I was pleased to be out knocking doors in Kingswood today with other GMB and Labour Party activists. Rowena Hayward, who is seeking selection to be PPC for the Kingswood constituency, was joined by myself (GMB branch secretary and PPC for Chippenham); Chris Watts (a GMB branch president and PPC for Devizes); Chippenham CLP activist, Carole Vallelly; and Norths Wilts CLP secretary, Pete Baldrey, who is an NASUWT activist and GMB member,.
Rowena is an inspiring potential candidate, and received a strong positive response on the doorstep. Rowena is the candidate that the Conservatives will fear, a determined and formidible local woman, with a track record of campaigning, strong Labour values, and the ability to build a broad coalition of active supporters.
The Transparency of lobbying, non-party campaigning and trade union administration bill is passing through Parliament and is currently being debated in the Lords.
The third part of the Bill is particularly damaging to trade unions where there are proposals to alter the regulations concerning trade union membership records. The particularly worrying aspect of this part of the Bill is the number of people who will be able to look at trade union membership data which will include the government and employers’ agents. This is a direct attack on trade unionists.
A petition has been established, which makes the point that we can’t trust Andrew Lansley and his Lobbying Bill with union members’ personal data.
The recent publicity over the disturbing events in Brixton, among a group of people originating in a Maoist collective headed by Aravindan Balakrishnan, inspired me to take out my copy of the We Only Want the Earth CD, a collection of Maoist propaganda songs from the 1970s by Cornelius Cardew. (I would stress that Cardew can’t be held responsible for Balakrishnan’s group. His lot expelled “comrade Bala” in 1974.)
Cardew was a member of a Maoist organisation called the Revolutionary Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist), who stood in the 1978 Lambeth Central by-election under the name of the South London People’s Front. In support of their candidate, the RCPB(ML) put up posters around Brixton reading “Down with the revisionist Three Worlds theory. Victory to the revolutionary people of Albania”. They got 38 votes. (Which to be fair is 13 more than TUSC got in a recent by-election in Stoke.)
Perhaps this comes under the heading of guilty pleasures, but I’ve always had a soft spot for Cardew’s Maoist songs, not least because of their unabashed absurdity. A particular favourite is “Smash the Social Contract”, which sought to rally the working class against the agreement the TUC reached in 1974 with the then Labour government to implement a policy of voluntary wage restraint. Click to continue reading →
It was three decades ago, in 1983, that Garry Whannel wrote the pioneering book Blowing the Whistle: The Politics of Sport. The book was part of a series ‘Arguments for Socialism’, created by The Socialist Society, an alliance of Left-wing thinkers writers and campaigners, and published by Pluto Press. Despite the dreadful defeats at the hands of Thatcherism , and the jingoistic aftermath of the Falklands War the Left felt livelier, more open-minded and with a greater sense of ambition and purposefulness than it sometimes does today. Garry’s book, reminding the Left that sport and leisure matters was part of this liveliness. He summed up what was then a prevailing attitude both on the Left and the Right and remains largely the same 30 years on today in the book’s neatest of phrases. “Sport is marked down as a natural, taken-for-granted activity. You don’t need to talk or write about it. You just do it.” The book was a few years ago republished in an updated and revised form Culture, Politics and Sport and remains one of the defining texts for any serious understanding of sport.
One of the huge changes since Garry Whannel wrote those words is the breadth and number of sports books published. David Epstein’s The Sports Gene: What Makes The Perfect Athlete is the kind of book, immersed as it is in the nurture vs nature debate, that connects sport, knowingly or unknowingly, to much broader issues and reveals it as anything but ‘Just Done’. Incisive, a book that examines the varied conditions that creates sport’s winners . A very different approach to the same subject was offered by Christopher McDougall in his classic book Born to Run. This is sport as anthropology, examining the phenomenal endurance running of the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico then translating this into a manifesto for the simple appeal of running, including in its purest form, barefoot.
The bare essentials is hardly how the modern sport of cycling is best described. With the genius behind the two-wheeled success of Team GB and Team Sky Dave Brailsford describing his philosophy as the ‘aggregation of marginal gains’ the attention paid to the smallest engineering, physiological and psychological detail is obvious. It is an evolution that is retold quite thrillingly in Edward Pickering’s book The Race Against Time. This is the story of the 1990s rivalry of Chris Boardman vs Graeme Obree and their battle for the one hour track cycling record. Boardman remains well-known today thanks to his TV work as a pundit, Obree meanwhile has become a virtual recluse, a superbly gifted athlete who doubles up as an inventor. Its a great story, which in many ways created the base for the later success of Hoy, Pendleton, Wiggins, Cavendish, Froome and Trott. The story behind the most successful sport in British sporting history, track and road cycling, is revealed in an honest and well-written account provided by Team GB Elite Coach and Team Sky Performance Manager Rod Ellingworth in his book Project Rainbow. One of the most refreshing aspects of cycling as a sport is the key protagonists’ willingness to engage openly with their public. Cycling ‘s openness may be in part due to the legacy of the criminal cover-ups that we now know dominated the Armstrong era but whatever the reason it is a sport now keen readers can acquire a fill and proper insight into, Rod Ellingworth’s book is testament to that. The same can be said for two autobiographies from cyclists who straddle cycling ‘ Before and after Wiggo ‘. For years Sean Yates was by far and away the most successful British rider in the Tour de France since Tommy Simpson. Then came Cavendish, Froome and most of all Wiggins. After retiring from racing Sean Yates was to become Team Sky’s Race Director and a figure central to Wiggins’ 2012 Tour victory. His book It’s All About The Bike is a great and once again revealing book . Easy Rider by former racer Rob Hayles covers a slightly later period. As the success of track cycling began to take off after British success at the Athens 2004 Olympics, eventually to be translated into success on the road too. Rob Hayles was one of the pioneers of that breakthrough and provides a fascinating account of the reasons why British cycling became, and remains, such a success story.
Socialist sportswriter Gareth Edwards makes an interesting case in a three-party online essay for taking the playful appeal of sport seriously. To that end many of these books are about only one, distinctly minority, aspect of sport, competition at an elite level. Most of us who ‘do’ sport just do it for leisure, recreation and pleasure Some compete, most don’t, and it is competitive sport that has suffered the most severe decline in levels of participation. The Rules : The Way of the Cycling Disciple is in this regard a very different kind of sports book. Its about the likes of us who are never going to win a race let alone enter a national, European or World Championship for glory .We just get on our bikes to stretch ourselves in the cause of some kind of enjoyment. That’s not to say such sport doesn’t have its own culture and this book seeks to catalogue precisely this, with a touch of ultra-narcissism on occasion. But perhaps we need to broaden our definition of sport, or at least physical activities much broader, to include the recreational. It would be hard to justify ‘walking’ as any kind of sport, but it is the most common form of physical activity most of us take pat in, sometimes with a dog, a relationship wonderfully chronicled in Harry Pearson’s book Hound Dog Days.
Once the football season starts, and nowadays it never seems to end, most other sports, never mind any coverage of recreational, and non-competitive sports are pushed off the back pages to the exclusion of coverage of almost anything apart from football. Two recent biographies, Dennis Bergkamp’s Stillness and Speed and Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s I Am Zlatan get to grips with football’s undoubted appeal to the fans. Both are a pleasant respite from the ghost-written dross served up by most players, and managers, including Ferguson’s non-revelatory latest. Perhaps because in both cases these are foreign players, writing for a non-English audience, with well chosen co-writers, in Bergkamp’s case the superlative David Winner. And the result are books that begin to explore in a serious way football’s enduringly hegemonic appeal, now on a global scale. Mike Carson’s The Manager is a different kind of endeavour, putting fans’, and the media’s, obsession with football’s managers in a broader context of the cult of managerialism, framed primarily by business culture. Insightful and thought-provoking, a great read for the next time a club’s manager is sacked. Lose to a rival, and any manager is going to be under pressure. In world football few rivalries provoke such interest and passion as Real vs Barca. Sid Lowe’s Fear and Loathing in La Liga is unsurprisingly very good, Sid Lowe is the always well-informed Spanish football correspondent of the Guardian. Combining the historical, cultural, political because as Garry Whannel had patiently explained 30 years ago sport is shaped by all three and there’s not a better example of this truism than Barca vs Real , which Sid Lowe explains with an eye for detail and pacey writing to create a really good read. Spain are of course the reigning European and World Champions, England meanwhile have managed to squeeze past Montenegro, Poland and the Ukraine to at least qualify for World Cup 2014 but with no one, including the team captain, expecting them to get anywhere close to winning the tournament. What’s new? No semi-final appearance by England since Euro ’96, one single semi-final appearance at a tournament outside of England, at Italia ’90. So in a sense why are so many of us surprised when England’s prospects remain so dire? A combination of the ’66 legacy, the burden of Imperial history, two World Wars oh and inventing the game, plus the self-appointed Greatest League in the World. For a coach-centred grassroots analysis of what is wrong with a football culture incapable of producing enough technically gifted players to muster a decent national team there’s no better book than Matthew Whitehouse’s outstanding The Way Forward: Solutions to England’s Football Failings.
Nine years after Garry Whannel’s socialist analysis of sport was published Nick Hornby wrote the best-selling Fever Pitch. The rest is, publishing, history. The bookshop shelves are heaving with an ever-expanding range of sports titles, many of them treat sport in that ‘just done it’ unproblematic way that Garry critiqued. In his own way Nick Hornby taught us something different, the meaning of sport in general, football in particular, the way that it connects with us emotionally, as individuals, impacting on our relationships, and group loyalties. Hornby wrote in that most feminine of styles the confessional and his writing touched his audience, mainly male, in a previously unheard of way because of it. Two decades on much of today’s sportswriting has reverted to type, but there remain precious exceptions.
My book of the sporting quarter stands out precisely because it is is exceptional. Author Michael Calvin’s previous book on Millwall, Family: Life, Death and Football already stood serious comparison with Fever Pitch as an all-time sportswriting classic. With his new book The Nowhere Men Calvin has produced an even better book. The extraordinary, and untold, tale of football’s Scouts, how talent is discovered, often missed, recruited by the clubs, looked after, not always very well, and ends up the other end as a Premier League superstar. Sportswriting at its very best, investigative, compelling and revealing.
No links in this review are to Amazon. If you can avoid purchasing from the tax-dodgers please do so.
Mark Perryman is the co-founder of the self-styled ‘sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction’ aka Philosophy Football }
The Syrian government is embroiled in a brutal conflict against a polyglot insurgency – the best armed and funded component of which are Sunni jihadists and Salafists intent on turning the country into a killing field. If they succeed then Syria as a secular, sovereign state in which women’s rights, the rights of minorities, and any scintilla of modernity will be no more, plunging the country into an abyss of barbarism akin to that which engulfed Afghanistan after the fall of Kabul in 1992.
Should a similar fate befall it, Syria’s destruction would have dire consequences for the region, especially considering the instability that has plagued it on the back of an Arab Spring that is now an Arab Winter, largely due to the West’s distorting influence and intervention in the region. At present three interlinked struggles are taking place – an atavistic religious war unleashed by Sunni fundamentalists against Shia communities in Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria, as well as against Sunnis who do not adhere to their distorted interpretation of Islam; a conflict between secularism and Islamism; and a struggle for regional hegemony as the West’s allies and proxies – Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, and Israel – attempt to isolate and neuter Iran. Part of this process involves toppling the Assad government and destroying Hezbollah, which together with Iran constitute three pillars of resistance to the aforementioned western allies and proxies.
Meanwhile, on a geopolitical level, Russia and to a lesser extent China’s support for Iran and Syria is part of a struggle against the West’s objective of maintaining Washington’s writ as leader of a unipolar world against a multipolar alternative in which Russia, China and the other BRIC group of developing economies enjoy parity.
The stakes involved in the Syrian conflict, therefore, could not be higher.
Over the two and a half years of its duration over 100,000 people have been killed and millions more have crossed Syria’s borders into Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey, precipitating the worst refugee crisis the world has seen since the end of the Second World War. Moreover an upsurge in suicide bombings in Iraq and in Lebanon – the latest a double suicide bomb attack on the Iranian embassy in Beirut – reveals that not only Syria but its neighbours are also facing the same existential threat posed by Sunni extremism.
There is no revolution taking place in Syria. What is unfolding is a foreign funded insurgency which includes thousands of Sunni militants from outwith its borders. Yet what should not be forgotten when it comes to the role of Sunni extremism is that the majority of Sunnis in Syria continue to support Assad and his government. Sunnis make up the bulk of the Syrian Arab Army and many of its officers, while Assad’s wife is a Sunni.
The role of the West in the conflict, which came close to unleashing a disastrous military strike against the country in response to the deployment of chemical weapons in the eastern suburb of Ghouta in Damascus back in August – alleged by Washington, the UK, and France to have been deployed by Syrian government forces, though never proved – has been eminently negative. The West’s political and financial support for the opposition is a major contributory factor to the prolongation of the suffering inflicted on the Syrian people. Daily decapitations and the slaughtering of civilians by groups such as the Al-Nusra Front and ISIS has undoubtedly motivated many Syrians to stand behind the Assad government who were originally sympathetic to the obvious need for political reform.
Attempts to kickstart negotiations between the Syrian government and representatives of the opposition have so far met with failure. With Russia playing a positive role in trying to broker these negotiations, the onus is on the West to put pressure on the Syrian opposition to enter them without unrealistic preconditions such as the resignation of current president, Bashar al-Assad. Why should the millions of Syrians who support the Assad government, who’ve suffered as a result of the conflict, and an army that has proved its willingness over two and a half years to bleed for it, agree to give up their nation’s sovereignty?
When we talk about the opposition this obviously does not and cannot include those whose stock in trade is barbarism and savagery. There can be no place for them in Syria or indeed anywhere in the region. As for the Saudis, whose continued close ties to the West is a badge of shame, the day when this odious clan disappears from the page of history will not be a day too soon.
Some in the West continue to focus their ire on Assad, believing that in the circumstances described it remains possible to hold to a position of being against the Sunni extremists causing mayhem in Syria and also against the Syrian government. This is not serious politics. In fact it is politics reduced to a parlour game, a clear case of cognitive dissonance. If it wasn’t for the government and Syrian army the country would have been destroyed long before now.
George Orwell understood this when he wrote: ”Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.”
Of course, whether we in the West support or condemn those struggling on the ground against barbarism in Syria is neither here nor there in the scheme of things. But on the level of understanding the stakes involved it matters hugely, especially as we carry the burden of living in those countries responsible for sowing the chaos and carnage that continues in Iraq and Libya on the basis of toppling vicious dictators.
For progressive and liberal commentators to follow the same narrative now when it comes to Syria is worse than a mistake it’s a crime.
For those who don’t know, Mother Agnes is mother superior at the Monastery and Convent of St. James the Mutilated in Qara, Syria.
She risks her life every day not only due to her stance against the western backed insurgency that is ripping Syria apart, but also because she happens to be a nun – a member of Syria’s Christian minority – and as such deemed ripe for the slaughter by the savages who are cutting off the heads of people like her for sport.
She has spoken in Ireland and Australia about what is unfolding in Syria, and she has organised an international delegation led by Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire to come to Syria to see for themselves. She is one of the main organizers of Mussalaha (“Reconciliation”), a popular movement in Syria that mediates disputes and organizes ceasefires between opposing forces.
Mother Agnes was invited to speak at a Stop the War conference in London on November 30. However after hearing that two other speakers scheduled to speak at the event – Owen Jones and Jeremy Scahill – were threatening to withdraw unless her invitation was rescinded by the organisers, Mother Agnes took the decision to withdraw from the conference of her own volition.
She has been demonised by her detractors as a ‘pro regime stooge’. As with the majority of Syrians who support the Assad government – and none more so than Syria’s various minority communities – this is probably based on the fact that she lives in the country and understands that the only force currently capable of preventing Syria being turned into a killing field by a western and Saudi backed insurgency is the Syrian government.
Below is Mother Agnes’ statement on her decision to withdraw from the conference:
To the Organizing Committee of the International Anti-War Conference
My dear friends,
It has come to my attention that my participation in your conference has become a matter of serious contention, even prompting some other speakers to consider withdrawing. This is apparently due to a campaign of cruel and unsubstantiated accusations which seek to work against my efforts and those of the Mussalaha (Reconciliation) Initiative in Syria.
The basis of our work toward peace is reconciliation and forgiveness. This means extending an olive branch to some who may initially refuse it, and accepting an olive branch from others who are despised, even by our friends.
In the case of Syria, I am guided by the terrible events of human provenance that are reaping misery and death without end in sight. I and my fellow members of the Mussalaha movement feel compelled to find a path toward national redemption that applies the principles of reconciliation and forgiveness that is different from either the way of the sword or even the nonviolent exclusion of other Syrians, whatever their views or affiliations may be. This is by its nature a difficult path but I am a cleric and am guided by my love for all. We are all children of God.
Some may feel that an injustice will be done if I speak at your conference. Others may think that injustice will be done if I do not. Because my participation in your conference may be used by some to distract from your valuable efforts towards peace, non-violence and reconciliation, I believe it best to withdraw from participation.
I thank you for your sincere invitation, and wish to offer my blessings for a successful conference that brings together a multitude of people of good will who will work together for peace and justice through mutual cooperation and I hope we shall at a future date have an opportunity to meet and discuss this issue and the wider work of the Mussalaha in Syria.
It has been several decades since a socialist candidate has won a citywide office race in the United States but that could all change soon as polls are showing Seattle City Council candidate Kshama Sawant with a 402 vote lead on Wednesday evening and no signs of the margin shrinking.
Sawant’s victory over 16-year incumbent Richard Conlin would also make her the first openly socialist candidate to be elected to a city office in Seattle’s history.
“This is new territory. There really isn’t any precedent,” said Stuart Elway, a longtime political pollster. “You think Seattle has a pretty liberal electorate, but you haven’t seen someone who calls themselves a socialist win.”
With roughly 20,000 votes left to count in the state’s mail-in voting system, the Associated Press is reporting that it could be days or even weeks before the Nov. 4 election results can be officially declared.
However, things were looking good for Sawant Wednesday, a candidate who ran on a “Occupy Wall Street” inspired platform including proposals to tax the rich and raise Seattle’s minimum wage to $15.