Wednesday, 26 May 2010

The only shirt for the World Cup

There's only one shirt to wear this World Cup.

A unique commemorative football shirt to honour the Makana FA. This extraordinary football association was formed by prisoners on the notorious Robben Island. Imprisoned because of their opposition to apartheid, they organised their own league and cup competitions as the Makana FA, as football became a symbol and tool of the prisoners' refusal to surrender their human dignity to the prison authorities.

Makana never had their own strip, until now. Specially designed, complete with Makana FA badge, by Philosophy Football, the shirts will be presented to former prisoners on 17 June when over 100 England fans will join them on Robben Island.

Limited edition, you can get yours from Philosophy Football

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Politics as usual

For an election that was supposed to mark the demise of the old two-party system, the outcome of 6 May 2010 has gone a long way to restoring it. Even if reformers win the promised referendum on a new alternative vote system, it’s nothing like proportional representation (indeed, it makes it even harder for minor parties to get elected). And it won’t stop the polarisation of votes towards the two main parties that is an almost inevitable consequence of the Lib Dems going into government with the Tories.

Without having to do a thing, Labour has re-established itself as the only meaningful alternative to voting Conservative across virtually the whole of the country. The three Plaid Cymru MPs and one Green may merit a left vote in 2015 but no one can now justify voting Lib Dem if they want to keep the Tories out. As for backing anyone else – well, there is no one else. In Scotland there may still be the Nationalists but even there, when it comes to the next Westminster election, everyone knows it will have to be Labour or bust.

There were reports in the weeks after the election of the Labour Party receiving up to 4,000 membership applications in a day. There is certainly little evidence of the demoralisation and despair among party activists that followed previous defeats. Some even spoke of a ‘liberation’ or the sense of euphoria that comes from surviving a car crash you’d expected to be far worse with only a broken leg. The affiliation of Cleggite liberal democracy with the centre-right rather than the centre-left of British politics, in combination with the passing of the New Labour old guard, seems to have opened up a fresh sense of possibility in Labour and reversed the steady stream of desertions. The party is beginning to look as though it could be immensely more invigorated in defeat in 2010 than it was by the post-Iraq war victory in 2005.

The same cannot be said of the various shades of left electoral alternatives that stood for election, locally or nationally, on 6 May. Here is to be found only unrequited effort and crushing, abject failure – unmitigated by the narrow, exceptional and quite possibly unrepeatable election of Caroline Lucas for the Greens in Brighton. The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (if ever there was a title designed to limit potential electoral support, this might well have been it) proved an outstandingly successful mechanism for squandering activists’ time, money and aspirations. A desperate 12,275 votes garnered from 41 constituencies (299 votes apiece, or 0.0004 per cent of the national poll), works out so low that you’d have to wait for about 35 jam-packed double-decker buses to go past before you found a single TUSC voter, squeezed between the pushchairs and the shopping trolleys and invisible to everyone bar himself on the crowded lower deck.

Respect mustered 33,251 nationally in what will probably be its swansong; the Scottish Socialist Party potted a paltry 3,157 – a far cry from the 117,709 constituency votes (6.2 per cent) it won in the 2003 Scottish Parliament election; and even the Greens’ 285, 616 (fewer than one in every hundred voters) pales in comparison with the British National Party’s 563,743 (1.9 per cent) or UKIP’s 917,832 (3.1 per cent).

In electoral terms at least, there really is no left alternative to Labour.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Happy 65th birthday Christy Moore

A belated happy birthday to Christy Moore, who was 65 on 7 May. The grand auld man of Irish music (and much, muchmore besides) was performing at Sligo on the day, and had this to say in his occasional 'Chat from Christy':

Early on a man stood up and asked me "Would you like to go back to the beginning". I did not know whether he meant the beginning of the gig, the song or this very life itself. (It was that kind of night) I thought long and hard for all of 4 seconds and realised that I was perfectly content to live in that very moment. The room was full to the gunnels, Declan Sinnott to my right was poised to make music and we had a basket full of songs to sing. In relation to my working life, this is as good as it's ever been. Perhaps the question was spurred by today being my 65th birthday. For 45 of those years I have been singing for my supper. It has been, and continues to be, a most privileged existence.

The link is to Christy's 'Taking Tea With Pinochet', which seems apt with her party having just wormed its way back into power.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

The BNP's black and white ministers' show

My favourite election headline appeared in the Croydon Guardian: ‘BNP “too racist” for black vicar.’ Reverend James Gitau, 63, from West Croydon, joined the BNP and went on the campaign trail on 10 April with Nick Griffin. A pastor with the United Holy Church, Gitau came to Britain in the late 1990s. He issued a press release at, a website for diaspora Kenyans, in which he declared: ‘BNP is the only party which boldly speaks against sodomy in public . . . condemns use of contraceptives . . . abhors our children’s abortions etc etc . . .’

‘It is true that the old BNP policy was to send all black British citizens back to their original countries, Gitau continued. But he reckoned that ‘the new BNP embraces all races from the minorities’. To prove the point he went campaigning alongside Griffin and another BNP vicar, the party’s Lincoln candidate Reverend Robert West. Like Gitau, West has a thing about gays, branding them ‘dirty and disgusting’ during his election campaign and opposing ‘perv partnerships, which are an abomination in the sight of God and must be ended’.

The Daily Telegraph, reporting on the appearance of this black and white ministers show in Barking and Dagenham, described how West would shout ‘It is not racist to love your country!’ as Gitau stood next to him and ‘Every time the Rev Mr West shouts a slogan, Gitau shouts, “Hallelujah!”’

West’s brand of ‘Christian’ bigotry managed to bring out 1,367 people prepared to vote for him in Lincoln. But the BNP declined to allow Gitau to stand for it in Croydon Central, where it already had a perfectly acceptable white bigot in place in its candidate Cliff Le May. He wrote to London Mayor Boris Johnson telling him to ‘stop ruining our community by stuffing New Addington with violent immigrants who have no right to live among decent civilised white people’ and called the Conservative candidate Gavin Barwell a traitor to his ‘race and nation’ for his party’s immigration policy.

Faced with the likes of Le May, Gitau decided that the BNP was a bit too bigoted even for him. He stood as a Christian Party candidate instead, winning 264 votes – which was still more than 19 of the 41 Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition candidates managed, by the way.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Bloodied but not beaten

Were you up for Nick Griffin? It wasn’t actually a ‘Portillo moment’, which has to be unexpected as well as pleasurable, but the chunderings of the Fat Fuehrer (‘It is going to be too late for Barking but it is not too late for Britain’) were a joy to behold. The BNP’s Barking battering, where it lost all 12 of its councillors as well as being beaten into third place in the parliamentary election, was the highlight of a good night for anti-racists, which saw the far-right party lose all bar two of the council seats it was defending.

We shouldn’t get carried away, though. The BNP may be doing a good impression of a party on the verge of implosion as elements turn on a leader who picked up 3,500 fewer votes than the BNP council candidates in the wards that make up Barking. But while its defeat in Barking was spectacular, as it was in its second major target area, Griffin’s former ‘jewel in the crown’ of Stoke-on-Trent, its overall performance was one that any socialist electoral alternative at the moment would die for.

Nationally, the BNP won 563,743 votes (1.9 per cent) in 338 seats. That compares with 192,746 (0.7 per cent) votes in 117 seats in 2005. In other words, the BNP averaged 1,663 votes per candidate in 2010, a slight increase on the 1,647 votes per candidate it achieved five years ago.

The party’s absolute vote has held up well, and it has established small bases for itself across wide swathes of the country. Away from the headlines, in 10 seats in Leicestershire, for example, it got between 3.2 and 6.5 per cent of the vote, saving three deposits saved and getting 18.1 per cent (745 votes) in a Leicester City Council by-election. In Bradford, its candidate Paul Cromie was elected with 2,212 (30.8 per cent), beating the Tory by 15 votes on a 66 per cent turnout.

The BNP’s large-scale loss of councillors on 6 May was due in large part to the higher turnout from holding council elections on the same day as local elections, rather than reduced BNP votes. Even in Barking, many of the party’s councillors would have been re-elected if the turnout had been the same as in 2006. All but one of the Green and Socialist Alternative councillors in Lewisham, and Green councillors elsewhere in London, were defeated for the same reason.

The BNP may be bloodied but it is far from beaten yet.

Thursday, 6 May 2010