Monday, 24 October 2016

North Lanarkshire Update

The Herald reports that a number of senior, long-serving Labour councillors in North Lanarkshire have been deselected by the party's hierarchy in Scotland.

According to Gerry Braiden, the paper's local government correspondent, the former Labour leader, Councillor Jim McCabe, has been 'dumped' which doesn't surprise me I have to say.

Councillor McCabe, along with other Labour colleagues, presided over discriminatory pay arrangements for many years, sanctioned a hugely controversial 'bonus scheme' for senior council officials and fought to the bitter end thousands of equal pay claims launched by A4ES in the Glasgow Employment Tribunals. 

If you ask me, Labour in Scotland should have acted much sooner to clear out its council 'deadwood' and it may well be that local voters this latest party initiative as a case of 'too little too late'.  


Labour calls time on long serving councillors in North Lanarkshire

Labour calls time on long serving councillors

By Gerry Braiden - The Herald

LABOUR has pulled the plug on the political careers of some of its longest-standing frontline figures as it bids to retain power in a former stronghold.

Jim Brooks has not been selected as a candidate for next year’s local government elections.

He has served as a councillor since 1974, led Monklands Council at the time of its1990s cronyism scandal and been a kingpin in North Lanarkshire since it was formed.

Mr Brooks one of eight sitting members who were due to be informed at the weekend that they had been de-selected.

In a highly symbolic move, Jim McCabe, who led the council for almost two decades until standing down in February, has failed the party’s selection process, even though he had already decided he was quitting politics.

His former chief whip, Tommy Curley, another who is standing down, has also failed.

North Lanarkshire Council (25/02/15)

The Herald reports that the Labour Group in North Lanarkshire Council has been told to bring its Annual General Meeting forward from May so that the party can concentrate on the forthcoming general election.

Now this makes a degree of sense because Labour is widely predicted to lose a lot of seats on May 7th and the Party's appalling track record on equal pay in both North Lanarkshire and South Lanarkshire Councils makes this prospect thoroughly deserved, if you ask me.

According to The Herald the odds are the present leader of the Labour Group, Jim McCabe, will be re-elected in a pre-election truce to avoid too much public blood-letting in the run-up to 7 May. 

But if that does happen what does it say about Labour's attitude to equal pay because Jim McCabe has been the Council leader throughout the period when the fight for equal pay has been at its fiercest and although I suspect Councillor McCabe has been poorly served by his chief officials, the buck has to stop somewhere.

In other words the smart thing to do would be for the Labour leader to issue a humble apology over the way the Council has treated its lowest paid workers for the past 10 years and stand down. 

Labour leadership of strife-hit council face make-or-break meeting 

TENSIONS within a feud-hit council administration face coming to a head, with Labour Party insisting a crunch meeting is brought forward.
Councillors in North Lanarkshire will vote on whether to give their beleaguered boss Jim McCabe another year in the post when they gather for their AGM.

However, party bosses expect a pre-election truce within the group embroiled in its own civil war in recent months.

The meeting, like others held by Labour groups in Scottish local government, has been brought forward by a few months following instructions by the party's general secretary north of the border, Brian Roy.

Mr Roy's father, Frank, is expected to face a tight battle in his bid to be re-elected in Motherwell and Wishaw, which falls within North Lanarkshire.

There have been concerns within Labour in Lanarkshire the split within the party at the local council sparked by the sacking a councillor who investigated a multi-million-pound public contract involving the authority would impact on the run-up to the May Westminster poll.

Mr McCabe, one of the giants of Scottish local government, has already seen off an SNP bid to oust him as North Lanarkshire leader over his relationship with senior executives at Mears Scotland.

But one senior party source said: "Had the meeting taken place in mid to late May, when it's supposed to, and we'd maybe lost a seat or two Jim McCabe would be toast.

"As it is members at the AGM who maybe thought this was the place to air their grievances face speaking out or keeping their heads down and let what's happened happen. That's what they'll be expected to do.

"My guess is more than a few just won't turn up."

The local authority has a £30 million-a-year contract with Mears Scotland, run by Willie Docherty, husband of Glasgow Lord Provost Sadie Docherty, personal friends of Mr McCabe, with recent losses by the firm passed on to tenants.

The sacking of Labour's Tommy Morgan, who was also the catalyst for the notorious 1990s Monklands scandal being blown open, has split the administration.

A Labour spokesman said all groups across Scottish local government had been asked to bring forward their AGMs ahead of the short campaign in the run-up to May 7.

He said an email had been circulated in mid-January with a request they be completed by the close of February, describing the move as "standard practice".

Glasgow, where Labour also faces an uphill battle to retain all its MPs, held its AGM a fortnight ago with leader Gordon Matheson re-elected unopposed.
Odd Allies and Strange Bedfellows (16/04/07)

North Lanarkshire won't win any prizes for the council's handling of equal pay, but it has thrown up some odd allies and strange bedfellows.

Take Jim McCabe, leader of the outgoing council. Now Jim is a decent enough fellow, not a political heavyweight, but an experienced Labour party man and a former Nupe (now Unison) shop steward. So, he understands all the issues when it comes to equal pay - or ought to at least.

Yet, Jim's greatest claim to fame is not fighting against discrimination or low pay. Oh no, he is best known locally for dropping his pants at the office Christmas party - much to the embarrassment of fellow guests.Jim followed up this PR disaster with another - by puffing away in his office during an interview with a journalist. Effectively, thumbing his nose at the council's strict no smoking policy and the Scottish Parliament's smoking ban. Guess what made the headlines!

Jim is also leader of the CoSLA Labour group - CoSLA being the umbrella body for Scotland's 32 local councils. In recent months, Jim has been joined at CoSLA by a new chum, Joe Di Paola. Joe has been appointed as the secretary/adviser to the employers' side of the collective bargaining machinery, which negotiates with the unions on a wide range of vital employment issues. Including, of course, equal pay.

The spooky thing is that - until very recently - Joe did exactly the same job for the trade union side and 'led' the negotiations on implementing equal pay (and single status) from 1999 to 2006. Negotiations that stalled and made absolutely no progress under Joe's stewardship. With a track record of failure, Joe has now jumped ship to the employers' side, but his new bosses should remember the old saying: "You can only ride two horses at the same time, if you were born with two arses."

One of Joe's best buddies in the whole world is Grahame Smith, another Labour 'placeman' and new general secretary of the STUC (Scottish Trades Union Congress). As everyone knows, the STUC is the progressive and left leaning voice of the trade union movement. Needless to say, it's 100% in favour of equal opportunities, equal pay, motherhood and apple pie and so on. And the STUC is completely, utterly and resolutely against any form of discrimination. Oh yes!

What a surprise then that Grahame and the STUC's 'band of brothers' have been as quiet as church mice on equal pay - while one of the biggest employment rows to hit Scotland in years has raged in the press and media. The explanation is that General Council - the executive body that runs the STUC - is now controlled by only four big unions: Amicus, GMB, TGWU and Unison. So, they can appoint someone in their own image - absolutely tame, non-threatening and very much part of the establishment.

One of Grahame's General Council comrades is Mike Kirby - convener (senior lay member) of Unison Scotland since 1993 and key figure in the Unison Glasgow branch. A branch that kept their members in the dark about equal pay for years - then lost low paid workers thousands of pounds, by encouraging them to accept settlements that were worth much less than the real value of their claims.

Would things have been different with a woman at the figurehead at Unison? After all, women account for around 70% of the union's membership and had most to gain or lose. Mibbees aye, mibbees naw. The issue is more complicated than it seems because Mike's former long-time partner was none other than Iris Wylie - head of personnel at North Lanarkshire and key figure in the 'dog's dinner' that Scotland's 4th largest council has made of equal pay (back to where we started).

North Lanarkshire sat on its backside for years, then hurriedly cobbled together a new pay structure when Action 4 Equality arrived on the scene and let the cat out of the bag. The workforce threw the proposals out, following a secret ballot, so the council abruptly decided it would impose the new arrangements - the council didn't need the support of its employees and the trade unions after all. Wonder who gave the council this brilliant piece of advice?

So, the strange world of equal pay is laid bare for all to see - the wheels within wheels and strange goings on that connect North Lanarkshire Council, CoSLA, the Labour Party, the STUC, Unison and North Lanarkshire Council (again).

Scotland is such an interesting place to live and work.

Señor Guacamole

Tom Hanks took a break from his movie career to take part in this Saturday Night Live special featuring the third American presidential debate and an even more deranged than usual Donald Trump, expertly depicted by Alec Baldwin.

Baldwin even managed to poke fun at himself by listing the 'best Baldwin brother' (Steven) as one of Donald Trumps key supporters along with Sarah Palin and 'Chachi' (Scott Baio) the young cousin of the Fonz from Happy Days.

Donald Trump latest ruse is to argue that the presidential election is rigged and that everybody's against him which is true up to a point, but only because the man is a complete buffoon.

A self-styled billionaire, Trump continues to boast that he has paid no personal income taxes for many years while stubbornly refusing to publish his tax returns, unlike every other presidential candidates in modern times. 

So while I have reservations about Hillary Clinton there's no doubt which was I would cast my vote, if I had one.  


I Deeply 'Apologise' ((20/10/16)

Saturday Night Live and Alec Baldwin nail the real Donald Trump!


Doesn't Add Up

Image result for doesn't add up + images

The Sunday Times shed some further light on the strange property deal involving Unite boss Len McCluskey and over £400,000 of the members' money.

Now as I've said on the blog site previously, this story doesn't really add up because why would someone who  has been living and working in London for 26 years suddenly require such a huge loan?

Not only that, but Len is 66 years old and you would think it's time for him to retire, put his feet up and make way for some new blood at Unite.

Yet there are rumours that he plans to stand for election again which means that he would remain as Unite boss well into his seventies.


Unite leader ‘lacked executive backing’ for £400,000 flat deal

By James Lyons - The Sunday Times
Len McCluskey is the registered owner of a flat in a block close to Borough market, south London - JOEL GOODMAN

A property deal that saw the Unite union pay more than £400,000 towards a flat for its general secretary Len McCluskey was not authorised by the executive council (EC) in advance, according to an account of the ruling body’s latest meeting.

When the purchase was revealed last month Unite issued a statement saying the shared equity deal had been completed with the “full authority” of the council.

McCluskey, however, acknowledged that this was a mistake when the council met shortly afterwards, according to unofficial minutes posted on the internet by Unite Now, a moderate faction inside the union.

“He [Len] apologised for the line saying that the EC had authorised this when in fact it should of said [sic] that this was historically the practice for all previous general Secretary’s [sic] and because of personal circumstances, he also needed to do this,” the unofficial minutes said.

“The statement was put together by staff and had Len realised it had said what it did then he would of changed it, he again apologised for any embarrassment caused.”

Last night Unite emphasised that the part-purchase of the £700,000 London property, close to the Thames, had been correctly authorised by the relevant union officers.

“The purchase had the full authority of the union. Consequently Mr McCluskey had not reason to, and of course did not, apologise for any statement that the purchase had the full authority of the union,” Unite said. “The purpose of the executive discussion was to condemn the newspaper coverage of this matter.”

The council “unanimously condemned the media coverage and unanimously offered full support for Mr McCluskey”, the union said in a statement.

“It is ridiculous to imagine that any employee, including the general secretary, would have his or her relationship status as a matter for discussion at our executive council; it was not.”
The flat in south London - TOLGA AKMEN/LNP

An attempt to redact the unofficial minutes has been made on the Unite Now website, but the information was still available last night.

The faction publishes regular accounts of EC meetings. However, tensions inside the union are rising amid expectations among moderates that McCluskey, a militant leftwinger, is gearing up to stand again for another term as general secretary.

McCluskey became the registered owner of the flat, which is near the fashionable Borough food market, in February. Unite paid £417,300 towards the £695,500 purchase price and signed an agreement with McCluskey, which has not been disclosed.

There is no other charge on the property according to the Land Registry, suggesting he did not take out a mortgage to cover his share of the cost.

When the details emerged a month ago, a union insider predicted there would be “much disquiet”. At the time Unite stated that under the shared equity deal the property must be sold within 12 months of McCluskey’s employment ending and Unite will get its 60% stake with a share of any profit.

Howard Beckett, executive director for legal services at Unite, said such agreements are “extraordinarily commonplace”, adding: “Unions have put such measures in place for senior officers for decades.”

Doesn't Add Up (28/09/16)

I said in a recent post that Len McCluskey's £400,000 'loan' from his own union (Unite) raised more questions than answers and it seems I may well be right, if the following entry on Wikipedia is accurate:

"McCluskey was elected as the National Secretary of the TGWU General Workers Group in 1990, and moved to London to work in the union's national headquarters.[1][3] In 2004 he became the TGWU's national organiser for the service industries.[3] In 2007, he was appointed as the Assistant General Secretary for Industrial Strategy of the newly merged Unite the Union.[3]"

Because if Len moved to London in 1990, then why on earth would the Unite boss be seeking a generous 'loan' from his own union all of 26 years later - to help him buy a  new £700,000 house?

Doesn't make any sense at all, if you ask me.



Union Bosses (09/09/16)

I was rather puzzled by the news reports about Len McCluskey and the Unite boss's £400,000 'loan' from his own union to buy a £700,000 property in London.

Because I was a beneficiary of financial assistance from my union, NUPE (now Unison), when I took up a promoted union post many years ago, but there were rules and conditions attached.

As I recall, the scheme took into account an individuals's financial circumstances and applied in the same way to everyone who qualified - not just the general secretary.

The scheme was not intended to help someone build up a property portfolio by buying a second or third home, for example, so they could be required to sell a property already in their possession.

The scheme was also accessed at the time the person involved took up their new appointment which in Len McCluskey's case was January 2011.

So why is the Unite boss seeking such help more than five years after his election as general secretary and if he was already a senior London-based official, why was financial assistance required in the first place?

The Guardian reports on the breaking story which has more questions than answers at this stage, but the biggest one of all for me is why would an equity share scheme be attractive for Unite?

Especially as such a deal ties up £400,000 chunk of union members' money when no doubt this could be put to much more practical use.

Maybe this arrangement allows Len to live in a £700,000 property while paying for only his minority share of around £270,000 but as the full details of the scheme have yet to be disclosed no one can say for sure, at this stage anyway.


Unite union gave Len McCluskey £400,000 'loan' to buy London flat

Union insider says there will be ‘much disquiet’ over payment of £417,000 for leader’s apartment under equity share deal


McCluskey’s flat cost £695,500 in February. Photograph: Teri Pengilley for the Guardian

By Rajeev Syal - The Guardian

Unite the union has contributed more than £400,000 towards the purchase of a £700,000 central London flat for its leader, Len McCluskey, Land Registry documents show.

McCluskey, who has been described as Labour’s kingmaker, became the owner of the two-bedroom apartment near Borough market just south of the river Thames in February this year.

'I was politicised by the docks': the rise of Len McCluskey

Unite put forward 60% of the cost of the flat – amounting to £417,000 – after signing an agreement with McCluskey.

The disclosure comes at a time when many of Unite’s members are struggling. One union insider said there would be “much disquiet” over the arrangement.

The union said the purchase agreement was not a loan but an equity share arrangement. It added that this type of equitable agreement was commonly used to help general secretaries buy homes in London and insisted the agreement would raise more money for its members when the property was eventually sold.

The Members' Money

The Heat Street web site has an exclusive story about Labour's shadow chancellor being under investigation for hiding a £30,000 + donation from the TSSA trade union.

I suspect there are tiny numbers of TSSA members who pay a political levy to the Labour Party, but nonetheless the union is handing over large sums of cash of members' money to fund a salary which for some reason hides the additional amounts due in respect of tax and pension contributions.

So much for transparency and consulting the members.

Exclusive: John McDonnell Under Investigation ‘For Hiding £30,000 Donation’

By Miles Goslett - Heat Street 

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell is being investigated by the parliamentary standards commissioner over allegations he breached House of Commons financial rules.

McDonnell has been accused of failing to register a financial interest on time.
Although the standards commissioner, Kathryn Hudson, refused to comment on the specifics of her inquiry, it is believed to relate to McDonnell accepting a donation worth more than £30,000 from the TSSA transport union eight months ago.

It appears that he waited seven months – until late July – to register the interest, effectively keeping it secret and therefore breaking the rule that all such financial declarations must be lodged within 28 days of receipt.

The TSSA began paying the salary of McDonnell’s chief economic adviser, James Meadway, last December. As of July, McDonnell said it had reached a total of £30,115 “plus pension and tax contribution.”

Meadway, who is employed by the TSSA, is a former member of the hard-left Socialist Workers Party and co-author of a book called Marx for Today.

As well as funding McDonnell’s office, the TSSA also donated office space in its north London headquarters worth £3,000 to his close friend Jeremy Corbyn last summer.

McDonnell’s press spokesman, James Mills, did not return calls. Neither did his office.

Friday, 21 October 2016

North Lanarkshire Council

North Lanarkshire Council is in the news again with its political leaders being urged to resign after allegations of a 'cover-up' on the eve of an important local by-election.

Nothing surprises me about North Lanarkshire these days unfortunately and if you ask me, the Council ought to be put under the spotlight for its scandalous handling of equal pay for the past 16/17 years.


Labour bosses urged to resign over child porn 'cover-up'

Labour bosses urged to resign over child porn 'cover-up'

By Tom Gordon - The Herald

THE leaders of North Lanarkshire Council have been urged to quit over the alleged cover-up of a child pornography charge against a Labour councillor on the eve of a byelection.

Labour boss Jim Logue and his deputy Paul Kelly are the subject of a no confidence motion promoted by one of their former party colleagues, Councillor Sam Love.

The Herald recently revealed how David Fagan, a councillor in Airdrie, was arrested over alleged child images on September 7, but not suspended by Labour until September 29.

North Lanarkshire Update (12/10/16)

The 'head honcho' at Sports Direct, Mike Ashley, has agreed to demands for an independent review of working practices at his company which have come in for a lot of criticism in recent years.

Now that's good news and if you ask me, it is significant that the announcement has been welcomed by a wide range of interests including shareholders, the stock market and the Unite trade union.

I imagine that Sports Direct employees will be pleased as well, but how strange that no such review is being carried out into the scandal of unequal pay in Scottish local government over the past 17 years.

During this period the council employers presided over shocking differences between male and female jobs which the local (Labour supporting) trade unions failed to challenge, despite council budgets virtually doubling during the 10 years between 1997 to 2007.  

Tens of thousands of low paid women lost out to the tune of hundreds of millions of pounds and in places like Labour-run North Lanarkshire Council there has been a long ten year battle simply to enforce people's legal rights to equal pay 

in the case of Labour-run South Lanarkshire Council, for example, the local trade unions also actively discouraged the workforce from pursuing equal pay claims against their employer.  

So while Sports Direct is being held to account and forced to explain its behaviour, Scottish local government has not been subject to a similar standard of scrutiny even though the long fight for equal pay has been happening right under the noses of MSPs and the Scottish Parliament.

Sports Direct bows to pressure and agrees to independent review

Investigation of working practices and governance will no longer be carried out by RPC, which has worked with retailer before

Mike Ashley: I knew little about Sports Direct failings

By Sean Farrell - The Guardian

Sports Direct has bowed to shareholder pressure by agreeing to an independent review of its working practices and corporate governance.

Mike Ashley, the company’s founder and majority owner, admitted in a rare TV interview that he had taken his eye off the ball but claimed the problems at the company’s warehouse were caused by “the odd rotten apple”.

The company had said the law firm Reynolds Porter Chamberlain (RPC), which carried out a preliminary review published this month, would conduct a further investigation. However, after strong shareholder backing for an independent review at the Sports Direct AGM this month, the company has now said that “an independent party other than RPC” would conduct the review.

Sports Direct’s share price, which has taken a battering over the past 12 months, rose about 3% after the announcement and Ashley’s BBC Breakfast interview, to 290p.

Ashley was forced to look into his company’s working practices after a Guardian investigation exposed a climate of fear at its warehouse in Shirebrook, Derbyshire. MPs later compared it to a Victorian workhouse.

RPC has worked extensively for Ashley and Sports Direct, which is one of its biggest clients. Its report, published the day before Sports Direct’s AGM, criticised the company and prompted Ashley to apologise to staff for practices that were “potentially oppressive” at its warehouse.

The company also said a worker representative would be elected to the board by all staff “directly engaged or employed by Sports Direct”. Ashley announced plans to put an employee on the board to show his willingness to listen to staff after the Guardian’s revelations and a campaign by the Unite union battered his company’s reputation.

Ashley said he had not known about the poor treatment of employees but claimed there was little wrong at Sports Direct and that its reputation had been brought low by a few mistakes.

He told BBC Breakfast on Tuesday: “It is odd, isolated instances. It’s the odd rotten apple in the barrel and then you say: ‘OK, I’ve got to go and find the rotten apple in the barrel’ … I’m now coming in to work very closely with HR, the warehouse and the [employment] agencies.”

Ashley said Sports Direct had paid out more than £200m in staff bonuses in the past five years and that one cleaner had received £80,000 in addition to her standard pay. He said his job was to fix the few things the company had done wrong to bring them up to the standard of what it had done right.

“I’ve taken my eye off the ball. I’ve said I’m going to fix it and I will.”

A union resolution at Sports Direct’s AGM calling for a fully independent review was supported by a majority of independent shareholders. After the AGM on 7 September, large shareholders told the board they wanted the review carried out by an independent party.

The company did not say who would conduct the review but said it would consult shareholders about its terms and timing. Sports Direct had said the review would take up to a year but shareholders, coordinated by the Investor Forum, want it completed more quickly.

Paul Lee, head of corporate governance at Aberdeen Asset Management, one of the UK’s biggest fund managers, said: “This is a welcome and much-needed sign that the board and Sports Direct’s management are listening to independent shareholders. I am sure all shareholders will welcome the opportunity to offer constructive thoughts on the remit of the review.”

An unprecedented 57% of independent shareholders failed to support the Sports Direct chairman, Keith Hellawell at the AGM, but Ashley insisted he was staying in the role for at least another year and that they would work together to improve the way the sports chain was managed.

At the sometimes bad-tempered AGM, Ashley at one point said the retailer’s problems had been caused by Unite and hinted that he might walk away from the company he founded in 1982 if he was unable to improve the way it was run.

Unite’s assistant general secretary, Steve Turner, said: “We will continue to make the case that only with decent, direct employment right across the business can this company truly convince its stakeholders and the watching world that it is genuine about making the much-needed changes to practices that have shocked people everywhere.”

Ashley told the BBC it would take longer than a year for him to make the necessary changes but that he was listening to shareholders, who called for the independent review as a condition for Hellawell staying on.

“I had to support Keith Hellawell at the AGM to give him an opportunity for another year and he said if he doesn’t get the support of independent shareholders he will go. Dave Forsey [the chief executive] lost his bonus, which was £3m or £4m. We take this a lot more personally than anyone can possibly imagine.”

There was also a protest vote against Sports Direct’s three other non-executive directors. More than 30% of independent shareholders failed to back their reappointment amid widespread concern that they had not held Ashley to account.

Ashley defended his use of a helicopter and private plane when Sports Direct workers were on low pay and zero-hours contracts.

“I do like to go by plane and by private plane. People will say: ‘How can you have a plane when your workers are on the minimum wage?’ I say: ‘I don’t set the minimum wage.’ If the minimum wage should be the the living wage then the government, who set the rules, should set it at the living wage.”

'Miracle of God'

Image result for putin and kirill

The Times reports on the close relationship that has grown up between the Russian Orthodox Church and the government of Vladimir Putin.

Now of course it suits both men's interests to talk up Putin's presidency as a miracle of God, but it is no less dishonest than Saddam Hussein embracing Islam when the going got tough for the murderous Iraqi tyrant.

Putin ally patriarch meets Welby to discuss Russia tensions
By Kaya Burgess and Tom Parfitt - The Times

The Archbishop and the Patriarch acknowledged “difficult times” between the UK and Russia during their discussions - ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY WEBSITE

Tensions between Russia and Britain were discussed by the head of the Russian Orthodox church, an ally of Vladimir Putin, and the Archbishop of Canterbury during their first meeting yesterday.

Patriarch Kirill also had an audience with the Queen, during which they discussed the revival of the church in Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union.

Kirill, 69, flew home yesterday after a four-day visit that raised protests from MPs due to his close links with Putin at a time of strained relations between Russia and the UK, particularly over Syria. The patriarch has previously described Putin’s presidency as a “miracle of God” and praised Russia’s military action in Syria as “noble and honest” and part of a “holy war”.

Putin and Saddam (12/05/16)

When I read this piece by Ben Macintrye in The Times I was immediately struck by the similarities between Vladimir Putin and Saddam Hussein.

Because the Russian President as a former KBG agent and member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union was never a big supporter of the Orthodox Church until it became useful to him, politically speaking.

So when the young women members of Pussy Riot sang a protest song against the Kremlin in a Moscow Cathedral a few years ago, Orthodox Church leaders behaved in a furious and very un-Christian fashion which helped send these dangerous criminals to the gulag for four years (subsequently reduced to two), if I remember correctly.

In other words, the Orthodox Church became a useful political ally to President Putin as he strengthened his grip on power and began the task of isolating and removing his enemies.

Likewise with Saddam Hussein who was a famously high living and secular Iraqi President until the terrible war with Iran required him to suddenly become a devout Muslim so that he could exploit the tensions between Sunni and Shia Islam which continue to bedevil the world.

As religious leaders have shown throughout the ages - in Nazi Germany, in fascist Italy or as a supporter of General Franco in Spain - they are willing to throw their lot in with unscrupulous political leaders, if there's something in it for the faithful.      

No law can gag Russia’s champion swearers

By Ben Macintyre - The Times

Putin’s ban on profanity is an attempt to silence the country’s anarchic, supremely rude language of free expression

In the early 1980s censors in Romania attempted to ban the word “suitcase” from published works. People were fleeing the country and officials feared that the language of luggage was encouraging the exodus: if readers could not read “suitcase”, it was believed, they would not think about packing; and if they could be stopped from thinking about packing they would not think about quitting the socialist paradise of Romania.

Communist dictatorships frequently resorted to language-engineering, banning certain words or replacing them with officially approved euphemisms: in East Germany Christmas angels were stripped of religious connotations to become “year-end winged creatures” and, to take people’s minds off death, coffins were renamed “earth furniture”.

Such attempts to manipulate words may seem ludicrous, but the oppression of language is a central characteristic of totalitarian regimes: control how people write and speak and the tyrant controls how they think; at the very least a population that is uncertain what it can and cannot say will button its lip.

Of all the bare-chest-thumping authoritarian noises coming out of Vladimir Putin’s Russia, few are more disquieting than the law passed this week to outlaw swearing in films, television broadcasts, theatres and media. Henceforth, all Russian books containing obscenities will carry a warning. An official panel will rule on what constitutes profanity. Violators will be fined up to £830 for each offence and banned from performing for three months.

The film The Wolf of Wall Street racked up a record-breaking 561 separate uses of the f-word. Under the new law Martin Scorsese would be fined almost half a million pounds and Leonardo diCaprio could be banned from acting for 140 years.

The Kremlin claims the ban is to preserve the purity of the Russian language; in reality it is another attack on permissive culture, part of an accelerating campaign of cultural conservatism backed by the Russian Orthodox Church. It is also an assault on the voluminous, subversive and supremely rude Russian lexicon of profanity known as “mat”.

Russians are champion swearers; no country in the world curses so enthusiastically, and mat is probably the most expansive and expressive slang vocabulary in the world. From four basic swear words, it spins out a flood of expletives, by attaching suffixes and prefixes, into some 1,596 dirty verbs and an unlimited number of crude derivations.

“Speaking without swearing is like cabbage soup without tomato” goes an old Russian saying. The vernacular of the street, the field, the factory floor and the prison, mat is reflected in folk tales and peasant proverbs, but also deeply embedded in high culture, including the writing of Pushkin, Lermontov, Chekhov and Solzhenitsyn. Dostoevsky once wrote that the entire range of human emotions could be described using variations of the word khuy, Russian slang for todger.

Mat is free-flowing, fertile and filthy, an underground dialect that poses a linguistic challenge to the formality and order of dictionary Russian, which is why successive autocratic regimes have tried to prohibit or control the use of slang, a cynical language of nonconformity, an expression of freedom and rebellion.

Russia’s Tsars viewed cursing as a direct threat to the established order. Catherine the Great banned the word blyad (whore or bitch). In 1913 an official list of dangerous “hooligan” behaviour began with “singing uncensored songs and using foul language”.

The Bolsheviks took a similarly dim view of obscenity and launched the “struggle for cultured speech” as colloquial language came into conflict with official language. Trotsky denounced swearing. In Komsomol, the Young Communists’ League, good Marxists had to speak in the prescribed wooden vocabulary of the state, with “cleanliness, precision and grammatical correctness”. The party spoke to the people in revolutionary jargon, in direct contradiction to the vulgar mayhem of mat. Under Soviet law, swearing in public was punishable by 15 days in prison.

Perestroika, and the collapse of communism, brought with it a huge upsurge in the use of mat, the drive for political freedom echoed by the liberation of language. The obscene argot was picked up by the intelligentsia, the media, writers and artists, becoming almost mainstream.

Putin’s determination to clean up the Russian language by law is just the latest evidence of a conservative, dictatorial clampdown on freedom of expression, following directly on from laws banning gay “propaganda” and curbs on press freedom. Eradicating swearing will “ensure the rights of Russians citizens to use of the state language, protecting and developing language culture”, the Kremlin insists, a form of words deliberately reminiscent of the Soviet “struggle for cultured speech”.

George Orwell would have recognised Putin’s language laws as evidence of a new Newspeak, a language policed to limit freedom of speech and eradicate alternative, subversive forms of expression, or thought crime. The fictional state language imagined by Orwell inNineteen Eighty-Four eliminated undesirable concepts and replaced free ideas with contracted forms of words deliberately echoing Soviet abbreviations: Ingsoc, Crimethink Unperson and Minitrue are Orwell’s sharp satire on Politburo, Comintern and Komsomol.

“The whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought,” Syme declares in the Ministry of Truth. “The Revolution will be complete when the language is perfect.”

When an autocrat claims he is perfecting the language and uses the power of the state to enforce rules of speech, then it is time to reach for the suitcase — if the word still exists.