Tuesday, September 23, 2008

It shouldn't have to come to this

Ruth Kelly is expected to leave the cabinet in a matter of days. It's believed that this is because of an impossible conflict between her private faith and her public role.

This is appalling news.

Ruth Kelly is a supremely able woman. She is an economist who worked for the old lady of Threadneedle Street and then as economics writer on The Grauniad where she revealed that the then chancellor, Norman Lamont had broken his own economic rules. She is also the embodiment of Catholic Social Teaching. Uncultured ignorami unfamiliar with the majestic institution which is the Roman Catholic Church dwell on her links with Opus Dei and construct bizarre gothic Torquemadaesque caricatures of her. They know nothing. Ruth Kelly is more Dorothy Day with a dash of Joan of Arc.

Once asked by an interviewer what attracted her to the Labour Party, Kelly spoke of the Thatcherite 80s. She thought it "inappropriate" for there to be such staggering levels of unemployment as there were in those years. That's Ruth Kelly to a t. She really is traditional Labour values in a modern setting.

Not one for the Westminster bar-crawling scene, intriguing or any kind of vulgar self-aggrandisment, Ruth Kelly is also an enigma. But occasional flashes of her essentially liberal personality seeped out in Cabinet gossip. Ruth Kelly, it was said, favoured a progressive penal policy which emphasised the care and rehabilitiation of offenders rather than playing to the gallery scapegoating and hang 'em flog 'em showing off to tabloids.

Some ministers are known for their effing and blinding rudeness. Not Kelly. She's known for her exquisite manners and general niceness. But then, everything about Ruth Kelly is quiet, understated good taste. She used to dress with nun-like austerity, wearing simple dark trouser suits which accentuated her slender physique. No wonder she provoked such jealousy among the dried up brigade: a brilliant political career combined with fecundity and the kind of dewy skin on her face that only inate virtue buys. Then about a year ago she was pressganged into a makeover and emerged with gorgeous buttery chunks of hair framing her pretty face and wearing stylish clothes. There must have been scenes of splenetic envy from Westminister to Brussels. Particularly in Brussels.

Any competent manager of political talent would have junked the ludicrous HFE Bill which is only likely to benefit a few big biotech millionaires and nurtured Kelly instead. She's been criticised for not being a tub-thumping politician, for being a natural civil servant but these are precisely the qualities, together with her economic expertise and constant concern for social justice which would have made her the perfect person to guide the ship of state through choppy waters.

Gordon should have made her Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Most of my heroes don't appear on no stamps

One of them is Chen Guangcheng.

Chen is a blind, self-taught lawyer who has devoted his career to resisting tyranny and fighting for the little people.

In 2006 he was preparing a class action lawsuit against the Chinese government for human rights abuses perpertrated as part of its one-child policy. The Chinese policy is, of course, the most notorious example of state anti-natalism around today. Chen uncovered cases of forced abortions of foetuses up to 8 months gestation. But launching class action lawsuits against the government isn't the done thing in a one-party state. Chen was arrested, beaten up and following a farce of a trial, during which he vomited, he was convicted of damaging public property and gathering people to block traffic.

Chen is still in jail. A week ago British paralympic athlete, Kristina Veasey added her voice to the many others calling for him to be released. That didn't cut much ice with the Chinese government (surprise, surprise).

Hot on the heels of that, comes news that a federal appeals court in the US has ruled that a woman escaping the forced abortion policy in China can appeal a decision denying her political asylum. A three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Shao Yu Yuan can challenge her denial of asylum under the Convention Against Torture.

As Shao Yo Yuan's case shows, the Chinese one-child policy not only continues but continues to be enforced with ruthlessness. Back in April, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported the case of a woman in Zhubao township in the eastern province of Shandong who was detained and beaten to force her pregnant sister to come out of hiding.

“After they took her away they were asking her questions about our other sister [the pregnant woman],” a younger sister told the news service.
“When she said she didn't know, they beat her up. We heard from inside sources that the beatings were very severe. We also heard that they beat one woman to death a few years ago, so we are all very worried about her," the woman told RFA.

RFA also interviewed Chen Guangcheng's wife, Yuan Weijing. She said:

“It is just the same as it always was here. If you are pregnant without permission, it doesn't matter how many months gone you are—they will keep an eye on the pregnancy and then they will arrest you and drag you off for an abortion."

“If you run away, they will detain a member of your family and smash up your home. People here are terribly fearful these days. I really couldn’t tell you the real reason for this. To be honest with you, things got a whole lot more relaxed in 2005 after Chen Guangcheng exposed these practices, and pretty much nobody was getting beaten up at that time. The really nasty practices lingered on in some places, however. But this year it has all started up again.”

Marie Stopes may be a hero to you but she doesn't mean sh*t to me

You can tell a lot about a person from their correspondence; what they write and who they write it to. Marie Stopes wrote gushing letters to Adolf Hitler.

"Dear Herr Hitler, Love is the greatest thing in the world: so will you accept from me these (poems) that you may allow the young people of your nation to have them?"

Marie Stopes was an ardent racist eugenicist who disowned her own son because he married a woman who wore glasses. By Stopes' extreme standards this was pretty restrained. She was an advocate of compulsory sterilisation of the "unfit" which as this entry in the invaluable Eugenics Watch makes clear, included anyone who wasn't a perfect Aryan specimen: the "C3 population", "half-castes" and revolutionaries.

It was in furtherance of Stopes' aims that her Society for Constructive Birth Control opened dozens of clinics in working class areas to reduce the number of undesirables by persuasion if force was politically impossible.

Oswald Mosley and Lord Haw Haw have been rightly consigned to the historical scrapheap for their nazi sympathies but Stopes' face will adorn 50p stamps in a month's time. That's not just because she's a birth control pioneer but because the anti-natalist movement was and is so soaked in the dodgy politics of misanthropic population control and eugenics that it can't be too choosy about its heroes. Just pity the poor mugs who, lacking all self respect, play along with the reactionary farce.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

For Gord's Sake!

Brown has ruled out a windfall tax and a one-off fuel payment, according to the Beeb. This is awful news. He's thrown away a golden opportunity to smear some ameliorative economic ointment on hurting consumers and strike a redistributive pose, something he urgently needed to do after the ten pence tax debacle. Secondly, he's been seen to be dithering and indecisive yet again. Compass's campaign for the windfall tax gathered speed over a number of weeks and seemed within an ace of being adopted by the government. There were reports that business secretary John Hutton opposed the tax on the usual right wing grounds but nonetheless, enticing headlines of the "windfall tax still on the cards" type appeared in the nationals. It would have been popular with Labour MPs, over 80 of whom signed Compass's petition, who desperately needed a traditional Labour shot in the arm after recent by-election disasters and with demoralised party activists and voters who are finding it hard to explain to the electorate and even themselves what the party stands for now.
Charles Clarke's carefully timed salvo against Brown grabbed headlines earlier in the day but is arguably of far less significance to the government's fortunes than its misguided rejection of the windfall tax and fuel payment.
This blog started off as a fan of Gordon Brown but in just over a year it has revised its opinion. Brown is many things, politician, intellectual and commanding party figure but he doesn't have the temperament for leadership.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

"We hope the suspicion is never proven true that Fascism is re-emerging among us under other forms"

So said Italy's widely read Catholic journal, Familigia Cristiana recently, alarmed by the Berlusconi government's vicious anti-immigrant policies. One of them is for the compulsory fingerprinting of all Roma including children. This is repugnant. It is a serious assault on civil liberties and a blatant peice of racial discrimination.

The Roma have been the victims of racism many times during their long, melancholy history. They were the second largest group targeted by the nazis for extermination - the Romani word for Holocaust is ‘porraimos’, or devouring - and in cases ranging from the 1970s to as recently as 2004 Czech and Slovak Roma women were forcibly sterilised.

The Italian government is ignoring the stream of condemnation issuing from the likes of Unicef to these plans, fatuously claiming that they are for Roma's own good. A well-0rganised campaign of civil disobediance could make them think again. That is what is urgently needed. Italy's honour is at stake here.