Sunday, 15 September 2013


What do you think an artist is?
An imbecile who has nothing but eyes if he is a painter, or ears if he is a musician, or a lyre at every level of his heart if he is a poet, or nothing but muscles if he is a boxer? Quite the contrary, he is at the same time a political being, constantly aware of what goes on in the world, whether it be harrowing, bitter, or sweet, and he cannot help being shaped by it.
How would it be possible not to take an interest in other people, and to withdraw into an ivory tower from participation in their existence? No, painting is not interior decoration. It is an instrument of war for attack and defense against the enemy. —Pablo Picasso

(quote is sourced from the International Socialist Review article on Guernica, HERE

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Green Party Conference: Speeches by MP and Leader

Green Party conference is meeting this weekend in Brighton, where it runs the local council. It has backed a number of motions on opposing the sell off of the Royal Mail, re-emphasising its commitment to re-nationalise the railways and supporting alternative energy rather than dirty solutions like fracking.

Here are speeches from the Greens' MP, Caroline Lucas, and leader, Natalie Bennett.

More Green Party news HERE.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

9/11 - Never Giving Up on Humanity

Twelve years ago today, the world witnessed the appalling and devastating attacks on the Twin Towers in New York, as well as on the Pentagon and the would be fourth attack on possibly the Whitehouse or Congress which was seemingly stymied by the bravery of passengers on board the doomed flight. Since the thousands of deaths on that dreadful day, hundreds of thousands more have died or been injured or displaced in the terrible wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and scores of other places.

With the War on Terror fought out on battlefields across the world, some of them in the ether of the internet, the polarisation between the west and particularly the Middle East, between Christian and Muslim, has been assumed to be total. Just as Islam divides the world between a Dar-al Islam (the House of Islam) and a Dar-al Harb (the House of War) so the narrative has been that we are all now in two, mutually hostile camps with little in common and even less hope of any reconciliation.

And yet, as with so much in the modern, dumbed-down reporting that passes for journalism and news today, all is not as it seems. Throughout the world, people of all faiths and none continue to do what they have always done - live together, work together, even pray together. Whether the Egyptian Christians who formed a protective cordon round Muslims at prayer during the anti-Mubarak protests, or the Muslims who similarly formed a protective cordon round Christian churches to defend them against assaults by Islamist extremists; or the many other examples of interfaith dialogue and support, ordinary people, believers and non-believers, continue to believe in each other.

Here are some videos on this Day of Commemoration which give hope for a better, safer and peaceful future. A future where the message of love that is at the heart of all faiths and in the hearts of all people is able to be heard and lived out in full.

Watch and have faith in us. All of us.

In America:

In Egypt:

They are saying: "We are the Egyptians, Muslims and Christians all together. Oh Egypt, our mother, here's your people, gathering all together for you, Lord is greater, Christians and Muslims we say, long live Egypt. Long live Egypt."

And "In the name of Jesus and Muhammed, we unify our ranks,"

Whilst, still in Egypt, people are brought together by traditions older than both faiths:

And in Kenya:

Last but far from least, Syrian Muslims join Syrian Christians to worship in their Church together. (commentary in Arabic only)

If The Lights Go Out...

Well, whether Green or capitalist, we are all concerned about the risk of future energy demands outstripping supply. Just this week, Channel 4 ran a "docdrama" on a fictional Britain without electricity for a week after a cyber attack crashes the national grid. Chaos and eventually violence ensued, taking its cue from some other reports warning how tenuous our civilised veneer is in the context of just-in-time delivery of so many essentials of life, particularly fuel and food. Andrew Sims' booklet, Nine Meals from Anarchy, powerfully sets out how our over-reliance on thinly stocked supermarkets leaves us extremely vulnerable to a breakdown in a system with so many interconnecting threads - power, traffic, environment, electronic communications and so on - the failure of any one of which could quickly unravel the others.

So we need to take a long, long look at a world where so much rests on so little. But in the meantime, we can always sing about it.

Cheer up. It might never happen. But there again....

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Frankie Goes To Damascus

The current impasse over Syria between Presidents Obama and Putin, which came to a head at this week's G20 summit with separate camps and even dinner table snubs, is redolent of a time which supposedly ended with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Like an unwelcome odour from a stale fridge, a blast of Cold War bombast errupted from both sides, with America shaping up for a unilateral strike on Syria while rumours abound of a possible strike on Saudi Arabia by Putin if an American attack on Damascus goes ahead - Russia holds Saudi Arabia responsible for supplying weapons to the Syrian rebels and to Islamists in Russian-held Chechenya.

In between all this posturing by men who happily sell weapons to nearly all-takers, sit of course millions of innocent Syrians, who side with neither force in their civil war and live in constant fear of attack from all quarters. The delicate balance between different ethnic and religious groups in one of the relatively few genuinely secular states in the Middle East is lost on the policymakers in Moscow and Washington (as well as the media and public nearly everywhere) as they play their Power Politics games, posturing and threatening.

At least following the vote in the House of Commons, Britain seems out of the race to fire missiles into Syria, however accidentally. But what would truly concentrate minds on the only feasible outcome - peace talks - might be if rather than using hi-tech missiles or "boots on the ground" in the form of infantry and marines, our conservative-leaning leaders resorted to a more traditional means of conflict resolution.

Settling war by a duel between the leaders.

David & Goliath dueled to settle the war of the Israelites and Philistines
Yes, perhaps it is time for our Presidents and Premiers to go themselves where they currently put others in harm's way: let Putin and Obama, and Assad and the leader of al-Qaeda in Syria sort it all out in the arena. Middle East "Peace" Envoy Tony Blair could be even thrown in for a bit of warm up sport between them all. After all, look back in history and there are at least a few examples of leaders with the bravery to save the lives of their troops and civilians by settling their scores in precisely this way, and duels, whilst illegal, were a not unknown feature of early US politics.

In more modern times, especially recent decades, not only do political leaders no longer actively participate in the wars they start, many have never even seen military service whilst apparently happily using the military to project their own policies and strategy from the safety of their command posts. They are far removed from the consequences of all their talk, or failure to talk. A system of leaders' duels would soon change that. Indeed, as one writer noted at the time of the Iraq war, when the Iraqi Vice-President was dismissed as "irresponsible" by the White House for suggesting Saddam and Bush fight a duel to settle their differences rather than engage in total war, such personalisation of combat would completely transform international politics.

Sound familiar if far-fetched? Yes, all these year's ago in the mid-1980s, Frankie Goes To Hollywood's Two Tribes envisaged the Soviet and American leaders in (unarmed) hand to hand combat in a boxing ring. So, time to dust down the video and call out our leaders, the donkeys who pretend to be lions.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Declaration of War

"Everything that I have worked for, everything that I have hoped for, everything that I have believed in during my public life has crashed into ruins."
I am not a pacifist but there are few wars I believe have been just or right to fight. Fortunately, though fairly unusually in history, the vast majority of my generation have been spared the call to arms.

But today marks 74 years since Neville Chamberlain, British Prime Minister from 1937 to 1940, announced Britain's declaration of war on Nazi Germany, a just war if there ever was one. It is haunting to hear the sonorous voice of Chamberlain, speaking words that broke not only his policy and premiership, but his own spirit - he had resisted war because of his experiences in 1914 to 1918. Although he had not served in the military, like many of his time he was traumatised by the slaughter of the trenches and the "missing generation" that resulted, leading to the time known as "the great silence". At almost all costs, he was determined to avoid a repeat, leading him to seek to appease Hitler and either equivocating or even tolerating episodes of aggression by Germany and Italy which, with hindsight, it is easy to criticise, but at the time represented a desperate search for peace.

Listening to him here, he is clearly troubled and defeated, a poignant and sharp contrast with the rhetoric of the armchair warriors who head so many of our warmongering governments today: when he appeared a few days later before MPs, he admitted that "Everything that I have worked for, everything that I have hoped for, everything that I have believed in during my public life has crashed into ruins."

He dedicated himself to working for victory, but it was not to be. Vacillating as Poland fell and Hitler menaced France during the long Phoney War (originally nicknamed the Bore War for its lack of action), he was replaced by Churchill in May 1940 after the disastrous attempt to intervene in Norway and as the Germans were finally moving through the Low Countries. Although he continued to serve in the Government as Lord President, he was found to have terminal cancer and died in November that year.

He left a mixed legacy - many, such as Michael Foot the future Labour leader, as well as his successor Winston Churchill, saw him as having failed Britain by not acting decisively enough to deter the Nazis. His support of sanctions against Republican Spain, assailed by the fascist Franco, similarly appeared to encourage the Axis aggressors. Yet looking back, it seems nigh impossible that anything other than war would have stopped Hitler and given the very fresh and real slaughter of the trenches, the patrician Tory's reluctance to stomach another major conflict seems a little more understandable.

It is unlikely that history will ever be kind to Neville Chamberlain, but contrasting him these last few weeks with the gung-ho readiness of modern politicians to expose service men and woman and Syrian civilians to military action, perhaps a few more men with his pause and hesitation would be welcome in today's corridors of power.