KEY POLICIES Protect services from cuts Fairer taxation Green jobs Celebrate multi-cultural Britain Troops home from Afghanistan
VENUE: Friends Meeting House, Manchester.
A suitably pacifist-setting for an anti-war party. "Help us not to despise or oppose what we do not understand," it says on a board outside in the inevitable Manchester drizzle. Long-neglected left wing sects, such as the Communist Party of Great Britain and the Socialist Party, were booked into other rooms at the Quaker venue.
ATMOSPHERE: Fervent. The party feels it is getting a raw deal from the media at this election. It is only fielding 11 Parliamentary candidates but it believes it deserves more attention. So as the only representative of the national media at the event, it fell to me to soak up some of their frustration (as well as ample supplies of coffee and biscuits). Mohammed Zulfikar, who is taking on Gerald Kaufmann in Manchester Gorton, was particularly exercised by what he saw as the media's bias against Respect. He says he was turned away from the first prime ministerial debate at the Granada studios two weeks ago. He has complained to Ofcom. There was also much righteous anger about "greedy bankers" in the City. There were murmurs of outrage when someone quoted the Sunday Times Rich List statistic that the most wealthy 100 people in the UK had £330bn between them.
VISUAL STYLE: Colourful.
Respect's green and red palette reflects its socialist/environmentalist stance. The purple background to its poster could be borrowed from UKIP. Party leader Salma Yaqoob, who will be the first veil-wearing Muslim MP if she is elected in Birmingham Hall Green, has replaced George Galloway as its media-friendly face. Her picture adorns the "Manifesto for Peace, Justice and Equality". Could this be a legacy of Mr Galloway's Big Brother antics, which still divides opinion in this party? National chair Kay Phillips told me she did not agree with his decision to appear on the reality show, but then again his appearance before the US Senate was a "moment of pure genius", she adds.
STAR TURN: George Galloway was the ghost at this particular feast. He is holding a separate event in London on Tuesday setting out Respect's terms for a hung Parliament.
Respect sets coalition conditions They missed his blood-curdling rhetoric (he would support a Labour government in the Commons "as a rope supports a hanging man," he told me when I met him last week on the campaign trail in Poplar and Limehouse). Stand-in master of ceremonies John Nicholson did his best to make up the deficit, with an attack on Labour's "shocking and appalling" immigration minister Phil Woolas and the way Labour had, in his view, "legitimised racist and fascist ideology".
The Friends Meeting House played host to the Respect launch An unlikely-looking Parliamentary candidate, in his grey tracksuit bottoms and T-shirt, former youth worker David Henry is the self-styled Hazelmustgo candidate in Salford and Eccles. He is not a Respect member, he tells me, but they are backing his campaign against Ms Blears. With eight candidates standing, it has turned into a bit of a circus, he admits, but is hopeful of causing an upset.
DO SAY: Respect are New Labour's worst nightmare - especially if they end up holding the balance of power.
DON'T SAY: They should not get their hopes up - the Iraq war is not a big issue at this election.
KEY SOUNDBITE: "There is an alternative to cuts and privatisation. There is an alternative to war and racism."
TELLING MOMENT: In the North-West of England, Respect are targeting the same disillusioned former Labour voters as the British National Party, Kay Phillips and council candidate Paul Kelly both tell me. The two parties may detest each other's policies but they do share one key aim: immediate withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan
Almost without exception, the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) passed without notice last week.
An article in the Belfast Newsletter and a parade in Ballymena were not insignificant but neither could disguise the fact that the commemoration of an organisation, once integral to the Orange State, could no longer command its former place within civic society.
Of course the marginalisation of the UDR is mostly a consequence of political transformation but it also reflects the success of the families of victims and survivors in exposing the UDR’s role in violent crime and state-sponsored murder. A locally recruited counter insurgency militia, the Ulster Defence Regiment was established in April 1970. From the outset the UDR was a sectarian force, drawing the majority of its founding recruits from the notorious B Specials. Within the first two years over 2,500 former B Specials had been recruited.
Film footage broadcast for the first time to a mass television audience exposing their brutality had led the Hunt Report to recommend the disbandment of the B Specials in 1969. Tellingly, instead of disbanding, the British government merely provided another vehicle, the UDR, through which the B Specials could not only be maintained but also granted greater access to more deadly weaponry.
Not surprisingly given its anti-republican role, the UDR was almost exclusively drawn from the community most loyal to British occupation and most hostile to reform or progressive change. In other words, the UDR was 97% Protestant and 100% unionist. But significantly, unlike its predecessor the B Specials, the UDR came under the direct control of the British army rather than the Orange State.
Released reluctantly by the British state under the 30-year rule in 2004, a secret dossier compiled by British Military Intelligence in 1973 exposed the fact that the British army and their political masters were very well aware of collusion between members of the UDR and unionist paramilitaries. The dossier admitted widespread joint membership, with large numbers of UDA members also recruited into the UDR. The secret dossier detailed the role of UDR members in providing intelligence, training and arms to unionist paramilitaries. It admitted that some of the UDR’s most deadly weaponry was now in the hands of “the most violent of the criminal sectarian groups within the Protestant Community”.
Violent, criminal and sectarian they might be, but in compiling the dossier British Military Intelligence wasn’t concerned about collusion between unionist paramilitaries and the UDR in relation to the threat it posed to the civilian population, most particularly the northern nationalist community.
The hypothesis the dossier explored was the likely reaction of the UDR in the event of any declaration of unilateral independence by the Orange State. In other words, what was the risk of a regimental mutiny and would the UDR, or UDR armed paramilitaries, ever turn their weaponry against the British army?
Some commentators have been confused by an apparent inconsistency between British Military Intelligence investigating ‘subversion’ within the UDR while at the same time using the UDR and its paramilitary links to conduct a covert war.
But, as this dossier reveals, British Intelligence did not regard collusion as ‘subversive’, and apparently neither did their political masters, for whom the document was prepared, as long as it served British interests. It would only become ‘subversive’ if it were ever deployed against the British state. The confusion arose because when the dossier was published in 2004, in the public arena the British state had already dedicated a great deal of time and energy into distancing itself from collusion as a means of dealing with allegations of state-sponsored murder.
By the end of the century Britain was promoting the notion that collusion was something ‘unknown’, something that the state had to inquire into, a deviation, a subversion of, rather than a part of, British strategy.
But it is clear that from its earliest beginnings members of the UDR were enlisted by specialist groups within the British army as assassins and bombers in covert operations.
Robert Nairac, the second in command of the British army’s 14th Intelligence Unit, recruited members of the UDR and RUC to act as pro-British death squads in the 1970s. Nairac has been implicated in some of the most dastardly acts of that period, including the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, the assassination of IRA Volunteer John Francis Green and the Miami Showband massacre.
A documentary screened by Yorkshire television in 1993 revealed Nairac’s recruitment and deployment of members of the UDR and RUC to carry out covert bombings and assassinations. Nairac was abducted in County Armagh in 1977 and is presumed dead. After Nairac’s disappearance, The 14th Intelligence, a close associate of the British SAS, continued to use members of the UDR as pro-British death squads. The unit was later superseded by the Force Research Unit and was later renamed the Joint Support Group.
Willie Frazer, a spokesperson for FAIR (Families Acting for Innocent Relatives), has revealed that his father Robert, a UDR soldier killed by the IRA, had “worked closely with 14th Intelligence”.
“It was those who were helping the SAS and Special Forces who were selected for killing by the IRA. Other members of the UDR were not assassinated. The IRA picked a group of people who had been in something together. It was not just any member of the security forces,” admitted Frazer.
In the late 1980s, unionist paramilitaries, in an attempt to refute that they were engaging in sectarian hate crime, began revealing the intelligence sources used to target their victims. The vast majority of the material came from UDR security files. With hundreds of documents being made public, the British government dispatched John Stevens to ‘investigate’ allegations of collusion.
Stevens’ probe attempted to exonerate the UDR by claiming that collusion was “limited to a few low rank soldiers”. But it was too little too late and in 1992, in what was little more than a cosmetic exercise, the UDR was merged with another regiment and renamed the Royal Irish Regiment. However it continued to attract controversy and in 2005 the northern battalions of the RIR were ‘rewarded’ with a £250 million redundancy package and disbanded.
Salma Yaqoob Respect's prospective candidate for Birmingham canvassing in Sparkbrook. Photograph: Anita Maric/News Team International
Not afraid to speak her mind, Salma Yaqoob is well aware that she is a challenge to traditional Muslim political culture
Madeleine Bunting guardian.co.uk, Friday 23 April 2010 16.23 BST
Drums, loudhailers, chanting slogans. It is a very old-fashioned kind of politics that can be heard on the high street in Kings Heath, Birmingham.
But Salma Yaqoob, the prospective parliament candidate at the centre of the hubbub, represents a quiet revolution. "Bankers bailed out, people sold out," she shouts into the loudhailer outside the banks. The passing cars sound their horns in support.
She is the most prominent Muslim woman in British public life. She wears a headscarf, a powerful symbol of a faith she has accommodated with her passionate leftwing politics. She is standing as a candidate for the tiny and fractured Respect party.
In some streets around the new constituency of Hall Green, her poster is on every window. Since her narrow defeat for Westminster in 2005, she has built up support through her work as a local councillor, as well as building a national profile through her appearances on BBC's Question Time.
She might just topple Labour from a seat in an area which, in 1997, it counted as one of its safest. Boundary changes have brought much of the old Sparkbrook and Small Heath constituency (Labour majority: 19,526) into the new Hall Green.
Yaqoob is one of a small group who has a good chance of making history as one of the first British Muslim women MPs. Her result is looking close, while across Birmingham, Shabana Mahmood is fighting Clare Short's old seat, Ladywood. In Bolton South, Yasmin Qureshi inherits a big Labour majority, and Rushanara Ali could well take the Bethnal Green seat back for Labour. Yaqoob's headscarf at Westminster may prompt a few headlines – both here and abroad – but few will fully grasp the small revolution these women are spearheading in these communities, and how they are introducing to British electoral politics a constituency of Muslim women, many of whom don't speak English and were in previous elections confined to the backroom, the private family areas of the house, whenever canvassers or candidates came to the doorstep.
Back on the high street in Kings Heath, the noisy protesters crowding around the diminutive figure of Yaqoob are furious. Gurt Singh has been running a steel and timber yard all his life, but he has had to put his 10 staff on a three-day week to avoid redundancies. "I reckon I have only a few months left. I can't get credit from the bank."
Essa Altaf is equally outraged. A property developer, he has had to lay off eight men. "I don't want to lay off any more, I have morals. I know redundancy affects a whole family and then the whole community. Why do I have morals, and the banks don't?"
By now I am surrounded by men who all run small businesses in the building industry all telling a bitter story of the recession. The boom in this area of Birmingham has always been fragile and the recession hit quickly and hard. Jobs are the biggest subject on the doorstep, says Yaqoob. She knows well that the issues, even at national elections, are local: jobs, schools, antisocial behaviour, police, housing. The Iraq and Afghanistan wars rarely come up, she says – the surge in anti-war sentiment, which helped her in 2005, is unlikely to feature this time round. Constituents' economic security is far more pressing.
What will help Yaqoob is that her Labour opponent, Roger Godsiff, who has held the seat since 1992, has been badly damaged by the expenses scandal. His second-home claims were among the highest in England, and despite charging £163,885 to the taxpayer in 2007-08, last year he spoke in only five debates and voted in 56% of divisions.
Yaqoob was wooed by Labour after 2005.She acknowledges that "My values are traditional Labour, but New Labour has gone to the right". She was even courted by the Liberal Democrats and the Tories, a tribute to her rare capacity for fair-minded plain speaking, most evident in her Question Time appearance earlier this year, at Wootton Bassett, when she earned respect for her handling of questions about British soldiers killed in Afghanistan, a war she opposes.
But she has stuck with Respect, despite its internal disputes, since 2005, and is probably now better known than her party. She is accused by prominent Labour and Liberal Democrat Muslims of "leading the community into a "cul-de-sac" but defends her politics vigorously.
"I couldn't speak like I do if I was in Labour. I'm not here as a career politician, but because I want to offer an alternative to the neo-liberal model, which is patently failing. I now punch above my weight, working with other parties and influencing them. I want to try and open the space for discussion and debate, which is crucial right now, and nudge Labour into a more principled position."
She says she won't "make a tactic into a principle", clearly indicating that she would come back to Labour on the right terms. In the meantime, her gamble to be her own woman and to speak her mind without having to submit to party discipline is surviving against all the odds. A recent independent assessment argued that she is among Birmingham's three most influential councillors.
Ironically, her toughest battles are probably within the Muslim community. Contrary to assumptions that this is where the core of her support lies, she has had to pick her way very carefully through the sensitivities of conservatives within her community. The old Sparkbrook and Small Heath had the highest number of Muslim votes of any constituency in the country, and many of them are now in Yaqoob's patch.
"I've had death threats and criticism that I support gays – because I have a clear anti-discrimination position – and there have been claims that it is haram [forbidden in Islam] to vote for women. People say to me, 'Have you no shame?' and they accuse me of immodesty and ask my husband why he lets me speak in public. It's still an uphill struggle."
But she has been winning even her fiercest critics round. "Some people who made out fatwas against voting for a woman have now been saying that I'm the right candidate. I have been invited into mosques – some of which don't even have facilities for women to pray – to give the Friday sermons."
Yaqoob is well aware that she is a challenge to traditional Muslim political culture – not just because she is a woman, but because she is not afraid to speak her mind. She has openly criticised the way the postal vote has been misused in Birmingham to strengthen the traditional biraderi – clan affiliations. In practice, what this means is that a community fixer will offer a party hundreds of votes in return for favours.
She recognises that many non-Muslim voters can feel threatened by her as a Muslim. "I'm between a rock and a hard place," she says. "I have to jump hurdles because of the way I look. Firstly, I have to make it clear that I don't support terrorism, secondly, that I'm British, thirdly, that I don't just lobby for Muslims and lastly, that I'm not a Trojan horse for sinister Islamist plots.
"People still question me about the hijab as a symbol of oppression. I try to stay patient and build a relationship of trust. For a real discussion, people have to be able to hear each other: someone has to pull the barriers down. People have a genuine fear, and you need to deal with it or you are dehumanising them – it won't just go away."
Her training as a psychotherapist clearly influences how she understands political conflict and how she is still able to deal patiently with questions faced since she first went to university more than 20 years ago. It makes her voice distinctive in public life – and it's easy to see why she's clocked up five appearances on Question Time, the showcase for aspiring politicians.
The key factor benefiting Yaqoob is the decline of the close bond between Muslims and Labour, which has defined the politics of the Muslim community for two generations. Disillusion with foreign policy, most notably in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as on domestic economic issues, is likely to slash the Muslim votes in Birmingham.
While Labour's successes in Birmingham in the past 13 years are evident in the city centre – the newly redeveloped Bullring shopping centre with its iconic architecture, for example – it's a model of urban regeneration, which hasn't percolated through to the neighbouring Victorian terraced streets, where shops and businesses are closing down.
A younger generation of educated Muslims no longer demonstrates the expected deference to the "village elders", who once directed the family and delivered a bloc vote for Labour. Some are impressed by the Conservatives' emphasis on family values, hard work and responsibility – it is a message that has appealed to successful immigrant communities in the past. This election will almost certainly see the arrival of the first Conservative Muslim MPs: men have been selected for Bromsgrove and Stratford-upon-Avon, two safe Conservative seats in the West Midlands.
Even in Ladywood, the Conservatives smell the possibility of giving Labour a run for their money. David Cameron made an appearance in the constituency last weekend. The Conservative candidate, Nusrat Ghani, also a Muslim, and Mahmood both grew up in this area of Birmingham. Both can call on the family connections vital to winning votes. Mahmood's father is the chair of the Birmingham Labour party.
Both are able to get beyond the "front room campaigning" of previous elections; candidates and canvassers sit in family sitting rooms and are served delicious tea spiced with green cardamom, while the conversations run on in Urdu or Mirpuri. The questions here are about family and which village the candidate is "from" back in Pakistan. There is no mistaking the pride and delight among these women to see a female candidate.
"My generation had a much more traditional life and you listened to your husband on who to vote for, but my daughters have a completely different outlook," says Maqsood Bibi through a translator. "It's a good thing for women to come forward so that it is not just men in politics. As a Muslim, I believe God gives you, as a woman, the same rights as he gives to the men. So why shouldn't you become an MP?"
Along the street, Gulshan Begum was even more forthright. "My generation of women are often illiterate and we need women in power to support us."
Their generation has waited a long time for the moment when this may finally come true.
Chinese and Russian-made fighter jets blasted through the skies, shaking the dilapidated buildings of Caracas as they passed. Tanks and troops paraded through the streets and special forces troops shouted in unison: “I’m an anti-imperialist socialist!” The capital was draped in red as thousands of military personnel, dancers and supporters hailed Hugo Chávez, the Venezuelan President.
Allies from across the region flew in to attend the celebrations — the Cuban leader Raúl Castro, Evo Morales of Bolivia and Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega were among those flanking Mr Chávez who, dressed in his trademark red beret and military uniform, paid tribute to Simón Bolívar, the Latin American freedom fighter, whose spirit he frequently invokes in support of his Bolivarian Revolution.
This week marked the 200th anniversary of Venezuela’s rebellion against the Spanish empire. Yet the display of military might was less about celebrating the past than raising the possibility of a future battle — this time against the US.
“Civilians and soldiers united, the people and its armed forces guaranteeing the independence of Venezuela!” Mr Chávez declared. “Never again will Venezuela be a Yankee colony nor a colony of anyone. The moment has arrived to reach our true sovereignty and independence.”
Mr Chávez often refers to the threat of the US which, he claims, wants to topple him and take control of his country’s oil reserves.
To defend Venezuela he has built alliances with Cuba, Iran, Russia and China — he recently signed a $5 billion (£3 billion) arms deal with Moscow. Such alliances have rattled Washington, which imposed an arms embargo against the Chávez Government in 2006 and which has accused him of starting a regional arms race.
On Monday Mr Chávez ridiculed US concerns, saying that it was Venezuela that was under threat. The former paratrooper — who survived a 2002 coup attempt that he says was backed by the US — has been enraged by a deal that will lead to an increased American military presence in Colombia, claiming that Washington intends to use this as a base for operations against him and other regional enemies.
The Venezuelan President, speaking at the summit of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Nations of Our America, a left-leaning bloc aimed at countering US influence, said that America was installing its “weapons of war” and accused Colombia — with which he has a feud — of threatening Venezuela and others “because they feel supported by the Yankees”.
Fidel Castro, Mr Chávez’s ideological mentor, sent him a tribute, saying: “He is, today, the person who most worries the imperialists, for his capacity to influence the masses and for the immense natural resources of the nation.”
Opponents say that Mr Chávez is whipping up threats to distract from domestic problems and flagging support amid inflation, nationwide electricity and water shortages and insecurity. He is determined to stave off losses in elections in September, vowing last week never to “allow the bourgeoisie to occupy seats in the National Assembly”.
Yet he still commands an almost religious devotion for the social programmes that have improved the lives of many Venezuelan poor during his 11 years in power. This year he vowed to rule for 11 more years after his victory in a referendum last year that removed limits on the number of terms that a president can serve.
Recently he has drawn on his loyal following to create a civilian militia and last week he swore in 35,000 paramilitaries whom he instructed to “take all power” if he was overthrown. “We have to be prepared to defend the Fatherland against external and internal aggression,” said Johan Sandoval, 28.
Mr Sandoval, a Chávez supporter at Monday’s parade, added: “Our military expenditure is insignificant compared to other countries and here there are US plans of aggression.”
Notably absent from the festivities were opposition groups, who accused Mr Chávez of exploiting the occasion as a display of support before the elections. They claimed that his Government had undermined democracy and turned Venezuela into a Cuban satellite state.
Carlos Andrés Peréz, a former president against whom Mr Chávez led an unsuccessful coup in 1992, questioned whether it was appropriate to celebrate independence when a “militarised and authoritarian regime [that had] hijacked the country to exercise total control over all branches of government” was in power.
“After 200 years we are again under an odious foreign domination,” said Julio Borges, the leader of the Primero Justicia party, who accused Mr Chávez of submitting to the Castro brothers. “The freedom fighters 200 years ago did not fight for dictatorship.”
“The imperialist, genocidal, fascist attitude of the US President has no limits. I think Hitler would be like a suckling baby next to George W. Bush”
Hugo Chávez on George W. Bush, February 5, 2006
“If the Yankee empire tries to use Colombia to attack Venezuela the war of 100 years would begin”
On US-Colombia base deal, November, 2009
“We thought he was a cannibal. I have doubts . . . maybe he was a great nationalist”
On Idi Amin, November, 2009
“They accuse him of being a terrorist but Carlos really was a revolutionary fighter”
On Carlos the Jackal, November, 2009
“Look, England, how long are you going to be in Las Malvinas? Queen of England, I’m talking to you . . . The time for empires are over, haven’t you noticed? Return the Malvinas to the Argentine people . . . We are no longer in 1982”
On the Falklands, February 22, 2010
“Sweep away the bourgeoisie from all political and economic spaces, deepen the revolution”
Instructions to militia if opposition tries to overthrow him, April 13
Far from being a ‘stage army’, the Red Shirts could potentially refresh and reinvent democracy in Thailand.
For over a year now, the political scene in Thailand has been in tumult. At the end of 2008, protesters wearing yellow shirts got international media coverage by forcing the closure of the capital city’s two airports. Now, protesters wearing red shirts occupy parts of Bangkok, demanding the resignation of the prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, and fresh elections.
On the evening of Saturday 3 April, the uneasy stand-off between government forces and protesters, which has lasted for a month, spilled over into violence. At the time of writing, more than 20 people, including a Japanese Reuters reporter and four Thai soldiers, have died. Many hundreds more have been injured.
So, who are the Yellow Shirts and who are the Red Shirts, what do they represent, and what significance do they have for politics in Thailand and beyond? To understand what is going on today, it is necessary first to cast a glance back at Thailand’s modern history.
Thailand is often described as the only state in South East Asia not to have been colonised by the European powers. Siam, as the country was once called, achieved this dubious distinction through shedding territory to its south and west (Malaya and Burma) to the British and to its north and east (Laos and Cambodia) to the French. Siam thereby maintained a feudal monarchy that the imperial powers felt comfortable doing business with.
A 1932 military coup, supported by civilian democrats, led to the dissolution of absolute monarchical powers, followed by an abdication in 1938. But the new, uneasy alliance also broke apart, with liberals and radicals being ousted. Indeed, the country was first renamed Thailand in 1939 as a nationalist gesture to exclude those of Chinese origin.
A brief deal with the Japanese during the Second World War returned lands lost to the British and the French. But after the war, the US ensured that the status quo ante prevailed, and used the Kingdom as a platform for launching regional anti-communist operations. This proved a recipe for constant coups and turmoil, which continued, both internally and with aggrieved neighbours, subsequent to the expulsion of US forces in the mid-1970s and until the end of the Cold War in 1989. The end of the Cold War heralded a more concerted transition to democracy.
The current king, Bhumibol Adulyadej, or Rama IX, having come to power in 1946 after the mysterious death of his brother, is now the world’s longest serving head of state. He is widely revered by the Thai people, but his age and failing health have raised issues regarding any succession to his less popular son, Vajiralongkorn.
It is within this context that Thaksin Shinawatra, a former police deputy superintendent, entered into politics in 1994. Typically, for a not-too-well-paid public servant, he started a string of failed businesses on the side before resigning his police commission in 1987. But he hit the big time in 1990, obtaining a 20-year license to deliver Thailand’s first mobile phone services. His business interests gradually grew and were spun out to various members of his family and trusted friends. Thaksin won the first of his landslide election victories in 2001, when he became prime minister of Thailand. He completed a notable full-term in office and was re-elected in 2005 on the back of the highest voter turnout in Thai history.
Thaksin is an unashamedly populist politician. He is like a cross between Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi. By combining rural poverty alleviation programmes in the north of the country, where he hails from, with the first universal healthcare scheme – now so successful that medical tourism is one of Thailand’s boom sectors – his success was assured.
Thaksin is also undoubtedly a man of contradictions, promoting micro-credit schemes popular with Western liberals on the one hand, while determinedly, and some might say ruthlessly, quashing Muslim separatists in the south of the country. His draconian campaign to eradicate drugs also met with accusations of human rights abuses by various groups, leading Thaksin to denounce the United Nations, whose envoy he had invited in to assess the situation.
In 2006, while Thaksin was in New York – ironically, to speak at a UN summit – things came to a head. A fresh military coup, supported by old and new elites within the monarchy and the media – who Thaksin had continuously thwarted through reporting restrictions and through setting up various communications empires – swept Bangkok. But upon the restoration of free elections in 2008, the people had the temerity to elect the People’s Power Party, which Thaksin supported from his exile. This was a step too far for the urban elitists, and so protesters wearing yellow, in symbolic allegiance to the king, seized the airports and brought the country to a standstill.
Despite this superficially radical move, it is important to understand that those involved were entirely reactionary in their outlook. Comprised largely of urban intellectuals, and pretty much allowed to take over by the military, their view was that democracy was not for the uneducated masses from the north.
The various protests have been widely viewed merely as disruptive, as damaging Thailand’s reputation and economy. Some Thais who avow themselves as neutral to the conflicts wear pink shirts. But in fact, the protests represent a fundamental struggle that reflects, and will shape, views about popular participation in Thailand and elsewhere.
Having brought the country to a halt, the Yellow Shirts, backed by little more than a political pressure group with influential and wealthy backers – the People’s Alliance for Democracy – managed to get the pro-Thaksin government disbanded through the legal establishment. It was this silent, judicial coup that led to the current mass demonstrations by Red Shirt supporters of Thaksin.
Thaksin has been repeatedly accused of corruption and censorship. On their part, the Eton- and Oxford-educated current prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, and his hastily reconstituted Democrat Party, which includes some of his British-educated chums, are themselves not wholly innocent in this regard. But, far from being a battle between rural populists and urban intellectuals, the conflict has, over the past month, become about much more than that.
Accusations fly that the Red Shirt protesters in Bangkok have been bribed and corralled to act as a stage army. That may be true – the path to democracy is never clear or clean – but the fact is that they are a de facto people’s army. They have sustained over 100,000 people on the streets of Bangkok for a month, held rallies, met with the prime minister and successfully regained control of a media outlet that government forces had occupied and closed down, if only to lose control of it again.
With so many Thais taking matters into their own hands for the first time, and consciously avoiding violence, there is now an opportunity for the political agenda to move beyond Thaksin. The protesters are learning that while they were galvanised into action for the sake of the exiled Thaksin (the Thai judiciary has recently moved to seize his assets), he himself may no longer be central, or even necessary, to realising their ambitions. At the same time, some of the urban elites may lose faith in the current prime minister’s ability to keep control of the situation, leading to more draconian responses which, in turn, may fuel further violence.
What we are witnessing in Bangkok is a transformative moment. How it will end is anyone’s guess. The Red Shirts may be placated by recent official apologies. They may, after their prolonged occupations of certain key streets and government buildings, return to their northern constituencies to observe the Thai New Year this week. Such demobilisation could be dispiriting and fatal.
On the other hand, in democracy, there is strength in numbers, and the Red Shirts may grasp a sense of their own power and steer a very different course. If the protesters prevail, they could offer important lessons in the messy business of politics elsewhere.
Bill Durodié is a Senior Fellow in the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies at the Nanyang Technological University of Singapore.
China's most controversial film, Nanjing, Nanjing! City of Life and Death, about the 1937 massacre of the city, is now opening in the UK.
By Malcolm Moore in Shanghai DAILY TELEGRAPH Published: 1:00AM BST 16 Apr 2010
Nanjing, Nanjing! City of Life and Death Half its crew quit during filming, two of its actors are now in exile and its release prompted a wave of death threats for its director. Now, China’s most controversial film is coming to the UK.
Lu Chuan, the boyish 39-year-old director of Nanjing, Nanjing! City of Life and Death, is blunt about the making of his movie. “It was a journey to hell,” he says.
Viewers of the film may feel the same way. For two hours and ten minutes, Lu’s film plunges into the horror of the rape of Nanjing, a massacre that has been largely forgotten in the West, but is still painfully raw in Chinese minds.
When Nanjing fell to the Japanese on December 13, 1937, a six week orgy of violence was unleashed that rivalled the worst atrocities of the Second World War.
Japanese soldiers buried civilians alive, sometimes leaving their upper bodies exposed and letting dogs rip them apart. They nailed prisoners to wooden boards and ran them over with tanks or horses, or stabbed them with long needles.
They hung Chinese victims by their tongues, or burned them in their houses. Tens of thousands of women were raped and mutilated, with some pregnant women having their babies torn from their bodies.
Years later, the International Military Tribunal of the Far East estimated that more than 260,000 civilians died. Some experts place the figure at well over 350,000. Either way, more people died in Nanjing than in the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined.
What happened in Nanjing still burns in Chinese minds, especially because of the widespread denial of the massacre in Japan. And while there have been countless Communist propaganda films about the event, Lu’s attempt at a candid and nuanced re-telling was a step too far for many Chinese cinema-goers.
“Before we started making the movie, we really did not have any concerns about what might happen. I did not think of the possible consequences,” he says. Within the first week, the death threats began to arrive.
“I want to kill you by dismemberment,” read one email. Another promised to castrate him. “Lu Chuan is a liar, a traitor, a scum among Chinese people,” wrote one critic on one of the countless internet message boards that berated the film. “He has downplayed a historic tragedy and tried to cover up the truth,” he added.
Only the personal support of Li Changchun, the powerful Communist party propaganda chief, kept the film running in cinemas, according to Lu. Even then, Nanjing Nanjing! lasted under three weeks in theatres, playing to around three million people and making Lu one of only five directors in China to make more than 100 million yuan (£10 million) at the box office.
“It was all quite scary,” he says now. “The response was overwhelming, all the criticism and the scolding. Even my teachers from film school attacked it.” What ignited the fury? “They basically could not accept that I tried to portray Japanese soldiers as humans, rather than beasts.”
Lu cast Hideo Nakaizumi as Kadokawa, a Japanese haunted by his inability to stop the slaughter ordered by his superior officers. “I just thought it was the right thing to do,” says Lu. “I thought I could deliver a new message and perhaps persuade some people who had mistaken ideas about the war. Japanese soldiers also paid a price during the war, and that theme got me the most criticism.”
Lu, who studied at an army university in Nanjing, had nursed the idea for the film since 2003, but quickly ran into problems. “I lost hope many times, and turned to other projects, but I could not concentrate on them,” he says. “I found my first backer in September 2006, and we got the permit to make the movie the following year.” Government censors only asked for minor changes to his script: a scene of Japanese soldiers beheading Chinese was deleted, as was one of a woman strapped to a chair to be raped and a conversation between a Japanese commander and a Chinese prisoner that revealed compassion on the part of the Japanese.
“The very fact that the movie got a permit shows that the Chinese government has made baby steps in tolerating and embracing the different, the controversial and original,” Lu says, while remarking that the attacks on the film from the Chinese media and intellectuals were not on the orders of the Communist party.
Filming took place in a mock-up of Nanjing on the outskirts of the Northern city of Changchun. The eight-month shoot was difficult. “Half our crew, over 100 people, left. They could not handle the pressure and the emotional stress,” he says. “Gao Yuanyuan, the leading actress, ended up depressed, often staying away and shutting herself up. It was very hard for her. Often she was cut ten or 20 times and then we had to do another take, in front of everyone.”
The bitterness between the Chinese and Japanese came alive again on set. “There was always an invisible line between the Japanese actors and the rest of the crew,” says Lu. “They had a very tough time too, being attacked both in China and in Japan. Two of them have now left Japan to live in China because of the hostility they faced at home. After they performed the rape scenes, they went mute for days.”
With sparse dialogue, and a choppy plot, the movie is unrelenting on its audiences. However, Tom Stewart, the head of acquisitions at High Fliers, its UK distributor, says he bid for the movie even before its warm reception at the Cannes film festival last year. “One of the things I liked about it is that you are dropped into the middle of bedlam as a viewer and you cannot understand what is happening. The director told me he had shot the film in black and white because of all the blood there is in the film, and because he did not want to glamorise the violence. There have been a lot of comparisons, but the movie is unique. It has a lot of consciousness to it.”
For Lu, a UK release is a redemption after the firestorm of the last year. “I feel the movie must be a success overseas. I am hoping that a good reception overseas will change the minds of the domestic media,” he says.
CITY OF LIFE AND DEATH is in cinemas across the UK from 16 April
Caroline Lucas, the Green Party leader, at the manifesto launch
'Robin Hood' tax policies put redistribution on equal footing with saving planet
By Michael McCarthy, Environment Editor, THE INDEPENDENT
Friday, 16 April 2010
Well, you can't say they're not different. The Green Party launched a manifesto yesterday, openly promising to take quite enormous sums from the rich and hand them over to the poor.
The party that for the past 20 years has put the planet first has found a fierce new focus to sit alongside its environmental concern: social justice and inequality. Yesterday it set out an eye-popping programme of redistributive taxation that would have been considered radical even by Old Labour at its most extreme period in the early Eighties.
To pay for a wide range of benefits for people on lower incomes, the Greens in government would seek to raise £73bn in new taxation right away, rising to £112bn in 2013, and increasing the tax take as a share of national income by 25 per cent in just four years. This would come from large hikes in income tax, capital gains tax, corporation tax, financial transaction tax and a permanent tax on bankers' bonuses. The Greens would also increase taxes on motoring, flying, cigarettes and alcohol.
However, 87 per cent of the population would be better off under the Green soak-the-rich regime, the party claimed, as in return the public would be offered much higher pensions, higher minimum wages, free home insulation, free social care for the elderly, big tax breaks for people on lower incomes and reopened local post offices – not to mention large-scale improvements in public transport with renationalised railways, the scrapping of the Trident nuclear missile system, and a radical regime for fighting climate change.
Once single-mindedly environmental in its focus, the party is still passionate about the planet – it will still have nothing to do with nuclear power, for example, and wants "personal carbon quotas" to fight climate change – but it is now also espousing radically left-wing social and economic values. Its leader, the fluent and presentable Caroline Lucas, pointed out yesterday that these are policies of a sort associated with Labour, "before it became New Labour and forgot those principles".
Asked if they were now openly left-wing, she said the Greens were "A party of the left plus... We're not just trying to become a receptacle of what Labour once was. We're taking some of those best values, but putting them into a completely different economic framework."
The manifesto was launched in Brighton, which is a beacon of hope for the Greens, as it is the most "alternative" city in Britain and the Brighton Pavilion constituency is where the party scored its best general election result, securing 22 per cent of the vote in 2005.
Taxation in general
The Greens want to "rehabilitate progressive taxation", that is, bring back higher taxation on higher incomes. They want to raise taxation from 36 per cent of GDP in 2009-10 to 45 per cent in 2013. This would halve the gap between government expenditure and revenues by 2013-14, without having to slash public services. The party would support the idea of a "Robin Hood tax" on international financial transactions.
Taxes to reduce inequality
The Greens would impose a special tax on bankers' bonuses, which would be permanent, and a new higher rate of income tax of 50 per cent, on incomes over £100,000. They would raise the capital gains tax from 18 per cent to the recipient's highest income tax rate (ie up to 50 per cent) and increase the main rate of corporation tax from 28 per cent back up to 30 per cent. However, they would help lower earners by reintroducing the 10 per cent tax band and the 22 per cent basic rate, and raising the National Insurance threshold.
Taxes to protect the environment
The Greens would reintroduce the fuel duty escalator, raising the duty on motorists' petrol by 8 per cent a year, and they would replace vehicle excise duty by a new graduated tax to penalise gas-guzzlers. They would introduce VAT and fuel duty on aviation fuel, and tax plastic bags and other "unnecessary packaging", and bring in taxes on pesticides, artificial fertilisers and on the use of water by businesses.
Climate change and energy
The party would aim to obtain half of Britain's energy from renewable resources by 2020, and ensure that carbon emissions from power generation are zero by 2030. It would put £20bn over one Parliament into a large-scale programme for wind power and other renewables, and create 80,000 jobs in manufacturing and installing the equipment, but would phase out nuclear power. Most radically, it would introduce "carbon quotas" for every citizen. Once you have exceeded your quota, in air travel say, you will have to buy more units if you want to carry on flying.
The Greens would cut speed limits to 20mph in towns, 40mph on rural roads and 55mph on motorways. They would end the £30bn roads programme and reinvest it in public transport, returning the railways to public ownership.
The party would move to smaller class sizes by spending £500m on another 15,000 teachers to get class sizes down to an average of 20 pupils by the end of one Parliament. They would create smaller schools, saying large schools are "alienating", and remove charitable status from private schools. They would phase out Sats tests and city academies, and abolish university tuition fees.
The Greens oppose any private sector involvement in the NHS, such as PFI schemes. They would abolish prescription charges, reintroduce free eye tests and NHS dental treatment for all. They would also introduce free social care for the elderly, on the Scottish model, end mixed-sex accommodation in hospitals and provide complementary medicine on the NHS if "cost-effective and shown to work". They would support a ban on smoking on all enclosed public spaces.
The party would treat heroin and crack addiction as a health issue, and consider providing heroin on prescription. They would decriminalise the production, possession and sale of cannabis.
Speech by Trevor Rayne at the Karibu Education Centre, Brixton, 28 February 2010. Commemorating the life of Claudia Jones.
Thursday, 08 April 2010 13:18
The Revolutionary Communist Group and its newspaper Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! bring greetings to this meeting and salutes the memory of Claudia Jones.
With a general election imminent in Britain and media filled with politicians competing for our support I am reminded of what Che Guevara said in 1960:
‘The importance of the monopolies is immense, so great that it makes political power disappear in many of our republics. Some time ago I was reading an essay by Papini where his character, Gog, bought a republic and said that although the republic thought it had presidents, legislatures, armies, and that it was sovereign, he had actually bought it. The caricature is exact.’ Che Guevara, Political Sovereignty and Economic Independence, speech broadcast in1960.
By imperialism we mean the concentration of production into monopolies, the merging of banks with industry to create finance capital and the export of capital around the world to generate super profits for the monopolies, and the division and re-division of the world between a handful of rich imperialist countries so that the world is divided between a handful of oppressor nations and a majority of oppressed nations.
If we look at Britain today, Britain the oldest imperialist power and its monopolies: the Financial Times 500 biggest firms in the world (measured by their market value in 2009) only the USA has more than Britain. Their combined worth is $1.16 trillion, they include two of the four biggest oil and gas companies (Shell and BP), Rio Tinto – mining, Xstrata – mining, BHP Billiton – mining, Anglo-American – mining. Where do they mine? Here in Britain? No! Africa, Asia, South America: plundering the world for cheap raw materials. Imperial Tobacco, British American Tobacco. Does tobacco grow in Britain? No it does not! Unilever – built on the profits made from West African palm oil. And the banks, Barclays, Lloyds – founded on the profits from the slave trade. HSBC (the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation) built for the colonial pillage of China. Standard Chartered – funder of the British colonial occupation of Africa. And Tescos – its shelves stacked like an Alladin’s Cave with the fruits of empire spread before us, with cut flowers flown in all year round from countries like Kenya, while Kenya’s children go hungry. I remember George Orwell when he was asked about the British working class, he said it was in India. Today it is employed and exploited all around the world.
Britain’s foreign assets amount to around five times the size of British economy and of these assets 60% or a sum nearly three times the size of the British economy takes the form of loans and deposits abroad by British banks: a gigantic usury capital. The City of London stands at the heart of British imperialism and global imperialism. It, in effect, runs the British state. Its interests are what counts in the coming election, not yours or mine. These are the words of Walter Bagehot writing a book called The English Constitution in 1867 (the year of the 1867 Reform Act extending the franchise) ‘Democracy is the way to give the people the greatest illusion of power while allowing them the smallest amount in reality.’ As Lenin said, all the important questions of war, peace and diplomacy are made by a handful of capitalists, who deceive not only the masses, but very often parliament itself. This is borne out by the Chilcott Inquiry into the Iraq war; a decision taken in secret.
The capitalist system is now in a crisis of accumulation; the fight for sources of raw materials and fuel between the major powers intensifies around the whole world. Imperialism is marked by a minimum fondness for peace and a maximum fondness for war (Lenin). In four centuries England and then Britain unleashed 230 wars of colonial conquest. With Haiti in our minds, in 1586 Sir Francis Drake laid siege to Santo Domingo (then the capital of Hispaniola) for a month and sacked the town. In 1793 up to 100,000 British Redcoats marched into Haiti to try and take the country from the slaves in revolt and the French. They were defeated. The British and US states have been continuously at war since the fall of the Berlin Wall and collapse of the Soviet Union: Iraq, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq again as they fight to retain their pre-eminent positions among competing powers. Since the end of the Second World War the British state has made approximately 130 separate military interventions overseas. You will know of some of them: Gold Coast (Ghana) 1948 to suppress riots; British Guyana (Guyana) 1953 to remove Cheddi Jagan; 1961 Tanzania/Zanzibar to suppress a rising; 1969 Antigua and Anguilla; 1970 Cayman Islands; 1973 Bermuda and the list goes on...
British manufacture now employs fewer than three million people, but of these over one in ten are employed in arms manufacture. The biggest British arms company is BAE Systems; it is the fourth biggest arms contractor in the world and the sixth biggest supplier to the US government. It operates in 100 countries; its directors include the directors of NatWest Bank, Deutsch Bank, BP, P&O, Burmah Castrol, Orange, Imperial College and the Independent Television Commission. This is the imperialist ruling class, personifying the intertwining of banking and industrial capital. BAE Systems funds 60 universities worldwide; a monopoly once it is formed penetrates every corner of society (Lenin), even to begin to control the fate of our education system.
Imperialism has two crucial effects for understanding British society over the past century and more. Firstly, super-profits are used to bribe a layer of the working class, a labour aristocracy, which has a vested interest in the success of British capitalism and imperialism. That layer is historically and politically represented in Britain by the Labour Party and the leadership of most of the trade unions and has been for a century. Secondly, imperialism generates racism in the oppressor nations. Racism is the form that national oppression takes within the imperialist country. Racially oppressed people endure worse working conditions, social and housing conditions than the majority of the population – and they are key, crucial to defeat of the imperialist state. Brixton 1981, Toxteth, Birmingham, Tottenham and elsewhere – rising against oppression, police oppression. The British state responded: it appointed General Sir Frank Kitson Head of UK Land Forces (Kitson was involved in the 1971 Bloody Sunday in Derry) and Sir Kenneth Newman as head of the London Metropolitan Police; he was previously chief constable in the occupied North of Ireland. The methods of colonial policing were to be deployed in Britain against black and Asian youth and against British workers.
A report from the 1970s, the Parker Report into British interrogation methods (torture) used in the North of Ireland stated, ‘Some or all [of the methods of interrogation] have played an important part in counter-insurgency operations in Palestine, Malaya, Kenya and Cyprus and more recently in the British Cameroons, Brunei, British Guyana, Aden, Borneo/Malaya, the Persian Gulf and Northern Ireland.’ (See David Reed, Ireland: the key to the British revolution, 1984). We see today in the cases of Binyam Mohamed and Shaker Aamer, the last British resident held at Guantanamo in US occupied Cuba, that the British state is again complicit in the use of torture.
The mask of democracy is being pulled away to reveal the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. The ruling class is equipped with all the paraphernalia needed to wage war on the working class; the laws (4,200 new criminal offences since Labour came into government in 1997) and police equipment and methods. To fight imperialism, fight racism, give solidarity to Cuba and Palestine and the struggles of all the oppressed peoples of the world. Oppose British imperialism and the British Labour Party, let us work together. The defining characteristics of British capitalism and imperialism in the current period are its parasitism and its aggressiveness. These features permeate society and will determine its future until we have built a movement capable of stopping it and overthrowing it. Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!
I've just come back from another manifesto launch – that of the Communist party .
While communist is regarded by some as a disparaging term, I should point out that some of the bread and butter issues in the manifesto will resonate with many voters concerned about the outcome of the banks bailout.
The proposals include ending tax avoidance by the rich, levying a windfall tax on super-profits, taxing speculative finance transactions and big business profits, levying a wealth tax on the country's richest 10%, scrapping Trident, bringing troops home and abandoning ID cards.
The Communists make no bones about being the party of the working class, uncompromising in their condemnation of the capitalist system for creating our current deficit woes.
But it's fair to say that the party occupies common ground with many to the left of New Labour when it says: "The big business elephant, having devoured unprecedented sums of public money, is on the rampage, trampling jobs, public services and people's livelihoods."
The Communists are not best pleased with the TUC over its silence on the national insurance contribution row raging between Labour, the Tories and big business. The party is also unimpressed with what it believes is the level of influence unions have had on the Labour manifesto, which was unveiled earlier today.
The Communist party is contesting a nominal six seats to "put the case for socialism and for a revolutionary transformation of society". The party's general secretary, Robert Griffiths, is standing in Cardiff South and Penarth, as is Ben Stevenson in Croydon North.
The party – which has an energy for activism betraying its modest numbers – plans to support leftwing Labour candidates where it can, but draws the line at sending its support out to what it calls "rightwing New Labour candidates".
Members will lend support to leftwing candidates from other parties, such as Dave Nellist, who is standing for the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition party in Coventry.
Griffiths was asked what he thought of those who believed the communist party had become irrelevant.
"It's a pretty lively corpse", he replied, pointing that, while sectors of the media have pronounced the party dead, they have also run stories talking up its clout.
Last month, the Mailclaimed the Unite union was "taking strategic direction from the communists on both the BA strike and the overthrow of New Labour".
This so-called plot was based on emails written by Graham Stevenson, a senior Unite official, who is also on the executive of the British Communist party. They can't have it both ways, said Griffiths. Fair point.
Soldiering on: Nick Griffin keeps on smiling even when the crowd is hostile Photo: Daniel Jones
Tanya Gold follows Nick Griffin, BNP leader, on the campaign trail against Margaret Hodge. And though his cronies are on hand, he doesn't get an easy ride By Tanya Gold - DAILY TELEGRAPH Published: 6:56AM BST 12 Apr 2010
It is hot in the London borough of Barking and Dagenham. It feels like the first day of summer. And, in a park opposite Becontree tube station, BNP activists are gathering for their day of action. There are maybe 100 of them. Some are suited and booted, and some are in "Anglo-Saxon" T-shirts and tattoos, the very archetype of ex-National Front. Heartbreakingly, there are children here. As I stand, watching them muster, a small boy comes up to me. Where, he asks, can he get a BNP poster?
Nick Griffin is standing here against Margaret Hodge, the Labour Minister of State for Culture and Tourism (majority: 8,883). It is a stunt. But it is possible that Barking and Dagenham could soon have a BNP-controlled council. It is now the second largest party at local level with 15 seats and they aim to take absolute control; along with Stoke, this borough is the centre of BNP hopes. The BNP wants to reinforce its gains of 2009, when it took two seats in the European parliament and two county council seats. The anti-fascist organisation Searchlight is worried enough to have a permanent HQ here.
Before the muster, I spend an hour with Margaret Hodge, as she walks the empty streets. She is brisk and bossy. "Come back later," says one man, dragged out of bed, when Hodge wants to register him to vote. "No," she replies, "Let's do it now."
Hodge was born to Jewish parents and her maiden name is Oppenheimer. "He [Griffin] called me 'a Jew' a few years ago," she says. "I have been canvassing for 40 years, but this is the most important election I have ever fought."
A few minutes later, a black woman answers the door, holding a baby. Yes, she is voting Labour, she says. No, she won't put a poster in her window. "I am scared," she says.
I go to the Cherry Tree pub to wait for Griffin, who is giving a press conference. The drinkers come out to talk. They are all ex-Labour, now BNP. "It's housing, schools, hospitals and jobs, not colour," says one man. "I believed in Old Labour but not New Labour. They have failed in this borough."
"People have had enough," says a woman. "We are being pushed to the back of the queue. My son couldn't get into the school of his choice. He has no chance of a council house."
"You don't appreciate that our facilities are getting swamped," says another man. "If we vote BNP, people might start listening to us. Because we have been abandoned by our government."
I begin to sympathise with their grievances, because they are right – no council housing has been built here for 30 years. The rise of the BNP is one of Labour's greatest failures. But then comes the racist bile. "Go into a supermarket," says another man, "it's full of immigrants. Why?"
Griffin arrives at the Cherry Tree to give his set-piece speech in the car park. He has a driver/bodyguard dressed as a soldier. He is not a soldier. He is wearing the uniform, he says, "to show solidarity" with the troops in Afghanistan. This does not surprise me. There are plenty of fantasists and oddballs in the BNP leadership.
One parliamentary candidate told me his wife woke him up in bed because he was screaming: "I want to shoot myself in the head."
Another informs me that homosexuality "is an abomination. Buggerers will not inherit the earth."
We watch the new Griffin facing the cameras, polite, concerned, reasonable, a patriot. He denies he incites racism, "No, it is the Labour Party who have taken us into a racist war in Afghanistan." He claims his policies – "Voluntary resettlement" of legal immigrants, instant deportation of all others, withdrawal from the EU – "are what the British people want to hear." Where is the man who, just a few months ago, called mixed-race children "a tragedy?" The man who joined the National Front at 14?
Griffin gets into his car and we drive to Dagenham Broadway, where the BNP has erected its stall. We pass the BNP music bus, pulled over by the police for playing loud music. Griffin gets out and glad-hands; he seems to adore it. Reverend Robert West, the BNP candidate in Lincoln, shouts, "It is not racist to love your country!" as Pastor James Gitau, a black BNP supporter, stands next to him. Every time the Rev Mr West shouts a slogan, Gitau shouts, "Hallelujah!"
A young black girl stares on, astonished. A second black woman strides up to the black preacher, and berates him.
"Why are you holding this?" she shouts. "You are a black man. You should be ashamed." In response, Gitau waves his flag.
Outside Tesco's, Griffin finds some punters. "We are about putting British people first," he tells a spotty boy on a skateboard. "It's not about being white." Now some lads in England shirts arrive, holding pints of lager. "Are you going to do the job for us, Nick?" they ask. "I'm going to try," he replies. They man-hug and Griffin walks into a betting shop, to put £20 on himself to win this seat. "I got 4/1," he says, happily. So far, it is a street party, not a political party.
Then, quickly, it turns dark. A group of black women confront Griffin. "Do you see us as equals?" asks one. He pauses. "Yes, you are equal," he says. "Do you want us to get out of the country?" asks another black woman. "No, we just think the country is full," he replies. "These are my children," says a third, "and we work hard."
Griffin is trying to smile, but there are just too many black women shouting at him for his comfort. The grin melts and, seemingly as one, the BNP high command gets into their cars and drive off. They had stayed for only 20 minutes.
Griffin has, I learn, gone back to the Cherry Tree pub, where there is due to be a debate between all the parliamentary candidates in a private room. It is closed to all press and supporters except for Sky News, who will be broadcasting it. I arrive to find the gates to the car park locked, and a woman from Sky arguing with a Hodge employee. Margaret, he says, doesn't want to go into a BNP pub. But if she wants to debate, she must, "because no other venue would have Griffin". This is the mood in Barking and Dagenham.
I find Hodge a few doors away, outside her campaign headquarters, a brown, bare church. She is trying to find the Tory candidate's telephone number, so they can both pull out of the debate.
"That pub is BNP," she says, looking disgusted, "I don't want to walk through it." Having spent the day with them, I understand. With the BNP, menace is never far away, no matter how much they try to distance themselves from their fascist roots. They are, above all, a party of angry men.
“Margaret, it will be fine,” says her employee, “We’ll drive in.” Hodge squares her shoulders, gets into the car, and drives off. As I walk away, a black Labour supporter comes out of her house and waves at me. I tell her what the BNP supporters say – that they have been abandoned and that only the BNP understands their woes.
“The BNP councillors,” she says, “are nowhere to be seen here. They have the majority in this ward. What have they done?” She pauses. “The damage they will do [if they win the council],” she says, “to house prices, to investment, to race relations. The area will be tarnished for 20 years. It is not for me but for the children we are bringing up. We want them to learn to live together. I am old and I can shrug my shoulders. But the children…”
Hamza Myatt, a Muslim convert, at his market stall in Barking where Nick Griffin is trying to unseat a Labour minister
Cahal Milmo reports from the east London constituency where Nick Griffin is trying to unseat a Labour minister
Saturday, 10 April 2010
TERI PENGILLEY - THE INDEPENDENT
The Koranic verses are ringing out from a stereo on Hamza Myatt's market stall on Barking's pedestrianised high street.
The 36-year-old ginger-haired and white-skinned Muslim convert swapped his life as a financial adviser in South Wales to proselytise for his new faith in the outer reaches of East London three weeks after the 9/11 attacks. He now spends market days noisily selling Islamic literature.
A few feet away from Mr Myatt's stall, at a mobile snack bar selling tea and bacon butties, where customers are trying on keffiyeh scarves and checking through DVDs on Islam for children, stands a furious Derek Carlton.
Pointing his finger towards Mr Myatt's loudspeaker, now broadcasting an imam's sermon, Mr Carlton, 46, a maintenance engineer, says: "Yes, I will vote BNP and that is why. I have no problem with other religions. What I have a problem with is when it changes the character of your town and you're not allowed to say anything about it.
"The BNP is saying what no one else will. Slowly but surely, people like me are being pushed aside in favour of outsiders. You can't tell me it's racist to be annoyed that my children can't get a council house in the same place as their parents because they've all been handed over to Africans and Muslims?"
Welcome to Barking and Dagenham, the former industrial heartland of the white working classes, now a bellwether for the rising fortunes of the far right.
It is far from unthinkable that the citizens of this London borough will wake on 7 May to find the British National Party running their council. If its confident prediction that it can more than double its contingent of 12 councillors comes true, a party whose leader, Nick Griffin, once denied the Holocaust and said "Hitler went a bit too far" will find itself in charge of services to 165,000 people and an annual budget of £200m.
This weekend, hundreds of BNP supporters are expected to descend on the area. In an email, Mr Griffin appeals for as many members as possible to target the constituency over the weekend. "A victory in Barking and Dagenham will benefit every region and branch in the country, as a breakthrough of that magnitude will cause a political earthquake and publicity frenzy," he writes.
Margaret Hodge, the Labour minister and incumbent MP against whom Mr Griffin is standing for Parliament, is calling for supporters to come out in force to match the BNP's canvassing effort. Mr Carlton, one of an estimated 5,000-10,000 voters in Barking and Dagenham whoare BNP supporters, is the embodiment of a radical change in the far-right party's fortunes in this area.
In the 1997 general election, the BNP mustered just 894 votes, or 2.7 per cent of the vote. In the 2008 London Assembly elections, the BNP vote in some wards hit more than 38 per cent.
Alongside Stoke-on-Trent council, the BNP has made no secret of the fact that securing power in Barking and Dagenham is its priority. Mr Griffin has stated that his candidacy is designed to allow him to take the "flak" from anti-BNP campaigners while his activists focus on the "real prize" of the council.
The Independent understands the party is close to fielding a candidate for each of the 51 local authority seats with the aim of securing the 14 extra councillors it needs to seize its "prize". It could take as little as 1,000 votes in six wards to hand power to the BNP.
The roots of this grim transformation from a protest vote to candidate for power lie in what its opponents admit has been a "perfect storm" of issues that pander to the extreme right.
Against a backdrop of deindustrialisation which has seen the powerhouse of the Ford Motor Company at Dagenham wither to less than 5 per cent of its previous workforce, the area has experienced considerable immigration with some wards going from a ethnic minority population of about 5 per cent to up to 35 per cent since 2000.
As one opponent put it: "The BNP are like winter potholes. They slide into a gap in our communities and wait for bad weather." One such political "pothole", repeated to The Independent by a large number of residents, is the notion that the borough's influx of migrants is politically-inspired. A Government scheme to persuade immigrant families in inner city London to free up council housing by subsidising a move out to cheaper areas such as Barking and Dagenham resulted in 30 families moving in – seven were white, nine were Asian, nine were black and five did not specify their ethnicity. The maximum subsidy was £16,000. Most received about £4,000.
This has not stopped the BNP running a campaign it calls "Africans for Essex", stating that the borough has been flooded with immigrants paid £50,000 a time to slant the electoral arithmetic of Barking and Dagenham in favour of the ruling Labour administration, which has 34 seats on the council.
It is a fallacy that the extremist party continues to peddle, taking pictures such as Mr Griffin posing by a banner advertising a Nigerian Islamic group.
Eddy Butler, the BNP national election organiser until he stepped down last week, added: "The Labour Party has deliberately transported African migrants into this part of Essex to create an electorate willing to vote Labour." His words appear to strike a chord on the streets of the constituency.
The lack of social housing is a major problem locally and a key electoral issue. Margaret Thatcher's right-to-buy policy cut the housing stock in an area which includes the vast Becontree estate, the world's largest public housing project. Successive Labour governments have stymied the development of new homes, leaving a council waiting list of 11,695.
Last month, a scheme was announced to provide 145 new homes in two years – the first new council homes in Barking for 25 years. Such has been the inertia of central government, the local Labour Party has distanced itself from its national policies. Phil Waker, the Labour councillor in charge of housing, said: "New Labour has been complacent – especially on housing. We will fight any government on this issue."
By contrast, the BNP's response on the issue has been erratic. It set out plans for a giant caravan park of 1,000 mobile homes sited on public land in Dagenham set aside for permanent housing. When it was pointed out that the £1,000-per-caravan budget would create a Steptoe & Son eyesore without facilities, the idea was dropped in favour of what Mr Griffin has dubbed a "sons and daughters" policy to give the offspring of current tenants first refusal on homes.
Placed alongside incidents including a local BNP vote against sending a message to congratulate the British Olympic team at the Beijing games because it included athletes such as Dame Kelly Holmes and Amir Khan, and the fact that BNP councillors occupy the bottom seven places for attendance, opponents say its record speaks for itself.
Mrs Hodge, targeted by the BNP with leaflets attacking the £50m fortune she inherited from her Jewish father, said: "I have spent three years exposing the true nature of BNP councillors in Barking. I want to turn this threat into an opportunity to destroy their credibility nationally." The announcement last week that the BNP's head of publicity, Mark Collett, had been reported to police for alleged threats to kill, amid talk of a major split in the party's higher echelons, has raised hope among opponents that its challenge could implode. The BNP swatted aside claims that Mr Butler had stepped down, saying he was focused on Barking and Dagenham.
An unorthodox campaign may play a pivotal role in the "Battle for Barking". A nondescript office block on the A13, overlooking a corner of the vast Ford plant that once employed 50,000 but now provides 2,000 jobs, is the HQ of Hope Not Hate – a coalition of activists including the Searchlight anti-fascist group, unions and community groups. It has been building a network among women's groups, churches and others uncomfortable with the BNP.
Its campaign will harness the full paraphernalia of modern electioneering, including an email list of 142,000 voters, telephone canvassing and targeted leafleting. Sam Tarry, the Dagenham-born activist leading the scheme, said: "The days have gone when the BNP could be dismissed as swivel-eyed Nazis. In the last general election, people were cagey about saying they'd vote BNP. That shame is no longer there. Our job is to expose the BNP for what they are so decent people don't vote for them. We will be relentlessly negative about what the BNP are – their record in power, the criminal record of their leader and their damaging policies."
Nearby lies the council ward of Goresbrook, the epicentre of BNP support in Barking and Dagenham. Its streets are lined with terraced houses, many displaying the signs of right-to-buy ownership such as conservatories and extensions. One, with a Union flag and a St George's flag fluttering outside, belongs to Richard Barnbrook, the former art student with a penchant for erotica who is the BNP deputy leader on the council. He says London will be "decimated" by immigration if the party fails to win Barking and Dagenham.
As she walks past, Beryl Ferguson, 64, a retired shopkeeper who has lived on the estate for 42 years, begs to differ. She said: "I voted for that lot [the BNP] last time but not now. I've got Africans a few doors down and you get used to each other. We've got to rub along. The BNP don't want that, do they?"
Back at the market Mr Myatt is less optimistic. "Democracy is a bit of a myth in this place," he says. "We will have democracy for one day and then it is back to an elected dictatorship.
"The problem is that here we're heading for a BNP dictatorship. For the moment, they leave me alone but what if they come to power? They call Islam wicked. I'd love to meet them face to face and put them right. This is my country as much as theirs. What are they going to do? Take away my British passport?"
Barking: Result in 2005
*Labour: Margaret Hodge, 13,826, 47.5 per cent
*Conservative: Keith Prince, 4,943, 17.0 per cent
*British National Party: Richard Barnbrook, 4,916, 16.9 per cent
*Liberal Democrat: Toby Wickenden, 3,411, 11.7 per cent
*UK Independence Party: Terry Jones, 803, 2.8 per cent
Not A Dinner Party says: Something of a scandal brewing in the BNP and this one has being on the brew for quite some time, several years in fact, so this could just be the beginning of a much bigger crisis for BNP.
From what has been gathered so far, the BNP's Director of Publicity, Mark Collett, a man who is reviled within the ranks of the BNP, has been expelled/suspended from the party and arressted by police over questions regarding financial irregularities and allegations of plotting a coup against Griffin. There is also claims that he threatened to have Griffin killed.
Griffin has long protected Collett, a particularly unlikeable character, even by BNP standards, who was made infamous in the Channel 4 Documentary about him, "Young, Nazi and Proud".
There have been many accusations made against him over the years by other, often senior, BNP members, including his being censured for innapropriate sexual behaviour towards young girls at BNP events, the claim (with photos - all supplied to the police) from two 14 year old girls that he and two other senior BNP members sexually abused them in a hotel room in Blackpool, the harrassment and distributing and leaking to the Irish press of "embarrassing" photographs of Nick Griffin's daughter, whom Collett was once involved with but who is now married to the son of Griffins Belfast bankroller.
And of course many accusations of financial impropriety reagrding his access to BNP money and his printing firm which publishes BNP propaganda.
The news of Colletts dismissal and arrest isnt a surprise to anyone in the BNP or those who follows what they get up to. What is a surprise is that it has taken so long. Griffin has backed and protected Collett for several years against all the claims made against him by Party members, and as a result the BNP lost several leading activists particularly in it's "security detachement" who could no longer remain in the Party whilst Collett was there.
So why the sudden turnaround? Well the plot to depose Griffin and the threat to have him killed certainly wont have done Collett much good. Nor will the allegations about his behaviour towards Griffin's daughter!
However, Collett himself is a notorious coward who has broken down into a snivelling wreck on many occasions when faced with any perceived threats, whether real or not, from within the BNP or without.
Also forced to step down from their Party positions are veteran UK fascist, former NF organiser Eddie Butler, the BNP's Director of Elections, and Emma Coldgate a BNP manager and election candidate.
Will be interesting/amusing to see how this story pans out...
The BNP has been thrown into turmoil weeks ahead of the general election after a senior party member was arrested for allegedly threatening to kill Nick Griffin.
Key party officials have been summoned to a meeting tomorrow to discuss "urgent organisational matters" after Griffin and colleagues made statements to police resulting in the BNP's publicity director, Mark Collett, being detained on Thursday.
Collett, 29, had been due to contest Labour MP David Blunkett's Sheffield Brightside seat in the election but has been stripped of his position within the party which accused him of conspiring to launch a "palace coup" against Griffin.
The BNP alerted members to the crisis on Wednesday. In a message to party organisers, the party said its internal security team had been investigating "alleged financial irregularities" relating to leaflets and publications, the "leaking on to the internet of sensitive party information" and "feeding lies to certain anti-BNP blog sites" for several months.
"As a result of this investigation, a very serious matter has been uncovered," the memo said. "Earlier this week, the police were made aware of very serious allegations potentially affecting the personal safety of party chairman Nick Griffin MEP and senior management/fundraising consultant James Dowson. Formal statements have now been made to the police, including by Mr Griffin."
The message said it had been necessary to act immediately "to ensure the safety of those at risk".
The timing of the row is a further blow to the BNP as it looks to build on success in last year's European elections by winning its first seat in the House of Commons. Last month the party's membership policy was ruled to be discriminatory, despite the BNP having removed a whites-only clause in February.
The BNP said it was unable to provide further details of the alleged threat to Griffin – who is standing against Labour's Margaret Hodge in Barking and Dagenham – and Dowson for fear of prejudicing legal proceedings.
The memo continued: "Since political, as opposed to allegedly criminal, conspiracies are not illegal, we are able to say that Mark Collett was conspiring with a small clique of other party officials to launch a 'palace coup' against our twice democratically elected party leader, Nick Griffin, and that in order to create the artificial climate of disillusionment necessary for this to stand any chance of success, lies and unfounded rumours have been spread, and were planned to be spread much further."
Officers asked Collett to attend a Humberside police station last week. A spokeswoman said: "A 29-year-old man was arrested on Thursday on suspicion of making threats to kill. He was interviewed by detectives at Humberside police and he has been released on bail pending further inquiries. The investigation was initiated as a result of a complaint by the member of the BNP."
BNP regional organisers and key officials have been asked to attend an "urgent briefing meeting" tomorrow to discuss the events of the last few days and the party's future plans.
A spokesman for the anti-fascist organisation Searchlight said rows over finance, particularly Griffin's European expenses, had led to the conflict. Griffin and Andrew Brons were elected to European parliament in June 2009 but have been criticised in recent weeks for failing to publish details of their spending.
"Nick Griffin is constantly claiming he is the leader of a moderate, non-violent organisation," the Searchlight spokesman said. "It is difficult to see how he can square that assertion with his statement to the police that his own head of publicity has been plotting to kill him."
The Guardian attempted to contact senior figures within the British National party, but none were available for comment.
Eugene Terre’Blanche in June 2004 after he had served part of a five-year sentence for the attempted murder of a black security guard. Photograph: Alexander Joe/AFP/Getty Images
Two suspects held over killing of South Africa's Nazi-inspired AWB leader as he slept in his bed
A notorious white supremacist who once threatened to wage war rather than allow black rule in South Africa was hacked to death at his farm yesterday following an argument with two employees. Eugene Terre'Blanche's mutilated body was found on his bed along with a broad-blade knife and a wooden club, police said.
"He was hacked to death while he was taking a nap," one family friend, who did not wish to be named, told Reuters.
Local media quoted a member of Terre'Blanche's Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging party (Afrikaner Resistance Movement, or AWB) as saying that the 69-year-old had been beaten with pipes and machetes. Police said two males, thought to be workers on the farm, have been arrested and will appear in court on Tuesday.
Terre'Blanche, with striking blue eyes and white beard, was the voice of hardline opposition to the end of racial apartheid in the early 1990s, and the AWB was infamous for its swastika-like symbols and neo-Nazi anthems. But he had been in relative obscurity since his release in 2004 after a prison sentence for beating a black man nearly to death.
Last year he attempted a comeback, announcing plans to rally far-right groups and to apply to the United Nations for a breakaway Afrikaner republic.
His death comes amid heightened racial tension in South Africa, where Julius Malema, leader of the youth wing of the governing African National Congress, has caused anger by singing a struggle song with the words, "Shoot the Boer". Terre'Blanche called himself a Boer, which means farmer in Afrikaans.
Civil rights groups say that 3,000 white farmers have been killed since the end of apartheid and accuse Malema of inciting further violence against them. Last week a high court banned Malema from repeating the lyric but he did so yesterday during a visit to Zimbabwe.
Police in South Africa's North West province said last night that Terre'Blanche had been attacked and killed at his farm 10km outside Ventersdorp. Captain Adele Myburgh said Terre'Blanche was attacked by a man and a minor who worked for him after they allegedly had an argument about unpaid wages at around 6pm, the South African Press Association reported.
"Mr Terre'Blanche's body was found on the bed with facial and head injuries," Myburgh said. "There was a panga [broad-blade knife] on him and knobkerrie [wooden club] next to the bed. A 21-year-old man and 15-year-old boy were arrested and charged for his murder. The two told the police that the argument ensued because they were not paid for the work they did on the farm." She added that Terre'Blanche was alone with the two workers at the time of the attack.
The opposition Democratic Alliance expressed "outrage and concern" at Terre'Blanche's murder and cited the recent controversy triggered by Malema.
Terre'Blanche founded the white supremacist AWB in 1970, to oppose what he regarded as the liberal policies of the then South African leader, John Vorster. His party tried terrorist tactics and threatened civil war in the run-up to South Africa's first democratic elections in 1994, won by the ANC and Nelson Mandela, who became the country's first black president.
In 1998, Terre'Blanche accepted "political and moral responsibility" before South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission for a bombing campaign to disrupt the 1994 elections in which 21 people were killed and hundreds injured.
Terre'Blanche's credibility as a political leader collapsed after the anti-black threats voiced by the extreme white right proved to be little more than bluster. Revelations of his extramarital affairs also undermined his reputation with religious Afrikaners. He was jailed for assaulting a black petrol attendant and the attempted murder of a black security guard, serving three years of a five-year term before his release in 2004.
He said last year that he had revived the AWB after several years of inactivity and that it would join with like-minded forces to push for secession from South Africa. "The circumstances in the country demanded it," he told South Africa's Mail & Guardian newspaper. "The white man in South Africa is realising that his salvation lies in self-government in territories paid for by his ancestors."
Terre'Blanche said he wanted to organise a referendum for those who wanted an independent homeland, where English would be an accepted language along with Afrikaans. "It's now about the right of a nation that wants to separate itself from a unity state filled with crime, death, murder, rape, lies and fraud."
Political analysts say that white extremists have little support, but more than 21 members of the shadowy Boeremag (Boer Force) remain on trial for treason after being arrested in 2001 and accused of a bombing campaign aimed at overthrowing the government.
President Jacob Zuma, who took office in May, has courted Afrikaners at a series of meetings, assuring them they have nothing to fear from his government. Last week he visited an impoverished white community near Pretoria.
Eugene Terre'Blanche: a petty bully but a dangerous one
Terre'Blanche was no joke, even if he was not the threat to the transition to majority rule that he imagined himself to be Chris McGreal guardian.co.uk, Sunday 4 April 2010
It was always tempting not to take Eugene Terre'Blanche seriously. He swaggered around in a uniform that made him look like an overgrown boy scout, threatening the race war to end all race wars in defence of apartheid, but his platoons of potbellied men didn't look like they had much fight in them.
I once watched his Afrikaner Resistance Movement (AWB) demonstrate "use of the horse in a revolutionary situation" – in this case rescuing a stranded white woman and her children from the heart of a black township. Terre'Blanche began by revealing a fundamental misunderstanding about townships by asking everyone to be quiet so as not to scare the horses. The crowd deemed the show a great success but Terre'Blanche was none too pleased when I asked him how the woman got to be in the township and how on earth his men got their horses there. He stomped off. Terre'Blanche did love his horse.
The old fascist – the AWB rode under a three-pronged, swastika-inspired cross – was good at pulling off dramatic stunts, on one occasion driving an armoured car through the front of the conference centre where Nelson Mandela and FW de Klerk were negotiating over the shape of the new South Africa.
Terre'Blanche was no joke, even if he was not the threat to the transition to majority rule that he imagined himself to be. The AWB terrorised whole communities, assaulting black people with impunity. And he had one thing in common with Hitler: he exercised a powerful effect with his long appeals to Afrikaner nationalism and history.
His organisation met its Waterloo in the black homeland of Bophuthatswana, where it foolishly imagined the army of that nominally independent land would stand against the looming ANC rule. Three AWB members were killed as the organisation was sent fleeing by the soldiers it thought would do what these white men told them. But before the AWB was driven out, its members murdered scores of black people.
Terre'Blanche held a press conference the day after. He blamed other Afrikaner leaders for the failure, but it was quite apparent that his men had failed their greatest test – not only militarily but in judging the willingness of black men to fight. That day Terre'Blanche turned on me demanding to know where I was from. That it was England was bad enough. The English were the original enemy. That I worked for a liberal paper was worse. My paper fell within his very broad definition of communism.
Bophuthatswana ended the illusion of the AWB leading a white uprising but it didn't end the violence. His men set off bombs around Johannesburg at the beginning of South Africa's first free election, killing 21.
For all the idealism, the man proved to be as petty and bullying as you might expect from a small-town tyrant. When he did finally go to prison, in 2001, it was not for the big crimes (he folded and confessed to those and got amnesty from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission) but for beating up a petrol station attendant and attempting to murder a security guard.
Terre'Blanche found himself one of the few white faces in an overwhelmingly black prison. One of dozens of cell mates during the AWB leader's first night in prison described how Terre'Blanche spent the night wide awake, handing over cigarettes. In prison he became a born-again Christian and claimed to have moderated his views on black people. But on his release he tried to relaunch the AWB. He claimed there was a popular clamour. But this time it was a joke.
Chris McGreal was the Guardian's Africa correspondent from 1994 to 2002