Monday, March 31, 2014


When Transparency International issued its report on election spending on Monday the section that captured the headlines was that showing that Fidesz would spend over double the legal limit – and get away with it. Fidesz stayed quiet on this revelation but needless to say the opposition parties took to the social media immediately.
However the last paragraphs of the report were ignored by all the parties. The simple reason for that is rightly or wrongly the majority of Hungarians believe their politicians are corrupt.
Commissioned by TI, the polling agency Psyma assessed public attitudes concerning the campaign. The findings show that only 8 per cent of the people expect a clean campaign, assuming that the parties will only make use of legal means before the elections. The conclusion has to be that up to 92 per cent did not.
According to the poll, the majority of the public thinks that both the ‘left-wing alliance to change the government’ (62 per cent) and Fidesz-KDNP (55 per cent) use funds from corrupt sources in their campaign, and every second person thinks the same about the far right Jobbik.
TI, the watchdog association K-Monitor and the investigative online portal (Hungarian for ‘transparent’) believe an anti-corruption minimum programme is needed and it is in everybody’s interest to have one.
They have developed their anti-corruption minimum programme which can be found at The recommendations of the programme have been drawn up so that a quarter of a century after the political transition Hungarians can finally take substantial measures against the misuse of public funds.
The aim is to gain the support of decision-makers with influence on legislation, and the broadest possible non-governmental cooperation for this initiative, overwriting political lines.
The programme makes recommendations primarily in the areas of party and campaign financing, public procurement, asset declarations, conflict of interest/revolving door, the management of national assets, and the rule of law.
Sándor Léderer, director of K-Monitor stated: “The country and the legislation have changed significantly over the past 25 years, but now breakthrough has been achieved in the fight against corruption.” 
TI and its partners argue that corruption causes immeasurable economic and societal damages; its elimination therefore needs to be in the interest of all political actors. No party striving to get into the parliament can afford to ignore this problem said Sándor Léderer.
Tamás Bodoky, the editor in chief of the portal reported: “The website is receiving reports uncovering wrongdoing linked to the election campaign.” He added that all substantiated reports will be dealt with using the tools of fact finding and investigative journalism.

Of course political corruption is not restricted to Hungary but is European wide. Surveys in Spain have shown that around 90 per cent of people questioned believed both their politicians and political system was corrupt. It is a perception the EU urgently needs to tackle across all member States.

(The above article was published in the London Progressive Journal on March 21 2014)


The Hungarian General Election takes place on Sunday April 6. The spotlight has been on the far right party, Jobbik, which will be fielding a national list at the polls and says it is seeking an outright victory (pun intended).
However it is extremely unlikely that Jobbik would win but instead the odds are Fidesz will be returned to power. The left alliance led by the socialists MSzP and including the country’s liberals obviously is fighting to prevent that from happening. Yet a victory for the left would be to slash Fidesz’s current massive majority, which has seen it abuse Hungary’s democratic and civil rights and indeed to mimic Jobbik in its populist statements and actions. This has caused outrage in Washington and EU capitals.
Hungary’s general election campaign might be free but it will be far from fair. This has been highlighted this week after a report from Transparency International Hungary (TI), K-Monitor and They have united their efforts to find out how much parties are spending on their campaigns.
At their press conference on Monday in Budapest, they have introduced the website (Hungarian for hypocrisy), where the public can continuously follow how much each party is paying for their campaign.
In a statement they pointed out: “It is already blatantly obvious that the Fidesz-KDNP party (with the help of the Civil Alliance Forum /CÖF/ and the government) will exceed twice the campaign spending limit of one billion forints prescribed by legislation. However, it looks like this excessive spending will go without any consequences.”
The election campaign has over two weeks to run but it is already clear that until the end of February, Fidesz spent more than 2 billion, the left-wing Kormányváltás (Hungarian for ’change of government’) 680 million, while Jobbik 650 million and LMP 310 million forints. The TI, K-Monitor and  figures do not contain all the spending of the parties occurred in March, so numbers will grow further in the run-up to the elections.
The spending limit set by law is 1 billion. TI’s programme for the assessment of campaign spending examines all means of campaigning, by monitoring public billboards, media advertisements, direct marketing tools (postal letters, SMS messages, phone calls, personal contact), and also party events. The anti-corruption organisation also calculated the expenditure of parties on their campaign team, opinion polls, and promotional items.
TI says it is clear from the figures currently available that Fidesz has already exceeded the legally prescribed limit, if the governmental and civil advertisements supporting the party are taken in to account. Parties may spend 1 billion forints on their campaigns, of which 700 million forints may come from public funds.
The campaign of governing parties is also aided by advertisements of pseudo NGOs (the so-called GO-NGOs), such as the Civil Alliance Forum (CÖF), which on paper is independent from any political force, but is in reality blatantly campaigning in support of Fidesz. According to TI’s calculations, the price of CÖF’s campaign between November and February amounted to 570 million forints.
Not only pseudo-non-governmental organisations, but also the government itself is sponsoring Fidesz’s campaign. The government gave Fidesz a gift of 540 million forints, as this is how much the 'Hungary is performing better' campaign and the campaign advertising the utility price cuts that lay the foundations of the governing party’s election campaign have cost since November.
The billboards commissioned by GO-NGOs and government have so far cost altogether about 1 billion forints. As these support directly the campaign of Fidesz, TI added this amount to the party’s campaign expenses. But even without the campaign costs of CÖF and the government, Fidesz-KDNP's campaign costs have already reached 940 million, which is very close to the legally allowed limit of 1 billion, even though elections are still more than one month away.
Miklós Ligeti, TI's Legal Director stated: The new legislation on campaign financing is not suitable for eliminating campaign-related corruption. The parliament managed to adopt regulations, which the parties do not even have to break, if they want to spend unchecked on their campaigns".
Ligeti explained, the new legislation that entered into effect on January 1st does not prohibit the outsourcing of the campaign, that is, it does not deal with the spending of NGOs with close ties to parties, and does not limit government campaigning in any way. Under the legislation, the tariffs of public billboards do not need to be disclosed, which immensely contributes to the lack of transparency in campaign finance. Political advertisements in electronic media are free of charge, a step forward TI would theoretically welcome, but the way this regulation is put into practice annuls all its advantages. There are signs that commercial TV channels do not want to deal with the advertisements of political parties (with one major commercial channel only broadcasting government advertisements), and in addition, public media is heavily biased towards the government parties.
A further incomprehensible element of the regulation on campaign financing is that while independent electoral candidates - rightly - have to account for all public subsidies to the last forint, and if unsuccessful, will have to repay these, political parties have no such obligation. As TI warned several times in the past, there is a possibility that several parties only participate in the election to gain access to the generous allowance ensured by the state. For parties to have a nationwide candidate list, they need to collect 500 signatures in each of the 27 constituencies, and in return they are entitled to almost 149 million forints in public subsidies, which amount - depending on the recommendations collected – may climb as high as 600 million forints. In addition, the Hungarian Court of Auditors does not investigate the spending of unsuccessful 'sham parties' ex officio, but only in reported cases. The only positive element of the new legislation on campaigning is that the tariffs of political advertisements in the print media are made public.
So far, the experience with TI’s campaign monitoring suggests that Fidesz makes the most use of the loopholes of the campaign financing regulation. As a result, TI believes that the elections will be free, but not fair on many points.
And of course the free does not apply in the financial sense.

(One Forint is equal to around 0.0027 Sterling, 0.0032 euro and 0.0047 US$)

(The above article was published in the London Progressive Journal on March 18 2014)


The other evening, within a matter of five minutes, I sent messages to socialist colleagues in France, Spain, Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania via Facebook and received answers back. The content was more social than socialist but I could have easily been organizing a Europe-wide campaign or demonstration.

This is of amazement to me because I grew up in the post-War era where there were two ways to communicate: by letter or by face-to-face contact. True telephones did exist but they largely were the preserve of upper and middle class families. Housing estates tended to have a red public phone box to serve the community: it was the days before vandalism struck. Companies and governments were restricted to the letter and the telephone too although the larger ones also had telex.

So in my lifetime we have seen a profound change in how we communicate. However how government works, in a creaking and remote top down fashion, has not altered at all.

Modern communications via the internet, the social media, smart phones and tablets might be viewed by some as the media of the young. They are wrong. Just as I use Facebook and Twitter it is not unusual to see men and women of the generation before mine on the streets or in the supermarket clutching their smart phones. You no longer have to buy a newspaper or rush home for the main news broadcast to find out what is happening in the world: your smart phone will tell you in an instant.

So how can this massive shift in how we communicate impact beneficially on our politics? The answer comes in a new publication by Compass Chair Neal Lawson and Danish MP Uffee Elbaek. Compass promotes the concept of the Good Society and here it meets our new flat world. It is entitled: “The Bridge: how the politics of the future will link the vertical to the horizontal”. It makes stimulating reading.

In an article in The Guardian on the day of the publication’s launch the two co-authors wrote: “So what does the age of the internet, the smart phone and social networks give us? It gives us informed, enabled and empowered citizens because we can learn, talk and act together to solve the critical challenges in our world because traditional politics can’t reverse inequality or climate change.

“The old icebergs of state and corporation are dissolving into a flat and fluid sea where action only becomes meaningful in concert with others. The waves of change demand interconnections to flow because we know that all of us are smarter than anyone of us. Kickstarter, Wikipedia, Open Source, Mumsnet, The People Who Share and Thoughtworks are some of the first movers in a future that is being co-produced.”

The Bridge makes a very strong point which I believe is of key importance. I fear that many people believe that these mass movements either on the streets or the social media can change the world hence political parties or governments will no longer be necessary.  We have seen people power at work in Egypt and now in Ukraine. However once the tyrants fall, what then? As the journalist John Harris said at the recent Change: How? (Un)Conference “you can’t redistribute income sitting in a tent outside of St Paul’s”.

The Arab Spring started in Tunisia and it is there that the public protests have followed through to profound democratic change with a new constitution and parliament. This is stressed by Lawson and Elbaek who write: “But in these ‘new times’ political parties will still matter. After Tahrir Square or someday soon Trafalgar Square someone has to stand the candidates, cohere the manifesto, set the budgets and establish the policy basis for capacity building and be the ‘bridge’ between the state and the new horizontal movements.”

The message of The Bridge is - there is hope. It tells us: “Instead of trying to fit people to a bureaucratic state or a free market – we can bend this increasingly flat world to our values and us. We are all particles in the wave of a future that is ours to make.”

Some governments, especially in small countries, are already responding to this communications revolution. Estonia has embrace e-government and e-politics. Gibraltar is about to follow suit. Other governments allow its citizens access via the social media to question ministers directly and to hold them to account.

The Bridge concludes: “For the first time in a long time, radical egalitarian democrats face a future in which there is hope, real hope. The advances made in the last century were secured through bureaucratic and top down structures that were at best remote, and at worst, elitist. A good society was never going to be constructed through them as means clashed with ends. As such they simply paved the way for the free-market revolution in the closing decades of that century.

Today and tomorrow we build in a different way. We start with human beings and our infinite capacity for love, empathy and connection. Instead of trying to fit people to a bureaucratic state or a free market we bend this increasingly flat world to our values and ourselves. We are all particles in the wave of the future. If we get it right, modernity can again be on our side.

“To paraphrase Marx ‘we make history, but not in conditions of our choosing’. The context of our actions strongly influences the effect of those actions. But the context for those actions has never been better aligned with our beliefs. As the earth is flattened, the prospects for a good society rise. So we stand at a threshold – an era in which means and ends can be united – the more democratic and equal society, which we desire, is being made feasible by democratic and egalitarian behaviour. The future is ours to make. Because we can.”

To read The Bridge – click below.

(The above article was published in the London Progressive Journal on March 7 2014)

Wednesday, January 15, 2014


Spain’s right wing Partido Popular leader and Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, has achieved a notable feat. He has managed to have all the socialist parties in Europe declare war on his government.

The subject that is stoking anger across the continent is the decision of the PP Government to repeal PSOE’s abortion legislation and to introduce its own bill that is seen as being discriminatory against women. The European socialists under Party of European Socialists (PES) have answered the call from PSOE to support them in fighting this legislation. PES is made up of all the major socialist parties in Europe including the UK’s Labour Party.

Rajoy cannot even count on it being a left versus right confrontation so that the European parties of the centre right will come to his aid. Indeed members of the Partido Popular in Parliament, including the outspoken PP MP and former minister Celia Villalobos whose husband is a Rajoy guru, are against the move. Four PP presidents of regional governments in Spain oppose this legislation, “La ley de Gallardón”, being introduced by the minister of the same name. Two PP mayors, both doctors, have publicly questioned the law. True to form Rajoy is stamping down on any voiced opposition from his party’s ranks.

There have already been protests outside the Spanish Embassy in Paris and as the campaign grows expect more of the same as people across Europe publically denounce Rajoy. The PP has agreed to ban women from opting freely for abortions, outraging pro-choice campaigners who say the move will take the country back to the 1980s.

In the majority of European countries, abortion is freely available in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy. After that abortion is only allowed if there are serious risks to the mother or the foetus through illness or severe anomalies. The PP seeks a far more restrictive set of regulations: prohibiting the mother from having any part in the decision making and prohibiting abortions in many cases of serious malformations or foetal anomalies.

The PES president, Sergei Stanishev stated: “This law by Spain’s Conservative Government is not against abortion, this is a law against women. I will do everything possible to mobilise PES Member Parties to lend their weight to this fight for the rights of women, in Spain and elsewhere in Europe.” He added: “women’s rights will be a central issue in the European election campaign”.

Stanishev thanked PES vice president Elena Valenciano of Spain’s socialist PSOE for the letter calling for support from PES against the Spanish PP Government’s proposal to drastically curtail a woman’s right to choose.

PES Women’s President Zita Gurmai added: “all of Europe’s progressive forces should join us in making this stand and fight for the right of women to choose. We must fight to protect the sensible and compassionate decisions that have been made over the last years on fundamental women’s rights in Europe”.

When PSOE brought in its very liberal legislation the PP made it clear it opposed it, tried to ban it through the courts and hence it is no surprise it has brought forward its own regressive law. Needless to say the Spanish Catholic Church, always an ally of the right, has played a major part behind the scenes.

Abortion may be the issue but what it demonstrates is Spain’s slide into an authoritarian State where the people’s rights across a broad spectrum of life are being eroded. There would be some irony indeed if the famous Rajoy water cannon, purchased to keep his people off the streets under his repressive internal security law, was first used in Madrid against a Europe-wide co-ordinated protest against the new abortion law. Make no mistake Spain’s Partido Popular government is not a conservative government but a neo-Francoist government growing more repressive by the day.

(Photo: PSOE’s Elena Valenciano with PES Women President Zita Gurmai)

(The above article was published in the London Progressive Forum on January 15 2014).

Saturday, November 23, 2013


In recent days I have read a Tweet saying that if the next British General Election is fought on the issue of immigration then Labour will lose. I have also heard a report of a study on what the main election issues in 2015 will be. With the improving economy at the top of the list is immigration. So like it or not immigration into the UK will be hotly debated during the election campaign and Labour needs to be prepared.

It is right and proper that immigration should be openly discussed in Britain and people’s fears addressed. However there is a thin line between talking about immigration and that slipping over into xenophobic or racist attacks.

There are those on the far right of the Conservative ranks and in UKIP who are happy to discuss immigration dressed up as xenophobia. Indeed there are those in the present Conservative – Lib Dem coalition who are frightening people with tales of a flood of Romanians and Bulgarians heading for our shores in 2014. This campaign reaches back to both of those countries where people feel they are the undeserved victims of racist attacks by our very own government.

This came to a head last week when MEPs’ Corina Cretu, who is vice-president of the S&D Group and Catalin Ivan, the head of Romanian delegation in European Parliament, sent an open letter to the UK’s Prime Minister David Cameron. They voiced their country’s concern over the aggressive and populist way in which Great Britain regards the elimination of restrictions for Romanian and Bulgarian workers. They have asked David Cameron to publicly condemn xenophobe and extremist messages launched by some politicians and in press campaigns, largely it has to be said in the Tory supporting media.

The letter stated: “We invite you to underline, in a firm and public message, the fact that Britain’s Government respects the European legislation and will cancel the restrictions for Romanian and Bulgarian workers starting from January 1, 2014.” As far as I am aware Cameron is yet to respond.

The Romanian MEP’s criticized the ambiguity of Britain’s Government that encourages press campaigns against the rights and dignity of Romanian’s as European citizens. Corina Cretu and Catalin Ivan have condemned the racism and xenophobia of some political and public statements in Great Britain, pleading at the same time for condemnation without hesitation of such racist attitudes.

The two Romanian MEPs pointed to recently published data regarding the positive presence and the strong work ethic of immigrants in UK and believe the Prime Minister should use these facts to take a stand against extremist and xenophobe speeches directed towards Romanians. They referred specifically to a Confederation of British Industry (CBI) report which indicates there is significant proof that immigrants bring increased value to production potential and to the level of demand in the UK’s economy, increasing the long term GDP. Also, 63 per cent of the CBI members stated that free movement of the workers in EU had a positive effect on their businesses. On the other hand, only 1 per cent of CBI members stated that immigrants had a negative impact on their businesses.

Catalin Ivan observes that the British Prime Minister should know these facts as he was present at the CBI conference.

In their open letter to Cameron the two Romanian MEPs stated: “We cannot accept all these deviant nuances of public speech towards extremism and xenophobia, especially when they are based on ridiculous exaggerations and on inducing the fear of immigrants for Britain’s citizens.”

Romania, like other former Communist Bloc countries in the EU, badly needs investment. Both these Romanian social-democrats want to encourage investors from UK to come to Romania and to create well-paid jobs so the two countries can work in partnership and not be at racist odds.

Whether the letter from Cretu and Ivan will receive a reply from David Cameron remains to be seen. Whether he steps in to put a stop to the xenophobic and racists attacks will be the litmus test of his personal beliefs. His actions will also set the tone for the wider immigration debate that the UK is heading for.

(The above article was published in the London Progressive Journal on November 22 2013).

Sunday, November 17, 2013


Next May the voters of the European Union will not only have the chance to elect their Euro MPs but if they vote for socialist and social democratic parties under the PES umbrella they will also be voting for Martin Schulz. Schulz is the agreed PES candidate for the post of EC President: should that grouping be in the majority he would replace Barroso.

A lot has to happen before that scenario falls in to place but if determination and a commitment to return the EU to the people of Europe counts for anything then Schulz has made a good start. He may also be the only candidate for EC President offered to the voters.

I first heard Martin Schulz speak in Sofia in June at the PES Congress. He was then, as he is now, President of the European Parliament. He articulated a clear vision for reforming the EU which struck a chord. Then he was only spoken of as a potential PES Candidate for EC President. Since then at least 20 of the PES parties have backed him and hence he is the candidate designate to be confirmed in Rome at the end of February.

Last week I had the chance to hear Martin Schulz speak again as candidate and what’s more in his native Germany to Germans. It was fascinating to hear his own party’s take on his campaign. That was set out by Achim Post, a leading SPD politician, who also happens to be the Secretary General of PES.

It was clear at the PES meeting in Leipzig just hours ahead of the SPD conference that party members are very proud that Schulz had been supported by parties Europe wide. However as Post pointed out Germans are fully aware that Germany under Merkel is far from popular in Europe and hence the need to differentiate between her CDU and the SPD. This will almost certainly be a difficult task as it is likely that the SPD will form a coalition with the CDU to govern Germany: so Schulz will be linked to the style of governance he opposes.

For his part Schulz has made it very clear that if elected as EC President he will hold the post in the name of the people of Europe and not the Heads of Governments of the EU. Next May not only will there be a new European Parliament but if Schulz is elected a hurricane of change will blow through Brussels.

So what does Schulz stand for? He talks of a more social Europe. “The EU needs to be reformed. It is neither socially just nor effective. It has no solidarity and threatens to disintegrate into pieces.” Schulz has promoted European unity as a unique project of civilization for peace, freedom and justice on the continent. In the forthcoming European elections this is threatened by backward-looking, ultra-nationalist parties:  “We have to tell them - nationalism in Europe has always been just war, destruction and misery.”

Schulz is leading the fight against youth unemployment where some Member States are stagnating at record levels of jobless young people. “We are the richest continent in the world and allow that in some countries up to 50 percent of young people are unemployed,” he told SPD delegates in Leipzig. His SPD has voted for the fight against youth unemployment to be the top priority along with growth impulses.

Schulz’s key message is for more democracy so he is fighting for increased democratic participation, equality between men and women, peace internally and externally, and a social Europe. In addition in times of digital transformation the need for privacy and civil liberties get a high priority. More will emerge in the coming weeks and months.

Andreas Herrmann is a German member of PES, the SPD and a journalist. What is his take on Schulz the candidate? “In my view Martin is a real European. He grew up in the frontier region between Germany, France and Belgium and has experienced there growing together from daily life. I live in a similar region with borders to Poland and the Czech people. That’s why I know how much work has to be invested even on regional level to bring people together and secure peace. Martin is the man who can bring this very human bottom up approach to the highest level of European policy and that’s why he is the right person for Commission President.”

So to France where the Parti Socialiste considers itself the big beast of European socialist politics. Pierre Kanuty is responsible for international affairs for the PS and he said the party supports “Martin Schulz as a PES candidate for the European Commission. We have been in favour of such a decision in the previous European elections of 2009. We thought the European socialists have to embody their political programme for Europe in a strong progressive leadership. It was coherent to propose an alternative to conservatives in Europe and then have someone else other than Barroso to vote for. Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, who was in favour of this idea and who was the perfect candidate, did not get a majority among PES leaders and heads of government as a candidate. Learning from its mistakes, PES decided in autumn 2009 to have a common candidate.”

He continued: “Europe is about ideas and people who can show there is an alternative to the hysteria of austerity and to conservatives. Martin Schulz is a good candidate. As president of the European parliament, the only democratically elected body of the EU, Martin was determined enough to put his foot in the door as the Council and the Commission used to have the last words.”

Final word to Pierre on the fact that Schulz is German? Kanuty observed: “Some may think it makes a lot of Germans around. But unlike Merkel’s CDU which dreams of a German Europe, Schulz is committed to a European Germany.”

Vive la différence!

Vive la liberté et la démocratie!

(The above article was published in the London Progressive Journal on November 17 2013 with versions in other publications)

Friday, November 8, 2013


On Wednesday November 6 a very significant event took place in Brussels. Martin Schulz was confirmed as the Party of European Socialists (PES) candidate designate for the European Commission President. So how does this impact on you? The answer is in a very big way.

Next May all the voters of the 28 nations that make up the European Union will go to the polls to elect the MEPs who will sit in the European Parliament. Now here comes the difference. In 2010 only the 488 MEPs voted for the European Commission and its President. Martin Schulz has stated: “In 2014 I want 390 million citizens to have their say.”

All the European socialist and social democratic parties that may up PES, the grouping that Labour Party MEPs sit under in the European Parliament, have agreed a common candidate for the Presidency and he will campaign in all 28 European Member States ahead of the May 2014 elections.

The fact that 28 national parties have been able to agree on a common candidate is a miracle in itself as those on the left are not noted for working together in such a way. However PES is the first and could be the only party grouping that actually presents its candidate for the EC Presidency to the voters.

This means that if you vote for a socialist candidate and if the PES group is in the majority across Europe after the elections there will be no stitched up backroom deals as in the past as Martin Schulz will be your EC President.

Over the next four months, Schulz will engage with Socialist and Social Democrat Member Parties before he officially becomes the ‘common candidate’ at the PES election Congress on 1 March to be held in Rome.

Speaking in Brussels after the meeting to adopt him as the PES candidate designate Schulz stated: “I am honoured and humbled to receive the confidence and support of PES” adding “I will travel to PES Member Parties to listen to members concerns and ideas.”

Schulz observed that many are reluctant to engage in this process adding; “They say that Europe ‘doesn’t need a face that people can vote for’, or that ‘the Commission shouldn’t be politicised’. To those complaints I have very simple answers. As millions of EU citizens who have felt the consequences already know, the European Commission has long been politicised. Unfortunately it has been the politics of the elite. It is time for a connection between EU institutions and EU citizens. And it is time to build a Europe that people can invest in because they know it invests in them. The best way to get the EU working for people again is to first involve them”.

It was back in 2009 that PES took the decision to deliver a democratically selected candidate for the 2014 European Elections. PES treasurer and Chair of the PES Working Group Candidate 2014, Ruairi Quinn, said: “Today we have taken a huge step. Now we must invest in and engage with our Member Parties to raise awareness among our grass root membership. Then we will be ready to bring a renewed sense of accountability to the electorate.”

Martin Schulz was nominated by his own party, the German Social Democrats (SPD). He is currently the President of the European Parliament and I briefly met him then heard him speak at the PES Conference in June in Sofia. In his early working life he was a trainee in a bookshop becoming a bookshop owner: my kind of politician. Next week, God willing, I will be at the SPD conference in Leipzig where Martin Schultz will speak. I will report on what he had to say in a future article.

(The above article was published in the London Progressive Journal on November 7 2013).

Friday, October 4, 2013


I must admit to being bewildered by the present Daily Mail campaign to vilify the father of the Labour Party leader Ed Miliband. Given the profile of the Mail’s readership I presume the majority already view Ed as Red so exactly what is to be gained from presenting his father as a man who “hated Britain”, which he clearly didn’t, is beyond me.

Certainly his father Ralph was a prominent Marxist thinker but we knew that even before we knew Ed and David. Indeed I have visited his grave in Highgate cemetery located very near to that of Karl Marx himself. Whilst Marx’s resting place is a monument that of Miliband is understated: indeed if you weren’t looking for it, you wouldn’t find it. The Daily Mail were and did and placed a photograph of it online labelled “Grave Socialist” – an act it has now conceded as an “error of judgement”.

In his right of reply piece in the Daily Mail this week Ed Miliband said his father, a Jewish refugee fled Belgium aged 16 to escape the Nazis. He “loved” Britain and served in the Royal Navy.

I should add that it was also whilst studying at the LSE that he developed as a formidable Marxist, yes a Marxist but a British Marxist. He has been described as "one of the best known academic Marxists of his generation", on a par with Perry Anderson, Eric Hobsbawn and E P Thompson.

So whilst the Daily Mail might want to make a link between the Father Marxist and the Red Son, both of which again we knew, to suggest that Ed’s father “hated Britain” and then to raise question marks over his children’s loyalty is beyond the pale. When young Ralph wrote:  "When you hear the English talk of this war you sometimes almost want them to lose it to show them how things are ... To lose their empire would be the worst possible humiliation" he was talking of the British insular nationalist tendency and contempt for the Continent in general both ironically exemplified by the Daily Mail to this day.

Although Ed Miliband does not share his father’s political beliefs the Daily Mail justifies its attack on the basis that Ralph may have influenced his son. So now let’s listen to the Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith who has launched an outspoken attack on the Daily Mail in the wake of the newspaper’s relentlessly hostile coverage of Ed Miliband’s late father.

Speaking at a fringe event at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester on Tuesday, the Tory backbencher accused the Mail and its owners, the Rothermere family, of doing "more to pursue the Nazi cause prewar" than any other publication. The Conservative MP for Richmond Park and North Kingston echoed the views of countless Twitter users by raising the Mail’s past associations with fascism and Nazism.

He said it was "odd for a newspaper to judge a man on the basis of the history of his family when that newspaper is owned by a family that did more to pursue the Nazi cause prewar than any other". 

Referencing Harold Harmsworth, the first Viscount Rothermere and proprietor of the Mail, who lavished praise on the Nazis in the run-up to the Second World War, Goldsmith remarked: "[Joseph] Goebbels himself wrote endless documents about Rothermere, describing him as being a strong ally and strongly against the Jews. Those are the words he used. ‘Strongly against the Jews’. Has Rothermere apologised? Have we ever had an apology from the Mail, or the Mail group, in relation to their history." 

The current Viscount Rothermere, Jonathan Harmsworth, is the chairman of DMGT, the publisher of the Daily Mail. Goldsmith continued: "Maybe they’ll say it doesn’t matter don’t judge a paper or current person on the back of their history. In which case. Leave the guy alone." I know not whether Jonathan Harmsworth is strongly against the Jews or pro-fascist I presume not. I do know though that he owns a rampant right-wing rag so it is legitimate, because his own paper says so, to ask was he influenced in his thinking by Rothermere. 

As I write the Mail group having apologised for the grave photo is now grovelling because a reporter was sent to a memorial service for Miliband’s uncle. I believe staff are being suspended: but fear not at the end of the day both Harmsworth and editor Dacre will still be firmly in place.

When the Miliband row first broke both Prime Minister David Cameron and his deputy Nick Clegg were quick to back Ed in defending his father. They could see where this was going. Not so the hapless Michael Gove. Gove, he who is of the opinion that people go to food banks because “they are not best able to manage their finances,” unlike Ralph Miliband, is obviously not one of the major intellects of his generation.

Gove also believes the Daily Mail has nothing to apologise to Miliband about and newspapers have the right to offend. Stupid man! Up to now a politician’s family, certainly the parents and grandparents, have been protected from scrutiny and attack by the media. What Cameron and Clegg immediately saw but Gove is blind to is whilst it is Miliband today - if this attack on his father is allowed to stand whose father is next? Or mother come to that or granny. Cameron’s? Clegg’s? Gove’s? Osborne’s? What did they say as teenagers that can be brought to bear against today’s politicians on the basis of what they said or did could have influenced them.

Make no mistake we are on a slippery slope. No surprise the Daily Mail is responsible for setting up this fairground  slide: but it is boggled eyed Gove who is the first down the slide on the mat waving as he goes like Toad of Toad Hall.

(The above article was published in the London Progressive Journal on October 4 2013 and in other publications).

Thursday, September 26, 2013


This afternoon (Tuesday) Labour Leader Ed Miliband made his keynote speech to his party’s annual conference in Brighton. Speaking as is now usual for more than hour without notes Miliband set out his vision of how “Britain can do better” under Labour, with an economy that works for “ordinary people once again”.
Whereas his previous two party addresses have established who Ed Miliband was and to set out his “One Nation” philosophy this speech added the message “Britain can do better” under Labour to those themes.
His words were given rapturous standing ovations as did his departure from the conference hall with wife Justine at his side as they walked through the cheering delegates to the sound of loud music followed by the media pack. However what was important for the Labour Leader is not whether the delegates “got it” but the nation at large.
Miliband pledged that his Labour Government would freeze gas and electricity bills for every home and business in the UK for 20 months if it wins the 2015 election. He added that energy firms had been overcharging “for too long” and it was time to “reset” the energy market.
He suggested he would support measures to give 16 and 17 year old votes in general elections. 
Miliband also promised Labour would build 200,000 new homes a year by 2020. 
The Labour Leader told delegates and the watching TV audience: “David Cameron talks about Britain being in a global race. But what he doesn’t tell you is that he thinks the only way Britain can win is for you to lose.” That means “the lowest wages, the worst terms and conditions, and the fewest rights at work - a race to the bottom. The only way we can win is in a race to the top.”
Miliband peppered his statements with the tag line: “We're Britain, we're better than this” earning cheers and applause from Labour’s activists. He received standing ovations for defending the NHS and promising to axe “the bedroom tax” - and tackled Tory criticism that he lacks leadership skills head-on, saying: “If they want to have a debate about leadership and character - be my guest.”
Echoing the message from his Shadow Cabinet colleagues over the week he told the party faithful, he had stood up to Murdoch, to vested interests on media regulation and the tobacco lobby as well as made the right call on Syria.
To find out what others thought I asked Lord Maurice Glasman who is a Miliband guru. He told me: “Ed finally defines his direction. Regional banks, living wage, interest rate cap, organizing, break up of oligopoly” all of which has been promised by Labour and Ed at this week’s conference. Yet Glasman also asks: “Can he hold the position?”
Next on my list was Neal Lawson who is Chairman of Compass which campaigns for The Good Society. He stated: “Ed’s speech was well delivered. Good lines and some good policy. But no theme or argument to carry a debate.”
So how do others see us? Amongst the international delegates was Terry Connolly. As his name suggests he is a member of Ireland’s Labour Party and organizes the PES activists in Europe. His view is very positive. “It was a powerful speech that showed that Ed Miliband is ready to become UK Prime Minister. He showed a strong commitment to the social democratic ideals of universality and outlined a clear vision of the future of the UK, a future which will be shaped by the Labour Party.”
Whether that future is shaped by Miliband and Labour is down to the great British voter.

(This article appeared in the London Progressive Journal on September 24 2013 and in other publications)