rules which are primarily designed to keep the wheel spinning their way. Every two years, more people die of poverty in poor countries than perished in all the wars in all the countries in all history. Now that's what I call a massacre of civilians.
In another lifetime I too walked, abseiled, dressed up, rattled cans for Africa et al. The years 1983-87 were the most generous in British history as the Ethiopian famine, Michael Buerk's epic reportage and The Cars' plaintive, haunting, "We can't go on thinking nothing's wrong.." moved millions to give mountains of charitable cash. Yet even in those years, Africa paid out more in bank charges than she got in aid. In fact it was two for one. And the aid changed nothing because it left all the power with the already rich and powerful.
Despite the formidable efforts of Gordon Brown, nothing much has changed. Not least because his boss Tony Blair spent more of our money killing people than Gordon could spend saving them.
Newscasters seem to have short memories
Mar 21, 2011
THERE is a poster campaign in Cuba which says (I translate) - "110million small children in the world go to work rather than school. Not one of them in Cuba."
Think! By peculiar coincidence, 110 Cruise missiles - each costing one million dollars - were launched by Britain and America on Saturday against Libya. They had to do it before yesterday or they'd have been launching their latest war on the eighth anniversary of their shock and awe attack on Iraq. And people might remember what a fat lot of good that did, or not. Certainly not if they were newscasters, who seem to be airbrushed of all historical memory beyond a few weeks.
Shame of bully boy Cameron
Mar 21, 2011
THE sight of "Flashman" Cameron, the posh public school bully, on the steps of Downing Street declaring this latest war deeply repulsed me. Like Elvis in the early days, it was perhaps as well the camera shot him only from the waist up. Because that wasn't just a pistol in his pocket, it was a Tomahawk Cruise missile.
One of the most nauseating aspects of America weaponry is the naming of them with aboriginal imagery. The Apache helicopter deals out death and destruction even more savagely than the Winchester repeater rifles which all but annihilated the Apache themselves (that plus free "firewater" and smallpox-infected blankets deliberately given to them in the first biological weapons attack).
Lord Snooty Cameron and his new best French friend Sarkozy have dragged the Americans into this war in the same way Blair did Clinton into Yugoslavia. The Yanks had the sense to realise that you can't know how all this will pan out. Claiming "Arab" support when you mean the support of Arab dictators does not innoculate you to a blow-back from real Arabs. You know, the kind that don't much like watching western airforces bombing Arab countries.
Neither do we know what Gaddafi will do next. He has the men, he has the money, he has the track record, by jingo if he decides to come out fighting... When there's nothing left to Cruise missile (except the targets in amongst the houses) and the pictures of mutiliated weans start appearing, what then? I've been there after "precision bombing" raids, in Iraq, Lebanon, even Ethiopia. I know it's all balderdash as they'd say on the parade ground of the Eton Rifles. It's high explosives, being fired into cities.
We should never have supported Gaddafi in the first place. I told them so. We shouldn't have sold him guns, trained his goons, took his money or kissed his arse. But neither Britain, America, nor France have fired an honourable shot since World War II. These are just the latest volleys of shame.
Yellow-bellied Lib-Dems to blame for cuts
Mar 28, 2011
WANDERING the streets of Glasgow in 2011, grass grows in the potholes and despair grows in the hearts of the poor and the unemployed. Life expectancy for men in some parts of the former "second city of the empire" is lower than in most of the former empire. And the Con-Dem Thatcherites have cut another £100million from public services.
I don't blame the Tories; that's the kind of vermin they are. I blame their Lib Dem auxiliaries without whom it couldn't happen. The "ginger rodent" Danny Alexander stood smiling beside his master Gideon Osborne in Downing Street last week as the multi-millionaire got set to lay more waste to the lives of millions.
If you watch on YouTube my clash on BBC Young Voters Question Time with a wee, daft lassie claiming to be a Scottish Lib Dem MP, you will see in her performance the very definition of hypocrisy, careerism and cowardice.
Surely, whatever else the Holyrood elections throw up, they will see the virtual destruction of the yellow party in Scotland. Which makes all the more surprising the weekend's news suggesting Labour leader Iain Gray might seek a coalition in Scotland. How can Labour be in coalition with the party co-responsible for all the trouble we're in? And how can the Lib Dems be in bed with the Tories in London and with Labour in Scotland? Talk about promiscuity.
I'm on three-a-day.. Mad Men episodes
Mar 28, 2011
WHO knew the cusp of the Fifties and Sixties in Madison Avenue, New York, was such a series of hot-beds? I'm now deeply into the box set of Mad Men, sometimes watching three in a row. As an ex-smoker, I'm wide-eyed at the level of puffing in inappropriate places - in elevators, in small offices, in bed with the wife (or someone else's wife), in between mouthfuls.
And the amount of liquor they all put away, all day! But above all I'm shocked, as Claude Raynes put it on discovering gambling at Rick's Place in Casablanca, at the scale of the illicit sex at lunchtimes. Especially that involving the tall, broad red-head Joan, played by Christina Hendricks. She is the Marilyn Monroe of Madison Avenue and one would have been lucky indeed to have been her workmate.
What Alex Salmond will not acknowledge.. he owes it all to Labour
Mar 28, 2011
ALEX SALMOND and I were both born in Scotland in 1954. Lucky us. A bit before or a little later life would never have been so sweet for us, growing up in the Labour-created consensus of welfare state Britain. Like me, Alex got a council house, a free education (him at one of the world's great universities, St Andrews, and he got a grant), cod liver oil and orange juice, an NHS, unemployment pay, a rising state pension, strong British trades unions, and a BBC that was the envy of the world.
I only mention it because I just bought the new Salmond biography, Against The Odds, and discovered in the first few pages, and all over again, where I profoundly differ from him. There was his childhood hero, the Welsh "second home" country-cottage burner RS Thomas.
Salmond, according to his biographer David Torrance, was a fan of this passage from Thomas: "For it is England ... that has been the winter on our native pastures and we must break their grip, and the grip of all the Quislings ... " In that line, we have the Nationalist credo. Perverse, isn't it? Those of us who don't want to break up this small country are "Quislings" - even though we are the majority of Scots.
When there is "winter" on our native pastures, it is "England" that is responsible for the cold bitter rain. No matter that all of Salmond's privileged young life was made possible by "Quislings" who elected Clement Atlee, Harold Wilson, Jim Callaghan and Willie Ross - and long before Orkney and Shetland's North Sea oil came on stream.
This language of Quislings and English winter is all the more remarkable considering the era we grew up in. When the universality of Che Guevara was on offer, how weird to choose as your poster boy a Celtic obscurantist who supported burning out his neighbours just because they were English? How weird to choose a party led by Dundee MP Gordon Wilson, in whose very office Salmond joined up? Wilson described the English as a "jackboot" on Scotland and at the 1992 SNP conference told the delegates: "I know who the enemies of Scotland are ... and they include George Galloway." So, there you have it: I'm an "enemy of the people" for them.
A good friend of mine advised me not to mix it with the narrow-Nats. He thinks it might cost me my seat in the Scottish parliament elections. I want to win the Glasgow seat but not enough to lie about where I stand. I can never, ever see the hundreds of thousands of English workers who marched with us in London on Saturday as a "jackboot," a "winter", or anything other than a part of me.
Neither will Brian Souter, the SNP's main funder and bus magnate, ever have anything in common with me other than place of birth (never mind his peculiar views on sexuality). I just can't look at life like that. Where and when you were born is just a matter of luck. Good luck for me and Alex.
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