Thursday, December 21, 2006

No secrets left to conceal

Daily Mail, 5th June 2004:
Dr Phil Edwards is the national press officer of the BNP.
He may have an academic title, but Dr Edwards makes his living by letting off fireworks. When contacted via the mobile phone number given for his fireworks display company he is, unusually for a party political press officer, baffled and then furious that a journalist can call him, knows where he lives and has dared to pay a visit.
And, by the way, Dr Phil Edwards isn't his real name. It is Stuart Russell. When asked, Dr Edwards/Russell tetchily says he uses a pseudonym for 'personal reasons' and it's none of my business why. He is not unusual among his cohorts. Several have used names other than their own for 'personal reasons'.

Stormfront 'White Nationalist' board, 17th April 2006
boutye: Phil Edwards did a great job, and the interviewer knew it. Someone was on earlier from Searchlight saying that isn't his real name. What's the crack on that?

.:.BNP.:.: His real name is Stuart Russell, he is the father of Julie Russel
[attaches picture of Julie Russell with Jean-Marie Le Pen]

Sweetlips: That's a bit strange. Why doesn't he use his real name for heaven's sake?

BNP'er: Strange? I'll tell you what's strange! The Doc and his missis have suffered so much ****e you couldn't wave a stick at it. He is a personal friend of mine and, like me, he has suffered for the cause of his race. No wonder it was decided to give him a non-de-plume. What I find strange is some stupid bitch trying to imply he has something to hide.

Guardian, 27th April 2006:
Even if it is not your usual thing, there is a video report worth watching on the Sky News website. It concerns Phil Edwards, the far-right BNP's national press officer, and the recording of a telephone conversation he had at the start of last year with a student. When the student started working, Mr Edwards explained, he would be paying taxes to raise black children who would "probably go and mug you".

Daily Telegraph, 27th April 2006:
Dr Raj Chandran, a GP and Mayor of the Borough of Gedling, Nottinghamshire, was not prepared to let the unfounded allegations on the BNP website go unchallenged, said solicitor Matthew Himsworth.
Mr Himsworth said that the BNP press officer Dr Stuart Russell - who wrote the article - and website editor Steve Blake "freely and completely" accepted that Dr Chandran was misidentified in the article.

Guardian, 21st December 2006, "Exclusive: inside the secret and sinister world of the BNP"
The techniques of secrecy and deception employed by the British National party in its attempt to conceal its activities and intentions from the public can be disclosed today. Activists are being encouraged to adopt false names when engaged on BNP business, to reduce the chance of their being identified as party members in their other dealings with the public.
The techniques, adopted as part of the campaign by Nick Griffin to clean up his party's image, were discovered after a Guardian reporter who had joined the party undercover was appointed its central London organiser earlier this year.
Nothing like investigative reporting, eh?

Update 12/2/07

Last week "Dr Phil Edwards" made another appearance in the Graun, in an article co-authored by Ian Cobain (he who went underground in the BNP and emerged with the shocking news about activists being encouraged to adopt false names). I complained, as I generally do, but this time I included some of the material I dug up for this post. The result was a phone call from Ian Mayes (the paper's Readers' Editor) who was very concerned; he said he'd advise the news department to refer to Stuart Russell under his real name from now on, and asked me if there was anything else I wanted from them. (I said No, since I don't really feel that I've been defamed by the blighter. There was one occasion a few years back when my mother said she'd heard "Phil Edwards of Manchester" announced on Any Answers and been quite surprised by the views which followed, but I doubt many people were confused.)

So: a result, provisionally (we'll know when the Graun refers to Russell under his own name). I think it was probably the Torygraph quote that swung it. Top tip: if you're going to publish under a pseudonym, don't write stuff that puts you in the dock for libel.

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Heart of this nation

Who's with me?
We have to wake up. These forces of extremism based on a warped and wrong-headed misinterpretation of Islam aren't fighting a conventional war but they are fighting one against us - and 'us' is not just the West, still less simply America and its allies. 'Us' is all those who believe in tolerance, respect for others and liberty

We must mobilise our alliance of moderation in this region and outside it to defeat the extremists.
And mobilisation begins at home:
Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and other faiths have a perfect right to their own identity and religion, to practice their faith and to conform to their culture. This is what multicultural, multi-faith Britain is about. That is what is legitimately distinctive. But when it comes to our essential values - belief in democracy, the rule of law, tolerance, equal treatment for all, respect for this country and its shared heritage - then that is where we come together, it is what we hold in common; it is what gives us the right to call ourselves British. At that point no distinctive culture or religion supersedes our duty to be part of an integrated United Kingdom.


Obedience to the rule of law, to democratic decision-making about who governs us, to freedom from violence and discrimination are not optional for British citizens. They are what being British is about. Being British carries rights. It also carries duties.


We are a nation comfortable with the open world of today ... But we protect this attitude by defending it. Our tolerance is part of what makes Britain, Britain. So conform to it; or don't come here.
One more?
The refusal to engage with opponents and the exaltation of intolerance are the ante-chamber to blind violence — and this must not be granted any space.
(OK, I cheated - that last one wasn't Blair. I'll come back to that.)

There's a point to be made here about Blair's record with regard to the rule of law and democratic decision-making, to say nothing of freedom from violence. But there's something going on here that's deeper - and stranger - than simple hypocrisy. Look at that odd formulation from earlier this month, we protect this attitude by defending it: to be open is to reject anyone who threatens openness; to be free is to reject anyone who refuses freedom; to be moderate is to reject anyone who isn't. Or look at that list where democracy and non-violence are prefaced by 'obedience to' - as if democracy were not an achievement but a duty, not something we build but simply something we're ruled by. For Blair, apparently, tolerance really is something to conform to.

You keep using this word. I do not think it means what you think it means. But this isn't simply the eternal Anglo-American invocation of 'freedom' and 'democracy' as brand names. The terms Blair leans on most heavily are adjectives like 'moderate' and 'tolerant', which have the odd property of being positive but not absolute. You could make a case for maximising freedom for all people at all times and in every situation. It would probably turn out to be a lot harder than it looks, but you could do it - and you could do something similar with democracy, justice, equality or love, sweet love, to name but a few. Talk to me about universalising moderation and I'll ask for details of your moderate position on the death penalty or freedom of speech; talk about maximising tolerance and I'll just ask, of whom and of what? Where moderation and tolerance are concerned, it makes a difference. Some beliefs shouldn't be held moderately; some practices shouldn't be tolerated.

As for deciding what those beliefs and practices are, that's what we have politics for. But it's precisely that debate which Blair is trying to foreclose, by rhetorically turning 'moderation' and 'tolerance' into absolute principles, counterposed to their eternal antagonists Extremism and Intolerance. What's missing here is any real sense of what we're supposed to be moderate about and tolerant of - and where that moderation and tolerance is supposed to end. Of course, Blair has his own ideas about this - even in multicultural, multi-faith Britain, freedom from violence and discrimination trumps the right to practice [your] faith and to conform to [your] culture. I don't dissent from this statement; what I object to is the idea that these limits to tolerance and moderation can somehow be justified by the principles of tolerance and moderation themselves - and not, for instance, by a broader statement of liberal humanist principle.

But then, the beauty of relative virtues is precisely that they don't lead out into broader statements - or broader debates. If I could make an appeal to everyone else in the world who believes in freedom, I'd get some replies from people with very different ideas about freedom for whom from what and for what purpose, but I think we'd recognise that we were all interested in starting the same kind of argument. If I could appeal to everyone who called themself 'moderate', the chances are I wouldn't recognise half the people who reply as deserving the name. (You're a moderate Creationist?) When I say 'moderate' I mean 'moderate like me'; and when Blair says 'moderate' he means, more and more explicitly, 'us'. Where 'us' means 'not them' - or, if the cap fits, 'not you'.

Rochenko went over much of this ground some time ago. Excuse the long quote, but this stuff is hard to cut (and I know, I've tried).
The much-spoken of Manicheanism of the US and UK governments and their media supporters plays out now alongside the Israelis’ pursuit of the fantasy of the unbreakable iron wall of security. In both cases, the fantasy of incommunicability covers everything. The hatred of our values by all those who practice Terror, the existential threat posed by Hizballah.

The fantasy is fed by the belief in the incommensurability of values. I cannot communicate with you because your fundamental beliefs are absolutely at odds with mine. There is undoubtedly slippage, in politicians’ and media talk about the current ‘global situation’ between this hard Manicheanism and the kind of disagreements better represented as cases when ‘you’ don’t agree with ‘me’ about lots of things that I consider to be important. When someone mentions, usually in a racially or ethnically inflected context, ‘alien values’, they often slide very easily – and often hysterically – from a case of the latter to a case of the former.

The only thing that can overcome this situation, generally referred to as something like the ‘failure of multiculturalism’ or whatever, is held to be a reaffirmation of ‘common values’, be they ‘core British’ or whatever. Supplementing the fantasy of incommunicability with one of unproblematic communication is I suppose the natural thing to do. But it’s a highly damaging manoeuvre. Obviously we cannot locate any ‘British’ values, except either at the level of popular culture, or at the most generalist and therefore inclusive level, where their supposed Britishness and purported minimal exclusiveness immediately evaporates. But the whole gesture of trying to solve the problem of communication by commanding those you have defined as alien to subscribe to a set of values is again an affirmation of your separation from them, which simply reproduces it. We rule you, and we shall demonstrate it by defining your world for you.

But the problem with this whole fantasised solution to the problem of incommunicability is that communication doesn’t require ‘common values’ in the first place – not, at least, at the concrete level where disagreements take place. The fantasy of incommunicability mirrors the relativist concept of the untranslatability of languages ... this states that in recognising someone as a speaker of language, we already have understood that they operate with criteria of consistency and truth, and that we therefore already have the capacity to understand them. Without a commitment to consistency and truth, there is no possibility of a ‘perspective’ in the first place. What matters in such situation is not ‘common values’, but the capacity to make a creative gesture of translation ... The shift here is in possibility: from a standpoint where the only possibility seems to be separation, sealed-in individuality, the clash of civilisations, to the emergence of another space in which two or more agents are located, not yet as interlocutors perhaps, but now no longer as implacable contraries either. Such movements are always possible.
trying to solve the problem of communication by commanding those you have defined as alien to subscribe to a set of values is again an affirmation of your separation from them, which simply reproduces it. To demand a response you will understand is to demand a response you already understand, and to dismiss any other response as incomprehensible. To demand tolerance and moderation is to demand tolerance and moderation in precisely those areas where you display them, and no others.

Ultimately, as that third quote demonstrates, to demand tolerance is to offer intolerance. The refusal to engage with opponents and the exaltation of intolerance ... must not be granted any space. This wasn't written this year or in this country; the source is a front-page opinion piece in the Italian Communist Party's daily paper l'Unità, the year is 1977 and the subject is the radical youth movement of that year. Which, as I've noted before, didn't end terrifically well. Rather than granting the movement any kind of legitimacy - or even stealing their ideological clothes - the Communists repeatedly denounced 'violence' and 'intolerance' and demanded that the moderate students dissociate themselves from the violent minority. No 'moderate' student movement ever did make itself known, not least because every time a group of students did dissociate themselves from violence the Communist Party raised its demands (if they're really opposed to violence, why don't they co-operate with the police?). In the mean time, the party backed the police clampdown on the movement to the hilt. By the end of 1978 the movement had been policed into submission - but the number of actions by left-wing 'armed struggle' groups had risen dramatically, from 169 in 1976 to 1,110 during 1978.

The refusal to engage with opponents and the exaltation of intolerance are the ante-chamber to blind violence. Well, maybe so, but the thing with ante-chambers is that they have a door on each side - and if you can't get your opponent out of one door you might push them through the other.

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Monday, December 11, 2006

The most cruel has passed

Newsflash.... General Augusto Pinochet of Chile has just died. His condition is described as 'satisfactory'.

(Thanks, Rob.)

Like Rob (and Ellis), my thoughts turned to Victor Jara, the Chilean Communist singer whose brutal murder would be enough in itself to damn Pinochet, even if Jara hadn't been one of 3,000. Jara's writing is vivid, poetic, charged with love, passion and humour - and it's deeply political. Look at this song, "Abre la ventana":


Abre la ventana

Y deja que el sol alumbre

Por todos los rincones de tu casa


Mira hacia afuera

Nuestra vida no ha sido hecha

Para rodearla de sombras y tristezas.

María ya ves,

no basta nacer, crecer, amar,

para encontrar la felicidad.

Pasó lo más cruel,

ahora tus ojos se llenan de luz

y tus manos de miel.


Tu risa brota como la mañana brota en el jardín.


Our life wasn't made to be eaten away by shadows and sadness

Let's remember one of the great unpunished crimes of the last century: a moment of revolutionary joy and revolutionary hope, snuffed out by the General. I could almost believe in Hell if I thought he'd rot in it.

Update 12th December

OK, OK, here's a translation.

Open the window

Open the window, Maria
Let the light shine in
To every corner of your house

Look around, Maria
Our life wasn't made to be eaten away
By shadows and sadness

Now, Maria, you can see
There's more to finding happiness
Than just living, growing, loving
The worst time has gone
Now your eyes are filling with light
And your hands with honey

Your laughter breaks as the day breaks over the garden


Pasó lo mas cruel. Gets to me every time.

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

I'm no leader...

Here's why I like Italian politics. My recent Sharpener post on the state of the two major Italian alliances concluded that a key concern of both Berlusconi and Prodi is securing the loyalty of the former Christian Democrats who are in their coalition and, if possible, luring across some of those on the other side. And:
In this game Prodi is faring conspicuously better than Berlusconi. The leftish ex-Christian Democrats of ‘the Daisy’ are resigned, if not positively committed, to an eventual merger with the ‘Left Democrats’; by contrast, Pierferdinando Casini of ‘Christian Democrats United’ periodically makes pointed comments about having his own electorate to represent and not wanting to be a follower of Berlusconi all his life. The dream of rebuilding the centre also seems more likely to damage Berlusconi than Prodi. One ‘centre’ splinter has already flaked off from Casini’s party: Marco Follini, Casini’s predecessor as party leader, now leads a tiny new party called ‘Middle Italy’. The chances are that Follini’s going nowhere, but his defection hasn’t helped Berlusconi.
That was the 23rd of November. On the 2nd of December Berlusconi presided over a huge rally of his coalition, widely seen - not least by Berlusconi himself - as the first step towards a federation, and ultimately a single party of the Right. The only person on the scene missing was Casini, who unfortunately had a prior engagement - addressing a rally of his own party. The snub hasn't gone unnoticed; Berlusconi's immediate reaction was to demand that Casini 'come back', adding a warning that he'd better make it soon. Casini's response:
I don't accept ultimatums from Berlusconi or anyone else - I was fighting the Left when I was in short trousers ... My job is not to ape Berlusconi or to dance along behind him, but to win over disillusioned Prodi voters
Berlusconi's reply also deserves quoting: "I was just making a joke when I said that we were rearing the fatted calf and that we'd kill it when Casini's party came back. And I said, jokingly, that I hoped they came back soon, because otherwise somebody else would get to eat the fatted calf. It was just a joke - it's not my nature to make threats." Say what you like about Berlusconi, he's got a sense of humour.

There are regional elections in Italy next March; Casini's party has its annual conference the month before. If Casini breaks with Berlusconi and brings his party with him, Berlusconi can forget about coming out ahead at those elections - or any other elections. If Casini breaks with Berlusconi and leaves his party, the party is going to suffer - as is Berlusconi's coalition. The one thing that isn't going to happen is Casini bowing the knee and taking his place alongside Berlusconi's other lieutenants, Bossi of the Northern League and Fini of Alleanza Nazionale. They both need Berlusconi to give them respectability and a way into national politics. Casini seems to have realised that he doesn't.

And this is why I like Italian politics: there's always something going on. The multiform polarisation of the main political parties, together with the inherent fragility of coalition politics, makes for an unusual combination: it's machine politics, only it's played out with real issues. Ironically (if predictably) both Berlusconi and Prodi want to build single parties, putting an end both to the uneasy coalitions which give Italian politicians leverage and to the small parties which enable them to stand for identifiable principles. So enjoy it while it last: in ten years' time Italian politics may have been normalised into Anglo-American torpor.

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