Thursday, 29 January 2009

De-crunching the Credit Crunch

Struggling to de-tangle your collateralised debt obligations from your structured investment vehicles? What about your credit default swaps from your mark-to-market accounting? Well, you are not alone and help is at hand. Jeff Madrick, author of The Case for Big Government, has written the clearest account of the Credit Crunch that I've read to date. It's in the current edition of the New York Review of Books and also presents a clear proposition on what to do now.

No excuse for mixing up your Bear Stearns with your bull-logoed Merrill Lynch now.

Labour's new technology

Right, I've had a play with Labour's new virtual phonebank that allows party members to make calls to voters from the comfort of their own home. Here's John Prescott demonstrating it:

It is, of course, a copy of Obama's system with the difference that it is not openly accessible. This is not coincidental. But it works, it's effective, and it's extremely well designed. Somebody is doing some serious good in Labour HQ.

The thing that made this tool so effective for Obama wasn't the technology. It was the motivation to use the technology. The big lessons from Obama's campaign weren't the micro ones, important though they were to capturing the inspiration in a useful way. The most important ones were the big lessons: how you can build a story of renewal, communicate that, and build a movement behind it.

So it is really very good to see these innovations- the Tories will have their own version of it very soon I'm sure- but let's not lose sight of the bigger discussion whatever the wizardry.

The ex-files

An article on the leaving of office by George W Bush and others.....

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

DEC appeal not about the rights or wrongs of the conflict

Obsolete makes the point that you can never have true objectivity. Actually, the DEC's video appeal does present a pretty balanced case. It says very clearly at the beginning 'it is not about the rights and wrongs of the conflict.' This is a humanitarian appeal and this allows me to give another opportunity for a donation to be made- a basic plea for help without any need to resort to post-modernist analysis!

Post script: James Forsyth has a post on this over at Coffee House. His argument leads to the inevitable conclusion that you can not have a humanitarian appeal in the event of there being controversy around a conflict. What are the DEC meant to do? Have images of rolling meadows and cute rabbits to a soundtrack of It's a beautiful world? I don't think the anti-Israeli accusation that he makes is at all warranted and is verging on the offensive.

The meaning of Obama's inauguration

Here's a piece I had in the Birmingham Post:

Monday, 26 January 2009

Appeal for Gaza

Here is the link to donate to the DEC's appeal for Gaza. £50 buys a food parcel for a family for a month and that was my donation. As this appeal will not be aired on the BBC or Sky perhaps it can reach out virally across the web?

Friday, 23 January 2009

The future of the movement for change

This is the destiny of Obama's movement for change- now called Organizing for America:

It is focused very much on sustaining the President's agenda in Washington through maintaining the network of activists built during the campaign to help him maintain local, grassroots support. Whether it is part of the explicit agenda of Organizing for America or not, I would be surprised if having maintained this movement it does not evolve in new ways. I can see the next generation of local civic activists and volunteers being nourished and working to change their local communities. I will keep on the hunt for examples of where the Obama activism has been translated into local as well as national change.

It is nice to see David Plouffe in the flesh......!

All the trouble in the world: House magazine front page feature

My article on what to expect from Barack Obama, 'All the Trouble in the World', is the front page feature in the House Magazine this week:

Cameron and Mandelson: a tale of two speeches

David Cameron gave a speech on 'progressive conservatism' yesterday to Demos. It is proving to be the year of oxymoron. We had 'Red Tory' yesterday from the guy who is running the Demos progressive conservatism project. Presumably it's only a matter of time before we hear from the authoritarian liberals, the libertarian statists and the revolutionary feudalists (or the 'Back to the Futurists' as they will be more colloquially known.) I wait with baited breath.

Back to the speech. Cameron gave us four objectives that we can all share: a fairer, greener, safer society with greater opportunity for all. There, ten words instead of a few paragraphs. His point is that Labour believes in these things; it just can't deliver them. Apparently, the family has fared badly under Labour- let's just ignore tax credits, child benefit increases, Sure Start, record investment in schools and health, expansion of higher education, amongst other things- as they muddy the argument. So Cameron will place the family 'back' at the heart of policy. Policy will moreover be driven by a conservative ethos- basically 'less but better is more.'

The state necessarily fails. So how do we achieve the fairer, greener, safer society with greater opportunity for all? Roll back the state because that's the problem. So David, is your argument that we have had a safer, greener, fairer society with more opportunity when in history we have had a minimal state? The evidence just doesn't back it up.

At least Thatcher's argument for economic reform made some sense. A market economy is more dynamic that a state managed economy. It is unlikely to deliver those progressive values that you hold (I believe that you are sincere- but chronically misguided.) I also happen to believe that the discipline of returning decision-making to a more direct and local level and engaging civil society and the voluntary sector in a creative surge is necessary. I just don't think that pursuing such an ethos- which is what it clearly is rather than a philosophy or a programme- leads, solely in itself, to the ends that you identify.

Just take the 'greener' objective. For us to turn our economy into a world beating green economy requires the type of policy and regulatory approach that fosters green investment. It requires massive investment in infrastructure, scientific research, and a green economy geared skill base. It requires clustering of research, knowledge, design, manufacturing and specialist finance.

All this may happen spontaneously. More likely, there will need for a strategic direction to all this that involves the state, the financial market, regulators, business, universities, trade unions, local administration, the European Union, and the right global framework on trade and the environment.

Actually, what is required is something along the lines of the 'strategic state' outlined by Peter Mandelson before Christmas. As he rightly points out, there aren't many votes in this sort of agenda. I suspect there may be rather more votes in David Cameron's agenda as it sounds good on one level.

But in actual terms, in terms of the progressive goals that David Cameron has laid out, which has more to contribute? Certainly in terms of creating a greener economy with more opportunity, Peter Mandelson's strategic state has much more to offer than David Cameron's 'progressive conservative' ethos. Cameron will ultimately be faced with either sacrificing the means or the ends. So which is it to be? Are you a progressive over a conservative or vice versa? It is only right that we know.

Of course, all this is by the by to a certain extent in the current climate. If you can't get the right economic policy and get wholesale and retail financial markets functioning again, this is all rather academic. On that score, the Conservative Opposition have shown themselves to be woefully deficient. If they can't get the basics right, then all the philosophising in the world won't help them whether they are in office or not.

Abortion lobby appropriates Barack Obama

This is an incredibly crass advert about abortion:

It is also rather self-defeating. Presumably, if the foetus in the womb that we see were to grow up to be a mass murderer or a serial rapist then it would be OK to abort it? Or do we have to wait for it to become Willie Horton then administer the death penalty?

The President's own views on abortion are that it is a private matter that should not be legally outlawed but that he is against abortion in his own personal judgement. That seems like a reasonable position. There is no-one who is pro-abortion. But the majority of people view it as utterly wrong to in anyway legal proscribe or deny access to abortion services.

Yes, human life has enormous potential. That goes for the mother as well as the foetus and only the individual, with the support of their family, their doctor, and friends can make that decision- a horrendous choice in reality- within the accepted legal parameters.

Presumably, if the child had grown into some anti-Barack Obama we would have had the Imperial death march as a soundtrack. All very manipulative, predictable, and utterly clouds the issue.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Check-mated by a bishop

Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly gay man to be ordained, was on the Daily Show on inauguration day and came out with what was an incredible comeback. Asked by Jon Stewart, whether with all the crowds he felt handicapped as he could only move sideways, he retorted:

The 'red Tories' are coming......

Phillip Blond is a 'red tory.' We'll find out what that means in the forthcoming edition of Prospect who have been pumping his book for a few months now and have an article by him where he argues for a rejection of neo-liberal Thatcherite policies in favour of something more localist and anti-business. Apparently, he even argues for the break-up of Tesco.

I'm not going to pre-judge it....much. It sounds to me like a bit of a strained argument where the incompatible are stuffed into the box for the sheer intellectual delight of it. Tories have always found there to be a tension between nation (Joseph Chamberlain is a typical example), market (almost all of them), and local settled communities (the high Tory aristocracy.) It seems to be this latter thread that Blond is reaching back to.

The settled communities of pre-industrial England, where we had a moral rather than a market economy and settled bonds of kinship based around a rentier class in local communities represent an England that is long gone: we have had the industrial revolution, democratic revolution, and the advent of the social democratic state since them days there (yokel accent.....) If that is what the argument is, then it may be woefully anachronistic.

Or maybe, just maybe, there is scope for a new localism. It may be that there are interesting threads in Blond's book and I look forward to it. I am exceedingly sceptical that it can be described as Tory at all. Actually, to create a new version of communities based around local involvement and settled relations but of a more equal kind than pre-industrial Britain would require something quite radical.

Maybe he is a 'red' Tory in this radical sense. There is more than a dose of social engineering in that as a philosophy and I can't imagine anything less Tory than that. Burke will be swivelling in his grave.

Let's see, but one eyebrow is raised.......

The rights of man

Ben McIntyre spots Barack Obama's exhumation of Tom Paine in the inaugural speech and rightly outlines the Englishman's influence on the American revolution. I'm not quite sure he's an 'unsung hero' but that's just nitpicking.

What is equally interesting is Tom Paine's influence on English (and by extension, British) politics. A book that is long overdue a comeback is E.P.Thompson's The Making of the English Working Class. He ses the ideas of Tom Paine, especially The Rights of Man as critical to the formation of a revolutionary class- the working class. Things are never neat in English history so our revolution took well over a century to gradually come to fruition. It was the works of Tom Paine in the context of the French revolution that provoked the brutal suppression of free speech and other fundamental rights in the 1790s.

The Rights of Man, banned by the government of Pitt, sold 100,000s of copies in a population that was little over 10million.

His ideas never quite went away and became internalised by the new working classes. When the labour movement, the Chartists, and other reformist and even revolutionary groups sought to fundamentallly change the nature of Britain's politics, economy and society, the ideas of Tom Paine, who above all else was a democrat, were never far away.

And before the obvious unthinking sexism in the title The Rights of Man is pointed out, his work was not irrelevant in provoking and inspiring Mary Wollestonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. That remained the text in argument of gender equality until universal suffrage had been achieved well into the twentieth century.

Tom Paine is indeed a great thinker and inspirer in the American story. He is part of our heritage as well.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Ken Clarke is right...Obama would shun a eurosceptic UK

Ken Clarke has a remarkable ability for telling it as it is. His party's position on the EU is absolutely barmy. It is not at all clear at this stage that Barack Obama acknowledges or respects a notion of a 'special relationship': that there is a special historic and strategic relationship between the US and the UK. To stack the pragmatic assessment that the UK is worth dealing with in our favour we have to demonstrate that we are influential.

What Ken Clarke's comments reveal is that it is a false dichotomy between being pro-European and Atlanticist. Historically, the US has always wanted Britain to be an active and influential player in Europe. It will be no different when it comes to this new administration. Does influence matter? Yes, if we want to gear both the EU and US towards our vision of world affairs, security, of open trading relations, of solving the climate change crisis. A France-US oriented relationship will come to very different conclusions than one that is more influenced by the UK.

The message is clear. A Cameron Government would be harmful for Britain's strategic interests. Any plea they make to the contrary just doesn't wash while their current antipathy for engagement with the EU remains intact.

Obama but not business as usual

The theatre of yesterday has passed. The speech was more prose than poetry. That was right. This is an administration that means business. President Obama's announcements on the standards he expects from his government, just, and the Executive Orders that he has signed set a tone of responsibility and integrity for this White House.

George Mitchell has just been announced as, I assume, a Special Envoy to the Middle East. Following his experience as Special Envoy to Northern Ireland where he served as an effective mediator during critical phases of the Northern Ireland peace process, this is a heavy weight appointment. It demonstrates that this Obama administration will not be focused on purely domestic issues. Start as you mean to go on.

For President Obama, the process matters as much as the substance. What you do is related to how it is done. His senior White House staff have committed to a pay freeze. He has passed strict regulations about the way that the White House will deal with lobbyists and has effectively barred former staffers from lobbying the administration on issues for which they were responsible. Freedom of information will be upheld in spirit rather than just in law and that will apply to the President himself. It will also apply to information previously concealed by former Presidents. George W Bush beware.

The style of this administration will be open and transparent. Obama wants to make the White House the people's house. American government should be of the people, by the people, for the people.

This all feels exceedingly different already. A sure-footed start indeed.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Barack Obama, it is your time. And ours too.

This morning I was picked by a cab at 6.15am to go to the BBC studios on Great Portland Street. The driver, who was Afro-Caribbean, told me that his two daughters, aged four and five, were excited about the inauguration. His five year-old had got up at 5.30am so that she could see her dad on this historic day. She just wanted to share a moment with her father on what was, for her, an important day in her very young life.

What message will she take from the story of soon-to-be President Barack Obama? Yes, it sounds trite. But yes, she can. When she is struggling at school, facing prejudice, confusion, frustration, she has an inspirational reference point. When she's told that she's not good enough or she sees people less talented than her succeed or given an unfair advantage then she knows that if she perseveres then she is just as good if not better than her peers. This is not just a message for one ethnicity or race or a single nation. It is an uplifting and energising tale of endeavour and just reward; of principle and, yes, change. It is for us all.

Unless his presidency descends into disaster, that story, a new American folklore, will endure. Before he has sent a single piece of legislation to Congress, signed his first Executive Order, made his first appointment, or delivered his first presidential address, Barack Obama has already become the motivation for the sort of change he believes in. That is not change that is found in laws but it is the type of change that is to be found people's souls. It is the type of magnificent poetry that can energise generation after generation.

Emmett Till you did not die in vain. Nor you, Martin Luther King. To the man in Altgeld Gardens- where Barack Obama was a community organiser- who voted for the first time this year and couldn't even register to vote because he couldn't read and write, you can have dreams for your grand-children that you never had for yourself. Everyone who marched, was beaten back by police dog, water cannon and stick, all you who prayed, pleaded, cajoled and resisted, your struggles have been rewarded.

The racial inequality does not evaporate with the election of a single man. Nor can four or eight years reverse the legacy of 250 years of injustice. What does change though is the hope. America has come a long way. It has a long road to travel. Now each mile will feel shorter. Every upward slope will feel flatter. No longer are you lonely travellers on the road. The journey is not complete nor is it just beginning. But you are now travelling as a troop. You have a horse and cart. You have no need to hunger or thirst. You can do it. All of you. All of us.

But this isn't only a story of racial division and injustice. It is not simply about the historical crimes that have been committed against America's blacks. It is far bigger than even that. It is not about looking back but reaching into America's history to define a new future. This America- this America that we have long waited for- is a new place. It is a place far more aligned with the founding promise of the declaration of independence. You have been steered off course. You are now back on track. This could be your time.

When five year-old kids feel a sense of history. When they feel a connection to prevailing political wind then there is promise anew. Politics is a tool. When it is wielded by the masses it is a tool for the common good. Our collective hands toil with determination. Yes, things can be different. Yes, they should be different. What more jolting message can there be for us in Britain who far too often slouch in scepticism? These moments can be ours too.

This belief in collective endeavour is Barack Obama's gift to the world. It may be transitory. Or it may endure. Whichever it is, let's enjoy this moment: one of conviction and faith, hope and optimism. President Barack Obama, may a righteous wind be in your sails. May you be the President of your own and our dreams. All men are created equal. Only some achieve the greatness that could be your destiny. Now it is your time. And ours too.

Monday, 19 January 2009

The best article on Barack Obama: step forward Andrew Sullivan

Andrew Sullivan's article on Barack Obama, the man and what to expect from his presidency in the Sunday Times yesterday was absolutely superb. His analysis of the political direction of this administration is fascinating.

It's just a pity that he chose to make a rather glib and not particularly well argued comparison with David Cameron and chose to describe Barack Obama's politics as 'Tory.' I'm sure that will reassure lots of Tory voters who are confused about why they like and support the incoming President. I am not sure that you can translate British political terms into the American context particularly well. If anything, he is not a Tory but a whig: belief in progress, perfectibility, pragmatic and consensual responses to major political challenges are all part of the Obama approach and are very whiggish. Besides, Obama's proposed $800billion stimulus package which will take US national debt to somewhere near the 8% of GDP mark this year is the diametric opposite to Cameron's approach.

So you can skip the last four or five paragraphs in what is otherwise a superlative piece.

Hope for change, but no guarantee...

Here is a piece that has just been posted on Comment is Free that I wrote on Barack Obama's foreign policy:

Hope for change, but no guarantee.

Frost/Nixon apology myth

Having not seen the Frost/Nixon play, I decided to watch the original David Frost interview of the disgraced former President over Christmas. Frankly, I am amazed that David Frost claimed in his interview in Sunday Times Culture section yesterday that he got a '99.9% apology' from Richard Nixon.

He did not if you watch the original recording. He did not even get a confession out of President Nixon of any importance. Nixon 'confesses' to a political cover-up but not a legal cover-up or a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice (of which he was absolutely guilty.) He says that he 'let people down' which is not the same thing as an apology.

Apparently, he does apologise in the film which I have to say makes me far less likely to go to see it. It is the reason why Ben Bradlee who was Editor of the Washington Post at the time of Watergate is so furious with it.

Does this matter? Surely it's just dramatic licence? No, it absolutely does matter. Richard Nixon never stood trial for his crimes as he was pardoned by President Gerald Ford. He shattered American democracy and corrupted everything the nation stands for. Why on earth should the film, which ultimately will become the popular historical record, exonerate someone who is guilty and was never tried by distorting the truth?

There is no reason for Sir David Frost or anyone else to distort anything. The interviews are incredibly gripping and a seminal TV moment. At one point David Frost penetrates the inner emotional sanctum of the former President. He seems to realise the enormity of what he has done and there is a glimpse of a soul and shame. That is priceless viewing and I would whole-heartedly recommend taking the time to watch it.

But there was no confession of any meaning. There was no apology. For that reason I may just have to give Frost/Nixon a miss. I'll go to watch Milk instead.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Barack Obama discussion on LBC

You can listen to my discussion with Charlie Woolf on Andrew Pierce's lunchtime show today by accessing the link below. I come in around 15 minutes in.

Lincoln's second coming...

Barack Obama's inauguration speech will echo Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. The theme is a 'new birth of freedom' which is taken from the famous line:
"It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."
Now, these Lincoln train rides, the self-regarding historical references, the flighty rhetoric is all fairly alien to us Brits who tend to cast a rather more sceptical eye on the world. There is little doubt that Barack Obama sets the bar exceptionally high by drawing reference to Abraham Lincoln and inviting the notion that, in his election, we are seeing some sort of second re-birth of freedom (the birth being American independence...)

Culturally, Americans seem to approach these things differently- this is just an observation- and are far more celebratory about their past in a way that we have ceased to become. I can't imagine a new Prime Minister making a journey in echo of Winston Churchill, say, such as Barack Obama is doing on his train journey from Philadelphia to Washington.

I have to say that I have a slight dose of mild scepticism myself. I really wonder whether America is at a 'Gettysburg' moment where its very existence and the rights of all men to freedom and equality are under threat. It feels rather more like a Rooseveltian moment which demands a coming together and strong government to avert economic catastrophe. My preference would have been for a more 'we have nothing to fear but fear itself', Roosevelt's first inaugural address, theme to the speech.

Equally, it's important to point out that I had a degree of scepticism when I arrived at Mile High Stadium in Denver on the day of the acceptance speech and saw the Styrofoam mock up of the Lincoln Memorial on the stage. Barack Obama smashed his acceptance speech out of the park- or whatever the equivalent American Football metaphor is- on that occasion. It echoed Martin Luther King's historic 'I have a dream' speech which was delivered in front of the Lincoln Memorial. I hope that the scheduled concert in front of the Memorial- Beyonce, Bruce Springsteen, and Bono- will seek to induce real contemplation also.

There is little doubt that the inauguration speech will be brilliant and will inspire not just the American people but the globe. I just have a nagging doubt that the historical reference is the right one. The election of an African American is a history making moment and both reflects and will inspire change. But is it the second re-birth of freedom? A moment equal to the abolition of slavery or even the legal dismantling of segregation?

One lesson I hope that he does draw from Abraham Lincoln is that it is better to keep your speech short- history is more likely to remember it if you do. Lincoln's second inaugural was just a few minutes long and concludes with the words:
"With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan – to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations."
That is a man who was humble, aware of his historical mission, and achieved far more than perhaps any other President. It is a powerful historical echo. May President Barack Obama govern with Lincoln's calmness of thought, judgement, and courage.

Barack Obama: the movement for change interview on LBC

Please listen in to LBC radio today at around 12.30pm where I will be interviewed by Andrew Pierce. Barack Obama might come up as a topic of conversation. Listen online:

Friday, 16 January 2009

Review of 'Barack Obama: the movement for change'

Please see a review below that was sent to me of Barack Obama: the movement for change out of the blue by the very highly regarded Vietnam War novelist, Edward Wilson. It is particularly satisfying to have received this review as the book discusses the Vietnam War and its impact on American politics in the 1960s. Edward is an expert in the field so it is good that he concurred with the conclusions that the book comes to on this era!

Also, Amazon now has a 40% discount on the book! You can't argue with £4.19.....

5.0 out of 5 stars Obama: An Arc Bending Towards Justice, 14 Jan 2009
By Edward Wilson (Chediston, Suffolk) - See all my reviews
Anthony Painter's BARACK OBAMA: THE MOVEMENT FOR CHANGE ought to be required reading for anyone who votes. The most important thing about this book is the way Painter puts the rise of Obama into historical context. He begins his book with an exceptionally moving and articulate description of how the progressive forces of US politics and society were destroyed in the late 60s. As Lyndon Johnson's `Great Society' was derailed by Vietnam, the charismatic figures who may have rescued it - Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy - were gunned down. Painter suggests, quite rightly, that Robert Kennedy's assassination was a greater tragedy for America than that of his brother - Robert's lost presidency remains the most painful `if only' of recent US history.
Painter's description of the rise of the Neo Cons was of un-surpassing excellence - the reader almost wants to jump up and hiss! The Reaganites and the later Neo Cons made the fostering of false class conscience their most successful and diabolical tool:
'Much of America votes against its own self-interest
Cultural angeris marshalled to achieve economic ends...
When we add an anti-elitist hue to the mix, it becomes
easier to see how people end up, paradoxically,voting
Republican to show their displeasure with Wall Street...'
The chapters devoted to Obama's rise and political career are utterly fascinating. The snake pit of Chicago and Illinois politics is brilliantly conveyed - in a manner reminiscent of Jacobean drama.
This is an excellent book - and the author is, I hope, rightly optimistic. It was more than apt that Painter ended the book with Martin Luther King's eloquent description of the history of social progress in the USA as a `long arc that is bending towards justice.'

Goodbye 'don't ask, don't tell'

Word coming out of Barack Obama's transition team is that the president-elect is to re-visit a battle fought and lost by President Clinton. He is to get rid of the iniquitous and hypocritical 'don't ask, don't tell' policy in America's armed forces. This will be a huge step towards equality and acceptance for homosexuals in America. It is also a brave move politically.

His gamble is that the world has moved on. His own election demonstrates that. If he gets this through and remains relatively politically unscathed then perhaps America is, finally, moving beyond the cultural wars in which it has been embroiled since the 1960s.

See the MSNBC video clip that discusses the change:

Monday, 12 January 2009

Embrace and engage Labourlist?

There has been a tediously predictable debate about the virtues of Labourlist. Should it be 'embraced and engaged' as Peter Mandelson is now doing to new media? Put aside the fact that 'embrace and engage' sounds like a Python-esque take on the Joy of Sex, what are the chances of success for Labourlist?

Well, I'd certainly recommend reserving judgement. It is quite an intriguing experiment and one that may just work. Hopefully, it doesn't just descend into abuse and the loudest or most popular voice wins. I also hope that it is allowed to breathe and the early signs are that it will be allowed to. Time will tell but I wish it every success.

It is an unusual experiment in that most successful attempts to generate on-line news, comment and communities have been spontaneously established. DailyKos and are the obvious examples from the left of American politics. By no means, however, does that mean they are the only possible models for success.

Whatever path it takes it will be part of a family of blog sites on the left which include Liberal Conspiracy, LabourHome, and individual blog sites: my own favourite is Hopi Sen who has a natural ability to write humorously about politics. On the right, ConservativeHome co-exists with the likes of Iain Dale, Dizzy Thinks, and Guido Fawkes. (I can't be bothered linking to them- they are either in my list of links or use Google and burn energy equivalent to boiling a few kettles.)

My one early comment is that the list of contributors does have a slightly 'usual suspects' feel to it. They are the people that you see and hear time and time again on the think-tank/ campaign group circuit or in Labour backing magazines and journals. They are good, don't get me wrong. But surely there are different and edgy voices that can be brought a bit more into the mainstream?

Anyway, good luck to Labourlist. We'll give the 'embrace and engage' a go and if that doesn't work then we'll have to try something a little less missionary.

Barack Obama: the movement for change book reading

If anyone is interesting in hearing my take on Barack Obama, hearing a little more about the book, and what it might mean in the UK context then I'll be at Brixton Library on Wednesday evening from 7pm. Further details are available below:

Barack Obama: the movement for change book reading.

Republicans all shook up

The race for Chairmanship of the Republican party shows just how disorientated Barack Obama has the Grand Old Party. Debates about two African-American candidates and, at the opposite end of the spectrum, a candidate who thinks it's acceptable to send out a CD containing the song 'Barack the Magic Negro' show a party in a tizz over the new president-elect.

For Jim Greer, Florida Republican Chairman, the election of a minority as Chairman would send out a 'credible message of inclusion.' That's all you have to do. Get a minority in the public gaze and hey presto, you are an inclusive party. This type of crass tokenism is characteristic of parties that just don't get it.

Far more astute are the comments by Joe Gaylord, a Republican strategist, who insists that what is needed is a Republican party that is far more 'future oriented, solutions orientated.'

They also have to rebuild a party that is demoralised by two enormous election defeats in 2006 and 2008. That is ideological, organisational, financial, and programmatic. There has to be a question whether the Republican party who warmed so effusively to Sarah Palin are capable of electing the type of candidate who could win come 2012. They may not be an off-the-shelf Reaganite neo-liberal, social conservative. The old purist candidates work on a district or state level but will have increasing difficulty on a national level given changes to the American demographic and geographical landscape. In other words, how do the Republicans prevent themselves becoming a regional rather than a national party?

So whether they select a minority to be Chairman is neither here nor there. Barack Obama did not win because he was African American. He won because he had the most credible narrative and leadership qualities backed up by a phenomenal campaign on November 4th. If I were the Republicans I would worry far more about the fundamentals than the ephemera.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Adam Boulton Show this morning

I will be on the Adam Boulton Show this morning with Ian Leslie who has written what will be a lively book on the US campaign if his blog is anything to go by. Tune in around 11.15am.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

A house that slaves helped build

So concludes David Remnick's article in the current edition of the New Yorker. He refers to the White House. The article also draws parallels between the African emancipatory and equality struggle and that of the situation in the Middle East. He makes a reference to Obama's American Israeli Public Affairs Committee speech in March of last year where the president-elect compared his own journey through the wilderness to settle on his own sense of identity with that of Exodus and the search for a Jewish homeland. Remnick makes the apposite point that actually the issue in the Middle East is a struggle between two competing searches for a homeland.

Obama will be comfortable with this notion of shared and competing grievances. In his 'more perfect union' speech focusing on the history and reality of race relations in the USA, he acknowledged the grievances of the white working class.

That struck a very different chord to most voices on this issue. Martin Luther King also began to stray onto that territory as early as 1955; it became articulated more clearly in his Poor People's Campaign from 1967 until he was assassinated.

This language of mutual respect and understanding is a fundamental bedrock to any long term political solution in the Middle East. Perhaps both the Israeli political establishment and Hamas should read the history of the African-American freedom struggle?

In the meantime, an African-American enters the White House that slaves helped to build as President. After the Bush years, it is a house that must be re-built.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Obama the Professor?

There was an absolutely fantastic programme on Radio 4 on Tuesday night about Barack Obama's intellectual influences. Professor President written and presented by Kwame Anthony Appiah really shed new light on Obama's intellectual and academic upbringing and was sprinkled with some excellent interviews.

The one bit of the show that jarred a bit was when Appiah described Obama's work on Chicago's South Side as 'time off.' It made it sound like a bit of a gap year. It was anything but that. It was a vocation and a profound life choice made for both intellectual and personal reasons. It was also part of his path of forging a personal identity.

By describing it as 'time off' I suspect that Appiah was rather displaying his own outlook on the world. There is academia, the true path, and there is there is the other stuff which isn't nearly so serious. For this reason perhaps, an early intellectual influence on Barack Obama's wasn't explored. That is the influence of Saul Alinsky. His pragmatic creed, one shared by Obama, of 'issues, self-interest, power, action' was highly influential on the young Barack Obama and gave him a manual for community organising.

Ultimately, the Alinsky method fell in on itself. Obama could not generate the type of power that he would need to make a real difference. Its confrontational ethos was also proving to be counter-productive. Three years later (a very lengthy period of 'time off') he went to Harvard Law School in disappointment. Appiah's documentary describes his phlegmatic response to receiving the acceptance from Harvard. One suspects, and I'm speculating on the basis of the state of his mind at that point, he may have actually seen acceptance by Harvard as some sort of failure and that he was letting the communities on the South Side of Chicago down.

I interviewed a number of people for Barack Obama: the movement for change who worked with Barack Obama in Altgeld Gardens and it was clear that he placed a very high price on success and was desperate to succeed for those people. Ultimately, the youthful idealism that led him into community organising just wasn't sufficient to make a difference. That's why he pursued law and politics.

Finally, and I don't want to sound over-critical because it was a really excellent documentary, Appiah could have asked why did Obama not pursue an academic route sticking instead to teaching, law practice, and politics? He could have easily have pursued a lifelong academic career. In fact, he was offered tenure at the University of Chicago.

Ultimately, in my view, he rejected the academic route because he never forgot the 'power' and 'action' elements of Alinsky's formula. He retained and still retains a commitment to ideas but that would never be enough for him. So he went into politics. It was there that he could make a real difference. How right he was.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Sarko the Wonder Horse

What an impressive figure the President of France has cut over the last few days. Diplomatically, he seized the day. With America stuck in its routine echo of the Israeli Government line, the contribution of Nicolas Sarkozy could well engineer a turning point in this disastrous conflict. In Damascus, Tel Aviv, and now Cairo, he has been able to begin to construct the basis of a deal. The involvement of Egypt is particularly critical. And it has all been done at a furious pace.

Compared with the sulking and pompous Jacques Chirac, Sarkozy has brought a dynamism to the negotiation process. If he engineers a cease-fire that holds- on the basis of an Egyptian border that is more strictly policed and controlled, the ceasing of Hamas firing rockets into Israel, and a process of rebuilding Fatah and Hamas relations with a view to ending the blockade- that achievement will usher in a new phase of French international activism.

Ultimately, that will repair any vestiges of mutual suspicion between France and the US that emerged during the Iraq War. The relationship between Presidents Sarkozy and Obama could be one of the more interesting and productive ones in world affairs. It would be disastrous if that became a means of France and US mutually supporting each other's protectionism. It could be highly effective if it was focused on contributing to global security.

President Sarkozy's actions in the last few days will give him a head start on President Obama when it comes to the Middle East. Obama's approach in the Middle East will initially demonstrate continuity with that of the Bush administration with the main differences being in nuance and style. Over time that will change but it is likely that the new President will take his time. As his approach evolves, and that is what it will do, the influence of President Sarkozy could be significant. On the evidence of the last few days, that is a good thing.

Post script: Details of the French-Egyptian ceasefire proposals are beginning to emerge. The principles have been accepted by Israel and the Palestinian Authority according to President Sarkozy.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Interview on Obama and Gaza on BBC 5 Live

I had the pleasure of appearing on the BBC 5 Live Breakfast show this morning. Had a good to and fro with Nicky Campbell. The interview begins 1 hr 12 mins into the show and is available below:

Anthony Painter on BBC 5 Live Breakfast

Monday, 5 January 2009

Israel should listen to its enligthened voices

It seems incredible that there are people who are willing to swallow the Israeli hawkish view wholesale. It is not the only view from those either within Israel or outside who have an understanding of the conflict. There are those who see the monumental short-sightedness of Israel's current actions in Gaza and can also see the future misery that it will cause.

The most stupid manifestation of this is the attempt to pin blame for this situation. Who is right and who is wrong now? Who has historical responsibility? Surely Israel has a right to defend itself? These questions are roads to false justification of the unjustifiable and extreme suffering. Israel's security and the security and well-being of the Palestinian people require a different approach. Just take the issue of self-defence. Yes, of course Israel has the right to defend itself against rocket attacks. It is ridiculous to suggest otherwise. Will this action in Gaza protect itself? From rocket attacks, yes in the very short term. But it is only matter of time before some other form of terror replaces it. And the rocket attacks will return in time unless a genuine peace can be crafted. So where does the question, 'surely Israel has a right to defend itself' get you? Nowhere.

I quoted Tom Segev and referred to Waltz with Bashir in my last post. Since then we have had excellent pieces from Daniel Barenboim and, this morning, Rabbi Michael Lerner.

Israel is busy recruiting for Hamas- or whatever vein of extremism replaces it- and other radical groups in its current actions. America (the Bush administration) is truly isolated in its failure to call for a cease-fire. The echoes of 2006 are obvious and the result will be the same- Hezbollah still thrives. Of course, the real target here is Iran: Israel wants to send it a 'clear message.' What is that message? Arm yourself to the hilt and fund any group that can effectively attack Israel because Israel will resort to disproportionate military responses in any situation of conflict. Is that really the message we want a proto-nuclear Iran to be receiving?

Finally, there have been superficial attacks that these arguments constitute an anti-Israel position. This is the greatest nonsense of all. It is, in fact, a strongly pro-Israel position. It is only by pursuing a vigorous and diametrically opposed strategy that Israel can achieve peace and prosperity. Encrouaging Israel to continue down the path it set in 1967 is ultimately to strengthen those who seek to eliminate it and against the interests if its people. That is a naive pro-Israel position- better to be realists in this brutally real situation.

Friday, 2 January 2009

Barack Obama: the movement for change interview

I had a very engaging interview on the Robert Elms show on BBC London this lunchtime. He knew his American politics so we had an involved discussion.

The interview starts about 2 hrs and 5 minutes in. It's about 15 minutes long and can be listened to here.

Thank you to the Robert Elms show for having me.