Harry's Notebook

Harry’s Notebook

No I’m not blogging again (honest, I can handle it) but I did say I would pop up from time to time with something like a column didn’t I? Anyway I’ve decided the best way is to occasionally put together, when time permits, a few of the things I might have written about if I was still blogging. I’ll call it Harry’s Notebook.

Denying the link

Within a few hours of the London bombings the anti-war voices in the media were demanding that Tony Blair and the government accept their view that there was a ‘link’ between brainwashed, religious fanatics committing mass murder on the underground and his support for the invasion of Iraq. For weeks we heard demands that the PM should ‘accept there is a link’ and an entire press conference was taken up with journalists trying to trap him into agreeing with their view. It was an outlook we were told that was simply ‘common sense’ and shared by ‘the overwhelming majority of the British public’.

Personally I wasn’t so sure that the murderous behaviour of brainwashed religious fanatics from West Yorkshire could be explained away purely as a response to the decision to free the Iraqi people from the rule of a man who has the deaths of a million Muslims on his hands. It seemed a little simplistic and, like so many attempts to ‘understand’ terrorism, seemed to ignore the fact that there are Islamist ideological movements committed to mass murder for a whole number of reasons and somewhat shifted the blame from the perpetrators – you know, the ones who actually blew people up.

But some links are stronger than others and it is rather odd that we haven’t heard much about such linkage this week. So, I’m going to offer my hypotheses: If there had not been an invasion of Iraq there would not have been a draft constitution for a federal and democratic Iraq created largely by democratically elected representatives of the Iraqi people. If there had not been an invasion of Iraq there would not have been a popular referendum on that constitution. And, if there had been no war to remove him from power, Saddam Hussein would not have been sat in a court room this week facing charges of crimes against humanity.

I’d say those are pretty firm links – almost linear in fact.

Will the anti-war critics accept those links? No, instead we have all manner of attempts to convince themselves that what is happening in Iraq isn’t really happening at all. It is not surprising given the anti-war argument insisted that the Americans were not interested in bringing democracy to Iraq. This view still has currency even though it is obvious that if the US had wanted to install a ‘friendly dictator’ they could have done so a few days after entering Baghdad and been out of the country a month or two later. Instead hundreds of their troops have died while Iraqi politicians have been negotiating the transition to democracy.

But whether or not the ‘main motivation’ for the Americans was the introduction of democracy to Iraq, there can be no doubt after the second mass display of voting, that the Iraqi people have shown their motivation is in ensuring the legacy of the war is a free Iraq. Surely, whatever our view of the decision to invade Iraq, we can all agree that is right to do all we can to help them reach that goal?

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Cheap point

One thing the Stoppers never tire of is the ‘who are we to…?’ argument.

How dare George Bush talk about ‘democracy’ in Iraq when he stole the US Presidential election? Who are we to lecture about ‘freedom’ in Iraq when an old man is frogmarched out of the Labour Party conference? How can we suggest Iraq has a ‘free’ media when Silvio Berlusconi supported the war? Etc etc etc. You know the drill.

Well for once I shall join in – sort of.

When will we also get a chance to vote for a constitution for a Federal, Democratic Republic?

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A Primary Choice

Something new happened in European politics last week but received surprisingly little attention. The Italian centre-left coalition, now under the name of ‘The Union’, decided that rather than produce a leader for next year’s general election via the usual route of intra-party bartering they would put the matter to their electorate.

So Romano Prodi, the former EU commissioner, was elected coalition leader via the American system of a primary. Around four million centre-left voters turned out to have their say and while the system was open to obvious abuse (there was nothing to stop right-wingers having a vote), by all accounts the event went well.

Could this be something worth considering for the UK? In Britain, party members have been demanding a greater say over leadership selection but why should the franchise stop with that small and necessarily unrepresentative group of people who, to their great credit, sign up to be active members of a political party?

Wouldn’t our parties have a greater chance of finding a successful and popular candidate if they asked their voters and potential voters who they wanted to see standing in a general election? Wouldn’t such a broad basis of consent for a candidate add to their legitimacy and wouldn’t the very process of going out to the public and campaigning add some spark to a democratic process widely viewed as struggling from lack of participation?

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Ken Clarke-County

Norm says that, unlike in the past, he was rooting against Ken Clarke in the election for the Tory leadership. I have to confess, on the contrary, to a sneaking hope that he would have emerged, against the odds, triumphant. The prospect of the Tory party running on a ‘No War for Oil – Troops Out Now’ platform was too delicious not to be at least partly tempted by.

Of course, it was fantasy just as it was highly unlikely that a man who had been endorsed so warmly by the Guardian was going to win anything, let alone the backing of Tory MP’s. Clarke has always appealed to the liberal left and my Tory friends suspect there is good reason for that. I expect he will take up a Max Hasting style slot on the Guardian’s opinion pages in the coming months.

Clarke’s end is the latest in a series of failed challenges from ‘popular anti-war’ candidates. Howard Dean was hailed as the exciting challenger to George W Bush but couldn’t even get the nomination of his own party. John Kerry was half-hearted on Iraq but still tried to press the right buttons for the Stoppers and was beaten by a man who for the past four years has been described in the mass media as an imbecilic monkey. In Australia, Mark Latham committed his party to a Troops Out of Iraq position and was beaten by the pro-war PM. Charles Kennedy’s position as leader of the Liberal Democrats has been brought into question after the anti-war stance of his party failed to bring the widely predicted electoral breakthrough while the pro-war British Prime Minister won a record third term. In Germany, Gerhard Schroeder’s anti-war stance did nothing to stop his electoral defeat to a woman who said she wanted to ‘mend fences’ with Washington.

Each of those failures has its own story but together they show that the media generated idea of an electorate seething over Iraq and determined to make pro-war politicians pay at the polls was and is a myth.

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Prohibition moves closer

An excellent letter to the New Statesman, republished by the SLF, makes a very pertinent point about the government’s wrong-headed drift towards a total ban on smoking in ‘public places’.

It seems ironic to me that a government which has seemed only too pleased to support Thatcherite market forces in so many areas of life should ignore them here, and go for old-style socialist social engineering. If the public wants smoke-free pubs, then fine, let them blossom, and never let it be said that non-smokers were prevented from enjoying their pints by a smoky atmosphere. If non-smoking pubs would be so popular, what stops them from opening up now?

In fact there is absolutely nothing to stop pub managers declaring their premises to be smoke free and one would imagine that in parts of London such places would be able to attract some custom from those who fret about having to wash their clothes after a night out. So why doesn’t it happen?

I suspect it is because pub managers know very well that most groups who go out drinking consist of a mix of people who smoke and people who don’t. Having a choice of a non-smoking pub to go to would force the anti-smokers in such mixed groups to decide whether they value the company of their friends more than ‘clean air’. And pub managers know that most people go out in order to socialise and not moralise. Smoke free pubs would become home only to the most zealous of anti-smokers.

The screamingly obvious solution to the ‘problem’ is for every pub to have spaces put aside for smokers and non-smokers – separate and ventilate, don’t legislate.

But the government’s policy isn’t driven by a desire to create the best possible environment in pubs for both smokers and non-smokers but rather is about trying to stop people smoking. It is a policy of prohibition and thus is doomed to failure. If Patricia Hewitt gets her way you smokers in central London might find it hard to enjoy the sinful activity of a pint and a fag but I can assure you that in the North of England there will be plenty of places where that simple and ancient pleasure will still carry on. Perhaps we will call those places Speakeasies?

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This week’s must-read article

Is from Kenan Malik in Prospect and is entitled Born in Bradford. It is only half the story, as the author doesn’t look at the impact of failed multiculturalist politics on the white working class, but he makes the vital point that “Multiculturalism did not create militant Islam, but it created a space for it within British Muslim communities that had not existed before. It fostered a more tribal nation, undermined progressive trends within the Muslim communities and strengthened the hand of conservative religious leaders.”

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