Tag Archives: UK Politics

‘Why can’t we protest against cuts like the French?’

‘Why can’t we protest against cuts like the French?’ by Tariq Ali for the Guardian, October 19, 2010

Many thousands have protested in France against cuts; we have a proud history of dissent in Britain, so why aren’t we on the streets?

A few years ago, the French president Nicolas Sarkozy told an interviewer that he knew the French better than most. Today they were admiring the good looks of his wife; tomorrow they would cut his throat. It hasn’t quite come to that just yet, but the French—students and workers, men and women, citizens all—are out on the streets again. A rise in the pension age? Impossible. The barricades are up, oil supplies running out, trains and planes on a skeleton schedule and the protests are still escalating. More than three million people a week ago. Hundreds of thousands out this week and more expected this weekend. And what a joyous sight: school students marching in defence of old people’s rights. Were there a Michelin Great Protest guide, France would still be top with three stars, with Greece a close second with two stars.

What a contrast with the miserable, measly actions being planned by the lily-livered English trade unions. There is growing anger and bitterness here too, but it is being recuperated by a petrified bureaucracy. A ritual protest has been planned, largely to demonstrate that they are doing something. But is this something better than nothing?

Perhaps. I’m not totally sure. But even these mild attempts to rally support against the austerity measures are too much for dear leader Ed Miliband. He won’t be seen at them. The rot of Blairism goes deep in the Labour party. A crushing defeat last year might have produced something a bit better than the shower that constitutes the front bench. Balls the bulldog might have gone for the jugular but he has been neutered. Instead, the new front bench is desperate to prove that it could easily be part of the coalition and not just on Afghanistan. read more

‘Labour in the Dark: The Spirit of Blair Has Not Been Exorcized Yet’

‘Labour in the Dark’, Tariq Ali interviewed by Anabel Loyd for the Calcutta Telegraph, August 2, 2010

Reportedly a regular visitor to Ralph Miliband’s house in Primrose Hill, London, with other well-known left-wing thinkers and activists in the 1970s, Tariq Ali is pessimistic at the prospect of either of the ‘brilliant’ Miliband offspring leading the Labour Party. In his view, the elder, David, is so tarred with the New Labour—Blairite —brush as to be unable to build an alternative image for the party, possibly one reverting more to old Labour roots, while he writes off younger brother, Ed, as weak and indecisive. David was closely associated with all the Blairite policies, and any hint of Labour change currently being touted by the brothers is, he feels, pure pretence, whatever their intellectual socialist background.

As for the other leadership contenders, he does not see Ed Balls as a breath of new air, Diane Abbott is damned as well-meaning but inadequate, and Andy Burnham as Blairite to the core—and same old, same old…. Diane Abbott is at least a familiar face on television, Burnham is, in reality, the least high profile and well-known of the candidates, and his role in the race is probably little more than the effect he may have on vote shares that may upset someone else’s apple cart. I doubt many of us would recognize him if we saw him in the street.

Ali believes that the unions may still determine the leadership in spite of a record of collaboration with New Labour. Unison, the biggest public sector trade union, has come out in support of Ed Miliband, but the unions no longer have their powerful block vote as decided by their leaders. So individual members voting in secret postal ballot are still in a position to make up their own minds.

I wrote in May, after a conversation with the former Conservative Party chair and now chancellor of Oxford University, Chris Patten, of his view that if David Miliband wins the Labour leadership, he may reinforce a new collegiate style of politics at Westminster with less of the unending party tribalism and point-scoring of the past. Patten and Ali were contemporaries themselves at Oxford; their views on a more symbiotic relationship between parties are strikingly different. For Patten, greater party consensus means less time-wasting and improved policy implementation. For Ali, it means swerving towards a one-party State, a situation that he foresees in the United States of America as, aside from the diehard extremes, Republicans and Democrats converge, and likewise in other countries, as ideology is subverted by pragmatism and the essential voice of genuine opposition and alternative is barely heard. read more

Tariq Ali on the state of UK politics

An interview with Tariq Ali on the state of UK politics by Julie Mollins for Reuters, February 3, 2010

Where is the burning debate on domestic and foreign policy observers might expect from the major political parties ahead of the next general election in Britain?

It’s just not going to happen, says political commentator and writer Tariq Ali, whose new novel Night of the Golden Butterfly concludes a fictional series titled Islam Quintet he began writing 20 years ago.

“The whole thing is on a farcical level,” he said in an interview with Reuters, suggesting that the election campaign has so far centred on quibbles about how and when it is best to make spending cuts.

No matter who wins the election, which is due by June 2010, “the result will be more of the same on both the domestic and the international front,” Ali said, arguing that there are no fundamental political differences on domestic or foreign policy between the Labour and Conservative parties.

Ali predicts that Britain will continue to trail the U.S. in matters of foreign policy.

“British governments follow the lead of the United States—it doesn’t matter whether the president is Bush or Obama, whatever they are told to do they will do,” he said. “Their line follows the American line on everything.”

watch the interview

‘Goodbye to Grosvenor Square’

‘Goodbye to Grosvenor Square’ by Tariq Ali for The Guardian, October 3, 2008

The US embassy is withdrawing from its central London fortress. If only America would quit other parts of the world it occupies

Grosvenor Square is about to be liberated. News that the US embassy is moving to an unspecified five-acre location in south London may be good news for local residents (some of whom were renting rooms for a proper view of the rioting in 1968), but bad news for the unhealthier sections of the north London left. Till now, we could all meet happily in central London. A long march to south London is far less enticing, unless the San Francisco model of demonstrating on bikes becomes fashionable here as well.

Of course, we could be spared all this if the United States simply decided to stop bombing and occupying different parts of the world. Apart from anything else, they can’t afford it any more, which also appears to be the reason for the move from Grosvenor Square. The city is owed £4m in rates – which might be the sale price of the building in these troubled times.

When it finally happens, Grosvenor Square veterans should make sure there is a properly organised wake with proper music, etc. They should be sent off in style. Old memories must not be obliterated. This could happen if the fortress in the Square is sold off as apartments. Much better if the Imperial War Museum borrowed a few million from one of the Gulf states and purchased it as an adjunct devoted exclusively to US wars. The loan could be written off as a bad debt and Peter Mandelson, back in the cabinet, might help out here. read more

‘Livingstone for peace’

‘Livingstone for peace’ by Tariq Ali for The Guardian, April 15, 2008

London elections 08: He has consistently and loudly opposed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. For that reason, Ken has my vote

Given the way that politics has gone to the dogs in so many parts of the democratic world, its hardly surprising that celebrity status and wealth have taken centre stage. Whether political atomisation is a transient phase remains to be seen. Meanwhile it is worth remembering that this country is involved in two wars and occupations.

The leaders of both the mainstream parties in Britain continue to support involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. And apart from the valiant but small group of antiwar campaigners, the country seems to have forgotten that a million Iraqis have died since the occupation of their country, three million have become refugees and millions in the country face the most horrendous conditions in their everyday lives. If a country considered hostile to the west had behaved in this fashion, the outcry would have been deafening. read more

From the archive

  • ‘Fight the power’

    April 23, 2005

    ‘Fight the power’ b y Tariq Ali for The Guardian, April 23, 2005

    It is as difficult to define or classify Islamic cinema as it would be a Christian, Jewish or Buddhist one. The language of cinema has always been universal. Interpretations vary. Censors had different priorities: in 1950s Hollywood a married couple could not share a double bed and had to be clothed. In South Asia, the censor’s scissors clipped out kisses from western films. The birth of commercial and art movies did not remain confined in the west for too long.

    The Lumière brothers first exhibited moving pictures in Paris in 1896. A year later there was a private showing at the Yildiz palace in Istanbul. The viewers consisted of the Ottoman Sultan/Caliph – the temporal and spiritual leader of Sunni Islam – and a few  …

  • The Nehrus and the Gandhis

    January 1, 2005

    Published by Picador, 2005

    The Nehrus are a dynasty without precedent in the modern world; nowhere else and at no other time in recent history has a single family wielded such enduring and pervasive power over the country—and the electorate—they serve. From Jawaharlal Nehru to his daughter, Indira Gandhi, and from there, via Sanjay and Rajiv to—most recently—Sonia, this remarkable family have consistently established both the parameters and rhetoric of India’s political development.

    In the eighties, Tariq Ali made several trips to India, meeting a wide range of political and public figures, including Mrs Gandhi, and leaders of both the Congress and Opposition parties. The Nehrus and the Gandhis, first published in 1985, was the result. Now updated to include the most recent chapters in India’s political history, it remains as relevant as ever, offering an intricate and  …

  • ‘The New Furies’ – Tom Nairn reviews Rough Music

    January 1, 2006

    Rough Music reviewed by Tom Nairn for New Left Review, Jan-Feb 2006

    Rough Music is a series of reflections on ‘a watershed in British political culture’, provoked by the war in Iraq and then, even more acutely, by the bomb attacks on London of July 7th 2005. Though written quickly under the impetus of events, I think few readers will be deterred; and they shouldn’t be, for this ‘instant book’ makes many points going beyond British culture, and invites wider speculation on the world of contemporary nationalism and ideologically motivated violence. It documents recent events too thoroughly to be journalistic, as well as voicing shifts in the author’s own political attitude. The title comes from Edward Thompson’s Customs in Common (1993) and is not chosen only for effect. ‘Rough music’ was a cacophony directed  …