Friday, 25 February 2011

The Revolution, Wordsworth and Gil Scott Heron

As the revolution in Libya and across the Middle East heats up by the hour, it's worth standing back and making some cool observations. Contrary to what Gil Scott Heron once sang, the revolution is being televised. It's also being reported round the clock by the internet, Twitter and mobile phone. I can honestly say that I have seen more images of Libya in the past few weeks than I have in the 40 years of Gaddafi being in power. Unlike previous revolutions( the American, French, Russian, Iranian, Velvet, etc), modern technology gives us a ring side seat to the making of history.
One wonders what Wordsworth would have made of it? He, of course, hailed the French Revolution with the famous line:
"Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive".
Wordsworth was in France at the time and felt so blissful that he made a French girl pregnant. In later life, he moved politically to the Right and bought shares in railways - but he never forgot his enthusiasm for 1789.
No-one outside Libya seems to feel much bliss for their revolution. All the non-Libyan faces we see on TV have an unmistakable look of concern and worry. There are the relatives of UK nationals trapped in Libya - and their anxiety is easily understandable. There are also the worried faces of our leading politicians - and I think that their worries are founded on more than humanitarian concerns.
They are, of course, worried about the possible outcome of events. There is the possibility of Islamists coming to power in Libya and elsewhere. Failing that, they must be aware that the Libyans fighting Gaddafi feel some bitterness towards the west. One Libyan said on TV:
"All the western countries care about is oil"
Many seem to feel that not enough has been done by western countries to help them by pressurising Gaddafi. They are also aware that Gaddafi's forces have much weaponry supplied by the west - especially from Britain. As they will no doubt see it, international condemnation of Gaddafi has only become vocal now that he is so obviously losing the fight to stay in power. A future Libyan government might not forget this.
Things were so much easier in Wordsworth's day - he didn't have up to date news from Paris. Things were so much simpler.
 An updated version of his famous line might be:
"Stressed is it in this dawn to be alive".

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Red Faces - Left and Right

As the reports come in from Libya and Bahrain about how anti-government demonstrators are being shot down ( 200 reported dead in Libya), it occurs to me that a great number of people on the left and right should, if they have any shame, be highly embarrassed by events in the Middle East.
We never hear much nowadays about the Workers Revolutionary Party (WRP). In the 1970s, even people on the Far Left thought of them as a bunch of sectarian lunatics. They were most well known for the fact that Vanessa and Corin Redgrave were leading members. Less well known was the fact that they were vocal supporters of Colonel Gaddafi's Libya. I cannot be bothered to look at their website, but I hope that the WRP are withdrawing their support for the Bloody Colonel (are those pigs I see, flying in formation over London?).
It also needs to be noted that many MPs, of all parties, have had junkets to Libya and enjoyed the Colonel's hospitality. Western politicians must be hoping that if the Colonel is toppled, whatever government replaces him won't be too piqued at the fact that the West was becoming very friendly with their erstwhile leader.
Who knows? Maybe the Colonel and his followers will seek sanctuary here in the UK? As the Vietnamese say: "Only when the house is on fire do you see the faces of the rats".

Sunday, 13 February 2011

The Egyptian Revolution and a Book Recommendation

The Chinese statesman, Chou En-Lai, is reported as having said:
"The significance of the French Revolution? -- too early to tell." 
If that's true of the French Revolution, which began in 1789, then it is certainly true of the Egyptian Revolution, which is happening as I type. I wish the Egyptian people well - I hope that they achieve the freedom for which so many have struggled so valiantly and in pursuit of which, many people have died. It has been truly inspiring to watch the crowds in Tahrir Square and listen to them articulate their hopes and dreams for the future of Egypt. It shows once again that "people power" can still overturn tyrants and lead to a new dawn for democracy.
There have,of course, been voices expressing disquiet about events in Egypt. Some commentators have pointed out that the Muslim Brotherhood, a radical Islamic body, are waiting in the wings for their opportuntiy to seize power. 
At this point, I would like to refer readers to a book called "Secret Affairs - Britain's Collusion With Radical Islam" by Mark Curtis. It is a fascinating book to read, and there is insufficient space here to give much detail, as it goes back to the beginning of the 20th century. Enough then, is to say that there is a startling and shocking fact on practically every page. The book paints a grim picture of how successive British governments have used Jihadist groups against political leaders and regimes they disliked at the time, despite the fact that these same Jihadist groups weren't too fond of Britain, either. Curtis claims that Britain's policies (and those of the USA) have helped to create the Jihadi terror threat we face today.
In the case of Egypt, he details how British policy makers secretly conspired with the Muslim Brotherhood to assassinate President Nasser in the 1950s. This continued until a more pro-Western regime came to power in Egypt in the early 1970s, when all connections were severed with the Brotherhood.
No wonder some people listen to the victorious chants of the crowds in Tahrir Square with apprehension; they dread hearing the sound of chickens coming home to roost.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Pensions, the Public Sector and Cuts-A-Go-Go

With retirement looming, I wrote to my local MP expressing my concern about the switch from the Retail Price Index (RPI) to the Consumer Price Index (CPI). This is a matter of concern for teachers like myself and all public sector workers, whether retired or not. I didn't expect much in the way of a result from writing my letter, but the reply ran into two sides of A4. My MP began by saying that the priority was to reduce the national deficit. Taxpayers' money goes to enhance public sector pensions and "This cannot continue to be justified..." (i.e. we can't afford it). She went on to say:
"...Lord Hutton highlighted the importance of the public sector to the health of our society...Public sector pensions serve as a reward for public service".
I am sure that many public sector workers, already retired, would say that their pension isn't much of a reward for years of dedicated service, but there are serious issues to be dealt with here.
Commenting on the review, Dr Mary Bousted, General Secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), and no Bolshevik, said it was more "spin and myths" about public sector pensions.
She added: "It's total rubbish as usual. The average pension paid to a retired teacher is £9,000 a year, and £4,000 for a teaching assistant, which is far from gold-plated luxury as Lord Hutton agreed. All teachers contribute to their pensions and they are all in the same Teachers' Pension Scheme (TPS) - there are no "special" pension schemes for those in the top jobs, unlike the private sector, and the scheme's rules prevent anyone benefiting from large salary increases in their final few years."
Quite so, and I'm sure that colleagues in other branches of the public sector would agree that the image portrayed in the media of we over-subsidised public sector workers retiring on a taxpayer funded pot of gold is an outrageous myth. It also fails to take into account the fact that we also are taxpayers. Politicians of all parties should remember that we are voters too...