Copyright © LeftCentral. All Rights Reserved

Copyright ©  LeftCentral. All Rights Reserved

Review of Simon Schama – The Story of the Jews Episode 5: Return

LeftCentral Review

This final episode deals with the creation of the state of Israel, it begins on Yom HaShoah. We hear a siren wail; symbolically life comes to a stop, busy traffic, hospitals, colleges all the bustle of daily life grinds to a halt. People desist from chatter, as they are filmed standing in complete silence, attempting to remember an event which as Simon Schama says, is beyond words. He then explains that the state of Israel contains 50% of the world’s Jewish population, six million people, each survivor representing a defeat for the Nazi programme of total extermination. The Holocaust, argues Schama, finally made the moral case for the creation of Israel. Not only because of what the Nazis did but what everyone else failed to do. Read more of this post

Orwell and Loach on Spain

Dr Alan Sennett  

Even for the well read lay person, the politics of Republican Spain during the 1936-39 civil war can appear baffling. A viewing of Ken Loach’s 1995 film Land and Freedom raises more questions than could possibly be answered in a standard length feature film.   Familiarity with George Orwell’s 1938 account Homage to Catalonia fills in much detail and has clearly provided both source material and inspiration for screenwriter Jim Allen.  For those with a deeper knowledge of the micro-politics of the Spanish Left, the contributions of Andy Durgan, Loach’s historical advisor and expert on the Catalan dissident communists, are also evident.  Yet the reasons behind the main protagonist’s disillusion with the official Communist movement, at one point prompting him to tear up his CPGB party card in disgust, might still appear unclear.  Ideally the viewer needs an appreciation of the origins and context of the dispute between those who saw an organic connection between the struggle against fascism and what they believed to be an ongoing social revolution, and those who viewed the fight as solely a defence of democracy with revolution an unwelcome distraction.  Much can be explained by analysing the film’s key political scene.  Yet it has to be said that both Loach’s film and Orwell’s account must be approached with a critical eye. Read more of this post

Cameron and the Referendum Game

Tom McGuire 

copyrigh European Union 2012 Council Union

David Cameron finally gave his long-awaited speech on Britain’s relationship with the EU last Wednesday morning promising Britain an in/out referendum on its membership of the EU. This referendum would come after the next election, and only if he does not succeed in changing the relationship as he hopes to over the coming months, and indeed years. This appeared to be a bold and surprising move from a Prime Minister usually averse to making his position so clear. Beneath the surface it was vintage David Cameron; the Prime Minister distilled into his purest form, in the shape of this one speech.

The promise of a referendum was that special type of promise: the David Cameron promise, the kind that upon closer inspection is nothing of the sort. Making any firm pledge on ‘when-I-win-the-next-election’ grounds is dubious for any politician; it is particularly problematic for David Cameron. With the Lib Dems withdrawal of support for boundary changes he seems increasingly unlikely to command an outright majority after 2015, having failed to win one in 2010 when it was his to lose. We have also seen the Prime Minister twist, turn and weasel his way out of a number of apparently firm positions on a variety of issues throughout his term of office. Most recently, most glaringly and most shockingly, when he overturned his prior assertion that he would adopt the recommendations of the Leveson Inquiry if they were not ‘bonkers’. They weren’t, he didn’t, and tellingly nobody was remotely surprised. This is a man whose promises carry little weight, even by politicians’ standards. Read more of this post

Book Review: A Life of Dissent by Christopher J. Walker

Tom McGuire

Copyright The National Archives UK`s photostream

A biography of Oliver Baldwin, 2nd Earl Baldwin and the elder son of Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin; a socialist Labour MP, and Governer General of the Leeward Islands. His was a complicated and full life of contradictions and colour, told in full for the first time by Christopher Walker.

Born into the traditional British establishment Oliver Baldwin went to Eton before the First World War broke out when he joined up and fought with great distinction at the age of eighteen. Following the war he was sent to Armenia as a military advisor, captured and imprisoned by the Soviets and then the Turks: by the age of twenty-one he had seen more from life than many Brits back then saw in a lifetime. At this point Baldwin takes a very different path to that of his upper class peers. He left Britain to travel the world, supplementing his jaunts with work as a travel writer; he returned to Britain the gay (at a time when homosexuality remained illegal in Britain) and Marxist son of the Prime Minister. In the years that followed Baldwin continued his journalism and became a Labour MP (sitting opposite his father in the Commons), a playwright, novelist, and eventually returned to military duty when the Second World War came calling.

After the war the Labour government (that he had been part of until the death of his father meant he had to move to the Lords) sent him to the Caribbean as Governor General of the Leeward Islands where he caused trouble by supporting the natives in calls for greater economic freedom from the British businessmen who owned the sugar plantations and was eventually recalled. Read more of this post

Why we should mix Politics with Sport

Georgia Lewis 

Image © Morning Calm News

This week, mass laughter has been the overwhelming reaction to the South Korean flag appearing on screen just as the North Korean women’s football team was about to take to the pitch. Cock-ups like this are funny, and are as inevitable at events on the scale of the Olympics as the overreactions from the aggrieved parties. But should North Korea even be allowed to participate in the Games at all?

It is a challenging question because, on one hand, it is a great opportunity for North Korean athletes to see a bit more of the wider world and it can help bridge gaps between the rest of the world and one of the planet’s most secretive nations. Then again, with their constant threats to world peace and internal human rights abuses, should they be banned to send a strong message to the government that it should not treat its own people so appallingly and expect to be part of the global community? But if we exclude North Korea from the Games, do we also exclude China? Bahrain? Saudi Arabia? The US, even? Hell, should my own country, Australia, be excluded as a protest against the mandatory detention of asylum seekers, including children? Pretty soon, we’d end up with a very small Olympics indeed. The modern Olympic movement has grown since 1896, when just 14 countries competed, to become a global event – regardless of what you might think of the billions of taxpayer pounds spent on the games, the principle of bringing the countries of the world together is not all bad.

But to try and separate politics from any sport, let alone the Olympics is naive in the extreme. And again, this isn’t always a bad thing. Jesse Owens’ magnificent achievement at the 1936 Berlin Games made a mockery of Hitler’s ludicrous and lethal Aryan master race ideology. The image from the 1968 Games in Mexico City of Men’s 200m gold medallist Tommie Smith and bronze medallist John Carlos with their heads down and fists raised in the black power salute is one of the most powerful protest images of all time. In 1980, the Moscow Games was marred by a 61-nation boycott led by the US over the USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan – a boycott that looks rather bizarre in light of the polarising US presence in the Middle East to this day.  Read more of this post

Observations on Las Malvinas

Jasper Cox 

Image © jjay69

I recently spent a month in Argentina volunteering at a local radio station. As a Briton, I was a bit anxious about going into a country where tensions over Las Malvinas are running high, particularly after seeing the warnings on the Foreign Office website. The legacy of the war and the sovereignty of islands about 1,500 km from Buenos Aires still ignite passions.

On arrival in Argentina, the most obvious sign is from the graffiti. In Argentina, street art is incredibly political. This extends to foreign affairs, i.e., about how Las Malvinas are Argentinean (I can’t envisage seeing ‘EU referendum now!’ scrawled on the side of a wall in the Home Counties). After a bit more time in Argentina you notice the government propaganda, for example a sign at the entrance to a town saying the islands are Argentinean, and the infamous London 2012 advert on television. When you tell someone you are English, you are likely to get asked about football (Argentineans like the Premiership and in particular Manchester City) and maybe afterwards about the Falklands. Most Argentineans unsurprisingly think the islands do not belong to us. I think I should say at this point that I never felt threatened or scared because of my nationality. Most awkward questions are not asked in total seriousness and can be deflected with a bit of humour. Clearly there is less interest in the issue in Britain.  This YouGov poll measured opinions between residents of both countries. When asked How important an issue, if at all, do you think the Falkland Islands are to the UK? 25% of British people answered that the islands are very important to the UK. When Argentines were asked the corresponding question about Argentina, 56% answered very important.

However, the issue is easily exploited for political gains on both sides of the Atlantic. Christine Kirchner knows that when she talks about the islands she can unite the nation behind her. Kirchner won convincingly in the last elections, but her relationship with the unions is cracking, whilst there are protests about the government’s attempts to reduce the use of US dollars. In this context especially, it is useful to paint a foreign country as the enemy. The same applies to some extent to our politicians. David Cameron looks strong when he appears to be standing up for Britain, even though the prospect of a direct war in the 21st century between two democratically elected governments which are both members of the UN is very small. However, scaremongering helps both the government and the military. When military people claim our army would no longer be able to defend the Falklands, it sounds to me like a plea for more funding.  Read more of this post

The Falkland Islands: How much has the game changed?

Daniel Crump 

Image © Tiger 2000

It was announced this week that the residents of the Falkland Islands will hold a referendum on their political status in 2013. The main focus of which will be their links with the United Kingdom, with 1,600 registered voters on the Islands deciding whether to remain under British rule or back Christina Fernandez’s view that ‘Las Malvinas’ should be a part of Argentina.

Views are mixed as to the seriousness of the escalated tension between the British and Argentine governments over the last few months. Some see the situation as harmless sabre rattling which should have been anticipated given that 2012 is the 30th anniversary of the 1982 War. Others are choosing to read more into the rhetorical exchanges between David Cameron and Mrs. Fernandez. Governments are rarely prepared to answer too many questions on their willingness to enter into global conflict through fear of provoking unnecessary alarm, but what can we divulge from the rhetoric so far, and what are the main areas of concern?

A different kind of Cold War?

Whilst categorically denying that their own country is willing to enter into a new conflict, both governments are doing their best to show that the other one might be. Britain is accusing Christina Fernandez of pandering to the staunch nationalists in Argentina and using bullish language, on the 30th anniversary of the Falklands War, to increase her approval ratings. For its part, Argentina has accused Britain of stepping up its military presence on the Islands and viewed Prince William’s recent visit as an obvious sign of disrespect.

Underlying all of this, the Falklands dispute has always involved, to a certain extent, concerns over natural resources, particularly oil. According to Argentine observers, the Falklands are an important strategic asset for the UK and give them an important route into Antarctica, which is seen as a potentially crucial area for future oil extraction. Many Argentines also recognise the cost of allowing the British to seize important natural resources so close to their own shores. Indeed, a significant part of the Military Junta’s reasoning 30 years ago was the possibility of improving their economic situation at home, and turning public opinion in their favour as a result.

The Dangerous Mrs. Fernandez?

Christina Fernandez is not leading a military junta. As a democratically elected figure, she is accountable to the people of Argentina and has historically shown her support for international law. There is also an unwritten rule in International Relations theory that democracies have much more to lose from war, and are therefore less likely to instigate a conflict than dictatorships, say.  Read more of this post

Are Israel’s days numbered?

Alex Clackson 

Image © Maxnathans

The saga between Israel and Palestine has been ongoing for many decades now, resembling a long dark corridor with no end in sight. For many years, through the financial and military support from the United States, Israel has been able to develop and prevent any moral or physical assault from Palestine and its allies. However, over the last few years we have seen a slow, but sure change in opinion. Through non-mainstream media and organizations like BDS (a campaign of boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel) and finally individual human rights activists, the world is waking up to the realisation that Israel is not the perfect liberal state among the “dangerous” Arab nations as it wants to be seen. As Norman Finkelstein has said in his most recent book, “Even the American Jews are turning their backs on Israel.” It is becoming clearer that the only life support system the Israeli machine can rely on is the American Israel lobby.

Despite the fast changing opinion on the Jewish state, Israel continues to act in a way which further pushes it away from the support Israel is so used to receiving from the Western powers. The Palestinian’s quest for a state of their own has been as futile as ever, as the Israelis continue to build on land that is supposed to form the basis of Palestine. Nearly three years ago Mr. Netanyahu said he accepted the principle of two states, Jewish and Palestinian, existing side by side in peace and security. But he has since shown precious little appetite for putting that principle into practice. Despite admonitions from the State Department, Netanyahu’s government has continued to approve and/or legalize settlement constructions in Jerusalem and the West Bank following the expiration of a freeze on settlement construction in September, 2010.

Even the Israeli politicians are starting to understand the thin thread the Jewish state is walking on.  In an interview published in the Times of Israel, Dan Meridor, the Israeli minister delivered harsh words to his colleagues who have overseen the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Meridor warned that the current calm in relations with the Palestinians might be producing “an illusion” among Israelis “that this is sustainable in the long term. It is not. It is an anomaly. We need to change it.”

In addition, the deputy prime minister of Israel has urged the government to freeze further settlements “across the line of the [settlement] blocs or the fence or whatever you call it,” a reference to the Israeli West Bank barrier which is partially built along the 1949 armistice line, or “Green Line.”  Read more of this post

Obama vs. Romney: the world is watching

Daniel Crump 

Image © Rivarix

Matters of foreign policy do not tend to be first on the list of a voter’s priorities coming up to an election, especially in times of economic turmoil. When US voters go to the polls in November they will be asking themselves when unemployment is going to fall, whether the health care system will continue to be of benefit to them and how much money they will have in their pockets once they retire. Perhaps, then, the sensible move on the part of the contenders is to downplay talk of foreign issues and concentrate on the economy.

However, history has taught us that many a presidency has come to be defined by a set of decisions related to manoeuvrings on the world stage. Kennedy’s record was arguably saved from the humiliation of the Bay of Pigs by his firmness during the Cuban Missile Crisis. What respect George Bush Sr. may have lost in failing to capture Saddam Hussein in the first Gulf War, he made up for with his role in German Unification in the early 90’s.

Are we asking the right question?

In the run up to November’s vote, it is perhaps unhelpful to ask whether Barack Obama or Mitt Romney would best serve the US’s interests on the world stage. The question people ought to be asking is whether a first term president is preferable to one in his second term. This is the case for two main reasons. Firstly, a President’s first term in office has always been more about dealing with the footprint left by the previous administration than about imposing his own foreign policy vision. Secondly, foreign policy is by nature reactionary. No matter how concise a doctrine exists at the outset, there are certain events that one can simply not prepare for.

To argue the first case, we need only go back four years when Obama officially inherited two wars from George Bush Jr. It was clear, despite his commendable desire to ease tensions with Iran, that his Middle Eastern policy was going to be dictated by how the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan played out. It is certainly no secret that Iranian involvement in the Iraq War was one of the biggest obstacles the President was going to have to overcome if peace between Tehran and Washington was reachable. U.S officials insist that the training of Militant Shiite groups in Iraq by Iranian forces has been a huge challenge for the US army. Iran is said to view Iraq as a potential buffer zone from any future invasion, most likely by the US’s main ally, Israel. Similarly, George Bush’s unavoidable presence in Afghanistan was always going to make Obama’s relationship with Islamabad one on permanent knife edge.  Read more of this post

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