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Is Jeremy Clarkson's demise too much to hope for?

"This is how much I value my dignity"
In these times of mounting problems for the British establishment, all sorts of possibilities are opening up. As if the Murdoch empire, the government and the Metropolitan police being plunged into crisis weren't enough, it turns out Jeremy Clarkson may be tarnished by association with the phone hacking scandal.

I enjoyed this Guardian snippet about Clarkson, featured in an article about the so-called 'Chipping Norton set':

'One of the better-known personalities living nearby is Jeremy Clarkson, the Top Gear presenter and Sun columnist. It was at his Chipping Norton home that [Rebekah] Brooks met her second husband, Charlie, an old pal of Cameron's.

The prime minister even turned up for the launch of his latest thriller, Citizen. Cameron's close social links with the "set" are further evidenced, reportedly, by his willingness to appear as Top Gear's The Stig in a video tribute at Clarkson's 50th birthday party. The prime minister has also been known to go riding with Brooks.'

It really is a tawdry little world they live in, isn't it?

  • Written by Alex Snowdon
  • Category: Comment

What if Rupert Murdoch had never been born?

Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie - long before one was a national treasure and the other a hugely successful actor in US television - imagined a world (or London, anyway) without Murdoch, with a little help from classic film 'It's A Wonderful Life':

  • Written by Alex Snowdon
  • Category: Comment

Crisis? What crisis?

Cameron and Coulson
I noticed Independent columnist Steve Richard saying on Twitter that 'Miliband's definition on Marr of what is the 'centre ground' more important in long term than NOTW saga.'

If he really believes that he is doubly foolish: wrong to think Miliband's comments are significant, wrong to think the News International story is merely a big story now but possessing no lasting significance.

From Neil Kinnock onwards, Labour leaders have come out with vacuous rhetoric about the 'centre ground' of British politics - in a bid to prove they aren't remotely left-wing - about once a fortnight. A number of previous episodes had already indicated Miliband was hardly a break from this long tradition. His comments about opposing the public sector strikes were important, because they indicated how he's positioning Labour in relation to the trade unions and the anti-cuts movement.

But those earlier remarks - never mind his latest waffle on Andrew Marr's show - are certainly of less significance politically than what has happened over the last week with the deepening crisis in the Murdoch empire. Anyone like Richards who plays it down (echoes of Jim Callaghan's "Crisis? What crisis?"), and suggests there's little long-term impact, is asleep. They don't get it.

Someone who does get it is Paul Mason, who has written one of the best pieces on the whole crisis so far. He nails a number of things: this is an acute situation for News International, it has wider implications for the media, and it is a political crisis not just a media crisis. It is, at a deeper level, connected to power and questions about who runs our society. Mason starts by capturing the scope of the crisis:

'The Murdoch empire fractured, a Conservative prime minister attracting bets on his resignation, the Metropolitan Police on the edge of yet another existential crisis and the political establishment in disarray.'

Some people have downplayed the effect on Murdoch's larger empire, but that overlooks both the seriousness of failing to secure total control of BSkyB (a growing likelihood) and the way that huge problems in one part of the totality can - economically and politically - impact on the whole.
Others don't yet grasp the repercussions for politics, missing the extent to which Murdoch's power has extended into British politics. As Mason writes: 'this one goes to the heart of the way this country has been run, under both parties, for decades... key parts of the political machinery of Britain are wavering.'

It's not just that Cameron has been tarnished by association with Andy Coulson, which initial polling suggests is damaging to his personal approval ratings and to support for both his party and government. It's not even just the humiliation of culture secretary Jeremy Hunt's climbdown over the BSkyB deal. It is that 'a strategic break with the press barons' is necessary, throwing up new questions and uncertainties about the relationship between media and political power in this country.

The authority of major British institutions - of different elements in the ruling elite - had already suffered a long-term decline, a crisis in legitimacy. This last week's events could well take the distrust and hostility to new levels. The corruption of our democracy has been starkly revealed; in Mason's words, 'the whole web of influence has been uncovered'.

Arguments traditionally confined to the radical left - about the media, police and so on as instruments of class rule, economic power over-riding democracy, the limits of parliament - are thrust into mass consciousness and mainstream debate. It is a political crisis for those with power.

  • Written by Alex Snowdon
  • Category: Comment

Sign the pledge for Anti-War Assembly in Trafalgar Square

Tony Benn addressing a London anti-war rally
A special website has been set up for pledges to be in Trafalgar Square at a mass anti-war assembly on Saturday 8 October, the tenth anniversary of the war in Afghanistan and the 'war on terror', and -- not coincidentally -- the foundation of Stop the War Coalition. (http://www.antiwarassembly.org)

Join John Pilger, Tony Benn, Ahdaf Soueif, Brian Eno, Caroline
Lucas MP, Joe Glenton, Roger Lloyd Pack, Lindsey German and many
more in Trafalgar Square, and help make sure the world knows we want the troops home and an end to Britain's involvement in foreign wars.

You can join them by signing this pledge:

"I pledge that if British Troops are still in Afghanistan on the tenth anniversary of the invasion, I will join the mass assembly in Trafalgar Square on Saturday 8 October to make it clear to the government that they must not continue this brutal and pointless war in defiance of the will of the people."

SIGN THE PLEDGE NOW: http://www.antiwarassembly.org

The Antiwar Mass assembly has been called by Stop the War, CND and the British Muslim Initiative. It is being co-ordinated with a similar event in the United States, at Freedom Plaza, Washington, DC (SEE http://bit.ly/oUQ4I5).

Via a Stop the War Coalition circular.

  • Written by Alex Snowdon
  • Category: Comment

Rosa Luxemburg: reform or revolution

As a slight theoretical detour I'm posting this nugget of insight from Rosa Luxemburg:

'Legislative reform and revolution are not different methods of historic development that can be picked out at the pleasure from the counter of history, just as one chooses hot or cold sausages. Legislative reform and revolution are different factors in the development of class society. They condition and complement each other, and are at the same time reciprocally exclusive, as are the north and south poles, the bourgeoisie and proletariat.

Every legal constitution is the product of a revolution. In the history of classes, revolution is the act of political creation, while legislation is the political expression of the life of a society that has already come into being.

Work for reform does not contain its own force independent from revolution. During every historic period, work for reforms is carried on only in the direction given to it by the impetus of the last revolution and continues as long as the impulsion from the last revolution continues to make itself felt. Or, to put it more concretely, in each historic period work for reforms is carried on only in the framework of the social form created by the last revolution. Here is the kernel of the problem.

It is contrary to history to represent work for reforms as a long-drawn out revolution and revolution as a condensed series of reforms. A social transformation and a legislative reform do not differ according to their duration but according to their content. The secret of historic change through the utilisation of political power resides precisely in the transformation of simple quantitative modification into a new quality, or to speak more concretely, in the passage of an historic period from one given form of society to another.

That is why people who pronounce themselves in favour of the method of legislative reform in place and in contradistinction to the conquest of political power and social revolution, do not really choose a more tranquil, calmer and slower road to the same goal, but a different goal. Instead of taking a stand for the establishment of a new society they take a stand for surface modifications of the old society.

If we follow the political conceptions of revisionism, we arrive at the same conclusion that is reached when we follow the economic theories of revisionism. Our program becomes not the realisation of socialism, but the reform of capitalism; not the suppression of the wage labour system but the diminution of exploitation, that is, the suppression of the abuses of capitalism instead of suppression of capitalism itself.'

  • Written by Alex Snowdon
  • Category: Comment

Get Freedom for Palestine into the charts. Its our last chance - one final push!

Its our last chance – one final push is needed people! We have till midnight on Saturday to get as many sales as possible to get Freedom for Palestine in the charts. Don’t let the BBC censor Palestine – get your copy right this second and get texting and emailing to all your contacts asking [...]
  • Written by solomons mindfield
  • Category: Comment

Last Call for the CoR Conference - This Saturday 9th July

CoR Conference: help build a strategy to beat the cuts This Saturday the Coalition of Resistance will be holding our second National Conference. There will be resolutions debated from a wide range of our affiliated organisations. We will be discussing the strategy necessary to defeat the cuts and privatisation programme of this government. There will [...]
  • Written by solomons mindfield
  • Category: Comment

Take to the streets: the revolution is still on

Picture by Gigi Ibrahim. Suez, 7 July.
Via The Guardian:

'Egypt's military-backed transitional government is bracing itself for the largest protest yet against its rule on Friday with plans for a "million-strong" rally to defend the revolution at Tahrir Square.

In a rare show of unity, Egypt's largest political Islamist movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, will join a vast array of liberal, leftist and secular political forces, including youth representatives from this year's anti-Mubarak uprising. They will demand that police officers and former regime officials are finally held accountable and that the army's grip over the justice system comes to an end.

"Take to the streets on July 8: the revolution is still on," reads graffiti scrawled across the Egyptian capital.

The demonstration comes at a perilous time for the authorities, following 10 days of street violence in Cairo and Suez as public frustration at the slow pace of reform begins to grow.

On Wednesday, armed security forces fought running battles with civilians, after several police officers accused of murdering protesters during the toppling of former president Hosni Mubarak earlier this year were released on bail.

"The demands of the revolution have not changed since day one," declared the 25th January Revolution Youth Coalition in an online statement calling on Egyptians to join Friday's demonstration. "It was not just about toppling the old regime but about building a state where people can have freedom, dignity, rule of law and social justice."

Read the rest HERE.

Three things are worth noting. Firstly, while the article's main focus is on Cairo today, it's acknowledged that protests are happening elsewhere (also see the picture above from Suez) - and that today's demonstrations will be building on continual protest activity in recent days.

Secondly, The Muslim Brotherhood has shifted ground since 27 May, when it publicly condemned demonstrations in Tahrir Square and elsewhere. It is under great pressure, including from many of its own youth. The Brotherhood continues to play a highly contradictory role, torn between conflicting forces in Egyptian society. Participation now is vital to maintaining credibility with millions of Egyptian people. But it follows - it doesn't lead.

Finally, the emergence of popular assemblies isn't explicitly mentioned by the Guardian but it is happening. It is difficult to assess their scope and development from afar, but socialist activists have pointed to them as a crucial innovation. These are alternative forums and organising centres that convey a a more radical notion of democracy to the modest advances of the current transitional period with its myriad frustrations and failings.

Two weeks ago I wrote about the background to this: Egyptian left organises for 8 July mass protests

Also see my report from the recent Cairo Conference.

  • Written by Alex Snowdon
  • Category: Comment

Media, power, democracy: what's going wrong, and what can we do about it?

Counterfire public meeting - Wednesday 13 July at 7pm
Salsa Cafe, 89 Westgate Road, Newcastle

In recent days a major crisis for Rupert Murdoch's media empire has deepened rapidly, following shocking revelations of phone hacking by News of the World journalists and investigators.

This has exposed deeply unethical behaviour and collusion with corrupt police officers. What's going on in the press? Why has it been allowed to go this far?

The scandal also creates a crisis for David Cameron and his government. The disgraced News International chief exec Rebekah Brooks is a personal friend of the PM. Another former NOTW editor, Andy Coulson, was until recently Cameron's communications director.

This could rapidly become toxic for Cameron. What might the political implications of this week's events be?

We will discuss these and other issues in a special meeting, called by Counterfire in response to recent developments. This is a public forum, open to all. Please get along and let people know it is happening.

Facebook event: http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=119244024833046

  • Written by Alex Snowdon
  • Category: Comment

News of the World: what happens next?

David Cameron and Rebekah Brooks
The collapse of the News of the World follows revelations about phone hacking on an industrial scale, including more extreme behaviour than we could have imagined. The popular indignation which greeted the revelations - channelled into protest methods such as concerted lobbying of companies to force them to scrap advertising contracts - has forced the swift fall of a major newspaper.

It's a reminder of how rapidly things can change - just a few days ago this would have been unthinkable. A political crisis (this goes beyond the Murdoch empire to to the heart of government) can emerge unexpectedly and in places we wouldn't predict. It is a long-running scandal, but this week's events have brought about a radical shift in its scale and severity.

We have also been reminded of the power of popular pressure, especially when it targets the big money. The focus on lobbying advertisers appears to have been vital in deepening the crisis for News International.

However, this announcement should also be understood as a desperate attempt at damage limitation. That such an extraordinarily drastic measure is required gives us a sense of the crisis for Murdoch. But it's designed to stop the momentum for holding those at the top - notably Rebekah Brooks, chief executive of Rupert Murdoch's News International - accountable and pursuing serious independent and indeed criminal inquiries.

It is even being speculated that News International will launch a new Sunday tabloid (extending The Sun to Sundays). I'm sceptical about whether that can plausibly work after this week's damage. I certainly don't accept the claims of cynics that it's all really just a rebranding exercise - that underestimates the seriousness of current problems.

The direct economic damage has been minimal: a noteworthy fall on the stock exchange but hardly critical, and the NOTW provides only a small fraction of Murdoch's profits (satellite and cable television actually provide the lion's share of revenue). But the withdrawal by advertisers and threat of a consumer boycott have been complemented by acute anxieties about a crisis in one corner of the empire threatening the whole edifice. Reputation matters.

None of us should shed any tears for the demise of a vile newspaper like News of the World. It isn't just the shocking news of the last few days, though the phone hacking represents new depths to which it has sunk. This is - like sister newspaper The Sun - a viciously right-wing, pro-cuts newspaper which spews out propaganda serving elite interests. It is a paper which vilifies the most vulnerable people in society, sows divisions, and feeds racism and jingoism.

The current crisis weakens the power of the enormously powerful News International in our political life. It also causes jitters (to say the least) for much of the national press beyond Murdoch's control. The NOTW's collapse is a further crack - on top of this week's revelations - in the right-wing media.

But hundreds of journalists and other newspaper staff are not the criminals, and shouldn't be punished for the despicable behaviour allegedly sanctioned by Coulson and Brooks. Unions like the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) will of course fight on behalf of their members, who are paying the price for others' misdeeds.

The real price needs to be paid by those ultimately responsible. It is ludicrous that Brooks remains in her post. The campaign for her, and others culpable, to be held to account needs to step up a gear. We don't yet have any justice.

The announcement that a decision on Murdoch gaining total control of BSkyB is postponed until at least September is a result of pressure, such as the Avaaz petition and 38 Degrees petitions. But we must use the delay to promote the message that Murdoch cannot be allowed any more control of this country's media.

Media power should not become even more concentrated. This plan shouldn't even be on the political agenda. Why is it? Precisely because of Tory loyalty to the Murdoch press and a desperation to keep it on side. This issue is now likely to become the central focus for campaigning, not least because it matters so much - economically and politically - to Murdoch. But it's also vital because it goes to the crux of realtions between this government and a hugely influential media corporation.

A full independent inquiry, as wide ranging and comprehensive as possible (nothing off limits), is essential. Cameron and friends will be desperately hoping any inquiry can be contained in its remit and become a sop to enraged public opinion. They want us to forget Andy Coulson was, until January, the prime minister's communications chief. There also needs to be a serious investigation into police corruption - not merely the police investigating the police.

Tory culpability goes further. Tory politicians have obsequiously courted Murdoch and his newspapers, despite knowing of many of the phone hacking allegations. In fact the whole political class - with honourable exceptions like Labour MP Tom Watson (rarely has someone been so spectacularly vindicated!) - has cravenly sought approval from Murdoch's press.

Ed Miliband, after a hesitant start, at least has enough political nous to distance himself and his party from the taint of Murdoch. Whether that leads to a wider re-appraisal of Labour's populist approval-chasing, in its relations with the press, is another matter.

Politicans' servitude to wealthy and unelected media barons - committed to preserving the power of the whole capitalist class - has been part of the hollowing out of democracy. Until this week - when political leaders were forced by extreme circumstances to voice criticism - we have had so little parliamentary challenge to their power. And press regulation is toothless.

It also seems police officers have been directly corrupted, but the police's own ideological biases mean they were never likely to pursue the rich and powerful with much vigour. Those officers who were paid off should be sacked without delay.

All this takes the crisis beyond the press. I am normally reluctant to make predictions, but I'll predict that today is a long way from the end of the matter. The Guardian is reporting that Andy Coulson is to be arrested on suspicion of knowing far more than he's let on. Peter Oborne in the Telegraph wrote a coruscating attack on Cameron's own role, suggesting this could become toxic for the prime minister, causing damage he simply can't repair.

Widespread outrage will certainly not be satisfied by today's announcement: millions of people have a deep instinct for justice, and this isn't justice. They are fed up with powerful figures and institutions thinking they can do as they please - however unethical and loathsome their behaviour - without even a semblance of democratic checks and balances. They are determined that things must change in our media, our democracy, our politics.

What underpinned the NOTW's behaviour was a ruthless hunger for profits in a competitive marketplace. This market logic is why a number of other newspaper groups are not sitting too comfortably right now. They have plenty to hide too. The MPs' expenses scandal exposed a dimension to politics which had previously been obscured; this media scandal has done something similar for the press.

Ultimately we need media which aren't dominated by commercial imperatives - by a belief that the bottom line of profit justifies anything - and in the control of a small elite of very rich, powerful interests. There is a broader struggle here for another kind of media. The popular anger (and beginnings of campaigning action) in response to this week's developments opens up new possibilities in that long-term struggle.

Also see Des Freedman's Counterfire article - News of the World closure: another media is possible

  • Written by Alex Snowdon
  • Category: Comment

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