Category Archives: Politics

➤ Shapersofthe80s is declared an “invaluable website” by British historian

“winter of discontent” ,  Leicester Square, strikes,

Britain’s infamous “winter of discontent” that brought down the Labour government in 1979: as public service workers went on strike, rubbish piled-up even in London’s Leicester Square

Seasons in the Sun,Battle for Britain, Dominic Sandbrook, books, history, Allen Lane,❚ AN “INVALUABLE WEBSITE” — this is the verdict on Shapersofthe80s by historian Dominic Sandbrook, author of the rich new cultural analysis, Seasons in the Sun: The Battle for Britain, 1974–1979. It’s a doorstep of a book, yet highly readable, which reveals numerous upbeat aspects to the chaotic decade many write off as worthless.

Chapter 31 is especially inspirational! Sandbrook gives generous credit to key characters who Shapersofthe80s has long maintained deserve recognition as movers and shapers pivotal to the energy of the 80s. And, having quoted chunks from our own texts, the historian gives due acknowledgement in his extensive bibliography. Indeed, the scope of his research is more impressive than for much other contemporary history, as Sandbrook not only cites political and economic mandarins, but also sifts fine detail from popular culture and eye-witness reportage across the whole social spectrum.

Sandbrook writes: “Behind the lurid news stories, the late 1970s were the decisive point in our recent history. Across the country, a profound argument about the future of the nation was being played out, not just in families and schools but in everything from episodes of Doctor Who to singles by the Clash. These years marked the peak of trade union power and the apogee of an old working-class Britain – but they also saw the birth of home computers, the rise of the ready meal and the triumph of a Grantham grocer’s daughter who would change our history for ever”

Seasons in the Sun is the fourth title in Sandbrook’s survey of postwar Britain. His unstuffy combination of high and low life is behind the BBC2 series The Seventies currently viewable live and on iPlayer.

BBC2 series The Seventies,Seasons in the Sun ,Dominic Sandbrook

Sandbrook’s Seasons in the Sun forms the basis of the current BBC2 TV series The Seventies

REVIEWS OF SEASONS IN THE SUN

❏ “The first three volumes of Dominic Sandbrook’s epic history of Britain between 1956 and 1979 were exceptionally good. The fourth, Seasons in the Sun, is magnificent … marked by its pace, style, wit, narrative and characterisation as by its exhaustive research.” — Roger Hutchinson, Scotsman

❏ “Sandbrook has created a specific style of narrative history, blending high politics, social change and popular culture … his books are always readable and assured, and Seasons in the Sun is no exception … Anyone who genuinely believes we have never been so badly governed should read this splendid book.” — Stephen Robinson, Sunday Times

1977, Jayaben Desai, Grunwick, strike, picket

August 1977: Jayaben Desai, treasurer of the strike committee at the Grunwick photo-processing plant, had been picketing for a year, supported by white, male trade unionists while postmen blocked the company’s mail. (Photograph by Graham Wood/Getty)

EVEN WIDER PERSPECTIVE FROM LEADING PLAYWRIGHT

➢ Playwright David Edgar draws together the Sandbrook quartet in The Guardian, May 9, 2012: The 1970s was the moment when our century arrived… As Sandbrook insists, the women’s liberation movement was as much about Hull’s fishermen’s wives and female machinists at Ford Dagenham as feminist activists disrupting Miss World. In 1971, workers campaigning against the closure of Upper Clyde Shipbuilders borrowed the student tactic of the sit-in. As 1970s chronicler Andy Beckett argues, the gay groups who stood shoulder to shoulder with trade unionists outside Grunwick prefigured an alliance which “would become commonplace in the decade to come”. The identity politics that were to become such a satirised feature of the left of the 1970s arose not just out of campus and culture but class war… / continued at Guardian online

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➤ Lest we forget the 907 Falklands dead and the 1,965 injured

Belgrano, sinking, Falklands, 1982

May 2, 1982: ARA General Belgrano lists heavily to port in the Atlantic Ocean, while its crew abandon ship. Sailor’s picture via Press Association

❚ TODAY WAS THE DAY 30 YEARS AGO that prime Minister Margaret Thatcher took Britain to war in the South Atlantic Ocean, all because a repressive dictatorship in Argentina had occcupied a tiny island with a handful of marines posing as scrap merchants. Since the 1800s, Britain had asserted sovereignty over the Falkland Islands (population 1,800) and its neighbouring dependencies, while Argentina repeatedly claimed its sovereignty over the colony it knew as the Islas Malvinas. They lie 300 miles away from Argentina and 8,000 miles from the UK.

Neither nation formally declared war on the other, yet the 74-day conflict led to the deaths of 649 Argentine and 255 British servicemen and 3 Falklands Island civilians. There were 1,188 Argentine non-fatal casualties and 777 British. The whole tragic saga was made more complex when the US declined to intervene because its Central Intelligence Agency had supported the military junta of Leopoldo Galtieri, the President of Argentina, against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua.

One month to the day after the Argentinian invasion, Sunday May 2, the British war cabinet headed by Margaret Thatcher, met at Chequers, the prime minister’s weekend retreat, and unanimously agreed to a naval order to sink the Argentine warship, General Belgrano, in the South Atlantic.

The Sun, Gotcha, 1982, Belgrano, Falklands War,Subsequently, to its eternal shame, Britain’s biggest selling daily paper The Sun boasted in its most notorious headline: “GOTCHA”. This rabid jingoism by middle-aged politicians and armchair media generals alike, as they relived memories of World War Two, drove a wedge into the generation gap that has never been equalled. Those of us under 40 — too young to remember WW2 — were appalled that a simmering 150-year-old squabble with Argentina over sovereignty of the Falkland Islands should now warrant military action by Britain. We were even more appalled at the near-total, gung-ho media hype that blessed it.

Britain initiated the first naval loss at 4pm that Sunday when the nuclear-powered submarine HMS Conqueror fired a pattern of torpedoes at the Belgrano which was patrolling south of the Falklands. Two struck the vintage light cruiser and within 20 minutes its captain ordered his men to abandon ship. It was more than a day before 770 were rescued from the open ocean. Meanwhile 323 crew had died.

In their superbly detailed chronicle The Battle for the Falklands (1983, republished 2012), journalists Max Hastings and Simon Jenkins report the reasoning of a senior British commander: “You have got to start something like this by showing that you’re bloody good and you’re determined to win.” After the sinking, a British destroyer captain said when he broke the news to his ship’s company: “There was a mixture of horror and disbelief. There certainly wasn’t any pride.” The legitimacy of this British action remains the subject of controversy today.

Retribution followed two days later, on May 4. An Argentine Exocet missile struck the British destroyer HMS Sheffield amidships, with devastating effect, ultimately killing 20 crew members and severely injuring 24 others. The ship sank six days later. In the Royal Navy, Hastings reported, officers and men were shocked at the ease with which a single enemy aircraft had destroyed a warship specifically designed for air defence.

On June 8, at Bluff Cove on East Falkland, Argentine aircraft bombed Britain’s civilian-manned landing ships Sir Galahad and Sir Tristram, causing the biggest loss of British forces in the conflict. A total of 32 Welsh Guards died, and 150 men suffered burns and injuries.

Bluff Cove, Falklands war,Sir Galahad,

Britain’s civilian-manned vessel Sir Galahad ablaze after the Argentine air raid on East Falkland, June 8, 1982. This videograb comes from newly unearthed footage shot by guardsman Tracy Evans, which is viewable on the BBC news website

➢ Welsh Guard’s film shows Falklands War scenes for first time (above)

➢ Falklands War 30 years on — by Simon Jenkins who co-authored the most detailed account of the conflict: “How British PM’s lucky gamble turned Thatcher into a world celebrity, not only repelled the Argentinian invasion but also paved way for her ideological reforms.”

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➤ Happy golden anniversary to Lord Gnome, Glenda Slagg, Topes, O’Booze, Knacker, Knee and especially Gnome-Mart’s theme tune

Private Eye, First 50 Years,magazine covers,satire
❚ HOW ONE MAGAZINE has enriched a nation’s vocabulary over 50 years is evidenced by the enormous page at Wikipedia, detailing euphemisms for sex (“Ugandan discussions”) and drunkenness (“tired and emotional”), and the eternal cast of daft characters from public life, as headlined above.

October 25, 1961, saw the first issue of Private Eye as a silly-jokes threat to the ancient humourous periodical, Punch. The Eye was quickly given a worthy role by the nation’s thirst for incisive satirical critiquing of all aspects of the British Way of Life, the irony being that today the Eye itself has become an institutional beacon in the democratic process. As editor for the past 25 years, Ian Hislop’s best boast is that he is the most sued man in Britain, libel writs being substantially provoked by the rear-end pages of sound investigative journalism. Not a bad metamorphosis. Is it then churlish to mention that what some of us really, really miss are the hilarious sketches once enacted on 7-inch flexi-discs attached to the cover and given away with the Christmas issues? [See below]

➢ Private Eye’s own library of epochal covers

➢ Bags of Private Eye memorabilia as Creative Review previews the new V&A studio display paying homage to the magazine’s humourists

➢ Direct link to the V&A’s video and display Private Eye: The First 50 Years, running October 18 to January 8

Private Eye, First 50 Years,magazine covers,satire,humour
❏ Back in the 1960s the then new technology of offset litho encouraged cut-and-paste techniques such as the DIY speech balloon photograph (one Queen and a bevy of prime ministers, above). This didn’t stop the Eye from becoming a prominent outlet for the nation’s leading cartoonists (the Thompson effort below appears in the V&A display).
Private Eye, First 50 Years,satire,V&A exhibition,humour, cartoons

GNOME-MART’S CACOPHONY OF CELEBRATION

Private Eye, 50th anniversary, issue No 1300, Gnome-Mart,satire ➢ The Eye celebrates its 50th anniversary with issue No 1300 and at its website a page of unfunny audio recordings that simply don’t come close to the efforts 40 years ago of Peter Cook, Willie Rushton & Co.

➢ Update Nov 5: Fortunately The Grauniad has released an exclusive CD of classic audio sketches made by Private Eye legends Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Eleanor Bron, Willie Rushton, John Wells and Richard Ingrams — 34 excerpts spread over 40 minutes include Grocer Heath, E J Thribb, Farginson, I Musicci di Neasden, Inspector Knacker and many more favourites.

➢ The full archive of Private Eye recordings made by Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Barry Humphries, John Wells, John Bird, Barry Fantoni, Richard Ingrams and Spike Milligan – plus rare photos, video clips and historical notes – can be found at privateeyerecords.com. The whole catalogue of Golden Satiricals is due for release on CD in January 2012.

➢ Whistleblowers and those with a social conscience can download past Eye investigations into subjects such as NHS whistleblowers; How Britain’s poverty relief fund abandoned the poor; full background to the ACTIS-CDC sell-off; How Blair’s government blew £12.4bn on useless IT for the NHS; deaths of four young recruits at the Deepcut army barracks, etc.

Private Eye, 50th anniversary, privateeyerecords, Gnome-Mart,satire,CD,Golden Satiricals

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2001 ➤ The other 9/11 assassination: could Massoud have become his nation’s spiritual leader?

Ahmad Shah Massoud and followers photographed by the Japanese photographer and anthropologist Hiromi Nagakura who knew him over two decades... “Massoud said to me, ‘We are fighting against terrorism. If we don’t fight here, the war will only expand.’ After September 11, I finally understood what he was talking about.”

❚ SUNDAY IS THE TENTH ANNIVERSARY of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States, but this week also marks a decade since Al Qaeda assassinated the one figure who was holding out against its protectors, the Taliban. This was Ahmad Shah Massoud, an Afghan guerrilla commander known variously as The Lion of Panjshir and the Afghan Che Guevara who became the nation’s defence minister. Following his death he was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, declared a National Hero of Afghanistan and Sept 9 is now observed there as a national holiday known as Massoud Day.

He was assassinated at the age of 48 two days before the Twin Towers fell, ostensibly as part of the 9/11 process to draw the US into the Afghan war in 2001. Two Tunisian suicide bombers posed as overseas television journalists to interview Massoud in Khvajeh Ba Odin, a small village in north Afghanistan, where they detonated a bomb hidden in their camera.

Ahmad Shah Massoud, postage stampIn 1996, during the civil war in Afghanistan, the Taliban seized the capital city, Kabul, and soon the majority of their fighting force were soldiers imported from abroad by Al Qaeda, the Sunni Islamist militant group founded by Osama Bin Laden and designated a terrorist organisation by the United Nations.

In 1989, Massoud had been instrumental in driving the Soviet army out of Afghanistan. In the 90s, with the Taliban gaining control of 90% of the country, he opposed them by creating the United Front (Northern Alliance), and so posed a constant threat to Al Qaeda.

What was revealed only last December, when the 30-year rule released previously secret UK Cabinet papers, was that western powers had decided in 1980 to provide “discreet support for Afghan guerrilla resistance” after the Soviet invasion of their country. This not only meant Britain secretly supplying arms to Massoud, but also that one faction of the mujahideen fighters were covertly funded by the CIA. These went on to become founding members of the Al Qaeda terrorist network.

➢ Afghanistan’s “lost pillar of stability” — Listen to yesterday’s flagship Today show on BBC Radio 4, when security correspondent Gordon Corera discussed why Massoud had to die before the Twin Towers fell. If he had lived, many believe Massoud would have become a vital pillar of stability for his nation.

Massoud Tomb, Afghanistan,video,DocsOnline

Annual pilgrimage: Ahmad Shah Massoud’s chauffeur brings flowers from his leader’s garden to his tomb overlooking the Panjshir Valley. (Grabbed from video documentary by Iqbal Malhotra)

➢ VIEW a scene from Ahmad Shah Massoud, a documentary (above) by Indian film-maker Iqbal Malhotra (from DocsOnline)

An Intimate Portrait of the
Legendary Afghan Leader

A freedom fighter, a warrior, a man of God, an intellectual, a humanitarian, a liberal… the list goes on. Massoud was a renaissance man, though his modesty would never acknowledge it. This is perhaps his greatest quality – humility. Unlike radical leaders such as Che Guevara, his desires were modest: Freedom and prosperity for his people.

Massoud was a passionate enemy of terrorism. He strongly objected to any terrorist-style actions by mujahideen during the war with the Soviets, and identified the war against the Taliban as a war against terrorism.

Massoud was a deeply spiritual man and a devout Muslim. It is important to make these distinctions, for “Massoud the man” has perhaps more in common with Mahatma Gandhi than Che. We are exposed to a man of grace, who revelled in the beauty of his country and his creed.

➢ Read more: the biography of Massoud by Marcela Grad is appraised by Justin McCauley in the Vienna Review of Books

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➤ The four catastrophes Martin Luther King foresaw

Martin Luther King Jr, Memorial,Washington

The Martin Luther King Jr National Memorial was to have been dedicated on Sunday, the 48th anniversary of Dr King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Photograph by Philip Scott Andrews/The New York Times

Martin Luther King Jr is weeping from his grave, writes the philosopher and Princeton professor, Cornel West, in today’s New York Times …

❚ THE MARTIN LUTHER KING JR MEMORIAL was to be dedicated on the National Mall on Sunday — exactly 56 years after the murder of Emmett Till in Mississippi and 48 years after the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. (Because of Hurricane Irene, the ceremony has been postponed.)

On the Sunday after his assassination, in 1968, Dr King was to have preached a sermon titled “Why America May Go to Hell.”

King did not think that America ought to go to hell, but rather that it might go to hell owing to its economic injustice, cultural decay and political paralysis. He was not an American Gibbon, chronicling the decline and fall of the American empire, but a courageous and visionary Christian blues man, fighting with style and love in the face of the four catastrophes he identified…

Martin Luther King Jr, sermon,Why America May Go to Hell,

Martin Luther King: an unpreached sermon titled “Why America May Go to Hell”

1 Militarism is an imperial catastrophe that has produced a military-industrial complex and national security state and warped the country’s priorities and stature (as with the immoral drones, dropping bombs on innocent civilians).

2 Materialism is a spiritual catastrophe, promoted by a corporate media multiplex and a culture industry that have hardened the hearts of hard-core consumers and coarsened the consciences of would-be citizens. Clever gimmicks of mass distraction yield a cheap soulcraft of addicted and self-medicated narcissists.

3 Racism is a moral catastrophe, most graphically seen in the prison industrial complex and targeted police surveillance in black and brown ghettos rendered invisible in public discourse. Arbitrary uses of the law — in the name of the “war” on drugs — have produced, in the legal scholar Michelle Alexander’s apt phrase, a new Jim Crow of mass incarceration.

4 And poverty is an economic catastrophe, inseparable from the power of greedy oligarchs and avaricious plutocrats indifferent to the misery of poor children, elderly citizens and working people.

➢ Sounds familiar? Continue reading Martin Luther King Jr weeps from his grave, at the NYT

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